The Rompel Report: South American Pinot Noirs

This was a Pinot week in the Cape with the launch of Paul Cluver’s Seven Flags a date I was sad to miss. But Paul has made the impossible, possible and we’re off to dinner on Tuesday. Bonus, great wine and great company. Meanwhile, Andy Rompel, recently of this parish, has been sizing up the heartbreak grape in South America. Here is his Rompel Report.

pn1 The Rompel Report: South American Pinot Noirs

The French wine region of Burgundy may enjoy fewer followers than Bordeaux, nonetheless Burgundy claims to have a more sensual approach to wine, or as Peter Finlayson, SA’s Pinot Noir Guru simply describes it: “good Pinot is like Sex in a bottle”. Need I say more?

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The varietal has many followers around the world calling themselves Pinotphiles. It is also grown in many parts of the world where the Pinotphiles amongst the winemakers attempt to produce their favourite wine in their home region. But the Pinot Noir grape is a difficult one and prefers cooler climates to hot ones, where its rivals Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah thrive. Outside Europe the wine regions are usually in warmer climates and hence the Pinot Noirs can be very different in nose and palate, often flabby and thin, fruit juice with prominent strawberries and very one-dimensional, lacking even a hint of elegance.

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South America, however, has the potential to go far South to “the end of the world”, where the Catholic Church recently found a replacement for their abdicated Pope Benedict XVI, as Francis (Franciscus 1st), the new Pope from Argentina put it himself. The end of the world also features extremely cool climates, and rather than around Mendoza, the good Argentine Pinots come from Rio Negro in Patagonia. Many of these Pinots are available in the wine shops here in Lima, Peru, together with their Chilean counterparts from the western side of the Andes. More than a good reason to conduct a blind tasting of 8 different Pinots. To spice it up we also entered two French Pinots, just to see if we can tell the difference, but also to benchmark our palates.

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The result was very sobering with the French winning hands down over the South Americans, except for one, the Humberto Canale Gran Reserva 2002. Matured after more than 10 years, it did not show its age, which is unusual, as South American wines typically do not age well. It also featured the classic barnyard stink, mostly absent in New World Pinots, and was mistaken for a French entry by quite a few tasters. The lesser version, the Humberto Canale Estate Pinot Noir, is equally good with a slightly reduced richness on the palate, but also less rich on the wallet. The Montes Alpha Pinot Noir from across the Andes featured highly, showing the blackcurrant bonbon-flavoured nose so typical for Chilean wines. The last of the Pinots worth mentioning was the Del Fin Del Mundo (from the end of the world) from one of the southernmost wineries in the world. It showed cherries and raspberries and was thought of as leaning too much on wood by some tasters.

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In the mean time I believe that the French have nothing to fear for as they still make the best Pinot Noirs by a long shot. However, having said that, there is beauty out there. And as much as it is difficult to find it, it can have surprisingly outstanding results, as this Humberto Canale Gran Reserva has shown. It can clearly hold its own when compared to the top French entries. Keep searching!