Tasting six inexpensive Pinot Noirs on camera, and with tasting notes

cheap pinot noir

Pinot Noir is one of my very favourite grape varieties. It’s a tricky grape, though, and finding good affordable Pinot can be a challenge. So I tried six inexpensive Pinot Noirs on camera, and gave my robust, honest opinions of them.

Mr Noir Pinot Noir 2016 South Australia
14% alcohol
£11.99 Virgin Wines
Very fresh and supple with a sappy edge to the sweet cherry and raspberry fruit. It’s ripe and generous, but also has some nice complexity. Pretty, drinkable and really delicious, this delivers a lot of fun. 90/100

Olivier Dubois Pinot Noir 2015 Vin de France
12.5% alcohol
£8.99 Majestic Wine
Ripe and balanced, with an appealing spicy, savoury, stony mineral edge. There’s appealing raspberry fruit with nice weight and good supporting structure. Pretty convincing stuff. 87/100

Tesco Finest Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2016 Australia
13.5% alcohol
£11 Tesco
This is delicious: it has a rounded, spicy, slightly savoury personality, with a touch of forest floor and some juicy raspberry and cherry fruit. There’s a hint of cedar, too. Nicely balanced with a mix of sweet and savoury elements. 89/100

Hans Baer Pinot Noir 2016 Pfalz, Germany
12% alcohol
£7 Tesco
Fresh and bright with a lovely green, sappy, leafy edge to the fresh cherry fruit. This is juicy and easy with the herbal notes meshing well with the sweet fruit. Just so drinkable, with a hint of sweetness helping carry the savoury notes. 88/100

Concha y Toro Corte Marcelo Pinot Noir 2016 Limari Valley, Chile
14% alcohol
£8.50 The Wine Society
Red clay soil with calcareous subsoil, 30 km from the coast. This is fresh and direct with a juicy raspberry and cherry fruit core as well as some savoury, cedary notes. There’s a nice weight to the fruit here, with some fine dried herb and ginger spice characters, and it’s more than just bright fruit. 89/100

‘PinotPinot’ Pinot Noir 2016 South East Australia
13.5% alcohol
£8.50 Oddbins
This is really soft and textured with a lovely smooth mouthfeel. It has fresh cherries and some stewed raspberries, with a really easy, enticing personality. Smashable. 88/100

One of the weaknesses of the growing degree day concept, and similar climatic indices


I remember back in my old job, when we had a scientific conference on the nature of intelligence. It’s a topic you approach with caution. Nature versus nurture? Genetics versus environment? Which wins?

One of the concepts that got me was that we assume that two kids living side by side would be exposed to a common environment, and then any difference you see would be as a result of genetics.

But there’s a flaw in this thinking of common environments: the same environment will be experienced differently by different kids. So, take for example a library. The same library will be a very different environment to a smart, bookish kid than to one less academically inclined. A sports field will be a different environment for a sporty kid compared with a lanky uncoordinated one.

So it is with vines.

Take a similar growing season in terms of temperatures, experienced by a vine that starts off fast versus one that starts off slowly. The increased canopy size of the former will mean that, subsequently, even the same GDDs or light hours will be experienced differently by the two vines.

A vine with more leaves will get more from the same heat/light environment than a vine with fewer. Even an identical number of GDDs can have very different effects on two vines. Early season GDDs count a lot more than later ones, because the benefit of later GDDs will be incrementally more, because the vine will make more of those later GDDs with its bigger canopy.

Quinta do Monte d'Oiro, Lisboa, Portugal

monte d'oiro

Monte d’Oiro translates as mountain of gold, and it refers to the golden colour taken in early evening by the hill on which many of the vineyards are planted. The vineyard is in the Alenquer sub region, with the Atlantic 20 km to the west and Lisbon 50 km to the south. Climate is Mediterranean with the moderating influences of cool breezes: this is a pretty windy site.

Francisco Bento dos Santos, Monte d'Oiro

Francisco Bento dos Santos, Monte d’Oiro

This is the project of José Bento dos Santos, who was a metal dealer who fell in love with food and wine. He bought the Monte d’Oiro estate, and decided to plant it chiefly with Rhône varieties, especially Syrah, Viognier and Marsanne. José was a private customer and friend of Michel Chapoutier, and for a while they had a joint venture together. Chapoutier helped procure some cuttings from top northern Rhône sites to plant a 2.5 hectare block high density (8000 as opposed to the normal 4000 vines/ha) with massale selection Syrah: a separate wine from this block 24 is now made. The Chapoutier joint venture didn’t last, but Grégory Viennois, who was Chapoutier’s winemaker and is now with Laroche, is still consulting here. He comes quite a bit and takes an active role: he’s not just a consultant that arrives, does some Instagram pictures, takes his cheque and leaves.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAltogether, there are 20 hectares of vines on the site, but this year another 9 hectares have been planted with a similar mix to the varieties already on the farm. The exception is a half-hectare block planted with a variety that’s secret, for now. My ampelography skills weren’t sufficient to work out the identity of the variety, although I’m hoping it’s Gamay, even though Grenache would be a more sensible choice (it didn’t look like Nebbiolo; maybe it is Sangiovese?).


New plantings

New plantings

I met with José’s son, Francisco Bento dos Santos, who has been involved here for quite a while and who’s been running things since 2012. I also met with winemaker Graça Gonçalves.


The vineyard has been farmed organically since 2006, but was only certified in 2015. Soils are calcareous clay loams, and vary a bit: some blocks are more calcareous, and some are quite a bit more fertile. The fertile soils in the valley are used for whites, but the best Viognier block is on the main slope. All the wines are made from estate-grown grapes.


Quinta do Monte d’Oiro Lybra Rose 2016 Lisboa, Portugal
From Syrah plot no 6 chosen specifically for rosé production, with less defoliation and earlier harvesting. Made like a white wine, whole bunch pressing, and fermentation without maceration. Low temperature fermentation. Fresh and lively with very direct, balanced fruit. Some citrus, plus a hint of tangerine and some crisp cranberry notes. Pale in colour and very astute, in a dry, food-friendly. 88/100 (retail €8)

Quinta do Monte d’Oiro Lybra Viognier, Arinto and Marsanne 2016 Lisboa, Portugal
Around 50% Viognier, 30% Marsanne and 20% Arinto, more or less reflecting the vine balance in the vineyard. Valley grapes. Unoaked. Lovely aromatics here with a peach, apricot and pear quality as well as some subtle nuttiness. There’s a bit of richness on the palate but also some fresh pithiness. This is impressive for the price. 90/100 (retail €8)

Quinta do Monte d’Oiro Madrigal Viognier 2015 Lisboa, Portugal
From plot no 7, not in the valley, the best plot. There is a strict ripening control and this parcel is harvested twice, first the outside bunches and then a second pass to take the inner bunches. 40% oak, new and old, 500 litres, small battonage. The rest is stainless steel. Each harvest is split into tank and barrel. Bold and concentrated with nuts, spice, pear and peach fruit. Lively with nice acidity offsetting the power and richness of the midpalate. Really crystalline and tight wound, this will develop nicely. 92/100

Quinta do Monte d’Oiro Lybra Syrah 2014 Lisboa, Portugal
Blend of several Syrah plots, still low yielding at 5 tons/hectare. Fresh, vivid and juicy with ripe, sweet berry fruits and a bit of spicy oak (only second and third year barrels). Has nice structure and freshness with a juicy quality to the red fruits, as well as subtle hints of clove and cedar. There’s much more concentration and depth than you’d expect at this level, and it was a horrible vintage with lots of rain, so it’s a great effort. 90/100 (€9/10 retail)


Quinta do Monte d’Oiro Aurius 2012 Lisboa, Portugal
80% Touriga Nacional and the balance Syrah. Beautifully fresh and vivid with bright, direct raspberry and cherry fruit with a hint of meatiness. Around a third new oak here, but it is well integrated. Fresh, focused and floral with nice brightness and weight. Such a lovely dense core of focused, balanced berry and cherry fruit with good acidity. 93/100 (€20 retail)

Quinta do Monte d’Oiro Reserva 2012 Lisboa, Portugal
The flagship wine of the property. Several plots of Syrah, from the best plots, with 4% Viognier co-fermented. In 2012 this was plots 9, 8 top, 1 top and 24 (the massale selection). 40% new oak. Dense and fresh with a tiny hint of mint, clove, cedar and black pepper alongside sweet berry and cherry fruits. Nicely spicy with lovely focus and grip. This is quite structured and could evolve nicely. Nice weight. 92/100 (€32 retail)


Quinta do Monte d’Oiro Syrah 24 2013 Lisboa, Portugal
Massale selection plot, with vines from the northern Rhône, planted 2002. 2.4 hectare plot. First vintage of this wine was 2007. Fresh and vivid with a slightly saline quality to the fresh, vivid red and black fruits. This has nice presence with good acidity and some structure, and also some gloss to it. Very focused and bright with ripe, sleek fruit and some nice structure. 92/100 (€45 retail)

Quinta do Monte d’Oiro Syrah 1997 Estremadura, Portugal
A great treat to try the debut wine from the estate. Mature and evolved with a leathery, slightly earthy nose of iodine and mint, but still so alluring. Warm, rich, spicy palate with real complexity. Sweet and evolved but textured and fine with a ripe, sweet maturity. 93/100

Quinta do Monte d’Oiro Syrah 2004 Estremadura, Portugal
Aromatic with a fresh, slightly herbal edge to the nicely spiced, slightly minty berry fruits on the nose. The palate is fresh with a warm spiciness to the fruit, and attractive berry fruits. Really interesting. 92/100

Quinta do Monte d’Oiro Têmpera 2004 Estremadura, Portugal
This is Tinta Roriz. Nice weight with some warmth and depth, and fine spicy notes. Sweet berries and cherries. Warm but appealing. 91/100

Quinta do Monte d’Oiro Lybra Syrah 2007 Estremadura, Portugal
Earthy and spicy with nice red fruits and some grip. Fresh and attractive. 88/100

Quinta do Monte d’Oiro Têmpera 2007 Estremadura, Portugal
Earth, herbs and spices. Nice grip. Has freshness and fruit, still, even though it has evolved. 89/100

Quinta do Monte d’Oiro Aurius 2007 Estremadura, Portugal
Touriga Nacional plus Syrah and a splash of Petit Verdot. Fresh, grippy and crunchy with nice density of appealing black fruits. Grainy, dense and savoury. 90/100

Quinta do Monte d’Oiro Syrah Reserva 2007 Estremadura, Portugal
Syrah with 4% Viognier. Floral and vivid with fresh juicy berry fruits and fine-grained structure. Sweet and pure with a hint of violet and some peppery notes. There’s some earthy spiciness, too. 92/100

Quinta do Monte d’Oiro Syrah 24 Estremadura, Portugal
Single parcel, massale selection. Sweet, warm and spicy with nice density and notes of herbs and pepper, as well as warm spicy fruit. There’s some grip here. 91/100

Quinta do Monte d’Oiro Ex Aequo 2007 Estremadura, Portugal
This is 75% Syrah and 25% Touriga Nacional, and was the joint venture wine made in collaboration with Michel Chapoutier. Ripe, sweet and a bit floral with rich berry fruits and some grippy, peppery structure. Bold and delicious in a ripe style. 91/100

Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

Wine experts needed for scientific study, central London


If you are wine expert in easy striking distance of central London, then there’s an experiment taking place on expert wine tasting and social interactions being run the University of London Centre for the Study of the Senses (CenSes). The goal of the experiment is to examine how people resolve uncertainty when they are tasting, and it is organised by Professors Barry Smith and Ophelia Deroy.

They are both wine lovers and are serious people, so this is not one of those experiments looking to debunk wine tasting as a serious practice. They are looking for people with some demonstrated expertise, such as MWs, critics, sommeliers. The tasting is likely to take place at the end of this month and will involve blind tasting 36 wines selected in association with sommelier Isa Bal (Fat Duck).

Email eoin.travers@sas.ac.uk if interested

Video interviews with top South African winemakers

Just posted a write up of the excellent wines from Mick and Jeanine Craven, who make superb single-site wines from Stellenbosch. While I was doing it I thought I’d share some of my video interviews with various South African wine stars, beginning with Mick and Jeanine:






Two lovely naturally made reds from Portuguese winemaker Tiago Teles

tiago teles

A while back, Ben Henshaw of Indigo Wine sent me some samples to have a look at. Ben and I agree pretty much in terms of our palate preferences, I’ve found, and so it’s always good to taste things that he’s unearthed. He seems to have an amazing talent for finding great producers, and sometimes I’ve even been able to introduce interesting people to him, and he’s ended up importing their wines.

Two of the wines were from Portuguese winemaker Tiago Teles, who started out as a wine critic, then moved to making wine. And last week I was in Portugal and I met up with him, without realising I’d already tried his wines. So it’s great to have made that connection: I love this sort of serendipity. Tiago works quite naturally, and he started out in Bairrada, where both these wines come from. He’s since branched out to other regions in Portugal.

Tiago found several small plots mainly on clay-limestone, sandy soil in Bairrada. This pair of wines was fermented in a small 600 litre stainless steel lagar in a friend’s cellar, and the grapes were foot trodden and fermented with wild yeast. There’s minimal use of sulfur dioxide. Portugal needs more wines like these. They are genuine.

Tiago Teles Gilda Bairrada 2015 Portugal
12.5% alcohol. An unusual blend of Castelão, Merlot and Tinta Barocca from limestone soils. Wild fermentation. This is super smashable, with juicy blackberry and black cherry fruit, with lovely vivid fruit intensity and some attractive feral, meaty, spicy characters. Lovely fresh acidity here, meshing well with the supple fruit. Spicy, complex, slightly wild and direct. 92/100

Tiago Teles Maria di Graça Bairrada 2015 Portugal
12.5% alcohol. Alfrocheiro, wild ferment. Tangy, spicy, slightly rustic raspberry and cherry fruit with freshness and vitality. Complex and with a savoury, tangy, herbal edge this is quite natural tasting. Chill it down and consume it young, while it’s in this smashable phase of its life. Has a really grippy, tangy finish. 91/100

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At a festival, without very much wine


A week ago, my friend Mel Brown messaged me to see if I wanted to go to a festival the following weekend. I was free, so I said yes. I had no idea what to expect. The festival in question was Noisily, held in the woods in Leicestershire. It’s all electronic dance music.

Rufus and Mel

Rufus and Mel

Mel’s friends who we were camping with were a lovely bunch. When you come in as an outsider into a tight group, it can be a bit daunting, but we all got on well. They were so nice and welcoming.


In fact, this was a festival full of niceness. If you were queuing for water, or just walking around the camp, people would come up and talk to you. It was also a nice mix of ages. Not so many teenagers, but lots of older folk, and quite a few older than me. It was a very accepting environment, too.



We were so lucky with the weather, which was sunny and warm, with warm nights. This makes a huge difference to the atmosphere of the festival.


The music stages and most of the food outlets were in a natural valley in woodland, and it was a very special setting. There were three stage areas; we frequented the Noisily stage, which was the least hardcore techno of the three.



Mel and I had brought quite a bit of decent wine with us. Unfortunately the rules were just a bottle each, and no glass, and our stuff was searched. We decided to respect the spirit of the festival and not smuggle any in, although by accident we did get a bottle through in some bedding. It was the Hermit Ram Pinot Noir from North Canterbury. A naturally made Pinot, this is so delicious with a bit of stemmy structure under supple berry and cherry fruits. I really like it.


One of the best experiences was that our group booked a session in the wonderful wooden hot tubs, hidden in the woods. It was a very mellow hour. We were all a bit buzzed and they also served us a glass of Prosecco in the tub. It was warm, but even warm Prosecco tastes good in this sort of situation.









This is quite a druggy festival, and there were a lot of drugs going round. Drug salespeople passed through the camping area offering all manner of chemical stimulants. Most had unusual names that I’d never heard of before.

But overall, it’s a really fun, friendly party with some great people. It’s not too big – a perfect size I reckon. I really understand the appeal of these sorts of festivals now that I’ve been to one.

Champagne Taittinger Prestige Rosé NV

taittinger rose

Champagne Taittinger Prestige Rosé NV France
£50 Waitrose, Asda, Wine Rack, Majestic, Harrods
12.5% alcohol
There’s 15% of still red wine from Ambonnay and Bouzy in the blend, added to white Champagne base wine with at least 30% Chardonnay in it. So, unsurprisingly, this is deep pink in colour. How does it taste? Lovely bright red cherry and raspberry fruit dominate this deeply coloured pink fizz, which has a brightness and purity to it. It’s very bright and linear with a pure citrus core and good acidity, which serve to highlight the purity of the fruit. There’s a fruit sweetness, too, although the overall impression is of a dry, tight wine. Really sophisticated and thoroughly accessible, and proving that there’s much more latitude for deeper coloured rosé Champagne than there is for still rosé, which is getting ever paler. Lovely stuff. 91/100

Find this wine with wine-searcher.com

Three Muscadets, and how I am beginning to love Melon


Isn’t Melon an interesting grape variety? I’ve had good examples from Canada (Niagara) and Oregon of late. I’m glad people are working with a variety like this, which traditionally hasn’t been taken seriously.

These were three Muscadets that I opened last night. I think I’ll be exploring this region and grape variety further.

Champteloup Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie 2016 Loire, France
12% alcohol
£6.19 Waitrose
This is very crisp and bright with juicy, lemony fruit. There’s a piercing, mineral core to the wine: it tastes quite stony and it’s not just about fruit. Simple but delicious and so crisp and linear. 88/100

Bonnet-Huteau Goulaine Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine 2013 Loire, France
12.5% alcohol
£14.95 Tanners
This is made from organically grown grapes from schist and gneiss soils, hand picked and fermented on the lees for 18 months. It’s a really complex, taut wine with elegant, pure, linear lemony fruit. There’s some creamy texture hidden among the mass of stony, linear lemon and grapefruit characters. This is understated, but shows lovely concentration and density. 91/100

Domaine de la Chauvinière Château-Thébaud Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine Granit 2010 Loire, France
12% alcohol
£15.95 Great Western Wine
From a small section of granite, which is a rare terroir in Muscadet. This is complex and intense with a slight green herb tinge to the fresh quince and citrus fruit. There’s a hint of creaminess and some distinctive stony, mineral character running through the center of the palate. Mouthfilling and intense. 90/100

Lisbon Family Vineyards: visiting three ambitious producers from Portugal's Lisboa region

The wine region of Lisboa is a large, diverse one. It runs up north from Lisbon, bounded by the Atlantic coast on one side and the Tejo river to the east. Until 2009, this region was known as Estremadura.

Quinta de Sant'Ana

Quinta de Sant’Ana

It’s a region with a slightly downmarket image, because of its past emphasis on bulk production of inexpensive wine. After phylloxera, the region answered a strong demand for inexpensive wine from Lisbon. So, high yielding varieties were chosen for regrafting, and the vineyards were set up for producing quantity. Then, the demand from the Portuguese colonies was for more inexpensive wine, and Lisboa was happy to oblige. This has hindered the development of more interesting wines from better terroirs. But things are changing.


‘This region has a long history of making great wines,’ says Sandra Tavares da Silva of Chocapalha, one of the top producers here. ‘So we always believed we could make great wines from here.’

Alice Tavares da Silva, Graca Goncalez, Sandra Tavares da Silva

Alice Tavares da Silva, Graca Goncalez, Sandra Tavares da Silva

I visited to attend the annual celebration by the Lisbon Family Winegrowers, which is an association that was formed by three quality-minded wine producers: Quinta Sant’Ana, Quinta do Monte d’Oiro and Quinta de Chocapalha. The three take turns to host the celebration, and this year the venue was Sant’Ana. The following day, I visited the other two quintas.




The celebration began when the first of the 300 guests arrived at 11 am. A band was playing, and there was a tasting tent where the current release whites and rosés were being poured. It was shaping up to be a scorching day, and temperatures were already over 30 degrees.





The next phase was an indoors tasting of back vintages of the wines from the three quintas. This was a great opportunity to see how the wines developed over time, and included a tasting of the debut vintage of the Monte d’Oiro Syrah (1997), as well as Chocapalha’s first Arinto (2008) and verticals of Sant’Ana’s Riesling, Alvarinho and Pinot Noir.




Then it was back outside for lunch, which was washed down with current release reds. The food had a Cape Verde theme, and was really good. The courtyard was full of colour, life, talking, drinking and even a bit of dancing. I escaped at 4 pm to jump in the pool, but then came back to do some more drinking and mingling. It was a lovely day.

James Frost

James Frost


‘Today has been about a union of friendship of our three quintas, showing our latest vintages to the trade,’ says James Frost of Sant’Ana. ‘It’s a bit of fun; something different. There are not many joint parties of quintas like this in Portugal. We want to show that we are serious wine producers but that we enjoy doing it and have a bit of fun as well.’

Full write ups on the wines will be added tomorrow…