What do I like in Pinot Noir? I look for a few things in a great Pinot. First of all, that indefinable quality of elegance. I wish I could define elegance in a wine, but I can’t. I know it when I see it, though.
I want to be charmed and seduced by a wine that has beauty. It can have power, but that power has to be reined in and balanced by subtlety, too.
I look for detail. I don’t just want a wall of sweet fruit, but I want there to be details in the wine: points of interest. Complexity, I guess.
Texture is so important. Pinot Noir should have a smooth mouthfeel, and a bit of mid-palate weight. I have heard it suggested that one of the effects of Brettanomyces (the spoilage yeast that affects too many red wines) is to use up the little bit of sugar left after fermentation that Saccharomyces cerevisiae (the main wine yeast) can’t metabolize. This trace of sugar helps give texture, and when it is stripped out, Pinot Noir suffers. This is aside from the sensory impact of Brettanomyces. Brett is a disaster in Pinot Noir, and so I prefer not to have any, even though some people like the way it makes a wine more savoury.
Definition and freshness are important in Pinot. There needs to be a brightness to the wine.
Non-fruit complexity is important. Fruit alone is not enough to make a truly compelling wine. But that non-fruit character needs to be appropriate: you don’t want your Pinot to be angular or rustic.
I don’t like noticeable new oak in Pinot Noir, especially when it gives that spicy, roast coffee character. It removes elegance.
In terms of fruit, I like fresh, bright fruit characters, not over-ripe jammy ones.
In terms of colour, I would rather not have a deep coloured Pinot. Pale colour can be a good thing. One of Pinot’s virtues is that it can be pale-coloured, light bodied, and yet complex, full, aromatic and ethereal.
I love perfumed Pinots, especially when fruit characters are joined by floral and even subtle meaty notes.
Although my preference is for more elegant, lighter Pinots, sometimes big ones can work well. So I am open minded. Rich Pinot can taste like cool-climate Syrah, and I love cool-climate Syrah. Lighter, very cool-climate Syrah shares a resemblance with Pinot Noir. The two seem to have something in common.
It is all about balance. The wine is a whole. And it’s really difficult to write tasting notes that are holistic rather than reductionist in nature. A list of exotic fruits and spices is no use at all. That’s why the use of metaphor and even metonymy is important in describing wine.