If you ask any winemaker or grower which variety is the most difficult to get right, the answer will invariably be pinot noir.
From the time and expense spent adjusting the crop load to suit the terroir, to the fine lines being drawn at crush and/or whole bunch fermentation, pinot noir is always challenging and expensive to produce.
Yet in our cost-conscious times, wine consumers emboldened by the ridiculously cheap sauvignon blanc of recent vintages, all of which is about to change, are seeking ever-cheaper pinot noir. The bad news is that it can't be done if you want quality.
Making pinot noir is not a file-sharing exercise, where users should expect to get everything for nothing. It's about producing quality so that you can appreciate what the style has to offer.
We aren't saying you need to pay $300 to $400 for the finest that Burgundy has to offer, although you should at least try it once in your life, if at all possible, but for a local offering of any quality, $25 to $30 should be your starting point.
This isn't to say that there aren't cheap versions out there.
They are pitched at about $20 and to most palates they are palatable enough ("quaffers"), but for just a few dollars more, you can start on the road to one of the most rewarding wine journeys you will experience.
Of course, our worry is what of that initial pinot experience.
Will inquiring wine minds try the cheaper entry-level styles to form an opinion of the variety and become dismissive of it?
If so, how does the industry counter these first impressions?
It's no good saying this doesn't happen. Just look at how hard riesling has had to struggle for acceptance now because, in this country at least, it has been tarred with a "too sweet" moniker based on some initial dreary experience.
Here are a couple of pinots to set you on the right path.
Tohu Marlborough Limited Release Rore Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, $39
A welcoming deep ruby red in the glass, these good looks are supported by a slightly tight but perfumed, plummy and herbal aroma.
Silky on the palate, it has plum and mace-like spicy flavours and is juicy and slightly creamy. The whole tasting experience is capped by some coffee-mocha notes to finish.
It is a medium-bodied, easy-drinking style that should suit those looking for an entry-level style with some substance.
Black Estate Omihi Waipara Pinot Noir 2010, $41
This is a single-vineyard wine, with the vines organically grown.
Deep, dark-red in the glass, it is slightly grainy in appearance. The lifted aroma has intense plum, bacon and smoky herbal notes, with some crisper stalkiness adding interest.
This wine really impresses on the palate. Oodles of spice, plums, juicy cherries and rich smooth chocolate-almond flavours combine with fine tannins to provide a genuine pinot experience.
Weighty, warming and satisfying, this is a good fireside wine.
Lawsons Dry Hills Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011, $20
The lifted aroma really has some classic pong – it's lifted and zesty with fresh blackcurrant notes. Rich and tropical, dry grass and capsicum provide a nuance that seals the deal.
Smooth, tropical passionfruit flavours wash across the palate, while crisp mineral characters add a layer of complexity. It has great Marlborough flavours, with a finish that's moreish thanks to some crisp acidity and blended fruit sweetness.
Lawsons has celebrated its 20th vintage – it is a pioneering company – and the wine never disappoints.
Selaks Heritage Reserve Hawke's Bay Chardonnay 2010, $20
The aroma is tropical, lifted and concentrated with attractive nectarine notes.
The palate is delicious. There's plenty of creamy stonefruit flavour and an appealing lusciousness. This wine is silky, with ginger spice notes adding weight and complexity, while marmalade and citrus flavours finish things nicely. A stylish wine, it is widely available and worth looking for.
- The Marlborough Express