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Wine’s ‘playboy’ has come of age

Pinot noir has quite the reputation. A tasting note on pinot noir can often evoke images and character descriptions that would be at home on a Tinder profile. ‘Sensual’, ‘seductive’, ‘sexy’, ‘enticing’, ‘supple’, ‘lithe’, ‘intoxicating’ ... all have been used to describe the unique experience that awaits in the drinking.

Its high acid/low tannin wireframe means that pinot noir bends and stretches with food, and its light body, heady aromatics and sweet core of fruit make it eminently drinkable as a young wine. The fact that its quality is so heavily dependent on the right vineyard site also means it can create a liquid portal into the story of a vineyard, grower and winemaker better than any other grape variety.

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Pinot noir is finally and firmly establishing itself as a wine not only for all seasons, but for all tastes. For so many years its light-footed mouthfeel, perfumed aromatics and delicate flavours were too readily dismissed by the merlot, cabernet sauvignon and shiraz drinkers. But a new generation of red wine drinkers is rejecting the idea that richness, density and power are quality indicators for red wine.

The subtlety and elegance of pinot noir is being celebrated by contemporary wine drinkers who demand freshness, vibrancy and food responsiveness in wine. No longer just a ‘fringe’ grape variety in Australia – or a sommeliers’ pet – pinot noir has quietly and almost subversively occupied the real estate on Australian wine lists that was traditionally reserved for full, heavy, rich red wines.

For some connoisseurs, Burgundy – pinot noir from its home region – and other reds made from pinot noir are the stuff of legend, having for centuries sat at the core of private and commercial wine collections, and amassed legendary values. Franck Moreau is the man-behind-the-bottle for Merivale Group, the brand that has all but monopolised the Sydney franchise for hospitality zeitgeist. One of only three Master Sommeliers in Australia, Moreau was born in Burgundy and is the driving force behind the Burgundy Celebration (burgundycelebration.com) held annually to celebrate the wines of this justifiably famous region.

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“You either love Burgundy or you hate it,” Moreau says. “The elegance and purity of Burgundy is what captures wine drinkers.” He acknowledges that changing trends in wine style have had a positive effect on the perception of pinot noir and consequently that of Burgundy. “The Burgundy drinker is changing, new drinkers are being attracted by the freshness of the Burgundian wines.”

Pinot noir doesn’t come with the big moving pieces of oak, alcohol and tannin that are commonly found in full-bodied wines. Its high natural acidity makes it mouth-watering, almost refreshing as a young red wine. For new wine drinkers looking for a gateway into a much bigger world, pinot noir has opened the conversation around taste, texture and, importantly, food compatibility. These are wine drinkers who are learning more about wine in the context of experience: events, cooking and dining out in restaurants and wine bars.

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Dan Sims, Melbourne-based founder and director of Bottle Shop Concepts (bottleshopconcepts.com), just wanted to create a wine event that was “awesome”. More importantly, he wanted to create an environment where the normal rules around wine didn’t apply. The Pinot Palooza tour (pinotpalooza.com.au), which this year kicks off in Perth on 29 July and travels to Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and major NZ cities over the following six months, is about fun, music, food, noise, energy and no right or wrong in the enjoyment of it.

“We felt that a wine experience focused on a single variety would help wine drinkers understand more about wine,” says Sims. “It was vital that the variety had both diversity in style but a broad appeal.”

This annual roadshow takes in eight cities in two countries, but pinot noir is the only wine poured across the entire program – showcasing its diversity, drinkability and connectivity to food.

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