Beyond Burgundy: more affordable pinot noirs

<span>‘A fussy grape’: pinot noir requires careful attention.</span><span>Photograph: Andrew Hagen/Getty Images</span>
‘A fussy grape’: pinot noir requires careful attention.Photograph: Andrew Hagen/Getty Images

Lingua Franca Wines The Plow, Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon, USA 2019 (£45, Lay & Wheeler) A frustrated wine lover (me) asks: why does good pinot noir have to be so bloody expensive? Burgundy, the grape variety’s original, and still its spiritual, home, is the main culprit: so many of the region’s magical red wines that I might once have occasionally bought, albeit as a treat, are now completely out of reach unless I come up trumps on the postcode lottery or land a late-career job in finance. But it’s not just Burgundy. Almost all my favourite New World pinot regions (the Yarra Valley in Australia; Central Otago in New Zealand, California’s Santa Rita Hills) command a premium that consistently takes the best wines close to three figures and beyond. It’s strictly in that unreal economic context that I found myself recently describing Lingua Franca’s irresistibly gorgeous, sinuous, shimmering The Plow, one of the highlights of a tasting of a three dozen (mostly) seriously fine pinots from Oregon, as good value.

The Society’s French Pinot Noir, Vin de France, France 2023 (£8.95, The Wine Society) Part of the price issue with pinot noir comes down to the fact that it’s quite a fussy grape variety when it comes to growing conditions. It doesn’t like it hot, but it will make wines that are unpleasantly tart and mean if it doesn’t have any sun. Its thin skins make it prone to all manner of vine diseases and pests, so it needs constant, careful attention and the right soils and climate to thrive. And it requires a very sensitive, light touch in the winery. There’s a kind of all or nothing quality to it, too. Pinot has a tendency to be either transcendently amazing – luxuriously silky in texture, ethereally byzantine in its aromatics – or borderline undrinkable. When it comes to making consistent, affordable, good quality wines from vintage to vintage it’s nowhere near as reliable as malbec, cabernet sauvignon or shiraz. All of which makes a good, unpretentious bottle such as The Society’s Pinot Noir – a sappy, red-fruited thirst-quencher for under a tenner – a deliciously rare achievement.

Andreas Bender Pinot Noir, Pfalz, Germany 2022 ((from £19.85, Nattyboy Wines; For the most part, sub-£10 pinot doesn’t do it for me: it can have a pronounced beetrooty earthiness or a sickly candied character, or a mix of the two, that never quite works. At best it’s a kind of generic ‘light red’ that has little in common with the wines that have given pinot its glamorous reputation. But I have had quite a lot of joy with pinots at about £20. At this price, they may not hit the decadently sensual heights of the best of Burgundy’s Vosne-Romanée, but they can offer levity and charm in abundance. Among recent standouts have been Andreas Bender’s effortlessly fluent, strawberry-juicy example of spätburgunder, the name for pinot in a country that has improved its output from the variety enormously in recent years; and the perfectly ripe berries and subtle undergrowth earthiness (a pinot trademark) of Newton Johnson Walker Bay Pinot Noir 2022 (from £24.99,;, from one of South Africa’s best pinot regions, the ocean-cooled Walker Bay.

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