Pinot Noir and All That Jazz

Edna O’Brien, that lush of an Irish novelist, wrote a neurotically erotic portrayal of a woman’s sexual awakening called “August is a Wicked Month”. You’ll have to read the book to find out why this title, suffice to say that this eighth month of the year sees men and women overcome by a restless edginess, a yearning for what might have been and a shuddering anticipation of what is to come.

This taut, frayed hint of suspense and mystery in the air suits August being the month honouring Pinot Noir, the red Burgundian grape variety noted as much for the reams of poetic balderdash that have been written and spoken about it as for the immense role it plays in the wine world for its non-definable mysteriousness in terms of taste, aroma and sensual presence. From the cliché of it being “the heartbreak grape” to the leering gospel of the variety exuding a feral sexual muskiness reminiscent of fox bitch on heat or the undergarments of a 1950s porn-star, Pinot Noir has elicited more weird comments than any other grape variety.

August saw a slew of Cape Pinot Noir samples landing on my work-desk, gifted by kind-hearted producers, a gesture allowing one to on three consecutive evenings immerse oneself into this grape, drinking deeply and thirstily and thinking about why this variety makes wine like no other grape on earth.

My collection included a rich, complete Chamonix wine from the mountains of Franschhoek. A long, cool Pinot Noir from Paul Clüver in Elgin, and from Hemel-en-Aarde ridge came Creation. The former wine is strung with a bracing cord of acidity from which cherries, mushroom and red-berries hang, fluttering in the wind. Creation’s wine has a hit of spice, a commanding tannic grip and long runs of dark fruit. And so I could to on, right until August loses its wickedness, and we are met by the breezy scents of spring September blossoms.

But what all these wines had, was the ability to display those features that make Pinot Noir unique, special and great. A life of its own, a soul apart that does not allow it to be boxable.

Here I’d use a comparison for which I am not usually fond, namely music. If wine can relate to any other art-form, I’d select music. And here, Pinot Noir is jazz.

When tasting some Pinot Noirs, they do the same thing to me as a saxophone break by John Coltrane or Charlie Parker. Like those tunes, Pinot Noir comes with a clarity, an awakening presence; noise and emotion that initially causes confusion to the senses. But once one has become accustomed to the initial impact of those hectic sounds, beat and rhythm take over. It is soul stuff that you feel in the chest, enthralling and riveting. And then, just as the wines roll on your senses and you think you’ve got a handle on them, they take off in the way Coltrane’s sax improvises and flies wayward into a totally different direction.

Chet Baker

This has you sipping the wine again, trying to find those notes you had thought you’d become acquainted with. But they ain’t there, because the noise of the wine has taken on a new, different look, bopped you over into another world from the one you thought you were coming from.

Certain Pinot Noirs, one’s bigger, more restrained, taste like a Chet Baker trumpet score. The wines enter the mouth full-blown and clean, pure as copper and shiny as a new dollar coin. But once the aromas and tastes converge on the palate, signals are sent to the senses. Senses that resound in your ears, make you weak at the knees and stir up emotions from elation and joy to heartbreak and good times, lost and gone.

It is, for me, the emotional side of Pinot Noir that has me falling a sucker every time a good one comes my way. A wine that hits the right notes, but when it falls on the wrong ones, it ain’t that bad either. Because it is music to the ears, right through to the human heart.




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