Not sure which wine to give as a gift for a special occasion? Selecting a bottle of pinot noir would be a sound choice but does require a bit of caution. Pinot noir is known among growers to be one of the most difficult grapes to rely on for uniform quality season after season. The grapes are more sensitive than most to various mildew and airborne diseases in addition to yielding smaller crops. The resulting wine also reflects its terriorquite dramatically. While most produce luxuriously rich wines, deep purple in color with vibrant red berry fruit flavors a few are regularly quite light in body and color with subdued to almost neutral taste. 

On the plus side when they are good they are very, very good as reflected in the price demanded from the top vineyards some of which are barely 3 rai in size. These are the Burgundy reds from Côte d’Or which includes its two famous sub-districts of Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits. Among the four classifications of Burgundy the highest are known as Grand Cru. There are only a scant 32 wines in this elite category with names like Chambertin, Musigny, Echezeaux and Romanee as part of their brand labels. Premier Cru is the next classification followed by Village and then regional wines noted only as Burgundy. Selecting the right wine from among the nearly 1,000 red wine choices from Burgundy makes it imperative that you read the labels carefully because major negociants, the companies that market these wines, use their vineyard names on each of the three top classes.

The crème de la crème of the Grand Cru Burgundies can carry prices exceeding Bt32,000 per bottle, rising to six figures for selected vintages prized by equally selected collectors. More down-to-earth for most aficionados are those from Premier Cru vineyards or even the more modestly priced Village classification. As with premium wines worldwide the best come from specific soils where the vines yield generally smaller crops but more intense character in the grapes.

While the history and reputation of pinot noir rests in France’s Côte d’Or it is more heavily planted in Champagne where it is the core grape in blanc-de-noir wines of the region. The appeal of pinot here is its relatively low content of tannins, those tart to bitter compounds prominent in cabernet sauvignon, plus the fact that the grapes mature quite early avoiding the hazards of deteriorating weather as fall approaches.

Don’t let the price of Grand Cru Burgundy discourage you. There are excellent wines in the Premier Cru class from the same negociants as well as dozens of wineries making pinot noirs of world class quality in numerous other countries. In the U.S. California, Oregon and Washington are turning out excellent pinot noirs, the best among them also in the higher price range of Bt4000+ per bottle. New Zealand has joined the world’s premium pinot club as well and now closely followed by several regions in Australia.

All told it’s hard to beat a quality pinot noir--lucky recipients won’t forget it! Better yet try a few yourself even if only once in awhile.