A blind tasting of pinot noirs from Australia, California, Chile, New Zealand and Oregon revealed less national identity than might have been hoped for.
The aim of the tasting was to show a current snapshot of new world pinot noir producing countries, with wines that are commercially available in the UK.
A panel of experts was on hand after the tasting to talk through discoveries and themes. They were Blair Walter of Felton Road, Central Otago, New Zealand, Helen Masters of Ata Rangi, Martinborough, New Zealand, and Mac Forbes of Woori Yallock, Yarra Valley, Australia. The discussion was moderated by true wine maestro Gérard Basset MS, MW, Wine MBA, best sommelier of the world 2010, and owner of TerraVina hotel in Hampshire’s New Forest.
The wines were arranged in five flights, one for each region represented. It was difficult to draw many conclusions as to country of origin. For me, the lush, sweetness and defining acid backbone characteristic of NZ was evident, though within this framework, the styles widely differed. Basset even joked “I tasted twice and I’m even more confused,” adding “in our restaurant we choose 2 to 6 pinot noir per country because we like the style, but in each region there is not just one style of pinot noir, which I’ve rediscovered here.”
The absence of consistency within the flights was a theme of discussion, due, it was considered, to the youth of pinot noir production in new world countries. Pinot noir simply hasn’t been grown for many years.
Youth of human experience in these sites, and changes as a result of exponential learning were also explored. Walter said “As a winemaker in a young, new region like Central Otago, we have an opportunity to forge a style. In the early days, [perhaps not much more than a decade ago] we had lot of wines that were too oaky, too flashy, too extracted, and not in balance. But over the years, we’re looking at more subtlety. We’re more reflective of the place they’re grown. And we have a hands-off approach in the winery, allowing the site capability to come through in the bottle“.
Mac Forbes agreed, picking up site expression, which is something pinot noir can do well. He said “we’re in a much better position than 10, even 5 years ago. We do less, we pick earlier, we come to grips with our own patch of dirt. There’s trouble when you push harder, pick riper – you lose some of that fine detail that’s interesting.”
Forbes continued “with increased confidence, we’re able to step back and let sites express themselves a bit more. It’s easy for people to get on planes and go to Burgundy, but I’ve got to get into my back yard.” As a result, he said there’s “more honesty in these wines than we might have anticipated a few years ago.”
Vine age also formed part of the youth discussion, as Helen Masters explained “vines are much younger [in the new world]. Most are around 30 years old. Burgundy has vines of 70 years.” Consequently she said “we’re looking for clones, for rootstocks that express something different from our sites. We’re looking for something to express the soil, the climate. And we’re beginning to get depth, and fineness of tannin – from some vine age.”
So while the new world waits for vine age, there’s plenty of work being done ‘in the back yard’ with clones, rootstocks, and specific sites.
Tasting notes of some my favourites, with identities!
I’m disproportionately relieved to report my favourite wine of the tasting was the Schubert, Block B Pinot Noir 2008, Wairarapa, New Zealand, which I recently recommended in wine reviews as being a stand-out wine.
Stefano Lubiano, Pinot noir 2008, Granton, Tasmania ~£36
Sweetly smoked black cherry aromas. Sweet palate attack with some lushness to fruit within an appropriately firm frame. Fine grained young tannins evident in mid palate, with enough fruit to soften them soon.
Dexter, Pinot noir 2008, Merrick’s North, Mornington Peninsula ~£22
Pale colour with hauntings of cherry blossom perfume escaping from the glass. Light bodied with fresh crunchy flavour of decent intensity. Nicely fresh and balanced with attractive notes of elegance.
Yabby Lake Vineyard, Pinot noir 2008, Mornington Peninsula ~£24
Light, sweet fruit of crunchy cherries. Freshly balanced with ripe red cherry flavours.
Kooyong, Pinot noir 2008, Haven vineyard, Mornington Peninsula ~£27
Bright cherry nose, crunchy ripe core that’s nicely proportioned, with some layers of warm fruit emerging.
Giant Steps, Pinot noir 2008, Gladysdale vineyard, Healesville, Yarra Valley
Pale colour with bright cherry nose, sweet crunchy attack, nicely balanced, with hints of glycerol smoothness to the texture in an elegant light-and-concentrated combo. More-ish and nicely balanced and proportioned.
Mac Forbes, Pinot noir 2008, Woori Yallock vineyard, Upper Yarra, Yarra Valley ~£26
Pale colour, the dark cherries and a hint of dark chocolate aroma without the weight imagined of dark chocolate. Nicely balanced and proportioned wine in cooler spectrum of red cherry fruit with firm acidity and good flavour intensity. Like a red riesling (which is a positive comment for such a pinot noir).
Marimar Estate, Pinot noir 2004, Don Miguel vineyard, Russian River Valley, Sonoma ~£30
Pale and browning rim, mature fruitcake profile, nicely balanced, with rich flavours of depth.
Sonoma Cutrer, Pinot noir 2007, Russian River Valley, Sonoma ~£24
Juicy tutti frutti on the nose, almost a hint jammy, in a positive way. Full bodied with hints of spicy cinnamon, showing good character. A wine in the full fat style, with a warmth of alcohol coming through at the back palate.
Cambria, Pinot noir 2006, Julia’s Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Maria
Pale colour, with a faintly balsamic nose. Then a sweet palate, with a remarkable intensity of red fruit flavours. A good light-and-intense combo.
Au Bon Climat, Pinot noir 2008, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Maria ~ £25
Bright cherry colour. A little reclusive on the palate attack, then opens up mid palate with light red berry fruits and an attractive glycerol texture.
Viña Leyda, Lot 21 Pinot Noir 2008, Leyda Valley ~£20
Medium deep colour, spiced, mulled black cherries, strawberries, quite an atypical nose for pinot noir. Sweet and spicy fruit in a more full bodied style, with some more typical crunch among soft berries.
Casa Marin, Pinot Noir 2006, Lo Abarca, San Antonio Valley ~£25
Balsamic smoked wood, graphite and earthy savoury characters. Big savoury flavours, well balanced, needs some attention in the mouth to reveal itself.
Matetic, EQ Pinot Noir 2007, San Antonio Valley ~£18
Quite deep plum colour, with almost mulberry aromatics and a sweet, lush palate of dark, smoked summer fruits. Big volume of rich, sweet, varietally-expressive fruit. And long finish.
Casas del Bosque, Pequeñas Producciones Pinot noir 2008, Casablanca Valley ~£19
Dry-baked summer fruits with dry-compost, earthy aroma. Supple attack of sweet, ripe, black and morello cherry. Full, sweet palate, more-ish with layers of some charm unravelling mid-palate. Well framed by a defining backbone of acidity.
Cono Sur, Ocio Pinot noir 2008, Casablanca Valley ~ £38
Allspice and cinnamon-baked cherries and raspberries. Super, ripe, delicious berry fruit, not lush, just well proportioned. Sweet supporting oak; full bodied for a pinot noir, and appealing and enjoyable nonetheless. Good texture and definition,
Felton Road, Pinot noir 2009, Bannockburn, Central Otago ~£23
Sweet red cherry fruit. Quite a full palate, with lush and voluptuous fruit, dark cherries and raspberries that are intense and vibrant. Sweet and lush and immediately attractive.
Mount Maude, Pinot noir 2007, Wanaka, Central Otago
Soft mulberry and cherry aromas, then full-flavoured attack of sweet-smoked cherry and raspberry; good concentration and depth, nicely balanced with great varietal definition.
Quartz Reef, Pinot noir 2007, Bendigo, Central Otago
Medium pale colour; savoury, smoky, almost tarry aromatics, then layers of complexity emerge in the mouth. Nicely defined, with sweet texture without being lush. Good, with long finish.
Pegasus Bay, Pinot noir 2007, Wairapa, Canterbury ~£28
Wood-smoky nose, savoury notes alongside lush, sweet fruits and hints of early maturation – faintly emerging earth and farmyard. Lovely sweet glycerol texture, rich, endearing and understated.
Fromm, Pinot noir 2008, Clayvin vineyard, Marlborough ~£30
Graphite nose, with black berried fruits in an elegantly proportioned mid palate. Fresh acid backbone, with attractive complexity emerging in the mouth. Understated, with good concentration of warm fruit and sweet texture. Nice.
Schubert, Pinot noir 2008, Block B, Wairarapa, Martinborough ~£29
Crunchy red fruits on the nose, with a sweet perfume at the back palate. Crunchy attack mellowing to a big, sweet fruit concentration mid palate. A nicely-proportioned wine that creeps under the radar, needs a bit of human concentration to get the depth. Long finish.
Craggy Range, Pinot noir 2008, Te Muna Road, Martinborough ~£20
Chalky red fruits in a crunchy-and-sweet combo. Hints of sandalwood-wrapped red cherries and redcurrants in a light-yet-intensely fruited whole. Fresh core and long finish.
Ata Rangi, Pinot noir 2008, Martinborough ~£35
Lush, sweet berry attack, full and sweet, balanced, with graphite-savoury note mid palate. Attractively framing core on which layered fruit hangs.
Firesteed, Pinot noir 2008, Oregon ~£16
Pale, light cherry aromas, bit of crunchiness. Firm acidity with medium weight of fruit, pure and direct red berry fruits. Tastes a bit like baby brother sort of product from someone who knows what they’re doing.
Beaux Frères, Pinot noir 2007, Willamette Valley, Oregon ~£55
Smoked cherry, with hints of dark chocolate on the nose. Smooth attack, with sweet texture to the medium-to-light weight body. Faint twist of bitter chocolate on the finish.
Willamette Valley Vineyards, Pinot noir 2007, Willamette Valley, Oregon ~£20
Sweet briar and red cherry aromas. Smooth palate entry, with some sweet glycerol weight to mid palate. Lovely varietal definition and weight with positive acid backbone for frame. Immediately appealing and with nice length.