Regional Wines of Wellington ran two pinot noir tastings earlier this year, under the general heading: Are They Worth Cellaring: Pinot Noir. The first week comprised NZ wines under $30, and the second week NZ wines over $30. The tastings were presented by Geoff Kelly, and were designed to complement his occasional short articles for the Regional Wines website, titled Worth Cellaring.
I attended the second over $30 tasting. I was lucky to attend the same a year earlier. I thought it would be fun to compare the two events, and vintages.
Geoff writes of the tasting on his excellent website, geoffkellywinereviews.co.nz:
“Pinot noir continues to be the red wine of choice, perhaps because it can be so fragrant and delicious, perhaps because it bridges the gap beautifully between white wines and ‘serious’ red wines. Rosé, which in theory should do that job, usually fails to be satisfying. Thus pinot noir provides the perfect pathway to move from enjoying white wines to appreciating reds.
There are hundreds of New Zealand pinot noirs now. To select 12-only for each of these two exercises is therefore invidious. Our selections include wines which have won gold more than once. We then listed the wines which sell most at Regional Wines, and for the expensive set some labels which everybody wants to taste but maybe can’t afford on their own, and then there was the desire to make sure that each pinot noir district was represented somewhere in the two flights. We also put in Michael Cooper’s 2014 red wine of the year, since he has a consistency of approach which is admirable”
As before, Geoff presented all the wines blind, and decanted them into bagged bottles. They were arranged in order stylistically so that the wines followed each other in the most complimentary fashion possible, with the first of each flight “stylistically correct” as a benchmark.
The single bottles were then passed from hand to hand around the room for us 24 participants to measure out 27.5ml quantities, via wee plastic jelly-shot glasses to a level marked, and pour into our tasting glasses. We were asked to examine the wines at leisure, then discuss our impressions, and vote for our best and worst wines.
Geoff writes further; “In the preamble to these two highly enjoyable tastings, I mentioned that I had cellared my first case of grand cru burgundy from the 1969 vintage, a great year in Burgundy, and it was a wine from a vineyard which still remains stellar in my view, yet underrated: 1969 Drouhin Clos de la Roche in Morey-Saint-Denis (Cote de Nuits). My goal in such a statement was to introduce the notion, [ ], that a New Zealander not in the practical winemaking side of wine should actually know something about pinot noir the grape, and burgundy the winestyle.
So in these introductions, we talked about the notion of the pinot noir winestyle, that in the good ones it is a wine of florality, complexity and delight on bouquet, and soft sensuous and often subtle yet essentially satisfying beauty on palate. We contrasted it with the more authoritarian firm aromatic flavours and character of good cabernet, with its need for greater new oak to complement the stronger flavours of the bordeaux grape varieties.
We went on to discuss the fact that beauty in bouquet for pinot noir is a function of not over-ripening, that bigger and riper and darker is not better in pinot noir (as too many in the industry mistakenly believed in the 1990s, continuing through to this century), that the quality of pinot noir must never be judged from its colour, and that great pinot noir sustains the beauty of its bouquet right through the palate. Thus the palate must be long and supple in its fruit / oak charm and beauty, but it does not need to be strong, at all. We mentioned that in evaluating the wines, we should seek what pinot aficionados call ‘layers’ of texture as well as flavour, noting this is a pretty abstruse concept.
Basically we are seeking beautiful sweet floral smells and flavours, where the florality permeates the palate, and the whole lasts and sometimes even expands in the mouth. We mentioned that leaving aside the florals (in their hierarchy from fresh sweet pea → buddleia → rose → lilac → violets and boronia) that simple pinot noir might smell of red currants, strawberries and raspberries to a degree, but quality pinot noir smelt of red grading to black cherries, sometimes with an elusive aromatic quality hard to define, but enticing.
We then discussed the concept of over-ripeness, that the key beautiful floral aromas are simply lost in over-ripening in hot climates (why good pinot noir cannot be grown north of Martinborough (or maybe Masterton), or much south of Beaune), and that when the wine reaches the black cherry stage, be on guard, for it may all too easily pass to black plums, and that is over-ripe for absolute pinot noir beauty, with its increase in size, but the loss of florality, varietal quality and complexity.
We also raised the question of the perceived Central Otago pinot noir style, and remarked that it has been caricatured by pinot-producers from other wine districts, perhaps out of self-interest, as tending to wines which are a bit too big and fruity, though nobody would dare say jammy. There does seem to be some evidence emerging that Otago winemakers are now aiming for a less ripe, less alcoholic and less dark wines. Such a move will certainly increase florality and therefore beauty and complexity, but great care will be needed to not at the same time introduce leafyness and stalkyness. That risk is exacerbated by including stems in the ferment – the whole bunch approach – yet this technique is indisputably part of some of the greatest pinot noirs in the world.
The ripeness of the tannins in the stems (and seeds) is critical, and that seems to be a function of a climate critically appropriate to achieving full physiological maturity of flavour in pinot noir. Loosely speaking, such climates show greater continentality. The goal of such moves is to close the gap on the winestyles found in the Cote de Nuits, which by general agreement is home to the most complex expressions of pinot noir in the world.”
What a great introduction! I learnt a good deal listening to what Geoff said.
What I write below is collated from what I thought of the wines, and what others thought, before and after the wines were finally identified. In a departure from usual form, I attempted a comparable score or valuation to identify the wines I thought were wonderful.
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2011 Fromm Clayvin Pinot Noir Marlborough – the ‘sighter’ of the flight. Pink carmine colour. Fruity nose, lightly scented. To taste; bright red fruit, some acidity, light & fresh, a touch of watermelon. Quite delicious. Beautifully ripened to perfection, no stalks, not long. I like this producer very much – I adored their 2010 Brancott Vineyard PN. 3+
2012 Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard Central Otago – a serious mover. Pink carmine; expressive nose, herby, brambly, elegant. Red cherries in mouth, solid depth of fruit, firm & long, a bit acidic, a bit of stalk , considered in the top three of the tasting. 4+
2012 Peregrine Pinot Noir Central Otago – a personal fav of mine. I don’t drink enough of it. Deep pink carmine; light florality, red cherries, roses, brambles. This has ripeness and depth in spades, taut, a firm structure with tannins, length, dense fruit delivery, celery nose, clipped, elemental florality, little more complex (due to Central terroir?), pretty, gratifying. This is a keeper. 4+
2011 Escarpment Pinot Noir Martinborough – Larry McKenna’s ‘collective statement’ pinot, as distinct from his SV wines. Deep pink carmine; Light floral red fruit. Shows depth and intensity, ripe red fruit in the mouth, elegant. Would keep well. Good acid balance, finesse, noticeable tannins (hence cellarability). 4
2012 Akarua Pinot Noir Bannockburn Central Otago – Pink carmine; Stronger floral bouquet, herbs and black fruit. Complex depth, black cherries to taste, and vanilla, nice fruit & length, firm, good body, a light touch of funk. 4+
2012 Valli Pinot Noir Gibbston Central Otago – Pink garnet; Burnt match nose, dark cherries, strong aromatics, power. Deep and structured, ripe long and velvety, even seductive. I liked it very much. Then I was told it was reductive. I have a nose for (and liking of) reductive wine. Others opined: grubby, cured meat, dull, leaden. I scored this highly for CHARACTER and INTEREST. 4+
2010 Ostler Pinot Noir Caroline’s Waitaki Valley – Deep carmine; an impact nose – all spice and all the red fruits. Delicious, with ripe red fruit & pointy lusciousness. Others saw freshness, leafy and green, sweet, lolly-like. I saw LIKE! 5
2012 Pisa Range Estate Pinot Noir Black Poplar Block Cromwell Central Otago – Pink carmine; very floral, forward, impactful, a show wine. Warm & round, very ripe, almost jammy, long. Some saw brooding palate weight. Hmm, a bit too pseudo even for me. I saw 4 and cellar potential.
2012 Wooing Tree Pinot Noir Cromwell Central Otago – An over-achiever this one. I have enjoyed previous editions. Deep pink carmine; very leggy. Light, medicinal nose. Tannic and bracing and ripe and very delish. A clear floral component, diffuses through mouth, very pleasing. Top 3 in the tasting. 5.
2011 Black Estate Pinot Noir Waipara – Deep pink carmine; Aniseed nose, thyme. A bit underripe, tho elegant and stylish. Short. 4
2011 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir Martinborough – Pink carmine. Roses and red cherries. This shows great depth and intensity of fruit expression. Elegant, pure and refined. Very straight and restrained, with absolutely spot-on structure and balance. Did I say it also tasted wonderful? Top 3 in the tasting. 5
2011 Neudrof Moutere Pinot Noir Nelson – Pink carmine; Medicinal, light and elegant bouquet; herbs and black fruit. Tannic and drying; the boldest structure of the flight. Grippy-ness got in the way of any appreciation of the fruit/ripeness qualities of the wine. Long finish. Will cellar for a while, and needs it. 4+
2012 Greystone Pinot Noir Waipara – this was the leading wine from the Under $30 tasting, so was included here for comparison. Smells great – brambly, complex, very purple florals; involving. Light red fruits, delicious, sweet but very correct PN. 4+
This was a great reference journey through New Zealand Pinot Noir. Many thanks to GK and Regional Wines.
My only regret is that the lower boundary of the pinot bliss curve is now shading $30 per bottle…