jamie goode's wine blog: Pinot Noir

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Pinot Noir

DRC fascinates me. Itís Pinot Noir, and thereís nothing magical about the way it is made: just solid traditional winemaking. Yet these wines are astonishingly expensive, to the extent that the price bears little relation to the production costs.

Look, thereís some margin to be had here. Iím sure itís not cheap to make DRC: the vineyards need to be tended carefully, and there needs to be rigorous selection of fruit after harvest. But itís not as if the guys there have secret knowledge that no one else does, nor that they have skills that are unique (although they are evidently on top of their game). Itís something about the place that sets DRC apart. If other people could make wines as good as DRC, then they would, because whatever effort it took they would be able to recoup the cost many time over because their wines would be highly sought after.

OK, letís add a bit of perspective. I concede that some people may be making wines as good as those in the DRC line-up. Domaine Leroy springs to mind. Perhaps a few others. [How do we define Ďas good así? Thatís an additional complication.] Also, even if a newcomer performed to the same level as DRC, would the market reward them the same? Probably not. Thereís something special about the DRC brand; it has a magic of its own. Itís also likely that as we taste DRC the label does influence our perception in a positive way (Iíve only once tried a DRC wine blind; on all other occasions the label has been seen).

But having said this, wouldnít it be wonderful to find other patches of land that yielded such magical Pinot Noirs at prices normal people could afford to drink? This would be a nice discussion topic.

So where makes really good affordable Pinot Noir? Iím not necessarily talking about sub-£10, which restricts the field a little too much, but more sub-£20. Currently, New Zealand would be my first choice, and particularly Central Otago and Wairapa (Martinborough), although Marlborough isnít doing too badly. Hereís one that has recently impressed:

Waipara Springs Premo Pinot Noir 2005 Waipara, New Zealand
Destemmed, cold soak, minimal plunging, wild fermentation and extended skin contact: the result is a lovely Pinot Noir. It has a powerful, aromatic nose showing ripe, sweet and smooth berry fruit with a touch of coffee-ish roasted oak and some sweet spices. The palate is smooth and elegant with a lovely texture to the sweet fruit, which is backed up by some spice and silky tannin. I think this is a baby that will need a little time to show its best, but there's real quality here and the oak will be absorbed nicely. Very good/excellent 93/100 (Hellion Wines)

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At 8:02 PM, Blogger Paul Tudor said...

I think you meant to type "Wairarapa" for the area that encapsulates Martinborough, Greytown, Masterton et al.

Waipara, in North Canterbury, is perhaps my first choice for top Pinots Noir from New Zealand. The area encompasses a range of soil types, has gentle, rolling slopes and typically a late, yet dry indian summer. It is possible that ripeness levels are higher here than in Burgundy? But as far as soil profiles go, there are some quite old seabeds that have been elevated and now planted on.

One of the big defining elements of Martinborough's terroir, which is rarely commented on, is the wind. It is windy - yet sunny!

Waipara is relatively sheltered, experiences harsh winters and is a picturesque wine region.

Further north, actually to the northwest, we have a new inland basin being developed near Hawarden, with some exciting producers (Bell Hill and Pyramid Valley). First Pinots out of this are extremely promising.

At 10:56 PM, Anonymous Doug said...

I agree about Waipara being probably the best area in New Zealand for Pinots. The wines exhibit, dare one say, an almost Burgundian finesse; soils are limestone-clay with a high PH and steep temperature differentials and a long ripening season contributes to the balance in the wines. Many growers plant on slopes here rather than the flatter areas seen elsewhere in New Zealand. The oldest Pinot vineyard in New Zealand is St Helena (planted in the late 70s) and Danny Schuster's Omihi Hills in Waipara is the oldest single block vineyard. (Ata Rangi is the oldest in Martinborough but has been replanted with new blocks).

The wines from Wairarapa are certainly very good: Ata Rangi and Dry River still lead the pack.

I'm a huge fan of Felton Road in Central Otago; biodynamic viticulture, sloping vineyards, very low yields (22-25 hl/ha) and lovely oak integration.

Back to DRC. It's not really a question of Pinot Noir per se, but of relative pricing in the wine market in general. The index is out of all proportion to the quality of the wine. Chateau Lafleur 1982, for example, will set you back approx £1800 per bottle; Leoville Las Cases 1982 £370 and Cos d'Estournel 1982 £210. Since they are all scraping the magic ton in the firmament of Parker perfection this can only be that Lafleur produces a mere 1000 cases and the others over 20,000 apiece. The mere fact that I'm crunching these numbers illustrates how much supply an demand dictate market value.

Bordeaux may seem to be more about marketing than Burgundy; but the Burgundians play the terroir card brilliantly. The history and location of the vineyard is all important; the hierarchy of 1er and Grand cru wines are part of the complex subculture of the region. Add to that the capricious nature of the Pinot Noir grape and the tiny production (compared to Bordeaux) and you have everything that makes Burgundy infuriating and attractive, magical and disappointing. What I'm saying is that tasting DRC may give you a (wine) epiphany, a sensually -charged aesthetically-rich experience that you will carry forever - and money doesn't come into the equation. Conversely, the expectations raised by tasting a wine with such a reputation and so rare and so expensive may never be completely fulfilled, precisely because those expectations are so exalted.

At 9:50 AM, Anonymous Shon said...

Coincidentally, had the Ata Rangi Pinot 2002 last night as a nearly- end-of-week treat. A beauty, with some attractive wild, unpolished edges.

Talking of polished, California, particularly the maritime climates of Carneros, makes some stunning Pinot, but not possibly in the sub twenty quid category. However, if you're a fan, Majestic have a v attractive discount on Saintsbury Pinot at the moment - I'm off there tomorrow!

At 8:06 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

My bad. Waipara sounds great.

Doug, as ever, thanks for your insightful comments. NZ Pinot Noir, in its varying manifestations, is one of the most exciting new world wine styles.

Tonight I sip a thrilling Pisa Range Pinot....

Shon, agree about California, but as you point out we are talking, on the whole, prices on a par with Grand Cru Burgundy. And the cursed mailing lists.


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