This session at the Vancouver wine festival focused on Pinot Noir from Ontario. ‘It’s a difficult place to grow Pinot,’ says John Szabo, who led the session. ‘There are realities to growing Pinot Noir. It is expensive to grow and it doesn’t always work out well.’
Altogether there are 17 000 acres of vines in Ontario, and Pinot Noir takes up just 800 of these, with 650 acres in Niagara and 150 acres in Prince Edward County. So, overall, it’s responsible for 6% of Ontario’s production, with 100-150 000 cases annually and 130 different labels.
Karl Kaiser first planted Pinot Noir here, but the big break came in 1993 with a joint venture between Inniskillin and Burgundian producer Jaffelin that ended up becoming Clos Jordanne, which was for a while the leading Pinot producer in the region. Now there are lots of very good Ontario Pinot Noirs.
The Niagara region has some interesting terroirs for Pinot Noir, with some limestone in the soil. In Prince Edward County, limestone soils are joined by a properly marginal cool climate: the vines have to be earthed over during the winter to protect from cold damage.
Farming Pinot is expensive. Harald Thiel of Hidden Bench reveald that last year his vineyards cost $7000 a hectare to farm for yields of 30 hl/ha. The current Pinot Noir grape price is $2000 per ton, so Harald couldn’t sell his grapes and break even.
These wines were a bit of a mixed bag with some real highlights, and also some wines that didn’t quite get it right. But overall, there’s a lot of very good Ontario Pinot being made.
Norman Hardie Winery County Pinot Noir Unfiltered 2014 Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada 10.9% alcohol. Very fine, bright and direct. Such lively fresh red cherry fruit with some fine spiciness and keen acidity. Finishes bright and with lovely purity. 94/100
Closson Chase Churchside Pinot Noir 2014 Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada Distinctive cola, tar and rhubarb edge to the cherry fruit nose. Lively, tangy palate with fresh red cherry fruit, some damson and some stewed plum. Juicy finish to this sweet and sour wine, but there’s appeal here. 89/100
Rosehall Run Pinot Noir JCR Rosehall Vineyard 2014 Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada Supple with sweet plum and cherry fruit. Quite elegant with plums, cherries and a touch of raspberry. Nice freshness and acidity here. 91/100
Pelee Island Winery Pinot Noir Reserve 2014 Ontario, Canada There’s some richness to this wine which has some spice and herbs as well as sweet plum and cherry fruit. Finishes a bit sweet. There’s a sweetly fruited richness to this wine, but it’s quite simple. 88/100
Bachelder Lowrey Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013 St David’s Bench, Niagara, Canada
Supple and elegant with real finesse. There’s fresh red cherry fruit, a bit of plum, and a lovely stony, savoury core, coupled with good acidity. It’s light and expressive with some fine herbal, autumnal, dried leaves complexity under the fruit. Delicate. 93/100
Flat Rock Cellars Gravity Pinot Noir 2013 Twenty Mile Bench, Niagar, Canada There’s some sweet and sour character here, with tangy red cherry and raspberry fruit together with some savoury herbal characters. Some chalky unertones. Juicy with a spicy, savoury twist. 91/100
Tawse Winery Cherry Avenue Pinot Noir 2013 Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara, Canada There’s a distinctive, bright, open red cherry fruit character here: it’s almost liqueur-like and seamless, but very fresh and fruity. Supple, berryish and quite elegant with nice fruit purity and good acidity. 92/100
Malivoire Mottiar Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013 Beamsville Bench, Niagar, Canada Some warm herby notes here. Quite autumnal and savoury with a warm spicy quality and supple cherry and plum fruit. Nice combination of sweet and savoury characters. 90/100
Hidden Bench Vineyards & Winery Locust Lane Pinot Noir 2013 Beamsville Bench, Niagara, Canada Generously fruited, with good concentration, and also some elegance and freshness. Sweet black cherry fruit with some plums and firm, slightly grippy structure, as well as some bright acidity. There’s some savouriness here as well as the fruit. 92/100
Domaine Queylus Pinot Noir Le Grande Reserve 2013 Niagara Peninsula, Niagara, Canada This has a really appealing spicy, savoury, slightly cedary character that integrates nicely into the cherry and berry fruit. The fruit is supple and fine with supple red cherry and plum notes. Real elegance and finesse here. 94/100
Trius Clark Farm Pinot Noir 2014 Four Mile Creek, Niagara, Canada Cedary, spicy and savoury with a strange, slightly musty edge. Fresh with juicy acidity that sticks out a little. Savoury and mineral. Grippy. 87/100
Inniskillin Niagara Estate Montague Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014 Niagara Peninsula, Niagara, Canada Supple and fruity with a slightly minty edge to the fruit. Lively cherries and raspberries with some grippy structure. Lots of fruit here. Lacking elegance. 88/100
More Canadian wine at the Vancouver International Wine Festival. This tasting was a tour of British Columbia’s wine regions with a star panel ably led by Rhys Pender. Taking part were Michael Bartier of Bartier Bros, Nikki Callaway of Quail’s Gate, JAK Meyer of Meyer Family Vineyards, David Paterson of Tantalus and Chris Turyk of Unsworth Vineyards.
The BC wine region is dominated by the Okanagan Valley, and its adjoining valley the Similkameen. The key to these vineyard areas is the rain shadow effect: moist air hits the coast (Vancouver gets lots of rain) and the coastal mountain range strips the air of its moisture. Thus the Okanagan and Similkameen enjoy a very dry, sunny climate.
The industry really got going in the early 1990s when the free trade agreement with the USA removed economic protection from Canada’s wines. This pushed quality winemaking, because the wines needed to improve in order to be competitive in the absence of economic props. There has been a steady pattern of growth since then.
There were 17 wineries in 1990; now there are almost 300, and there are 10260 acres of vines (Ontario has 17 000). ‘It’s a small industry, and that’s one of our big strengths,’ says Rhys Pender. ‘When we got started we did a lot of copying other regions of the world. Now everyone is really focusing on making wine that is 100% BC,’ he says. ‘You start to figure out what the grapes want to do naturally, without forcing a square peg into a round hole. We are a unique wine region, so let’s not fight against that. There’s nowhere else like this in the world of wine. This is pretty special: no one can make the same styles of wines that we do.’
Rhys presented a list of the factors that make BC wine unique. None of these things are unique on their own, he suggests, but the combination of them is. They are:
Huge diurnal temperature ranges lead to naturally high levels of acidity
Naturally intense fruit flavour
Naturally high levels of tannin in red wines.
Long sunlight hours.
Dry conditions requiring low fungicide or pesticide use.
The challenges are the cold arctic air flows that can sometimes result in winter kill of vines, and the reliance on irrigation.
There’s a wide diversity of grape varieties in BC, which makes it hard to identify the key talents of the region. The Okanagan valley has 84% of all vineyards, with one subregion Golden Mile Bench. Rhys is part of a task force working on creating more subregions in the Okanagan: these are potentially Kelowna/Lake County, Naramata/Penticton/Summerland, Okanagan Falls, Osoyoos/Black Sage Bench. This would make sense because the region ranges from 1200-1500 growing degree days from the north to the south.
We tried a range of wines, taking in some newer regions as well as the more established ones.
Unsworth Vineyards Charme d’Isle Sparkling NV Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, Canada
Very fruity and lively with apples, pears and some spiciness. Juicy and lively with a distinctive sweet apple character. Fruity and distinctive. 88/100
Harper’s Trail Estate Winery Pioneer Block Dry Riesling 2014 BC, Canada This is from a vineyard in Kamloops, in the Thompson Valley, which is a new, developing region. Soils are limestone bedrock, located above the banks of the south Thompson River at 51 degrees latitude, with very cold winters. Vines were planted in 2008. 10 g acid and 10 g residual sugar. Beautifully delicate lemony, limey fruit with great precision and lovely integrated acidity. Very fine and expressive with a stony minerality. Lovely stuff. 93/100
Ex Nihilo Vineyards Pinot Gris 2015 Okanagan Valley, Canada From Lake Country. 14.5% alcohol, 5.4 g/litre acidity, 4 g/litre sugar. Has a slightly hollow edge with some strange mushroom and green herb notes as well as tangerine and lemon fruit. It has a slightly sake like character with the high alcohol and thin fruit. 83/100
Tantalus Vineyards Chardonnay 2014 Okanagan Valley, Canada
Subtle mealy, spicy notes complement the linear, stony citrus fruits. There’s some freshness here, but also subtle spicy, nutty, peachy richer notes. Finishes lemony with just a hint of oak blending in well. Nice acidity here. 92/100
Meyer Family Vineyards McLean Creek Chardonnay 2014 Okanagan Valley, Canada
Very fine spicy, toasty, nutty nose. The palate has nice concentration with intense citrus, meal, bread and spice notes. There’s a power to the peach and citrus fruit. There’s a delicacy to the finish on this wine. Lovely stuff. 94/100
Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery Pinot Noir Reserve 2013 BC, Canada
13% alcohol and 7 g/litre acidity. In an emerging wine region called Creston, on the same latitude of Osoyoos but higher, at 600 m. Glacial till, with a lot of granite. Supple and pretty with lovely fresh red cherry fruit. Light, expressive, fine and fruity with purity and finesse. There’s a lovely texture to this fruit. It’s so drinkable and pure. 93/100
Quails’ Gate Winery Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir 2014 Okanagan Valley, CanadaSmooth, refined black cherry fruit here with a savoury, stony undercurrent. There’s fruit here, but also some savouriness. Some grippy tannins, too, as well as some sappy green notes. Very appealing, with layers. 92/100
Bartier Bros. Cabernet Franc 2013 Okanagan Valley, Canada From the Cequiera Vineyard, on the Black Sage gravel bar in Oliver/Osoyoos. Supple and fresh with a distinctive stony character and nice acidity. Fresh red cherries and plums, with some floral detail. There’s a bit of sappiness here, too. A lovely balanced expression of Cabernet Franc in a lighter style. 92/100
Poplar Grove Merlot 2013 Okanagan Valley, Canada Naramata Bench. 13.5% alcohol. Supple and fresh with a leafy edge to the cherry and berry fruits. Attractive and understated, but has some vanilla oak poking through on the finish. The oak ruins it a bit. 86/100
Osoyoos Larose Estate Winery Le Grand Vin 2013 Okanagan Valley, Canada Based in Osoyoos on the west side. 80 acre plot at 400 m, with a gentle slope. 13.5% alcohol. 57% Merlot with the balance a mix of the other Bordeaux varieties. Sweet, supple blackcurrant fruit here with a nice gravelly, spicy edge. Quite dry and structured, but has some texture and generous fruit. Hints of olive and pepper add interest. Good concentration of flavour: ripe but balanced. Lovely fruit quality here. 91/100
Sandhill Vanessa Vineyard Syrah 2013 Similkameen Valley, BC, Canada Sweet and textured with ripe black cherry and berry fruits with some lovely olive and pepper notes. Some dried herbs and spice, with a savoury, mineral intensity to this wine. Warm but with some peppery notes of cool climate. Lovely stuff. 93/100
C.C. Jentsch Cellars Syrah 2013 Golden Mile Bench, Okanagan Valley, Canada No Viognier in the blend in this vintage. Some spice and olive character with berries and cherries, and some savoury plummy notes. There’s some pepper and olive, too. Nice fruit here with some savoury spiciness and a bit of green herb character. Grippy finish. 90/100
I’m currently in Vancouver at the Vancouver International Wine Festival. Apparently, this is North America’s longest running and largest wine festival. So far it has been really interesting. Each year there is a theme country, and because it is Canada’s 150th anniversary, Canada is the theme. So I’ll be writing up my Canadian wine experiences, beginning with this session on Ontario’s white wines, which was led by Christopher Waters, and I was sitting on the panel.
The modern era of Ontario wine began in 1974 when Inniskillin got the first winery licence to be awarded since 1916 (for more on the history of Ontario wine, there’s a nice timeline (here). Now there are 165 wineries in the province, with 17000 acres of vines (9000 hectares), of which the majority are in the Niagara region.
The two varieties featured here are Riesling (18% of production), and Chardonnay (14% of production). Both do very well here, and these wines impressed.
Château des Charmes Old Vines Riesling 2014 Niagara on The Lake, Canada There’s some richness here with honey, ripe apple and pears, alongside some stony mineral citrus fruit. There’s a long, lemony finish to the pretty fruit. Fruity and generous, showing a touch of sweetness but also finishing quite dry. 91/100
Thirty Bench Small Lot Steel Post Riesling 2014 Beamsville Bench, Niagara, Canada Very intense and limey with real density and high acidity. Quite powerful with a grapefruit pith bitterness and just a hint of petrol character. Dry with high acidity, this is a really distinctive Riesling. 90/100
Charles Baker Riesling 2013 Niagara Peninsula, Niagara, Canada From the Picone vineyard. Very fruity and supple with open lemony fruit and a hint of marmalade tang. Citrussy and fine with nice depth to the fruit. Some honeyed richness and just a hint of nuttiness. Lovely balance here. 91/100
Tawse Winery Quarry Road Riesling 2015 Vinemount Ridge, Niagara, Canada Intense and powerful with lovely texture to the lively citrus fruits and a subtle stony, nutty edge. Lovely acidity here keeps things together with a lovely lemon and grapefruit character. Nice intensity. 92/100
Flat Rock Cellars Nadjas Vineyard Riesling 2015 Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara, Canada Lovely generous fruit here. There’s a bit of sweetness here with nice balance and lovely limey purity. There’s a delicious lemony zing hemming in the generous, sweet fruit. A lovely wine. 93/100
Norman Hardie Winery County Chardonnay 2013 Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada There’s a bit of bread and toast on the nose, but the core to this wine is lovely citrus fruit with really fine acidity. The acidity is just so beautifully integrated into the lemon and grapefruit characters. So fine. 94/100
Rosehall Run JCR Chardonnay 2014 Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada Herbs, ripe apples and lemons here with a lovely acid core. Tangy with some subtle herby characters as well as a bit of pithy character. Lovely weight and focus to this wine, which finishes with nuts and lemons. 92/100
Trius Winery Showcase Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2014 Lincoln Lakeshore, Niagara, Canada Stony and lemony with nice precision. There’s a lovely citrus and white peach character here. Delicate and fine with nice weight and balance. 92/100
Flat Rock Cellars Rusty Shed Chardonnay 2013 Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara, Canada A rich style with lovely toast and spice notes as well as rich pear and peach fruit. There’s an appealing spicy citrus character that adds a foil to the rich, sweet, broad fruit. Very stylish. 93/100
Domaine Queylus Tradition Chardonnay 2013 Niagara Peninsula, Niagara, Canada Very fine and linear with lemon and pear fruit. Taut and compact with lovely lemony focus and great concentration. Real finesse here with lovely fruit character. 92/100
Hidden Bench Estate Winery Estate Chardonnay 2014 Beamsville Bench, Niagara, Canada Fresh and precise with nice lemony fruit. Some pears, nuts and anise, with very well integrated oak. Stylish and lemony with lovely purity. There’s a lovely focus to this wine. 93/100
Continuing my round up of top Pinot Noirs from the recent New Zealand trip, here are some favourites from Central Otago, with a couple from North Otago’s Waitaki thrown in too. I’ve been coming to Central Otago regularly since 2010, and there’s been a steady evolution. This is unsurprising: after all, the first commercial wine from the region was as recent as 1987. On this trip, in particular, I found more diversity in the wines. As the vines age, I expect that the privileged sites will emerge more clearly. With young vines, you taste the clones and climate more. There’s more uniformity: the wines can be delicious, but sometimes there’s that extra dimension missing. Now, we are beginning to see more layers and mid-palate depth in some of the wines. The primary fruit, one of the key draws of this region, is still there, but there’s some non-fruit complexity. I think Central is one of those regions that you really begin to appreciate more when you have actually been there: it’s possible in some mystical way to connect the rugged landscapes, the primal scenery, the big skies with the personality of the wines. As usual, this is not a full selection of the wines that I liked. Full notes will be published of all the wines shortly.
Akarua Kolo Pinot Noir 2015 Central Otago, New Zealand
From a single vineyard, this shows very sweet cherry fruit with lovely finesse. It’s floral and vibrant with nice focus and freshness. Very pretty with detailed cherry and plum fruit. There’s a lovely fruit sweetness here with great finesse and purity. So supple. 94/100
Akitu Pinot Noir A1 2013 Central Otago, New Zealand
This is the one of the two Akitu wines, and it has a black label. It’s from a vineyard in Wanaka on old schist, and the wines are made at Maude by PJ Charteris. 70% Abel clone, the rest UCD5 and sometimes some 777. Powerful but very fresh with lovely vivid, bright black cherry fruit and good structure. There’s great precision and purity here: a really serious effort. The white label is also delicious and a bit more fruit dominated. 95/100
Aurum Madeleine Pinot Noir 2013 Central Otago, New Zealand
Lucie Lawrence uses 100% whole bunch for this wine, which started as an experiment with a ton of 667 clone Pinot that didn’t fit anywhere. This clone always has nice stem ripeness, so Lucie took the tank to the vineyard, picked into the tank, and left the intact bunches, with no juice at all, for 12 day, protected with some gas. After this she threw the children to tread the grapes, and then it started fermenting straight away. The temperature and kinetics of the fermentation was so different. At dryness she basket pressed into old barrels. Fine, fresh, slightly green pot pourri notes alongside the pretty, floral cherry fruit. Nice finesse here. Lovely fresh red fruit quality on the palate and a bit of peppery. Bright with nice grip and elegance. 94/100
Burn Cottage Pinot Noir 2015 Central Otago, New Zealand
Sweet with lush, floral cherry fruit. Sweet, warmly spicy and grippy with freshy red cherries and spice. Textural and very fine. 95/100
Carrick The Magnetic Pinot Noir 2015 Central Otago, New Zealand
Very supple, pure, fresh cherry fruit with elegance and purity. Delicate, showingfinesse. Lovely pure fruit. 94/100
Chard Farm Mason Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014 Central Otago, New Zealand This comes from high terraces in Lowburn/Pisa. Supple and quite elegant with pure cherry and plum fruit. Lovely restrained elegance with some stony freshness and purity. 94/100
Cloudy Bay Te Wahi Pinot Noir 2015 Central Otago, New Zealand Harvested a little earlier in this, the second vintage, with 30% whole bunch. Fine, detailed, supple, herbal black fruits with some spice and cedary new oak. Grippy, structured and youthful this needs time to show its best. 95/100
Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir 2013 Central Otago, New Zealand Lovely tight intense raspberry and cherry aromatics with a distinct peppery spiciness. There’s substance and density to the palate which has rich texture and fine, refined tannins. There’s lovely acidity, too. This has beautiful focus and precision: rich and quite ripe but also has presence and structure. Quite profound. 96/100
Folding Hill Orchard Block Pinot Noir 2014 Central Otago, New Zealand Very lively, silky and pure with nice grip. This has good savoury structure under the cherry and plum fruit with a hint of cedar, too. 94/100
Gibbston Valley Le Maitre Pinot Noir 2015 Gibbston, Central Otago, New Zealand From a dry farmed single vineyard. Very fine with red cherries and plums, as well as some supple elegance. Nice tannins here. Has some grip. Real presence and elegance with pretty, detailed fruit and a long finish. 96/100
Grasshopper Rock Block 6 Pinot Noir 2014 Central Otago, New Zealand Just three barrels. Supple with lots of structure and fine cherry fruit. Well structured with nice purity. Lively and fragrant with nice grippy notes. 94/100
Kalex Pinot Noir 2011 Central Otago, New Zealand
This comes from Bannockburn and Bendigo. Grippy and fresh and fine, a bit like Nebbiolo, with fresh, spicy tannins, and notes of tea leaf, spice, flower petals and cherries. Grippy and pretty at the same time with lovely detail. 95/100
Maude Mount Maude Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014 Central Otago, New Zealand
100% whole bunch. Fine and floral with nice sappy, slightly earthy notes as well as fruit. Lovely palate is elegant, supple and fine with some earthy notes and a bit of grip. Edgy and meaty with lovely depth. 94/100
Misha’s Vineyard Verismo 2010 Central Otago, New Zealand This is made by Olly Masters at Maude’s winery. There are 26 hectares of vines planted in Bendigo. Very structured and dense with nice, pure, silky red fruits and hints of leather and spice. Nice density here with floral hints and fine-grained tannins. 95/100
Mount Difficulty Packspur Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013 Central Otago, New Zealand This is from a vineyard in Lowburn. Lovely black cherries here with a liqueur-like sweetness to the nose. Very fine and textured on the palate with some meatinesss. Textured, rich and generous with good structure. Quite mineral. 94/100
Mount Edward Muirkirk Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011 Central Otago, New Zealand Powerful and quite spicy with nice freshness and precision. Black cherries, spice, and lovely structure, with a hint of olive richness. In a good place. 94/100
Ostler Caroline’s Pinot Noir 2015 Waitaki, North Otago, New Zealand Beautifully perfumed and floral with a fine green herbal edge and some lifted red cherry and plum fruit. Very supple and elegant with some fine sappy green notes and good acidity. A lovely elegant wine. 94/100
Peregrine Pinnacle Pinot Noir 2014 Central Otago, New Zealand This is a selection from Peregrine’s Bendigo vineyard, which is farmed organically, and it’s not yet released, hence the picture shows winemaker Nadine Cross’ hand written ‘label’. Very firm and detailed with a fine spiciness and good grip. Lovely structure here with a savoury edge to the red cherry and plum notes. Has grip and good acidity. 95/100
Prophet’s Rock Home Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013 Central Otago, New Zealand Paul Pujol made five small tanks of this wine. One got no pumpovers or plunging, and had no stems. The rest got one hand plunge, and were in tank for 28-32 days, and again, no stems were used. Lovely aromatics: fresh red cherries, fine herbs, a touch of cedar. The palate is structured and quite firm with good tannins and lovely purity. Very fresh with a bit of tannic bite under the sweet fruit. Lovely focus to this wine. 95/100
Quartz Reef Pinot Noir 2013 Central Otago, New Zealand Taut, appealing aromatics of red cherries and spice, with some sandalwood hints. The palate has freshness and focus with a savoury, spicy structure underpinning fresh red fruits. Still quite tannic and structured with a dry finish. Has potential for development. 94/100
Rippon Pinot Noir 2010 Central Otago, New Zealand This is a really serious wine. Tight and structured, with real grip, but also tending towards elegance and understatement. There’s a really nice savoury character to this wine. Just on the start of its journey, this has a long life ahead of it. 95/100
Valli Gibbston Pinot Noir 2015 Central Otago, New Zealand Fine, expressive nose with spicy highlights alongside fresh raspberries and cherries. Very pure with lovely plum fruit. Bright, expressive and pure with nice weight. 95/100
Valli Waitaki Pinot Noir 2015 Waitaki, North Otago, New Zealand Supple and bright with some juicy fruit, nice sweet herby notes and a bit of greenness. Silky and drinkable with real finesse and purity. 94/100
Continuing with my trawl through the exciting New Zealand Pinot scene, here are some of my favourite wines from North Canterbury (which includes Waipara, Waikiri and the Cheviot Hills) and Wellington Wine Country (the new name for the Wairarapa regions, which include Martinborough, Gladstone and Masterton). Not all wines are rated here, and there are others that scored pretty highly: this is just a personal selection.
Pyramid Valley Vineyards Angel Flower Pinot Noir 2015 North Canterbury, New Zealand
Sappy edged floral red cherry fruit. Highly perfumed and pretty detailed. Pure on the palate with lovely supple elegant fruit. Nice finesse with some green hints and lovely detail. 95/100
Pyramid Valley Vineyards Earth Smoke Pinot Noir 2015 North Canterbury, New Zealand Very fine and detailed with lovely focus and freshness. Lively cherry and plum fruit with some spiciness. Nice freshness and detail with some grip. Good structyre and acidity. 96/100
Bell Hill Pinot Noir 2013 North Canterbury, New Zealand
Very fine cherries, plums and spice. Detailed and fresh with good acidity and nice linear fruit, as well as some warm spiciness. More black fruits than red, and really refined. 95/100
Escarpment Kupe Pinot Noir 2011 Martinborough, New Zealand
Supple and detailed with nice spice and some grippy structure, as well as fine red cherries and a silky texture. Elegant and compact, this is quite dry and has real appeal. 95/100
Dry River Pinot Noir 2015 Martinborough, New Zealand
Beautifully aromatic with floral cherry fruit and real finesse, as well as sweet raspberry jam notes. Supple and pretty with sweet fruit to the fore. Fresh cherries and raspberries. Very pure. 94/100
Johner Pinot Noir Reserve 2014 Martinborough, New Zealand Very fresh with vivid fruit. Warm, ripe, tannic and structured too. Lovely concentrated black cherry and plum fruit with a sweet core. 94/100
Kusuda Pinot Noir 2015 Martinborough, New Zealand
Everything Kusuda does is fabulous. Lovely freshness here. Very fine and expressive with cherries, plum and a fine mineral character. Pure with nice tannins and real detail. There’s a haunting elegance with subtle bloody tones under the linear fruit. Spectacular. 97/100
Martinborough Vineyards Marie Zelie Reserve Pinot Noir 2006 Martinborough, New Zealand
Not made every year. Very sweet aromatics with seductive pure fruit and a malty edge. Concentrated and lively on the palate with an intense core of sweet berry fruits and a grippy finish. 93/100
Mount Beautiful Pinot Noir 2015 North Canterbury, New Zealand
From the Cheviot Hills, north of Waipara. Concentrated with fine spices and nice depth of fruit. Generously textured and dense with sweet red cherries and subtle herbs. Very fine with some grip. 94/100
Schubert Block B Pinot Noir 2008 Martinborough, New Zealand This has a lovely fresh herb-tinged edge to the generously ripe concentrated fruit on the palate. There’s nice freshness and some evolution with fine-grained tannins. Lovely wine. 94/100
Poppies Single-Vineyard Old Vines Pinot Noir 2015 Martinborough, New Zealand
Only made in magnum. Very fine and direct with pure raspberry fruit, Fine and intense with primary fruit and good tannins and acidity. This is really expressive and pure, and needs time. The regular Poppies Pinot is also exceptional. 95/100
Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2013 Martinborough, New Zealand
Supple, fine and tight-wound with a bit of grip but also nice cherries and plums, showing some fruit sweetness. This has structure as well as fruit. 94/100
Black Estate Damsteep Pinot Noir 2015 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Beautifully focused with pure, silky, fresh cherry fruit and fine spiciness. Real elegance here with nice grainy structure. 94/100
The Crater Rim Omihi Rise Pinot Noir 2012 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Fresh, supple and elegant with a bit of savouriness. Fine structure supports the fresh red cherry fruits with nice acidity. Restrained and mineral. 94/100
Greystone Thomas Brothers’ Pinot Noir 2013 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Lovely aromatics here: sweet, pure, with lovely red cherries and raspberries. It has a bit of liqueur-like richness and fine spicy notes. Very pretty but also structured. Seductive but not overdone. 94/100
I’ve tasted a lot of New Zealand Pinot Noir over recent weeks. Here are some of my favourite picks from Marlborough. This is New Zealand’s largest wine region, and it has more Pinot Noir (2400 hectares) than any other region (Central Otago is second with 1500 hectares). The best sites are in the Southern Valleys (with more consistent soils, with some clay, which suits Pinot better than the braided alluvial soils), and in some bits of the Awatere. This is a selection of some of the best examples from the region that I tried at Pinot 2017. [Please note, I've not listed all the wines that scored 93 here.]
Fromm Fromm Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand Fresh, detailed and pure with nice structure under the sappy-edged cherry fruit. There’s some bright raspberry fruit, too. Nice structure here with lovely harmony and fine peppery characters. A really lovely wine with just a hint of reduction. 95/100
Catalina Sounds Sound of White Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 Nelson, New Zealand This is from the Waihopai Valley. Rich, dense and sweet with good structure. Powerful with some real intensity. A rich style that needs some time, but so much finesse. 94/100
Yealands Winemaker’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand This has 15% whole bunch, and it is made in a 3 ton French cuve, from an older vineyard higher up in the Awatere. Fresh, sweet textured cherry and berry fruit with some grip. Has real density and focus. 94/100
Te Whare Ra Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013 Marlborough, New Zealand
Sappy, detailed nose. Lively palate with some grip and nice savoury detail to the focused berry fruit. Taut with a hint of spice and some warmth. Lovely wine. 94/100
Clos Marguerite Pinot Noir 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand
Very lively, fresh and detailed with high acidity. Vivid and intense with lovely cherry and plum fruit, as well as hints of olives and meat. Quite burly and really delicious. 94/100
Two Rivers Pinot Noir 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand
Very fresh, structured and lively with bright peppery, spicy black fruits and nice grip. Focused and appealing. 94/
Corofino Settlement Vineyard East Slope Pinot Noir 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand This is mixed clone from a vineyard in Omaka. It’s 20% whole cluster with the remainder whole berries. Dense with some spicy, peppery notes and sweet cherries and plums. Lively with some richness and spicy detail. Very fine. 94/100
Dog Point Pinot Noir 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand
Sweetly aromatic and supple with nice density. There’s a silky, lush personality to this wine as well as some brightness and richness. A dense example of Dog Point Pinot, a result of small bunches and small berries in this vintage. 94/100
Esk Valley Pinot Noir 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand
90% of this wine comes from the Ballochdale vineyard, at the end of the Awatere. Pure and supple with lovely cherry and raspberry fruit. Nice purity: linear with a hint of sappiness and nice finesse. So elegant, and great value. 94/100
Clos Henri Pinot Noir 2014 Marlborough, New Zealand From heavy clay soil. Smooth and textural with a sweet fruit character. Warm, ripe black cherry and plum fruit. Grainy and detailed with nice precision and lovely depth. 93/100
Churlton The Abyss Pinot Noir 2013 Marlborough, New Zealand There’s real structure and density to the Churton Pinots: they aren’t always the most elegant, but there’s a lot of interest to them. Sweet, spicy and detailed with ripe black fruits and plum notes. Grippy tannins with nice weight. Fresh and firm, showing real structure. 93/100
Framingham F-Series Pinot Noir 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand Lovely supple, fine-grained cherry and plum fruit with good structure and purity. Smooth and quite pure with lovely weight. 93/100
Hans Herzog Estate Pinot Noir 2010 Marlborough, New Zealand Supple and elegant, made in a lighter style with some peppery notes as well as bright red cherry fruit. Suble herby hints, too. 93/100
Lawson Dry Hills The Pioneer Pinot Noir 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand This comes from the Waihopai Valley, and it’s a barrel selection. Lovely fine cherry and raspberry fruit with a bit of grip. Structured and appealing with berry and cherry fruit. Has real depth. 93/100
Spy Valley Envoy Pinot Noir Outpost Vineyard 2014 Marlborough, New Zealand
Supple and juicy with fresh, lively cherry fruit. There’s some grip here and some peppery fruit. Vivid. Needs time. 93/100
First impressions count. I’m increasingly convinced of this.
The first line of a novel. It matters more than it should.
The first time you meet someone: this is particularly important.
The first impression you give when you meet someone – those first few seconds – then create the filter through which all subsequent interactions are processed. Some people I get on really well with, and in part I can put this down to a very positive first interaction. Then, after this, each subsequent meeting carried with it that positive vibe. The lens of that first impression is how we then process the following interactions.
We rely much more on our instincts than we realize, and the very first few seconds after meeting someone can shape future encounters. To a degree. Of course, it is possible to recover from a bad first impression, but it takes a long time. We use confirmation bias, and then use this to ignore evidence that doesn’t fit with our narrative, and to marshall evidence in support of the internal story that we run.
For wine marketing, first impressions are also critical. You really only have one chance to get your message across and tell the world about what you do. You need to take that chance and make the most of it. It’s worth waiting for the right moment to tell everyone your story, and you need to tell it well.
When I taste wine, the first impression is important. Packaging matters. Expectations matter. The prejudice that comes from sighted tasting is important because it influences perceptions, and you can use it to your advantage if you are presenting wine to people. If people expect that this will be a great wine tasting experience before they taste the wine, then it is more likely to be one.
Dom Maxwell (Greystone, above left) and Emma Jenkins (above right) presented this masterclass on Pinot Gris from New Zealand. It’s a grape that has been neglected by wine geeks. This is because it is so often a grape used to please the masses, fashioning inoffensive Pinot Grigio-style wines with little personality. In New Zealand, it has done rather well: it’s a grape that is planted throughout the country. Emma pointed out that globally it’s a growth market and plantings have increased in New Zealand from 130 hectares in 2000 to 1100 in 2007. There are currently 2400 hectares in the country, which is roughly similar to Chardonnay. But Pinot Gris continues to increase! ‘A lot of people look down their nose at it,’ says Emma, ‘but it’s well suited to New Zealand.’ The variety has a tendency to acid drop, but with a cool growing season this can be managed. ‘It should be treated with a lot more care: it’s relatively easy to make an anodyne style, but people should do better with it,’ she concludes.
‘It is an exciting time for NZ Pinot Gris,’ says Dom Maxwell. ‘it hasn’t been here in quantity for very long. There has been an understanding of canopy management, getting the acid balance right through leaf removal and crop size. As the vines get a bit older beginning to see site differences.’
One of the areas Pinot Gris is doing well is in the natural and orange wine field, with people playing around with skin contact. ‘They are thick skins and you can pull a lot of structure from them,’ says Dom.
Here are my notes on the wines we tried.
Craggy Range Te Muna Vineyard Pinot Gris 2016 Martinborough, New Zealand
Light, clean, pure and textural with lovely freshness, a bit of grapiness and some stony citrus fruit. Very crisp and well balanced. 89/100
Kim Crawford Pinot Gris 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
Rounded and a bit nutty with some grapiness. Simple, rounded and appealing with faint spicy hints. Nice fruit purity. 88/100
Jules Taylor Pinot Gris 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
Fresh, lively, bright and fruity with a bit of grapefruit freshness and some smoky, spicy complexity. Quite mineral with a smooth mid-palate and a tangerine tang on the finish. 90/100
Nautilus Pinot Gris 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
Pretty and pure with a lychee-like edge to the fresh fruit. Detailed and fresh with crisp table grape and some grapefruit characters. 89/100
Aronui Single Vineyard Pinot Gris 2016 Nelson, New Zealand
Lively and bright with a spicy lemon and grapefruit freshness backing up the smoky grape characters on the palate. Attractive and detailed, with a nice mineral finish. 90/100
Greystone Sand Dollar Pinot Gris 2015 Waipara Valley, New Zealand
Textured, pure and pretty with a slight nutty edge to the sweet pear and apple fruit. There’s a hint of smoky complexity here. This is all about the texture and fruit sweetness. 90/100
Seresin Pinot Gris 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand
Complex, nutty, appley with a lovely core of ripe pear fruit and some peach kernel notes. Lovely fruit here with nice precision and balance. Lovely complexity. 92/100
Greywacke Pinot Gris 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand
Really smoky, spicy and mineral with lovely precision to the textured pear, grape and melon fruit. Lively and bright on the finish with real weight on the mid-palate. The sweetness is beautifully integrated. 93/100
Gibbston Valley La Dulcinée Pinot Gris 2012 Central Otago, New Zealand
Spicy and textural with a complex apricot, honey and stony mineral character. Very detailed and expressive with lively grape and citrus fruit. Lots of interest here: flirts with reduction. 93/100
Prophet’s Rock Pinot Gris 2015 Central Otago, New Zealand
Lovely nutty, spicy, pear and peach notes adding interest to the grape and citrus fruit. There’s a tightness on the finish but also some lovely depth on the mid-palate. So attractive with a serious side. 92/100
This is a written version of a talk I’m giving today at the Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir celebration.
Pinot Noir is the grape variety that seems to inspire the most devotion in wine lovers. Finding great Pinot is a lifetime quest, filled with challenges and disappointments. But the highs make this quest worthwhile, and there is a lot of fun to be had along the journey.
Today’s topic is the alchemy of people, place and time. All are involved in forging and enjoying great Pinot Noir.
First, people. Wine is a partnership between place and people: vines are planted, wine is made, and sites are interpreted. Then, people consume the wine: when we taste, the perceptive event – our experience of the wine – is the result of the interaction between us and the wine. We bring quite a bit to the wine-tasting experience. And it is people who decide what constitutes greatness in Pinot Noir: the community of judgment. As we taste and experience and share our perceptions, we learn and decide together which wines are the best and most compelling.
Second, place. The site – terroir – is at the heart of interesting wine. Pinot Noir is a lens for interpreting site, and it’s actually a very good lens, able to distinguish among quite closely related sites, picking out characters and amplifying these differences. And it is only good sites that can produce interesting expressions of this variety. For Pinot, not all sites are created equal.
Third, we have time. There are many aspects of time that relate to Pinot. The first is vine age. Young vines produce fruity wines that display clone and climate more clearly; older vines interrogate the soil and have more resilience. They are less swayed by climate, the clonal difference isn’t as strong, and the place is more evident. There’s substance and structure. They can be picked earlier. Bottle age is another aspect of time: we expect that great Pinot should evolve in the bottle and not just survive, growing into itself. Then there’s time as in the evolution of the wine industry, as the growers learn about their site and the sorts of interpretations of it that work best and are most authentic.
I will be exploring three elements in this talk. First, how we perceive wine and how this is relevant to Pinot Noir, and discussions like this. Second, what constitutes greatness in Pinot Noir, and who gets to decide? And finally we will take a quick trawl around the world of Pinot, putting Mornington in its place.
Perception of wine is multimodal, involving all of our senses. It’s not just about taste and smell, and we don’t operate like measuring devices. This is important.
By the time we are aware of the ‘taste’ of wine, it has already gone through several processing steps that aren’t accessible to our consciousness. This is because of the way that the brain processes sensory information. It’s as if we are the CEO of a big company, and have many minions working for us. We get the executive summary, and are spared the details. This is shown beautifully in visual illusions, such as the café wall illusion, where we perceive what is not actually there. This demonstrates that some higher order visual processing has been taking place at a pre-conscious level.
We model reality, and effectively produce a map of what is out there. It’s a useful abstraction that helps us navigate the world. We don’t have all the details: a map that is an exact correspondence to the world would be useless. Look at the wonderful simplicity and utility of the London Underground map first devised by Harry Beck in 1931. It doesn’t correspond with reality, but instead is purely about utility.
The fact that our brain is creating reality for us has relevance to wine tasting. We need to be humble in the face of wine, and recognize that our experience of wine has something to do with us as well as what is in the glass. Also, the language we have for wine will in some way shape our perception of wine.
So who gets to decide what greatness is in Pinot Noir? What does great Pinot look like? Here we enter the world of aesthetics. We decide together what is great as a community of judgment. We taste together; learn together; we share our notions of good versus bad. Then we reach a degree of agreement about what is great, although we need to recognize that sometimes conflicting aesthetic systems arise, such as the US critics and the field of natural wine.
What is great Pinot Noir?
Its first duty is to be elegant and refined
Sweet fruit is an important element
It should have non-fruit complexity, with structural and savoury components
Layers of flavour are needed
Texture matters: silky, fine-grained
The ability to develop with some bottle age
Global properties such as complexity and harmony matter
How can this be achieved?
The right soils and climate: Pinot thrives at its margins and soils matter a great deal.
Viticulture practices such as planting density, organics/biodynamics, soil health, canopy management, row orientation, picking decisions
Winemaking practices such as sorting, use of stems, maceration, extraction, yeasts, bacteria, fermentation and cellar temperature, pressing, use of oak or alternative elevage, size and age and origin of oak, racking, pre-bottling interventions, closure type.
These all work together to produce great Pinot Noir, and there is no recipe that can be copied. It depends on where you are working
Finally, a tour of the Pinot world.
Burgundy casts a large shadow over the world of Pinot Noir. It’s the birthplace of the variety, and a place of pilgrimage for Pinot lovers across the globe. It is the defining example of terroir in action, and understanding its intricacies is a lifetime’s work.
Initial attempts to make world class Pinot Noir elsewhere, were, judged by today’s standards, a little naïve. They revolved around finding similar climates as judged by the crude metric of growing degree days. Little consideration was given to soils. But over recent decades, top quality Pinot Noir has emerged from elsewhere, speaking with a different accent but sharing the qualities of elegance, texture and ethereal perfume that Pinot lovers desire.
Oregon began its journey with Pinot Noir in the 1960s, and the pioneer there was David Lett of Eyrie. With their annual Pinot Noir celebration and Steamboat winemaker’s workshop, Oregon is now firmly established as a source of compelling Pinot. But it is still a work in progress, with some wines still championing power over elegance.
California is at an exciting phase for Pinot, with a move to cooler sites, earlier picking and sensitive winemaking, as demonsrated by the members of the recently disbanded In Pursuit of Balance movement. The Santa Rita Hills (Santa Barbara County) and Sonoma Coast seem to be particular hot spots. But there are still a lot of big, dark Pinots made in the state.
New Zealand has been on a rapid journey with its Pinot Noir. Martinborough led the way, followed closely by Central Otago in the late 1980s. There are some really interesting wines being made here, and winegrowers have been on quite a steep learning curve. Now that there’s some vine age, many of the wines are showing an extra dimension. And terroir prospectors have begun to find some very interesting terroirs.
Germany makes a lot of Pinot Noir, and there are some very good ones, although the impression I have is that some of the wines are a bit over-rated, fetching high prices because of local demand. But the best are really compelling. I have a particular soft spot for wines from the Ahr Valley, which makes some really lovely wines from distinctive schist terroirs.
Elsewhere? There are some good South African Pinots from the cooler regions (Elgin, Hemel-en-Aarde), and Chile is beginning to make some progress. Alsace makes a lot of Pinot, although there’s not much that has really wowed me.
Where does the Mornington Peninsula fit in? I’ve spent three days exploring and so far have found some very impressive Pinot Noirs here. The best show elegance but also some substance and structure. There are also some interesting differences to do with soil type and elevation. Over the next couple of days we’ll no doubt explore these in more detail.
Where does our food come from? I was recently in the Waipara Valley in North Canterbury, to take part in a remarkable event called Forage. There’s a film of it (above). The genius of forage is that it connects wine and food and links them both firmly to place.
South Bay, Kaikoura
We arrived early at Pegasus Bay winery for some breakfast and a briefing by organiser Angela Clifford. She put us each into teams, with each team containing a South Island chef, and led by a local forager. Then we set off to different locations to find all manner of things edible.
My team was sent off diving. We headed to Kaikoura, up the coast, for some diving. It was quite a drive, especially post-earthquake: Kaikoura was hit pretty hard, and a lot of roads are still closed, with diversions in place. And the seabed there has risen more than a metre.
Frank Manifold of Mount Brown briefs the divers
We changed into wet suits and headed for the water, where we snorkelled for food. Some had spear guns, the rest of us worked with our hands. We didn’t find all that much, but it was amazing being in another underwater world for a while.
The teams were all due back at Pegasus Bay by 2 pm, and the eight chefs then had to examine the foraged food, and decide what to do with it. The rest of us tasted wine and then drank beer and aged Riesling (not in the same glass), before sitting down for dinner.
What followed was quite amazing. Out of these local, foraged ingredients, the chefs created a remarkable multi course menu, which was then paired with Waipara wines. I was quite stunned.
Cured cod, plum juice, sea lettuce: James Stapley
Tempura zucchini flower, burgundy truffled quail egg: Jimmy McIntyre