New Zealand Pinot Noir: some favourites from Central Otago and Waitaki

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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

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

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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

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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

Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

New Zealand Pinot Noir: top examples from North Canterbury and Martinborough

pyramid valley earth smoke pinot noir

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

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

kupe escarpment pinot

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

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

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

marie zelie pinot noir

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

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 pinot noir

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

See also: Top Marlborough Pinot Noirs; Pinot Noirs from North Canterbury

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New Zealand Pinot Noir: some top examples from Marlborough

fromm pinot noir

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

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

TWR Pinot Noir

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

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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

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

ask valley pinot noir

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

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See also: The Marlborough Pinot Noir Safari, with a film

First impressions matter, with people and with wine

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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.

New Zealand Pinot Gris, a masterclass

new zealand pinot gris

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

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 pinot gris

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

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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

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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

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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

prophets rock pinot gris

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

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Pinot Noir: the alchemy of people, place and time

corton

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

Oregon

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

California

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.

Central Otago

Central Otago

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.

Ahr Valley

Ahr Valley

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.

Mornington

Mornington

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.

Forage North Canterbury, an amazing food and wine event, with a film

 

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.

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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.

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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

Frank Manifold of Mount Brown briefs the divers

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Cured cod, plum juice, sea lettuce: James Stapley

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Tempura zucchini flower, burgundy truffled quail egg: Jimmy McIntyre

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Crayfish, butterfish, coastal herbs, comb puree: Analeise Gregory

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Medicinal tomato with rye and roadside weeds: Alex Davies

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Pickled octopus, kinka ink, wild spinach: Simon Levy

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Flounder, coastal greens, sardine and saffron broth: Giulio Sturla

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Muscovy duck, wild plum, watercress salad: Jimmy McIntyre

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Hare, pigeon and rabbit mixed grill: Jonny Schwass

Not pictured – Sheepy cheese and honeycomb ice cream, raspberries and stone fruits: Teresa Pert

 

Some interesting alternative wines from the Waipara: Hermit Ram and Ekleipsis

the hermit ram sauvignon

Tried these interesting Waipara Valley wines over the last few days.

The Hermit Ram is made by Theo Coles, who also makes wines for Kalex in Central Otago and Mountford Estate in Waipara. He works quite naturally. These two are lovely.

The Hermit Ram Sauvignon Blanc 2016 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
This is a skin-fermented Sauvignon Blanc. Textured and broad with pretty melon and pear fruit, and some tight spicy notes. Vivid, broad and full with lovely texture. Smooth, rich and fine. 92/100

The Hermit Ram Pinot Noir 2015 North Canterbury, New Zealand
Textured and smooth with some lovely bright cherry and plum fruit. There’s a lovely grip here (80% whole bunch). Floral and detailed with a nice spicy edge. Has some tannin. Lovely. 94/100

the hermit ram

Nik and Jessica Mavromatis make a bit of natural wine under the Ekleipsis label. They produce 56 cases of the Pinot Nouveau, 200 cases of the Pinot Gris/Chardonnay and also an underwater rosé from barrels sunk in a lake. I tried the first two.

Ekleipsis Pinot Nouveau 2016 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
No sulfur dioxide added, and no malolactic. Full carbonic/whole bunch. Cloudy pale red in colour. Very smooth with nice texture to the sweet red fruits. Very attractive mouthfeel. Super-smashable style and really appealing. 92/100

Ekleipsis Second Skin 2016 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
A 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Gris that spends 6 months on skins in an amphora with no added sulphites. Appley and lemony; bright and vivid. Fresh apples and pears with nice focus and subtle herby notes. Some minerals and cherries here, too. Grainy and grippy. 91/100

Video: flying in a Tiger Moth biplane over the Bridge Pa Triangle vineyards, Hawke's Bay, NZ


Yesterday was spent in the two main subdistricts of Hawke’s Bay. The afternoon was spent in the famous Gimblett Gravels, but the morning was in the Bridge Pa Triangle Wine District. This consists of more than 2000 hectares of vines on the western side of the Heretaunga plains, and it has existed in the shadow of the Gimblett Gravels, to some extent, as the latter region has become world famous.

In 2012 the Bridge Pa Triangle Wine District was established and they now have 11 member wineries and seven growers. We tasted a good range of their wines in situ, on a knoll outside the Silent winery, and then we got taken up in a pair of 1941 Tiger Moths to look at the district from the air. These biplanes are quite beautiful, and flying in them was a great life experience. I’ll post notes later, but for now here’s a short film of the flight.

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Bordeaux varieties and blends from New Zealand, with some benchmarks

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The second part of the Classic Reds Symposium in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, looked at Bordeaux varieties and blends. There were 12 wines, served blind, and as well as the 9 New Zealand wines there were 3 benchmarks from other regions. We tasted and then discussed the wines once we knew what they were.

My impression is that Hawke’s Bay has a lot of potential for Bordeaux-style varieties, but it’s still finding its way a little. The complex issue here is that of ripeness, and in particular how the greenness intrinsic to these varieties is dealt with.

It seems that a lot of winemakers are scared stiff of greenness, and so ripen the fruit as much as they can in order to avoid it. But this excessive ripeness results in charming, sweetly fruited wines, but wines that often lack definition and agreeability. Yesterday I tried a whole bunch of older wines from the region, and most had survived, at best, and hadn’t developed positively.

Yet this is a region that is quite marginal for these varieties, and ripening – especially of Cabernet Sauvignon – isn’t always a given. So I can understand why there’s a reluctance to pick earlier.

And the greenness issue is a big one. There are different sorts of greenness, and there is bad, nasty, green pepper greenness that is definitely under-ripe. But there is also good greenness: a sappy, slightly leafy quality that heightens the elegance and definition of the wine. One point made by Steve Smith is that young vines often deliver bad greenness, and you need older vines to be able to pick early.

There’s also the issue of oak use. Small barrels are convenient, but I’m not sure they really suit these Hawke’s Bay reds all that well. Some people are playing with alternatives, such as larger oak and concrete, but very few.

These wines have to find their individual voice more clearly if they are to find a place on the international stage. I think they have the potential for excellence, and sometimes this is realised. It’s definitely a work in progress.

THE WINES – notes and scores exactly as written blind

O’Shaughnessy Howell Mountain Merlot 2013 Napa Valley, California
Dense, spicy and grippy with firm tannins and a slightly bitter edge. Angular and youthful with some gloss over the top of the fruit. Plums and spice and herbs. 88/100

Church Road McDonald Series Merlot 2013 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Lovely edgy black fruits. Subtle tar and gravel with some damson bitterness. A bit of olive and spice, too. There’s good concentration of ripe blackcurrant fruit. Some interest here. 92/100

Villa Maria Reserve Merlot Gimblett Gravels 2013 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Silky texture here to the pretty fruit. Pure, seamless black cherry and blackberry fruit. This is ripe but balanced with real prettiness and a bit of structure. Ripe but balanced. 94/100

Esk Valley The Terraces Malbec Merlot Cabernet Franc 2014 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Ripe, lush and meaty with lovely texture and pretty, pure black fruits. Smooth and ripe with a nice seamless texture and a hint of olive. This is very stylish and alluring. 93/100

Vieux Château Certan 2012 Pomerol, Bordeaux
Graphite and black cherry with some chalkiness. Smooth, ripe and broad with nicely textured ripe blackcurrant and black cherry fruit. Tastes quite Cabernet Franc like. Lush and broad. 93/100

Craggy Range Sophia 2014 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Fresh, supple and berryish with nice ripeness. Smooth and quite broad with some fresh gravelly notes in the background. Ripe style but has freshness, although it isn’t perfectly integrated. 91/100

Te Mata Estate Coleraine 2013 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Vivid and intense with ripe, sleek blackcurrant fruit with high acidity that sticks out a little. It’s very seductive but it tastes as if the acid has been corrected with a heavy hand. Juicy and a bit tart on the finish. 90/100

Alpha Domus AD The Aviator 2013 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
100% redmetals from Bridge Pa. Fresh and vivid with a nice green edge to the taut, slightly meaty black fruits. Nice definition here. Juicy acidity with some cherry and plum fruit. Dense and satisfying, and its tightwound nature suggests a long future ahead of it. 94/100

Church Road TOM Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2013 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Ripe, sweet, generous black fruits here. Seductive and more-ish with sweet black cherry and blackberry fruit. Soft and a little amorphous on the palate with a very smooth texture. Jammy finish. 89/100

Te Motu 2013 Waiheke Island, New Zealand
Sweet blackberry jam nose is quite seductive. Lush sweet jammy palate is just a little too ripe with soft structure and autumnal fruit qualities. 88/100

Château Léoville Lascases 2012 Bordeaux, FRance
Nicely savoury with grippy black fruits. Has pepper and olives and some cured meat. Firm tannins and acidity that sticks out a little. Nice tight wound black fruits here. Lovely wine, despite the acid. 93/100

Villa Maria Ngakirikiri Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Gimblett Gravels 2013 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Sweet blackcurrant and blackberry fruit with nice definition and grip. Firm and structured with a hint of green. Fresh and youthful with potential for development. Lovely definition. 94/100