Amid excessive travel and a few tight deadlines, I have steadily been writing up my notes from the Pinot Noir 2013 conference in Wellington, New Zealand this January. Over the three days, I diligently tasted a lot of Kiwi Pinot Noirs, and I’ll be publishing my notes in full.
This is a useful exercise, although having so many wines to try in a limited time is not without its perils.
The key advantage is that of comparison. In a short space of time you get a snapshot of what’s currently happening, and a sense of perspective.
The chief peril is that if you taste too many wines, too fast, your palate becomes fatigued and you don’t do justice to the wines. Experience helps with this – many of us are used to tasting many wines in one session, and for making broad-brush distinctions this sort of tasting is fine. But it is the fine details, the nuances, the ethereal properties of the wines that can get lost in this setting.
Pinot isn’t about power – it is about finesse, detail, elegance and texture. These aspects aren’t best appreciated in large tastings, unless you discipline yourself to taste with care, and avoid the temptation of trying to taste everything. [I'm convinced that some wine critics compromise the quality of their work by trying to get a score and note for the maximum number of wines, rather than cutting back slightly on the number tasted, doing a better job with fewer wines. Anyway, that's an aside.]
My impression was that Pinot Noir 2013 demonstrated that New Zealand Pinot Noir has taken a big step forward since the last event like this in 2010.
The focus of the conference was shifted so that the emphasis was on the wines and those who made them, rather than inviting high profile international guests to come and give mildly patronising talks on how New Zealand could do better with this variety. Compared with 2010, in 2013 there were fewer talks and panel tastings, and more chances to try wine. Maybe by 2016 the emphasis will fully be on the wines, giving people a chance to come, taste and learn.
I’m not sure I’m yet at the level where I can spot regional identity in New Zealand Pinot Noir reliably. Can anyone? For some wines it’s easier than others. But winegrowers interpret their terroirs in different ways, and there are often many differences in terroir within each region. Unless regionality is evident in the wine, focusing too much on regional differences may be counterproductive. Let’s focus on the wines. Every major Pinot-producing region in New Zealand – Waipara, Wairarapa, Marlborough, Central Otago, Nelson – has world class examples.
The region that caught my attention most this time was Marlborough. In the past, Marlborough Pinot hasn’t been taken terribly seriously. But there are now lots of SERIOUS Marlborough Pinots. It’s official!
I suppose it is only natural to compare Pinot Noir from countries such as New Zealand with Burgundy, but I don’t think it’s all that helpful. Great Burgundy is great. Great New Zealand Pinot Noir is great. They’re quite different. You can love both.
I really enjoyed my five days in Wellington, which is a great city to host this sort of event. It was especially nice to see Wellington in glorious sunshine, making it a joy to wander around between the sessions. And not a bad town to party in, either.
Here’s a short film in which I’ve tried to capture a bit of the spirit of Pinot 2013.