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Wine of the Week for week ending 1 Feb 2009
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Bird Big Barrel Pinot Noir 2007
Marlborough, New Zealand

A comment on an American website last week that Marlborough Pinot Noir didn't really figure in the realm of New Zealand Pinot Noir, as far as those people were concerned, surprised me. They were of the impression that Marlborough, for Pinot Noir, was not as worthy as Martinborough and Central Otago. Now I don't totally blame my American friends because perception comes from successful marketing or international award accolades but I personally could never disregard the Pinot Noirs that come out of Marlborough. And so the focus tasting I planned for the weekend was Marlborough Pinot Noir. Then a call from the Tauranga-based PR people of the Tauranga-based Bird Wines asked whether I had received the sample they sent last year? I thought there must be some telepathy going on. Did they know I was going to taste a selection of Marlborough Pinots? So I made sure I included the Bird Big Barrel Marlborough Pinot Noir 2007in the line-up. And it did well. Loved the wine and so it is this week's Wine of the Week.

Steve Bird is the man behind Bird Wines and some of my readers will know that he was the founder of Thornbury Wines. I was a follower of those early Thornbury's, especially the Thornbury Hawkes Bay Merlot 1998, one of my first ever Wines of the Week back in May 1999. Steve Bird sold the brand to Villa Maria in 2005 and the Thornbury label is doing quite nicely now under the winemaking skills of Simon Fell. Fell has produced gold medal winning Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir and he makes a Waipara Riesling that in my opinion is gold medal quality too.

But Steve Bird, like a phoenix, has risen from the ashes with the Bird Big Barrel Marlborough Pinot Noir 2007 with grapes sourced from the old schoolhouse vineyard in the Omaka Valley. There are a selection of clones including the Pommard Clone 5 as well as the newer to New Zealand Dijon clones. The 'big barrel ' name comes from the 900 litre barrels he uses both for fermentation and maturation. These barrels are almost three times the size of the standard oak barrel with thick oak staves. He says it allows for extremely gentle handling of the wine with 'seamless integration' of oak and preservation of even the most delicate flavours and aromas. The wine spent 11 months in the oak and the barrels were rolled by hand during this time.

I found the wine to be a translucent pinky red in colour with a very attractive Pinot scent perfumed with concentrated spiced plum and cherry. The palate is savoury and silky textured with a lovely tannin structure that is fine and smooth. Tart red fruits are balanced to the delicate sweet oaked backbone and the finish is enveloping for this medium bodied style - it's bright and lifted and makes you want to have another sip. A really approachable wine with that brightness floating on the finish and just a subtle touch of anise. It was a perfect accompaniment to thick, juicy scotch fillet in a Peter Gordon marinade and Neil's stuffed mushroom recipe - the stuffing is simply bread crumbs, thyme, garlic and oil.

The wine has 14.5% alcohol by volume on the label and has a recommended price of NZ$35 a bottle.

One thing I will take issue with is the notes on the Bird Wines website that say it is 'masculine'. Well, this is a pretty and feminine style of masculine to me. It would be so much better to leave the gender orientations out of the descriptions.

There's lots more to find out from too, including the extensive network of international distribution.

© Sue Courtney
27 Jan 2009

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