One of the highlights of the recent Pinot Noir 2001 Conference, held in Wellington New Zealand at the end of January, was the tasting of International Pinot Noir. Samples of wines from the world's oldest and best known Pinot Noir producing region, Burgundy, were tasted alongside those from three New World pinot noir producing countries - New Zealand, Australia and USA.
Chairing the session was New Zealand Master of Wine, Bob Campbell while James Halliday (Australia), Harvey Steiman (USA), Robert Drouhin (France) and Dr Damien Martin (NZ) made up the panel.
from l to r: Robert Drouhin, Damien Martin, Bob Campbell MW, Harvey Steiman, James Halliday.
As the wines were tasted, a representative of the wine, sometimes the winemaker, was asked to comment. My tasting notes with comments from the panel (their initials precede their comment) follow.
Martinborough Vineyards Reserve Pinot Noir 1998 (New Zealand)
Floral, violet-like, savoury, earthy aroma. Florals persist in the mouth along with hints of cinnamon spice and earthy notes then jammy, strawberry, raspberry, cherry and citrus fruits. Lifted bright and complex, with hints of liquorice emerging. Well structured yet soft tannins. Very good, very balanced. Good on the follow through and a lovely vinosity and texture that lingers. Some tarry, gamey, funky character on the finish although perhaps the oak is a little hard this stage. The aftertaste is long and sweetness takes over. I like the wine. It has a lot of interesting things going on in there and has heaps of potential. An excellent example of the way New Zealand pinot noir is headed.
DM: bright fruit attack, front palate fluid, lacks concentration. Firm tannins, with a spicy edge, tight. What happens after it is swallowed is what matters - after taste, aromatics.
HS: all the elements are there but it lacks harmony at this stage.
RD: firm tannins. Not charming at this stage but one of the ones he enjoyed.
Paul Shorter (Manager Martinborough Vineyards): 1998 a record drought for the area, good fruit set, good crop, good ripeness, selected thinning. Barrel by barrel selection.
Knappstein Lenswood 1999 (Adelaide Hills, South Australia)
Closed aroma, a little spice. Very dry in the palate, a burst of bright citrus, hints of orange, spice, cherries, a "peacocks" flare, subtle but evolves with many layers, lifted, cherries, violets explode and linger, with savoury and a hint of the earthy depth that will emerge with time. Very long and smooth with a sweetish vinous aftertaste. That velvetiness is almost there. This wine had not been released at the time of tasting. I like this wine. It is savoury, lifted and floral and very approachable in its youth.
JH: tastes unlike any other Lenswood pinots he has seen. "Linear". First wines with 114 and 115 Burgundy clones (20-30. Pure primary pinot fruits, few secondary characters have started to emerge.
Bannockburn 1997 (Victoria, Australia)
Developed garnet colour, bricky, hues. Savoury and earthy with a hint of tar on the nose. Swirl again and the cherry and musk-like fruit appear. Later on in the tasting the aroma was quite lifted and vinous an cherry aromas had opened up well. Dense, tarry, sour cherries, orange citrus, cloves, mushrooms and game meats. Quite complex, sweet fruit emerge. A long ageing wine with sweet fruit, acid, musk, tar. A 'meaty' pinot - sweet and dense. One of the most complex, earthy wines in the tasting. This and the Martinborough Vineyards had similar characters to me, but it is quite a contrast to the Lenswood.
JH: Let the grapes do the talking. Sweetness and length, food figures tremendously. This he would prefer with lamb or duck.
Adelsheim Bryant's Creek 1998 (Oregon, USA)
Bright red with scarlet tinge. Citrus, orange spice, cloves - quite intense and lifted. Earthy, tarry, vibrant, cherries, strawberries, intriguing, lots of subtle spice. Some of that mulled wine character, with some oak showing a little hardness in the mouth but otherwise, lovely and soft and round. Totally different style. Very intriguing. So much acid. I've never tasted anything like this before. What strikes me is the orange-like citrus.
HS: Polished, elegant, bright fruit, and length gives hope for future. Stays on the palate a long time. One of the best he's had from Adelsheim.
Someone from the floor commented on the acid in this wine (I too found much acid).
BC: Vibrant with higher acidity. Rich with lower acidity.
Saintsbury Carneros 1999 (California, USA)
Bright lively pinky red with good intensity. Subtle florals, hint of savoury with a note of licorice. Savoury spiciness continues to the palate. Lifted fruit, bready, bright, floral, cherry, a touch of velvet, long, lively finish. A little creaminess. Quite harmonious. Very drinkable. Seductive little number, however I found this the most commercial of all the styles in the line-up.
HS: Crisp acidity is what makes it lively and charming. Crisp savoury style. If there is tannins he doesn't notice it.
David Graves (Saintsbury winemaker): Made 22,000 cases, mix of different sites and different clones. Small crop year. Off handed in its charm. 35% new oak, rest 1 and 2 year old.
RD: His preference. Nice colour, round and full-bodied. Good use of oak (just enough new oak). Good from both a commercial and technical point of view. It tastes of new oak but new oak OK in a good vintage.
Au Bon Climat Knox Alexander 1998 (California, USA)
Less dense than Saintsbury (but the Saintsbury was a year younger). Aromas of herbs and a hint of cedar, intense, floral, heady (vinous), is there more alcohol in this wine? Lifted cherry, citrus and spice in palate, dense with richer tannins. Hints of earth and tar emerge. Lovely velvety, mouth coating texture. A lovely harmony, nice bright acidity and very well balanced. I quite like this wine. Very long and savoury. Impressive.
HS: Likes the subtlety and the way things are layered. Mushrooms, gamey character - just enough to make things interesting.
BC: Described Jim Clendenen, the winemaker, as "Farrah Fawcett with a bad hair day" as he asked him to comment.
Jim Clenenden: Likes the complexities - the corollary complexities. "If you have to analyse where complexity comes from, you don't deserve to revel in it" he said to someone in the audience.
Domaine de la Vougeraie Cote de Beaune Les Pierres Blanches 1999 (Burgundy, France)
Earthy, but youthful, vibrant pinky colour, carmine hues. A youthful, tannic wine I found it quite drying in the mouth. Earthy, gamey, tarry notes but sweet floral hints too. A contrasting wine on each sip. Starts dry, finishes sweet and flares on the finish with cherry fruit, then later a sourish character lingers. A meaty, tannic and fairly oaky wine. More oak than I am used to.
RD: Good vintage in Burgundy. Fruity aromas, new oak. Typical young pinot. Firm - very firm - tannin. Mountain wine (as in being on top of a mountain). Very masculine. Won't gain a lot of complexities with age.
Pascale Marchand (the winemaker). This is a new domaine. 1990 was the first vintage. 37ha. Make 28 different wines. Bottled 2nd week of December. Unfined. unfiltered. It is a rocky, white-stoned 37-hectare vineyard on top of mountain with a 20-year block and a 40-year block. 10% new oak.
Joseph Drouhin Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru 1991 (Burgundy, France)
Dense youthful colour for old a 10-yr old Pinot noir (they said it was light at bottling). Lovely developed, old PN smell, floral, macerated cherries, very balanced, savoury and complex. Concentrated, so balanced, yes it dances on the palate, mellow, soft, with a hint of that sweet velvety texture. Very good.
Pascal Marchand: a little tough on the nose - expected it to be more mellow, but mellow and gentle and long in the mouth with a nice finish.
BC: Time ahead of it.
RD: Light vintage. No rot. Good origin. Light in colour, brownish. Light in palate, slightly dry, good length. Bottled February 1999. Very little SO2 in bottling. Drink now as it will fade away. Would not suit steak or venison - better suited to a partridge or wood pigeon.
All in all a very informative tasting. However, perhaps a little disappointing there was no Grand Cru Burgundy or a wine representing the Russian River Valley, which we heard so much about during the Conference.
Pinot Noir 2001 - the New Zealand tasting.
Pinot Noir 2001 - a tasting of the auction wine.
Pinot Noir 2001 - the event.
Sue Courtney attended Pinot Noir 2001 courtesy of the "Courtney Retirement Fund". Thanks Neil.