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edited by Sue Courtney

Celebrating a Feast of Pinot at Pinot
A preview to Pinot Noir 2004
© Sue Courtney
20th November 2003

Ask anyone the red wine variety that New Zealand does best and there should be no hesitation in answering 'Pinot Noir'. It's our most planted red grape variety and, with the plantings currently in the ground, is expected to provide over half the red grape harvest by 2005.

With growing accolades from around the world there isn't any doubt that Pinot Noir is our greatest red wine asset. It's something that the Pinot Noir winemakers of New Zealand are proud to celebrate.

Pinot Noir 2004 is that celebration. It takes place at the end of January 2004 when part of downtown Wellington will be transformed into a Pinot Noir party. More than 100 of the country's Pinot Noir producers and their adoring fans will gather to drink, talk, eat and sleep their favourite grape.

Following the format of the successful inaugural event, Pinot Noir 2001, there'll be partying at the Pinot Noir Street Party and formal dining at the Gala Dinner. There'll be consumer-oriented seminars to explore the diversity of New Zealand Pinot Noir and field trips to Pinot Noir vineyards. There'll be informal tastings of the participating producer's wines at the 'Tasting Centre' at Queens Wharf. And last but not least there'll be two formal tasting sessions.

The first of the formal tastings will be a regional insight into New Zealand Pinot Noir with a dozen wines from eight regions discussed by experts from New Zealand and offshore. The second will be the international tasting where three prestigious New Zealand Pinot Noirs go head to head with some of the world's best.

What better-named venue could one to announce the formal tasting regional selections for Pinot Noir 2004 than 'Pinot' in Auckland. This outstanding venue, that was formerly known as 'Clifford house', was where the wines that had been selected by the regions themselves were unveiled. And I was there to taste ten of them, to taste them with food to see just how versatile the selections were.

It was a winemaker's lunch with a difference. A lunch you had to work at to find the intricacies of the matches. Ruth Pretty, the Pinot Noir 2004 Culinary Director, hopes that we will be impressed.

"Don't make your minds up about the foods until you try them" she said and indeed the different flavours made you think about the wine. That's one of the great things about food and wine matching, you don't know what goes with what until you try it.

A selection of food designed to
to match Pinot Noir.  Photo by Sue Courtney
A selection of food designed to to match Pinot Noir. Photo by Sue Courtney

The wines and food were presented in two flights.

Flight One

Kumeu River Pinot Noir 2002 - Auckland
With earth, red cherry, smoky bacon and a firm acid backbone, of all the wines this is heading towards Burgundy in style. It's the most northern representative and is going to be a terrific stylistic example of New Zealand Pinot Noir when it mellows.

Palliser Martinborough Pinot Noir 2002 - Martinborough
Served from a magnum, this youthful bright wine emits aromas of cherries, plums, savoury herbs and leather and tastes of red guava and tamarillo with a stonefruit fleshiness. It's a ripe flavoursome wine with youthful tannins and classic earthy, savoury Martinborough traits. (Note, the 2001 vintage is being presented at the Celebration, the wrong wine arrived for this occasion).

Greenhough Hope Vineyard Pinot Noir 2001 - Nelson
Dense looking, richly fragrant, smelling full-bodied, intense, robust and gamey, it's ripe and rounded to the taste with good acidity, musk and cherry plum. Firm velvety tannins give textural complexity. A wine with heaps of potential and youthful approachability.

Foxes Island Pinot Noir 2001 - Marlborough
Rather intriguing cherry-earth and herbal scents lead into the mouthfilling, full-bodied, earthy, velvety wine with a fine seam of acidity and a chocolate complexity on the finish.

Peregrine Central Otago Pinot Noir 2001 - Central Otago
It smells vibrant and lifted and tastes smooth and velvety. Cherries and plums characterise this earthy savoury wine that has cherry chocolate richness and herbal intrigue. Plush, ripe, delicious.

With this flight of wines the food selections were
Chilled Tomato Consomme with basil - Tomato water tasting distinctively of tomato laced with pepper and spiced with basil. This was an unusual combo that was either love or hate. I was on the love side. It lifted the wines and sweetened them and I though it absolutely terrific with the herbaceous Peregrine and with the Foxes Island it brought the sweetness out. I'd love to try this consomme with Sauvignon Blanc.

Roasted Japanese Eggplant - a small round of roasted eggplant with a coriander infused topping. I'm not a fan of eggplant but the herb topping rescued it. Good with the herbaceous notes of the Peregrine and exceptional with the Greenhough.

Mushroom Tart with Sesame - a light puffy pastry case topped with a juicy whole mushroom with a sesame paste smeared on top. Yummy on its own, not surprisingly it matched to all the wines.

Tuna in Soy and Mirin - a cube of raw tuna that had been marinated for at least 12 hours in soy sauce and Japanese 'mirin' wine. At the venue, which was rather subdued in lighting, it looked like a cube of Turkish Delight but that was where the similarity ended. The fish had a strong salty soy flavour that brought out an earthy aspect to the Palliser. I thought it terrific with the Foxes Island but it definitely clashed with the Kumeu River.

Flight Two

Vidal Reserve Pinot Noir 2002 - Hawkes Bay
A fruity wine, smooth and round in the palate with riper flavours of flavours of guava, plums and red berries with an underlying feral complexity and a firm tannin backbone. A very drinkable wine.

Alana Pinot Noir 2001 - Martinborough
A herbal, savoury, earthy wine that opens up to reveal vibrant cherry fruit. Still quite tight, it's a wine with Burgundian complexities and one that will develop with time.

Pegasus Bay Prima Donna Pinot Noir 2001 - Waipara, Canterbury
Fragrant, floral, a huge, huge wine in comparison to the others tasted so far and I'm pleased the oak has mellowed in the last few weeks. It's rich, ripe and powerful with dark cherry, plum, voluptuous tannins and an intense creamy chocolate character on the finish that has amazing length.

Lynskeys Wairau Peaks Pinot Noir 2001 - Marlborough
A tarry, leathery pinot, it's quite robust in its structure with masses of black cherry, chocolate and musk, it's also earthy and a little herbal with a gamey, feral character that emerges on the concentrated finish. This is a wine that begs for food.

Quartz Reef Pinot Noir 2001 - Central Otago
It's fruity with lots of cherries, chocolate and savoury gamey flavours combining with classic Central Otago herbs. A voluptuous wine, a delicious wine with a wonderfully rounded palate, incredible silky texture and amazing length. Still unfolding with a long life ahead of it, it's a great example of Central Otago pinot noir that you could enjoy on its own or enhance even further with the right food match.

With this flight of wines the food selections were
Curried Parsnip and Apple with Chive Puree - served in a bowl to drink, some people said they found it too sweet for the wines. The sweetness didn't bother me so long as the puree was well combined. I found it definitely softened the leathery character of the Lynskey's.

Duck with Szechwan and Grilled Pumpkin - the pumpkin was crisp to the bite and there was too much of it but duck is one of the foods that seems to match to Pinot Noir no matter what. Sliced roasted breast of duck on top of shredded duck that had been marinated or cooked in a Szechwan sauce made for one of the highlights of the matching experience, so long as most of the pumpkin was left on the plate.

Smoked Lamb and Parsley Wonton with Dashi Mayo - The smokiness of the lamb was like bacon in some respects. A little difficult in its presentation to try with all the wines but lamb lovers would be pleased with the overall match.

Vine Ash Brie with Raisin Bread - Made in Gisborne by Carol Thorpe at Waimata Cheeses and served with raisin bread done Melba Toast style and muscatels. The texture of the creamy cheese was melt in the mouth with the wine and the muscatels added richness.

This was a fantastic exercise, the incredible range of flavours of the different foods providing an extensive taste experience with the same variety of wine and showing that when matching wine and food, individual flavours come into the equation. Where some of the matches worked well with some of the wines, they didn't really work too well with the others. It could be due to the acidity of the wine, the herbal character of the wine, the earthiness of the wine, the leatheriness of the wine or the idiosyncrasies of the taster's palate. What worked for some didn't work for others.

It was no surprise to me that the classic matches worked well for all the tasters - the mushroom in the first flight and the duck in the second flight matching to all the wines they were served with. It also proved that sometimes the simplest things are the best. By this I mean the creamy Brie served with muscatels and bread. It is simple to prepare, easy to present in an attractive fashion and with its texture makes a delicious combination with all the wines.

Whatever, I happy to keep on experimenting. Just keep pouring those Pinots.

Nine of the above ten wines will be presented in the formal tasting of wines from New Zealand Pinot Noir regions. Replace the Palliser Estate Pinot Noir 2002 with the Palliser Estate Pinot Noir 2001 and add
Neudorf Home Vineyard Pinot Noir 2001 - Nelson
Bell Hill Old Weka Pass Pinot Noir 2001 - Waipara, Canterbury.

Three wines have been chosen for the formal tasting of international Pinot Noir wines, a session that will be chaired by the eloquent and knowledgable Jasper Morris MW, from the UK. They are
Dry River Pinot Noir 2001 - Martinborough
Fromm Clayvin Pinot Noir 2001 - Marlborough
Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir 2001 - Central Otago

Found out more about Pinot Noir 2004 from the official website - This has a full overview of the 4-day program as well as brief profiles of the international speakers and guests, the international guest winemakers and the participating New Zealand producers.

As Richard Riddiford chairman of the celebration says, "It will be the ultimate tasting event for those who have developed a passion for this varietal".

Now available - The Pinot Noir 2004 International Tasting.

Recap the previous celebration, Pinot Noir 2001, at these links.
Pinot Noir 2001 - the New Zealand tasting
Pinot Noir 2001 - the International tasting
New Zealand Vintage Reserve Pinot Noir 2000 - a very special Pinot Noir made from a blend of pinot noir from all the producers attending Pinot Noir 2001.
An interview with Jancis Robinson at Pinot Noir 2001
An interview with Robert Drouhin at Pinot Noir 2001

Find out about Jasper Morris at this link
Red Burgundies at the central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration 2003

Find out about New Zealand Pinot Noir at this link
A fact file of New Zealand Pinot Noir

"People who are passionate about pinot noir are passionate about other fine things in life." Ruth Pretty

© Sue Courtney. 20 November 2003

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