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Tasting Reviews

Pinot Noir 2017 – The International Tasting

The structured tastings held at the Pinot Noir conference are some of the most anticipated events of the programme. The logistics of running the tastings are enormous, requiring considerable time and resource to set out the venue and stemware, and to pour the wines for 650 attendees. If a tasting has 12 wines, that’s 7,800 glasses. One of the most difficult things is also the selection of the wines for the themes of the tastings. Invariably the reception to what is chosen can be divisive and disappointing, especially when there are budget constraints, and often there are people who will have a vested interest in seeing certain wines put up in front of the tasters.

For 2017, there was only one formal or structured tasting, the ‘International Tasting’, and no tastings of New Zealand wines which might have explored different vintages, terroirs of winemaking styles. The international tastings in the past have included wines from Burgundy and other Pinot Noir producing countries. Maybe the decision to hold only one international tasting reflected the growing maturity of the New Zealand industry, and a greater focus within, and a lessening need to compare with the rest of the world?

For this year, four keynote speakers were invited to present two wines each, none from New Zealand, to demonstrate their philosophy of what makes Pinot Noir great, and then discuss the attributes of the wines justifying their choice. The speakers choosing the wines were Marcel Giesen, winemaker at Giesen Wines and Bell Hill, Mike Bennie, Australian wine and drinks writer, Kenichi Ohashi MW, who is also a sake expert, and Jancis Robinson OBE, MW, arguably the world’s most respected wine critic and journalist. Interestingly, there was no budget discussed, but the wines selected were relatively modest in price when compared to the most famous burgundy wines. The wines were served in Riedel stemware and the wines were pre-poured by a team led by Shona White.

To see my tasting notes of 38 Auckland, Hawke's Bay, Wairarapa and North Canterbury wines, from the Day One Road Trip click here.  To see my tasting motes of 40 Central Otago/Waitaki wines, from the Day Two Road Trip click here. To see my tasting notes of 42 Marlborough and Nelson wines from the Day Three Road Trip, click here.

The Wines and Their Representation of Quality
Eight wines were served blind, with the name of the selector and speaker under two of the glasses of wines. Tasters were offered the choice of tasting the wines identity ‘blind’ or revealed at the start. I tasted the wines ‘blind’. After 10 minutes allocated to taste the wines, each speaker in turn presented their approach and philosophies to what makes "greatness” and then discussed this notion with respect to the wines. Each speaker approached the subject uniquely, and the presentation was hugely entertaining and educational. I must admit that I felt I could relate to each speaker’s thoughts and it was a pleasure to try to see quality from another person’s point of view, these people, of course, very highly respected. I’m sure the majority of the audience would have felt the same. As could be expected, the wines were controversial in some respects, and whether they were truly great was debateable. Here, I offer my notes on the wines with a brief introduction to the speakers’ thoughts on quality, and include some impressions after the identity was revealed, along with some technical and other detail. My scores are my own, based on my perceptions of quality!

Marcel Giesen
For Marcel, great wines "demand attention” and draws him into them. His two wines were both from the Santa Rita district in California, and demonstrated the region, and aspects such as vine age.

Au Bon Climat ‘Larmes de Grappe’ Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir 2005
Moderately dark red with garnet hues. The bouquet is seamless and voluminous with softly deep and concentrated aromas of complex, savoury dark-red berry fruits, plenty of whole bunch, but ripe, and with layers of game. On palate full-bodied, solid and densely packed with layers of savoury and complex red fruits, earth and game, whole bunch stalk. Ripe and with so much detail and layering. The extraction is fine-grained, and there is still a tight core present. Lovely acidity still shows. This has aged remarkably well and is drinking on a plateau. A wine in great condition. From the Sanford and Benedict vineyard, vines planted in 1971. 100% whole bunch, 13.5% alc., aged 18 months in 100% new French oak. 19.0-/20 Feb 2017 RRP $148.00

Domaine de la Cote ‘Bloom’s Field’ Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir 2014
Very pale red colour. The nose is very elegant, refined and refreshing with floral purity, but not lacking in any intensity and concentration. An elegant wine, tightly bound, with beautifully aromatic and fragrant red fruits and red florals. Refined tannin extraction and balanced structure, with fresh acidity. This reveals subtle savoury and nutty complexities, a touch of spicy oak In the Musigny style with its beauty of florals. Vines at 10,000 – 17,000 per ha. 100% whole bunch, 12.5% alc., aged 20 months in oak. 19.0+/20 Feb 2017 RRP $70.00

Mike Bennie
For Mike, great wines must have "emotional impact” and drinkability. One of his wines was a Swiss wine, the fruit grown in an integrated ecosystem with vertical biodiversity, the other from the Hunter Valley, based on ‘Mother Vine’ James Busby material (MV6) for the Australian industry.

Mythopia ‘Illusion’ Arbaz Pinot Noir 2013
Dark red colour with black-red hues, and depth, beginning to show a little garnet. Incredibly full, solid and dense in concentration with idiosyncratic dark-red and black fruits, dark herbs, resinous and nutty oak, great layers of green and black complexities. Very fulsome and structured on palate with rich and lush fruit alongside dark herbs, stalk, game and cedar. Liquorice and spices unfold. The acidity is soft and integrated, yet this is fresh, partly from the vegetal and herbal influences. Incredibly flavoursome and a startling range of flavour, not all positive, but overall offering immense interest. From 3 ha of vines, hand-picked, mainly destemmed, 12.0% alc., in barrel for 2-3 years. "No added anything.” A single barrel bottling. "It will polarise”, said Mike Bennie. 18.5+/20 Feb 2017 RRP $85.00

Mount Pleasant ‘Mother Vine’ Hunter Valley Pinot Noir 2014 
Even ruby-red colour. This has a strong and positively intense nose with dense red fruit aromas, unfolding black fruits, whole berry lifted confectionary and jam suggestions. Rich and concentrated on palate, the succulence enhanced by fresh acidity, there are red and darker fruits tending liquorice, but with a thread of jamminess throughout. Whole berries? Warm climate? Very fine-grained tannins at the core lend a degree of elegance. For Mike Bennie, the quality is in the context, rather than typical parameters. This wine certainly qualifies in that regard, especially historically. Vines planted 1921. Hand-picked, 25% whole bunch, 13.0% alc., aged 10 months in 25% new puncheons. 18.5/20 Feb 2017 RRP $90.00

Ken Ohashi
For Ken, great Pinot Noir wines must have transparency and the best qualities of premium water. His wines were from the Yarra Valley and the Ahr in Germany.

Doctor Mayer Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2014 
Deepish ruby-red, youthful in appearance. This is very tightly concentrated and shows real intensity with finesse. Beautifully perfumed with fragrant red florals and soft red fruits, great purity, with a thread of fresh herbs. Rich and penetrating on palate, with finesse and density of red fruits and dark herbs. This must be the whole cluster influence. Vey refined tannins and acidity with nuances of resinous seasoned oak. Seriously intense and beautifully aromatic, but with slender refinement. This has the transparency as discussed by Ken Ohashi. MV4 and MV5 clones, vines 17 y.o., planted to 6,000 vines per ha, indigenous yeast fermented to 13.0% alc., temperature up to 22°C with 100% whole bunches, the wine aged 10 months in 10-15% new oak. 19.0-/20 Feb 2017 RRP $55.00

Meyer-Nakel ‘G’ Ahr Spatburgunder Trocken QbA 2014
Pale red colour. The nose is very delicate, elegant and refined, with fragrant red fruits and florals, along with some funky, savoury elements adding detail. On palate a slim and slender wine, tightly bound and finely structured. Lovely red floral and soft red fruits with delicacy of expression. The tannins fine and flowery, this has linearity and tension. Subtle savoury complexities emerge as the wine flows showing some nutty oak. A cooler-spectrum style. Ken Ohashi sees transparency and purity from beginning to end, and minerality as well as terroir. Clones 667 and 777 from 18 y.o. vine, planted at 7,000 vines per ha, fully destemmed and fermented to 13.5% alc., the wine aged one year in 3-4 y.o. oak. 18.5+/20 Feb 2017 RRP $56.00

Jancis Robinson
For Jancis, great wine must have charm, refreshment, intrigue, balance, ability to age, terroir, and be memorable, among other attributes. Her wines were a burgundy from a modern micro-negociant and a wine from Tasmania.

Mark Haisma Morey-Saint-Denis 1er ‘Les Chaffots’ 2013
Even ruby-red colour, lighter edged. This has a rich and complex bouquet with density of red fruits layered with savoury dark and dried herb notes, some whole bunch. The nose retains style and elegance, and speaks of Cote de Nuits. Succulently fruity, with depth and density, but oozing balance and proportion. Packed with deep fruit, but the extraction is very fine, the grip and acidity lending liveliness. There are layers of complexing savoury herb and dark earth nuances throughout. Florals show to add lift and detail. Lovely burgundy wine no doubt. 75% whole bunch, fermented to 12.0% alc. the wine aged 12 months in oak. 19.5-/20 Feb 2017 RRP $92.00

Tolpuddle Coal River Pinot Noir 2015
Dark red colour with some garnet. The nose is full and powerful with depth and volume showing dark-red berry fruits and a layering of dark herbs and whole cluster stalk piquancy. Just a tad on the greener side than ideal. Rich and bold with plenty of fruitiness on the palate. Dark-red berry fruit match by the herbal layer. Some earthy complexity. This is fulsome with serious mouthfeel, the tannins significant, but fine-grained. All is enlivened by fresh acid tension. A little on the green side with the whole clusters, but otherwise all there. From vines planted in 1988, hand-picked and freighted to Shaw and Smith in the Adelaide Hills, fermented with high proportion of whole berries and 40% whole bunches to 13.5% alc., the wine aged in French barriques. 19.0-/20 Feb 2017 RRP $78.00


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