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. www.pinotnoir.co.nz
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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