The prime event of the day was conducted after lunch with 41 Pinot Noirs from the 2016 vintage, 27 wines from 2015 and 2 wines from 2014 served blind. The purpose was to obtain an overview of the new release wines and a good impression of the characteristics of each vintage.
Some climactic data was presented for the vintages to put them in context of the recent averages. 2017 appeared to be a cooler vintage overall, as the rest of the country, but a closer look showed that there was warmer than average conditions in November and December (in 2016), but a cooler February, with end result of a fairy average heat accumulation. 2016 had a generally warmer than average growing season, with particularly higher temperatures than average over February to April of that year. The 2015 growing season had lower than average temperatures in November and December (in 2014), but considerably higher than average temperatures especially over February to April. Interestingly 2014 followed a nearly identical pattern to that of 2017, but just slightly cooler in March and April, and overall.
My overall impression from tasting the 41 Pinot Noirs is their friendliness. The wines are in the riper spectrum showing darker fruit aromas and flavours, with the descriptor “plums” appearing frequently in my notes. The wines are generally fulsome with sweet fruit and softly ripe tannins, and moderate acidity. The extraction of the wines is generally very sensitive to the fruit and to the wine expression. The best wines show good structure and degrees of complexity, especially with whole bunch fermentation as a component. I found the oaking well-handled, without extreme overtness. Indeed, with the sweeter flavours, oak seems to be more compatible, than in say, a cooler season.
These were the more interesting wines tasted. I found the 2015s were much more classical in expression, with less ripe fruitiness overall when compared to the 2015s. However, ripeness isn’t everything in Pinot Noir, and the 2015s possess more elegance, with the fruit profile somewhat cooler, with red berry fruits rather than darker, riper fruit. The descriptor “plum” hardly appeared in my notes. The flavours are more savoury and herbal elements are more prevalent. What the 2015s show is structure, with good tannin extraction and more vibrant acidity, lending the wines increased freshness. In the best wines, this translates to increased longevity. However, the vintage yielded greater variability. While the top wines are at the same quality as the 2016s, and indeed other vintages, there are proportionally more wines at the lesser levels, these wines being distinctly cooler in fruit, lighter in depth and weight, and maybe less friendly in balance.
With a sample size of 2 wines, it is difficult to make proper conclusions on the vintage and the style of wines yielded. The two wines were bigger wines, hence their good showing in a blind tasting format. They also came on the tail end of a reasonably large number of wines preceding. One wine at 5-star, gold medal, or past the 18.5/20 criterion, and the other a high 4-star quality wine. These being later new releases, they also showed savoury secondary characters. My note on the one 5-star wine follows.
Looking through my top wines, one factor became noticeable to me. Almost all of the wines I rated highly were made by ‘estate’ winemakers. The wines from the contract facilities did not feature strongly for me. This indicates that these ‘estate-made’ wines are more individual, or else that I am a taster who picks up on individuality of character. Maybe this is a recognition of terroir as well?