Twelve specially chosen pinot noir wines from around the world, 480 people, 500 bottles, 2880 glasses and 5760 pours. They are the statistics for the international tasting at Pinot Noir 2004, a celebration of Pinot Noir from New Zealand and around the world.
A fine selection of pinot noir from New Zealand, Australia, California, Oregon, Switzerland, Germany and France was poured for the International Tasting, presided over by a celebrated panel of Pinot Noir experts. The eloquent Jasper Morris MW from the UK took the chair and joining him on the panel were
Michael Brajkovich MW from New Zealand, James Halliday from Australia, Robert Joseph from the UK and Michel Bettane from France.
About 480 tasters were present to sniff, swirl and sip the wines in the Zerrutti designed glasses and to listen to the comments of the panellists and the winemakers or representatives of each of the wines. The latter were sitting in the front row of the audience and given a microphone to make comment, when appropriate.
First of all the panellists were introduced and asked to make briefly state their pinot noir likes and dislikes. I list their names and, in brackets, an abbreviation to identify them later on in the text.
Michael Brajkovich (MBj) is the winemaker for Kumeu River Wines in Auckland and became NZ's first Master of Wine in 1989.
He likes less oak, less green herbaceous characters and greater use of screwcaps.
He dislikes high alcohol. "14% is too high for an elegant pinot noir style. Producers need to improve alcohol levels viticulturally and microbiologically"
James Halliday (JH), a former winemaker in the Australia's Hunter Valley and Yarra Valley has written and co-authored more than 40 books on wine. He is one of Australia's most senior wine judges.
He likes finesse and length of palate, line , continuity and evenness of flow, the 'peacocks tail' flare on the finish.
He dislikes Parker 'battleship galactica' style and heavy wines. He believes it is not the duty of Pinot Noir to age over a long time. Rather it is all about aroma and fruit flavour.
Robert Joseph (RJ), the founder of the UK Wine Magazine and the author of more than 20 books on wine. He has been named one of the 50 people who would be most likely to influence the way people would drink in the 21st century.
He likes screwcap closures on pinot noir and regards anyone who still believes in cork is a member of the flat earth society. He likes perfume and says pinot noir is the red grape that does perfume best – it can dance on the tongue. "Fine perfumed wine has sex appeal."
He dislikes high alcohol. The higher the alcohol, the less the wine can dance, 14% alcohol does not give perfume. "You often see new world producers getting higher marks from me for their second wine because they have more perfume, less ageing, less oak and less alcohol".
Michel Bettane (MBe) has been contributing to 'Revue du Vin de France' for over 20 years. He is now Editor. He also writes an annual guide on French wines and a monthly newsletter.
He likes the right balance between the fruit and the place it comes from. He tastes and drinks far more Burgundy than wine from any other country and has a personal taste for older pinot noir. He likes the tactile sensation. "The greatest Burgundies blossom flowers".
He dislikes wines where quality of fruit is hidden by winemaking, wines that are spoiled by bacteria, wines that are all up front and do not have range and length, wines where the quality appears to be coming from the oak rather than the berries and the place.
Jasper Morris (Jasper) is recognised as one of the UK's leading Burgundy experts and owns a Burgundy vineyard. He became a Master of Wine in 1985 and is a sought after speaker at Pinot Noir conferences around the world.
He likes fragrance upfront and persistence at the back.
He dislikes winemaking that doesn’t let the fruit do what it wants to do.
For each of the wines I have written my own comments. These are followed by those of the panel and additional comments from the winemaker/representative and perhaps further comments from participants in the audience. With over 40 bottles of each wine poured to about 480 participants in the tasting, there was some bottle variation in the room. But overall it was most interesting and educational.
Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir – Bannockburn, Central Otago
My notes: Concentrated cherry and the fragrance of violets, rose petals and vanillin oak. A rich concentrated wine with a lovely balance of oak – a little dominant right now – and a wealth of sumptuous red berry, creamy, slightly forest floor flavours with an acid flare on the finish. Long.
MBj. Shows lifted aromas, red fruit of Central Otago, a touch herbaceous and high acid, which gives it linearity and length. A young wine with a long way to go.
MBe: Good balance of freshness and fruit. Tannins the way I like them, not too big, too spicy or too dry. Balance, freshness, elegance. I like it very much.
RJ: We all notice the acidity but it doesn’t bother me. This is proof that you can produce an acidified wine and do it properly and it makes the wine better.
Dry River Pinot Noir 2001 – Martinborough
My notes: Creamy oak, red fruit and strawberry aromatics. A lifted wine with bright cherry, guava and plum fruits, underlying herbals, creamy palate, some oak spiciness, grainy tannins, very long in the palate with a smooth, lingering, full-fruited finish and an earthy depth. Great persistence in which spicy fruit is the hero. A wonderfully structured wine that lingers long on the palate.
RJ: Has attractive earthy character of the region, the spicy oak and a eucalypt character. Tannins in balance, not quite the silkiness I am looking for, has the elements and attractive berry fruits.
JH: Texture is different to the Felton Road, more robust, doesn’t have the same translucency as Felton Road though a bigger wine. Made in the Dry River style so it is very much in line with what I expected. Warmer climate.
Rudi Bauer: (winemaker for Quartz Reef). Unlike Pinot Noir but a beautiful red wine.
Neil McCallum: (Dry River winemaker) It is made for drinking in 7 to 10 years, not 1 to 3, in reference to the texture. We are growing Pinot Noir.
MBe: It is dangerous to stereotype Pinot Noir.
RJ: We are more tolerant of a range of styles of chardonnay and why shouldn't we be more open minded about Pinot Noir. This has remarkable tannins, concentration and richness.
JH: Felton Road is the Chambolle, Dry River is the Pommard.
Bindi Original Vineyard Pinot Noir 2002 - Macedon Ranges, Victoria, Australia
My notes: Savoury, slightly herbaceous, slightly raspberry fruits, it's slow to reveal in the glass but later becomes quite fragrant with rose petals and attractive herb scents. This is a little more savoury than the two NZ wines at first with guava-like fruit that is just starting to stew but sweet cherry fruit comes forth to drive the wine to its finish. Medium-bodied, well-balanced, aromatic, elegant and long.
RJ: Spicy, herby, minty, very cool climate characters, attractive perfume, Italian herbs, lacks some new world richness but has structure and length and wild berry fruit throughout.
MBj: Slight minty, may develop into dried herb, lively and fresh without the big structure of some of the other wines.
JH: Surprised by the minty character. Ultra cool climate.
Michael Dhillon: (Bindi winemaker) In the other wines you see great concentration and richness but this wine shows what we are trying to achieve.
Freycinet Pinot Noir 2001 – Tasmania, Australia
My notes: Rich, fragrant and slightly chocolatey, lovely expression of bouquet. A richer, more tannic wine with a darker fruit, riper red and black fruit spectrum, chocolatey oak, a long lift on the finish. Meaty, earthy richness, savoury aftertaste with a herbaceous fruit lift that lingers persistently. Lots of interesting flavours intermingle.
JH: Gold medal winner in a strong class. Great equilibrium. Very, very nice wine.
MBe: Quality of texture and body but sensitive to a salty unbalanced acidity and bigger tannins, otherwise wonderful body and good aromas.
RJ: This is probably the most Burgundian from the nose right the way through.
MBj: Harmonious fruit and oak, savoury character throughout, very long.
Ken Wright Cellars Savoya Vineyard Pinot Noir 2002– Oregon, USA
My notes: The most youthful wine in the line up and my first impression was that it reminded me of a Martinborough wine. Bright red fruits, creamy oak and floral spices on the nose. Solids tannins, savoury, earthy, an array of red fruits, strawberry, raspberry, cherry, impressive, oak sweetness and length. Built to last. Great colour and intensity with lively lingering spice and fruit and that creamy oak. Quite juicy but is perhaps more Merlot-like than Pinot Noir should be.
MBj: Nice earthy aromas, strong tannic structure, a lot of extract and length, aromas not berry fruit-like but more earthy at this stage, it is very strong in tannins.
JH: It is an exact illustration of pinot that does not appeal. Chunky and phenolic, not my cup of tea, a stylistic thing. Not bad winemaking and grape growing, it would win high points in the US.
RJ: Echoes both MBj and JH. Fits the target that some critics want in terms of extraction and length. Dark fruits with pinot elegance but wonder perhaps exacerbated by the wood. It doesn’t leave the palate particularly gently. It is the sort of wine that would win lots of awards in the US.
MBe: Pinot Noir is a complicated beast. This shows like a top model. Done with love. Ripeness and tannins are very good, extraction is good but oak sweetness distracts. A nice wine but not the style I like to drink myself.
Jasper:. You need to make wines to suit your consumers.
Lynette Hudson: (Pegasus Bay winemaker who was asked her opinion) I really like this wine. I think it has incredible fruit and I like the tannins. I think the wine needs a lot of time. I think it’s awesome.
Campion Firepeak Vineyard Pinot Noir 2001 – Edna Valley, California, USA
My notes: Rich, dense and concentrated, lovely fruit structure and lift, heading toward cherry / guava fruit, vanillin backbone, concentrated, smooth and long. This one does dance on the palate with a sweet cherry and spice step. Good persistence, light but long. Silky tannins with lovely balance throughout and a chocolate character coming through to linger on the finish.
JH: Contrast to the previous wine on texture, weight and flavour. Everything is different. Fragrant cherry, cherry blossom end of the spectrum. It is not terribly complex. Falls into my 7 by 7 theory. 7 out of ten years, 70% of the wines will be best in 7 years. Attractive style of wine. Very nice.
RJ: Show there is not one style of American pinot noir. Not my favourite wine of the flight but I bet that if there were a roomful of consumers that weren't necessarily Burgundy drinkers, this is the wine they would like the best. Immediately appealing glass of wine. Nothing to dislike. Rich fruit sweet character, not much complexity. There needs to be more of this type of Pinot Noir at the lower end of the price scale to get people into it.
Larry Brooks: (Campion winemaker) I like a perfumed and delicate style and feel this wine reflects it. Extremely fruity. My goal is to translate what the vintage and appellation gives. Freedom of composition. Aim was to bring out the delicacy and fragrance of the wine.
Fromm Clayvin Pinot Noir 2001 – Marlborough, New Zealand.
My notes: Earthy scents, deep and savoury, influence of vanillin oak and black cherry. Savoury, slightly salty in the palate. A brooding wine with dark fruits, sweet fruit core, long sweet concentrated fruit in palate terrific mouthfilling persistence. Lovely velvety tannins, a wine that needs time. Perhaps some aromatic spices.
MBe: Impressed. One the two best wines in the flight. Likes the precision, purity and balance of aromas, body and extraction of tannins. The truth is in the glass. The guy who did this wine is a very good pinot noir lover.
JH: What I found fascinating was the contrast between this and the Swiss wine, the tannin structure in the first and the absence in the second, an expression of vineyard.
MBj: Mineral, earthy component, just a touch gamey, attractive, dense and complex across palate. Put away, it will continue to evolve.
RJ: Compared to the Ken Wright, this is the one I could and would drink now and still cellar long term.
Fromm Weinbau Malanser Pinot Noir 2001 – Graubunden, Switzerland
My notes: Spicy aromas, spicy palate, the first to show pepper, possibly not as ripe, fairly aromatic on the finish, persistent and flavoursome with a floral, light berry fruit charm to the finish and lovely mouthfeel, a little salty on the finish but very very long.
MBj: Contrast to the previous wine. Elegant, lighter, more delicate, still perfumed, dried herbs slight confectionery, not quite the concentration in the palate as the other wines.
RJ: This is a wine that is more divisive in its herbaceous low tannins and perfume. It does say Pinot. I would accept the herbaceousness with food, otherwise not.
Jasper: White pepper is a legitimate pinot character.
Georg Fromm: (Fromm Vineyard) There are 800 less sunshine hours and double the rainfall than in Marlborough. The pepper is a reflection of terroir. It goes away after 3-4 years in the bottle.
A vote by raising of hands was taken. The pepper character was like by 3/4 of the room.
Weingut Karl H Johner Blauer Spatburgunder 2001 – Baden, Germany
My notes: Aromatic, herbal, floral, red plum aromas and a touch of earth. Good density of colour. Earthy, clay-like aromas, mellow, slight funky at first but the character went away with aeration, dried red fruit and slightly drying tannins, some concentration / vinosity on finish with a herbal fragrance and a spiced, mulled citrus flare. Great length. Vanillin oak more apparent when coming back to taste it after the French wines.
MBe: A great wine, exactly what he loves in great Pinot Noir. Body, complexity and texture. Loves PN when they are built in a way that expresses the soil. Fragrant and bold with the expression of an interesting place. Would be proud if he was the winemaker who had made this.
MBj: Noticed reduction on the wine to start with but it blew off to show a herbal complexity, less primary fruits but an interesting full character across the palate. It is intriguing how it has opened up in the glass.
JH: The most interesting and surprising wine of the entire 12. Like a Vosne-Romanee. Wonderful texture, structure, complexity and flavour.
RJ: Also the most interesting wine of the line-up for me. Shows you can miss a wine when first tasted. Dark cherry fruit.
Karl Heinz: (winemaker) When I first tasted in the glass I wanted to go under the table with its Burgundy shit house nose when all the wines surrounding it were so floral.
Jasper: A complete revelation. Congratulations Karl Heinz.
Weinbau Kleiner Wald Pinot Noir 2001 – Rust, Austria
My notes: Aromatic, light fragrance of maraschino cherry, becomes a little earthy and stinky with aeration. Earthy dry tannins, slightly rustic (metallic) in mouth then rich fruit cake and artificial cherry flavours, a sweeter fruited wine, perhaps too lollyish sweet, with a touch of cigar as it lingers. It improves in the glass, the tannins becoming more velvety, but did not perform well in the flight.
RJ: Austria and Germany are the most interesting places for wine at the moment but we do not hear much of what is going on there. This has some nice pinot perfume but a slightly unripe plum and stalkiness. Likes lots of elements within the wine but questions whether the vintage has affected the ripeness.
JH: Robert read over my shoulder.
Jasper: Floral character with an element of herbaceousness.
Domaine Des Epenaux 1er Cru Clos des Epenaux - Pommard, Burgundy, France
My notes: Earthy, dry, tight, lots of youthful tannins, most tannic so far. Underlying hidden red fruit, it builds in power in the palate to a rich, concentrated, full-bodied, mouthfilling wine with a satisfying finish. Sweet earth leads into black fleshed stone and berry fruits with a cherry lift on the final flare. Very long and complex.
MBj: Amazing dry fruit, fruitcake on the nose, gripping tannin, drying on finish, very young, has a long way to go. Likes the wine.
MBe: Likes the classical Pommard taste, less on aromatics, solidity in tannins, small amount of truffle taste. Very good with food rather than in a blind tasting. Needs 6-7 years more.
RJ: The wine Pommard is like the church Pommard – the least to want to be liked when first made. Did least on the nose, climbed up the ladder on palate. More I go into it, more I like it. Despite the tannins, there was a silkiness.
Jasper: This is certainly a wine for the long haul.
Benjamin Leroux: (winemaker) Classical vintage in Burgundy. "We don’t know what is typicity".
Domaine Patrice Rion Chambolle Musigny Les Cras 2001 - Burgundy, France
My notes: Sweet fruit, grapefruit, lifted aromatics. A lively fragrant wine in palate, very delicate wine with florals and light red fruits building in concentration / vinosity in palate. A lighter style than the Pommard , it finishes quite earthy and just a little metallic and drying on the finish.
JH: Entranced by the aromas, took him back to Felton Road. Very floral aromatics, therefore had great typicity. Criticises lack of generosity / structure in the palate but it doesn’t worry him. Likes the wine. Exactly what he expected from the Chambolle.
MBe: Love the aromatics, contrast to the Pommard, magnificent aromas, purity of flavour, lack of tannins and body indicates rockiness of soil. A question of taste. The balance is not so much fruit and tannins but fruit and aromas.
RJ: Critical of nose at first, later entranced by it. Pinot character leaps out more than the Chambolle character does. Fruit first.
MBj: Enjoyed perfume and floral aromas. Wine like this can sometimes pick up flesh with age.
Stephen Bennett (MW in audience). Wonderfully aromatic however finds Brettanomyces not an integral part of the wine.
A vote by show of hands was held. About 1/3rd of the room found Brettanomyces objectionable. I did not and did not notice the character until it was mentioned.
A very educational and informative tasting, which goes to show that New Zealand is doing amazing things with Pinot Noir. Our wines performed beautifully in the line-up.
Check out the preview of Pinot Noir 2004 and the tasting of New Zealand wines for the Masterclass Tasting
at this link -
Pinot Noir 2004 - the New Zealand tasting preview
Find out about New Zealand Pinot Noir at this link
A fact file of New Zealand Pinot Noir
© Sue Courtney. 22 February 2004