NZ pinot noir - Wine tasting 2011

Making pinot noir is often likened to the pursuit of the Holy Grail. How close to the sacred object are our producers getting, asks John Saker.

by John Saker | Cuisine issue #149 | Wednesday, 7 December, 2011

NZ pinot noir - Wine tasting 2011

Pinot noir’s potential to bring forth red wine of sublime quality is legendary. However, that comes with a degree of difficulty, which is why whenever pinot noir is mentioned, the word quest is never far behind. Our tasting showed there is no shortage of New Zealand winemakers committed to the pinot pursuit – just two short of a record 300 wines were entered. Of these, while 77 received four stars or more, only 14 earned the coveted five stars.
“Clearly, New Zealand is a leader in New World pinot,” said panel chair John Belsham. “But the difference between well-made pinot and great pinot is a layer that goes beyond ticking the boxes. The challenge now for this country’s best producers is to transcend making wines that are noticed to wines that are revered. Pinot noir is not defined by immediacy, but by its complexity, structure, length and layering. The great pinot noirs of the world require time in the cellar to settle and harmonise before they unveil in the glass. Like an exquisitely wrapped gift that builds in anticipation as each layer is revealed, they are often surprising, sometimes challenging, but never disappointing.”

The Tasting panel
Wine panel chair, John Belsham, respected international judge and owner of Foxes Island Wines, Marlborough, was joined by Australian wine judge/consultant Gary Baldwin, and Ben Glover, chief winemaker at Marlborough’s Wither Hills. Associate judges (non-scoring) were Andrew Parkinson, fine-wine specialist at Negociants NZ, and our NZ wine writer/author of Pinot Noir: The New Zealand Story, John Saker.

TOP 10

1. Olssens Jackson Barry Pinot Noir 2009 (Central Otago) $45-$50 -4
Jewel-like in the glass, flashing blues as well as deep reds, this splendid pinot is equally vivid
in aroma, taste and mouthfeel. Flavours akin to raw red and dark berry fruits, along with a whisper of wild thyme (there’s plenty around Olssens’ Bannockburn vineyard), fragrant beetroot and subtle oak complexity, all grow in the mouth. And it has the depth to develop beautifully over the years ahead.

The Parr and the glory
“It’s made my day, as that wine is my baby,” said Olssens winemaker Jen Parr, when told her Jackson Barry Pinot 2009 had taken line honours. “It’s all about perfume and poise. That wine is everything I try to do with pinot, and that year, the stars were aligned.” Oregon-born Parr took over the top job at Olssens in 2008, after two years as Matt Connell’s assistant and before that, travelling and working in France, South Africa, Napa Valley, Oregon and of course, New Zealand. At Olssens she enjoys working with the oldest vines in Bannockburn, and channelling different qualities of the site through each of the three pinots she produces annually. “The Nipple Hill is about fruit, Slapjack Creek is more of a textural wine and Jackson Barry is perfume,” she explains. There are signs Parr may just be putting down roots in Central. She has a house, a four-year-old dog, and is chair of the 2012 Central Otago Pinot Celebration. “This is home now. Besides, why would anyone leave Central?”

2. Whitehaven Marlborough Greg Pinot Noir 2009 $39.95-$44.95 -5
The resurgence of this established label continues with this attractive, bright, concentrated wine. It is rich in sweet dark plum and chocolatey notes, presented in a relaxed structure. Try it with wild pork.

3. Thornbury Central Otago Pinot Noir 2009 $25-$30 -5
Yet again, the Thornbury label provides lip-smacking quality at an eye-popping price. Faded rose and clove scents, great balance and intensity, and a long, juicy finish all contribute to what is a seamless, flowing drink. With its easy charm, it would make an ideal Friday-at-five pinot.

4. Domain Road Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009 (Central Otago) $37-$42 -5
Since its debut pinot in 2006, this Bannockburn label has regularly starred at Cuisine tastings. Ink-dark, with a punchy fruit presence enriched by oak, the latest rendition is a big wine. Providing lift and elegance are zell-managed fruit tannins and acidity. Suggested match: rabbit terrine with dark cherry chutney.

5. Giesen Marlborough Pinot Noir The Brothers 2009 $37-$40 -5
Heading the Giesen winery is a fraternal triumvirate. Hence the name of this wine which Ben Glover likened to Grace Kelly. “She’s all grace, slightly angry with the monarchy, but always maintaining her poise.” Admired traits include good ripeness, a whole-bunch herbal twist (see page 143) and overall harmony.

6. Amisfield Pinot Noir 2009 (Central Otago) $38-$42 -5
Nothing amiss with Amisfield’s current release. A languid silkiness characterises the texture; plums, spice and dried
herb flavours are supported by rich
tannins and superb acidity. Definitely
a sleeper that will reward at least five years in the cellar.

7. Wild Earth Deep Cove Pinot Noir 2009 (Central Otago) $28-$33 -5
Crafted by the experienced Steve Davies using fruit mainly from the Gibbston, this wine delivers terrific value. Seductive aromatics set up a rich, sinewy mouthful where upfront curranty notes are layered with more savoury, herbal flavours. Match it with slow-roasted pork belly. [F]

8. Wooing Tree Pinot Noir 2009 (Central Otago) $39-$45 -5
A sexy, Carmenesque quality comes through in this wine’s dark colour, extravagantly floral perfume (lilac,
violets) and resoundingly rich, plush fruit presence. There was comment on the spicy oak influence, which the panel felt was justified by the ample fruit.

9. Soho Pinot Noir 2010 (Marlborough) $33-$35 -4
There was much discussion around our top-rating 2010. Savoury, spicy, red beetroot aromas, showing the influence of whole-bunch fermentation (see page 143), usher in a soft mouthful of red and dark fruit charm. Noticeable oak didn’t detract. “It needs another four to five years,” noted John Belsham.

10. Boundary Kings Road Waipara Pinot Noir 2010 $26 -4
Once again, this label delivers big on the quality-price ratio. Fragrant and fresh, with a chewy texture and an interesting undertow of meaty, savoury flavours, this would be a fine partner for a Moroccan lamb stew. [E]