The final meeting of our tasting group in this year of the Horse, before we welcome in a year of lanolin based loveliness (It’s Sheep time), concerned the merits of New World Pinot Noir. I have already made clear my reticence for much of the world’s Pinot, as too often it tends towards expensive, two-dimensional dullness. In speaking with any ambitious producer of Pinot, the majority recognise the difficulties inherent in crafting something that has the perfume and personality they so desperately seek. Most admit that the reason they cherish Pinot is for its ability to act as a conduit for the soil that it sits in. This is great when the wine is fantastic, leaving the winemaker to talk about the incredible nature of the terroir, but what about when the wine is not so good?
An old cycling adage states that there is no such thing as bad weather just bad clothing, well unfortunately, if our tasting was proof of anything, the same cannot be said of making wine from Pinot Noir. No amount of fine ‘clothing’ (low yields, whole berry fermentations, ‘hand plunging’, expensive French oak, heavy bottles etc) can make up for the ‘bad weather’ or unsuitable terroir. And the factor most significant for diminishing the suitability of Pinot based terroir? Heat.
Of the four wines tasted all were from ‘cool’ regions with a reputation for producing qualitatively very good and expressive Pinot. Yet there is ‘cool’ and there is…well…cooler. For us, the cooler areas performed the best, retaining more perfume, and achieving a greater level of overall harmony. Please see the reviews below.
If all this talk of Pinot has left you cold and pining for some alternative to share with your flock during the festivities, then why not try a variety that shares some of Pinot’s attributes; Sicily’s Nerello Mascalese: aromatic, elegant and delicious.
Craggy Range, Te Muna Road, Martinborough, 2012, 13%
Grape: Pinot Noir
Winemaking: 10 months in 25% new French Oak
Note: Delicate, cherry stone and wet wool aromas. Supple and silky showing old world restraint with a little new world purity. Full of pleasure now but also promises a degree of improvement over the next 3 years.
Price: Approx $30USD
Available from: Not currently available in Taiwan
Cristom, Jessie Vineyard, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon, 2010, 13.5%
Grape: Pinot Noir
Winemaking: 19 months in 61% new French oak
Note: The best wine of the evening and the most ‘old-world’ in style. Complex and engagingly aromatic with bright red fruit combining with truffle, mushroom and floral characters to create a harmonious whole. Sappy and supple, deserving of a nice lamb chop.
Available from: Chateau Wine & Spirit 02 25065875
Marimar Estate, La Masia, Russian River, Sonoma, 2009, 14%
Grape: Pinot Noir
Winemaking: 30% new French Oak
Note: Spicy and full bodied with a herbal element sitting alongside the red and predominantly black fruit on show here. Good, but feels a little hollow in the middle and this causes the alcohol to protrude slightly.
Available from: Finesse
Moss Wood, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, 2009, 14%
Grape: Pinot Noir
Winemaking: 14 months in 50% new French oak
Note: Along with the Cristom wine from Oregon, this had the finest array of aromatics. Red cherry, tea leaves and pot pourri allied to a satin-like mouth-feel made this very pleasing. Should continue to improve over the next three years.
Tascante, Ghiaia Nera, IGT Sicilia, 2010, 13%
Grape: Nerello Mascalese
Winemaking: Young vines, planted at 600 metres on the slopes of Mount Etna. Matured in large old oak vats.
Note: Smelling of Chinese medicine, cooked red cherries and with no intrusive oak aromas, this wine delivers on purity. Not overly complex, it is nonetheless a good introduction to this elegant Sicilian native.
Available from: Ascent Way 02 2533 3180
If someone asks me what I want for Christmas I hesitate to say wine because I know that people fear getting it ‘wrong’. The problem is that the amateur cannot look at a label and derive much needed information about the quality in the bottle. If, on the other hand, I want to buy my beloved a handbag, whether I know the relative merits of Fendi vs. Fiorelli is immaterial, my judgement on the suitability of the aesthetic is alone, the deciding factor (not that I am pretending that this purchasing decision is free of danger).
What follows therefore is a brief list of some of the wines that I have particularly enjoyed over the last year. I have not listed the wines by price (as typing the name of each into Google will give you a more accurate idea of their cost in your local market) and if you would like more detailed information, many have been reviewed on Sniff in the last few months. It is far from exhaustive and the criteria for appearing on this list was less about the score (I have left out many with similar ratings) and more about those wines that have forced me to engage with them, either as a result of their sheer gustatory pleasure or because of some beguiling complexity. These are, therefore, wines that should make any wine-lover happy (be it your Mum, manager or man-friend) and if you are lucky they may even share their gift with you, ensuring a happy Christmas for all concerned.
One last point – don’t fret too much about the vintage, I state if the vintage is hugely influential to the choice.
Ken Forrester, The FMC (100% Chenin Blanc) Stellenbosch, South Africa, 2010. 17.5/20
Rich and intense but with a seam of supporting acidity. Chenin at its South African best.
Hans Herzog, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ‘Sur lie’, New Zealand, 2009. 17/20
Quince, pineapple, marzipan and nettle form just part of this complex, very un-Marlborough like, Sauvignon.
Millton, Riverpoint Viognier, Gisborne, New Zealand, 2011. 17.5/20
Warm peach, lemon oil and honey. Vibrant for Viognier and with great length.
Henri Bourgeois, La Bourgeoise, Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc), Loire France, 2010. 18.5/20
My favourite Sauvignon of the year, as elegant as it gets.
Eric Morgat, Cuvee l’Enclos, Savennieres (Chenin Blanc), Loire, France, 2009. 18/20
Weighty but with that special mineral and salty line running through it which separates the great from the good.
Von Buhl, Forster Ungeheuer GG (‘Grosses Gewachs’ meaning a dry wine produced from the best vineyards), Riesling trocken, Pfalz, Germany, 2011. 18/20
Full of tension and vitality.
Cantina Terlan, Winkl, Sauvignon Blanc, Alto Adige/Sudtirol, Italy, 2013. 17.5/20
The best producers of Italian Sauvignon?
Nik Weis, St. Urbans Hof, Laurentiuslay GG, Riesling trocken, Mosel, Germany, 2012 (I love this vintage here). 19/20
Stunning, the most arresting white I tried this year.
Domaine Labet, Fleur de Savagnin ‘en Chalasse’, (100% Savagnin), Jura, France, 2012. 17.5/20
No need to chill this as the driving acidity and persistence make this feel like it is already chilled. Brilliant.
Les Heritiers du Comte Lafon, Clos du Four, (100% Chardonnay) Macon-Milly-Lamartine, Burgundy, France, 2011. (I love this vintage here) 18/20
Delicious, approachable and most importantly, highly affordable Burgundy.
Domaine Ramonet, 1er cru ‘les Caillerets’, Chassagne Montrachet, Burgundy, France, 2008. 18/20
Delicious and approachable but you’ll pay a bit more for this classic than for the Macon.
Jean Bourdy, Chateau Chalon, (100% Savagnin), Jura, France, 2005. 19/20
Flor influenced brilliance. Gob-smackingly fine with an intensity, complexity and persistence rarely found in any other white wine. Outstanding.
Sweet & Sparkling
Rolly Gassmann, Rotleibel de Rorschwihr, Pinot Gris, Alsace, France, 2008. 18/20
A little chubby but only in the most alluring way, I could drink a glass of this every day.
Grahams, The Stone Terraces, Vintage Port, Douro, Portugal, 2011, (special vintage). 19/20
From the spectacular 2011 vintage, this is Graham’s newest addition to their line-up.
Dow’s, Vintage Port, Douro, Portugal, 1994. 18/20
Perfect drinking now.
Chateau Pajzos, Tokaji Essencia, Hungary, 1999. 19.5/20
I had tears in my eyes on tasting this. The most mesmeric wine I tasted this year.
Bruno Paillard, NPU 1999, Champagne, France. 18.5/20
Very complex sparkler that deserves your full attention. Don’t waste this on a celebration, drink with your nearest and dearest.
Camel Valley, Pinot Noir Rose Brut, Cornwall, England, 2012. 17/20
Charles Heidsieck, Brut Reserve NV, Champagne, France. 18/20
Surely the best value Champagne on the market.