New World Pinot Classics

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Sooner or later, people will catch up to the fact that bigger is not better for Pinot...
By Panos Kakaviatos

Fine Wine Encounter

Lovers of Pinot Noir were treated to a special New World master class hosted by Decanter contributor Anthony Rose, during which many winery owners also addressed the class. Wines ranged from celebrated Oregon and New Zealand Pinot Noir – which Rose referred to as “two of the most exciting regions outside Burgundy” – to up-and-coming producers in Australia, Chile and South Africa. To illustrate the high quality levels, Rose explained that one of the wines at the tasting, Oregon’s Domaine Serene, had won top honours in a blind tasting by 37 professional tasters in 2004, even beating the grand cru Burgundy wines of the all-mighty Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.

Although more established wines, such as Evening Land Vineyards (Oregon), Domaine Drouhin (Oregon) and Ata Rangi (New Zealand) proved how fine and varied New World Pinot Noir can be, Rose also praised positive developments from regions that have more recently started to make Pinot Noir. Wines from South Africa and Chile, which he called “works in progress”, are getting better. Two South African Pinot Noirs, for example – the Newton Johnson Pinot Noir Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley 2009 and the Chamonix Pinot Noir Reserve Franschhoek 2009 – did not evoke “that South African earthiness that can have a negative aspect,” he said.

The wide range of styles from many regions proved that Pinot Noir can be very versatile, according to Rose. New Zealand Pinots impressed participants for excellent price/quality ratios, particularly the Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard 2009 in Martinborough, at just under £20. The Ata Rangi (about £30) meanwhile seemed the most Burgundian. “It can age well,” said Rose, who recalled another blind tasting with Morey St Denis, when a professional taster confused the Kiwi Pinot Noir for the Burgundy.

Master class participants were treated to a particularly enthusiastic message from Jim Clendenen, owner of the celebrated Au Bon Climat winery in California. The suave and rich Au Bon Climat Isabelle 2007’s 13.5% alcohol is moderate when compared to other California Pinots. Clendenen proclaimed: “Sooner or later, people will catch up to the fact that bigger is not better for Pinot”.

Less common wines, such as Bell Hill Pinot Noir 2007 from North Canterbury New Zealand (£60-70), were also featured. Less than 2,000 bottles are produced from the tiny vineyard of unique limestone soil. Other bottles pleased participants because of their attractive price/quality ratios such as Judd Vineyards Pinot Noir Ten Minutes by Tractor 2008 from Australia. It showed flavourful gamey characters, if not the most finesse, but the price – less than £20 – proved just right.