The time is ripe for New Zealand to democratise the enjoyment of fine Pinot Noir and leading producer Cloudy Bay intends to be at the vanguard, declared estate director Ian Morden last week.
In London for a Pinot Noir Salon blind tasting, which featured the newly released 2014 vintage of the estate’s Central Otago Te Wahi Pinot Noir, Morden said the estate’s brand and strong distribution network gives it a great opportunity to showcase New Zealand Pinot Noir to a wider audience than the best Burgundies will ever reach.
‘There’s huge potential there – New Zealand can produce good, reliable Pinot Noir at good yields, year in, year out, unlike Burgundy which is far more mercurial,’ commented Morden.
‘The time is right too: China’s younger generation is moving away from Bordeaux; food trends are evolving towards a cuisine that suits Pinot Noir matches; and the increased focus on provenance also counts in its favour: you can’t fake a great Pinot Noir.’
With senior winemaker Tim Heath, Morden showed the 2014 Te Wahi blind, alongside other fine wines.
‘Tasting across varieties is a modern way of appreciating fine Pinot Noir that goes beyond benchmarking – we’re looking for sensory cues, showing wines that inspired us in our Central Otago Pinot Noir project. It’s not as simple as chasing Burgundy as the benchmark, which will always leave you heartbroken.’
Wines featured in the Salon tasting included a Domaine de Montille Volnay premier cru (chosen for its tension, and perfect balance of tannins and acidity); Domaine Cedric Chignard’s Fleurie (for its crunchiness, purity, stripped-back fruit and energy); Domaine Dujac, Clos de la Roche Grand Cru (for the use of whole bunches, adding sinewy, chewy tannins); Jamet’s Côte Rôtie (to show power, expressed with a delicate hand); and Vega Sicilia, Valbuena (for its skilful use of oak).
Cloudy Bay, which has produced Pinot Noir in its Marlborough home since 1989, bought two vineyards in Central Otago five years ago, including the famous Calvert vineyard – ‘as close as you can get in New Zealand to a grand cru’, said Morden.
The fruit in Central Otago is naturally more flamboyant than in Marlborough, and so the winemaking here is all about restraint, about applying the brake pedal. ‘Ripe is a safe place,’ says Heath, ‘but you’ll never achieve greatness there. You need to aim for just ripe, which is a scary place.’
Despite the opportunity for Pinot Noir, Morden was reluctant to draw parallels with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, which saw an explosion of popularity in the 1990s.
‘That success came about when people started drinking wine on its own, as it has a completeness to it. Pinot Noir is different – it’s red, it’s more expensive and it’s a more natural food partner. Both, however, have an immediacy, vibrant aromatics and an acid line – and both should be about structure.’
The Te Wahi Pinot Noir will be available from Jeroboams Elizabeth Street, Jeroboams Pont Street, Whole Foods Kensington, Whole Foods Fulham and retails for £65.