Pinot perfection

After four days tasting, discussing and thinking about Pinot Noir can you guess what I drank on the fifth day? No, it wasn’t beer or a chilled glass of Riesling. Those particular pleasures were narrowly beaten by a desire to have yet another glass of … Pinot Noir.

The event was Pinot Noir 2013, a tri-annual conference first staged in 2001. It now attracts hundreds of pinotphiles (as we call ourselves) to Wellington where we pay homage to our favourite wine.

112 wineries offered an estimated 350 samples of Pinot Noir to a discerning group of critics, winemakers, wine distributors, wine retailers and restaurateurs from many different countries. We sniffed, slurped and occasionally swallowed wine after wine in our search for the perfect Pinot.

Panels of experts struggled to define the perfect Pinot Noir. Keynote speaker and regular attendee, Matt Kramer from the USA got closest to describing what great Pinot Noir is all about. Kramer is an authority on the wines of Burgundy, acknowledged as the source of the world’s greatest Pinot Noir. The best wines from Burgundy achieve such stellar quality that they make 2+2=5, according to Kramer. As good as New Zealand wines are the sum of our best winemaker’s efforts only equals four he claimed.

Kramer advised winemakers who wanted to take their wines to the next level to be more intuitive and to avoid trying to control every step of the viticulture and winemaking process.

It’s no coincidence that my two top wines are made by winemakers who lean more toward the artist side of the art/science equation. Both wines have an X-factor that raises them well above their peers. If they don’t equal five, they get very close to it.

Fromm Clayvin Vineyard Pinot Noir, Marlborough 2010 – $70

From one of Marlborough’s first hillside vineyards, the Clayvin vineyard has produced a superb string of wines over many years. This is the best ever showing a combination of the benefits of vine age and a great vintage. Dense sweet plum and cherry fruit flavours with a seasoning of spice and classy oak. Complex and supremely elegant Pinot Noir with a drop-dead silken texture. – view on

Pyramid Valley Earth Smoke Pinot Noir, North Canterbury 2010 – $85

Owner/winemaker Mike Weersing uses biodynamics, hand-based viticulture, low yields and natural winemaking to let the wine express a sense of place. It’s a risky and unconventional approach that invites disaster while potentially opening a door that might take the wine to another level. This extraordinary Pinot Noir clearly endorses Weersing’s philosophy of “allowing each wine to flower as it wishes”. It’s a powerful expression of what is clearly a great vineyard. Dense and complex wine with a multi-layered finish. – view on

First published in KiaOra Magazine – Apr 2013.

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