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SIPNOT revisited

Domaine Armand Rousseau

Domaine Armand Rousseau (Photo: Domaine Armand Rousseau)

Stonier’s annual SIPNOT (Stonier’s International Pinot Noir Tasting) in Melbourne on November 14 departed from its usual format. In its 17th consecutive year, Stonier decided to re-appraise the same 12 wines we tasted five years ago, to see how they’d matured.

Normally, the 12 wines would comprise three-year-old northern hemisphere and two-year-old southern hemisphere wines. So, in 2011 we looked at 2008 vintage Burgundies and US pinots, and 2009 Australian and New Zealand pinots.

It is quite common in such blind tastings to observe that the French wines are not ‘ready’, nor as ‘up-front’ as the Aussie/Kiwi wines, and therefore they’re at a disadvantage, a disadvantage which would be turned into an advantage with appropriate bottle-age.

Was this theory borne out by the tasting? And how had the Aussies aged? Had they fallen apart, or had they held up – maybe even improved?

The non-Burgundy wines had indeed aged well. None had tired (with the exception of Escarpment Kupe – previous tastings, which seemed oxidised, or at least tired – and I’m told the problem was with every bottle opened), and all had aged gracefully, building some attractive developed characters. However, none of the Australian or New Zealand wines displayed anything like the complexity of the Burgundies.

This complexity was not always without controversy: three of the four Burgundies were quite feral and funky when first tasted. One of them, Domaine de l’Arlot Vosne-Romanée 1er cru Les Suchots (previous tastings), became more and more objectionable as it aired in the glass – although one could appreciate the finesse and silky texture of the palate beneath the wild, possibly bretty, strongly whole-bunchy nuances.

The Domaine Armand Rousseau grand cru Clos de la Roche (previous tastings) was the only Burgundy which had no feral characters: it was clean and charming from the word ‘go’, a satisfying wine with a long career ahead of it.

Another funky wine, which some saw as slightly bretty, was Domaine Confuron-Cotetidot Gevrey-Chambertin 1er cru Lavaut St-Jacques, a wine which cleaned up substantially with airing, and which had many agreeable features: medicinal herbs, ferrous/iron-mineral notes and hints of berry jam, but was far from pristine.

The Burgundy that thrilled the most, and which had shown the most benefit from five years ageing (thinking back to how underwhelming it tasted in 2011) was Domaine Tollot-Beaut grand cru Corton-Bressandes.

This is a smashing wine, starting off stinky and rather animal, and airing to reveal great complexity of character and a firm, quite muscular palate structure. A true grand cru.

Of the two Oregon wines, Chehalem Ridgecrest (previous tastings) was for me one of the highlights of the tasting: lots of foresty, balsamic herb and mint aromas, sappy, intense, fine-boned and well-structured, it was a satisfying drink and also showed much future potential. Cristom Jessie Vineyard was pleasantly mature and showed chocolate, raspberry, bunchy, foresty nuances, full flavour and some alcohol heat. Very New World and very good.

The second Kiwi wine, Martinborough Vineyard (previous tastings), was acceptable but not what I’d hoped for: quite oaky and rather forward in maturity.

Of the Aussie wines, Bay of Fires (previous tastings), Tamar Ridge (previous tastings), Stonier Windmill Vineyard (previous tastings) and Tapanappa Foggy Hill (previous tastings) were all good, without being stellar. They did not change in the glass like the Burgundies did. They had all mellowed appropriately with bottle-age but had not tired and would continue for several more years – especially the Stonier and Foggy Hill, which still seemed youthful. However, none of them had acquired the kind of fascination that sets great Burgundy apart. For the record, the Stonier was my top-rated Aussie.

In conclusion: yes, Antipodean pinots can age well in the medium-term, but they don’t pay the dividends that top Burgundy can. That said, Burgundy is still something of a minefield of faults, and whether you love or hate them is a matter of personal taste. For drinking young (and value for money), it’s hard to beat Australia/New Zealand but for extended ageing, Burgundy is in a class of its own.

Oregon, in this tasting, was somewhere in the middle ground, ageing superbly, fault-free, at least as good as the ANZACs.

As a postscript, it must be said that New World producers would rather be judged by the wines they are producing today than the wines they made eight years ago.

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