Fascinating Pinot

Author: Brian Croser
Source: Tapanappa
Review Date: Nov 2011

On Monday night (the 21st) in the multi-faceted Leonard French Grand Hall of the National Gallery of Victoria we were treated to a tasting of international Pinot Noirs reflecting and refracting the spectrum of hues, aromas, flavours and palate architecture of this fascinating grape variety.

The 12th Stonier International Pinot Noir Tasting (SIPNOT) was also reflective of the ongoing passion of Brian Stonier AO., “B2” in our personal communications, who invented SIPNOT as one of the best educational experiences in the Australian wine industry calendar, earning great respect for his beloved Mornington Peninsula brand in an altruistic way that conventional brand marketers may find hard to comprehend.

I have to declare interest and long standing connections with B2 and the Stonier team and with SIPNOT, which Halliday, Evans and I presided over for the first 8 events.

The choice of wines is the prerogative of the Stonier team led by Stonier CEO and winemaker Mike Symons, based loosely on a geographic formula and finally selected by in-house comparative tastings.

Over 100 tasters were treated to 12 Pinot Noirs in two brackets of 6 served, assessed and discussed anonymously before the tasting order of the wines was revealed at the end of the tasting.The core of the assembled tasters was the ruckus of prominent Australian wine critics whose normal collective behaviour was unusually constrained by their intense focus on the exercise.

I will not list the wines in the order in which they were tasted as for me the wines divided into 3 distinct style groups and I will discuss them in this context.

My preference was for the two wines which showed the full aromatic power of Pinot Noir combined with the elegance and grace of palate weight and significant but balanced tannin/acid structure.

The 2008 Armand Rousseau Clos de la Roche (Grand Cru, Morey St. Denis) and the 2008 Cristom Jessie from the Eola Hills in Oregon were exemplary in their very fresh and exotic Peacock’s tail aromas. Either could have come from the new or old world of Pinot Noir although knowing these wines intimately it is difficult to be objective about origins. Gorgeous wines both.

The second style group were the simpler, fresh and vibrant Pinot Noir varietal wines, definitely identifiable as new world, high purple red toned and generally with less tannin and acid than the first two although there were exceptions to this within the group. In some order of preference;

  • 2009 Stonier Windmill Vineyard Pinot Noir-evident stalkiness and fresh berry fruit with a touch of mint, sweet middle and good tannin structure,
  • 2008 Chehalem Ridgecrest Vineyard Pinot Noir -very alike the Stonier in style but with a little more gamey complexity and a little less structure.
  • 2009 Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir-In truth probably lies between the aromatic first two and the simple fruit group having more five spice sophistication and complexity to go with the fresh fruit but lacking a little in the middle and soft on the finish. Surprisingly lithe and elegant for a Martinborough wine.
  • 2009 Tamar Ridge Kayena Vineyard Pinot Noir- in the words of wine critic Nick Ryan, “Pinot class101”, precise and simple Pinot varietal fruit, light and fresh in structure and flavour but lacking power and complexity.
  • 2009 Bay of Fires Pinot Noir-The biggest coloured wine of the night with intense red/purple hue, clearly mistaken by many as a New Zealand wine and if a Central Otago wine had been included the confusion would have been greater. The fruit was uber varietal and just a bit clumsy but a good varietal expression with far less structure than the colour intensity suggests.
  • 2009 Escarpment Kupe Pinot Noir-the most idiosyncratic wine of the night, clearly from the new world, bright colour group and matching the Tamar Ridge for strength of colour but lacking vibrancy and freshness compared to the others of the group.

The third and least group of my preferences were the more thoroughly macerated wines from Burgundy. Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de La Romanee Conti recently and already famously said and here is loosely paraphrased, that “Burgundy as we know it is a product of man’s endeavour”. He was not being a terroir denier, rather acknowledging how much nurturing, honing and crafting goes into Burgundy Cru vineyards and wine.

On display in the three Burgundy wines (other than the Rousseau) were more developed orange red colours, the strong influence of roasted and nutty/caramel oak, the effect of extended lees contact and the greater tannin impact that vineyard and traditional maceration brings to these wines. Sophistication and complexity blanket fresh varietal expression.

In no particular preference sequence the wines were;

  • 2008 Confuron-Cotetidot, Lavaut Saint Jacques (Premier Cru, Gevrey Chambertin),
  • 2008 Tollot-Beaut, Corton Bressandes (Grand Cru, Aloxe Corton),
  • 2008 Domaine de l’Arlot, Les Suchettes (Premier Cru, Vosne Romanee).

I have not reviewed the 2009 Tapanappa Foggy Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir for obvious reasons but not unusually I didn’t pick it in the line-up thinking the Tamar Ridge was it given our uncomplicated approach to Foggy Hill’s elaboration.

It was one of the few mass preferred wines of the night and probably fits in the continuum of style just below the true expressions of peacock’s tail of the first two and the simpler fresh varietal fruit of the second bracket.

SIPNOT 2011 has added weight to the emerging opinion that new world and old world Pinots are increasingly difficult to differentiate on the basis of varietal expression and fruit quality. Those more traditional impacts of man described by Aubert de Villaine probably still differentiate many Burgundies from new world Pinots but I prefer the new world, old worldliness of the Rousseau style.


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