Sandra Bullock won Best Actress at yesterday’s Oscars but she should be afraid - very afraid. Here I am on Wine Vault TV talking Syrah, Pinot Noir and calling host Jayson Bryant a soft southern fairy. I am expecting a call from Hollywood in the next couple of days…
I met Jayson Bryant of Wine Vault TV through twitter last year. He’s New Zealand’s answer to Gary Vaynerchuk although he hails from Hampshire in England. Bryant set up his store, The Wine Vault, in 2005 and while he’s been in New Zealand since 1998, he hasn’t lost his southern accent.
Wine Vault TV started at the end of 2008 and Bryant admits he cringes when he looks back on the first 40 or so episodes. But as he nears the 200th episode, he’s very comfortable in front of the camera, as I found out when he invited on to his show.
A few days before coming on the show, he asked “What do you want to taste?”
“Syrah”, I answered.
So off I went thinking he was going to pull out a bottle or two of Syrah but he hadn’t taken a blind bit of notice of me! He pulled out two Pinot Noirs. Bloody Southerners.
I’ve not yet been overly impressed with Marlborough Pinot Noir, they lack a bit of structure in my opinion while Martinborough and Central Otago are much more together. So, just to prove me wrong out comes 1996 La Strada Marlborough Pinot Noir from Fromm. It was still alive – just with really earthy, vegetal flavours. I’ve not had the chance to taste a wine with so much age from New Zealand so it was pretty interesting.
I’m not going to reveal any more or it’ll spoil it. We had great fun on the show and it’ll be on the web next week and I’ll embed it on my site too for you to watch. I’m hoping I didn’t swear too much or my mum won’t be pleased.
After a three-course dinner, several glasses of wine and some unusual entertainment at the end of Pinot Noir 2010, it was Oz Clarke’s turn to get up and shake up the New Zealand wine industry.
His rhetoric got a standing ovation. Luckily I was being a conscientious journo and had my pad and pen to hand when he spoke – so here are a few snippets for those of you who weren’t there – and those of you that have fuzzy, boozy memories of the evening.
The point is New Zealand is in danger of shooting itself in the foot if it doesn’t sort its supply-demand balance. We all know this. If it is seen as a sub £5 supplier of Sauvignon Blanc that tarnishes the whole country’s image and its other varieties. Could Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc become the next Liebfraumilch? Let’s hope not.
Oz said: “There’s an ocean of Sauvignon Blanc hitting the shelves in the UK. What’s that got to do with Pinot Noir? Quite a lot.”
“Germany was the leading supplier of wine in the UK in the 1980s. The Brits greedily guzzled it for a few years but the pursuit of great profit ruined their reputation.”
“Less than a generation later, Australia fuelled the British wine revolution with Shiraz and Chardonnay.”
“Aussie Chardonnay became the discount junkie’s paradise. The pursuit of short term profit mutilated Australia’s reputation.”
“Don’t think it could not happen to you, it’s happened twice before in the past 30 years.”
“Consumers will say top quality Pinot Noir [from New Zealand]? That’s where the cheap Sauvignon Blanc comes from. The expensive jewel, the sought after Pinot suddenly looks far too dear.”
We were all thinking it; Oz said it. Honesty spoken with a bit of Oz theatricals thrown in is the best policy.
Burgundy is the world’s top dog when it comes to making Pinot Noir but at today’s tasting New Zealand fared much better in a blind line up of Pinots from around the world. Of course we’re in New Zealand so the tasting might have been a bit skewed but there were some real surprises.
There’s a whole number of reasons why the Burgundians looked rather unimpressive today: the 2006 vintage was patchy, the selection of wines was rather tight and closed, and you need more than a splash of wine to make a true assessment of them. They could’ve done with a nice game dish to accompany them too.
Nevertheless Oz Clarke was so unmoved by the 2006 Camille Giroud, Chambertin Grand Cru that he said he found it as exciting as a “bus timetable”. I awarded it a very average 16.5 out of 20 and thought it was a village level Burgundy. At the prices Grand Cru Chambertin commands, this wine shrieked daylight robbery.
In contrast, my favourite wines of the tasting were the 2007 Ata Rangi and the 2007 Felton Road Block 5. Both had beautiful purity, concentration and structure. The tannins were certainly a lot riper and the wines were much more approachable in their youth than Burgundy. The panel of speakers started getting carried away with comparisons to song lyrics in their tasting notes and critic Neal Martin claimed the Felton Road Pinot was his ‘Let’s Get It On’ wine. Unfortunately he wasn’t so complimentary to Russian River’s Littorai Pinot, likening it to a song from Flight of the Conchords, ‘Sugar Lumps’, in which Bret and Jemaine compare their testicles to the sweet cubes. I think I’d rather have Marvin Gaye.
It was good to see the NZ Pinots performing so well but one of the UK’s leading importers Hatch Mansfield warned producers not to set their sights only at the premium end of the market.
The average price for a bottle of New Zealand Pinot Noir in the UK is currently £8.93. Patrick McGrath MW, managing director of Hatch said, “I don’t think you want that premium to go any higher because you want to introduce Pinot to the greater public.”
“There’s a huge opportunity for it to become mainstream,” he added.
Tim Atkin MW agreed with McGrath. “ I believe Pinot Noir is a huge opportunity. Under £20 I would rather drink a New Zealand Pinot Noir. If you can crack the £9.99 market then the future in the UK export market is very bright.”
I’m not sure that’s what producers wanted to hear about their precious red grape variety.
If you’re planning on having a conference, stretch the budget to Saatchi & Saatchi’s CEO Kevin Roberts. It may have been 8.30am, an ungodly hour for a wine conference to start, but he managed to wake the industry without the help of caffeine.
The advertising guru certainly gave the industry food for thought when it comes to its image. “You have the most sensual business in the world yet you insist on using packaging that makes it look like toilet cleaner. Following that classic comment up with another criticism of the industry: “Most people have websites that bore you into submission,” he said. Sad but probably true.
He also called on the New Zealand government to get behind the industry with funding to back the New Zealand wine ‘brand’ to make it a ‘Lovemark’, meaning a brand that is both respected and loved, eg the ipod. You could buy another MP3 player, he argued, but you don’t because Steve Jobs and the clever people at Apple have created a cult following. The Kiwi wine industry needs to do the same thing.
Instead of Pure New Zealand, he also suggested ‘Made with Love in New Zealand’ should be its new strapline. Hmmm, not so keen on that one. Maybe we could take a poll on that.
I wouldn’t have wanted to be the one to follow Roberts but UK journalist Matthew Jukes did a pretty good job. Following the pretty average 2007 and 2008 vintages in Burgundy, he claimed New Zealand has the chance to attract a new legion of Pinot followers, particularly in the UK. “You have a long time gap between now and the release of the 2009 Burgundy vintage. There is a window of opportunity and it is only going to happen once so don’t stuff it up,” he said.
Less talk, more tasting
The morning’s 2007 blind tasting was an interesting chance to identify regional differences. The Central Otago Pinots were pretty easy to pick from the blind line-up for their powerful structure, dense fruity core, dried herb note and lovely line of acidity. While I picked the two Marlborough Pinots in the line up, it was mainly because they were fruit forward but lacked structure and length. Biodynamic Pinot producer Mike Weersing of Pyramid Valley (see previous blog on Pyramid) pointed out he doesn’t look to make a wine that reflects regionality but his individual terroir. But that’s an argument for another day.
The 2003 line up this afternoon was a bit disappointing. The tannins had dried out on most wines and the acid and oak were sticking out like a sore thumb. The 2003 Felton Road Block 5, Pegasus Bay and Rippon Estate seemed to be standing the test of time better than the rest. Neal Martin, a UK-based reviewer for Robert Parker, had the honesty and guts to stand up and tell the room of 400 delegates what he thought. I wish I had had the balls to get up and say it but I’ve saved it for my blog. There’s less chance of getting something thrown at me.
Wine of the day
This was a toss up between two 2007 Central Otago Pinots - Valli vs Peregrine.
Both would easily get a gold medal and 18.5+ but I’ve plumped for the Valli. What’s so good about it? It has great depth of colour with plum, cherry and signature Central Otago dried herbs. It’s silky in the mouth with a lovely chalky texture on the finish and a vibrant line of acidity. While some NZ Pinots lack structure, this isn’t one of them and the 14% alcohol is beautifully integrated.