New Zealand Pinot Noir comes in for criticism
Monday 11 October
The New Zealand wine industry has got its knickers in a twist over Jancis Robinson’s remarks about the country’s beloved Pinot Noir in a recent blind tasting.
She didn’t like them too much and was ‘disappointed’.
‘Bright and breezy, the wines were rarely subtle,’ she said, ‘even though there were representatives from the Kiwi Pinot aristocracy such as Ata Rangi, Dog Point, Fromm and Felton Road,’ she said in her column in the Financial Times.
The Kiwis aren’t too happy since they are trying to carve a niche for themselves as the New World’s best Pinot specialist. Oregon whipped New Zealand’s butt and it’s major news in New Zealand wine circles.
So, the timing of a blind tasting of New Zealand Pinot Noirs yesterday couldn’t have been better. Media, MW students, winemakers and sommeliers trooped down to a wet and windy Wellington to taste and rate Kiwi Pinots.
While there were a handful of crackers including (unsuprisingly) Ata Rangi, the Kiwi wines were all beaten by two Burgundies that they’d slipped in sneakily. In general, we were all rather underwhelmed by the standard despite some of the respected names like Seresin’s Sun & Moon, Bell Hill, Pyramid Valley, Neudorf Moutere Home Block and Felton Road’s Block 5 taking part. When you can’t see the bottles and there are no preconceptions, they were suddenly getting low marks.
Did we find much ‘terroir’? Well, the Central Otago flight (we didn’t know it was a Central flight at the time) was dark in colour but that was about all the sense of place I got. John Saker, Cuisine magazine’s wine writer claimed the ‘deep, dark fruit’ was ‘a true expression of what Central does effortlessly’ whereas others saw them as ego wines. The expression of winemaker seemed to be more obvious in the wines than any sense of ‘this is Marlborough, this is Martinborough’ and so on.
However, Larry McKenna, dubbed the ‘Prince of Pinot’ argued: ‘When we see what district is what then perhaps we can find a thread through each of the flights and I think there is enough comment to find that the last flight was Central Otago.’
He added: ‘There’s one more point to make that at the moment all New Zealand districts do varietal character in abundance but in 20, 30, 50 years’ time, you will see more presence of place than expression of varietal.’
But are we trying to find terroir too soon in New Zealand? It’s still relatively young and these things take time. In addition, when you think about Marlborough or Central Otago, these regions are enormous compared to say the Cote D’Or in Burgundy. There are different climates in different valleys, different soils, vine ages, different clones and no appellation laws to help make the wines seem more ‘Pommard’ like.
Personally, I’d like to see a lot of winemakers lay off the new French oak. Many wines don’t have the fruit content to handle all these new barrels. I don’t want a Pinot to taste of lime toast or coffee and I certainly don’t want it to look like a Merlot.
I’ll put some of my tasting notes up and marks up in the next blog with the wine revealed afterwards.