Maya: “Why are you so into Pinot?”
Miles Raymond: “Uh, I don’t know, I don’t know. Um, it’s a hard grape to grow, as you know. Right? It’s uh, it’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It’s, you know, it’s not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it’s neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot’s potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they’re just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and… ancient on the planet.”
This quote is from the main character from one of my favourite movies, the 2004 Cult wine movie “Sideways“, who actually had the effect of increasing sales of pinot noir by 20% following its release in the US! It happens that Sideways is one of the first movies I went to see in Sydney and I absolutely loved it at the time.
When I first tasted Australian wines, I was a bit overwhelmed because I found them too “in your face”, strong and tannic… Until I tried pinot noir and decided that it was the wine for me: it was lighter bodied, more subtle and delicate… a bit more continental I thought.
But lately I realised that I didn’t know much at all about the original pinot noir, the one from Bourgogne and supposedly the best in the world! All I’d been drinking in the past nine years was from Australia and a little from NZ. So when I saw that the Sydney Wine Centre was holding a tasting comparing pinots noirs from Australia, NZ and France, I thought this my chance to see which one I naturally leaned towards.
The Sydney Wine Centre is run by the Schwilk family in Annandale and it offers wine education classes taught by Rob Geddes, who has been tasting wine since he was 13! He was the 3rd Australian to become a Master of Wine, an internationally recognised and highly regarded qualification issued by the Institute of Masters of Wine in the UK and obtained via passing a most rigorous exam.
We were greeted with a glass of Champagne, lovely cheeses from Simon Johnson (Comté!), as well as a more surprising choice of take-away pizza, but I gladly dove into both fine cheeses and salami pizza. I must be crazy though, because I said No to the glass of Champagne, but I wanted to reserve myself for the real star of the evening…
The Pinot Noir is a grape that has always had a special place in wine lovers’ hearts, stirring passions and desire. Rob describes pinot noir lovers as chasing something “brilliant and exotic”.
As fantastic as Pinot Noir can be, it can also be pretty crap, as it is a difficult and fragile grape to produce, and it seems that you generally have to invest at least $20-$25/bottle to find a decent one. But even then, you have to be careful and do your research, because from a year to another the quality can also vary immensely, since the pinot noir grape is so delicate and dependent on a whole lot of conditions.
On one of the bottle (the Dalrymple) we tasted that night, we could read the inscription: “Pinot Noir is the ‘bête noire’ of winemaking: frustratingly fickle to grow and challenging to craft, but utterly delicious at its best.”
Rob first tells us about the ideal conditions for growing Pinot Noir: the grape thrives in continental climate neat the 45th latitude, in cool temperatures, and it ripens pretty early.
Rob says we should be looking for the following attributes in a good pinot noir:
– Smells: black cherry, raspberry
– Cinnamon, spice (not from the oak, but from the variety itself)
– Lychee, frangipani
– Texture: silk, very fine tannins
– Fruit sweetness
There is an intensity in pinot noir, but it is delicate. See? 🙂
We had three flights:
1st flight – FRANCE:
– Bourgogne: 2011 Paul Pillot ($40)
– Côte d’Or: 2010 Domaine JM Boillot ($80)
– Côte de Beaune: 2009 Chanson ($40)
According to UK critic Anthony Hanson, “Great Burgundy smells of shit” (!) … But I didn’t get any of that, which was fine by me at that stage. Rob says the main difference between French and Australian wines, is that the French like their wines more subtle and dry, to go with food, whereas Australian wines are more generous and bring more softness.
To emphasise the French wines’ characteristics, we were served warm toasts covered with buttery ceps, then more cheeses were served all along the tasting: Petit Agour (Pyrenees, sheep’s milk) and Meli Melo (Pyrenees, sheep/goat’s milk).
2nd flight – AUSTRALIA:
– Yarra Valley: 2012 Yering Station ED Rose (RRP $25)
– Tasmania: 2011 Dalrymple (RRP $35)
– Tasmania: 2010 Moorilla Muse ($50)
– Mornington: 2010 Yabby Lake Single Vineyard ($65)
I found out that, against my expectations, I generally preferred the Australian Pinots: I think I’ve been here too long! I’m now used the fruity, juicy flavours of Australian wines. I probably just need to taste more Burgundies, and ideally on location 😉
3rd flight – NEW ZEALAND:
– Martinborough: 2011 Ata Rangi Crimson (RRP $40)
– Marlborough: 2011 Dog Point ($50) (Cloudy Bay people)
– Canterbury (Waipara): 2009 Main Divide ($35)
– Central Otago: 2010 (NB First Vintage since 2004) Tow Paddocks Last Chance (RRP $85)
I don’t remember that much about the NZ wines (I might have had too many sips by then… and yes I know, that’s what the spittoon is for!), except for the last one, the Two Paddocks ‘Last Chance’, which was really delicious and happened to be produced by actor Sam Neill in Central Otago.
We were a bit surprised to hear that Rob didn’t rate the New Zealand pinots that much. He compared the hype surrounding the Central Otago Pinots noirs to the one Argentinian Malbec wines are currently experiencing, but that more often than not, he’s found them having a strong front and a weak finish… I heard that NZ pinots have been found to be even bigger and fruitier than their Aussie counterparts. Everyone seemed to love Sam Neill’s “Two Paddocks – Last Chance” pinot though, but you do have to pay a hefty $85 for it.
American pinots noirs were not mentioned, but I wouldn’t mind learning more about them too, as I heard they produce some good one in Oregon and Sonoma in California.
Rob strikes a pose holding his “Gold Book: Australian Wine Vintage 2013“, a guide about Australia & NZ’s top wines and wineries.
My favourite for the night was the Mornington 2010 Yabby Lake Single Vineyard, very tasty! But at $65, I really couldn’t justify its purchase… But it’s good to know that it exists and that the winemaker also produces Red Claw pinot noir, which is very good and a lot more affordable. So I bought the Yering rosé for next summer, the Dalrymple from Tasmania… and then I lost my mind and bought the slightly less expensive than the Yabby Lake but still pricey Moorilla Muse, produced in Berriedale on the Moorilla Estate, which also hosts the famous Museum of Old and New Art. Since it’s my dream to go to Tasmania, visit the MONA and all the wineries and cheese places, it will be like a little taste of it in the meantime… Santé!