David 25 September 2014
For many wine lovers, Pinot Noir is the pinnacle and this alluring variety has inspired many enthusiastic descriptions. But I love this one from Clive Coates MW in his book Côte D’Or, A Celebration of the Great Wines of Burgundy (1997). Coates is an authority on Burgundy, where red wine is made from Pinot Noir.
“I have loved red Burgundy for decades, ever since the first really great Pinot Noir passed my lips. Who could fail to be entranced? Here is a wine which can sing like a nightingale, shine forth like a sapphire, intrigue like the most complex of chess problems, and seduce like the first kiss of someone you are just about to fall in love with. Moreover great Burgundy can inspire like a great orator, satisfy like the most subtle of three-star meals, and leave you at peace at the end like the slow movement of a Mozart piano concerto. At its best the wine is complex but not puzzling, profound but not didactic, perfect but not intimidating, and magnificent but never other than friendly.”
Pinot produces elegant wines that are lighter in colour and weight than other red varieties such as Shiraz and Cabernet. It’s also lower in tannin and tends to offer more subtle aromas and flavours including cherry, raspberry and strawberry when young, but more vegetal and barnyardy characters when aged. Pinot offers that difficult-to-achieve combination of complexity and finesse. There’s no hiding behind tannins and weight with Pinot, it’s a wine that relies on more than just power to catch your attention.
After Coates’ evocative homage, you might wonder why more Pinot Noir isn’t grown? Well, it’s a notoriously fickle and delicate grape that’s often difficult to grow and make into good wine. It’s suited to cool climates, has relatively thin skin, and tends to form tight, small bunches, making it susceptible to viticultural disease. It’s the combination of these traits that unfortunately makes Pinot more expensive and explains why you find many entry-level examples north of $30.
Burgundy, in eastern France, is the home of Pinot Noir and produces without a doubt the greatest expression of the variety in the world. Closer to home you’ll find lovely examples of Pinot in New Zealand and in several cooler regions of Australia such as Tasmania, the Adelaide Hills and certain areas of Victoria (Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley and Geelong to name a few).
Here are three quite different Pinots - one from New Zealand, one from the Mornington Peninsula and one from Burgundy. Different price points, different styles - all of them delicious. Mix and match at will.
1. Framingham Pinot Noir 2012
New Zealand is gaining a reputation as a Pinot Noir hotspot. The variety appears to be well suited to several regions in the pristine Middle Earth landscape, which regularly produce Pinots that fare very well in global tastings. Last year Forbes Magazine confidently announced “New Zealand Pinot Noir is the world’s best value.” Quite a statement, but wines like this one give plenty of credibility to this view.
If you recognise the Framingham name, that’s because it featured in my last newsletter. It's a boutique winery from the Marlborough region, with a reputation for great Riesling. But Pinot does well too in Marlborough's cool climate and this one is a delicious example.
While central Otago is definitely the glamour region for New Zealand Pinot, I find some of them rather like Pinot on steroids. They often present like cool climate Shiraz - fine if you like that sort of power in your Pinot, but sometimes you don’t. That’s why I like this.
This is an elegant wine that’s clear and light crimson in colour. On the nose it’s fresh and fragrant, with distinct Pinot aromas, following through onto the palate. Flavours of raspberry, with a slight savoury touch give way to chinotto and pepper as the wine is allowed to breath. It’s light to mid-weight with fine tannins. Let this wine open up and you’ll see more of everything including some beautiful subtle musk on the finish.
“Fragrant, featuring lavender, white pepper and sage aromatics that mingle with the pure, fresh and crisp raspberry and pomegranate flavours. This elegant wine shows plenty of intensity and focus.”90 points, Wine Spectator US.
See why New Zealand offers such good value.
I can offer it for $27 a bottle. SOLD OUT - Check availability
2. Onannon Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir 2013
Onannon (On- ann-on) is a relatively recent venture between Sam Middleton, Kaspar Hermann and Will Byron - the unusual name is a combination of their surnames. The three young men met while working at Coldstream Hills winery in the Yarra Valley several years ago and combine some great talent. Sam Middleton is third generation winemaker at the iconic Mount Mary winery. Kaspar Hermann has been working at Mount Mary since 2011. Will Byron is currently the winemaker at Stonier Wines in the Mornington. Between them, they've also done a few vintages in Burgundy.
Onannon is a winery on the cusp of a big future and I have no doubt they’re headed for great things. Despite only releasing their first wine in 2008, James Halliday rated Onannon 5 Stars in his latest Wine Companion: “You would have to go a long way to find three more open-hearted and utterly committed winemakers; the world is their oyster, their ambitions unlimited.”
The three share a passion for the wines of Mornington and also see Gippsland as a super premium region for cool climate Pinot. For their first vintage in 2008, they made a Gippsland Pinot, in 2009 they added a Mornington Pinot and in 2012 a Gippsland Chardonnay.
The 2013 Mornington Pinot Noir is a beauty. These guys have a low intervention approach and the wine is fermented using wild yeasts in open pots with plunging of skins carried out twice daily. It’s given around 35% new French oak and there’s no fining or filtering.
This wine is a deep ruby colour and when initially opened is quite subdued on the nose and palate. But be patient, take the time to let it open up for half an hour or even decant it when young like this,and you’ll be well rewarded. The depth and concentration of the wine is exceptional, as is the rich and viscous mouthfeel - its dense, ripe juiciness an enjoyable contrast to the Framingham. Watch the flavours evolve from Turkish delight to darker plummy fruits and spice.
Halliday gave it one of his highest scores, an incredible 97 points. Not sure I agree with the 20-year prediction - but I doubt you’ll be able to keep your hands off it for that long anyway.
“A wine of utterly exceptional power and concentration, with black cherry and spiced plum aromas and flavours. Will flourish for up to 20 years.” James Halliday, 97 points.
Watch out for these guys. You’re going to hear more of them.
I can offer it for $44 a bottle. SOLD OUT - Check availability
Lastly a wine from one of the truly great names not only of Burgundy, but the world of wine… Leroy.
Négociant Maison Leroy was founded in 1868 by François Leroy and the strength of the business, aided by some astute connections, presented the opportunity for François’ grandson Henri to purchase 50% of Domaine Romanée Conti in 1942. He subsequently co-managed and devoted his life to this famed estate. With Henri occupied at DRC, his daughter, Lalou Bize-Leroy, took over the running of Maison Leroy in 1955 and also subsequently took over co-managing DRC in 1974, where she worked alongside Aubert de Villaine. In 1988, whilst still at DRC and with the support of Japanese investors, Lalou purchased an estate in Vosne-Romanée renaming itDomaine Leroy. An epic bust up with Aubert de Villaine ensued, which culminated in Lalou being ousted from DRC in 1992, although she retained her shareholding.
Domaine Leroy is now 21ha, with holdings across 26 appellations that include 9 grand Crus and 8 Premier Cru sites. Lalou’s wines have had more superlatives written about them than I can include here, suffice to say they’re in the same league as the legendary wines of DRC. Their Grand Crus sell for many thousands of dollars a bottle, which unfortunately puts them out of reach for most of us.
The current success of the Leroy business lies with the dynamic MadameLalou Bize-Leroy. Now in her 80s, she is famous “for her athleticism, her elfin looks, her designer wardrobe, her tasting skills, her control freakery, and the speed at which she tastes,” (Jancis Robinson MW). Few, if any in Burgundy possess her experience and perspective. Combine this with her great skill, tenacity and unapologetic nature, and you get the gist of her formidable character.
Lalou’s level of obsessive control is applied equally to her négociant business, Maison Leroy, as it is to her estate, Domaine Leroy. Négociant is a French term for “a merchant who buys in grapes, must, or wine, blends different lots of wine within an appellation, and bottles the result under their own label,” (Oxford Companion to Wine). Unlike many négociants who buy wine in various forms of completion and simply ‘finish’ them, Lalou assiduously sources grapes from growers and makes all the wines from scratch. Even this, her most affordable wine, rides the coattails of Lalou's techniques and accumulated knowledge, making it incredible value.
Bourgogne Rouge AOC is the most basic red wine in the appellation hierarchy of Burgundy and may come from any vineyard within the region. It's suspected that Leroy's Bourgogne Rouge is actually sourced from better sites (ie Village level appellations) but due to Lalou’s exacting standards, the wine is declassified (ie downgraded) to Bourgogne level.
Each year Leroy releases vintages which they've been holding back. With guaranteed provenance this is an amazing opportunity to see a 14-year-old Pinot.
When I drew the cork on this wine I was a little concerned to see it was moist almost right through its entire length - not usually a good sign. I made some enquiries and was surprised to learn that all the Leroy wines, from Grand Cru right down to Bourgogne Rouge get the same cork (of the highest possible quality). Not wanting to use paraffin wax on the corks, Leroy corks are soaked thoroughly in water, giving what they see as the ideal seal. But there are aesthetic issues associated with this practice. The corks are commonly a little mouldy and may also look soaked with wine, arousing suspicion that they may have leaked. There can also be a little seepage of what looks like wine, but is water tinged with wine that comes up the neck at bottling and soaks into the wet cork. The aged wines have completely normal high levels, and the corks are in good shape, although looking considerably older than they actually are.
The wine is a clear bricky red, very good considering its age. When first opened and poured it smelt like a musty old room and I had that sinking feeling that it was dead. But then the most extraordinary thing happened. After about 20 minutes in the glass it started to change and magically opened up to reveal polished leather, rich molasses and pepper aromas. But most amazing were hints of raspberry, still evident in the wine after 14 years. The tannins have mellowed and become smooth with time and it's maintained good acidity, giving it length and structure.
“ Still full of fruit and life, this is in that beautiful zone where secondary nuances merge with still-there primary fruits. Once you get past the notion that this is ‘just’ a Bourgogne and realise it is in fact a delicious red Burgundy, you are onto a winner.” Patrick Walsh, Importer.
Sample the terroir and the history of Burgundy. Here's a 14 year old Pinot, with exceptional lineage, guaranteed provenance and a realistic price tag. All you have to do is give it some air and invite a few friends over.
I can offer it for $72 a bottle. SOLD OUT - Check availability