Our Editor at large, Michelin starred-chef Roger Jones, questions why he is flying across the globe to celebrate New Zealand Pinot Noir. Will the conference Pinot Noir NZ17 really be the ‘Greatest Pinot Noir show on planet earth.’ ? Never one to eschew the drinks trolley, Roger samples a few NZ Pinots to get him in the mood, bumps into some of the world’s top sommeliers as well as a ‘knowledgeable’ stewardess called Sandra…
With seminars that include the amusingly titled ‘How to be kick ass’, Pinot Noir NZ17, New Zealand’s four-yearly conference to celebrate and investigate all things New Zealand Pinot Noir will run for the next three days.
In last year’s April issue of Decanter magazine, the lead story was to judge The World’s Best Pinot Noir outside Burgundy.
Each participating country nominated their best wines, New Zealand’s nominees were selected by Bob Campbell MW and Cameron Douglas MS, both esteemed judges. Other countries participating included Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, South Africa, and USA.
The winner was Jean Stodden‘s Spatburgunder Alte Reuben, Ahr 2010, with Mornington Peninsula in Australia and Hemel en Aarde in South Africa taking the runner up places.
In the Outstanding Group, New Zealand recorded three out of eight, and in the Highly Recommended managed a mere six out of 30. Australia performed the best! So, as I am sitting on Flight NZ 1 to Auckland I am wondering if the “Greatest Pinot Noir Show on Planet Earth” is all that it is set out to be.
How times have changed…
On my last trip to New Zealand two years ago, I was hugely impressed with the development and excitement of Pinot Noir. It was fascinating to see how Central Otago had evolved, not only with developing their own subregions but also how, with age, the wines have started to become more seductive, and how Wairarapa (that’s Martinborough, Gladstone and Masterton) with even more vine age had some stunning elegance.
There were also hidden gems from regions such as Nelson, Canterbury and in the outskirts of Hawke’s Bay, notably the bespoke Lime Rock Winery.
This was all very different from when I first encountered Central Otago Pinot Noir many years ago on their UK inaugural group trip where they all set a UK price whilst enjoying a few beers on board the flight.
It was odd that so many wines were priced at the exactly the same price point!
What are the defining characteristics I will be looking out for?
So, as I head into the Dragons Den of 150 evangelical Pinot winemakers gathered in Wellington for PinotNoir NZ17 what am I looking for from a Pinot Noir? Am I seeking a Burgundy heist?
Certainly not. Pinot Noir is no longer the ‘domain’ of Burgundy (although they do know how to make a damn fine glass), we are even making Pinot in the UK, not many to shout about but certainly a few noteworthy ones to watch. Just remind yourself how good English & Welsh Sparkling now is.
Purity, complexity, longevity are all classic Pinot/Burgundy terms. I don’t care for jammy or dirty flavours. I want a seamless soothing wine that evolves on the palate with bright tiny bursts of berries and sometimes a depth of cherries but, more importantly, complexity and depth.
The DRCs of Burgundy are out of my reach but I love the stylistic modern Burgundian style of Domaine Dujac, a relatively new kid on the block.
I have also fallen in love with German Pinot Noir, which highlights cool climate Pinot at its best, here you match chilled wet river stone, with the purity of natural free form berries (as opposed to greenhouse fruit) and a seductive, perfumed-controlled wine that ages gracefully with careful use of oak.
We have seen some superlative Pinots coming from the Hemel en Aarde region of South Africa which divulge in freshness and purity, however these are the new show in town and we await and see how they develop.
But I hear the drums beating from New Zealand… and rest assured I am a fan and I of course stock numerous labels in my restaurant including the greatest library of Felton Road Pinots outside New Zealand, as well as over 100 New Zealand wines.
“50 bottles of Pinot Noir please Sandra!”
And to get into the Pinot mood we were served a selection of fine Pinot on the plane; Left Field 2015 a juicy Pinot from Marlborough, and then the more serious Brennan B2 Pinot Noir 2013 from Central Otago, which had a lovely texture and depth to go with the Espelette pepper-dusted cod.
It was also good to meet some fellow Pinot Noir NZ17 travellers including top sommeliers, Matt Wilkin MS and Melody Wong, the ex-senior sommelier from Dinner by Heston.
Air New Zealand pour 6.5 million glasses of New Zealand wine every year on board their flights.
The range includes just under 50 wines, although not all are on every flight.