By Erica Fowler
They say that Pinot Noir is the heartbreak grape, and I would agree with that. No other wine seems to bring out the same levels of passion, debate and controversy than this famously fickle grape variety. When it’s good, boy is it good – producing some of the finest wines in the world – but when it’s bad it can be downright awful, producing wines that can be stewed and jammy, or, even worse, thin, tart and insipid.
The inaugural London Stonier International Pinot Noir Tasting brought together 12 of the very best examples from around the world for a fabulous event at Australia House (or Gringotts bank from the first Harry Potter film as it is also known). Hopes were high for some amazing wines.
This tasting has been going in Melbourne for a number of years, and involves Stonier pitching one of its own wines against top-quality Pinots from around the world. This is the first year it has been held in London and we were in for a real treat. We tasted the wines semi-blind in that we knew what the 12 wines would be but not the order in which we would taste them. We debated their relative merits, and chose our favourites before discovering which one was which.
The Line Up
…and what a line up it was:
In order to compare like with like as far as possible, all Southern Hemisphere wines were 2008 and all Northern Hemisphere wines were the 2007 vintage. This was also the same line up that was tasted at the Stonier International Pinot Noir Tasting in Melbourne last autumn.
Full credit must go to Stonier for organising an event like this. Not many wineries are confident enough to allow its wines to be tasted blind up against the best in the business. Although there was some informal voting and choosing of favourites, the event wasn’t really a competition at all but a celebration of one of the world’s most exciting grapes.
What’s exciting about the Stonier International Pinot Noir tasting?
Before the tasting I managed to grab panellist Tim Atkin MW to ask him what excited him about the tasting:
The evening was chaired by Bibendum’s very own Willie Lebus with a panel made up of Tim Atkin MW, one Britain’ leading wine writers, Matthew Jukes who was also on the panel at the Melbourne Pinot Tasting and Mike Symons, winemaker at Stonier.
We started with a rather stunning Blanc de Noir, produced in tiny quantities at Stonier, which unfortunately is not available for export, I did suggest sending over a couple of cases just for me – but apparently that’s a no go!
To say there was controversy and debate around the wines tasted would be somewhat of an understatement. I think this is what Pinot Noir fans love about this grape – it certainly brings out passion. As Matthew Jukes said, Pinot Noir is a personal and stylistic choice, what one person likes and finds appealing may not be the same as another. Pinot Noir has more flavour components than any other grape variety, thus there is much to divide a crowd.
During the tasting, debates raged at every table about things like: is fruity too simple? Are the wines too young? Is the acidity or alcohol too high? Does brettanomyces add complexity or is it a fault? What makes ‘a good Pinot’? Have Oregon and Otago matured as regions? Have new world Pinots improved in recent years and what has driven those improvements? And most importantly which wine is your favourite and where can I buy some!
The panel provided some useful insights particularly into the increasing quality in New World Pinots. Apparently when this tasting first started in Australia in 2002, the New World Pinots were much easier to identify. Tim believed this is down to better clonal selection, more travel and collaboration between New World and Old World winemakers, site and soil selection, but most importantly the maturity of the vines. Many are now past the critical ten years Tim believes are needed to produce complex and quality Pinots.
The Stand out Wines
Well, where do you start with a line up like this? All the wines were a real joy to taste. Though there was a few that seemed to unite the room. The wine of the night was pretty unanimously the Jean Jaques Confuron. At an RRP of around £76 a bottle, it certainly wasn’t the cheapest but it was far from the most expensive wine of the night. Other stand out wines included the Dujac Gevrey-Chambertin, the Argyle Nuthouse and the Stonier Windmill, my table also seemed rather partial to the Bouchard Pere et Fils.
Interestingly, whilst the wines had opened out more since the Melbourne tasting (according to those who attended both events) the results were remarkably similar.
Stonier now have plans to try and repeat the tasting, but once the wines are 10 years old – all I can say is please can I reserve my spot now!
Views from audience member on the tasting:
After the tasting I caught up with Charles Metcalfe and Peter McCombie MW to get their verdicts on the tasting.
Find out More…
More about the Stonier International Tasting Down Under on Bibendum Times
Buy Stonier’s wines online
Stonier’s web site
Watch more videos from the International Pinot Noir Tasting on Bibendum Times channel on YouTube
More Pictures of the tasting on Facebook