by Juel Mahoney
Take 10 tables of some of the biggest names in the wine industry at Australia House for Stonier’s International Pinot Noir Tasting (SIPNOT) and pour 12 Pinot Noirs from around the world. All tasted blind. Then ask each table to tell you what they think the wines are….and you will find two types of Pinot Noir lover.
This is what happens.
In the one corner, the Purist.
Often a Burgundy fanatic, the Purist likes to drill down to the vineyard details with as much zeal as a forensic scientist on CSI. Deadly serious, they want to talk about terroir and region and whether this wine has closed down or whether the vintage is showing well. On the upside, you can rely on these types to give you the facts quickly, just in case your cellar is flooding and you have to grab something fast: “Get the Chambolle Les Gruenchers. The 1985. It was a great year…”
In the other corner? The Hedonist.
These sensualists melt to the very mention of velvety textures and perfumed pleasures found from Pinot Noir and Burgundy. They love the poetry of the “heartbreak grape”. The Hedonist is definitely someone you want sitting next to you at a party, someone who will pass around the bottle with abandon (Pinot Noir is perfect for long, decadent dinner parties). They are more likely to tell you a sordid joke about funky barnyards rather than explain the technical reasons for reduction.
Sitting under the chandeliers at Australia House in London as a guest of Stonier from Mornington Peninsula and organisers of the SIPNOT event the two approaches to understanding Pinot Noir became apparent.
On my table: Jane Parkinson (The Wine Gang), Neal Martin (Robert Parker), Guy Woodward (Decanter Magazine), Gabby Savage (Drinks Business), Katie Exton (Sommelier, Chez Bruce), Colin Thorne (Vagabond Wines). After tasting a flight of 6 wines we discussed each wine amongst the tables, refereed by a panel lead by Willie Lebus (hedonist extraordinaire with a very good knowledge of Burgundy, Director at Bibendum).
First up, most people were keen to work out whether it was a “New World” or “Old World” Pinot Noir (and not just at our table).
Guy Woodward quipped, “It seems as if we can’t guess where a wine is from then it must be Oregon.”
An uncanny insight into what was to come…
Generally, wines believed to be from the New World were described as “clean” and all about the fruit. Old world wines may have had more complexity but they had “faults”.
We only knew the wine was either from Burgundy in 2008 or from the “New World” in 2009, which could mean New Zealand, Oregon or Australia (including a Stonier Pinot Noir – a very brave move for a winery). It all seemed very obvious at the time.
Then you taste the 2008 Cristom Jessie Vineyard Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon. One of the favourites at SIPNOT. It had a lot of the “wet forest” characters I associate with Vosne-Romanee (having just come back from Burgundy tasting the 2010 from barrel). Velvety on the palate with depth and complexity. Not flavours everyone associates with Oregon. However, Australian winemaker, Brian Croser of Tapanappa, who has also worked in Eola Valley, suggested a lot of what is seen in the UK is not representative of the quality found in Oregon.
And the quality is deeply impressive.
Thankfully two producers I love were also in my top 3: Domaine Confuron-Cotetidot and Domaine Tollot-Beaut, which I have tasted recently and recognised their slightly wackier characters in 2008 than 2010.
Tasmania showed very well. Also, the Fleurieu Peninsula on the coast of South Australia. The 2009 Tapanappa Foggy Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir had a lovely mouth-watering freshness, I did not expect from South Australia.
There were a few prejudices that needed to be re-thought.
One, in particular: I had wine critic Steven Spurrier down to be a technical Purist.
Yet, after Spurrier perfunctorily listed all the good things about a wine like reading out a shopping list (good wine, good definition, good fruit…) he punctuated his note with a telling sentence:
“I don’t care where it comes from! It’s a good wine.”
A Hedonist! No terroir speak here. In fact, it was Steven who organised a similar style of event called the Judgement of Paris in 1976, where unknown Californian wines beat some of the great French wines.
The Judgement of Paris shook up a few prejudices in 1976. Just as the organisers of SIPNOT want to happen in 2012.
Although I don’t think I will become a “Purist” anytime soon (although I am obsessed with Burgundy vineyards), this tasting proved there are just too many great Pinot Noir wines made all over the world. And all the more enjoyable for their differences!
The list of wines tasted at SIPNOT -
1. 2009 Tamar Ridge Kayena Vineyard, Tamar Valley, Tasmania, Australia
2. 2008 Gevrey-Chambertin Lavaut Saint-Jacques 1er, Domaine Confuron-Cotetidot, Burgundy, France
3. 2009 Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir, Martinborough, New Zealand
4. 2008 Corton Bressandes Grand Cru, Domaine Tollot-Beaut, Aloxe-Corton, Burgundy, France
5. 2009 Bay of Fires Pinot Noir, Pipers River, Tasmania, Australia
6. 2008 Cristom Jessie Vineyard Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA
7. 2008 Chehalem Ridgecrest Vineyard Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA
8. 2009 Stonier Windmill Vineyard Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia
9. 2008 Clos de la Roche Grand Cru Domaine Armand Rousseau, Morey-St-Denis, Burgundy, France
10. 2009 Tapanappa Foggy Hill Vineyard, Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia
11. 2009 Escarpment Kupe Pinot Noir, Martinborough, New Zealand
12. 2008 Les Suchots 1 er Vosne-Romanée Domaine de l’Arlot, Burgundy, France
Below are a few videos from some of the evening’s guests. Listen to their thoughts on Pinot Noir and this fantastic event -
* Stephen Spurrier was talking about No 8: 2009 Stonier Windmill Vineyard Pinot Noir.
Steven Spurrier on the Stonier International Pinot Noir Tasting 2012 -
Oz Clarke talking about Pinot Noir at SIPNOT 2012 -
Richard Hemming and his thoughts on the SIPNOT tasting -
Visit Bibendum’s YouTube channel to see more videos from this year’s Stonier International Pinot Noir Tasting.
Check out Bibendum’s Flickr page to see more photos from the evening.