After a few days of resolute focus at the London International Wine Fair, I feel entitled at last to a few prejudices and convictions about New World pinot noir – even if they must be provisional ones until I learn sufficiently more to complicate them dangerously. Like Odysseus and his sailors plugging their ears and lashing themselves to the masts to avoid the seductiveness of the sirens, I sternly announced, when offered cabernets and shirazes, bordeaux and barolo, that no, I was here to taste a hundred or two pinot noirs. Well, a few siren sounds did lead me temporarily astray, but, by my sadly low standards, I was admirably steadfast.
The primary conviction I have happily come away with is that there are a great many extremely fine, subtly and sensitively made, and absolutely lovely pinots from New Zealand and Oregon above all, but also from elsewhere. And I returned occasionally to Paul Cluver, HRV and Galpin Peak to calibrate myself – and those wines were certainly not put to shame by the others. An incident worth noting, however: the Hamilton Russell wine I was offered was corked, as was the next bottle opened when I pointed this out: this wouldn’t have happened at the New Zealand stands, of course (even if they too hadn’t checked a bottle before pouring from it), as most of their wines are screwcapped.
I’ll leave my prejudices at the general level now: my favourites were the New Zealanders, on the whole, particularly those from Marlborough and Martinborough (I sneaked back a few times for a wondrous sip of the Ata Rangi 2007 and couldn’t bring myself to spit it out) – though then I feel I’m being unfair to those of Otago….
Not to mention the brilliant examples from the other side of the world, in Oregon. These latter are about as far from Napa cabernet as you could get, I suspect, with their unassertive but rigorous charm, the supple, subtle tannins and fine acidity, the sweet fruit and dry but not drying finish, the modest and tactful use of oak (seldom more than 30% new, it seemed to me – the same goes for New Zealand, a lesson that some Cape producers could learn, I think). If one of the finest Oregonians was Domaine Serene’s Evenstad Reserve 2006, one of the most fascinating pinots of my tour was the same producer’s white version (not pinot blanc, but indeed pinot noir), a very pricey and stunning wine called Coeur Blanc. The producer told me that one or two similar wines are made in France, but this was the first I’d heard of it (apart of course from Champagne, where they make a good deal of white wine from pinot noir). This wine was rich, sumptuously textured (as Michael Fridjhon would probably say) and I suspect very few people would have identified it as pinot – it was much more like a northern Rhône white wine.
I must mention that I bumped into Remington Norman a few times, and (as well as telling me of his Home Affairs problems with sorting out permanent residence in South Africa) he pointed me in the direction of the Yarra Valley part of the Wine Australia stand, and there too were some excellent pinots. I was a touch less grateful for the nudge towards two prestige bottlings from Chile’s Cono Sur: the Twenty Barrels and the Ocio; these were very impressive, fine wines – but made for the US market, of course, and far more like Californian cabernet than Oregon pinot noir in their big boldness.
Ah well. I could wax lyrical for much longer, but if you’ve accompanied me this far, thanks and I won’t try your patience further. I should report, though, that I have this nagging feeling that there is some other region in the world that has a well-established reputation for pretty good pinot. In France, I think… begins with a B…. But it certainly no longer has this game all to itself. Not by a long way.
So, nearing the end of a week in London, which has had manifold attractions other than the Fair – but including other great wines (treated more as wine should be: at leisure, in larger and unspat quantities, and with food and friends). And I’d have liked to report on the wines (and conversation) at a lunch with Jancis Robinson, but shall just mention that it was at a newish restaurant-winebar that should be on any wine-lover’s itinerary in London: called Terroirs, it has a really interesting and occasionally quirky wine-list and delicious food; soon they’re expanding underground to include a grander restaurant, which should be great – if you’re pretty rich, I suspect.