Monday, December 8, 2008

Pinot Noir Around the World

I organized a Pinot Noir tasting at my place, which took place on Nov 21 (two weeks ago today). I had always wanted to do something like this, and for me the main interest was to put some New World PNs head-to-head with red Burgs, so as to answer the eternal questions: (1) are red Burgs any better than New World PNs, and (2) do New World PNs actually taste like PN? I also had always wanted to put Nuits against Beaune, Oregon against California, and hot climate against cool climate. In short, the overall quality was high, we all learned a lot, and there were a number of [mostly pleasant] surprises. All wines were served immediately after opening.

First the notes, then some reflections.

Flight 1. The Classics: Europe

Joseph Drouhin, Chorey-Les-Beaune 2006
Light ruby. Lovely, aromatic nose that practically fills the room. Cherry and a touch of dark raspberry on the palate, the fruit having the lovely, vibrant, accentuated style that is typically associated with the Cote-de-Beaune. Nice finish and body. Should last another 5 years or so. At around $20, the best value in red Burgundy I've had. Excellent (87 - 90).

Nicolas Potel, Cote de Nuits-Villages, Vieilles Vignes 2006
A somewhat darker ruby (compared to the Chorey-Les-Beaune tasted before it), but still clear. Nice nose of leather. On the palate, cherry, blackberry, leather, and spice. Does have a touch of the meatiness that is associated with the Cote-de-Nuits. Not all that impressive at first but gets better and better as it opens. Too young, I think - needs another 5 years, and should last for 10, but when it hits its prime it should be something special, and I imagine it will justify its almost $40 price tag as well. Decanting or breathing for an hour might do the trick as well. Excellent (87 - 90), and potentially Exceptional (90 - 93) with time.

August Ziegler, Pinot Noir Spatlese (trocken), Cuvee August, Pfalz 2005
Dark ruby, with a touch of purple. Nice nose. Cherry and mixed berries on the palate. Nice acidity, and the high alcohol (14%) gives it richness without making it unbalanced. Tastes like its seen a moderate amount of oak, which doesn't seem necessary. A ripe, attractive style that is very pleasing initially, but doesn't have any underpinnings to contrast, and so may just have a bit too much fruit for its own good. Still, an excellent and well-made wine, but not quite my style. Should last another 5 years. About $20, which is a fair price. Excellent (87 - 90).

Flight 2. The Challengers: United States

Willamette Valley Vineyards, Pinot Noir, "Whole Cluster Fermented," Willamette Valley 2007
Ruby / purple. Sweet strawberry, cherry, and a touch of blueberry. Attractive, accentuated fruit, and in some ways very similar to the Chorey-Les-Beaune tasted earlier in the evening. Classic Oregon PN. Very nice. Drink in the next 3 - 5 years, I think. Around $15, and a good value. Excellent (87 - 90).

Angeline, Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley 2006
Ruby / purple. Cherry, and rich blackberry. Wonderful, pure fruit. Californian in style but still has the finesse and grace that PN should have. Very, very nice. The best California PN I've had, and at a mere $15 a bottle, the best value in Pinot Noir I've encountered. Drink in the 4 - 6 years. Excellent / Exceptional (89 - 91).

Crescendo, Pinot Noir, Napa Valley 2005
Deep garnet. Nice nose. Black cherry, liqueur-like blackberry, and a touch of blueberry, with nice vegetal/wood/tea undertones. Great body. For me, a big surprise, as I didn't expect a PN from such a hot climate to taste like PN, or even work as a wine - yet this is a reasonably faithful PN in style, and yet also very distinctly Napa. Should last another 5 - 7 years. I'm not completely certain, but I think this is around $15, which makes it a great value (although the comparable Russian River Valley PN tasted before it is just a touch better). Wonderful stuff. Excellent / Exceptional (89 - 91).

Flight 3. The Up-and-Coming: Southern Hemisphere

Kim Crawford, Pinot Noir, Marlborough 2007
Dark ruby / purple. Lovely nose of red berries (with a note cranberry in particular) and earth (although the nose is a little unusual, perhaps even a bit funky, initially). On the palate, cranberry, cherry, strawberry, and a touch of darker fruits, with nice touch of black tea and vegetal tones. Cool, pure, juicy fruit - practically screams Marlborough. Just a bit earthy (in the most pleasant of ways), and with great body. The best Pinot Noir I've had (a mild but most pleasant surprise). Should last another 4 - 6 years. Just under $20, and a tremendous value. Exceptional (90 - 93).

Matetic, Equilibrio, Pinot Noir, San Antonio 2005 (Chile)
My first Chilean PN. Light, reddish purple. Nice but a bit funky nose that reminds one, oddly enough, of buttered popcorn. On the palate, cranberry, cherry, and dark fruits, with great warmth and spice. Very ripe. Nice, but a blockbuster sort of wine, and a bit too much for me. Has a touch of the soft red fruits of PN, but otherwise behaves like a lighter-bodied Cabernet. As a friend put it "Everything this does, a Chilean Cab does better." Drink in the next 3 - 5 years. A very excellent wine, but to my palate, not a very good PN. Not unreasonably priced at around $25. Exceptional (90 - 93), but not my style.

Now my reflections: 1. It is nice (or perhaps I just got lucky) to have a pair a red Burgs that demonstrate the differences between Cote de Beaune and Cotes de Nuits. I must confess, although I was still very pleased, that perhaps I was expecting the Burgs to be a bit more impressive - on the whole they were blown out of the water by the New Worlds, although stylistically I preferred them to most of the New Worlds. 2. Although I haven't had very many, I'm beginning to think that maybe I don't care for German Pinot (aka Spatburgunder) - they have an attractive style, but no real underpinnings (no earth, vegetal tones, spice, etc), to lend them contrast and interest. 3. I've been in the habit of saying that Oregon tastes more like Burgundy, but it's nice to have that confirmed in a head-to-head (although, once again, maybe I got lucky on the selection). Based on this and the other Oregons I've had, it seems maybe that they lean specifically toward the Beaun-ish side. 4. I was impressed and surprised by the Calis - I've been complaining for years that Cali Pinot often doesn't taste like Pinot, but these two overturned that conception, and more or less killed the Burgs for quality. As I noted above, the Napa Pinot was a big surprise. 5. As much as I love Marlborough, the fact that it has produced the best PN I've tasted was a unlooked-for but delightful surprise. And, as I've noted in the past, you can sense in Marlborough PN the same, cool, juicy, pure fruit as in the Sauv Blancs. 6. I had heard very promising things about Chilean PN, but now I question that, because if this was a typical example, then I'm not all that interested in tasting any others. One would think that high-altitude and thus cooler conditions would produce more balanced, more graceful PN.