Oregon & Californian pinot noir tasting at Pinot Palooza

I attended a master class on Oregon & Californian pinot noir on the weekend hosted by Chris Crawford, Ben Edwards & Michael McNamara and held at Pinot Palooza in Melbourne, Victoria.  The line up included: J Christopher, Erath, Cristom ‘Sommers Reserve’, Chehalem ‘3 Vineyard’ (Oregon), Byron ‘Santa Barbara’, Williams Selyem ‘Sonoma County’, Hartford Court ‘Russian River’, Beaux Freres ‘Willamette Valley’ (California). The “pinot professors” who lead the tasting provided some excellent background on the appellations and producers represented.

My overall impressions of the wines were that none of the Oregon and more powerful Californian wines on tasting were particularly outstanding and most seemed to lack engaging character and complexity.  Having said that several of the wines were pleasant and well made, meriting further blog space.  Also I would like to see some of these wines in a more relaxed environment served with matched food.  I suspect my notes on some of them might be quite different!

Interestingly I had already reviewed one of the wines in this blog previously namely the 2009 Erath.  This time the wine presented as somewhat oxidized colour, a browning rim to the wine in the glass and a dull, stewed fruit character. I suspect it hadn’t traveled well from the US or was a slightly ‘off’ bottle (not corked as it was under screwcap).

Apart from the Erath, most wines found supporters amongst those tasting (depending on the tasters preferred style).  My notes on the wines that I enjoyed most were –

J.Christopher 2010 “Unfiltered” Willamette Valley

Sweet oak aromas and flavours, a little spice on the palate also from the oak, fruit is restrained and in the strawberry to raspberry spectrum. Nice texture and finish.

Williams-Selyem 2010 Sonoma County

An interesting edgy wine. Pink tinges displayed in the rim of the glass, vibrant colour and nose, perhaps a touch volatile. Fresh acidity and slightly stemmy providing some structure and interest.  Nice light cherry – perhaps snow cherry flavours.

Hartford Court 2010 Russian River Valley

Deeply coloured, dark berry and cherry flavours. Very good texture, balance and length. A wine that I expect will develop more power and presence over time. Definitely shows warmer climate, full ripening terroir but well handed by the winemaking.

Chehalem 2009 “3 Vineyard” Willamette Valley

Light colour, pretty perfumed nose, supple, feminine wine but would be good with the right choice of fine food.

Beaux Freres 2010 Willamette Valley

Very good oak, still dominant, rich, sweet raspberry and light berry fruit, full of promise but lacked persistence on the finish.


2009 Terra Andina Reserva (D.O.Valle Central, Chile)

My first experience of Chilean pinot noir was not particularly inspiring. The 2009 Terra Andina Reserva was interesting and serviceable as an accompaniment to a good ripe brie. I will, however, keep an open mind about Chilean pinot noir and hope to try many more in the future. With such a diverse geography and climate I am sure that an appropriate terroir from growing good pinot noir must exist in Chile.

This wine had a dominate raspberry character which was pleasant but unfortunately the texture and structure of the wine was clumsy.  While there was some good flavour and sweet fruit in the opening and middle palate, it fell away and was a little short.  It finished with a hint of slate and stewed fruit.





Schubert 2008 Marions Vineyard Pinot Noir (Wairarapa, NZ)

I was privileged to try Schubert wines during a lovely vineyard lunch hosted by Kai Schubert and Marion Deimling in their Martinborough vineyard a few years ago. All their wines were outstanding but during the lunch I thought their ‘Marion’s Vineyard’ pinot noir matched the food and the occasion perfectly. I opened a bottle of this fabulous wine this evening and found it had matured and grown into a rich, serious & complex wine of great character.

It had impeccable tannins and finish resulting in the type of silky wrapping you look for in a really outstanding pinot noir. However it was the complexity of the nose and palate that really provided a special experience with this wine. The nose featured hints of undergrowth, dried orange peel and herbs such as thyme & cloves as well as tobacco and red fruits. The palate was even more complex with dominant fine cherry layered with blackberry, liquorice, earth, smoked meat, shiitake mushrooms. It is a wonderful food wine and paired well with duck confit but would be equally at home with tea smoked duck, pork belly and spiced asian pork dishes.

Schubert Wines were established by Kai Schubert and Marion Deimling in 1998, both graduated from Geisenheim University in Germany. They worked with winemakers like Erni Loosen of Dr. Loosen Estate in Germany before coming to NZ and fulfilling their dream to establish their own vineyard. Their passion and attention to detail is creating wines which rank with the elite of NZ’s pinot noir offerings.


Fine or not fine?

Fining pinot noir is matter of taste!  Fining is a process in winemaking where winemakers can manipulate the texture or remove faults from the wine usually undertaken just prior to bottling. Wines don’t have to be fined so why intervene? Before I go further I need to declare my own position and explain my personal experience.  I started my own experience from the position of a strong preference for non-intervention but never the less I participated over a decade in ‘fining trials’ where a line-up of wines with various treatments were compared with a control sample of untreated wine. In all but one or two cases, I opted for the untreated wines.  I still have the somewhat simplistic view that if grapes are grown in a suitable terroir and are harvested in a clean and fresh condition, then there will be no need for the winemaker to intervene in this way.

How are wines fined? A fining agent is added to the wine. The agent bonds with certain molecules in the wine (agglomeration) and during later filtration they are removed. This allows certain characteristics (appearance, aromas, texture or flavours) of the wine to be modified. For example, bitterness or astringency may be reduced and a wine softened by using a fining agent.  This can be particularly useful if the wine is required in a ‘drink now’ style.

What are fining agents that are used? There are numerous agents used in various situations. The following have been used traditionally: egg white, milk powder, isinglass (derived from fish swim bladders), chitosan (derived from shell fish), bentonite (clay), gelatin and, in the past, even bull’s blood.  A more modern agent commonly used is PPVP, polyvinyl polypyrrolidone, a synthetic compound.

The fining agents are removed by filtration prior to bottling, however several issues remain!  With some fining agents when removing suspended solids they may strip characteristics of the wine that were obviously not intended to be removed such as colour, body, taste or aroma. While these changes may be subtle, they still have a negative impact on the wine.  There is always a question of whether any residual remains after filtration and makes it through to the bottle.  For most, this may not be a problem but for others such as vegetarians and vegans it presents a potential ethical issue and detracts from the ‘natural’ nature of the product.  Should wines be labelled with a list of fining agents used? At this stage, there is no clear labelling requirement so vegetarians or vegans need to reference several websites that list a limited number of ‘friendly’ wines including http://www.barnivore.com/, http://www.veggiewines.co.uk/ and http://vegans.frommars.org/wine/ .

There is a really interesting discussion of a book which covers this subject at http://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2011/12/manipulative-winemaking-declared-a-fault/ .  The book is by Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop MW and is titled “Authentic Wine: Toward Natural and Sustainable Winemaking”. Highly recommended reading.  Again a personal and possibly controversial view but pinot noir is the ultimate in natural wine, highly expressive of its terroir and is best made using non-interventional winemaking.

Pegeric Pinot Noir 2008 (Macedon Ranges, Victoria, Australia)

Pegeric is another new producer, at least new in my experience, from the Macedon Ranges region of Victoria, Australia. I had an opportunity to taste their 2008 Pinot Noir and was surprised by its delicacy and charm.

Aromas of red currents, flowers (violets and roses come to mind), cinnamon and a dusty, slightly smokey finish.  Light garnet colour with slightly brown at the rim.  Medium body weight and very fine texture with adequate to good length and persistence.  It has sufficient presence to make you want to linger and take your time enjoying every glass. The plate displays snow cherry and light berry flavours.  It finishes with a nice touch of fruit sweetness mingling with a hint of spice and smoke. This is a pure example of a feminine pinot noir style and would be a delightful match with lighter poultry or seafood dishes.

The tasting was organised by The Wine Depository (www.winedepository.com.au) and Full Palate (www.fullpalate.com.au) and held at the wonderful Mezzo (www.mezzobar.com.au) in Melbourne.  Thanks Philip, Jeffrey and Silvio for the invite and hospitality.

Yal Yal Rd Pinot Noir 2010 (Mornington Peninsula)

Yal Yal Rd is a small vineyard and a relative new comer to the region located at Merricks on the Mornington Peninsula. The pinot noir is made by skilful and experienced winemaker, Sandro Mosele (Kooyong/Port Philip Estate), and show real promise. When offered this wine at the Flinders Hotel with lunch, I was told it was a very, very light pinot. Have been told this on numerous occasions and I usually ignore it is generally meaningless and shows a misunderstanding of the variety.  And so it was in this case! The wine has very silky tannins but good power and persistence finish on the palate.

A relative restrained nose with a touch of earth and red berry fruits. The wine is medium bodied with red berry and cherry flavours. It is nicely structured but the real promise of this vineyard is in the depth and length which belies the youth of the wine and the vines in this vineyard. I enjoyed this wine which was a good match for my duck confit and I will look forward to seeing how wines from Yal Yal Rd develop.

Ageing second label wines

Second label wines are typically made in a drink now style and are not age-worthy.  Even in the old world, Village wines will age much less gracelessly than a Premier cru and the same is true for a Grand Cru verse a Premier Cru although the distinction is less clear. The same is true in new world wines. But why is this the case?  Well firstly, the grapes from which the wines are made are generally lower quality, probably higher yielding vines and do not have the acid, tannins and balance suitable for making an age-worthy wine. Secondly, the winemaking itself may drive a softer drinking style.  More techniques to extract fruit flavours may be used to ensure the wines are fruity. Less oak maturation also helps with this but finally the winemaker intervenes and ‘fines’ the wine so that it is ready to drink as soon as possible.  These techniques reduce the capacity of the wine to improve with bottle age. Finally, I should mention that second label wines are sometime the result of barrel selection and culling. This involves barrel tasting and de-selecting barrels which do not meet certain quality criteria. The de-selected barrels are then blended and made into a second label which will not have the same ageing characteristics when compared with the first cru or first label wine even though it may have come from the same vineyard.

A good example is a bottle of 2008 Julicher Estate Te Muna Road 99 Rows that I opened last night.  This was a ripper of a wine when first released. So good, in fact, it won gold in the prestigious Air NZ wine awards.  Now as a 4 year old wine, it lacked impact and is looking a little clumsy and tired compared to the wine I tasted a couple of years ago. Te Muna Road 99 Rows is made by Julicher Estate vineyard is in the Wairarapa region in the North Island, situated in the Te Muna valley, five kilometres from Martinborough.  This is their second label and is definitely made as a drink now style. I don’t know how or even if it was fined but it was soft and fruit driven in youth, quite balanced but without the structure to age. This Pinot Noir is a blend of different clones (5, 6, 114 and 667) sourced from different blocks in the vineyard, however, now it lacks the complexity, which can sometime be achieved by using diverse source materials. I have several bottles of the ‘first label’ 2008 Julicher Estate pinot in my cellar. I think it must be about time to open one and will report back in a post soon on how their flagship has aged. I have high expectations!

PS I should note that second label wines are usually great value being priced a discount to the producer’s first label.


Te Hera Pinot Noir (Martinborough, NZ)

I visited this small Martinborough vineyard a couple of years ago and was impressed with the terroir, wines and passion of the vigneron. John Douglas – Wine maker/ viticulturist is single handedly responsible for producing Te Hera wines. The vines are planted on a 25 m thick layer of glacial gravel which allows them to put down very deep roots; a foundation for deeply flavoured and textured wines. Barrel tastings and a selection of different recent vintages show the potential of this vineyard. A recent tasting of 2008 Te Hera pinot noir displayed a complex nose of dark berries and spice. The plate was less complex and not as powerful as the nose promised but it may be going through a resting period and the fruit may come back. It would be good to try another bottle in a years time. Nether the less the texture was good and it has some nice flavours of raspberry, cherry, spice and coriander.


John Douglas shows us the Te Hera soil profile

Melbourne Federation Square – Victorian regional tasting

Attended a tasting last night at Melbourne’s Federation Square. It was a beautiful evening (see above pic) but pretty cool. The tastings are held in a courtyard which while it is semi-enclosed, it was still too cold for optimal tasting of the wine on offer.  This a showcase for Victorian wine regions and feature wines selected as the best from each region. Other than the temperature it was a good opportunity to try some interesting pinots from disparate regions. Barry and Glenys Elliot showed a flight of their mature wines (04,05 & 07) from Chanters Ridge and Llew Knight showed me a yet to be released sample of Granite Hills pinot noir under the Tor label.  Both these producers are from the Mount Macedon Ranges region. From Geelong, Bellarine Estate and Brown Magpie were notable and there were also a couple of wines from Gippsland showing promise: Sarsfield Estate and Lithostylis. The pinot gold medal was won by Moorooduc Estate which is one of the most reliable, quality producers on the Mornington Peninsula.

I am not going to include any tasting notes as I would like an opportunity to review these wines under better conditions.



Erath Oregon 2009 Pinot Noir

Mid week and I needed a reasonably priced pinot to match a nice duck breast cooked at home in a traditional orange sauce. A reasonably priced oregon pinot should fit the bill. I selected the Erath 2009 so here goes!

Nice clarity and pale cranberry coloured. Some funky and earthy notes showed promise on opening but blows off after a short time and does not develop leaving aromas of stewed strawberries.

Palate is quite disjointed initially with flavours all over the place. It settles into the strawberry and raspberry fruit spectrum. Light to medium weight with good acid balance. The length is perhaps a little short and finishes reminiscent of fine coffee grinds.  The wine lacks definition, weight, complexity and finish. This is a relatively simple wine that would be easy to dismiss. I would have, in fact, been a lot harsher in my assessment if I hadn’t drunk this wine with a good meal to compliment it. Normally wine enhances food.  In this case the food lifted the wine! In these lighter feminine wines, good balanced acidity is very important and this wine gets it right. As a result it is good food wine and matched our meal quite well.

While this is not one for the cellar, it can be a good companion for an appropriately matched meal and is reasonable value for money.

According to their website (http://www.erath.com) “The “Oregon” Pinot Noir is the cornerstone of the Erath wine portfolio.  A blend of different vineyard sites in Oregon, this wine is a fruit forward, ready-to-drink style of Pinot Noir designed to highlight the variety’s best characteristics. Our goal with this wine is simple – make the best Pinot Noir in the world for under $20.”  A big call!!