GRAPE MATES

John Saker re­ports on a tasting held to hon­our the French-Kiwi pinot bond

Cuisine - - CONTENTS -

THIS IS A STORY of pinot noir and two lands – the place from whence it came (Bur­gundy in France) and a coun­try (New Zealand) where it has rel­a­tively re­cently been granted res­i­dence.

Help­ing Cui­sine bring the two to­gether for this spe­cial French is­sue was the am­bas­sador of France to New Zealand, Madame Florence Jean­blancRisler. The am­bas­sador of­fered to host a blind tasting in the re­cep­tion rooms of her Thorn­don, Welling­ton res­i­dence. The tasting com­prised 12 New Zealand pinot noirs and 12 from Bur­gundy, of sim­i­lar vin­tages (201213) and with not wildly dif­fer­ent price tags (in­evitably, the Bur­gundies were on the whole more ex­pen­sive).

The Cui­sine judg­ing panel was made up of reg­u­lar panel chair John Belsham, ex­pe­ri­enced wine judge and Welling­ton lawyer John Comer­ford and me, Cui­sine’s New Zealand wine writer and judge John Saker.

The tasting was not in­tended to be a vi­nous spar­ring match be­tween “them and us”. That would serve no use­ful pur­pose, es­pe­cially as the play­ing field was hardly an even one. While the tasting at­tracted mem­bers of the New Zealand pinot noir aris­toc­racy, Bur­gundy’s finest (sin­gle bot­tles of which each sell for thou­sands of dol­lars) were never go­ing to be present. What’s more, a quality red Bur­gundy needs more time (five or six years at least) to start re­al­is­ing its po­ten­tial, while New Zealand pinot is gen­er­ally ap­proach­able ear­lier.

Rather, we wanted this event to be a cel­e­bra­tion – of the grape it­self; of the ex­pres­sion of place that is one its hall­marks; and of what is a spe­cial wine re­la­tion­ship.

New Zealand en­joys close re­la­tions with France in sev­eral spheres. But there is some­thing re­mark­able about the ties that have re­cently formed around pinot noir.

The red grape of Bur­gundy is not the best of trav­ellers. It only en­joys cooler climes on the outer reaches of the wine world, places where grape grow­ing can be a chancy busi­ness. Im­por­tantly, it also de­mands a rare level of de­vo­tion from the grow­ers and wine­mak­ers who take it on.

Pinot noir found such con­di­tions in New Zealand. And soon af­ter it took hold here, New Zealand wine­mak­ers be­gan trav­el­ling to France to ac­quire some of the knowl­edge of the vignerons of the Côte d’Or in Bur­gundy. The wel­come the An­tipodeans re­ceived from Bur­gun­di­ans was gen­er­ous, and they re­turned home in­spired. Be­fore long the traf­fic had be­come two-way; Bur­gun­dian wine­mak­ers – par­tic­u­larly the young – were com­ing to New Zealand to work vin­tages.

Nowhere is the bond stronger than be­tween Cen­tral Otago and Bur­gundy. A pro­gramme of ex­changes be­tween the two re­gions was es­tab­lished some time ago. The re­la­tion­ship’s depth be­came ap­par­ent dur­ing Bur­gundy’s re­cent suc­cess­ful bid to have the Côte d’Or, the re­gion’s viti­cul­tural cen­tre­piece, granted UNESCO World Her­itage Site sta­tus. The Bur­gun­di­ans asked only one other wine re­gion in the world to sup­port their ef­fort, and that was Cen­tral Otago.

A num­ber of the la­bels in our tasting held sto­ries of these Franco-Kiwi pinot ties. Domaine de l’Ar­lot, for ex­am­ple, could al­most be de­scribed as a New Zealand pinot fin­ish­ing school, so many of our wine­mak­ers have worked vin­tages there. On the New Zealand side, Au­rum Wines has a Bur­gundy­born wine­maker in Lucie Lawrence.

For Le­blanc-Risler, this event was a wel­come ex­er­cise in cul­tural diplo­macy. Born and raised in the northeast of France, she con­fesses to a per­sonal fond­ness for red Bur­gundy. “I hope the tasting will help raise aware­ness about what is hap­pen­ing here – about the close­ness of this won­der­ful bi­lat­eral wine­mak­ing re­la­tion­ship. It’s a thrill for me to en­ter into the spirit of it… and to have the chance to taste some beau­ti­ful wines!”

The 24 wines in the tasting were tasted blind and in ran­dom or­der. A top Bur­gundy was se­lected, along with a top New Zealand pinot, with four other wines from each coun­try achiev­ing “hon­ourable men­tion”.

“The dif­fer­ences be­tween Bur­gundy and New Zealand were re­spect­fully ap­par­ent,” said John Belsham af­ter the tasting. “They un­der­line the fact our best wine­mak­ers are pro­duc­ing beau­ti­ful pinot noir that are of their own place, on a windswept ar­chi­pel­ago 20,000 kilo­me­tres from Bur­gundy.”

John Comer­ford said: “New Zealand pinots are now more har­mo­nious, with bet­ter in­te­gra­tion of the fruit with the tan­nins. Vi­brancy from acid­ity re­mains dis­tinc­tively Kiwi, mak­ing our pinots more ap­proach­able in youth. The French wines were no­tice­ably more ret­i­cent and need more time to open out.”

For their sup­port of this tasting, the Cui­sine wine team thanks the Em­bassy of France to New Zealand; Dhall & Nash; Glen­garry; In­vis­i­ble Wines; Mai­son Vau­ron; Ne­go­ciants; John Comer­ford; Jean­nine McCal­l­lum and the 12 par­tic­i­pat­ing New Zealand winer­ies.

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