Côte d’Ore­gon top gun in a Noir shoot-out

First blood to the young pre­tenders who are vy­ing for Bur­gundy’s crown

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Food & Drink - Jonathan Ray

To or­der tick­ets, priced at just £20 each, call Tele­graph Wine on 0845 863 0996 quot­ing TCW/09232NVZ.

Held jointly by New Zealand Wine­grow­ers and Air New Zealand, in as­so­ci­a­tion with Tele­graph Wine, the tast­ing will show­case more than 140 newly re­leased wines ar­ranged by variety, re­gion, vin­tage and price. Jim Harré, one of Air New Zealand’s three wine buy­ers, will be fly­ing over spe­cially to talk read­ers through the wines.

Bur­gundy is in­dis­putably the daddy when it comes to Pinot Noir. This most capri­cious of grapes flour­ishes in Cham­pagne too, of course, as well as pro­duc­ing wines of vary­ing qual­ity in places such as Al­sace, the Loire Val­ley, Ger­many, Italy, Cal­i­for­nia, Chile and South Africa. Nowhere, though, does Pinot Noir reach the sub­lime heights that it does in the Côte d’Or.

Or so they say. Th­ese days, three re­gions in par­tic­u­lar are men­tioned with in­creas­ing fre­quency as pos­si­ble pre­tenders for Bur­gundy’s crown, namely Cen­tral Otago in New Zealand, Ore­gon in the US and Vic­to­ria in Aus­tralia.

Keen to see how th­ese ri­val Pinots cur­rently com­pare, I ar­range a small tast­ing – a sort of tri-na­tions taste-off – at In Vino Ver­i­tas, the pop­u­lar new haunt for wine lovers in Brighton. Each of the three coun­tries en­ters six wines and, to en­sure our im­par­tial­ity, the dozen or so of us present will taste them blind. Steve Pineau, owner of In Vino, is agog.

“This will be fun,” he says. “Al­though I’m not a Bur­gun­dian, I am a French­man and come from a dif­fer­ent tra­di­tion. Will th­ese wines chal­lenge Bur­gundy? Frankly I doubt it, not least be­cause of our trump card – the great age of our vines. But let’s see!”

We buckle down to our task and slurp our way through the 18 wines. The mur­mured oohs and aahs around me sound promis­ing and there are in­deed some lovely wines on show. For me, an up-front vi­brancy of fruit seems to be the com­mon thread and, gen­er­ally speak­ing, the wines are in­stantly ap­peal­ing and re­ward­ing with silky smooth tan­nins, lus­cious fruit, herbs, spice and game on the palate. Equiv­a­lent red Bur­gundy might be more sub­tle and com­plex, but there is much to en­joy here.

It takes a while to tot up the scores since ev­ery­one has a com­pletely dif­fer­ent sys­tem of mark­ing, but we do our best. Only a very few points sep­a­rate the con­tenders but, for the record, the over­all win­ner is judged to be 2004 Cris­tom Mount Jef­fer­son Pinot Noir from Ore­gon, priced at £20-£25 a bot­tle. We all agree that it is won­der­fully struc­tured with scrump­tious dark berry fruit and a long silky fin­ish. Sec­ond is 2005 Do­maine Drouhin Wil­lamette Val­ley Pinot Noir (£25), also from Ore­gon, and third is 2005 Mount Dif­fi­culty Long Gully Pinot Noir (£35) from Cen­tral Otago, the re­gion that we judge to be the most con­sis­tent in terms of qual­ity.

Af­ter good-na­tured josh­ing be­tween each re­gion’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives, Howard Ross­bach, pres­i­dent of Firesteed Wines in Ore­gon, is de­lighted with his state’s one-two: “Pinot Noir is all about fruit char­ac­ter. Other va­ri­eties can be ma­nip­u­lated dur­ing pro­duc­tion, but with Pinot you have to grow per­fect fruit and it’s clear that we all do. For me, Ore­gon was the most el­e­gant, Cen­tral Otago the most up-front and Vic­to­ria the most vi­brant.”

War­ren Adam­son from New Zealand Wine­grow­ers thinks his Kiwi wines show real prom­ise. It’s cer­tainly true that Pinot Noir is taken se­ri­ously in New Zealand th­ese days. It’s the sec­ond most planted variety af­ter Sauvi­gnon Blanc, with plant­ings ris­ing from 1,065 acres (431 hectares) in 1996 to 10,040 acres (4,063 hectares) in 2006, and ex­ports up from 66,000 gal­lons (300,000 litres) in 2000 to 903,000 gal­lons (4.1m litres) in 2006.

“We’re not try­ing to make Bur­gundy,” says Adam­son. “We’re sim­ply try­ing to make the best ex­pres­sion of this won­der­ful grape that we can. Treat it well and you will be re­warded. Of course, the re­al­ity is that we need greater vine age, but we’re get­ting there for sure.”

Steve Web­ber, wine­maker at De Bor­toli in Aus­tralia agrees. “Vine age is key,” he says. “Pinot Noir has a great fu­ture in Vic­to­ria and, no doubt, in Ore­gon and Cen­tral Otago too. We are well on the way to pro­duc­ing de­fin­i­tive ex­am­ples in the Yarra Val­ley. The fu­ture lies in sin­gle vine­yard sites that re­flect soil and sea­son and wines that can be shown to age well.”

The wines we have tried aren’t cheap though (they start at £15 a bot­tle and go up to about £35), and, for wine mer­chant Henry But­ler of The But­lers Wine Cel­lar, this is their down­side. “Why pay this when you can get fine red Bur­gundy for the same price?” he asks. “Some­thing un­ex­plain­able hap­pens in Bur­gundy that adds de­tail to the wine, lift­ing it above all oth­ers. Of course, there’s rub­bish too, but Pinot needs some­thing more than just red fruit flavours. Al­though th­ese wines are clearly well made, I don’t reckon they have enough char­ac­ter.”

Howard Ross­bach is hav­ing none of this. “Give us a chance!” he ex­claims. “Bur­gun­dian Pinot has a 2,000 year head-start on us john­ny­come-latelys. And al­though Bur­gundy will al­ways be the icon, one day we’ll look back at th­ese wines as bench­marks in their own right.”

For stock­ists of 2004 Cris­tom Mount Jef­fer­son Pinot Noir, con­tact Play­ford Ros (01845 526777) or see www.ev­ery­wine.co. uk; for 2005 Do­maine Drouhin Wil­lamette Val­ley Pinot Noir, con­tact Berry Bros & Rudd (0870 900 4300) or see www.ev­ery­wine.co.uk. For 2005 Mount Dif­fi­culty Long Gully Pinot Noir, try El­lis of Rich­mond (020 8744 5550) or www.nz­house­ofwine.co.uk.

jonathan.ray@tele­graph.co.uk

Grow west, young man: the vine­yards of Ore­gon in the US pro­duce Pinot Noir wines of ex­cep­tional el­e­gance

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