ALL GROWN UP

Where have all the fruit bombs gone? They grew up and be­came el­e­gant and so­phis­ti­cated, says JOHN SAKER.

Cuisine - - CONTENTS -

Pinot noir is be­com­ing more el­e­gant and so­phis­ti­cated, says John Saker

A COU­PLE OF YEARS AGO at a trade tast­ing hosted by Cen­tral Otago wine­mak­ers, a restau­ra­teur stood up and asked, in an ag­grieved tone, why the re­gion ap­peared to be mov­ing away from mak­ing the style of pinot noir that he and many of his cus­tomers loved.

Specif­i­cally, he wanted to know where all the fruit bombs had gone.

Ah, the fruit bomb. The term it­self, which has a pe­jo­ra­tive edge, only gained cur­rency af­ter the style’s ubiq­uity be­gan to fade. It de­scribes the volup­tuous, dark, soft, very ripe Cen­tral pinots that burst on to the scene in the late ’90s and early noughties.

In my book on New Zealand pinot noir, pub­lished in 2010, I de­scribed the style as ‘pinot for be­gin­ners’, which in many ways it was. Th­ese were easy wines to un­der­stand and like, and they served as the per­fect bridge from the sweet jammy ver­sions of Aussie shi­raz that were in vogue at the time. Con­sumers could switch al­le­giances to the hip new lo­cal red without mak­ing too great a stylis­tic leap.

I re­gard 2002 as the high wa­ter mark of the Cen­tral Otago fruit bomb. It was an ex­cel­lent vin­tage, a lot of new la­bels had come on stream in the re­gion and the Cen­tral pro­duc­ers held sev­eral tast­ing events around the coun­try. The pinots were mostly fruit bomb in style and the pun­ters fell for them, head over heels.

Fast for­ward to today, and the fruit­bomb bub­ble has burst. The style that won so many ad­mir­ers and con­verts has be­come an in­creas­ingly rare breed.

Put it all down to evo­lu­tion.

The pinot noir mar­ket has grown in New Zealand, not only in size but in so­phis­ti­ca­tion.

“No­body ever set out to make a fruit bomb,” says Prophet’s Rock wine­maker, Paul Pu­jol. “A com­bi­na­tion of things con­trib­uted to those wines be­ing the way they were – young vines (which give you ex­u­ber­ant, fruit-for­ward wines) and wine­mak­ers without much ex­pe­ri­ence of their re­gion erring on the side of over­ripeness rather than un­ripeness. As wine­mak­ers, we were find­ing stuff out.”

Pu­jol says he was al­ways con­scious that the chal­lenge was to build more struc­ture and com­plex­ity into the wines. He and other Cen­tral Otago wine­mak­ers set out to do just that, seek­ing to bet­ter un­der­stand their vine­yards and make wines that ex­pressed those sites with clar­ity and de­tail. Pu­jol de­scribes it as a fas­ci­nat­ing process of “learn­ing and adapt­ing”. The way he han­dles the fruit grown on the Prophet’s Rock Bendigo site has changed dra­mat­i­cally over the years.

The re­sult is more wines that are lighter in colour with more ten­sion and ele­gance. And de­spite the oc­ca­sional cri de coeur from a restau­ra­teur, he and other wine­mak­ers from the re­gion are very happy with the path­way they’re on.

“I think a lot of con­sumers are on the jour­ney with us. As we learn more about our re­gion, their un­der­stand­ing has also in­creased. The pinot noir mar­ket has grown in New Zealand, not just in size but in so­phis­ti­ca­tion – just look at the Bur­gundies that are now avail­able. And a lot of som­me­liers ap­pre­ci­ate the new styles we’re mak­ing be­cause they’re bet­ter food wines.

“I some­times won­der what the re­ac­tion would have been if we made the wines we’re mak­ing now back in the ’90s – ‘If I wanted a rosé I would have asked for one!’”

He adds that con­sumers who have a han­ker­ing for fruit bombs are still be­ing catered for.

“Those wines are still out there. There are winer­ies that are happy mak­ing that style and good on them. We need that diver­sity. An in­ter­est­ing thing too is how well many of the fruit-bomb pinots made back then have aged. I’ve tasted a few ’02s and ’03s lately and they’re ab­so­lutely great. Not many pre­dicted that.”

Prophet Rock’s wine­maker, Paul Pu­jol

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