Tuesday, 24 September 2013

A Primer on Pinot

To judge by the packed crowd at the Pinot Noir Masterclass organised by local wine merchant Crystal Wines, market sentiment has firmly shifted away from the overextracted fruit bombs that dominated in the last decade. The grape that has all the limelight at the moment is Pinot Noir, a variety that has spread so widely across the world that it rivals Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay in terms of recognisability. An unlikely turn of events and one that shows what secret masochists winemakers are, as Pinot Noir is one of the most persnickety members of the vinifera family. Its early budding makes it susceptible to spring frosts and it has the same resistance to fungal diseases and viruses as a new-born baby. Yet its enchanting perfume and ethereal silkiness make it the Holy Grail for wine devotees.

Chaired by Olly Masters, winemaker at Misha’s Vineyard, the guest panel was made up of well-known figures in Singapore’s wine scene including wine writer, educator and judge Lim Hwee Peng, and sommelier Gerald Lu. As Misha Wilkinson (owner of Misha’s Vineyard) put it, we would be hearing about Pinot Noir from several different perspectives – a person who makes Pinot Noir, a person who educates about Pinot Noir, and a person who selects and serves Pinot Noir. Not to forget a whole audience of people who drink Pinot Noir!

Featured wines included Pinot Noir from Burgundy, Chile, USA, Australia, Martinborough, Marlborough and Central Otago, the latter three being from New Zealand. About the lineup, Misha commented that “It's not just a Pinot Noir masterclass but also about New Zealand's place in the world because we are representing three New Zealand regions in a global context.” We would be tasting the wines blind, but some hints were given by Olly, who pointed out that New World Pinot Noir had more overt fruit characters of red cherry, black cherry, raspberry, strawberry and plum while Old World Pinot Noir had more savoury and farmyard characteristics. With age, Pinot Noir tends to develop notes of mushroom and spice.

On pairing Pinot Noir with food, Olly stated that it is the most versatile of red wines as it matches with more food than any other. Thanks to gentle tannins, it can be paired with a variety of dishes including grilled salmon, lamb, venison, game birds such as pheasant and turkey, and even vegetables such as mushrooms. In a local context, I have found it an excellent match with roast duck and dim sum.

Tasting the wines blind had the effect of removing any preconceptions about the relative merits of each wine. In hindsight, the Burgundy was the odd one out, with barnyard and earthy notes that hinted at its origins. I found all three of the New Zealand Pinot Noirs excellent, with bright fruit and jewel-like intensity. The Oregon and Chilean Pinot Noirs led me astray, as I expected a more impressive showing from the former and vice versa.

Looking at the price points for these wines, one can immediately notice that Pinot Noir commands a substantial premium over other wines. Add to that the high markups that restaurants and hotels charge on wine and it can be difficult to sell Pinot Noir on-trade. Gerald also highlighted the challenge of maintaining the right temperature when serving Pinot Noir. “A bucket with ice and no water is the ideal way to bring a bottle of Pinot Noir to the perfect temperature of 14°C. The bottle should be cool to the touch and when poured into a glass it should condense a little but not to the point that the whole glass condenses.” Hwee Peng had the following advice for those looking to add Pinot Noir to their wine lists: “When it comes to inventory, you want to look for a Pinot Noir that shows well from now at the point of tasting until probably a year later, because a wine list changes every twelve months or so.”

It’s good news that Pinot Noir acreage is expanding worldwide, especially since Burgundy has now found favour in the Chinese market leading to the inevitable price increase. As the tasting showed, these New World regions offer remarkable quality at affordable (for Pinot Noir) price levels.

Tasting notes:

20130925 Pinot Noir Masterclass
Maison Kerlann “Cuvee H” Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2009 (SGD53) - Slightly musty and barnyard-like on the nose with notes of wet clay. Light bodied with soft tannins, lacking in primary fruit character.

Montes Alpha Casablanca Valley Pinot Noir 2010 (SGD50) - Leafy with sweet cherry notes, cinnamon and orange peel. High alcohol, giving an impression of sweetness, but well integrated. Expressive fruit and varietal character.

Domaine Drouhin Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2010 (SGD93) - Slightly closed with notes of red cherries and oak. Shows freshness but on the whole lacking interest. The producer has a good track record though so perhaps this wine is going through a quiet phase.

Bindi Composition Macedon Ranges Pinot Noir 2011 (SGD93) - Noticeable vanilla, cream and woody notes, with boiled sweets and slight gaminess. Quite overt, thickly layered with a candied sweetness to the fruit. Lively acidity provides a lift to this wine and prevents it from becoming flabby. Very good.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 (SGD95) - Crushed strawberries and leafy notes framed by a suggestion of oak. Silky texture with apparent warmth on the palate.

Greywacke Marlborough Pinot Noir 2010 (SGD73) - Brilliant purplish crimson hue. Nervy acidity, layers of red fruits, strawberry and plums, exuding magnificent intensity and poise.  

Misha’s Vineyard Verismo Pinot Noir 2009 (SGD77) - An elegant and layered nose of cloves and small red berries gives way to intense redcurrant and raspberry notes on the palate. Showing gorgeous precision and length.

All wines available from Crystal Wines.

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