The Grape Debate: Pinot Noir

Which is the best grape variety, what is the best wine region? These are the questions and conversations us wine geeks are always having; there are no right or wrong answers to either of these questions. Taste is a very personal thing; through our tastes we form our opinions and support our beliefs when someone else’s views differ from our own. This is the wonderful thing about wine. We all know this is true… but it doesn’t stop us vocalising, arguing, and scoring our favourite wines, grapes, vintages and regions.

This is why the Grape Debate is such a wonderful idea. In the first of a new series at West London Wine School earlier this week, the topic for the first debate was Pinot Noir. The debate was not about whether is it the best grape variety (it is, I don’t care what you think!) but about which country produces the best expression of the grape. Actually, scratch that, the debate was about which produces YOUR personal favourite expression!

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This debate could go on for for days, even weeks, so a few rules were required. Three of the wine school’s educators would put forward the case for their chosen Pinot Noir producing country; the three countries chosen were France, New Zealand and Germany. I know that USA, Australia and many other countries are producing fine examples these days, and this was referenced, but these were the countries our participants chose as their personal favourites.

There was a poll at the beginning to determine the audience’s pre-conceptions, followed by 3 rounds of drink and debate, and a final vote. The 3 rounds were arranged by price point; round one under £12, round two £12-£25, round three £25-£50. Three hours, nine wines… let the battle, I mean debate, begin!

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For the pre-vote, each member of the audience was asked to put the three nations in order; 1 point for first, 0 for second, -1 for third…

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France +19

New Zealand +3

Germany -22

We were expecting France to trounce this! Unsurprisingly there was little favour for Germany, but in reality how much German Pinot Noir have we drunk? I can count my German Pinot experiences on one hand. The opening scores also represented my own voting card.

The time has come to introduce you to the evening’s protagonists…. Including Matt (@FineWineStorage), manager of the Wine Cellars where all the action took place, who hosted the event seamlessly and looked ever so uncomfortable in the suit that I’m sure he only bought for a court appearance!

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The verdict Matt… Guilty!

France

Quentin Sadler (@quentinsadler) http://quentinsadler.wordpress.com unsurprisingly concentrated all of his efforts on Burgundy. His opening speech focused on how Burgundy is the ultimate expression of terroir and how the wine growers consider themselves to be farmers of the land, as opposed to wine makers. He described the wines of Burgundy as having a wonderful combination of austerity and flamboyance, stating how many of these wines are better when accompanied with food (an early excuse perhaps??). Burgundians are not making Pinot Noir, they are making red Burgundy, and it’s the differences between the plots only yards away from one another that makes Burgundy so special and scream about place, about terroir. It’s not me you have to convince Quentin!

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New Zealand

Cherrie Agnew (@chatsagnew) is a very proud New Zealander, as her emotional opening statement proved it unequivocally. Cherrie spoke about the sunshine of Marlborough, how this led to thicker skins for a full and silky style of wine, and how the dramatic changes in temperature at night preserved the acidity. For Otago she answered the criticism that the Pinots are all fruit and no finesse by pointing out that this is changing now the vines are getting older. We should also realise that NZ has been making Pinot for a while, wining a gold medal in the Wine Olympics as far back as 1881! Cherrie also promised to share her memories of home that would add to the enjoyment of each wine.

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Germany

Jimmy Smith is the main dude at the West London Wine School (@WestLondonWine) and loves the wines of Germany. It is unusual to find Pinot Noir on the label of a German wine, they call is Spätburgunder, which translates as “late Burgundian”. Although not much Spätburgunder finds its way onto our shores, Germany actually has the third highest area of Pinot Noir, sorry Spätburgunder, under vine. Jimmy focussed on the consistency of the German wines, whether from Rheinhessen, Pfalz or, best of all, Ahr. Jimmy was also very keen to point out that it was a German wine that claimed the top prize in the Pinot Noir category at this year’s Decanter World Wine Awards.

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So enough of the waffle and onto the tasting….

Round 1 – Under £12

Maison Roche de Bellene Bourgogne Cuvée Réserve 2011, Burgundy, France (The Wine Society £11.95)

Red cherry, red currant and a hint of cola on the nose, maybe a touch of leather if you give it enough time. On the palate the wine is very austere; it’s young and tannic without the balancing acidity. Some cherry and minerality but very little else. Linear style and a bit of a disappointment really. 87 points

Zimmermann-Graeff & Müller, Peter & Peter 2011, Pfalz, Germany (Tesco Wine Direct £9.99)

Deep but still bright fruit with plenty of ripe cherry, raspberry freshness and a nice touch of exotic, slightly smoky spice. Bright acid and raspberry fruit but then comes a wave of darker, riper cherries. The acidity is very refreshing and clean but the wine maybe lacks a little structure. Still, great for under £10. 89 points

Matua 2012, Marlborough, NZ (Majestic £12.49)

First things first, Cherrie says she usually buys this wine for £8.99 at her local wine shop… we let her off! Meaty and ripe cherry nose with a lovely minerality and smoky note. Lovely ripe fruit that just explodes onto the palate; cherries, raspberries and even a touch of blackberry, all supported by soft leather and smoke. Great intensity of fruit and a delightful texture; very good wine. 90 points

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Round 2 – £12 to £25

Oliver Zeter Reserve 2010, Pfalz, Germany (Vinoteca £22.96)

Really funky nose with ripe cherries and more than a hint of smoked, roasted meat, coffee and black spice. Ripe red fruit; cherries, raspberries and red currants. Earth and smoke, meaty and spicy, great grip but superbly balanced with fresh acidity. Richer and riper than what’s gone before; lovely balance, great complexity and good concentration. A bit of a wild one, but definitely a good one. 93 points

Jules Taylor 2012, Marlborough, NZ (Vagabond £19.99)

Ripe sweet fruit on the nose with pepper, clove and star anise. A massive attack of red fruit, like being hit between the eyes with a punnet of strawberries and cherries (hopefully with the stones taken out!). There’s black pepper spice, loads of acidity and a delightful smooth and silky texture. But almost as quickly as it hits you, it’s gone… oh please I want more of what you promised… ARGHH! 90 points

Camus-Bruchon Savigny-les-Beaune Premier Cru Gravains 2009, Burgundy, France (The Wine Society £24.00)

Ahhh… The smell of the Cote; wild strawberry, red currants, earth and notes of leather and sweet, spicy oak. Still young and firm with lots of tannic grip. But the acid is there, as is the bright red fruit. This has it’s best years ahead of it – it definitely needs food to show its best right now – but a highly enjoyable and traditional expression of the Cote de Beaune. 92 points

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Round 3 – £25 to £50

Two Paddocks First Paddock 2010, Central Otago, NZ (Noel Young Wines £49.00)

From the vineyard owned by Sam Neil, First Paddock is only made when the vintage is considered good enough. Deep, dark cherries and plums on the nose, with a wave of sweet strawberry and red liquorice. There are some floral notes as well as spice; clove and anise. The fruit on the attack is ripe cherries but with the freshness of raspberry; delightful acidity and fine, delicate tannins. Delightfully elegant and silky with good concentration… I just wish I got 2 bottles for this price! 92 points

Maume Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Lavaux St Jacques 2006, Burgundy, France (The Wine Society £45.00)

Ever so sexy savoury nose with deep, ripe, black cherries and very exotic spice; Chinese 5-spice perhaps. The acidity is fresh; the fruit starts with dark cherries and then come the bright raspberries and red currants. Beautifully concentrated and a superb balance of fruit, spice and savoury notes – the smoky shitake mushroom flavours are to die for. This is the real thing; great balance, great complexity and wonderful complexity. AAAHHHHHH…. 94 points

Meyer-Nakel Dernauer Pfarrwingert Spätburgunder Grosses Gewachs 2007, Ahr, Germany (The Wine Reserve £49.79)

Funky and farmyardy on the nose – and a bit of smokey bonfire. There is also plenty of red fruit with strawberry and red cherry brightness. Massive concentration up-front with lots of red fruit and a bit of coffee and spice… then what? It just falls off far too quickly; there’s good acidity but without the tannic structure to give balance and length. I struggled with this one as it promised so much on the nose but didn’t deliver on the palate. A shame, especially at this price. 88 points

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Conclusion

What a great event and what a great tasting… it wasn’t until I tried to be scientific about my final verdict that I realised that I gave each country a first, second and third place! In some ways I suppose it’s the perfect outcome for Pinot Noir… even if it didn’t help answer the questions posed!

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But I had to make a decision and I stuck with my initial order of France, NZ and Germany. When the final votes were counted, although France still had the most votes, it was Germany that made the biggest move, gaining an incredible 24 points (there were only 36 tasters!):

France +5 (-14)

Germany +2 (+24)

New Zealand -7 (-10)

But the real winner on the night? PINOT NOIR!

The next Grape Debate will be Riesling and will take place on 26th June – click on the link to book your place:

http://www.westlondonwineschool.com/product_info.php?id=450

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Posted on March 8, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. Looked like a fabulous evening! Something I would be into for sure. Thanks for posting!

  2. Ah two things close to my heart – Pinot Noir, my favourite varietal, and West London Wine School – where I studied for my WSET with the rather lovely Cherie. Sounds like a great evening! wish I could’ve been there. I agree with you on the Germany front – not as well known but definitely underrated. It’s not by accident that Markus Molitor Haus Klosterberg Pinot Noir has won many an accolade – fantastic region and perfect terroir, created by Dr Ariff Jamal, a resident Burgundy winemaker, and formed by taking clones of Gevrey-Chambertin & Chambolle-Musigny. A great price point too. Worth a try to further the debate somewhat!
    A great write-up – thanks for sharing!

  3. Very interesting reading Ant. What I take from this is the impact of value for money. At the lower end, you just can’t get anything seriously good from France, but you could from Germany/NZ. As the budget increases, so does the quality of France’s Pinots!

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