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Sunday 31 January 2016

The most idiosyncratic pinot noir tasting ever?

Stephen Tanzer, the erudite and widely respected wine critic from the United States, called it "the most idiosyncratic pinot noir tasting ever". 

Paul Pujol, the polyglot winemaker at Prophet's Rock winery in Central Otago, decided to line up seven pinots noir from different regions of France as part of a fascinating formal tasting at the Central Otago Pinot Noir celebration. 

Pujol, who has worked in Alsace, Oregon, Sancerre, the Languedoc and Marlborough, as well as in Central Otago, sourced wines through the US merchant Kermit Lynch and his network of friends - and they ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. 

A panel comprised of Pujol, Tanzer, erudite funster Oz Clarke and Burgundy winemaking consultant Francois Millet led delegates through wines from Champagne, the Moselle, Alsace, Jura, Savoie, the Loire and, of course, Burgundy. There was not, surprisingly, an entry from the Aude. The Le Chat Noir would have shone on what was a fascinating vinous roller-coaster ride through various regions and vintages - and bottle variation. 

The wines had but one thing in common, the limestone energy of pinot noir. The Gilbert Felletig 2013 Chambolle Musigny was the undoubted star, as one would expect; a Burgundy wine of beautiful balance and allure. 

The remainder divided the room; with the JF Ganevat "Julien en Billat" 2014 Cotes du Jura - a natural wine right on the edge - understandably the most divisive. The witty Clarke called it "fantastically interesting" while Tanzer expected it would appeal largely to "bearded sommeliers in Australia and Auckland". 

Here my brief rundown of the seven (but you really had to be there - and these are my opinions only): 

Paul Bara 2006 Bouzy Rouge (Coteaux Champenoise Grand Cru)
A quite impressive aged wine with powerful ripe fruit, hints of chalkiness. Nicely varietal, but faded quickly in my glass. 

Chateau de Vaux 2013 Molozay "Les Clos"
Nearly all the pinot noir in this Moselle region, south of Metz, has been ripped out. This producer is trying to revive the tradition but this was very light, tart and overoaked. 

Albert Mann 2012 "Grand H"
Very dark, almost inky, dense with dark fruits, some whole bunch, hints of salinity; the closest wine to village Burgundy and one for the cellar right now. 

JF Ganevat 2014 "Julien en Billat" Cotes du Jura
The simplest possible winemaking; it spends a year on skins and is then bottled. The end result is pale and spritzy; oxidised and a wine I'd cross the road to avoid. Others loved it for its idiosyncratic style. 

Andre et Michel Quenard 2013 Chignin
A very taut and tight wine from the Savoie, high in acid, lacking in fruit but full of intrusive charry oak. Probably using under-ripe fruit. 

Daniel Chotard 2012 "Le Chant de l'Archer" Sancerre Rouge
The primary character I found here was warm plastic; light red primary fruits, chunky tannins, reductive character. Unappealing. 

Gilbert Felletig 2013 Chambolle-Musigny
The complete package; a wine that sung sweet music; delightful fruit characters, elegance, delicacy and structure all combine. 

The verdict: On the evidence of this one tasting, cool-climate regions of Australia and New Zealand; Central Otago, Martinborough, Tasmania, the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula produce pinots of excellent quality on a more reliable basis; the regional French offerings appear more dependent on both producer and vintage. As, of course, is the case with Burgundy.   


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