Ready for the off – sample bottles of New Zealand and Oregon Pinot Noir lined up in order for the tasting
This tasting, which replaced what was going to be a full-day event in London, was described as a deep dive into Pinot Noir from around the 45th parallels. I’d say it was more of a brief but brilliant plunge: a one-hour 20-minute Zoom tasting of six wines presented by Bree Boskov, an Australian Master of Wine who lives in Oregon and is education manager for the Oregon Wine Board, and Master Sommelier Ronan Sayburn, head of wine at 67 Pall Mall. It replaced a full-day immersion into a range of styles from the two regions, planned for London.
Why Oregon and New Zealand? Because if they weren’t such good friends, they’d be competitors. More specifically, they have a lot in common. They’re both on the edge of the world’s premier wine growing regions, lying at similar latitudes, north and south respectively, and they’re both on the Ring of Fire, the area that’s home to 75% of the world’s volcanoes and 90% of the earthquakes. They’re also both very small (together about 1% of the world’s wine production) and both prioritise sustainability.
Although they’re cool-climate regions at similar latitudes, their climates are different. Oregon has a shorter, hotter, drier season and relies on winter rains. The Coast Range and the Cascade Mountain Range to the west are crucial to this. Oregon ends up with high daylight hours and low cloud cover – 15-plus daylight hours during its two summer months, which is about one-and-half hours more than Napa or Sonoma. The result is phenolic ripeness and finely structured, detailed wines.
New Zealand is essentially maritime, but Central Otago on the South Island, where most of the Pinot Noir is planted, is relatively arid and quite cool. Here, too, mountains are key, cutting rain and cloud and leaving a high UV rate.
Pinot Noir started to be planted in Oregon in the 1960s and it became the first region outside Burgundy to make quality Pinot Noir. Today, it has 8,340 ha, 57% of the 14,555-ha vineyard total. In New Zealand, where Sauvignon Blanc reigns supreme, Pinot Noir is the second variety at 5,642 ha, 8% of the 39,000-ha total.
There were three Pinot Noirs from New Zealand and three from Oregon, showcasing different regions/subregions/AVAs, and they were tasted in the order below, i.e. alternating. All were 2016 vintage, except one 2017 from New Zealand, and it’s worth noting that 2016 was a warm year in Oregon, the earliest ever harvest, beginning a month earlier than normal and resulting in notably ripe, dense, exuberant wines. As you can see from the photo, the wines were small samples (prepared by 67 Pall Mall).
Te Whare Ra Pinot Noir 2016, Marlborough, New Zealand
A lovely, elegant, bright, precise wine with red-cherry freshness and sweetness, delicate, savoury, earthy, Pinot Noir spice, gossamer-fine tannins and perfectly integrated coffeeish oak. Good value. 13%
Te Whare Ra is a small vineyard (11 ha), one of Marlborough’s oldest, in the Renwick sub-region, owned and managed using organic and biodynamic practices by Anna and Jason Flowerday. This wine was hand picked, hand sorted, 100% destemmed, fermented (after a cold soak) and manually plunged in small open-top fermenters, then macerated for up to 14 days after the 5–7 day fermentation. Aged in French oak (30% new) for 11 months.
Eyrie Original Vines Pinot Noir 2016, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Sweet, fragrantly spicy Pinot aromas. Intensely red-fruit palate, especially cherries and raspberries, with spicy incense notes and creamy cappuccino roundness. Silky texture, fine oak and a swish of tart-cherry fresh acidity. Old-vine detail and complexity. 14%
From the vineyard and winery that put Oregon Pinot Noir on the map. Planted 1966–74 on an east-facing slope in the heart of Dundee Hills with deep, water-retaining, quite acidic volcanic basalt soils with a high iron content; includes ungrafted (pre-Phylloxera) vines; organically farmed from the outset. Wild-yeast fermentation in small vessels; aged in 12% new oak. Jason Letts, son of the founder David, is now at the helm.
No known UK stockist of the 2016, but it would be around £60–£70
Craggy Range Aroha Pinot Noir 2016, Martinborough, New Zealand
Dark, exuberant, ripe black-cherry aromas. Concentrated, ripe, almost black-cherry jam on the palate with spicy black-pepper and earthy notes, prominent oak and structured tannins. This is Craggy Range’s top Pinot. I normally like their wines and can’t help feeling that this sample is not in optimum condition and therefore not entirely representative. 14%
From the Te Muna Road vineyard with its nutrient-rich, fertile soil, and a warm year. 50% whole bunch, indigenous yeasts in a combination of open-top stainless steel and French oak cuves. 9 months in French oak barriques (50% new).
Sequitur The Union Pinot Noir 2016, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Pure, floral, elegant, sweet red-berry nose. Silky red-cherry palate with an iron-mineral character and a delicious and distinctive touch of white pepper spiciness. Delicate, bright acidity and fine-grained tannins; finely structured with an arresting silky texture. 14%
Ribbon Ridge is an AVA within the Chehalem Mountain AVA; warm, sheltered and on sedimentary soils (less water-retaining than Eyrie in Dundee Hills to its south). Quite a young vineyard, planted 2012, next to Beaux Frères, using the full range of 15 clones (Dijon and California heritage).
£74.68, A&B Vintners
Valli Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2017, Central Otago, New Zealand
Ripe plum and cherry aromas, joined by wild strawberry on the palate. Lovely fruit purity with the spiciness of fresh bay leaves and black pepper and a suggestion of something mineral and meaty; combines depth and fine texture. 13.5%
From a cool site in a cooler vintage on deep, moderately sandy, free-draining soils. 30% whole bunch and 30% new French oak for 11 months.
Evening Land Seven Springs Pinot Noir 2016, Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon
Lifted floral aromas with black fruit and some sweet red-apple joined on the palate, as it opens up, by notes of orange, pomegranate and red cherry, but overall it’s quite a savoury, slightly brooding expression with some bitter chocolate and liquorice. A less ethereal style of Pinot Noir. 13.5%
Eola-Amity Hills is a north-south ridge of basaltic volcanic soils, but darker and shallower than Dundee Hills to its north, so you can get some vine stress here. It’s windy too. Harvest is 2–3 weeks later than more northerly AVAs such as Dundee Hills. From a vineyard planted on own roots in 1984; 25% whole bunch.
£39, The Good Wine Shop
Photograph by Joanna Simon