Tasting Panel – Pinot Noir

, from Issue #42. November 15, 2013
Tasting Panel – Pinot Noir

The Dish Tasting Panel assesses Pinot Noir

Varietal/Style: Pinot Noir 

Tasting date: May 2012

Entries: 182

Judges: Jane Skilton (wine writer, tutor and MW); Corey Hall (winemaker, Gem Wines); Simon Nunns (winemaker, Coopers Creek); Jane Boyle (wine consultant); Neill Culley (winemaker, Cable Bay Wines). Panel led by Dish wine editor Yvonne Lorkin.  

(NB: All wines are judged blind and the scores of winemaker judges for their own wines cannot exceed those of other judges.)

Notes from Yvonne: "It was an intense day of tasting for the two panels of three, and the standard of pinot noir from regions right across the country was incredibly high with 54 of the wines achieving a 4 Star or higher ranking. From this group of 54, a cluster of 16 exceptional wines were re-called and judged forTop 10 status. I would point out here that each and every one of the wines recommended in our feature is a joy to drink. They represent the depth and breadth of winegrowing talent we have here in New Zealand and would hold their own on the world stage."  

Top Wines of the Tasting

1.Saint ClairPioneer Block 16 Awatere Pinot Noir 2010 ($33.50) ★★★★★

Intense, brooding aromas of black forest, baked cherry, black tea and berry notes with rich, succulent, spicy fruit on the palate. “A big wine with punchy fruit and plenty of oak,” noted Simon Nunns. Youthful acidity and “a lovely, brambly style”, according to Jane Boyle, would indicate plenty of potential yet for this wine, which is already showing amazing poise and presence. “This wine was my absolute favourite from the entire 2010 pinot vintage” says Kyle Thompson, Saint Clair’s Red Winemaker of our top wine of the tasting, “because it was just so easy to make. The fruit just looked so perfect on the vine even though we had very little of it, and when it came into the winery it looked amazing as well. It just got so concentrated and the flavours were just so intense. “Fruit that good just sails through fermentation and I absolutely loved it from the get-go.” 

The Saint Clair Pioneer Block 16 comes from a little slope just as you enter Seddon in Marlborough’s Awatere valley. The vineyard itself, (a clay-heavy site, planted in clone 115 and clone 5) is owned by Justin Stevens, a local deer farmer and Deputy Chief Fire Officer of the Seddon Volunteer Fire Brigade. Justin and his wife (also a fire-fighter) have been growers for Saint Clair for around five years. The wine made a huge impression on our judges, and once revealed it wasn’t surprising to learn that this wine had also scooped gold medals in The Marlborough Wine Show 2011 and the NZ International Wine Show 2011. When pressed for a cellaring recommendation, Kyle Thompson said “To be honest, I think it’s still really young. When it was fermenting I smelt lots of violets and other things, which haven’t even come out yet – so in four years time? Who knows…” 


2. Auntsfield Estate Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 ($39) ★★★★★

“Juicy and tactile” and “extremely bright, vibrant fruit” were comments from the judges during the final round of tasting. This glossy, magenta coloured pinot is packed with black cherry, tea, clove, cinnamon and toasty, finely-tuned oak. The tannins are lush and slippery and it has real depth and interest.

3. Gibbston Valley Central Otago Pinot Noir 2010 ($44) ★★★★★

“Well balanced and harmonious with cherry, plum and currants, lots of primary fruits, savoury, toasty oak and attractive soft tannins,” noted Corey Hall. Great concentration of flavour meant this wine made a real impression, as it was a bigger style that was crafted incredibly well.

4. Wooing Tree Central Otago Pinot Noir 2009 ($44) ★★★★★

Deliciously ripe fruit combined with dried thyme, plum, cherry and rich, savoury notes endeared this wine to the judges. “Excellent weight and balance” said Jane Boyle of this generous, juicy and altogether graceful pinot.

5. Greystone Waipara Pinot Noir 2010 ($39.95) ★★★★

The words “sexy” and “sensual” appeared in many of the judges’ comments on this wine and it’s easy to see why. It’s a rich, powerful but beautifully balanced pinot that oozes opulence and has sensational length of flavour.

6. Thornbury Central Otago Pinot Noir 2010 ($31.95) ★★★★★

An impressive, deeply coloured wine with dense cherry and berry flavours edged with smoky tones and lifted spices. Fleshy and ripe, it’s a fuller-bodied style with great persistence of flavour on the palate.

7. Saint Clair Marlborough Premium Pinot Noir 2010 ($21.50) ★★★★★

According to winemaker Kyle Thompson, it’s always a real tussle in the winery as to which wine gets ‘single vineyard’ status and which ends up being blended into this wine. “Some pretty exceptional fruit ends up in the Saint Clair Premium (or Black Label) pinot,” he says and we agree. Scented with bright berryfruit and lifted spices, it also has a lovely, gamey aroma, while in the mouth it is fresh, beautifully structured, succulent and youthful. A very stylish wine that’s “extremely drinkable” according to our judges and exceptionally good value for money.

8. Tirohana Estate Heritage Special Reserve Pinot Noir 2010 ($55) ★★★★★

Crafted from vines planted back in the 1980s by some of Martinborough’s early visionaries, this wine has a core of rose, allspice and rhubarb flavours wrapped in supple tannins. It’s an elegant, restrained style with lovely complexity.

9. Judge Rock Central Otago Pinot Noir 2010 ($35-$40) ★★★★★

From Paul and Angela Jacobson’s vineyard on the outskirts of Alexandra, this wine is bursting with black fruit, toasty, spicy oak and dried herb flavours. It has superb concentration of flavour and the words “youthful” and “lengthy” were consistent comments among the judges.

10. Mt. Maude Reserve Pinot Noir 2010 ($50) ★★★★★

“Plenty happening in this wine,” noted Simon Nunns and the other judges clearly agreed. Baked berries, cherry and spices merge with dried herb and smoky oak characters to leave a memorable impression in the mouth. Crafted by Sarah-Kate and Dan Dineen from their Wanaka-based winery, this is definitely a wine to watch.