Acqua Panna Global Wine Experience, Saturday, 9 March 2013

When New Zealand winemakers’ Blair Walter (Felton Road) and Nick Mills (Rippon) opened their address with a very loud and captivating rendition of the Maori Haku, the stage was set for a very lively debate about whose pinot reigns supreme? (Wished I taped it, but my photo of Nick Mills give you a bit of an idea!)

The audience was collapsing with laughter while the two Australian winemakers on the panel, Michael Dhillon (Bindi) and Nick Farr (By Farr and Farr Rising), looked on with bemusement! No, unfortunately, they hadn’t prepared an Aussie comeback! (C’mon Aussie c’mon perhaps?)

The subsequent discussion, led by wine critic Nick Stock, was fascinating so I thought I’d share a few of the highlights:

Clonal Variety vs Vine Age – New Zealand vs Australia

Farr noted that due to stricter Australian quarantine rules, New Zealand has had the edge when it comes to choice of clones.

But according to the Australian winemakers vine age can compensate for the effects of less clonal variety. The vines of the MP6 clone used for the Macedon Ranges’ Bindi Block 5, for example, are now 18 years old. Dhillon believes he has seen increasing complexity, minerality and balance with each subsequent vintage of his wine.

Terroir is Key

Of all the varieties pinot noir is probably the greatest communicator of terroir.  Not surprisingly, the winemakers said their greatest challenge is finding the right location!

Nick StockMills noted that for New Zealand winemakers achieving wines with good fruitiness is practically a given, as New Zealand’s dramatic diurnal variation is very good for sealing in flavour and colour. The right terroir is what gives the wines their coveted subtle flavours, complexity and structure.

Winemaker’s Influence vs a Non-Interventionist Approach

The belief that the best wine is made in the vineyard is what drives the quest to find the very best terroir. But how should the precious fruit be treated once it’s picked?

Walters is a great believer in less is more. For his Felton Road Block 5, his approach is gentle and light during every step of the winemaking process, preferring minimal intervention winemaking techniques like wild yeast, natural malolactic fermentation and bottling the wine unfiltered.

Farr begged to differ, arguing that boutique winemakers need to develop a distinctive house style if their wines are going to stand out in a crowded market place. Farr was not making an argument against the importance of terroir, I think, but taking a stand for the importance of the winemaker’s stamp. Interesting!

Age Worthiness of Pinot Noir

Dhillon said that over the years he’s learned that wines do not have to be overtly powerful to age well, noting that Bindi vintages from 1996 and 1997 are drinking really well at the moment.

Dhillon’s comments were further affirmation that the window for drinking ‘New World’ pinot noir is increasing (15 to 20 years perhaps), especially for the best made wines. (see also Cellaring Australian Pinot Noir: How long do they last? Cellarit Wine Blog, 13 June 2011)

And the Winner….

The winner of Whose Pinot Reigns Supreme? was, well, pinot noir! A dead heat for Australia and New Zealand for the lineup below. All wines are from the 2010 vintage (regarded as kind in both Australia and New Zealand) and were tasted blind in the following order:

Bindi Block 5 Pinot Noir, Macendon Ranges, Victoria 2010

Burn Cottage Vineyard Pinot Noir, Central Otago 2010

Ashton Hills Reserve Pinot Noir, Adelaide Hills 2010

Rippon Tinker’s Field Mature Vine Pinot Noir, Central Otago 2010

Freycinet Pinot Noir, Freycinet, Tasmania 201

Escarpment Te Rehua Pinot Noir, Martinborough 2010

Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard, Martinborough 2010

Main Ridge Half Acre Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria 2010

Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir, Waipara, New Zealand 2010

Bell Hill Pinot Noir, North Canterbury, New Zealand 2010

Mount Mary Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley, Victoria 2010

Curly Flat The Curly Pinot Noir, Macedon Ranges, Victoria 2010

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir, Martinborough, New Zealand 2010

By Farr Sangreal Pinot Noir, Bannockburn Victoria 201

Bass Phillip Reserve Pinot Noir, South Gippsland, Victoria 2010

Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir, Central Otago, New Zealand 2010

Merrill WittMerrill Witt, Editor