In Search of the World’s Best Pinot Noir

 

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Blind tasting can be a challenge for even the best tasters out there, especially if the wine producer doesn’t follow the rules of “typicity”. Typicity is when the winery produces a wine based on conventional practices or styles established for a particular varietal. For Riesling from Alsace, for example, that means producing a wine that’s high acid, deliciously fresh, loaded with citrus goodness, fermented reasonably dry and containing a low level of alcohol (11%).

For Pinot Noir, that means tasting the earth beneath your feet. Which is why not everyone likes Pinot. Personally, I don’t get it, but this is an equal opportunity blog. I know in my early wine swilling days I didn’t enjoy tasting the signature barnyard flavours of the varietal. As I learned more about wine, and by necessity, drank more, I became more interested in the aromas and what are called the secondary characteristics of the grape and the winemaking process.

Pinot Noir loves limestone bedrock and the grape is like a sponge absorbing and reflecting back all the earth’s goodness. We often use descriptors like forest floor, leather and compost to describe its flavour profile. Being a cool climate wine, Pinot also typically offers less ripe, fresh, primary fruit characteristics like raspberry, strawberry, red currant or tart cranberry (although riper flavours – red cherry cola, dried fruit is a function of hang time, warmer climate regions) . Pinot Noir is also one of the less tannic red wines so it’s easy to drink soon after bottling although it’s happy to hang out in a cellar biding it’s time if you have the patience to let those flavours settle (and not drink it in the parking lot).

When I think of Pinot, I generally migrate to Burgundy, Oregon or Central Otago. Those regions definitely get their share of headlines and for good reason….think: Clos des Lambrays – Cote de Nuits, Tyee Wine Cellars – Oregon, Rippon – Central Otago? So when we were studying Burgundy in my sommelier “prep” class and the MS let slip that some of the best pinot noir in the world might well be from Waipara, North Canterbury, I did that dog look, head tilt, kinda thing. That’s sacrilege to claim a place most people have never heard of trumps Burgundy.

With the gauntlet thrown down, I figured it was time to check out this place called North Canterbury. And I had always wanted to visit New Zealand ……

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