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Pinot Noir Masterclass

by | May 16, 2021 | Fine Wine Tastings and Dinners

I love Pinot Noir, it is probably my favourite grape variety, so our Masterclass by Zoom, attended by nearly 60 people who all enjoyed 8 wines, distributed in 50ml sample bottles, was an opportunity to indulge in some fantastic examples of what great winemakers around the world are doing with this fickle variety.

Our evening kicked off with a Uruguayan wine!  If people had been tasting a lot of Uruguayan Pinot Noir recently no-one was admitting it, so this was a first for most of us.  Its very pale colour belied the fresh crunchy fruit, a very attractive ‘cool climate’ Pinot was the conclusion.

The Hollenburg vineyard in Assmanhausen in the Rheingau has a precipitous slope, allowing vines to bask in the sun that does shine in Germany, and it produces the best Pinot Noir in Germany.  Weingut Kunstler’s 2018 vintage was a fantastic example: spicy, peppery with lovely rich ripe red cherry/strawberry fruit, a fabulous structure, and given its age loads of opportunity to evolve further.  “A stonking wine”, “great for Christmas dinner”, that exploded any prejudice people might have about weedy German red wines.

I have enjoyed Jeffrey Grosset’s wines for many years, the more so since we visited during our Australian tour in 2019.  The 2008 from Adelaide Hills was the oldest vintage we tasted during the evening was quite stunning – most of us picked up some mature earthiness and mushroom, but without doubt its fruit was vibrant and for some of us positively youthful – even “strawberries and cream”.  That suggested a bit of variation between bottles (I had decanted 5 in total), which is to be expected after 13 years.  “Beautiful”, “fantastic” and unanimous agreement that it was fabulous (and it was the second cheapest bottle of the evening!).

Several of us on the Zoom had visited Wild Earth in Central Otago during our tour to New Zealand in 2014, and enjoyed meeting Quintin Quider – its founder.  His special edition Pinot Noir has only been made once, to my knowledge, made from some exceptional grapes in the generally excellent 2014 vintage.  Central Otago wines are noted for their vibrant flavours and tannins, and this delivered – along with some lovely earthy evolved notes.  We agreed this was a powerful but harmonious wine, crying out for a rack of lamb or wild mushroom risotto.

The Dawson & James Derwent Valley Pinot from Tasmania was probably my favourite wine of the evening, I felt it was absolutely perfect – glorious sweet ripe fruit character, with subtle mature notes, and to my mind drinking at its very best – the 2010 vintage.  People were pleasantly surprised at the price – just under the average for the evening.

Back across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand and the Ata Rangi Pinot Noir from Martinborough.   Clive Paton is a pioneer of Pinot in New Zealand, and was told by locals it would never work when he first planted it.  How wrong could people be – and I was not ashamed to describe my tongue-tied star struck attempt to share a platform with him during our New Zealand tour.  Vibrant, powerful, beautifully balanced, and in my view another 10 years of evolution ahead of it to allow the tannins to soften, though definitely worth checking in on it every few months.

The 2012 Littorai Haven Vineyard from Sonoma Coast was only a couple of years younger than the Ata Rangi and had evolved in a very different way – more figgy and spicy on the nose rather than overt fresh fruit, but still feeling youthful with overt tannins.  Definitely on the lighter more aromatic side among Californian Pinots, winemaker Ted Lemon had spent time in Burgundy and this showed. There was some debate about whether the estate’s Biodynamic approach also showed.  For some of us this was the best wine of the evening – until we found out the price….

We had a good debate about why American wines are so expensive, and concluded it boils down to California being an expensive place to do business, with consumers with money to spend.  I feel some Californian wines can justify their pricing when compared to Burgundy.

A nice segway to our final wine – the Domaine Maume Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru 2011, the final vintage made under the original family’s ownership.  This was the most subtle wine of the evening on the nose which is not to diminish the complex flavours (including fennel and even broccoli in a good way) on the nose, and the elegance on the palate.  Crying out for food – a young Epoisses perhaps (I had recommended some cheeses to accompany the tasting).

And here we diverged into those who prefer classic old world and those who like their Pinot Noirs vibrant.  This was a great demonstration of what this idiosyncratic grape variety can do, and how wonderfully it expresses terroir.

Probably the only ‘downside’ of the tasting was the average price of the wines – at over £60/bottle I don’t think many people will be adding them to their regular shopping list.  In fact given we were tasting such old vintages of many of the wines, I think these prices were justified by their specialness.

For details of the wines, and prices, see the wines we have tasted page.

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“Throughout the 17 years I have attended Tim’s wine tasting events, he has continued to deliver his extensive knowledge of wine and wine-making with great charm, and lots of humour, making the evenings not only informative, but also great fun. In the course of an average year, the tastings cover a kaleidoscope of different wine themes – interesting and entertaining for all, novices and experts alike. And the wines taste pretty good too!”

“We have been going to Teddington Wine Society events for a number of years. Tim runs the evenings with bonhomie and humour and wears his considerable knowledge lightly. The evenings are great fun, the wines are always a little bit different and help to expand knowledge and tasting horizons.”

“I have attended the Richmond Wine society for over ten years and always enjoyed Tim’s self-effacing style and gentle humour. His knowledge is globally eclectic and presented in a clear, interesting and always stimulating way. Every guest I have taken there has enjoyed the evening immensely. Tim also offers a wide range of wines to buy and my red cellar has provided great pleasure to my own dinner guests.”

“I’ve been enjoying Tim’s tastings for over 20 years – he is a great teacher, raconteur and wine expert. He is seriously passionate about his wine, but there is nothing serious about his tastings, which are always informal and relaxed. A lovely way to spend an evening and enjoy some fantastic wines.”

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