Exploring the Diverse, Vibrant Personalities of New Zealand Pinot Noir

I was delighted to attend the Made in New Zealand Pinot Noir Seminar held at Pier A Harbor House in NYC last month. The seminar was an extension of Pinot Noir NZ 2017 held in Wellington New Zealand. The 3 day event, as described by The Drinks Business Magazine: “New Zealand’s entire wine industry gathered alongside a host of international sommeliers, buyers and writers to debate all things Pinot, letting their hair down in the process, in true Kiwi fashion. It was the sixth time that the Pinot Noir NZ event had been held, hosted every four years, with 115 New Zealand wineries showcased this year representing seven regions.”

From left to right, Joe Czerwinski, Brett Feore and Michael Henley.

Hosted by New Zealand Wine, the NYC event was under the direction of David Strada, the marketing manager for New Zealand Wines USA. The distinguished panel of presenters were Joe Czerwinski, managing editor of Wine Enthusiast, Brett Feore, sommelier and wine director at the New Zealand influenced Muskat Room in NYC, Laura Williamson, Master Sommelier and wine director at Mandarin Oriental in NYC, and Michael Henley, CEO of Trinity Hill Wines.

With such an esteemed panel, the tasting was an engaging, informative journey through the different personalities of New Zealand Pinot Noir. Here are my impressions from the seminar:

Wine regions of New Zealand. Courtesy of New Zealand Wine.

  • There is a wide range of style and diversity within New Zealand Pinot Noir. There are 10 growing regions, each displaying distinctive, regional character ranging from fresh and bright, graceful and subtle, to bold and tannic. For example, the hillside areas in Marlborough are known to have red fruits, fresh acidity, good structure and tannic backbone. Hawke’s Bay Pinot Noir, with its cool climate, along with water and wind issues, tend to the more savory and earth side, with spice and supple tannins.
  • The average vine age is 15 years. Pinot Noir is a relatively new adventure in New Zealand winemaking. As Joe Czerwinski stated, “While there is a maturity being seen in both the wines and winemakers, winemakers are still figuring things out”.
  • Committed to protecting the land, nearly 100% of wines produced are certified sustainable, with many also being certified organic and biodynamic.
  • The majority of wineries take their name from the dominant feature of the land that they cultivate.
  • As seen also with many Italian winemakers, there is a drive to move away from oak to allow the fruit to come thru. Wine with oak aging generally has a low percentage of new oak.
  • Alcohol levels have to be within .5 % of what is stated on the label. For those of us familiar with the fun “11%-14%” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ alcohol level commonly seen on Italian and French labels, the accuracy is striking.

All of the wines below are 100% Pinot Noir. Prices listed are the average online cost.

Trinity Hill Pinot Noir Hawke’s Bay 2015

Winemaking Notes: No new oak was used in order to let the fruit express itself; the structure comes from the abundant fruit, not oak.

Tasting Notes: Bright aromas of cherry, raspberry, wild flowers and clean minerals. Fresh and fruity with a streak of granite minerality, silky tannins compliment the fruity, dry finish. Accessible and fun, fantastic on its own or a great companion at the table.
13% Alcohol
$15

Te Kairanga ‘John Martin’ Pinot Noir Martinborough 2015

Winemaking Notes: Savoury notes are derived from the stems, a percentage of the grapes were left in whole cluster bunches. Aged in 25% new French oak.

Tasting Notes: Smoky fruit and herb aromas, a savoury expression of Pinot Noir. Big and bold with dark fruit, clove and a shake of white pepper. Great acidity keeps everything bright, red berries, herbs and earth notes comprise the dry finish. Wonderfully unique, the savoury edge keeps you reaching for more.
13% Alcohol
$50

Craggy Range ‘Aroha’ Pinot Noir Martinborough 2014

Winemaking Notes: Grapes were sourced from the best parcels of a terraced vineyard with clay and stony soil. Produced with 50% whole cluster bunches and fermented with native yeasts. Aged in 30% new French oak for 10 months. [‘Aroha’ means love in Maori.]

Tasting Notes: Engaging aromas of red berries with a kiss of funk. Raspberry and cherry integrate seamlessly with fresh herbs and velvety tannins. Peppery spice, earth and a trace of vanilla infused oak on the plush finish. Fantastic on its own, and a versatile companion at the table.
13.5% Alcohol
$76

Greenhough ‘Hope Vineyard’ Pinot Noir Nelson 2014

Winemaking: Grapes were sourced from clay rich, gravel soil. Unlike the previous 3 wines, grapes were totally destemmed. Batch fermented with wild yeasts. Aged in 20% new French oak for 12 months. Bottled without fining or filtering.

Tasting Notes: Cheerful aromas of cherry, black current, candied flowers and a hint of summer woods. A subtle herbaceous streak and flinty mineral edge illuminate concentrated blackberry, cherry, black current and peppery spices. Chocolate dusted berries and a trace of menthol linger between each sip. Well integrated oak and a great balance of fruit and peppery spice keep you reaching for more.
14.5% Alcohol
$33

Tohu Awatere Valley Pinot Noir Marlborough 2015

Winemaking: The first Maori owned winery; grapes were sourced from high elevation vineyards in the Awatere Valley of southern Marlborough. The climate is cooler, drier and windier then other areas, as well as more exposed to cold weather from the south, which tends to create a later ripening crop and even longer growing season. Aged in a combination of old and new French barriques.

Tasting Notes: Lively cherry and floral aromas. Tangy cherry, red current, pomegranate and a nip of eucalyptus glide atop silky tannins. Crushed white peppercorn and toasted oak round out the lengthy finish. Whilst the oak is present, the fruit is really the star; so energetic and fresh, it pops with bright, pure fruit.
13.5% Alcohol
$21

Greywacke Pinot Noir Marlborough 2011

Winemaking: Headed by Kevin Judd, one of the pioneers of New Zealand wines, Greywacke takes its name from the high amount of greywacke river stones found in the vineyards. Aged in 45% new French oak.

Bringing the funk in the best way, bright fruits [cherry, raspberry, strawberry] are draped over an oak frame. Forest floor, dried flowers and the slightest trace of truffle comprise the plush finish. Well balanced fruit/earth/spice make this an engaging sip that keeps you reaching for more.
14% Alcohol
$36

The Boneline ‘Waimanu’ Pinot Noir Waipara Valley 2014

Winemaking: Boneline takes its name from the high amount of fossils found in the soil. Their tag line is “wine grown on the shoulders of giants”. Besides being cool to have fossils in the soil, they make the soil rich in calcium. A small portion of whole bunch fermentation, aged for 12 months in Burgundian French oak.

Tasting Notes: Concentrated aromas of Baked fruit [think cherry, strawberry and plum] with a hint of sweet oak. Rich plum and cherry fruits are dusted with graham cracker and white pepper. Food friendly acidity and a mineral backbone harmonize with the fruit and oak on the dry, lengthy finish. Focused and refined, fantastic on its own or a versatile companion at the table.
14% Alcohol
$25

Mount Edward Pinot Noir Central Otago 2014

Winemaking: Located in what is known to be some of the most beautiful spots in New Zealand, famous for its huge mountains and wild countryside. Minimal intervention in both the vineyard and cellar. 25% whole clusters, fermented with indigenous yeast, unfined and unfiltered, and aged for 11 months in 20% new French oak.

Tasting Notes: Sweet, ripe fruit with a hint of cigar box spice aromas. Well structured, with velvety black and red cherry notes balanced by dried herbs and dusty earth. Firm tannins fuse with the harmonizing lengthy finish of fruit and spiced oak. Intense and lively, an engaging sip.
13.5% Alcohol
$28

 

Media event hosted by New Zealand Wine.

At the End, the Bottle Must be Empty: A Glass of Chianti and a Chat with Caterina Gargari of Pieve De’ Pitti

Organized by the Consorzio del Chianti, I was delighted to attend Chianti Lovers Anteprima Chianti 2017 held at Fortezza da Basso in Florence, Italy on February 12th. The ‘antiprima’ tasting featured 2015 barrel samples from more then 100 producers, along with older vintages and Vin Santo. I thoroughly enjoyed attending Chianti Lovers Tasting in 2015 in New York City, and was enthusiastic to be able to attend in Florence. It was an engaging, informative tasting in which I was able to catch up with some of my favourite winemakers, along with meeting new wines and friends.

Pieve De’ Pitti is a family estate headed by Caterina Gargari and is located in Tuscany, in the heart of the Alta Valdera, in the convergence point of the valley. The name Pieve de’ Pitti comes from the Florentine Pitti who owned the estate until the end of the 17th century and from the parish chapel of St. John of Pava, that was built on the ruins of an ancient Etruscan church.

The family estate consists of 198 hectares of woods and olive groves, along with 16 hectares that are hilly vineyards with sand/clay/fossil rich soil. It is this distinctive soil, coupled with “sea winds which come from across the hills of Miemo and Castellina”, that give their “grapes a mineral and savoury flavour”. Committed to the philosophy that “great wine is made in the vineyard” the estate uses sustainable and organic methods, along with minimal intervention in both the vineyards and cellar.

‘Cerretello’ Chianti Superiore is the estate’s first label and is based on a classic family blend of Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Malvasia grapes, traditionally crafted from the oldest vineyards in the estate [planted by Caterina’s grandfather in the 1960’s]. Caterina preserves this tradition and puts her own mark on it by using Sangiovese grapes from vineyards planted in 2001.

Gracious, friendly and knowledgeable, I always look forward to speaking with Caterina and discovering how her latest harvest was and the taste her striking wines. The 2015 summer in Italy was very hot, thankfully the clay soils at Pieve De’ Pitti kept the vine roots cool along with providing fresh water reserves, rescuing them from drought and withering. The heat gave way to frequent storms with lots of rain in august. The somewhat extreme combination has brought forth one of their best vintages.

Soil composition is such a huge component to understanding and appreciating the character of a wine. I always try to include it in my reviews, as it assists it conveying a sense of place. Caterina displayed the soil the vines grow in next to the wines, a fantastic visual aid in comprehending the role soil plays. When you see the density of the clay soil, you understand how it was able to hold water and cool the roots even in hot, dry weather.

Below are the 3 wines I had the pleasure of tasting with Caterina:

Pieve De’ Pitti ‘Poggio alla Volpe’ Chianti Superiore DOCG 2015

Winemaking: Sourced from grapes grown in clay soil, this will be bottled in a couple of years; it will spend 2 years in cement.

Tasting Notes: Intense fruit and spice with a cheerful agility. A splash of coffee lingers with the light tannins and dry mineral finish. Engaging, well balanced and already fun to drink.

Pieve De’ Pitti ‘Cerretello’ Chianti Superiore DOCG 2013

Winemaking: Grapes were sourced from vineyards with two different soils [pictured above]: One is the classic mix of sand rich in shells, typical of Tuscany in general. The second is richer in minerals, a little bit light, with many white stones from the river. Cerretello is aged in cement to allow the terroir and grapes to be the highlight of each sip. Caterina stated that 2013 is her most elegant vintage, the wine is “very feminine in the nose, flowery more then the usual fruitiness”, the tannins are present yet gentle.

Tasting Notes: Abundant floral aromas with a trace of cherry lead into wonderfully balanced, silky fruit and floral notes. A clean mineral streak peeks thru soft spices, earth and leather. Gentle tannins highlight the bit of saltiness on the dry mineral finish. Nearly gossamer in character, an incredibly refined sip.

Pieve De’ Pitti Vinsanto del Chianti DOC 2008

Winemaking: Trebbiano & San Colombano grapes were harvested early in the season, in early September. Then they dry on racks for 4-5 months in a special room, the Vinsantaia. After hand pressing the juice is put in chestnut and cherry barrels, where it remains for at least 5 years.

Tasting Notes: Silky smooth, with deep, sunny flavours of apricot, nectarine, honey and candied orange zest. A savoury streak and bright acidity along with clean minerals on the dry finish keep each sip fresh and balanced.

The elegant, friendly, accessible wines are a reflection of Caterina and her passionate commitment to crafting great wines that are a pleasure to drink. “Pieve de’ Pitti wines are made to be enjoyed with good friends and good food. And at the end, the bottle must be empty.”

 

 

Media event sponsored by Consorzio del Chianti.

Chianti Classico as Far as the Eye Can See

It has been just over 300 years since Cosimo III de’Medici; the grand duke of Tuscany established the boundaries for the production of Chianti. Now known as the only production zone for Chianti Classico, the 70,000 hectares [173,000 acres] consists of 10,000 hectares [25,000 acres] of vineyards located in the center of Tuscany. Only within this area can wines be designated ‘Chianti Classico’.

Courtesy of Chianti Classico Consorzio

The production of Chianti Classico wines are overseen by the Chianti Classico Consorzio. Chianti Classico must be comprised of a minimum of 80% Sangiovese and a maximum of 20% indigenous or international red grapes. The wine has to have a minimum of 12% Alcohol and 12 month minimum of ageing. The trademark black rooster [the historic symbol of the Chianti Military League] is found on every bottle of Chianti Classico. For more details on Chianti Classico, please visit the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico site here.

Organized by the Consorzio Chianti Classico, I was delighted to attend Chianti Classico Collection 2017 held at Stazione Leopoldo in Florence, Italy on February 14th. Held every year in Florence, the ‘antiprima’ tasting featured 2015 [barrel sample], 2014 and 2013 vintages of Chianti Classico, Chianti Classico Riserva, IGT, Vin Santo and the new premium category Gran Selezione. Presenting 675 wines from 185 different estates in Chianti Classico, it was truly Chianti Classico as far as the eye can see!

A quick note about vintages:
2014 was a challenging year; the growing season was cool and damp, making it stand out from the previous hot seasons. The overriding consensus is that the success of the wine is entirely up to the savvy talent of the producer.
2015 has been hailed as a phenomenal year, so hot and dry, the Sangiovese bunches were smaller then usual, which is actually quite good for the varietal. Ripe and juicy, its predicted these will be spectacular, with long aging potential. All of the 2015 wines presented were barrel samples.

I wish I had the time to taste more, if not all the wines, but I feel that this is a good goal to work towards!

Below are the wines that I feel conveyed the classic, traditional personality, and the ones that expressed a unique, intriguing identity of Chianti Classico.

So happy to be surrounded by Chianti Classico.

 

Castello di Monsanto Chianti Classico 2015


Sweet aromas of cherry, watermelon and candied flowers. Very fruity and accessible with cherry, white pepper and traces of vanilla bean, culminating in a clean, dry finish.
90% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo, 5% Colorino

Castello di Volpaia ‘Volpaia’ Chianti Classico 2015


Interesting and intriguing, with aromas of cherry, anise and black pepper. Dark fruit and tarry earth wrap around a spicy core. Finishing spicy with a hint of truffle funk.
90% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot

Isole e Olena Chianti Classico 2015


As I find all Isole e Olena wines to be; well structured and elegant. Subtle cherry, dusty earth and floral aromas introduce cherry, sour cherry herbaceous flavours. Clean minerals highlight the spice driven finish. Balanced, with a good synthesis of flavours already.
80% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo, 5% Syrah

L’Orcio a Ca’ di Pesa Chianti Classico 2015


Great play of fruit and spice with black cherry, black pepper, anise and a lengthy finish of toasty oak and hints of baking chocolate. A bit of complexity to the layers, yet light and easy drinking.
95% Sangiovese, 5% Colorino

Tenuta di Capraia Chianti Classico 2015


Desert dry, with cherry, fennel and a hint of funk. Minerals and savoury elements on the dry finish. Straightforward and simple, with a bitter edge.
90% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo, 5% Colorino

 

Casaloste Chianti Classico 2014


I find Casaloste wines to be a classical expression of Sangiovese, and this does not disappoint. Soft aromas of leather, pepper and thyme. An herbaceous streak runs thru cherry, wild berry, leather and light spice flavours. The clean, dry finish is accented by earth and espresso elements. Well balanced and accessible.
90% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot

Castelvecchi Captondo Chianti Classico 2014


Bold and big with concentrated ripe, sweet fruit, black pepper and savoury elements. Earth and clay minerals are the backbone of the dry fruit finish.
88% Sangiovese, 12% Canaiolo

Isole e Olena Chianti Classico 2014


Genteel and elegant, with soft layers of cherry, black pepper, wisps of peat and traces of funk, accented by the spice driven, plush finish.
80% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo, 5% Syrah

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Benvenuto Brunello: Agile to Brooding, each with its own Story to Tell

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I was delighted to spend an entire day welcoming the 2012 Brunello di Montalcino vintage at Gotham Hall in NYC! Hosted by Jeff Porter, acclaimed wine director for Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich restaurants, along with the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, the seminar and following walk around tasting was a fantastic way in which to become immersed with the latest vintage of Brunello.

Montalcino is in Tuscany, the central region of Italy and is bordered by the rivers Ombrone, Asso and Orcia. It is located 40 km from the sea and 100km from the Apennine Mountains and has a Mediterranean climate. Wine and olive oil have been crafted there for over 2000 years. Etruscan wine amphorae [clay jars], dating to the 4th century BC, along with numerous documented mentions regarding the wines of Montalcino from Medieval times on, testify to the continuous production in such an esteemed area.

Although it has the dimensions of a small square box, it is not a homogenous territory; the climate, soil and altitude all play a part in creating different terroir. Situated on a hill, the soils differ immensely from area to area, most drastically seen with loose soil at the lowest areas that increase in minerals as one goes higher up the hill. At one time many, many years ago the area was actually underwater; the soil is loaded with crushed marine sediment, especially marl [or mudstone, a clay soil with high amounts of calcium carbonate] and limestone.

The seminar was a great window into the factors that comprised the 2012 vintage, and an opportunity to immerse oneself in their character. Following are my impressions:

• The Brunello region consists of 24,000 hectares, 3500 hectares of which is vineyard, 2000 hectares devoted to Brunello vines amongst 250 producers. 30% of all Brunello is imported into the United States.

• Rather significantly, 2012 has been given a 5 star rating from the Consorzio. This occurs in about 25% of vintages.

• The movement towards sustainability and organic farming continues to increase. There isn’t a lot of disease to fight, and producers are witnessing the multitude of advantages to environmentally conscious methods. The current estimate has 15-20% of estates organic and/or biodynamic.

• Brunello are known for their incredibly lengthy ageing capabilities, however this doesn’t mean they need to be cellared for 10 years in order to be enjoyed. Ultimately, ageing is subjective. It depends on your personal taste; do you enjoy more fruit and acidity? Or are you a fan of less fruit and subtler earth/mineral flavours? All producers feel that the wines are drinking now, or can be cellared. Personally, I feel that many I tasted needed a couple of more years to fully develop; however that doesn’t prevent me from enjoying a few bottles now!

• As with many Italian wines, All Brunello is intended to go with food; “they’re not cocktails”.

• The weather was erratic and unpredictable in 2012. The year started off dry without any snowfall. Brunello is one of the most arid regions in Tuscany, they rely on snow for ground water, and so this was problematic. February saw lots of snow, but unfortunately it was late and stunted the vines a bit. Next up were Torrential downpours that struck right in the middle of flowering, causing more loss. May thru August was incredibly hot, then absolute perfection arrived in the middle of august and continued thru to September. Many winemakers feel that the vintage was really made in those final 8 weeks.

• Due to the above listed circumstances, the 2012 harvest was one of the smallest in many years, the turbulent weather ultimately reducing the production by about one-third. Grapes were small and the bunches themselves also small, leading to fantastic overall grape quality. The smaller the better with Sangiovese, as smaller berries retain their fruit flavours, aromas and acidity better.

• Overall, the consensus from winemakers and all of us fortunate enough to have tasted numerous 2012 bottles, is that the wines are bright with ripe fruit and acidity, and have a “pretty” quality about them. Some have seen this as a return to more elegant, classic, traditional styled Brunello. Others, such as famed wine critic James Suckling considers their “vibrant fruit, lively acidity, and ultra-fine tannins” to be wonderfully bold and intense; a “rockstar” vintage.

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The seminar presented 7 wines from the 2012 vintage. Whilst all were fantastic, below are the ones that I found to be most engaging,
All are 100% Sangiovese.

Talenti Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2012

talenti
Hailing from the southwestern part of the region, accessible and easygoing in character. Bright layers of red berry fruit, pepper spice and earth with an herbaceous streak. Baking spices pair up with berries on the plush finish.
15% Alcohol
$50

Collosorbo Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2012

collosorbo
Not as complex as most, but with it’s own identity. Strikingly meaty, with dark fruit and clay minerals culminating in a lengthy, pepper spice finish. Rich and brooding, just lovely.
14% Alcohol
$50

La Magia Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2012

lamagia

So new, its label hasn’t caught up yet.

Elegant and mineral driven. Cherry, flinty minerals and spice glide atop silky tannins, culminating in a dry fruit and clay mineral finish. Delightful and engaging, this would be fantastic with just about any dish.
14.5% Alcohol
$40

Loacker Corte Pavone Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2012

loacker
From the famed biodynamic pioneering Loacker family, this is a powerful expression of Brunello. [Coincidentally perhaps also the darkest shade of garnet seen in the 7 wines.] Velvety and intense with layers of fruit, spice and floral notes. Licorice and a hint of bitter chocolate linger on the plush finish. With its velvety softness and well-integrated, dynamic flavours, this was not only a personal favourite, but also that of many of my fellow attendees.
15% Alcohol
$75

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A study in contrast: the dark, inky garnet Loacker on the left, transparent ruby red of the Pian delle Querci on the right.

Pian delle Querci Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2012

piandellequerci
In direct contrast to the Loacker Brunello, this hails from the far north of Montalcino and was the lightest in colour. Agile and bright with an herbaceous edge [think pine and cypress] to the vivid strawberry and blackberry fruit, energizing savory elements and traces of bitter cherry comprise the wonderfully dry finish.
14% Alcohol
Currently not imported into the US

A study in character, from elegant to agile to powerful to brooding, each bottle with its own story to tell.
Cheers!

Media event hosted by the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino

Happy New Year!

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“It is the very mark of the spirit of rebellion to crave for happiness in this life.”
-Henrik Ibsen

It’s tradition for me now on New Year’s Day to open up the stats page and compile a list of the 5 most popular pours of the newly past year. I have a decent idea of what a few of them will be, and there are always a couple of fun surprises. I was intrigued to see the Leonucci Stefano Montignanello LS010 2010, a review I did in 2013, have such a resurgence in 2016.

Here are the wines that received the most attention in 2016:

5. Leonucci Stefano Montignanello LS010 2010

4. Lone Dove Wines ‘Cuvée Noir’

3. Castello di Farnetella Chianti Colli Senesi DOCG 2012

2. Montes Trio Tasting: Three Diverse Wines to Enjoy All Summer

And the most popular post of 2016 was one of the most enjoyable seminars I attended:

1. Romagna Sangiovese: “Good Food, Good Wine, Good Life”

romagna

Sláinte!