Pinot Noir: Ready for Prime Time?
(February 9, 2000) We gave them the best shot we could. Lined up ten of
the most highly regarded Pinot Noirs from Down Under. Then bagged 'em and
tasted them blind, with a bunch of double-blind ringers mixed in.
And, well, the earth didn't move much. Mostly
we kissed a lot of frogs. Someone said the food outclassed the wine and I
See for yourself what I mean. Here's what
happened. Again, bear in mind everything was under wraps:
PINOT NOIR #1. Spicy, cola-scented nose. Nice and fruity, but too
much cola for me. Reminds me a little of Whitcraft Bien Nacido N Block.
One taster says he likes it a lot. I can't get past the wood. Good
fruit, flawed treatment. Turns out to be 1995 Coldstream Hills
PINOT NOIR #2. No aromas. No, wait, I can smell some sweat. Opens
some later on, but just gets sweatier. Thin cherry flavors on the
palate. Decent finish. With all that gamy character, I'm guessing this
has to be Burgundy. Yes, it's 1988 Prince de Marode Corton-Marachaudes.
PINOT NOIR #3. Big fruity, raspberry-scented nose. Lots of
blueberries on the palate. Fruitiest wine of the flight. Like it a lot!
There's some disagreement here, but it's the GROUP FAVORITE OF THE
FLIGHT and mine too. It's *+1997 Dry River. Score
one for New Zealand!
PINOT NOIR #4. This one also shows a lot of fruit. Develops some
horsey aromas after a while, but they're quite bearable, just adding to
the fun. Nice attack of ripe red cherries. I like it, but it's from
California! *1997 MacRostie Carneros and not a bad value as Pinot
Noir goes at a little over $20. Buy it and try it!
PINOT NOIR #5. Spicy cherry nose. Weirdly herbal and vegetal on the
palate. Cherries on the finish. Nice try, but I can't get past the
vegetables. It's 1998 Stonier Mornington Peninsula.
PINOT NOIR #6. Mild, sweaty and slightly poopy nose. Them some hints
of cherry trickle in. Rather Burgundian so far. But then, when I taste
it, what's this? Something here tastes like chocolate Necco wafers. I
can't say I adore it, but it's drinkable. Have no idea where it's from.
And whaddya know, it's 1995 Sand Castle Winery Pinot Noir...from
Pennsylvania! One of the better PA Pinot Noirs I've tasted. If that
sounds like faint praise, maybe it is -- but at least it's way better
PINOT NOIR #7. Deep berry nose. Deep! Jammy on the palate. Showy! Too
bad that it tastes like Scotch. Yuck. As time passes, the oak just gets
worse. It's 1998 Springvale from Tasmania. Excellent fruit,
unfortunate treatment. GROUP FAVORITE OF FLIGHT and mine too, but
really, its the just least odd in an odd bunch.
PINOT NOIR #8. Aromas are right down the middle. Smells like a nice
Russian River Valley attempt. Very acidic on the palate, but acceptable.
The thing that really stops me, though, is the...whew, major mint! Was this wine grown
in a Eucalyptus grove? Gotta be Australian. But no, it's 1996
Martinborough Reserve from New Zealand.
PINOT NOIR #9. Bright, WONDERFUL aromas. Raspberry and that spicy
something that only superb Pinot Noir can give you. Biting attack, with
lots of jammy cherries and raspberries on the finish. Reminds me of an
Oregon Pinot Noir in a good year and I'll even go so far as to guess
that it's Beaux Freres. And it is! ***1993 Beaux Freres. Just
gets better and better. GROUP FAVORITE OF FLIGHT by unanimous vote.
PINOT NOIR #10. This one gives off sweaty aromas, but reveals some
nice cherry flavors on the palate. Acidity is pretty high -- one of the
most acidic wines of the tasting. Some cant forgive the acid, but I
thought it was within the bounds of acceptability. Turns out to be 1996
Massoni Mornington Peninsula "Red Hill."
PINOT NOIR #11. Dreadfully corked. I can still smell it. Yuck.
PINOT NOIR #12. Skunky aromas. Decent fruit on the palate, but WAY
too much sulfur on the nose. Seems to me that someone ruined some pretty
nice grapes with an overdose of SO2. Its 1994 Bass Philip
PINOT NOIR #13. Gorgeous red raspberry nose. Soars! When I swirl the
wine has enormous legs so I try and taste for alcohol. Seems pretty
high, but in beautiful balance. I guess it has to be California,
probably Sonoma Coast. Im half-right -- its ***1997 Martinelli
Reserve, and by the way, the alchol is about 14.8%. GROUP FAVORITE
OF THE FLIGHT, again by unanimous vote. Fabulous wine and tied on my
card with the 93 Beaux Freres for wine of the tasting.
PINOT NOIR #14. Ultra-ripe, chocolatey, almost pruney aromas. Still,
this one gets away with it. Id rather they picked a little earlier,
but Ill rate this wine as pretty darned good. Its *1997 Cloudy
Bay New Zealand Pinot Noir. Score another for New Zealand!
PINOT NOIR #15. Minty and medicinal aromas. And then as it develops
in the glass -- serious dog poop! Bacon fat too. Tastes more like a
brett-infected Rhone than a Burgundy. Undrinkable. Turns out to be 1995
PINOT NOIR #16. Starts out very pleasant and varietally true. Really
lovely! Then gradually falls apart. 30 minutes later, there isnt much
left to enjoy. Its 1995 Beaux Freres. Havent tasted any
other Oregon 95s lately. Wonder if theyre falling apart too.
PINOT NOIR #17 is corked, and I take no more notes. It was German
Pinot Noir and some viewed it as evidence that German Pinot Noirs arent
any good. That may be so, but a TCA-contaminated wine proves nothing
except that cork is a highly unsatisfactory material for closures.
PINOT NOIR #18. Another frustration typical of the day. Good,
substantial fruit, but lots of library paste aromas that destroy the
experience. This one we cant blame on the Ozzies. Its 1990 G.
Lignier Clos St. Denis.
By now youve probably guessed my
conclusions about Australian Pinot Noir. I didnt like any of the
Australians. Not one blessed wine. The only two from down under that Id
drink with dinner were the 97 Cloudy Bay and Dry River --
both from New Zealand.
However, Im not dismissing the potential
for Australia to develop some really fine Pinots. Time and again I came
across what seemed to be good, deep Pinot Noir fruit. The problems were
mostly winemaking faults. This reminds me a lot of American West Coast
Pinot Noir in its earlier days -- and as we tasted today, these have come
a long way in the last decade.
Keep trying, Australia. Youll get there.
Disagree? If theres
a Down Under Pinot that you think I should be trying, email
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