The Pinot Noir Masters 2014: The medalists

Anne McHale MW

Anne McHale MW

In essence, according to Payne, “Pinot has to smell wonderful and have a fantastic texture, and to achieve a silver medal or above the wine has to have a long length.” Such is the difficultly in achieving this combination that the Pinot Noir Masters saw far fewer top medals awarded compared to its competition forerunner, the Chardonnay Masters. But when the Pinots were good, they were really good – making them an immense pleasure to taste.

So what did the results reveal? While there’s a risk of drawing generalisations from such a snapshot in the great world of Pinot plantings, there were certain patterns worth highlighting. Of the 16 countries that featured in the competition, it was New Zealand which took home the highest proportion of medals, gaining 25 medals from 27 wines entered. As Payne commented after the results were revealed, “For me, Pinot Noir is all about bouquet and texture, and New Zealand has delivered bouquet.”

However, it was the US that got the best results, home to the sole Master, the competition’s highest accolade, which was awarded to the Schug Winery’s Carneros Pinot Noir from the cooler 2011 vintage in California. The US also dominated the golds, gaining six of the 11 awarded in total, with both Oregon and California achieving impressive scores.

In total, North America gained 27 medals from 32 wines submitted to the competition, confirming California’s ability to produce Pinots of generosity and poise, and Oregon’s position as one of the world’s most highly rated places for this pernickety grape, after Burgundy.

Nevertheless, it was Chile that got the most accolades overall, achieving 28 medals, which were split between 2 golds, 8 silvers and 18 bronzes. This was from 44 entries however, meaning that Chile was also responsible for a large number of wines which didn’t achieve good scores from the judges.

Added value

Mark Savage MW

Mark Savage MW

Notably, it was Chile that dominated the medals in the sub £10 price bracket, confirming its reputation as a source of extremely price-competitive Pinot. “Chile still delivers the best value juicy fruit style cheaper Pinots, though Eastern Europe still shows promise,” commented Payne after the results were revealed. And if there was a “weak link” in the tasting according to Richard Bampfield MW, that was South Africa. The country in fact achieved 11 medals from 17 entries, but Bampfield said that he felt the wines “failed to impress” with a “slight flatness to the Pinots”.

French sparkle

But what about France? This country’s tally of top medals suffered perhaps from the few entries at the expensive end, while the lower end of the price spectrum performed only moderately well. “We occasionally find good Bourgogne rouge, but it’s still a rarity,” commented Payne, alluding to his general experience of buying French Pinot. Nevertheless, the country collected seven silvers; a number boosted by France’s strong performance in the sparkling category, above all with Champagne blanc de noirs. Payne pointed out: “Pinot Noir sparkling wines are serious… quite different from blanc de blancs with a special red currant aroma that adds freshness and excitement when done well.”

Finally, it was pleasing to witness some of Australia’s new Pinot Noirs performing well, with the country’s Tapanappa, Eileen Hardy and Tolpuddle Pinots all gaining silvers.

Interestingly, despite the high number of entries and range of styles, the judges agreed that the tasting had not been too fatiguing. As Bampfield summed up, “I love tasting Pinot Noir, and I thought the wines were delightful. Good Pinot has a briskness that means it’s not tiring to taste.” With Cabernet Sauvignon the next focus of db’s Global Masters tasting series, one doubts the judges will be feeling the same way after a day assessing wines made with this thick-skinned grape.

Panel Chair Comments

Richard Bampfield MW

1103_RJB_bWith Pinot Noir I’m looking for perfume, freshness, delicacy, texture and harmony… and I’m also looking for that sweet attack at front of palate which you get with good Pinot.

It can finish dry and mouth- watering, but the attack at the front must have more sweetness than other grapes. It is one of things that makes Pinot very attractive.

Oak is really important, and part of the charm of most top Pinots is the use and quality of oak. But I think it is a question of balance. In Burgundy most of the top wines I can think of are definitely aged at least in part in new oak. The light use of oak helps give Burgundy a structure Pinot doesn’t have on its own… but it has got to be delicate and sensitive to the vintage.

Mark Savage MW

mark-savage-2I think that marginal ripening is the key to success for all varieties but especially for pernickety Pinot where the window of optimum maturity is so short. Freshness is always essential and so stewed fruit is to be avoided at all costs both in the vineyard with picking too late and then in the vinification when over extraction is the danger. As with great tennis players the greatest are always those who make everything look easy eg Federer (rather than Nadal).

Effortless, almost weightless energy is more exciting and refreshing than something that was a struggle. So natural balance is the key.

Correct if you have to but always remember that the greatest results will come from fruit that needed neither chaptalisation nor acidification.

Acidity is much more important for the structure than tannin. Colour is almost irrelevant so do not be prejudiced by light colours. Think of what Mugnier does with his Musigny.

I look for perfume and purity and precision. I hate jammy fruit and over- concentration, which is the enemy of finesse. The target is delicacy rather than power, hence the vital importance of natural acidity. Bright cherry fruit is more appealing in a young Pinot than stewed prunes.

I want to see a kind of nervous energy, almost edgy, never clumsy, heavy-footed, but always racy.

Sebastian Payne MW

SebastianPayneMWFor me Pinot is all about bouquet and texture. New Zealand has delivered bouquet. Their vineyards, originally planted with the Swiss clone best suited to sparkling wine production, have been replanted with classy scented clones and the results are increasingly excellent, though Otago can be soupy in the years when it can harvest despite the elements.

Chile still delivers the best value fruit and juicy style cheaper Pinots, though Eastern Europe shows promise.
Texture is the crunch with pricier wines, length of flavour and complexity – a hard combination to find. Pinot Noir sparkling wines are serious I think and deserve a mention. They are quite different from blanc de blancs with a special redcurrant aroma that adds freshness an excitement when done well.

The Judges

Pinot-Noir-Masters-Judges

Left to right: Patrick Schmitt, Hugo Rose MW, Sebastian Payne MW (chair), Linda Jotham MW, Richard Bampfield MW (chair), Mark Savage MW (chair), Anne McHale MW, Neil Sommerfelt MW, Rupert Millar, Alex Hunt MW, Robin Langton, Gearoid Devaney MS

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