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The Pinot Noir Masters 2014: The medalists

The drinks business Pinot Noir Masters saw judges tackle almost 300 bottles to discover some worthy winners among the high volume of entries.

Judges at work. The Modern Pantry provided plenty of natural light.

LONG BEFORE Hollywood delivered a eulogy to Pinot Noir in Sideways, Burgundy’s red grape has held a special position among wine lovers. Revered for its pretty aromas, smooth-textured sweet fruit, and an almost weightless sensation in the mouth, Pinot Noir can create a vinous experience no other grape can emulate, and, as a consequence, the world’s most expensive wine: La Romanée-Conti.

About the competition

In a crowded wine competition arena, The Drinks Business Global Pinot Noir Masters stands out for its assessment of wines purely by grape variety rather than region.

Divided only by price bracket and, for ease of judging, whether the style was oaked or unoaked, the blind tasting format allowed wines to be assessed without prejudice about their country of origin.

Wines were scored out of 100, with those gaining over 95 points being awarded the top title of Master. Those earning over 90 points were given a Gold, those over 85 points a Silver and those over 80 points a Bronze.

The wines were judged by Masters of Wine and Master Sommeliers on 5 February 2014 at The Modern Pantry restaurant in London.

However, as with any noble grape, there’s a wide range of styles depending on not just where it’s grown, but who has handled it, and for whom. And following a tasting of almost 300 unblended Pinots, it appears that this single grape is the source of remarkable diversity.

The tasting was part of db’s Global Masters series, begun last year with Chardonnay, and continuing this year with Pinot Noir, and, as Wine Society buyer Sebastian Payne MW – a judge and chair in both competitions – remarked after the latter tasting, “With Chardonnay, there were very few disappointments, but so many of the wines tasted the same; with Pinot though, the wines were much more varied.”

Payne was just one of eight Masters of Wine (and one Master Sommelier) who were selected to assess the Pinot Noirs, which were served blind, but arranged according to price band as well as style, so that wines were tasted in the fairest possible order: low-priced to high, unoaked to oaked, light-bodied to full.

This format saw the highly experienced tasters focus purely on the quality of the Pinots without any sense of where they were from, with as many as 16 countries featured in the line-up.

Sebastian Payne MW

Of course, without prior knowledge of the source, the assessment of quality centred on style. Here, thankfully, there seemed to be consensus among the judges. At the cheaper end of the spectrum, it was felt that low-levels of residual sugar were acceptable – though not desirable – while the tasters also agreed that below £10, Pinot Noir is best without oak influence.

At higher prices, the tasters were looking for an open, pretty nose; an attractive, smooth texture, and enough freshness to ensure the drinker wanted more. Whatever the price though, the wine had to be recognisably Pinot – and although that meant the wine could exhibit flavours from red to black fruits, it needed to be combined with a relatively light body for a black grape, the aforementioned smooth texture and a refreshing finish.

Alex Hunt MW
Alex Hunt MW

Right combination

Without knowledge of abv, the tasters had to rely on any impression of excessive alcohol, usually a warming to hot finish. In search of natural balance, judges still scored moderately high alcohol wines generously, as long as the perception of alcohol complemented the fruit concentration. Similarly, when it came to the influence of oak, wines which did well had a good balance between barrel- sourced flavours and tannins and the weight of fruit. Where the oak dominated, medals were not awarded. Also, the level of fruit ripeness was a point of some discussion. The tasters rewarded those wines with bright flavours, particularly lively red fruit, and not examples with a stewed, sometimes raisined character. While the latter style can produce a sweet sensation, it also caused premature colour and perfume loss, and a flat, short finish. Of course, attempting to achieve optimum ripeness for Pinot requires not just cooler viticultural climes, but also well-judged harvest times. And as for achieving Pinot’s signature smooth texture, that requires not just the right site and careful vineyard management, but also cellar practices that are gentle. Heavy-handed maceration techniques can easily give harsh tannin and a drying sensation, although this was rarely seen in the competition entries.

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

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
Sparkling Pinot Noir
Company Product Name Medal Vintage Country
Sparkling Under £10
Cà del Gè Oltrepo Pavese Pinot Nero Metodo Classico Cà del Gè DOCG Bronze 2007 Italy
Sparkling £10 – £20
Champagne Moutard Brut Grande Cuvée NV Silver NV France
Champagne de Barfontarc Blanc de Noirs NV Silver NV France
Distell JC Le Roux Silver 2009 South Africa
Freixenet Elyssia Pinot Noir NV Bronze NV Spain
Giorgi 1870 Gran Cuvée Storica O.P. DOC NV Bronze NV Italy
Distell JC Le Roux Bronze 2009 South Africa
Monsupello Eredi di Boatti Carlo Pinot Nero Brut Rosé VSQ NV Bronze NV Italy
Sparkling £20 – £30
Champagne Gremillet Blanc de Noirs NV Silver NV France
Champagne Larnaudie Hirault Blanc de Noirs NV Silver NV France
Champagne Moutard Rose Dame Nesle NV Bronze NV France
Sparkling £30+
Champagne Soutiran Cuvée Perle Noire Grand Cru NV Gold NV France
Champagne Drappier Carte d’Or Silver 1995 France
Champagne Chassenay d’Arce Confidences Brut NV Bronze NV France
Champagne Moutard Vieille Vigne Richardot NV Bronze NV France
Unoaked Pinot Noir
Company Product Name Medal Vintage Country
Unoaked under £10
Boutinot Les Volets Pinot Noir Silver 2012 France
William Cole Vineyards Viña el Rosal Pinot Noir Signature Morrison Silver 2012 Chile
Halewood Romania La Umbra Silver 2012 Romania
Viña San Pedro Tarapaca Gato Negro Bronze 2013 Chile
Boutinot Sierra Grande Pinot Noir Bronze 2012 Chile
La Compagnie des Vins d’Autrefois Pinot Noir d’Autrefois, Alfio Moriconi Selection Bronze 2012 France
Halewood Romania Waitrose Pinot Noir Romania Bronze 2012 Romania
Casa Girelli Canaletto Autentico Italiano Bronze 2011 Italy
Mezzacorona Feudo Arancio Stemmari Bronze 2011 Italy
Unoaked £10 – £20
Castello di Luzzano Umore Nero Pinot Nero Dell’OP Bronze 2012 Italy
Domaine Paul Blanck Paul Blanck Bronze 2012 France
Juris Winery Pinot Noir Selection Bronze 2011 Austria
Unoaked £20 – £30
Schug Carneros Estate Winery Schug Sonoma Coast Silver 2012 United States
Oaked Pinot Noir
Company Product Name Medal Vintage Country
Oaked under £10
Viña Maycas del Limari Sumaq Pinot Noir Reserva Gold 2013 Chile
Viña San Pedro Tarapaca Castillo de Molina 2012 Silver 2012 Chile
Undurraga Aliwen Silver 2012 Chile
Carolina Wine Brands Cefiro Pinot Noir 2012 Silver 2012 Chile
Undurraga Sibaris Silver 2011 Chile
Distell Pty Two Oceans Bronze 2012 South Africa
Les Domaines Paul Mas Domaine de Martinolles Bronze 2012 France
Viña San Pedro Tarapaca Leyda Reserva Bronze 2012 Chile
Brotherhood Winery Brotherhood New York Premium Selection Bronze 2012 United States
Les Domaines Paul Mas Domaine Astruc Bronze 2012 France
Viña Casa Silva Doña Dominga Reserva Bronze 2013 Chile
Francois Labet Le Pinot Noir Corsica Bronze 2012 France
Les Domaines Paul Mas Paul Mas Estate Pinot Noir Bronze 2012 France
Oaked £10 – £20
Hope Family Wines Liberty School Pinot Noir Gold 2012 United States
Marisco Vineyards The Ned Pinot Noir Silver 2012 New Zealand
Viña Tabali Tabali Reserva Especial Silver 2012 Chile
Creation Wines Creation Silver 2012 South Africa
Viña Tabali Tabali Talinay Silver 2012 Chile
Creation Wines Creation Reserve Silver 2012 Argentina
Bodega Luigi Bosca, Familia Arizu Luigi Bosca Grand Pinot Noir La Consulta Silver 2012 Argentina
De Bortoli Wines Yarra Valley Estate Pinot Noir Silver 2011 Australia
Marisco Vineyards The King’s Wrath Silver 2011 New Zealand
Australian Vintage Nepenthe Winemaker Select Silver 2011 Australia
Jackson Estate Gum Emperor Silver 2010 New Zealand
Wente Vineyards Reliz Creek Silver 2010 United States
Lawson’s Dry Hills Dry Hills Reserve Silver 2012 New Zealand
Iona Estate Mr P Silver 2013 South Africa
Waipara Hills Central Otago Silver 2012 New Zealand
Delta Wine Company Delta Pinot Noir Silver 2012 New Zealand
Viña Casa Silva Casa Silva Cool Coast Silver 2012 Chile
Jackson Estate Vintage Widow Silver 2011 New Zealand
Viñedos Emiliana Signos De Origen Bronze 2012 Chile
E&J Gallo Winery Bridlewood Monterey County Bronze 2012 United States
Elk Cove Vineyards Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley Bronze 2012 United States
Single Vineyard Seller Holm Oak Bronze 2012 Australia
Pernod Ricard Jacob’s Creek Reserve, Adelaide Hills Bronze 2012 Australia
E&J Gallo Winery Edna Valley Central Coast Bronze 2012 United States
Elephant Hill Estate & Winery Elephant Hill Pinot Noir Bronze 2011 New Zealand
Viña Valdivieso Valdivieso Single Vineyard, Leyda Bronze 2011 Chile
Marugg Fläscher Pinot Noir Barrique Bronze 2011 Switzerland
Abalone Wines Eerste Hoop Pinot Noir Bronze 2011 South Africa
Viña Valdivieso Single Vineyard, Cauquenes Bronze 2010 Chile
San Michele ai Pianoni Pynos Pinot Nero, Oltrepò Pavese DOC Riserva Bronze 2006 Italy
Sumaridge Estate Wines Sumaridge Estate Pinot Noir Bronze 2011 South Africa
Marisco Vineyards Marisco Vineyards Pinot Noir Bronze 2011 New Zealand
Gusbourne Estate Gusbourne Estate Pinot Noir Bronze 2011 UK
Pernod Ricard Brancott Estate Letter Series ‘T’ Bronze 2011 New Zealand
Fromm Winery Fromm ‘La Strada’ Bronze 2010 New Zealand
Mud House Estate Claim 431 Central Otago Pinot Noir Bronze 2012 New Zealand
Bodega Familia Schroeder Alto Limay Select Bronze 2013 Argentina
Babich Wines Babich Winemakers’ Reserve Bronze 2012 New Zealand
Viña Luis Felipe Edwards LFE Marea Bronze 2012 Chile
Alto de Casablanca Ritual Bronze 2012 Chile
Viña Ventisquero Grey Bronze 2012 Chile
Bodega Familia Schroeder Alpataco Bronze 2013 Argentina
Viña San Pedro Tarapaca Leyda Single Vineyard Las Brisas Bronze 2012 Chile
Byron Vineyards Byron Santa Barbara Bronze 2012 United States
Spierhead Winery Gentleman Farmer Vineyard Bronze 2012 Canada
Boutinot Moko Black Bronze 2012 New Zealand
Quintay Q Grand Reserve Bronze 2012 Chile
Cline Cellars Jacuzzi Bronze 2011 United States
Australian Vintage Nepenthe Good Doctor Bronze 2012 Australia
Vina Valdivieso Winemaker Reserva, Aconcagua Bronze 2012 Chile
Australian Vintage Nepenthe Altitude Bronze 2012 Australia
Kingsland Wines & Spirits Bioletti’s Block Bronze 2012 United States
Undurraga T.H. Pinot Noir Bronze 2011 Chile
Weingut Losen-Bockstanz Wittlicher Bottchen Auslese Bronze 2011 Germany
Viña Luis Felipe Edwards LFE Marea Bronze 2011 Chile
Oaked £20 – £30
Schug Carneros Estate Winery Schug Carneros Master 2011 United States
Stoller Family Estate Reserve Pinot Noir Gold 2010 United States
Bomb Wines Bomb Oregon Gold 2010 United States
Mud House Estate Central Otago Pinot Noir Silver 2012 New Zealand
Jackson Family Wines Kendall Jackson, Vintner’s Reserve Silver 2012 United States
Matahiwi Estate Winery ‘Holly’ Silver 2011 New Zealand
Juris Winery Pinot Noir Breitenteil Silver Italy 2010
Iona Estate Iona Pinot Noir Silver 2012 South Africa
Rockburn Wines Rockburn Pinot Noir Silver 2011 New Zealand
Meyer Family Vineyards Reimer Vineyard Silver 2011 Canada
St Aubyn Leschallas Two Degrees Silver 2010 New Zealand
Azienda Agricola Tenuta Mazzolino Pinot Nero dell’ Oltrepò Pavese DOC Silver 2008 Italy
Kloster Eberbach ‘Crescentia’ Höllenberg Spätburgunder Dry Spätlese Silver 2011 Germany
Craggy Range Vineyards Te Muna Road Vineyard Silver 2011 New Zealand
Juris Winery Pinot Noir Haide Silver 2011 Austria
Meyer Family Vineyards McLean Creek Vineyard Silver 2011 Canada
The Delta Wine Co Delta Hatters Hill Pinot Noir Silver 2010 New Zealand
Schlossgut Ebringen Pinot Noir `S Silver 2010 Germany
Louis Jadot Beaune 1er Cru Bronze 2010 France
Surveyor Thomson Wines Surveyor Thomson Pinot Noir Bronze 2010 New Zealand
Fromm Winery Fromm Brancott Valley Bronze 2009 New Zealand
Viña Maycas del Limari San Julián Pinot Noir Bronze 2012 Chile
Kellerei Cantina Terlan Cantina Terlano Riserva, Montigl Bronze 2011 Italy
Torres Mas Borràs Bronze 2011 Spain
Colombo Cascina Pastori Winery Apertura Piedmont DOC Pinot Nero Bronze 2011 Italy
Jackson Family Wines La Crema, Sonoma Coast Bronze 2012 United States
Matetic Vineyards EQ Pinot Noir Bronze 2012 Chile
Jamieson Ranch Vineyards Reata Three County Bronze 2012 United States
Cantina Conte Vistarino Pernice Pinot Nero, IGT Provincia di Pavia Bronze 2010 Italy
Juris Winery Pinot Noir Unger Bronze 2009 Austria
Juris Winery Pinot Noir Hochreit Bronze 2009 Austria
Borgo Isolabella Bricco Del Falco Monferrato Rosso DOC Bronze 2009 Italy
Juris Winery Pinot Noir Reserve Bronze 2009 Austria
Frecciarossa Giorgio Odero Pinot Nero Bronze 2008 Italy
Bouchard Finlayson Galpin Peak Bronze 2011 South Africa
Surveyor Thomson Wines Surveyor Thomson Pinot Noir Bronze 2011 New Zealand
Marchesi Antinori Pinot Nero della Sala Bronze 2011 Italy
Moehr-Niggli Weine Pilgrim Bronze 2011 Switzerland
Kellerei Cantina Terlan Cantina Andriano, Anrar Riserva Bronze 2010 Italy
Azienda Agricola Antonio Dellabianca Pinot Nero Bronze 2010 Italy
Oaked £30+
Circe Wines Circe, Hillcrest Road Gold 2012 Australia
Rodney Strong Vineyards Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir Gold 2011 United States
Del Dotto Vineyards Cinghiale Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, Fort Ross-Seaview Gold 2011 United States
Craggy Range Vineyards ‘Aroha’, Te Muna Road Vineyard Gold 2011 New Zealand
Jackson Family Wines Wild Ridge Pinot Noir Gold 2011 United States
Viña Cono Sur Ocio Gold 2010 Chile
Tapanappa Wines Foggy Hill Vineyard Silver 2012 Australia
Rodney Strong Vineyards Russian River Valley Estate Pinot Noir Silver 2012 United States
King Ridge Vineyard Castello di Amorossa King Ridge Vineyard Silver 2012 United States
Tolpuddle Vineyard Tolpuddle Vineyard Pinot Noir Silver 2012 Australia
Weingut Mario J. Burkhart Rarus Noir Blauer Spätburgunder Silver 2011 Germany
Domaine Berthelemot Pommard ‘Noizons’ Silver 2010 France
Bomb Wines Carden Oregon Pinot Noir Silver 2010 United States
Weingut Thörle HÖLLE Spätburgunder Silver 2011 Germany
Le Clos Jordanne Le Grand Clos Silver 2011 Canada
Moorilla Moorilla Muse Silver 2011 Australia
Sonnet Wine Cellars Sonnet Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands Tondre’s Grapefield Silver 2010 United States
Bergström Wines Bergström Vineyard, Dundee Hills Silver 2011 United States
Jamieson Ranch Vineyards Reata Pinot Noir Silver 2011 United States
Tapanappa Wines Fleurieu Peninsula Silver 2010 Australia
Accolade Wines Eileen Hardy Silver 2010 Australia
Paringa Estate Paringa Estate Pinot Noir Silver 2010 Australia
Tarras Vineyards The Canyon Silver 2009 New Zealand
Boutinot Onannon Gippsland Bronze 2011 Australia
Vina Apaltagua Apaltagua Coleccion Pinot Noir Bronze 2012 Chile
Vallet Frères Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru, Clos St Jacques Bronze 2007 France
Harley Wines Dalla Cia Bronze 2011 South Africa
Domaine de la Côte Bloom’s Field Bronze 2011 United States
By Farr Sangreal Bronze 2010 Australia
Weingut Markus Molitor Brauneberger Klostergarten Bronze 2009 Germany
Bomb Wines Bomb Oregon Pinot Noir Bronze 2009 United States

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