Sommelier Wine Awards 2009: New World – Pinot Noir

Drinks: Wines

New World Pinot’s strongest showing yet – and heartening signs of winemakers finding their feet with the grape as big fruit gets replaced with a more restrained style

Although there were entries from every New World producing country, this year’s Pinot Noir section came down, more or less, to a straight fight between the young pretender (Chile) and the reigning champion (New Zealand), with the likes of cooler-climate Australia, Argentina and South Africa cheering from the sidelines.

So, how did the fight go? Well, on this evidence, Chile might just have shaded it on points, with three of the Gold Listed wines, compared to New Zealand’s two. As you might expect, Chile broadly did best under the £10 mark, with New Zealand taking over at the higher prices, but it was something of a surprise to the tasters to discover that the most expensive Pinot they’d selected for the list was from California, rather than New Zealand.

For the Kiwis, perhaps the biggest disappointment was the performance of the Marlborough wines. Plenty were sent in, but only a couple made the Shortlist, and of those, none made the final Gold List.

That said, overall the tasters were pleased with what they found here, particularly compared to the category’s performance in the first couple of Sommelier Wine Awards. There is, it seems, a very definite change in style going on in the way the New World is handling Pinot – and it’s one that the
sommeliers generally seem to like, which perhaps explains why this year saw five Gold Listed wines as opposed to last year’s three.

‘I was expecting more sweetness – they seem to be pursuing a more restrained style,’ said an impressed team leader and consultant Louis Villard in the first round of judging. ‘Some of the wines here were really good – just so expensive.’

In fact, by the time the Shortlist had been put together some of the more bank-breaking bottles had been thrown out not because they were no good but because they made no sense economically. And certainly at the final round of tasting there was a decent spread of really good wines across the price points. The Tabali proved that actually you can find decent Pinot for a low price, while the top-end wines also attracted praise.

‘These Pinots were the strongest flight we’ve had today,’ said Roger Jones of The Harrow at Little Bedwyn . ‘I’d buy the Marimar Torres immediately.’

The New World clearly wants to be as good as Burgundy – and they’re getting there. Will Buckland, Planet of the Grapes


Tabali Reserva Especial Pinot Noir 2007, Limari Valley, Chile
£6.47 @ Boutinot Ltd

Good varietal character, with some red strawberry fruit, mushroom and fennel spice wrapped up in a gentle smokiness with a rich, toasty finish. ‘Well made and interesting,’ said Mike Harrison.

Veranda Oda 2007, VC Family Estates, Bio-Bio, Chile
£8.50 @ Hallgarten Druitt

Earthy, red fruits with minty top notes and a bitter chocolate base. Young, still, so a bit lively and spicey, but drinking well and has further potential. ‘Nice structure and definition, but subtle,’ said Ivan Dixon.

Mount Dottrel Pinot Noir 2006, Central Otago, New Zealand
£11.05 @ McKinley Vintners

Restrained, savoury red and black fruit. Tightly structured and fresh, with quite lean acidity, but lovely soft, comforting tannins. Young, but ambitious and will improve with time. ‘Exciting, herbaceous and Burgundian,’ said Roger Jones.

Pinot Noir 2007, Rockburn, Central Otago, New Zealand
£14.98 @ Novum Wines

Dark fruit, spicy oak and some savoury notes. Fresh yet firm, with sweet spicy black fruit on the palate, and medium tannins. Youthful, still. ‘Savoury, herbal and nutty,’ approved Ivan Dixon.

Marimar Torres Estate Pinot Noir 2003, Miguel Torres Chile, Central Valley, Chile
£19.05 @ John E Fells

Chunky, sweet raspberry and strawberry fruit with a sensuously plump Rubenesque palate. ‘Classic Pinot,’ approved Peter McCombie MW. Juicy palate, dry finish and well balanced. Big structure, but also elegance and freshness. Yum!


Agustinos Gran Reserva 2007, VC Family Estates, Bio-Bio, Chile 
£6.80 @ Hallgarten Druitt

Restrained and briary, the fruit is at the lighter, redder end of the spectrum, but still very varietal. Dry finish.

Vidal Pinot Noir 2007, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
£7.05 @ Hatch Mansfield

Plenty of red fruit on the nose of this one, with a silky palate backed up by cinnamon and clove spices. Good for the price.

Cape Campbell Pinot Noir 2006, Marlborough, New Zealand
£8.95 @ Paragon Vintners Ltd*

Sweet and smoky, with a background earthiness. Nonetheless, the palate is soft and juicy,
even ‘silky and delicate’, as Olivier Gasselin put it.

Alpha Pinot Noir 2006, Vina Montes, Leyda, Chile
£9.58 @ HWCG Specialist

Leather, oak and good structure, ‘attractively Burgundian’, said Peter McCombie MW.
Slightly herbaceous, savoury and classy – especially for the price.

Errazuriz Wild Ferment Pinot Noir 2007, Casablanca Valley, Chile
£10.67 @ Hatch Mansfield

Real depth of fruit here, with dark cherries mentioned often in dispatches. ‘Firm, tannic
and masculine,’ said Olivier Marie.

Saint Clair Pioneer Block 14 Doctor’s Creek Pinot Noir 2007, Marlborough, New Zealand
£12.05 @ Hallgarten Druitt

At the warmer end of the Pinot Noir spectrum, but plenty of cherry fruit here. ‘Round,
fruity, fleshy and balanced,’ said Ivan Dixon.

Saint Clair Pioneer Block 4 Sawcut Pinot Noir 2007, Marlborough, New Zealand
£12.79 @ Hallgarten Druitt

Good concentration – very ripe strawberry, verging on blackberry, underpinned by oak.
Fresh palate and a gamey finish. Crackin’ Pinot Grommit.

Hahn Estates Pinot Noir 2006, Monterey, California, USA
£13.04 @ Patriarche Wine Agencies

Smoky bacon, strawberries and bramble character, with some cloves and red pepper, this
love-it-or-hate-it wine had real character, and split the tasting groups as a result.

La Crema Russian River Pinot Noir 2006, Jackson Family Wines, Russian River, California, USA
£13.30 @ John E Fells & Sons

Good fruit density, with red fruits, blueberry and white pepper. ‘Good structure and length,’
said Louise Gordon.

* Paragon Vintners Ltd has stopped trading. As we went to press this wine had no current UK importer.

Editorial feature from the Sommelier Wine Awards 2009.

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