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AN ENIGMA WRAPPED IN A RIDDLE – CAN AN UGLY DUCKLING BECOME A SWAN?

John Tilson • 3/22/12        Print This Post Print This PostComment Bookmark and Share

 

I am totally intrigued with the potential for New Zealand wines. It has only been for the last 30 or so years that plantings have increased to the point where the wines are now widely available. (To read my Trade Tasting article on New Zealand wines from May of  last year click here).  (To read my Travel, Food, and Wine article featuring New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc click here).  The Sauvignon Blancs with their crisp grapefruit and herbal tinged flavors are lovely wines that I love with fish and lighter foods. This is the variety most widely planted in New Zealand and the best known. But, there are other varieties as well and the one that really intrigues me is Pinot Noir. I have written about a few and continue to experiment with tastings of different New Zealand Pinot Noirs. The most recent I have tasted is the 2007 Palliser Estate Pinot Noir from Martinborough, New Zealand.

To be honest this wine is an enigma to me. But, it is exactly that quality that intrigues me. Why? Because I know that the New Zealand Pinot Noir grapes normally do not get as ripe as in some other new world growing areas. This can produce a wine that has Burgundian character. But that is a double edged sword. Sometimes this Burgundian character is herbaceous and even peppery. This occurs when the grapes are harvested not fully ripe or when there are a lot of green stems included. This character is often referred to as stemminess, herbaceousness, or greenness. And, it is something that can be found in many 2004 Red Burgundies. But, with enough fruit and from the right producer and vineyard, that character diminishes with time and can actually add complexity to the older wine. This is the vinous equivalent of the maturation of an ugly duckling into a swan. So, with Burgundy, I have experience and know what to look for. With New Zealand Pinot Noir I do not have the same frame of reference. That is the twist.

And, geez, I just don’t know. At the moment I do not find the 2007 Palliser Estate Pinot Noir to be what I most like in Pinot Noir. But, it does have positive attributes. Here is my note: “Dark color. Deep berry perfume with herbaceous, green pepper undertones. Very pure with lots of fruit, yet lean and crisp with green pepper and herbaceous flavors on the finish.” So for the present it is not that attractive to me. However, tasted over a period of five days, the wine did not oxidize and softened a bit and showed more fruit. Except for the leanness it is, in fact, a bit like some of the 2004 Red Burgundies with regard to a bit of greenness and peppery, herbal notes. But, it is the purity of the fruit underneath that gets my attention in some of the 2004 Red Burgundies (such as the 2004 Georges Roumier Bonnes-Mares).  In the case of the Bonnes Mares, I have confidence that the fruit will hold and the herbaceous quality will transform to forest-like spiciness with time. For the Palliser Estate……………???  I do not have an answer. So, in the interest of pursuing my never ending education in wine, I have laid away a few bottles to see how they age. This is a risk to be sure, but at $20 per bottle it is not a huge risk. However, this is a rare exception to my long belief that “Good wines get better and not so good wines get worse”. Said another way, wines that are harmonious and balanced from the beginning age better than those that are not. This makes this bet a real long shot.

No matter, the bottom line is that I am looking at an unknown. An enigma wrapped in a riddle to be sure. Will the ugly ducking develop into a swan? Vamos a ver.  Let’s come back and revisit this in 5-10 years. Please feel free to go ahead and mark your calendars!

 

In Vino Veritas,Sig

John Tilson

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2 comments for “AN ENIGMA WRAPPED IN A RIDDLE – CAN AN UGLY DUCKLING BECOME A SWAN?”

  1. Interesting article, if I could just add a few other wines into the discussion. I recently had the pleasure of attending the New Zealand Wine Growers Association Waitangi Day dinner in San Francisco. During the course of the evening we tasted wines from many of what are generally considered top NZ Pinot producers including: 2005 Neudorf “Home Block”, 2003 Rippon “Mature Vines”, both the 2005 “George” and 2008 “Walter” Palliser bottlings, and Ata Rangi 2003 & 2005. ALL the wines showed extremely well. I found the 05 Neudorf to be very Burgundian in character, just starting to show some secondary bottle age notes but great balance of fruit and structure. The 05 Ata Rangi had some definite green notes as you described above but was also developing very harmoniously. The hands down star for me and most at the table was the 2003 Rippon. This wine is just incredibly elegant, silky textured and with such a purity of fruit and layers of detail, simply stunning. I have heard from the winemaker there, Nick Mills, that some of the more closed wines from the 90’s are just hitting their stride! On this showing I will for sure be setting aside some room in the cellar for NZ Pinot.

    Posted by Ryan Woodhouse | April 12, 2012, 8:32 am
  2. Thanks Ryan.
    This is the way to approach it. Buy some wines and cellar them if you think they have potential. I am working on developing some expertise on NZ PN the same way I did with California wines in the early days. That is, taste a lot of young wines and try to find a few well cellared old ones (if they exist) and then draw some conclusions.
    In Vino Veritas,
    John

    Posted by John Tilson | April 12, 2012, 4:39 pm

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