Grapevine Archive for Pinot Noir
Janet Wynne Evans gets into hock without breaking the bank…
What could be better than a classy bottle and a meal that cost next to nothing – apart perhaps from the sterling advice that it doesn’t really work the other way round?
Should you be tempted by our current crop of German wines, here’s a recipe to bring some joy to plate, palate and domestic balance of payments.
It involves that most Germanic of ingredients, ham, a riesling soulmate if ever there was one. The racy acidity of the grape offsets saturated fat while the roundness underlying even in the trockens soothes salinity. And the nobility of the fruit counters the pigsty so elegantly.
But let it also be said that a supple German pinot noir with a thick slice of baked ham is an Ode to Joy in itself.
A ham hock weighing a generous kilo will set you back little more than a couple of your hard-earned sovereigns. Slowly baked in the oven on a rhythm-section of onions, herbs and spices, it will feed four people adequately, or two very generously, with scrumptious leftovers. The cooking juices and not-quite-spent veggies make a superb sauce or can be blended into soup fit for a king, with shreds of the ham and a few pulses thrown in. The meat itself makes hearty terrines and well as peerless sandwiches.
When meat is this cheap, some other kind of investment is needed. Here, it’s time and, by extension, the cost of a longish tour of duty, albeit at low wattage, for your trusty oven. Even so, this meal is belting good value. It’s a much better destination than a food waste bin for unprepossessing bits of vegetable: the unglamorous outer leaves of fennel bulbs, slightly elderly celery sticks, the too-green bits of leek you’re always advised to discard. Any superannuated wine, cider or ale you happen to have around can be pressed into service too.
You can boil ham hocks for lipsmacking flavour and pleasing, pull-apart texture, though not photogenic beauty, which this baked version has in abundance. During the cooking, the flavoursome fat renders into the meat, rather than being lost in cooking water. A final blast of hot air gives them a beautiful burnished glow, and – praise be! – crackling!
Don’t try to make the recipe below on impulse. Snap up your hocks, vacuum-packed for extra shelf-life, or store them in the freezer. ready for a call to action. The impending arrival of a Wine Society van, for instance.
Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor
BAKED AND ROASTED HAM HOCK WITH BEANS AND ONION SAUCE
One hock will serve 4 – but why not cook two for safety and leftovers?
• 1 or 2 unsmoked ham hocks, skin on about 1.2kg each
• 3-4 onions, or a combination of onions, fennel and leeks, roughly wedged or chunked, enough to cover the base of the dish
• A small bunch of sage leaves, washed and dried
• 2 bay leaves, fresh or dried
• 2-3 star anise
• 1 teaspoon of whole white peppercorns
• 100ml dry or medium cider or white wine
• 2 x 400g cans or jars white, butter or cannellini beans or flageolets, drained
• Salt and freshly ground pepper, white or black
• A small bunch of fresh parsley, leaves only, not too finely chopped (put the stalks under the ham before it goes into the oven).
• A pinch of mustard powder (optional)
Ideally, soak your ham in cold water the night before to remove excess salt. If you are seized by impulsiveness, a quick cheat is to cover your joint with cold water in a large pan and bring slowly to the boil. Once the water begins to bubble gently, pour it away and rinse the joint thoroughly in fresh water. In both cases, dry it thoroughly with kitchen paper.
Now score the rind all over with fine lines, close together. This is a simple task provided you have a Stanley knife, the point of which does the job admirably without cutting too deeply into the fat.
Preheat the oven to 150C/Gas 2 and choose a deepish roasting tin or ovenproof dish that comes with a lid.
Line the bottom of the tin with the vegetables, herbs and spices.
Stand the ham on top, and pour over the wine or cider. Grind in a generous amount of black pepper. Cover and bake for between three and four hours, or until really tender, basting from time to time with the juices. Add a little more liquid if necessary.
Remove from the oven and increase the temperature to 220C/Gas 7.
Transfer the ham onto a platter and carefully pour the juices and vegetables into a clean pan. Fish out the bay leaves and star anise. If you have a stick blender, use this to puree the vegetables into a thickish sauce. If not, cool them slightly and use a blender or food processor. A mouli, or vegetable sieve will also work and if none of these is to hand, simply chop the vegetables for a pleasantly chunky effect. Season and add a judicious pinch of your favourite mustard if you like.
Put the ham back in the tin, scored side up. Rub a little salt into the skin and return to the oven for about 25 minutes or a little longer if the crackling is elusive.
Add the drained beans to the onion sauce and heat through gently on the hob. Sprinkle abundantly with the parsley and keep warm.
Transfer the ham to a board and carve into thick slices or let it fall into shreds.
Serve in rustic fashion with the beans and provide contrast with a short, sharp, crunchy salad, dressed with mustard vinaigrette.
I was fortunate to work a number of vintages in New Zealand from 2010 to 2013, mainly at Wither Hills in their pinot noir cellar. The sun-filled days of vintage, the hustle and bustle of a working cellar and the smell of new French oak barrels, fresh ferments and pristine fruit left an unforgettable impression of not only New Zealand but also of their winemaking capabilities.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Marlborough is all about the sauvignon blanc grape. However, chardonnay and aromatic white varieties such as pinot gris and riesling thrive here along with the classic red grape pinot noir.
Situated to the North of New Zealand’s South Island, this remarkable region is bathed with large amounts of summer sunshine and is just a stone’s throw away from the Pacific with its cooling sea breeze. The region came to prominence in the 1970s when a number of producers experimented with growing the sauvignon blanc grape variety. The results, which have been remarkable, have led to many a winemaker aiming to replicate this unique style. Such was their success that the rest, as they say, is history.
Pinot noir was first planted here in the early 1970s. Critics were highly sceptical at first and many doubted whether this variety actually establish a strong regional base. Many producers didn’t begin to start growing or making pinot noir until the mid1990s, but by 2009 the region had around 2,000 hectares of area under vine – about half of the country’s entire pinot noir output.
Marlborough pinot isn’t red Burgundy and nor does it pretend to be. Producers have created their own unique style and each vintage gets better and better. Yes, there are certainly influences from the likes of Volnay and Pommard (indeed, many a New Zealand winemaker will have often worked a vintage or two in Burgundy and inspiration from the region is certainly evident), but they remain distinct.
Pinot from Marlborough is delicate, supple, balanced and, most importantly, a style which remains unique. It could be said that Marlborough pinot noir sits somewhere between that of the bolder and fruitier Central Otago style and that of the elegant, layered and spicy pinot of Martinborough, just a short hop north by plane.
Two Marlborough pinot noir highlights from our current New Zealand offer:
Wither Hills Marlborough Pinot Noir 2010 (£10.50)
The 2010 vintage was the first to benefit from Wither Hills’s newly acquired and automated ‘vistalys’ optical berry sorter. This high-speed conveyer-based grape-sorting system selects only optimum grapes, free of any defect and also prevents any vineyard detritus from being included in the fermentation. The blend of individually sourced parcels from the southern Wairau valley vineyards of Ben Morven and Taylor River have produce a plush wine, with deep fruit, silky structure with smooth flavour. It also benefits from integrated acidity and tannin. Excellent depth of flavour and a superb example of a cracking value Marlborough pinot noir, which shows how long this variety can keep and improve. A worthy 2014 Wine Society Wine Champion that has repeated last year’s feat in this year’s competition too.
Fine and perfumed on the nose, with subtle red fruits which, builds slowly as it aerates in the glass. This wine has excellent balance and length of flavour on the palate. French oak has been delicately intertwined to produce a velvety texture with redcurrants and sour plum.
An unusually wet winter in 2010 provided the perfect conditions for rapid spring growth. Warm conditions followed and allowed for a high level of fruit set. This led to a heavy crop allowing the vines to be ruthlessly thinned at the start of 2011 to enhance fruit quality, advance the ripening of the grape leading to increased flavour concentration.
This is a classic and understated style with body but if resisted will stand the test of time.
New Zealand’s diversity, sustainability, rich farming history and tradition provide all the ingredients for exciting food and wine match. Think fresh Easter lamb cooked on a spit over hot coals in the vineyard, fresh venison from the hills overlooking the Wairau valley and seared Asian spiced duck breast with a sweet pinot reduction… all of these certainly hit the spot!
Pour yourself a glass and enjoy!
Marcel Orford-Williams reveals the thinking behind The Society’s current offer, From Golden Rhine to Blue Danube, and why now is the time to be exploring these remarkable wines.
Maps have always been a passion for me. When friends would queue up for the latest album, I would be in Long Acre, immersed in charts.One of my interests was studying different map projections or simply looking at maps from different angles. After all why persist in seeing a map with north on top? Why not south, or east? Why see the world with our small islands conveniently placed in the middle and, in Mercator’s projection, unduly large?
And so I looked at the layout of Europe’s vineyards which, typically, are centred on the three most important regions: Iberia, Italy and, in between, France. Without the Roman Empire, viticulture might have remained close to the Mediterranean shore. Instead, Hellenistic culture in its vinous form was carried on the backs of Roman legionaries wherever they went, often following great river valleys such as the Ebro, Rhône or Garonne and as far east as the Rhine and Danube which remained a border of sorts until the Barbarian surge.Borders are contradictory, being both barrier and passage. They have changed and evolved over the centuries after wars and dynastic ties. Transylvania, Romanian today, used to be Hungarian. Hungary used to be Turkish. The Ottomans lay siege to Vienna twice, which was once the centre of Germany, while Alsace, French today, was once part of the Holy Roman Empire.
This is where Europe comes together, and in so many ways. Not least in music, whereby a river cruise might start with Hildegard of Bingen and end on the Danube with Enescu, by way of Beethoven and Bartók. And, of course there’s the wines – a veritable cross-pollination of tastes and styles.
I think it was the late and much missed Barry Sutton, one time general manager of The Wine Society, who amused himself with the idea of a buying trip along the Rhine with grateful growers coming to our barge with samples to taste and maybe the odd refreshing beer. Now, thanks to a recently built canal, our trip can extend all the way from the North Sea to the Black Sea.
The Rhine-Danube basin has become home to a vast number of grape varieties. In modern times, they have been bought in from France or Italy, everything from cabernet sauvignon to sangiovese. Before, though, varieties were often created from happy marriages with wild vines.
Riesling, for instance, almost certainly arose out of crossings between the obscure gouais blanc from France, traminer from Italy and wild vines that would have grown along the banks of the Rhine. Another offspring of the gouais blanc is likely to be Hungary’s furmint.
In the west, maritime influences moderate the climate so that Bordeaux or the Minho are relatively cool and damp. In Central Europe, the climate is distinctly continental with cold winters and hot summers. The Romans loved to plant on hillsides and it’s no coincidence that so many of the best vineyards in Germany, Alsace and Austria are planted on steep valley sides. Long growing seasons and hot summers create certain styles and there is a common feature that links Alsace to Austria and Romania. So many of the wines are fragrant, sometimes heady with exotic scents and many are full-flavoured and generous.One of the loveliest vineyards is the Bacharacher Hahn, steep and south facing and overlooking the ancient town and the Rhine. Close by is the narrowest point of the river north of the Swiss border. At one point a 120m cliff plunges into the water. There are rocks to snare ships and also, so it was believed, the deadly water sprite Lorelei, to lure watermen to a certain death. Mendelssohn was here and began writing an opera for Jenny Lind, and, just down the river, Hildegard of Bingen lived and meditated. Maybe she had a say in the creation of the riesling grape? Her many interests included botany, after all.
She spent some time in the village of Ruppertsberg where she founded the monastery. Tucked into the Haardt are fabulous vineyards, in Ruppertsberg itself and next door in Forst and Wachenheim, that today are the source of some of the world’s finest dry white wines, made of course from the riesling grape. Riesling may have come from here or it may have come from Alsace or even the Wachau in Austria on the Danube.
All three make stunning dry riesling, each in a slightly different style. So good they were that at one time that these dry rieslings commanded higher prices than any chardonnay from Burgundy. The Rheingau then suddenly stunned the world with sweet wine made from grapes affected by noble rot. But these rare delicacies were known about for much longer. Well before the Bishop of Fulda enjoyed the first Spätlese, or late-harvest wine, Hapsburg princes were savouring the immortal delights of Tokaji.
Opposite Bingen, but slightly downstream, as the Rhein faces north again towards the narrows and the mischievous Lorelei, pinot noir, known in Germany as spätburgunder, occupies some of the best slopes. Burgundy’s finest grape (which actually predates riesling) is a red variety of choice and lovers of pinot can expect to pay high prices and the wines are sometimes good enough to stand comparison with Burgundy. Further upstream , the Rhine marks a border between Germany and France. Curiously, pinot noir used to be a major variety in Alsace and its popularity is on the rise, as it is on the German side in Baden. Pinot Noir has good Central European credentials and lovely examples can even be found right at the end of our barge journey in Romania.Austria has become one of the smartest wine countries of Europe, frequently picking up international prizes. It wasn’t always so but in some ways the scandal that nearly destroyed its reputation became its saviour as serious growers were left with no choice but to work for quality. Steep Danubian vineyards produce great dry whites from riesling and the local grüner veltliner while the warm, misty shores of the Neuseidlersee produce great reds and, of course, fabulous sweet wines. Noble rot here is almost guaranteed. And so to the east and real promised land that is slowly rediscovering itself after years under state controls. Hungary stands out as it has a sophisticated wine culture and strongly identified grape varieties and styles, dominated of course by Tokaji. This is so obviously a great wine that as soon as state controls were relaxed, foreign investment came pouring in. Rehabilitation of Romania as a wine-producing country has been slower but is nonetheless exciting with new estates, more western in outlook and far more quality minded.
The future for this part of Europe is surely bright. For so long this has been a battlefield confronting the great European Empires. Irredentist squabbles apart, the vast Rhine and Danube basin is surely destined for peace and its wondrous patchwork of vineyards will be allowed to prosper.
Now here is a story: red wine from the most white-wine-orientated region of France.
And yet the truth is that pinot noir has always been a grape variety planted in Alsace and what’s more, it is my opinion that the 2011 vintage produced some lovely Alsace reds.
A Little History
As curious as it may seem, pinot noir was the first grape variety to be mentioned in Alsace. It can trace its roots at least as far back as the 8th century and maybe further still, predating the arrival of the riesling grape by some 700 years. Alsace wealth and prestige peaked at about the time of the Reformation, and at that time the reds where probably on a level footing with the whites. Many Alsace villages gained a reputation for its reds, such as Rodern, Saint-Hyppolite and Rouffach.
General decline set in with the devastation caused by the Thirty Years War. There were then periods of reconstruction (sometimes under Germanic tutelage, sometimes French) but then more war until the final liberation of 1945 settled the issue.
During all of this time, pinot noir continued to be grown but the skills needed for top red-winemaking was largely gone. Moreover, pinot vines were rarely planted in good spots, these being reserved to the top white varieties.
My first taste of Alsace pinot noir was uninspiring, pale, watery and thin. There were exceptions from some of the great houses such as Léon Beyer and Hugel and it is thanks to these top names and others too that the revival started.
The turning point was probably the 1990 vintage when Alsace pinot noir really began to acquire depth and colour. New plantings of pinot were now frequently of Burgundian stock and the climate getting ever warmer was also having an effect.
Today there are nearly 1,000 hectares of pinot noir in Alsace out of a vineyard total of 15,000 hectares. And things are looking up, with better vintages, a generally warmer climate and a growing list of producers willing to make top-quality red wines in a land of whites.Alsace Grands Crus
When this appellation was created 40 years ago, the reputation of pinot noir was perhaps at its lowest and so the grape was not included in the new scheme. Alsace Grand Cru is reserved for riesling, pinot gris, gewurztraminer and muscat with one grand cru, Zotzenberg, authorised for sylvaner.
The good news is that there is likely to be one or two grands crus for pinot noir. That will take a little time but when I was there in February work was already in full swing. The village of Rouffach was always famous for its reds and the best comes from the slopes of its grand cru ‘Vorbourg’. There are many pinot noir producers on the Vorbourg but the best is René Muré, whose wines we will be buying
Styles of Alsace Pinot Noir
There are essentially three styles here. The pale rosé style continues to be made and is locally quite popular. Sometimes this is very pale, sometimes more like a very light red.
Among the reds proper, the debate rages somewhat over how to age the wines. To oak or not to oak. The old style, exemplified by Léon Beyer, is to age the reds in large foudres of old oak so there is no oak flavour. The more modern approach follows the Burgundian way of doing things using small oak barrels, sometimes with some new wood. Alsace pinot noir is about delicacy and charm so extraction has tended to be short and gentle. But red wines are creating excitement in Alsace and there are more than a few growers with real ambition for the reds.The Alsace Flute
Alsace is one of the few regions to stipulate a shape for its bottles. All Alsace wines have to be sold in the traditional Alsace flute, which tends to be green (see photo above). And that includes the reds though there is pressure for change as unquestionably red wines would look better in Burgundian-shaped bottles.
Drinking and Keeping
There are truly exceptional wines that will keep 10 years or more but by and large Alsace pinot is for drinking relatively young – up to five or six years. Generally, the wines are light in style and go well with cold meats, poultry or ham. In exceptional vintages, such as 2003 and 1990, pinot noir can produce wine with much more depth and character and become fabulous with game.
The 2011 Vintage
A very warm spring and a fine Indian summer did well for the pinot noir grape variety. The wines have colour, fruit, and a generally ripe, rounded flavour. The characteristic fruit flavour to describe Alsace pinot noir is kirsch or cherry, thought can change if the wine has been aged in barrel. (Previous fine red vintages include 2009, 2007, 2005, 2003, 2000 and 1998.)
Society Buyer for Alsace
Like many of our members, I have always been slightly in love with wines made from that noblest of grape varieties, pinot noir. I?ve read about it (lots), tasted it (probably a little too much) and even answered exam questions on it. Nonetheless, I am constantly intrigued, occasionally disappointed and sometimes in awe when I pop open the cork of a previously untried bottle.Happily (for me), I found myself sitting with a room full of other wine lovers at The Wonderful World of Pinot Noir workshop, hosted by Society buyer, Pierre Mansour. Having had years of experience tasting some of the most beautiful, sensual red wines made from pinot noir grapes, Pierre was in the privileged position of being able to guide us through, as we compared and contrasted examples produced in key areas of the winemaking world.
With nine wines to try, Pierre spoke as we (and he) tasted, reflecting on the many variations that the bottles before us would unearth. Climate, terroir, vintage, maturity and, of course, the influence of the winemakers, producers and, in Burgundy, the domaines themselves, were all determining factors in what the consumer would ultimately enjoy.
So what did we taste?
Burgundy: The Society?s Exhibition Monthélie, Domaine Louis Jadot, 2009 (£17.50 per bottle)
From pinot noir?s spiritual home of Burgundy came this fine example, which is bottled for The Wine Society?s ‘Exhibition’ range of wines. From grapes grown on limestone soil in Louis Jadot?s vineyard in Monthélie on the Cote de Beaune, this wine was fragrant, clear, silky and gentle with ripe cherry aromas.
Germany: Meyer-Näkel Spätburgunder, 2009 (£18 per bottle)
Pinot noir from Germany is definitely trendy, with plantings of the grape variety trebling in the last 20 years. This example from the Ahr valley near Bonne was from a small yield producing just 2,000 cases of wine. Meyer-Näkel (established 1870) have recently been awarded a gold medal for this wine by Decanter magazine. A well deserved accolade in my opinion. This silky pinot noir ? which is known in Germany as ?spätburgunder? ? had great presence, with intensity, depth and spicy undertones.
Chile: Undurraga TH Leyda Valley Pinot Noir, 2010 (£12.50 per bottle)
Undurraga are producing some very pleasant wines in Chile, one of my own favourites being their grassy, nettly, sauvignon blanc. However, I like diversity, and this lovely, plump, black-cherry-scented pinot noir, with a hint of new oak character, herbs and pepper, is comparatively excellent value for money. The hot climate in Chile is not ideal for growing pinot noir grapes, but Undurraga?s vines are positioned just 15km from the ocean, where the Pacific breeze sweeps in to keep the vines cool. Although you could tell that this flamboyant wine was from a warmer country, its bright fruit character was appealing and after the workshop I bought myself a bottle of it!
USA: Au Bon Climat Sanford and Benedict Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley, 2007 (Currently unavailable for sale)
From Santa Barbara in California, this pinot noir from maverick winemaker Jim Clendenen was delicious! Focused, pure and long, with cherry fruit and a wonderful savoury edge. 2007 produced a ripe vintage in Santa Barbara (the coolest area in California for growing grapes) and while obviously Californian, the resulting wine pays tribute to the winemaker?s skill and craftsmanship. This was my favourite wine of the day!
New Zealand: Seresin Rachel Pinot Noir, 2009, Marlborough (£19.50 per bottle)
Pinot noir grows well on both the north and south islands of New Zealand and this example, made from vines grown organically and biodynamically in the Marlborough vineyards owned by film producer, Michael Seresin, was intriguing. Produced for Seresin by British winemaker, Clive Dougal, I found this wine to be fleshy in character with plenty of well-rounded juicy fruit, plus savoury hints of oak and wild yeasts. A seriously good wine.
New Zealand: Prophet?s Rock Pinot Noir, 2009, Central Otago (£23 per bottle)
Delicately scented pinot noir has become a favoured wine from Central Otago. In contrast to Marlborough (which is further north) its pinots refuse to ?jump out of the glass? but tempt with refined, lingering red-cherry-jam flavours. It should be noted, however, that good quality pinot noir from this region is not guaranteed. With its continental climate and short growing season, the vintage and the skill of the winemaker is usually key. The example that we tried from small scale producer, Prophet?s Rock, was made by winemaker Paul Pujol. It was intriguing – refined, delicate with pure, unforced cherry flavours and balanced acidity.
Tasmania: Freycinet Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2008 Tasmania (£40 per bottle)
Tasmania produces a tiny amount of wine, the whole island making less than a middle-sized winery on mainland Australia. However, its cooler climate clearly suits pinot noir well. Geoffrey Bull’s Freycinet Vineyard is in a sheltered spot on the east coast of Tasmania, close to the aptly named Wineglass Bay. This special vineyard produces wines with a track record of ageing. Labelled as ‘Wine Glass Bay Pinot Noir’ in the UK for legal reasons, Freycinet is considered by locals as Australia’s very finest pinot noir. Like all the wines tried at the workshop, this example offered something ?different?. Made by winemaker Claudio Radenti, it was punchy and muscular with black-cherry, earthy flavours, velvety tannins and outstanding length.
Burgundy: Nuits St. Georges Premier Cru Les Thorey, Domaine de Montille, 2005 (£39 per bottle)
2005 was one of the greatest vintages for Burgundy, so it came as no surprise that faces at the workshop ?lit up? when this wine was served. Nuits St. Georges, on the eastern side of Burgundy, is where Hubert de Montille, a larger than life winemaker, manages year after year in any weather to produce enchanting bottles of wine that rank with the very best in the world. This example did not disappoint. Ruby red in colour, it unfolded with confident flavours of black-cherry tart with a hint of fresh raspberries, vegetal notes and well-balanced acidity. Definitely a favourite of the workshop attendees.
Burgundy: Clos de la Roche Grand Cru, Domaine Dujac, 1998 (Currently unavailable for sale)
Clos de la Roche is a grand cru vineyard of the Cote de Nuits, covering about 42 acres (17ha) of land. It is here that winemaker Jacques Seysses produces his wines from organically produced grapes. Vintage wise, 1998 was a challenging year for winemakers in the region, but this wine has evolved well. The tasting sample was well received at the workshop with only one or two attendees believing it to be slightly past its best. Initially, on the nose, it was ?earthy? but on the palate it opened up an intensity of dark red cherry with a hint of liquorice, finely tuned tannins and fresh acidity. The complexities of a more mature wine were apparent and it was good to be able to taste it alongside the 2005 Nuits St.Georges.
It?s not very often that people from outside of the wine trade are able to try such a lineup of wines from a single grape variety; so the chance to see, smell and taste the differences was intriguing. Pinot noir is a thin-skinned, vulnerable grape that is heavily reliant on the weather and winemaker. Certainly, in the wines selected for this workshop the colours, clarity and pureness of the more delicate examples compared to the denser, meatier wines, was marked. The aromas of the various examples were equally wide-ranging, from a slight whiff of understated berries to full-on, ripe, scented cherries. Similarly, when unleashed on the taste buds, the flavours dictated that no two wines were identical ? each individual wine provided its own ?take? or style but at the same time had earned its right to be labelled as a full pedigree pinot noir!
Tastings & Events Team
Kevin Judd was born in Totton, Hampshire, emigrating to South Australia aged nine (“my parents went, and at that age you just go with the flow”) and then, with his wife Kimberley, on to New Zealand in 1983 where along with David Hohnen he was founding winemaker at LVMH’s iconic Cloudy Bay. He stayed there for 24 years. He says that his one regret is that he didn’t stay for his 25-year gold watch (LVMH also own TAG-Heuer!) but he certainly has no regrets about the path he has followed since.
2009 was the first vintage of Greywacke, so named because most of New Zealand lies upon the eponymous bedrock. The range comprises Sauvignon Blanc, Wild Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Late Harvest Gewürztraminer. At the end of January 60 members were fortunate enough to try six of these seven wines at Peter Gordon‘s Kopapa Café and Restaurant which had been expertly matched by Peter himself and his head chef Leigh Hartnett. We were delighted that both Kevin and Kimberley were there to talk to members about the wines in detail.
The aperitif of Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2011 was a sprightly, fresh, lime and fresh grass sauvignon which demands you have a second glass.
Kopapa’s speciality is tapas-style dishes, and so we had four shared small plates as our starters. The two dishes of goat’s curd panna cotta, beetroot yuzu salsa and black olive tuile, and then smoked monkfish carpaccio, white balsamic, caper & parsley dressing were a marvellous foil to the rounded, ripe, savoury, almost minty character of the Greywacke Wild Sauvignon 2010 (due in February). Rich and yet palate cleansing at the same time, the savoury notes melded with the smoked monkfish as well as the classic sauvignon marriage with goat’s cheese.
The second pair of dishes (pan-fried Scottish scallops, sweet chilli & crème fraîche – Peter’s signature dish – and tempura spicy dhal inari pocket, caramelised coconut, plantain, pickled green papaya) were beautifully matched with Greywacke Riesling 2011 (it’s first showing anywhere in the world – due in June). The wine is fresh, off-dry, open, appealing with lime and mineral notes and should come with a label that says simply ‘Drink Me!’ The 20g/l residual sugar, and the lovely crisp acidity countered the sweetness of the coconut and the chilli spice perfectly.
Next to the cheese course, and a twice baked Crozier Blue soufflé (no mean feat to produce 64 individual soufflés all at the same time!) with Jerusalem artichoke cream and a pomegranate dressing went superbly with the soft green apples and tropical fruit of the Greywacke Pinot Gris 2010, with its 8 g/l of sweetness balancing the light saltiness of the soufflé.
The beautifully cooked main course of lamb cutlet & braised lamb shank with white bean purée, kale and fig jus fitted hand in glove with Greywacke Pinot Noir 2010 (due in June). The wine, with its lovely waft of sweet cherries and cream, showed a savoury and mineral depth of huge proportion, and a fresh, almost eternal savoury finish.
To finish, Greywacke Late Harvest Gewurztraminer 2009 (we believe these were the last bottles in existence) with its 90 g/l of residual sugar and its trademark lychee and Turkish delight character, and yet a freshness rarely displayed in gewurz found elsewhere, with another signature dish of banana tarte tatin and sea salt caramel ice cream.
As well as arguably being New Zealand’s top winemaker, he is a very talented photographer. He has published three books – details and several images can be found by clicking on this link – and members enjoyed browsing through the books as we ate and drank.
It was a night to remember and to savour. Kevin and Kimberley moved on the next day to Denmark in their four week odyssey of the northern hemisphere, but we look forward to their return to these shores, as well as the very welcome arrival of the new vintages later this year.
Head of Tastings & Events
Yesterday Pierre Mansour (@pierremansour) and I (@Ewbz) hosted a virtual question time on Twitter (@TheWineSociety) as an experiment as we dip our toe a little further into the water of social media. A small-but-perfectly-formed band of members took part under the hashtag #twsqt. Here are the Qs and the As:
@robjfreeman If in doubt, always decant?
@TheWineSociety ‘Yes!’ Most wines improve with aeration, especially younger reds. As @JancisRobinson says: ‘decant splashily!’ …
@TheWineSociety …although be wary of older, more fragile wines. If needed, decant immediately before drinking or pour carefully.
@thirstforwine What wine for a Xmas 4-bird roast? (Turkey, Goose, Duck, Pheasant)
@TheWineSociety C’neuf-du-Pape is our recco but with so many flavours esp. trimmings choose something you know your guests will enjoy.
@thirstforwine Interesting – was thinking NZ PN. Thoughts?
@TheWineSociety NZ pinot was what @pierremansour drank with last year’s Christmas dinner! Anything with a bit of sweet ripe fruit.
@skifamille Am I right in thinking 15/12 is last order date for Christmas?
@TheWineSociety To guarantee pre-Christmas delivery, order pre-midnight Thu 15/12.
@TopTungston Wondering when the Tollot-Beaut Chorey-lès-Beaune 2005 is best to drink. Opening offer says best by 2012. Please advise.
@TheWineSociety Drinking well now. 05 vintage long-lasting but Chorey a modest appellation. For even softer and gamier hold for 2-3 years.
@TopTungston Also please could you tell me is the 06 Katnook estate Cab Sauv drinking ok right now? Thank you.
@TheWineSociety Absolutely delicious right now. Very elegant. Do decant 1 hour before.
@Theshrubb Is my 2001 Langoa Barton ready for this Christmas or should I leave it for a few more?
@TheWineSociety Drank this at a recent Montreuil dinner (Sep). Just hitting stride now. Pop the cork & enjoy, or wait up to another 8 years.
@PollyEJHolidays You focus a lot on great Portuguese wines, but are there any you’d recommend from the Algarve for Christmas?
@TheWineSociety While we have loads of Portuguese in our current offer none are from Algarve. Sorry.
So that’s it from Stevenage for this week. Next time we’ll be in Stevenage, and the time after that in … er … Stevenage! Good night.
The following is part of a lovely letter I received from Dave Noonan, who until quite recently worked at The Wine Society handling members’ telephone enquiries and orders. He managed to persuade Eric Lemelson, when Eric visited London for The Society’s Wine Fair Tasting in May, to give him a harvest job at his excellent Oregon winery in the Willamette Valley. It occurred to me that members would enjoy reading his musings.
I arrived at Lemelson three weeks ago, one of four harvest interns – pretty nervous having little idea of what to expect. My welcome could not have been warmer: the hospitality and kindness has been incredible.
The winery could quite easily be on a picture postcard. It’s beautiful. Surrounded by oaks, maples and huge Douglas-firs, it’s an impressive building of wood, slate, glass and local stone that fits perfectly in its surroundings.
The scenery is breathtaking. On one side we have the imposing mountains of the coastal range, the other sides a mixture of rolling hills covered by trees and vines. On a clear day you can see the highest mountain in the state – Mount Hood, a standalone peak that is always covered in snow.
Pinot noir is king in the Willamette Valley and this is true with Lemelson. Their range consists of around eight different pinots – these are single vineyard wines and a couple of blends. The single vineyard wines are $42 a bottle while the blends are between $20 and $30. The winery has been purpose designed and built to produce wine without using pumps (pinot must be treated gently!).
Each single vineyard wine has its own distinct character with varying levels of raspberry, blackberry, chocolate, coffee, oak and spices. My favourite is the single vineyard Stermer wine – I may be biased though as my house is on the Stermer vineyard and I’ve been tasting the berries everyday. They also make three whites: a superb riesling, aromatic and full of honey and citrus, a pinot gris and also a chardonnay.
The work so far has been focused on getting ready for the harvest. The work is never dull – one day last week I drove out to the Johnson vineyard, found the required area of vines and picked 24 of the sweetest clusters I could find, put them in a bucket and squashed them. I then filtered the juice off so it could be frozen in to pinot noir ice pops for a wine club event being held this weekend!
I’m having the time of my life.
Members will have drunk many of Paul Pujol’s wines over the last decade – he has made wine at Kuentz-Bas in Alsace, Lemelson in Oregon and now back in his homeland at Prophet’s Rock in Central Otago. Making small lots of pinot noir (including the excellent Mount Koinga, which he crafts exclusively for members), riesling and pinot gris, the style of his wines perfectly balance old-world complexity with new world generosity. In the first of his guest blogs for Society Grapevine, Paul gives us an engaging report on Central Otago’s 2011 vintage.
New Zealand buyer
Perhaps I should start at the start and you might get the idea.
After a pretty warm end to winter in Central Otago (and a good ski season) spring really took off with a bang. October and November 2010 were easily the hottest I have seen in Central Otago. It felt like every day was over 30°C and my kids were swimming in Lake Wanaka in October – usually a ridiculous idea until at least January. We therefore experienced very rapid spring growth and a very successful flowering of the vines. This ultimately meant two things – one, we had ‘locked-in’ an earlier than normal harvest and two, that potential crops could be quite high in certain sites due to quite sizable bunches of grapes.
All well and good you say. Then came December, where the temperatures dropped, the wind arrived and the weather became more variable. Although the wind was a little annoying (more canopy management) everyone was pretty relaxed and glad that the early season extremes were over. Personally I was quite happy that the high temperatures had dropped as I favour a ‘slow cook’ in terms of ripening grapes rather than a hot, fast ripening – not that I’ve ever had a say in the matter. From the end of December the weather settled into quite an alarming weekly pattern: Rain, clearing with wind, a nice day or two, wind and then the next rain front again.
Ummm, not text book stuff but at least the vines weren’t stressed and we didn’t need to irrigate. Disease pressure was a little higher than usual which meant we did a couple of extra organic sulphur sprays than normal. As the season progressed through the summer I started to receive the common question: ‘How’s the season looking?’ My response was initially, ‘well it’s the last six weeks that really count’, then as the crazy weather continued: ‘well it’s the last month that really counts’ and finally, ‘well it’s the next two weeks that are critical’ – this is when the worry kicked in.
Thankfully as we entered the harvest period the weather sorted itself out and moved into typical autumn conditions. The rain disappeared and we had calm settled weather right through the harvest period. We had successfully dodged any disease issues and our yields were right on target, time to make wine.
At Prophet’s Rock we harvested some of the best fruit I have seen from our two sites thanks to a nice finish to the season and some excellent work from our team of pickers. Any fruit that showed signs of shrivel or damage from the weather was left on the ground for the birds. They say (whoever ‘they’ are) that a vintage with character makes for wines with character – I look forward to watching these wine evolve and seeing what sort of character that will be!
Moral of the story: When you are in the southernmost wine growing region in the world, anything can happen but it usually comes right in the end. Luckily for us, pinot noir and aromatic whites love life on the edge.
Have you been to Central Otago? I would love to hear your impressions of the region and the wines.
Winemaker, Prophet’s Rock
Central Otago on New Zealand’s South Island is the world’s southernmost wine region. This mountainous inland area is at the very limit of cool-climate grape growing and certainly isn’t for faint-hearted winemakers. Getting grapes to ripen this far south is a constant battle and, unlike the rest of New Zealand, the climate here is continental rather than maritime with a high risk of devastating frosts in the critical early autumn ripening period.
So what grape do they choose to grow here? Surely something hardy and reliable? No. They grow pinot noir, one of the world’s most recalcitrant grapes.
Why such apparent foolhardiness?
Because – when they get it right – the breathtaking voluptuousness of texture and the exquisite intensity of fruit of Otago’s best pinots makes all the effort worthwhile.
The Society has long been a champion of regional diversity in New Zealand, and we decided to celebrate this by bottling three different versions of Kiwi pinot to highlight the differences, and quality, of the wines from Central Otago, Marlborough and Martinborough under our Exhibition label.
The Society’s buyers work hard to ensure that the wines in this range are always flagship examples of the regions and styles that they represent. For the Marlborough wine we went to local experts Villa Maria, and to Craggy Range for the Martinborough.
Craggy Range’s winemaker, Master of Wine Steve Smith, also buys in grapes from other regions and told Society buyer Pierre Mansour about a special plot of vines in Otago. It is these grapes that make The Society’s Exhibition Central Otago Pinot Noir.
We were delighted to see that the 2009 vintage of this wine won the top prize, a gold medal, at this year’s International Wine Challenge.
A fitting reward for all that effort.