Look to taste the shape of the wine.
The panel for the Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration 2015 Formal Tasting was headed by Matt Dicey, fourth generation vigneron and winemaker from Mt Difficulty. He introduced and lead the discussion on the potential relationship between a wine’s form and the soil on which it’s grown.
This idea of shape and form in the wine was a key element of the tasting. We were asked to go beyond the nasal receptors, to put aside the fruit and berry descriptors. To aid us in the task we were introduced to the trigeminal nerve, which is the chief nerve of sensation for the face. (If you want to follow along at home, plug your nose before tasting a wine.) This shifted the focus onto the tactile information in the wine: texture, balance, structure, astringency, how the wine presents itself and how the mouth responds to the wine.
The wines on offer were mostly from schist soils – like those of Central Otago – with five from Germany and one from Chile. All up, that’s six wines. Six wines over three hours. So it wasn’t just about the sensory information, there was a lot of chat, including a talk by Frank Roeder MW on pinot noir in Germany. (Did you know that Germany has more pinot noir planted than Burgundy?!)
Each of these wines are small production wines that are hard to come by and will run you the equivalent of €80-160 (or $125-250 NZD).
2013 Arboleda Pinot Noir - Aconcagua Costa, Chile
A young region with young vines from 40cm deep clay loam soils over weathered schist. There’s a slightly reductive quality to the wine – a light body and high acidity on the outset. Looking beyond this first impression the wine has a sweet spice profile and a rather athletic build – linear without being lean, soft and round without being flabby. This one sits apart from the other wines in the tasting as they’re all clearly from a shared family. There’s a dryness to the finish that’s a bit of a flourish, wrapping the wine up nicely in a bow.
2011 August Kesseler Rüdesheim Berg Schlossberg Spätburgunder Gosses Gewächs - Rheingau, Germany
This wine is from a very good year, with the vines planted on steep, red schist soils and with a southerly exposure making for a spicy, round, rich and lingering picture. The wine fills the mouth making its presence known. The very fine tannins lend an elegance and there’s a power, depth and structure that is surprising.
2011 Meyer-Näkel Walkporzheimer Kräuterberg Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs - Ahr, Germany
The Ahr is defined by thin loam, weathered greywacke and schist soil over schist bedrock. Wines from this region are big and lush with a depth and richness that stands out as having a noticeable impact in the mouth. Plenty of savoury spice, very focused and with rapier acidity this sub-region sits cleanly at the top of the German class of spätburgunder.
2011 Rudolph Fürst Hündsruck Spätburgunder Grosses Gewächs - Franconia, Germany
This one is a bit rough where others are silky. Browns and greens coming through as earth and barnyard. The wine has the well defined structure of the rest, but with a few of the pillars knocked out. The acidity is slightly more volatile and the wine leaves a feeling of grit. Of dustiness. Blame it on the sandstone soils?
Based on the hypothesis we were considering – that the underlying material shapes the wine’s form – this one should have been the odd man out as it was grown on sandstone, however, it had enough of a shared personality to belong to the same family of wines as the other Germans. It was, in fact, the Chilean wine that sat apart from the group as it was a far more linear example of pinot noir than the German examples.
2009 Markus Molitor Brauneberger Klostergarten Spätburgunder - Mosel, Germany
The most Germanic of the wines, it was no surprise to see that this wine hailed from the Mosel as it mimicked the minerality and tannin structure seen in the rieslings from this area. Grown on finely granulated iron, this wine was soft, silky and delicate. A real beauty with an equal helping of fragility and depth of soul. An enchanting pixie of a wine with wafts of barnyard about it and the slightly sour, slightly sweet mix of spice and crab apples. Great tannins, lovely structure.
2009 Jean Stodden Herrenberg Spätburgunder, Grosses Gewächs - Ahr, Germany
Sourced from sandy loess soils with slate, the wine spent 19 months in 100% new oak, underwent malolactic fermentation in the barrel and had a 21 days maceration period. The result was one of the least extracted wines in the flight. Very fresh and light with a good amount of acid. The wine is plush and moves seamlessly across the palate. However, all this joy and ease and beauty was impinged upon by the spiky edges of oak that weren’t fully integrated and were a bit of a distraction. I call this one Harvey “Two-Face” Dent.
The assignment was to look at the shape of the wine. Twelve minutes for personal reflection and then a further eight minutes to discuss with our table. The teacher’s pet for the tasting was Rockburn’s winemaker, Malcolm Rees-Francis, who eloquently attributed shape and texture to each of the wines without so much as a note of strawberry or a hint of oak (Well done, sir). At my table there was still a lot of flavours and aromas crowding the boundaries of the conversation, but I happily came away with a tear-drop analogy for the Ahr wines: round and plush to start off with, tapering off to a lingering thread of acidity. (I dropped my gripe with the oak on the 2009 Ahr to suit the preferences of the wider group.)
As the conversation flowed on from the shapes of the wines there was much discussion about how similar or different these wines were to the wines of Central Otago. Most sat comfortably in the different camp as the brash fruitiness of Central Otago was seen to be missing from the line-up – the German wines were all restrained fruit and texture. However, Nick Mills of Rippon was championing the same camp as he saw the similarities, especially with those Central pinots that are starting to show some age. He put forward that the wines have the same precision and compression at the end of the palate.
Having a wine from Central Otago to compare and contrast against would have helped delegates to benchmark the wines assembled. However, I can only imagine the challenge that would have presented the organising committee: pick a single wine that represents the shape of a Central Otago wine