Can Cloudy Bay make New Zealand Pinot Noir as successful as Sauvignon Blanc?
The question sprang to mind last week at a tasting held at Cloudy Bay HQ on Jackson’s Road, Blenheim. This was not just any old tasting. We were tasting bottles of great wines with enormous price tags from all over the world, alongside their far humbler priced Cloudy Bay Pinot Noirs.
So, what was the point of the tasting?
Cloudy Bay senior winemaker Tim Heath said he wanted to compare and contrast his Pinots with great reds from around the world – and he wasn’t mucking around.
The full list of wines appears at the end but my stand outs were:
2011 Vega Sicilia Valbuena Ribera del Duero ***** (5 stars)
Spain’s most famous red or merely its most seductive? Not that there’s anything ‘mere’ about this powerful wine, which puts Cabernet Sauvignon’s most commanding foot forward here, only it’s riper, rounder and more approachable than Cab’ Sauv’ can usually hope to be. And speaking of feet, it has one in both the traditional camp – it’s blended with Merlot and Malbec – as well as the maverick one; it also contains the characterful red fruit appeal of Tempranillo (known as Tinto Fino in the Ribera del Duero region). It was aged in both old and new oak and the grapes were grown at relatively high altitude in this warm region, which accounts for the retention of acidity, which freshens this big red. It has enormous potential to age and was my star of the tasting.
2009 Sori San Lorenzo from Piemonte ***** (5 stars)
When first made in 1967, this became the first cru Barbaresco ever produced by Italy’s modern wine pioneer, Angelo Gaja, who named it after its location – sori means hilltop with a southern exposure and that tastes like it works a treat for the late ripening, Nebbiolo grape, which is paradoxically delicate and intense (floral, a touch of tar, smoked meat, red fruit, full body, high acid, long finish, another seductive red). It was also the best wine with the food , due to its high acidity cutting a delicious path through the cheese, the salad and even the salmon that I ate after the tasting when we were able to re-try the wines at lunch.
2011 August Clape Cornas **** (4 stars)
This is like super concentrated teen angst; it needs time to chill out before it’s ready to socialise. It’s all about earthy flavours, tar, black olives and pepper with loads of everything (tannin, acid, super dry, full body). It was made using wild yeasts, was aged for 20 months in old oak then bottled unfined and unfiltered. It was not my fave to drink right now, but it’s impossible not to be impressed with the depth, length, body and all that jazz.
2013 Domaine Dujac Clos de la Roche Grand Cru **** (4 stars)
Made from grapes that were organically grown and taken from a Grand Cru vineyard, but more revealingly, it has a high percentage of whole bunch fermentation, which tasted intensely stalky, but provided impressive concentration, which seemed to dominate the delicacy that I look for in Pinot Noir. It’s an impeccable wine, although its style polarised the room.
2014 Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir ***** (5 stars)
This is the best Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir I have ever tasted and it’s not the first time it’s made an outstanding impression on me in a blind tasting. It is made from 3 vineyard sites: Mustang in the Southern Valleys, Barracks planted in 2004 and the Delta Vineyard acquired by Cloudy Bay in 2013. About 15% of the wine went through whole bunch fermentation and there is no oak evident on the palate, which has clearly benefited from the intentional oxidative maturation that well used oak aging can bring to wine.
Winemaker Tim Heath says this: “We’ve worked really hard on the use of oak over the past four or five years. That, and our focus on how many whole bunches to include in the fermentation of Pinot Noir have been such an obsession that I needed to take a mental break from after our extensive trials. The aim is to make a Pinot that benefits from both, but doesn’t scream of those winemaking bells and whistles.”
2014 Cloudy Bay Te Wahi Pinot Noir **** (4 stars)
This wine is made from a 50/50 blend of grapes which it purchases from the Calvert Vineyard and grown on the Northburn Station Vineyard, which it now owns. And while it is elegant, fresh and full bodied, it says far more about Pinot Noir than the first Te Wahi (made in 2010) ever did, thanks a significant reduction in the use of whole bunches in the fermentation. This is a beauty; all red fruit, elegance, a lively style and long finish. A keeper and it drinks very nicely right now.
The aim of the Cloudy Bay Pinot Salon
This was New Zealand’s first Pinot Salon – a curious name for an event focussed on many wines that weren’t even made from the tricky old, oversensitive, thin skinned, Pinot Noir grape.
The Pinot Salon has replaced the annual Pinot at Cloudy Bay event, which was held annually until 2015 when the salons were launched in London. Senior winemaker Tim Heath and viticulturist Jim White have hosted salons in London and Tokyo and have more planned around the world. This year’s was the first time it has been held in New Zealand.
Cloudy Bay’s new Estate Director, Yang Shen, also attended the event and is pictured standing in the following picture:
“Cloudy Bay first planted Pinot Noir in Marlborough in 1985, and released the first vintage in 1989. Since then we have acquired some of the finest Pinot Noir vineyards in Marlborough, and more recently in Central Otago where we are continuing to refine our style,” said Shen, who is a trained winemaker in his own right.
The tasting was co-hosted by New Zealand’s sole Master Sommelier, Cameron Douglas, and all wines were tasted blind.
The wines tasted
2011 Auguste Clape Cornas – Rhone Valley
2014 Domaine Cedric Chignard, Fleurie, Les Moriers – Beaujolais
2013 Domaine Dujac, Clos de la Roche, Grand Cru – Burgundy
2013 Domaine de Montille, Volnay, “En Champans”, 1er Cru – Burgundy
2013 Domaine Sylvain Cathiard, Nuits-St Georges, Aux Thorey, 1er Cru – Burgundy
2009 Rene Rostaing, Cote Rotie “Ampodium” – Rhone Valley
2011 Vega Sicilia Valbuena 5° – Ribera del Duero
2009 Gaja Sori San Lorenzo Langhe – Piedmont
2005 Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir Magnum – Marlborough
2010 Te Wahi – Central Otago
2014 Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir – Marlborough
2014 Te Wahi – Central Otago