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Decanter, June 2009 – 50 Best New World Pinot Noirs

At last, I have given up using Burgundy as a reference point for New World Pinot Noir.  It has taken me two decades to do so and I feel somewhat guilty about this.  I don’t do it with New World Cabernet and Claret and I long ago cast off the Cornas or Crozes and ‘cool climate’ Shiraz mantle, so I don’t know why Pinot has taken me so long.  None of my notes now read ‘Morey-like’, ‘Gevrey-earthiness’ or ‘Volnay-textured’.  This is like some sort of vinous confessional, but I admit that in the past, it was useful for me to use ‘village’ names or particular ‘Domaine styles’ as a note-making tool, given that Burgundy will, at least for my lifetime, remain the global model for this, the most awesome and mesmerising of grapes – the mighty Pinot Noir.  But I feel that it is now time to move on and there are fifty wines below that might convince you of this, too.  The reason for my life change is that many New World countries now make their own, definitive and regionally exact versions of Pinot Noir.  They have their own world-renowned gurus and well defined geographical Pinot-friendly sub-regions.   Vine age is rolling along nicely and clonal selection is a more finite and less haphazard skill.  If you are not already on board with this sensational news, then shame on you.  Don’t beat yourself up too much though, because this wave of non-Burgundian Pinot Noir excellence is a relatively new phenomenon.  I published my first ‘Great New Zealand Pinot Noir Classification’ in late 2007, in my annual wine guide ‘Taste 2008′ (co-authored by Brisbane’s Tyson Stelzer).  We felt that it was time that someone compiled a guide to those estates who were really getting it right in this specialist, but admittedly rather esoteric (if crowded) field.  It seemed to us that so many people were ham-fistedly mucking up the allure and magic contained in a great bottle Pinot, and we were happy to stick our necks out and say who’d got it right and who’d dropped the ball.  Job done, we are both still here and we have moved on.  I am happy to report that Australia has sneaked up on the outside lane with Pinot in the last few years and there is a large choice of superb wines available at all prices, and they are on our shelves, too.  The same cannot be said for the wines from North America.  California and Oregon Pinot still tends to give me the heebee-geebies.  There is very little shipped into the UK these days of any great quality (I think those dastardly Americans keep all of the top stuff for themselves), so I have worked hard on tracking down the very best for your delectation – they are pretty dear, but I will not waste your pounds – certainly not at this time of great financial crisis.  South Africa is in this list, with three good wines, and there are more to come, but they have other grapes to concentrate on right now, so don’t hold your breath.  Chile and Argentina try hard, but they are not firmly in the Pinot zone yet.  I must do better next time, but they must do, too.  I tasted a Patagonian range the other day, which is threatening to make it to our shores, soon (at scary prices, though) which did raise an eyebrow or two, and then there were some awesome German and Austrian Pinot Noirs, too (but they are not in the New World are they?).  So for now, amuse yourselves with this fantastic range of wines.  I truly believe that Pinot Noir is finally getting the worldwide recognition that it deserves for its non-Burgundian creations.  I also know a few French superstars who not only respect the efforts of their counterparts abroad, but who also see reasons to raise their own game even further – now that really is great news.

2005 Piper’s Brook The Lyre Pinot Noir, Tasmania, Australia

With more purity and less muscle than the equally brilliant but as yet unreleased 2005 PN Reserve, this is an ethereal creation studded with precision and beauty – Tasmania is finally showing its valid, vineyard-specific credentials.

2005 Pirie Sigma Pinot Noir, Tasmania, Australia

Dr. Andrew Pirie’s reaction to the 2005 vintage in Tasmania is as unnervingly assured, detailed and original as the man himself.

2006 Ten Minutes by Tractor McCutcheon Vineyard Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia

This is the spectacular and flamboyant Mornington at its enviable best with lashings of layered, boisterous red and black fruit and a heavenly, brocaded finish.

2007 10X Pinot Noir, Ten Minutes by Tractor, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia

TMBT’s baby Pinot is chunky, bold and dark and it is a joy to drink even though it is a little like a headstrong teenager on a Friday night jamboree.

2007 Ashton Hills Vineyard Reserve Pinot Noir, Adelaide Hills, South Australia, Australia

There is nothing to touch the integrity and reward in the ‘guru’s’ (Stephen George’s) Adelaide Hills Pinots.  Once Pinot central and now a ‘cool climate’ Shiraz  haunt – this wine is a beacon as to why a lot of people have got AH wrong.

2007 Craggy Range Pinot Noir Calvert Vineyard Central Otago, Australia

Three wines in this list come from one vineyard in Central Otago – it is clearly one of the most important Pinot Noir sites in the world.  Utterly mesmerising.

2007 De Bortoli Yarra Valley Estate Grown Pinot Noir, Victoria, Australia

Steve Webber and his team build thrilling wines from their entry level stunner, right to the top.  No one in the Southern Hemisphere comes close to this depth of field in their Pinot armoury.

2007 Felton Road Calvert Pinot Noir, Central Otago, Australia

The finest Pinot portfolio in New Zealand boasts a complete range of iconic wines – this is the most dramatic and audacious.  It fizzles with magic and promise and delivers everything you would wish of it.

2007 Paringa Estate Peninsula Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia

Preferred to the Reserve (which is often a little oaky) this is a succulent and foresty, dark wine with gamey appeal and superb attack on the nose and palate.

2007 PHI Pinot Noir, Lusatia Park, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia

This beautiful single vineyard (possibly uniquely in the world, grows Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Pinot at world class standards) gives us a siren sound of wild berry fruit and the slipperiest palate imaginable.

2007 The Sabre Pinot Noir, Riposte by Tim Knappstein, Adelaide Hills, South Australia, Australia

Tim’s unerring accuracy with this grape (this is not an expensive wine) is a direct reflection of his years of experience.  A briary and layered Pinot, this is as exciting as any European medium-weight red regardless of variety!

2007 William Downie Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia

Bill Downie’s wines are enigmatic and often puzzling on first sip, but spend time unraveling them and laying out the pieces on your palate and the inevitable eureka moments are extraordinary.  

2007 Yabby Lake Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia

Yabby’s unstoppable march to the top of the Aussie Pinot League continues unchallenged with this masterly 2007.  Structured, youthful and crammed with energy, this is a wine with attitude.

2008 De Bortoli Gulf Station Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia

Ten pounds only and ahead of every other PN on the planet, this wine should be allowed to age for 12 months before it’s devoured, but not one bottle will get that pleasure as no one will wait that long. 

2008 De Bortoli Windy Peak Pinot Noir, Victoria, Australia

Windy is a wine that has changed the climate of Pinot opinion, once and for all – this grape really can offer true value for money as well as the ultimate sensory experience.

2008 Devils Corner Pinot Noir, Tasmania, Australia

Tassie is not designed to make inexpensive Pinot, but this wine bucks the trend and it does it with earth, spice and grip as well as fruit – smart work!

2008 Swan Bay Pinot Noir, Scotchman’s Hill, Victoria, Australia

The ‘second’ PN from Scotchman’s Hill is, unlikely as it might seem, a better wine that the estate version due to its purity, lack of overt oak and layered red fruit palate.  The UK has had it for years, but no one buys it.  Why?

2006 Au Bon Climat Isabelle Morgan Pinot Noir, California

The top wine from PN pioneers ABC is well worth the experience with its spice and exotic fruit rollercoaster ride.  The oak here is as extraordinary, too, and it is just one sector of a devastatingly attractive wine.

2006 Capiaux Wilson Vineyard Pinot Noir, California

Only 175 barrels are made of this wine, so best of luck finding any (there is some in the UK), but it was one of only eight wines at the annual Californian Wine Tasting to make this list – it did it by being shockingly reserved, composed and completely and utterly beautiful.

2006 Caymus Belle Glos Clark & Telephone Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley, California

40 year old Santa Maria fruit and a palate loaded with spice, smoke and sweet and sour, almost Piemontese fruit notes, make this a valuable addition to the international palette of first class New World Pinot.  This is a wine which widens horizons.

2006 Gary Farrell Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, Hallberg Vineyard, California

With bold, black cherry fruit and a firm kick of power and bravado, this is a rich, lusty, brooding Pinot with more intensity than many could handle, but you should all have a go to see what’s possible!

2006 Littorai Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir, Sonoma County, California

A savoury, dense, delicious and multifaceted Pinot with incredible palate intensity, but no heat or unwanted oak on the finish (unlike 2/3 of Californian Pinots).  This is a sensational wine.

2006 Marmesa Reed Harvest Dessert Pinot Noir, California

The joker in the pack – a sweetie with a boozy strawberry palate and a cranberry-sharp finish.  Utterly addictive and a bit of a laugh, but essential glugging if you are a true Pinot freak.

2006 Paul Hobbs Russian River Pinot Noir, California

I prefer this wine to the single vineyard, more expensive ‘Lindsay’, by virtue of its Zen-like control and uninterrupted flow of beguiling flavours.  Not the ‘ice-cream menu’ of many US Pinots, this is a wine riveted to its soil and I love it.  

2007 Au Bon Climat Santa Maria Pinot Noir, California

The entry level Pinot for ABC is one of the finest wines in its distended portfolio.  Raspberry and cream notes lick eagerly at the palate and they remind you that this estate cracked the code a very long time ago, while people today still pay inordinate amounts of money to consultants who cannot even find their backside with both hands.

2008 Secano Estate Pinot Noir (made by Viña Leyda), Chile

The only way to introduce the greater market to this grape is via a perfect example, but it must be at an attainable price.   This is my choice from the entire UK market.  Feel proud Leyda (and M&S) for your unrivalled missionary work.

2007 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir, Martinborough, New Zealand

The standard bearer for Martinborough and still the finest Pinot of its style, this is a wine that has so much complexity that you must treat with the respect that it commands.  A modern-age trailblazer.

2007 Auntsfield Hawk Hill Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand

The softer Marlborough Pinot model is generous and welcoming but no less attractive than other more mineral models and this is one of the most intricate on offer.

2007 Bald Hills Single Vineyard Pinot Noir, Central Otago, New Zealand

A relatively new estate but one that has managed to grab the essence of the soil and immediately gain the traction and integrity that this grape desires.  Drinking well already, but it will easily hold onto its elemental energy for years to come.

2007 Dashwood Estate Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand

It is a relief to know that some estates take their underling wines as seriously as the wine that wear their estate badge.  Vavasour (Glen Thomas) is such a venue.  Dashwood is a lip-smacking and exact example of this variety.

2007 De Bortoli Yarra Valley Reserve Release Pinot Noir, Victoria, Australia

Given a big swing at this Reserve wine it is delightful (and admirable) that De Bortoli is ‘reserved’ about the amount of oak and intensity of fruit on display.  Bigger is not better here, but longer and finer is actively encouraged. 

2007 Delta Vineyards Hatters Hill Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand

Matt Thomson is a highly accomplished winemaker and his Pinot genes are in place, too.  But this very wine is the first Delta to fully recognise his talent and also realise the quality of the dirt in his vineyard – a delicious and thoughtful wine.

2007 Escarpment Pinot Noir, Martinborough, New Zealand

The great Larry McKenna is a laser-guided Pinot maker and his obsession seems to be in simply mirroring his vineyards in the glass – no more, no less.  ’07 Escarpment is true Martinborough Pinot – the unforgettable essence of these special sites.

2007 Forrest Estate Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand

The remarkable fact about this wine is that the price is wrong by a factor of two!  Dr John answers this question with a very simple reply – ‘it’s the right price, everyone else is too expensive – this is great value Pinot Noir’ – and he’s right.

2007 Mt Difficulty Pinot Noir, Central Otago, New Zealand

This is another of those estates that flies beneath the radar and yet who cracked the Pinot enigma years before the legions of pretenders (many of whom are still deludedly off target!).  This wine, and all of the other Pinots in the MtD portfolio, are unmissable and life-enhancing. 

2007 Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir, Waipara     , New Zealand

Pinot often involves pain and Peg Bay is not an easy pill to swallow, but where there is mystery and consternation, there is sometimes unbridled joy and elation – this is one of those wines.

2007 Peregrine Pinot Noir, Central Otago, New Zealand

A very high level wine, but one of the few that has retained its price for years, and this means that you can experience definitive Otago Pinot without breaking the bank – us Pinot freaks owe Peregrine a debt of gratitude for this cracking opportunity.

2007 Pyramid Valley Vineyards Growers Collection Calvert Vineyard Pinot Noir, Central Otago, New Zealand

The third Pinot from Calvert, but the mood reflects the winemaker and his name is Mike Weersing – as close to a wine visionary as I have found in recent years.  His interpretation of this soil is phenomenal.

2007 Schubert Vineyard Block B Pinot Noir, Wairarapa, New Zealand          

Chunky oak and robust fruit mark this as a keeper, but there is immediate beauty here, too, and this forward wine, from clearly a future classic piece of turf, is one to watch. 

2007 Wither Hills Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand

A very popular wine and one that has always been made with 100% passion and commitment.  The 2007 is phenomenal and it will be, as always, drunk two years too young!

2008 Ata Rangi Crimson Pinot Noir, Martinborough, New Zealand

Crimson is supposedly the wine to introduce you to its bigger brother, Ata Rangi PN (qv).  Perversely, however, you need all of the Pinot knowledge in the world to truly understand just how special Crimson is.  How funny is that – is the joke on us?

2005 Domaine Drouhin Cuvée Laurène Pinot Noir, Oregon

A leader of the pack in Oregon, but one that is consistently reliable as opposed to truly outstanding – until this vintage came along.  Well done Drouhin.

2005 Lachini Vineyards Giselle Pinot Noir, Oregon

Oregon is not famous for overtly sexy Pinot Noir, preferring the ‘librarian before spectacle removal and hair shake down’ look, but this wine is utterly incredible with its pheromonal appeal.

2006 Beaux Frères The Beaux Frères Vineyard Pinot Noir, Oregon

Expensive, but worth it with the terrific texture and depth of flavour that is not won by chasing alcohol, but by nurturing vines.

2006 Chehalem Ridgecrest Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon

This estate is not yet in the UK, but someone for goodness sake put their hand up, because this wine is super-long and disconcertingly classy (like all of the others in the portfolio, too).

2006 Daedalus Cellars Labyrinth Pinot Noir, Oregon

Perhaps the entrancing nose, alluring flavour and romantic name did it for me, but I am not that shallow, am I? I went back for a second go and was even more transfixed by this wine – I hear that it is on its way to the UK very soon

2006 Elk Cove Reserve Pinot Noir, Oregon

One of the original Oregon heroes and this is why.  Great terroir, truthful, non-flashy winemaking and a glass that makes you want the bottle and a bottle that makes you want another.  Very few Oregon Pinot have this enviable characteristic.

2007 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir, Walker Bay, South Africa

With less overt oak influence and an overall lighter chassis than you might expect, this is a wine that might confuse fans, but it has swept me off my feet with its undeniable, classically-dimensioned beauty.

2007 Bouchard Finlayson Galpin Peak Pinot Noir, Walker Bay, South Africa

With more horse-power than my other two SA Pinots, Galpin Peak is a youthful brute, but there is serious breeding here and this trio is the finest ever from the Cape.

2007 Chamonix Pinot Noir Reserve, Franschhoek, South Africa

One of the most remarkable properties in the country (the whites are sensational, too), this Pinot is every bit as alluring as the great wines from Otago and Mornington.