Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES February 20th, 2021

A New World Pinot Noir Primer

by David Lawrason, with notes from John Szabo, Michael Godel and Sara d’Amato

Long time readers will know I am irresistibly drawn to pinot noir, like a moth to a porch light. Not because it is always divine but because it is always real and intriguing. Its spirit is so fragile that it immediately radiates any attempts by Mother Nature or her winemakers to make it into something it doesn’t want to be. And that narrative is fascinating to taste – vintage after vintage, place after place, technique after technique. It is the essence of what makes wine worth pursuing.

One of the sure ways to muck up pinot noir is to attempt to make it cheaply. The best pinots – the divine pinots – are made at very low yield and with a sense of diligence and detail that most wineries that want to make money can’t even begin to contemplate unless they can charge a ton. So, cost and corner-cutting are endemic to the variety, and increasingly encountered in New World regions that have not yet achieved the upper atmosphere price tenure of Burgundy.

At the same time, it is increasingly a grape variety of interest as more and more consumers are broadening their attachment to this light red – and that’s a very good thing for gastronomy. So, on a commercial level I understand VINTAGES’ spotlight on New World Pinot Noirs in the Feb 20 release. But to find great pinots within their sweet-spot pricing of $25 is just not realistic. I do commend VINTAGES buyers however for finding fairly well-made examples that represent and educate about the styles now being made in various New World regions.

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I am happy to report that out of all the New World regions represented in the release Ontario fares best, with our cool climate, taut and tender style being very impressive. This comment is based on the narrow shoulders of two lovely light-hearted 2019s that fill me with hope for more 2019s to come. The Henry of Pelham 2019 Estate Pinot Noir (review below) is juicy, fragrant and delicious. The Hidden Bench 2019 Estate Pinot Noir Unfiltered, a VINTAGES Essentials, has the same lighter, vibrant vibe but with a slightly leaner ambiance. Both are charmers. Then there is Pelee Island 2017 Vinedressers Reserve Pinot Noir grown in Canada’s most southerly vineyard – softer and heavier but it has regional accuracy and is drinking well at a very fair price.

Burgundy, France is the Oracle of pinot noir, and although many New World regions talk the Burgundy talk, not many really walk the walk. The one pinot in this release that is most Euro-like (leaner, more mineral, less exuberantly fruity) is from South Africa, and that is a common commentary on South African wines. Sutherland 2018 Pinot Noir from the cool, coastal Elgin region is firm, dry, complex and intriguing. And as always from South Africa, very well priced.

Moving over to South America, where third-world low prices unfortunately remain the consumer looking glass of an entire continent, cooler Chile is really working hard at pinot noir. Montes is one of the most highly regarded producers in the country and it delivers a nicely spry, fresh, ripe if somewhat jammy and juicy commercial example Montes 2018 Limited Selection Pinot Noir for a mere $14.95.

Staying in the southern hemisphere, New Zealand pinot prowess continues to impress. To me, it is the second most interesting pinot region in the world after Burgundy. And not because it is trying to be Burgundy in style. The Matahiwi Estate 2018 Me Pinot Noir is a light and very well priced example ($19.95) of Kiwi zest, while the Delta 2017 Pinot Noir from the ‘southern clays’ region of Marlborough begins to scale the heights of really serious and seriously good NZ pinot (reviewed below).

And lastly moving to the west coast of North America, here is where pinot begins to run into real stylistic and value issues. Oregon has long been considered a great New World pinot zone, but it is still a moderately warmer region making a riper, softer and commercially successful style in America. Combined with outsized American premium wine pricing in general and Canadian exchange rates, Oregon is the least good value pinot noir regions on our shelves although Cloudline 2018 Pinot Noir takes a swing at it. Then south into California, pinot noir at an affordable level has become notably full bodied, soft and sweet, as in the new Sea Sun 2019 Pinot Noir from the Wagner family. Not to universally diss the Oregon and California pinots, because some great premium wines are being rendered, but the duo on this release just can’t deliver much value.

Elsewhere on the release out WineAlign critics have gone to town to unearth the best and most interesting wines. As usual.

VINTAGES Buyer’s Guide February 20th:

Whites

Terres Secrètes 2018 Les Préludes Saint-Véran, Burgundy, France ($21.95) Vinexx
David Lawrason – This is s a really lovely, delicate yet slightly crunchy and mineral chardonnay from the southernmost appellation of the Macon. It shows a complex weave of tree fruit, florals, spice and stones, firm and lively but not the least austere.


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And that’s a wrap for this release. We will be back in two weeks with a review of VINTAGES Mar 6 release that involves an Argentine feature.

David Lawrason
VP Of Wine

Use these quick links for access to all of our Top Picks in the New Release. Non-Premium members can select from all release dates 30 days prior.

Lawrason’s Take
Szabo’s Smart Buys
Michael’s Mix
Sara’s Sommelier Selections

New Release and VINTAGES Preview

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