Wine Thoughts Blog:

Some Thoughts on the 2012 Experts' Tasting:

Pinot Noir and its siblings

March 12, 2012

the setupLast minute preparations in the beautiful tasting room: Pond Inlet Refectory

The annual Experts' Tasting is sponsored by Brock University's Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) in conjunction with the Cuvée Awards weekend. This year's theme focused on Pinot Noir, with a nod towards its siblilngs Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, which are also grown with some success in Ontario.

While 35 wines were tasted, and I have copious tasting notes, I believe that the organizers are trying to think about larger issues. So in that spirit I will briefly recap some of my broader thoughts that came out of the tasting.

siblingsFlight 1: the siblings

The first flight focused on "the siblings", Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. Generally these were complex, well-made wines, and supported my growing view that in many respects Ontario white wines are ahead of red wines. The ringer, a mass-market high-volume Pinot Grigio from Italy, was totally outclassed, but this was quite an unfair comparison. A smaller production Pinot Grigio would have been more interesting and useful, and I thought that this choice was out of place.

My one generalization is that the Gris and the Blanc showed residual sweetness. I might not have thought to report this comment here, because none of them seemed inappropriately sweet, except for one coincidence. At the Cuvée Gala tasting the night before, I noticed that of the non-Chardonnays I tasted, almost all had noticeable residual sugar as well. I've been very aware of this trend in Riesling, but if this is a general trend for all non-Chardonnays, I want to at least raise the question as to whether this is the right direction to go.

4thflight2009 Pinot Noirs - the 4th Flight
"The Perfect Storm"

The remaining four flights focused on Pinot Noir: the second featured wines from 2008, 2007 and one 2002; the third featured young Pinots from the warm 2010 vintage, while the fourth and fifth flights were all from 2009, considered by some to be the best Pinot Noir vintage in Ontario. Each of the flights had a non-Canadian "ringer" for added fun. Thomas Bachelder used the final flight to try to elucidate differences in terroir.

I drink and enjoy a great deal of Ontario Pinot Noir, and there were many really fine examples here. Jay Johnstone, the new winemaker at Keint-he, and presenter of the 3rd flight of 2010 Pinots, used the term "pinocity" to describe that complex of aromas and flavours that typify Pinot Noir for each of us. I've used that term too, and when you taste twenty or thirty Burgundies in a row, say at an LCBO Burgundy event, you are overwhelmed, excited, and sometimes even numbed by pinocity — you both want to cry "stop, it hurts" and "give me more"! OK, I'm dramatizing just a wee bit, but despite the very good quality of many of the samples, as a whole the pinocity was somewhat lacking. Frankly I felt the same thing at an even more extensive 2009 Pinot tasting last winter, and I think that the perspective across vintages, as in this tasting, was more satisfying than looking at 2009 alone.

With real trepidation I broached this comment to two of my table mates, one a winemaker who had a wine in the tasting, and the other a very experienced and erudite writer. They didn't seem to disagree. Two of the points that came out as possible (and perhaps partial) explanations were first, that the vines are still very young, and second, that in general there may be too much oak used, masking the fruit and character. The fruit just isn't showcased as much as it should be. More generally, there's a great deal of "winemaking" going on here.

BachelderThomas Bachelder on terroir

This may also speak to the difficulties that Mr. Bachelder had trying to get a general agreement that there were obvious terroir differences among the five local Pinots in his flight. It's not that I think most people there doubted the concept, and certainly some in the audience gamely tried to find and explain terroir differences in our samples. But I suspect others besides myself felt that the winemaking issues (especially varying oak treament), along with the differing degrees of ripeness of the grapes, dominated any subtle nuances that perhaps could have been attributed to different terroir.

I hope that those who read these comments place them in the correct context. Niagara's Pinot Noir vines are generally very young. Many winemakers have been through only a handful of Pinot Noir vintages in Niagara. There's a long way to go, but results to date are very encouraging! Moreovoer, despite the difficulties of dealing with Pinot Noir, catalogued by Rob Power in his very amusing presentation, winemakers manage to turn out a pretty good result in every vintage (though in some years volumes may be very low.) It's a wonderful variety for Niagara, and it needs some time — remember that Burgundy has a few years on us!