Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pinot Noir Face-Off: 2008 Port Phillip Estate, 2008 Mt Difficulty, 2006 Toolangi, 2007 Dog Point

As flagged previously, RedtoBrown have wanted to hold a Pinot Noir ‘Face Off’ for a while. Both of us are relatively new to Pinot Noir (compared to our staples of Shiraz, Cabernet etc), and are increasing our knowledge and appreciation of the grape with every payday. In preparation for the Face Off, we decided to grab 4 bottles from 4 different regions, split 2-2 New Zealand and Australia. We also set the rule that one bottle had to be from the Mornington Peninsula, and one from either Martinborough (ideally) or Central Otago (the regions in the respective countries which we believe make arguably the standout examples of Pinot Noir). The two other wines could be from any region in Australia and New Zealand other than the ones mentioned above. The wines were tasted blind followed by the odd glass or two being consumed with duck breast in a spice and port sauce.

Wine 1 - 2008 Port Phillip Estate – Mornington Peninsula ($33) – Red - Classic light, clear colour. The nose was aromatic and varietal with cherry, and some strawberry. Also had a hint of rose which reminded by a bit of the nose you get with many Barolos. The palate was savoury and complex. Flavours of sour cherry, spice with a dry finish of good length. Really didn’t know where this was from other than I picked it as an Aussie pinot rather than a Kiwi pinot, and was surprised to find out it was a Mornington Peninsula, given that most Mornington Peninsula I’ve had has been a deeper, more powerful style of pinot. Continued to really enjoy this as we subsequently drunk the wine over the course of the evening. Will definitely be popping a couple of these in the cellar.

Brown – Light crimson colour, not brilliantly bright and with a hint of brickish red. Varietal nose of strawberry underpinned by some cherry. On the palate the wine was savoury though given its potential, will probably gain more complexity in the cellar. The wine had good line, length and acidity, suggesting this wine is built to last, but will be great with many different foods from now till whenever you want to drink it. The structure and overall elegance (vs power) had me guessing this to be from Central Otago. Like Red, I was surprised this was a Mornington Peninsula Pinot (more in the Kooyong Clonale style than a Paringa Peninsula).

Wine 2 – 2008 Mt Difficulty – Central Otago ($48-55) – Red - This wine was noticeably darker in colour and had a deeper cherry nose with a hint of oak. Also has a touch of green on the nose. Through the palate it had more perceptible line and length, with some fruit sweetness on the front before delivering a savoury finish with a hint of spice. Seemed to notice a bit more alcohol on the palate than the previous wine as well (though subsequently discovered both wines are apparently 14% so maybe I was imagining things). Thought this might have been a Mornington. Reckon this wine will show up really well with a couple more years of cellaring.

Brown – Darker than the first wine and noticeably sweeter on the nose. I could not smell any extra alcohol. Softer and rounder than the first wine with fuller varietal fruit flavours on the darker side of the berry spectrum. Pleasantly savoury in the mouth with nice line, finishing with sour cherry, liquorice and spice. A more instantly accessible ‘drink on its own; style, that still had the structure to suggest cellaring potential. A very nice wine from one of New Zealand’s best.

Wine 3 – 2006 Toolangi Pinot Noir – Yarra Valley ($20-25) - Red - An interesting slight orange tinge to the colour of this wine. A sweet aromatic nose of cherry and strawberry with both a touch of oak and a hint of green. Really enjoyable on the palate with sweet fruit, a bit of spice, and good length through the dry finish. Thought this might have been the Dog Point which ended up being Wine 4. Continued to be a very enjoyable wine through the course of the evening, and at $20-25 was the value for money pinot of the night.

Brown - As a $19 pickup from Dan Murphy’s, the 2006 Toolangi is amazing value. It did not disappoint on the night, masquerading for me as a more expensive Mornington Peninsula Pinot (until the reveal made a fool of my limited knowledge of Pinot regions!!). The Toolangi punched above its weight among more expensive wines, and is a great advertisement for Yarra Valley Pinot. Nice dark crimson colour with strawberry and raspberry scents and a touch of aniseed and spice. The Toolangi has powerful fruit at the front of the palate, with a bit of pleasant savoury, drying stalky tannin on the finish.

Wine 4 – 2007 Dog Point – Malborough ($39) - Red - Darker coloured pinot, with an intense nose of dark fruits, cherry, and some meaty aromas. Powerful through the palate, with savoury flavours, good length and the most impressive tannins of the four wines we had tried. Thought that this might have been a Martinborough that Brown might have purchased. As it turned out it was from a ‘borough, just Mal rather than Martin! This was in many ways the most immediately enjoyable of the wines, delivering perhaps the greatest sense of hedonism, while still being reasonably elegant.

Brown – the Dog Point came out of the glass more like one of the crazy pooches from the movie ‘Best in Show’ than a disciplined New Zealand Cattle dog, but for me this was a bonus. Hedonistic is a suitable descriptor, though a Sarah Palin popularist (sans any Tea Party/ Glenn Beck mutual appreciation gumpf) this wine is not. Cloudy in the glass with a deep, slightly dull Cherry-crimson (which settled given time), the Dog Point had sweet strawberry and powerful dark berry scents. In the mouth the wine touched every base on the berry spectrum, though leaning towards cherry: in short, pleasing complexity and powerful, intense, juicy fruit flavours. There was some firm bitterness on the finish, though not a criticism. My favourite wine of the tasting, and also the most powerful (read into that what you will!).

Summary - Red - Four quality pinots that are all decent cellaring propositions. While they were all different, I’m not sure they gave me a greater insight into the characteristics of different regions. Instead a lot of the differences were as much I think a reflection of the winemaking styles of the different winemakers. The Toolangi was the best value pinot, the Dog Point the most delicious, and the Port Phillip the one I’d be most keen on cellaring and seeing how it develops.

Brown – A great spread of low-medium priced Pinots from the new world. All would benefit from some time in the cellar. I agree with Red that the Port Phillip Pinot should cellar well. I would like to see the Mt Difficulty with a few more years under its belt. As for the Toolangi – if you can find any of the 2006 left, snap it up as it is a great drop in the more full flavoured Pinot profile.

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