Blind tasting challenge at WSET’s London school
I attended a fun evening last month at WSET’s London School tasting nine (yes 9) still Pinot Noirs, and, as a bonus we started the evening with a glass of delicious Bollinger PN TX17.
Hosted by Michael Buriak, a great Pinot Noir fan, he had selected nine Pinots from around the world, with prices ranging from £16 to £200.
This was a special event for Michael, in the run up to his retirement and he had clearly enjoyed selecting our wines.
A blind tasting, with a fun quiz, after each wine we voted on whether we thought the wine was European or non-European and its price.
Peter noted our highest and lowest price guesses, and it was surprising how wide of them mark our guesses were.
The funniest was the English Pinot (from Oxfordshire) which we guessed at between £50 to £125 whereas its actual price was £16! Based on our tasting Brightwell Vineyard may want to reconsider their pricing.
We did better on the European/non-European voting. As a group we got 6 out of the 9 wines right.
My favourite Pinot Noirs of the evening
"Laurene" Pinot Noir 2016, from Domaine Drouhin
It was a tough call, with so many great wines, but our eighth wine just did it for me. "Laurene" Pinot Noir 2016, from Domaine Drouhin, Dundee Hills, Oregon.
I think Oregon is making some of the best Pinot Noirs, and Dundee Hills is one of their great areas.
My two runners up were (in no particularly order):
Vorderer Winklerberg Ihringen Spätburgunder "GG"
From Dr Heger in Baden Germany, this wine has a lovely mouthfeel, with refreshing acidity and high fine tannins. The fruits are fresh, not so ripe as some of the other wines reflecting the cooler climate. Bright red fruits, vanilla, meaty, tobacco and distinctive pencil shaving aromas.
Marimar Estate "La Masia" Pinot Noir 2018, from Marimar Torres
From Russian River in California, this Pinot was pronounced with lots of bright red fruits (raspberry, strawberry), spicy cloves and chocolate on the palate. With leafy, pencil shavings, savoury meaty aromas and a long finish, an outstanding wine.
What about the rest of the wines?
Here are my tasting notes for all nine Pinot Noirs:
1 - "Galpin Peak" Pinot Noir 2016, from Bouchard Finlayson, Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa
None of us guessed South Africa. It wouldn't be a country I would think of if I was looking for a Pinot Noir, but I will now.
With intense primary red fruits, clove, spice, and toast from 11 months in (primarily) new oak, and tertiary flavours of dried fruit and leafy/forest floor. These complex flavours combined with a long finish makes this a fantastic value wine at £32 to £35.
2 - Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru "Les Cazetiers" 2016, from Domaine Faiveley, Côte de Nuits
Our first Burgundian red of the evening, with pronounced fruits (cranberry, plum, redcurrant, raspberry), herbal menthol and toast and cedar from oak. It has good high acidity and grippy tannins, which should smooth with more age. However, I found the finish was overpowered by the oak and I was aware of the alcohol. It was not as balanced as I would have expected for a Premier Cru from Burgundy.
3 - "Block 5" Pinot Noir 2021, from Felton Road, Central Otago, New Zealand
This was intensely fruity, with ripe fruits (both red and black), lots of herbal notes, fuller bodied, richer tannins, and good secondary notes from oak, this was a popular wine with the group.
4 - Marimar Estate "La Masia" Pinot Noir 2018, from Marimar Torres, Russian River, California
One of my top three wines, this Pinot was pronounced with lots of bright red fruits (raspberry, strawberry), spicy cloves and chocolate on the palate. With leafy, pencil shavings, savoury meaty aromas and a long finish, an outstanding wine.
5 - "Dry" Pinot Noir 2016, from Brightwell Vineyard, Oxfordshire, England
This was the shock wine of the evening. A rich palate of flavours, included red fruits, herbs, coffee, and savoury mushroom and meat. But it was the aromas that set this wine apart. "Embers of bonfire", "typical Pinot stink", "leather" give you a sense of this wine. Oh, and the price set it apart too. £16, we didn't guess that.
6 - "Coolart Road" Pinot Noir 2018, from Ten Minutes by Tractor, Mornington Peninsula, Australia
This was popular with many. With bursts with fruit on the palate, raspberry, redcurrant, plum, and cherry. With herbaceous, "tea leaves" were mentioned, savouriness. Bursting with fruit, a long finish, full bodied and great balance, this is an outstanding wine.
7 - Clos De Vougeot Grand Cru 2013, from Domain Jean Grivot, Côte de Nuits
This was the most expensive wine at £200 a bottle. Being a Burgundy Grand Cru that was perhaps not surprising. What might be more surprising is that it didn't feature highly in people's favourite wine of the evening. I think this shows just how good New World Pinot Noirs have become.
It was no slouch though, with pronounced complex aromas and flavours including ripe fruits, herbaceous, meaty, and charred wood. Together with its chewy tannins, and full body, this has a lot more ageing to do.
8 - "Laurene" Pinot Noir 2016, from Domaine Drouhin, Dundee Hills, Oregon
My favourite wine of the evening - outstanding and complex. Pronounced ripe red and black fruits, with chocolate, vanilla, clove, and savoury notes. The finish is long with ripe fruits. It has refreshing (high) acidity, a rich smooth texture, with fine grained tannins and great balance (the 14% alcohol does not overwhelm this wine).
9 - Vorderer Winklerberg Ihringen Spätburgunder "GG", from Dr Heger, Baden, Germany
This wine has a lovely mouthfeel, with refreshing acidity and high fine tannins. The fruits are fresh, not so ripe as some of the other wines reflecting the cooler climate. Bright red fruits, vanilla, meaty, tobacco and distinctive pencil shaving aromas. One of my top three wines, it was very popular with the group.
And what about the Bollinger PN TX17 that kicked off our evening?
Made with 100% Pinot Noir, with three years on lees, it had ripe apple & pear fruit flavours, with pastry & brioche from the lees. These, together with its refreshing acidity, fine bubbles, and good finish, got the evening off to a wonderful start.
A fantastic fun evening, and a great insight into the best of Pinot Noirs from around the world.