How good is good wine? Even more to the point, how do we conclude that it is good wine?
The simple answer: Because we like it, or because someone tells us that we should.
Either way it's a judgment based on how much we know, or someone else knows, about wine; on us or them having the wit and the experience to determine whether it either smells and tastes good, as the variety should; that it flows easily across the palate and the flavour lingers on.
Then there's the price.
Strange, isn't it, how price always comes into what is otherwise a judgment based on sensory perception; how a wine we rather fancy suddenly tastes even better when we discover that it costs only $15 a bottle.
Imagine though if you were buying wines that cost hundreds of dollars a bottle, as people do, would you be happy to apply the same simple sensory tests, or to act on the advice of someone else who did the same?
Probably not, and certainly not if you had read a review of such wines written by Geoff Kelly (geoffkellywinereviews.co.nz) who recently attended a tasting in Wellington of burgundies that cost between $177 and $638 a bottle.
Geoff is a scientist who takes a more holistic approach to tasting wines than many, taking into account the finickety technical as well as the sensory aspects of each one, basing his assessment on a combination of the two. And on his long and vast experience in the field.
Having tasted 16 different wines from the famous Cote de Nuits and Gevrey-Chambertin vineyard Clos de Beze, all of them from the 2006 vintage, he pronounced that not one was breathtakingly beautiful pinot noir. And he was offended that more than a third of the wines were affected by brettamyces (known as brett).
Such was Geoff's disbelief that he later refreshed his palate with a couple of Central Otago pinot noirs (Peregrine 2007 The Pinnacle, $175, and Grasshopper Rock 2008, $36) and decided: ". . . serious New Zealand pinot noir is, in its upper levels, achieving a quality measured by classical fine burgundy standards which could scarcely have been dreamt of just 15 years ago."
And, for good measure: "British wine writers still continue to patronise New Zealand pinot noir, and imply how jolly well it is coming along, but this tasting dramatically shows that New Zealand producers at the level of Ata Rangi, Escarpment Vineyard, Felton Road, Grasshopper Rock, Mount Difficulty Wines and Peregrine are already producing pinot noirs which in their better years consistently stack up with many a reputable cru-level (including grands crus) pinot noir from Burgundy."
These are the sorts of comments which will make for interesting discussion when pinotphiles from around the world gather in Wellington later this month for Pinot Noir NZ 2013, an event that this year features, among others, actor/pinot producer Sam Neill, brilliant American wine writer Matt Kramer, British Burgundy expert Jasper Morris, and British winewriter Tim Atkin.
They might help to convince those with a taste for good wine that good does not always equate with reputation, or with money.
Some good (and reasonably priced) New Zealand pinot noirs:
Tohu 2011 Single Vineyard Marlborough Pinot Noir, about $28
A rich and aromatic, full- flavoured, berries and plums pinot with a reasonably generous twist of spicy oak . A ready-made partner for more adventurous exotic fare.
Escarpment 2010 Kiwa Martinborough Pinot Noir, about $65
A bloke's style pinot noir from Larry McKenna that's got plenty of weight and savoury complexity. Typical cherryish, plummy flavours. Was called Moana.
Felton Road 2011 Bannockburn Pinot Noir, about $55
The cheapest of five wonderful pinots produced by this label. This one an ample cherries and plums model leavened with spice and herbs. A very appealing wine.
- The Southland Times