Pinot symposium benefits spread

WARREN BARTON
Last updated 14:56 22/02/2013
Pint Noir 2013
Fairfax NZ
Sam Neill, centre, enjoys a little lunch with the vino during Pinot Noir 2013 in Wellington.

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In 2001 New Zealand pinot noir producers made what on reflection was a pretty brave move.

They invited to Wellington critics, winemakers, merchants, educators and pinotphiles from around the world to a symposium, which has since become an important event on the world wine calendar.

The aim was to introduce those not yet fully acquainted, to the exciting pinots that we believed we were producing. And to get some assurance that they really were as good as we believed them to be.

The verdict: Yes, they showed great promise.

Which was, in fact, high praise, coming as it did from lovers of what is said (by them) to be the greatest red wine of all.

In the four symposiums which have since been held at three-year intervals (the latest this week) the only thing that has changed is the expectation of those who attend in the hope they will be treated to something even more exciting.

And they have yet to be disappointed by an experience which for many includes an opportunity for an up-close-and-personal look at some of the other varieties of wine we produce and the regions in which they are grown.

So it is not just the quality of the pinot noir, or the different regional styles that are now emerging, that has come under scrutiny over the past couple of weeks, but New Zealand wines in general.

Which has led, as it usually does, to some interesting observations from those who make a living from doing just that.

Let's for the moment have a look at what one in particular has been saying and deal with the object of the exercise - the pinot celebration - later.

Oz Clarke, the British star of stage, screen and wine-writing said on a visit to the upper South Island that while "good things" were happening with pinot noir in New Zealand, especially in Marlborough, it would be great in 10 years' time to see syrah crops in the region outnumber pinot noir.

"The soils in Marlborough are relatively similar to the Rhone Valley, though it is cooler here. But syrah is a very good cool-climate grape."

Oz wasn't dissing pinot noir, or suggesting that syrah could become more valuable to the industry than the one million cases of pinot exported every year.

He was merely adding weight on something we already know: That the world loves our syrah/shiraz and wants more.

This was confirmed later in the week when an overseas group also here for the pinot celebration (including British winewriters Matthew Jukes and Tim Atkin) visited Hawke's Bay, which is acknowledged for producing some of our best red wines.

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It was syrah, I am told , that starred at the tastings attended by the group, which included classic French examples of the variety.

It seems the consensus was that the best of the new and exciting home-grown wines were the equal to those from the Rhone.

Likewise Hawke's Bay chardonnays.

Oz will deliver his verdict after a tasting today.

Meantime, try these:

A champion
Esk Valley Winemakers 2010 Reserve Gimblett Gravels Syrah, $59
Combines the best of the two styles emerging in Hawke's Bay - the fuller bodied and the floral- feminine combination. Rich, red- fruited with a shake of pepper and an appealing earthiness.

Value for money
Sacred Hill 2010 Halo Hawke's Bay Syrah, $25

An affordable example of the distinctive syrah off the Gimblett Gravels in Hawke's Bay. The generously scented nose is the giveaway - black fruit, spice and trademark pepper. Silky smooth with gentle tannins. Effortless drinking.

Smart buying
Craggy Range 2010 Gimblett Gravels Syrah, $32

Plays very much second fiddle to Craggy's much-vaunted $100-a-bottle Le Sol but stands firmly on its own two feet. Tweaked with viognier it's weighty, floral and a good example of the variety. Finely textured with obligatory spice and pepper.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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