Beyond Burgundy (New World Pinot Noir & Chardonnay)
The famous villages of Burgundy easily roll off the tongue; Puligny, Chassagne, Muersault, Corton and Chablis for Chardonnay, Gevrey, Morey St Denis, Chambolle, Vosne and Nuits for Pinot. These famous villages, so much smaller than you can even imagine, are the source of many of the best wines I have ever drunk.
In my humble opinion there is no greater wine region in the world than Burgundy; but then again, you must know that because I don’t stop banging on about the bloomin place! It’s a magical and mystical place, and it is the spiritual home of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
But over the past 12 months my eyes have been opened; I have spent much of my time investigating (I mean tasting) the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir the new world has to offer. I have been massively impressed. USA, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are now producing top notch stuff that can happily sit on the same table as some of the best wines of Burgundy. Here are a few of the jewels I’ve uncovered in my recent investigations…
A quick note here: these are all winemakers that I feel make quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The wines are available from good specialists in the UK and they won’t break the bank (well compared to Burgundy anyway!)
The States is such an exciting place for these varieties right now and first of all I had to make a decision between California and Oregon. I have plumped for California simply because I have drunk more wines from the area and I continue to be blown away by the quality.
My selection is Au Bon Climat, which means “a well exposed vineyard”. Jim Clendenen founded the winery in 1982 and produces wonderful wines from grapes grown in California’s Santa Barbara County. Jim looks to Burgundy for inspiration and tries to replicate the restraint and elegance of the wines from that region. The winery continues to pick up awards and plaudits for its classical style of wines and have become firm favourites in my household.
Au Bon Climat Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir 2009 (around £30)
Pure red cherry and red currant fruit on the nose but supported by layers of earth and spice. On the palate there are heaps of Raspberry freshness and acidity, with the depth of ripe cherry, spice and a touch if tattered leather. The texture is magical with gentle grip that dissolves into a smooth long and sensuous conclusion. A fabulous and elegant wine of real class. 94 points
Au Bon Climat Wild Boy Chardonnay 2011 (around £25)
I’ve looked at this wine a few times on the shelf and haven’t been able to pick it up due to the garishness of the label… But I’m glad I finally did! As the name suggests the nose is massive with a huge hit of butterscotch and oak. On the palate the first impression I get is of liquid Werthers Original – big, bold and beautiful. But I am really surprised by the acidity and the balance. Yes it’s toasty but there is plenty of peach and citrus fruit and the word I’m left with, that I never expected to be anywhere near this wine, is delicate. A very fine wine with lots of charm, weight, balance and length. 93 points
I had a similar dilemma choosing a single region in Oz too! Mornington Peninsula in Victoria produces some wonderfully elegant wines and I have had much pleasure from Tasmania now that the wines are becoming more widely available. But in the end I’ve gone to Western Australia for the amazing purity of the wines, and chose Larry Cherubino, not just for the quality, but also the tremendous value.
What I particularly love about Cherubino, who started his own winery in 2005, is the beautiful purity of his wines. Larry aims to reflect a true sense of place and crafts wines that express the fruit with the optimum precision and clarity. James Halliday, Australia’s most respected wine writer, is a huge fan; in the 2013 Australian Wine Companion, Larry Cherubino Wines became the highest-rating producer in a single year since Halliday first published the review in 1986.
My selections are from Larry’s “entry level” Ad-Hoc wines… I can’t wait to try “The Yard”, “Pedestal”, “Laissez Faire” and “Cherubino” offerings!
Cherubino Ad Hoc Cruel Mistress Pinot Noir 2012 (around £15)
Bright red fruit and cinder toffee with just a hint of spice on the nose. Super fresh acidity upfront, light bodied but lots of sour cherry, red currant and raspberry fruit. A touch of spicy oak and grippy but quality tannins and a long and fresh finish. 92 points
Cherubino Ad Hoc Hen & Chicken Chardonnay 2012 (around £15)
A delightfully rich lees-y nose with plenty of lemon freshness and a touch of white peach too – one of those extremely attractive noses that you can smell for a long, long time. The palate is bursting with flavours of peach, lemon, gentle vanilla spice, and has a super fresh and long finish. Delicious and fresh with just enough oaky interest. 93 points
As much as I enjoy Pinot Noir from Martinborough, the region producing both Pinots and Chards of super quality consistently for me is Otago, and the wines I just can’t help but go back to (even though they are on the pricy side) are those of Felton Road.
Felton Road’s winemaker Blair Walter’s previously worked in Oregon and Burgundy and produces wines of elegance, complexity and exceptional depth. All of the grapes are grown in their own ‘Elms Bannockburn Vineyard’, which has been farmed organically & biodynamically since 2000.
Felton Road Banockburn Chardonnay 2011 (around £30)
Everyone bangs on about the Sauvignon Blanc coming out of New Zealand but for me, Chardonnay is where it’s at. The aromas and flavours of warm toasty oak and leesy-ness hits you straight between the eyes before the waves the waves of sublime tropical fruit come at you; pineapple, honeydew melon and peach are all in evidence. It’s soft and warm and has such a wonderful balance of fruit, acid and oak, with impressive weight and texture. Fabulous. 95 points
Felton Road Banockburn Pinot Noir 2012 (around £40)
Attractive fresh nose of violets and ripe red fruit, but it’s on the palate that the wine really comes to life. Crisp acid with lots of bright but concentrated red berry fruit with a violet undertow and a hint of earthiness. Young and crunchy with a good tannic bite – great with duck at the moment, maybe needs a year or 2two to be fully enjoyed on it’s own. 93+ points
To be honest I haven’t tried that much Pinot and Chardonnay from South Africa. I’m a big fan of the traditional Springbok grapes of Pinotage and Chenin Blanc, as well as the current explosion of Rhone varieties… and then I came across the wines of Hamilton Russell from Hermanus and was left almost speechless.
Tim Hamilton Russell purchased the farm, one of the most southerly in South Africa, in 1975. The estate is located only 3 kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean and the cool breezes that come in from the sea make this the coolest region for wine production in South Africa. The wine are made with a majority of expensive new oak in a ‘Grand Cru’ style; although they are built to last they are also extremely attractive in their youth… which is great as I’m not sure how long I can keep the corks in place!
Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2012 (around £25)
A fabulous wine – would be very difficult to place this outside of Burgundy – has a real Charlemagne power to it. Huge rich and buttery nose with lashings of peach and a burst of citrus, all wrapped in a blanket of expensive and smoky oak. The palate is fat and buttery with lots of peach, tart apple and just a hint of pineapple, all cloaked in rich caramel, nuts and flaky, butter pastry. The acid is fine and dandy and the finish is long and intense. Lots of concentration and plenty of complexity. 94 points
Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2011 (around £25)
Nose filling aromas of rich and full of dark berry fruit with just a hint of roasted meat emerging. Plenty of fresh red fruit and fine acidic backbone on the attack – red cherries, red currants and the first tart raspberries of the season. There is good tannic structure and the smoky oak is in good balance with the fruit. Still young and perhaps has it’s best years ahead of it, but a muscular wine that wouldn’t be out of place alongside a 1er Cru Pommard. 93 points