Today I’ve got three wildly different but outstanding expressions of Pinot Noir that you’re going want to build a Pinot Fort out of. Two of them have amazing ratings and one doesn’t submit but is just as awesome (and has developed a cult following). We begin:
Blank Canvas Upton Downs Pinot Noir 2017, Marlborough, New Zealand. Such a serious, savoury Pinot, considering the price and place. The Upton Downs vineyard sits on the top of a white cliff overlooking the Awatere river, where the limestone underneath challenges the vines to produce concentrated, clearly frustrated berries, given their disposition on the nose. There is bright fruit (cherries primarily with apple and strawberry) as well as sweet floral notes (lavender and rose), but they take a backseat to the inexplicably herbaceous, spicy vibe that shows you different green herbs every 20 minutes. Quite entertaining to watch this evolve in the glass, it’s like checking the Magic 8 Ball for random messages every so often. There’s enough fruit weight on palate to balance the savoury intro, however, before building up to a surprisingly structured finish. I don’t mean to affect such astonishment but forty-dollar Marlborough Pinot doesn’t do this. Given the architecture I’d say you have a decade’s worth of cellar life, maybe more. A remarkable Pinot despite – or rather because of – the furrowed brow. 95 points Vinous, 95 points Bob Campbell, 24 bottles available, $42.98 +tax
Zena Crown “Slope” Pinot Noir 2017, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette, Oregon. Long a top cru of wineries like Beaux Freres, Penner Ash and Soter, the Zena Crown vineyard started bottling their own juice a couple years ago, causing everyone to go nuts. Since the site takes the brunt of the cool Pacific wind coming through the Van Duzer Corridor, phenolic ripeness happens slowly, and the vineyard is usually one of the last to be harvested, giving deep, elegant and balanced fruit. The “Slope” plot is the sunniest, most south-facing area, and the muscular Pinot from there can handle a good amount of new French oak (60%, quite high for Oregon), but lest you fret that Slope slides too far south, think again: there is vibrant cherry, rhubarb, apple and green tea on the nose before swirling into an energetic tension between bitter chocolate and fat mushrooms and a lifted, graceful finish – this is real, legit Oregon, only more so. The buzz has been substantial, enflamed by the fact that they only make about 500 6-packs, and further enflamed by the fact that I took all four cases that came into BC (laughs sinisterly, twirls moustache). Let the games begin. 95 points Wine Spectator, 4 6-packs available, $107.98 +tax
The Hermit Ram “Zealandia” Pinot Noir 2019, North Canterbury, New Zealand. Even though this purple sparkplug is never submitted for ratings, it is actually the most popular Pinot on this list, even after a dramatic left turn in winemaking and style (winemaker/druid Theo Coles switched from whole-cluster to destemmed and everyone just went with it). Made with minimal intervention or sulphur (and a low 12.5% abv) and aged only in amphora (!!!), Zealandia resides in the spirit realm of “natural wines”, showcasing racy acidity on the nose amongst the sour cherry, violet, cranberry, and saline notes, but displays none of the funk or freak of the more feral examples of the category. On palate the acid is edgy but not sharp, almost citric in nature, and finishes fresh, clean, and brighter than a math whiz. I love this “Burgundy + X-ray” style (similar to a light Mercurey) but it won’t appeal to everyone, although Vancouver restaurants have snapped up most of this because it’s a nearly perfect food wine. These 3 cases are all I’ll have for two years: the underreported 2020 Canterbury vintage was ravaged by hail and frost and only 90 litres were produced; since this winery is seldom sold outside of New Zealand we’ll not see it again soon. 3 cases available, $44.98 +tax
Until next time, Happy Drinking!