If New Zealand’s Villa Maria is the John Lewis of wine,Â always dependable and well-made in a middle-class, slightly expensive sort of way, and Pinot Noir is the Alfa Romeo of grapes, capable of greatness and disappointment in equal measure, what then to make of a pair of Villa Maria Pinots ?
For some, good, reliable Pinot is not only a contradiction in terms, but almost an abomination, as there is an unwritten rule that good Pinot should be hedonistic and elusive.
Perhaps I have been insufficiently bitten by the infamous “Pinot bug”, but I find the search for great Pinot a bit too much like hard work.
Either way, anyone unsure and wanting to know what all the fuss is about with Pinot could do a lot worse than check out these two.
For my regular after-work Wine Club, I had two different wines which I put into decanters and encouraged people to try blind and decide which they preferred.
As it turned out, everyone preferred the more expensive example, even if they were less capable of correctly identifying them.
Villa Maria Marlborough Pinot Noir Private Bin 2011, Â£11.99 from Budgens
Pale in the glass, it has a typically varietal nose with cherry fruit, mushroomy aromas and a touch of spice.
The palate shows red and black cherry fruit, juicy acidity, some spice, good savoury depth and balance.
Good, well-made example of an entry-level Pinot.
Villa Maria Marlborough Pinot Noir Reserve 2009, Â£18.99 from Tesco
With a half degree more alcohol and noticeably darker in the glass, there are some brick red hints of age.
The nose is again varietally typical with cherry fruit and undergrowth, with some vanilla spice, but more complex and intense than the previous wine.
On the palate, it feels bigger and fuller, with ripe cherry fruit, undergrowth, vanilla and roasted dark spice.
It is more rounded and bigger, with a soft mouthfilling texture, savoury depth and a long palate.
Overall, it is balanced, harmonious and integrated with a good finish.
Well-made, typical and reliably enjoyable, these are certainly both good Pinots. But are they great ? I’m not entirely sure.
And there’s the rub – reliability and greatness rarely go hand-in-hand; especially in the case of Pinot.
Then again, I’ve had more expensive Pinots that I’ve been less impressed with, but that probably says more about Pinot as a grape than it does about these particular wines.
And I can’t help wondering if searching for great Pinot is rather like owning an Alfa Romeo – a potential source of great kudos and dinner-party stories, but actually rather tedious in practice.
If you are new-ish to wine, want to try out a Pinot and don’t mind spending Â£10 – Â£20 on a bottle, this could be just what you are looking for, but it leads me to wonder whether reliable PinotÂ can be seen asÂ A Good Thing orÂ not ?
For it is in Pinot’s nature to be unreliable – sometimes great, more often disappointing – and a reliable Pinot is perhaps like an Alfa Romeo that starts every time you put the keys in. If I wanted that, I’d buy a BMW instead – it would be reliable, it would be good, but it wouldn’t be an Alfa.
Unable to resolve this inherent contradiction, I put the question to perhaps the one person I know placed to answer authoritatively as she is both a Marketing DirectorÂ and a WSET Diploma student; she mulled for a few moments and then said “Villa Maria is not a large winery, New Zealand does not make much wine, so to produce reliable Pinot is no mean feat – yes, it’sÂ A Good Thing”.
For the more pragmatically minded, here are some Pinot quick facts:
– spiritual home is Burgundy, also grown in other cool-climate areas such as NZ, Chile, parts of California and increasingly Australia
– prone to mutation, fussy and low-yielding, it is never cheap to buy and Â£10Â gets you anÂ entry-level New World example
– key characteristics are light, pale colour, soft silky texture and aromas of mushrooms, game, truffles and cherry fruit
– matches typically with game
Both wines provided for review.
Villa Maria – http://www.villamaria.co.nz/
Image credits: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:GraduateDuetto.jpg
Copyright Tom Lewis 2012