Monday, June 6, 2011

Ode to Pinot II

Lunching with Pinotphile winemaker Peter Finlayson at Bouchard Finlayson is always going to be special, and when you throw in a vertical of Galpin Peak from the last decade it gets particularly vertiginous. Combine that with Kitchen Cowboy Pete Goffe-Wood who did anything but shoot from the hip in his careful food pairing and you have a truly special Sunday.

Well that was the departure point but on arrival we were welcomed by a saxophonist. On our approach, his elevated position up on the Manor House stoep reminded me of the opening scene of Peter Sellers' The Party when an outpost trumpeter is repeatedly shot – but keeps on waning. Regrettably I had left my rifle at home otherwise it would have been interesting to see if he had the same gees.

Can you see him?

Now, nobody has been making Pinot in Hemel-en-Aarde Valley for longer than Peter and with modern Burgundy clones, a Nuits St George cooper, and Burgundy-like high density vineyards (low-yield per vine), his ambitions are clear.

With vine density of 9000 vines per hectare, competition leads to concentrated fruit including - for a thinned skin variety - relatively thicker skins where much of the colour, flavour and aroma arise. And the tannins, for these wines are as much about fine texture as anything else.

The key to living so close to your neighbour - vines are about 1m apart - lies in the water regulation provided by the high clay content shale soils, just like the marl (clay/limestone mixture) of classic Cote d'Or vinyards like St Denis.

Some of the vinification techniques are also Burgundian like use of stalks to add some savoury tannic framework to the wines in less tannic years, while the finesse and perfume on the 05 was reminiscent of a Volnay.

Peter’s use of oak is judicious to say the least, underpinning rather than overwhelming the fruit, providing for example a graphite note depending on the age of the wine. Another thread throughout the flight was maintaining classic Pinot tension despite moves to a riper style.

Autumnal valley scene. Bokkeveld soil of stony gravel and fine clay shale
Then there was purity of fruit. Intense yet classic cherries and rasberries - often with some spice - sprinkled throughout with sweet-fruited palate and a long finish. These wine also offer longevity, showing remarkable freshness throughout the flight. 

Forget just how much cooler the valley is than other regions, Peter has removed any doubt that we can elegantly compete with the best of New Zealand, Chile, Oregon, Australia and ja even Burgundy, well maybe not the Grand Crus but who does? It’s a short, scenic, low-cost trip to Burgundy, the holy grail of wine to Pinotphiles worldover.

Jonathan Snashall

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