Sunday, November 13, 2011

Seresin pinots and why wines need air

You might conclude from the absence of posts, I've been keen to let my OH bask in his moment of glory* but I've just been insanely busy with the manic round of tasting that preceeds the run-up to Christmas, a time when even adventurous drinkers retreat into the time-honoured favourites that are on special offer.

That doesn't mean I've stopped drinking natural wines though and as I have a whole stack of bottles awaiting comment, let's get six out of the way first - a fascinating series of Pinot Noirs from the New Zealand producer Seresin, whose grapes are organically and biodynamically grown and which makes wine with the minimum of intervention. (Indigenous yeasts, no fining or filtering).

As a range they all tasted quite conventional. They would get a green light in my classification** and purists might even not regard them as natural as Seresin both uses both wood and (I presume from the taste and the distance they have to travel) sulphur. But since they were made in a similar way it was fascinating to see the impact of terroir.

The one that was most obviously 'natural' was the 2008 'Sun and Moon' Pinot Noir which the top of their range and at £50-60 (if you can get it) about twice as expensive as the other wines. At first we found it a little heavy and woody, rustic even, but it did burst into glorious, opulent sweetness five days later which suggests, as Seresin website indicates, that it's a wine for keeping. (The earliest drink date is 2012). I'm not sure it's twice as good as the other cuvées though, certainly not if you're not prepared to cellar it. (It comes, Seresin says, from the steep hill block of our clay rich hillside Raupo Creek vineyard in the Omaka Valley)

There was also another bottling from the same vineyard, the 2008 Raupo Creek Pinot Noir which was more immediately appealing with a floral nose and fine silky texture, though at present slightly short and hard on the finish. It very much needed food - and, like the other wines, more time. ("From our clay rich hillside Raupo Creek vineyard, with 60% originating from our steep hill block and 40% from the flats")

The 2008 Tatou Pinot Noir, by contrast, was grown on the "stony free-draining soils of the Tatou vineyard which is located at the western end of the Wairau Valley". I felt this wine was slightly out of balance at the moment with the wood too much in evidence, masking the fruit.

There were two named after Seresin's daughter and mother respectively, Leah and Rachel. Leah, "a blend of eight different parcels of fruit from Raupo Creek vineyard, the alluvial shingles of our Tatou vineyard and the Home vineyard, which is made up of a variety of Waimakariri type soils of alluvial origin", I found the least impressive of the line-up - which isn't to say it wasn't enjoyable. More like a simple fresh tasting young Burgundy like a Chorey-les-Beaune which makes its £20-odd price tag a little steep.

Rachel, which is drawn from the same vineyards but from different clones, I found more attractive, both prettier and more multi-layered, again with a way to go. Interestingly it's the wine that seems to be most widely available in the UK (at £20 from the Wine Society and around £23 elsewhere) though I'm not sure if that means the others have been already snapped up or it's the one that Seresin has the greatest quantity of or which most appeals to the buyers.

But our favourite bottle - and the one that was finished first was the 'Home' pinot 2008 which seemed to have a lot more texture or 'matière', as the French say, and quickly opened up to reveal luscious sweet - but not excessively sweet - fruit. (None of these wines had the sometimes jammy sweetness of Central Otago pinots.) "From the lower terraces of the Seresin home vineyard with Waimakiriri type soils of alluvial origin with free draining basalt pebbles."

So for those of you who are confused (I'm having difficulty following this myself) my preferences would be for drinking in the immediate future 1) Home 2) Sun & Moon 3) Raupo Creek 4) Rachel 5) Tatou and 6) Leah

This is a fine range of wines by any standard but I'm left with the feeling they could be finer still. Despite the fact that they were all 3 years old, they still needed time to evolve - unusual in 'new world' wines though I admit that's an increasingly redundant classification. All benefited from some aeration - we tasted all except the 'Home' five days on from almost full bottles and they'd generally improved.

I also can't help feeling, heretical though this might seem in New Zealand circles, that they wouldn't have evolved in a more interesting way under cork. In a Twitter exchange with the winemaker Clive Dougall (isn't it the only way to talk to winemakers these days?) he said "Air is good for those wines definitely. I nearly always love yesterdays left-over wines, although [there's] often none left. We try to allow oxygen to be part of the process instead [of putting the wines under cork] Looking forward to when we can choose permeability of cap though."

And although it was fascinating to see the differences in the respective terroirs I wonder if the wines wouldn't have been even more rewarding had there been more variation in vinification and oak treatment. But then I'm neither a winemaker or an MW so what do I know ...

*If so it hasn't worked. I'm still waiting for another post ;-)

** Green = you probably wouldn't be able to tell this from a conventional wine, Amber = a little more challenging, Red = for natural wine aficionados only

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