Pinot noir fanciers venture further afield

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 October, 2013, 6:47pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 October, 2013, 6:47pm

As Burgundy becomes increasingly expensive, the pinot noir lover may do well to explore other regions. You don't have to leave France to do so. That country's increasingly well-known "secret" is the pinot noir of Alsace.

A recently tried Bollenberg 2008, AOC Alsace, Domaine Valentin Zusslin (HK$250 ; Sino Vantage, tel: 2581 9101) at Fook Lam Moon was silky smooth, a little spicy with berry flavours and a great match for the restaurant's stir-fried beef cubes with XO sauce.

In Australia, wine writer James Halliday has the concept of the "Melbourne dress circle" - a ring of smart wineries around the city that the iconic critic says produces some of the country's best pinot noir. Halliday was recently in Hong Kong to promote Heritage Reserve Bin premium wines from Hardy's, better known for its reliable supermarket wines.

The Eileen Hardy pinot noir 2010 hardly fits in that category. Only 1,200 bottles were made in 2010, although in other years double this amount may be produced. Eileen Hardy wines are a step up from even the Heritage Reserve Bin range, and have been available since 1973 (HK$998 from Watson's Wine Stores and department stores).

But the country most actively pushing the Hong Kong market recently is New Zealand. That is not surprising, as figures from the promotion body New Zealand Wine show exports to the city in August dropping by eight per cent.

Sauvignon blanc made up almost 85 per cent of the exports, a number that hides New Zealand winemakers' experimentation with a great many varieties, including gewürztraminer, riesling, pinot gris and, of course, pinot noir.

Katrina Sutherland from Kim Crawford vinifies sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, merlot, pinot gris and riesling, as well as pinot noir. Sutherland, who fell in love with Russia and obtained a degree in the language before studying oenology, uses fruit from Marlborough for the 2012 vintage.

She says she doesn't like "too much complicated winemaking, I just want the fruit to shine" (the New Zealand pinot noir 2012 is available from ASC Fine Wines at HK$179 a bottle; tel: 3923 6700).

There may have been pinot noir production in the Central Otago region of South Island as far back as the late 19th century. When the founders of the new Black Quail winery researched the region's history, they found that a certain Jean Feraud had planted vines and sold a wine labelled "Burgundy" but it's impossible to verify that this was made with the grape.

Black Quail has been in existence since 2000 on land between Felton Road and Mount Difficulty, originally dug out by prospectors from England, Croatia and Dalmatia in the gold rush of the 1860s. The winery is promoting its 2009 - Hong Kong has an allocation of 44 cases, so you may have to be quick to buy this rather smart wine which has a lasting fruit and a surprising amount of spice (HK$330 from Amorosso Fine Wine, tel: 3590 5348).

Bob Campbell, a Master of Wine from New Zealand, says that Croats were significant in the early history of the wine industry, as perfume gum diggers who went on to plant vines. More importantly for Campbell has been the change from producing large quantities of fortified wine to producing small amounts of award-winning wines. Older vines mean added complexity.

Campbell's tips for pinot noir include the Greystone winery, which produces wines under its own name as well as Muddy Water.

At Quartz Reef in Central Otago, vines were planted in 1998. The Quartz Reef pinot noir 2012 is redolent of lavender and earthy. It's equally fruity (available from Watson's Wine Cellars at HK$248 a bottle).