We reveal all the medallists from this year’s Global Pinot Noir Masters, and consider why the wines were more consistent, balanced, and ultimately better than ever before.
After almost a decade blind tasting Pinot Noir from around the world as part of our Global Masters series, I can confidently report that the quality of wines from this single variety have improved more than any other grape I’ve consistently sampled over the same period. The change has been so marked that this year’s Global Pinot Noir Masters featured very few wines that didn’t gain a medal, and among those that did, the majority achieved a Silver or higher. It was a remarkable performance for a variety famed for its pernickety nature, and, consequently, notable for producing wines of variable quality – something that’s been highlighted in previous competitions, where we’ve seen huge swings in scores from wine to wine.
And such a marked improvement in the reliability of Pinot quality is doubtless testament to advancements in viticulture practices and cellar management for this fragile grape. This change, I should imagine, is to the benefit of all wines – making good Pinot is the winemaking equivalent of fitness training at base camp, on Everest.
I think the changes come down to a number of factors, some long term, such as finding the best sites for a grape variety that likes warmth, but not extreme heat; dry conditions, but not drought; plenty of sun, but not scorching rays. It’s also down to vine age, with Pinot Noir generally thought to start delivering really appealing results around 10-12 years after planting, meaning that those newer Pinot areas that were attracting comment for their potential, are now starting to deliver the expected results.
Then there are those developments related to the vine’s management; the changes during the growing season that can yield improvements by the year end, such as the level of bunch shading, or yield control – be it due to winter pruning to reduce bud numbers, or green harvesting to drop excessive berries, even dividing the bunches themselves to aid the disease-free development of flavonoids. The aim of such approaches can be to reduce yields to enhance flavour and concentration, but also to reduce sunburn, and extend the growing season, allowing for slow ripening, favoured for the creation of Pinot’s sought-after characters: sweet berry fruit; a light body; fine, ripe tannins, and fresh acidity. It’s a combination that requires skill to achieve, and experience of when to pick, as gaining Pinot’s soft ripe fruit and tannin is hard to do when you’re also attempting to bring in berries that will yield wines with a bright acidity and a delicate feeling on the tongue. It’s why Pinot can swing in either stylistic direction without careful vineyard management and harvesting decisions: the wines can be thin, astringent and green, or hot, jammy and dull. In between is something that’s unusual in red wines, a wonderful result that slides down the throat like a ripe white, while carrying the flavours of a fine red wine.
It’s why the expectations are so high for Pinot – which is the source of the world’s most valuable wines – and also why the disappointments can be acute.
But great Pinot is not all about the vineyard management. The climate, and the vagaries of the weather during the growing season are out of the winemakers’ control, even though the effects can be mitigated. Soil type, while fixed, is another factor to consider – and it’s notable that, to make great Pinot, you don’t need to have a clay-limestone soil, the basis of the most revered Pinot vineyards in the world, those of Burgundy’s Côte d’Or.
Indeed, our medallists this year represented a wide range of types, among which were slate (Ahr), granite (Casablanca, Valais), silty-clay (Willamette), sandstone (Russian River), and chalk (Champagne).
Finally, winemaking is key with Pinot. In this regard, it seems there has been a major stride forward, with an apparent sensitivity among cellar hands when working with this grape. I say that based on the taste and texture of this year’s entries, where, in terms of the former, the wines were dominated by fresh, Pinot fruit characters – not bitter stems (from the inclusion of green woody components in the ferments), or sweet chocolate (from too much new oak). As for the texture, the wines had plenty of tannins – which are needed for the dry feeling they impart – but these were fine and ripe, suggesting extraction regimes that were gentle.
The colours of the wines too were telling – they were mostly pale ruby, which, again, suggested sensitive handling of the berries during the winemaking process.
But these observations are general to the overall competition, and click here to read my 11 key findings from this year’s Global Pinot Noir Masters.
Meanwhile, please click here to read my review of the 10 best wines from this year’s tasting, and scroll down to see all the medallists from the 2021 Global Pinot Noir Masters, starting with sparkling and rosé.
With high-quality judges and a unique sampling process, The Global Pinot Noir Masters provides a chance for your wines to star, whether they hail from a famous region or a lesser-known winemaking area of the world.
The top wines are awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those expressions that stand out as being outstanding in their field receive the ultimate accolade – the title of Pinot Noir Master.
Please visit The Global Masters website for more information, or, to enter future competitions – giving you the chance to feature online and in print – please call: +44 (0) 20 7803 2420 or email Sophie Raichura at: [email protected]
Entry Deadline: Tuesday, 21st March 2023
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