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David Pike goes in search of the “Holy Grail” of wine buffs – a truly great Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir is a mysterious grape variety but it produces one of the world’s great drinks.

Burgundy is the region that produces the greatest pinot noir wines or “Burgundies” as the traditionalists call them. Many in Burgundy would not even recognise a wine made from pinot noir grapes that is not from there.

The hunt to find a good pinot noir is what so many call the search for the Holy Grail.

The recent Wignalls Wines International Pinot Noir Tasting showcased 20 examples of pinot noir from around the world in a blind tasting for 120 people.

These people were no doubt looking, as I was, for a clue or a direction towards the elusive Holy Grail that is a rewarding, seductive and sensual pinot noir.

Only twice before have I got close to that Grail – both were French wines and both cost around my yearly salary.

At the Wignalls tasting last week it was the New Zealand wines that seem to cast strange a light burning over many of the wine regions. In particular it was the central Otago region that looked particularly promising.

Australia’s involvement was Fremantle Dockers-like – brilliant at times and bordering on appalling at others.

It was an American wine that shone the brightest for me. It was a very good example of New World Pinot that even the French would take notice of.

As for the French examples, I am not sure what to offer, except that on the night of the tasting they got beaten in their opening World Cup match.

I have yet to try Wignalls 2000 or 2001 which, I am led to believe from a number of people who have, are quite stunning.

I must also mention that the current release of the Wignalls Shiraz in its enticing new packaging is very smart and worth grabbing.

Wignalls Pinot Noir 1999 rating 16.75

The aromas of this wine were found around the outside of a barn, with slight sweaty savoury characters with touches of fennel, distinctive earthy nuances and a degree of complexity.

Once on the palate you discover some of those savoury characters and a touch of sweetness with cherries and plums dominating, drying tannins with a savoury edge and a border of raspberry like fruit.

Slightly funky edge with some length and persistence.

Tyrrell’s Vat 6 Pinot Noir 1999 rating 17.50

Displaying some seductive aromas that were a little dominated by oak. Characters of raspberries and ripe strawberries, with touches of plums, a slight herbal edge and enticing complexity. The palate showed generous sweet fruit of ripe cherries, strawberries and plums that integrate and display a savoury seductive touch. Shows balance of acidity and tannins with plenty to look forward to. Worth buying.

Quartz Reef Pinot Noir 1999 rating 17.75

One of the growing number of outstanding New Zealand producers that are excelling in the quest for the Holy Grail. Floral yet medicinal aromas with a touch of smoky, charred oak.

There was an aromatic brightness to this wine. Once you delved into the palate you found an integration of acidity, oak and fruit. Layers of cherries, redcurrants and damson fruits with a gamey complexity. Displays good length and persistence across the palate, very much worth seeking out.

This was the top points winner at the 2000 Perth Wine Show.

Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir 1999 rating 18.00

This was very close to being my top wine of the tasting. Ripe and very attractive fruits of plums, maraschino cherries, vibrant perfume with vanillin oak notes and complexity. On the palate there were plenty of sweet and savoury flavours with appealing damson, cherry and prune juice characters, raspy tannins with very good integrated acidity and a slight fennel character on the back palate. Good length of palate with some of the wow factor. A vision of the Holy Grail flirted before this wine for a moment before disappearing.

Bannockburn Serre´ Pinot Noir 1999 rating 18.5

This is the first release of this wine I believe and it is about to hit selected liquor outlets over the next few weeks. You must track down a bottle! This really was a delight and yet another step closer to the Aussie Holy Pinot Grail. Perfumed herbal aromas, with enticing hints of oak, plums, wild berries-damson, almost brambles with ripe strawberries. The palate offers plenty to look for, soft and luscious fruit with an attractive stalky character, forward acidity, dusty drying tannins supported with dynamic fruit, that sits around longer than a bar fly at the Court Wine Bar. Seek this out.

Au Bon Climate ‘Isabella’ Pinot Noir 1999 rating 18.75

You do not like the Americans to come out on top with anything they do but this was my highest point wine of the tasting. If you ever find this wine, do yourself a favour. A mass of intense perfumed aromas with touches of vanillin and mocha oak, ripe red berry fruits with an aloof complexity. Sweet yet savoury fruit fill the palate, showing ripe and rich flavours with a touch of fennel green stalk character that was attractive in its flow through the wine. Some spice and plenty of persistence and length with a complexity that put a momentary handle on the Grail.

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