Small & Small Marlborough Pinot Noir 2011

20130723_183655_20130723184132100Finally a light, aromatic and elegant Pinot… reminiscent of a well made Haute Cote de Beaune, the lighter, simpler style of Burgundian red. It reminded Miss Mash and I of our trip to this region last year.

This Pinot Noir comes from Marlborough though and it is made by Bill & Claudia Small who supply their wares to Naked Wines (yep them again).

There were several reviews describing it as thin and flavourless on the website, which I can understand. If I dare make a little generalisation, I expect that a large majority of casual red wine drinkers in the UK think of, and like their, red wine relatively big and bold hence the success of Aussie Shiraz, Chilean Merlot or Spanish Rioja. Pinot Noir has either missed red wine drinkers’ radar, has been enjoyed in a meatier, fleshier style, or as was the case with some Naked Wines customer was found disappointing and lacking in flavour.

In my humble opinion however, Pinot Noir is THE noble light red grape variety. It is delicate, capricious yet versatile and will develop in very different ways for each tweak you make to the winemaking “settings”. If you like your big reds, have never tried Pinot and you are even a little curious about what other styles are out there, give this a go, especially during those heated times as it will happily to spend a little time in the fridge before being consumed.

Marlborough put New Zealand on the wine map for its Sauvignon Blanc but Pinot Noir is another treasure of the region and this number is a great example I think. Forget your Brancott Estate. This is class in a glass.

It’s very light in colour indeed, I have rarely seen such a pale red wine, actually going on salmon rosé on the (wide) rim. I chilled it for half an hour in the fridge before serving and the aromas weren’t as forward as in my last glass, a couple of hours later. But you could still easily pick juicy red fruits like strawberries and some floral notes of roses or violets. As it warms up the strawberry becomes more red cherry and it’s a definite violet scent coming up but there’s also something savoury to it.

On the palate it is light, as expected, but takes on a bit of weight and flavour intensity as it develops and warms up. It doesn’t gain much more in terms of fruit and again I can see that it may fail to win some people over because of that, but it does gain in savoury, meaty character. It all remains very subtle though and for that reason it’s a great quaffer. If you care to pause for a minute, you’ll pick up on all these lovely little things this wine has to give. The juicy fruit, the savoury layer, the very fine tannins, the mild pepper… It’s not the longest finish but I still had that savoury flavour lingering on nicely for a while.

I don’t know the details of the 2011 vintage in Marlborough but Bill & Claudia (see their story here and they’re also on Facebook here) told me that they had some rain at a critical ripening stage which means that the concentration of flavours was diluted slightly and the grapes ended up juicier and with thinner skins which indeed explains the very pale colour of this wine. Reading between the lines I think they were aiming for something in that style but with a bit more body. Fair enough, on the critic front it may have gained a few extra points. But I’m judging based on my enjoyment and this light, aromatic style was bang on what I was after so thank you for that little rain. I’m also pleased with the work they have done in the winery: natural yeast fermentation for a truer representation of “terroir” (oooh big words coming out! beware…), and 10 months oak ageing. I’m guessing old oak as I couldn’t really get typical oak flavours like toast but the oxidative ageing will have not doubt participated to the savoury character.

Unfortunately skilfully made Pinot Noir rarely comes cheap but the Angel price (£10.99) is a very fair price I think. The 2012 vintage is on its way as well and B & C are making two Pinot Noir wines. One will be the same as the 2011 described here but also they are also making a Reserve wine where the grapes will be sourced from the Rawiri vineyard (If I have Marlborough kiwi readers, please help?), presumably selected for its enhanced geological characteristics. It also sounds like we can expect more colour, fruit and flavour from the 2012 vintage in general so they should manage to please just about everyone when it is finally available in a few months. Here’s hoping the Reserve will display some bottle ageing potential 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Small & Small Marlborough Pinot Noir 2011

  1. John Young October 5, 2013 at 11:00 pm Reply

    I think that this is both a very thoughtful and a very perceptive comment, which is another way of saying that I agree with every word. I have been looking for really good pinot noir for a considerable period of time, found it difficult to find any kind of reliability in French burgundy (and found that price is no guarantee of quality), discovered some very good pinot noir from Chile and South Africa (though the quality varies very considerably) and not found anything better (in every way) than the wine produced by Small and Small.

    This is by some distance the very best, the lightest, fruitiest, softest and the most pleasantly drinkable pinot noir I have ever come across and I will certainly order more. Small and Small, whoever they are in real life, deserve every congratulation.

    John Young

    • ofmustandmash October 5, 2013 at 11:38 pm Reply

      Whilst I agree that this was (and still is) a very good example of what Pinot Noir can be I don’t think I want to be as categorical. I have tried better (and not necessarily pricier) example from France and NZ. Of course in French Burgundy there are 100s winemakers per square mile so quality and style varies greatly and it’s not easy for the consumer. Bill and Claudia have a reliable winemaking going on but this 2012 suffered a bit from the watery conditions at harvest. 2013 should be pretty good actually. But diversity is key and I would keep my eyes and mind open to other styles.

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