“When it comes to Pinot Noir, soil speaks louder than clone,” says Gordon Newton Johnson of Newton Johnson Vineyards in Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. “We like to think of the variety as an amplifier of where it’s planted.” Consequently, two versions of Pinot Noir under the Newton Johnson label, one from their own vineyards and one from grapes grown in Elgin by James Downes (of Shannon Vineyards fame).
In the case of the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley wine, it gets even more complicated in that there are three distinct sites that each contribute to the end-wine. These are identified as 1) Moya, 2) Parcel 6 and 3) Parcels 3 to 5, essentially the amount of clay increasing across the three sites and the resulting wines becoming more intense accordingly. From 2010, the three sites have been bottled separately and are available as three packs – the ultimate wine geek Christmas present.
Tasting these component wines over lunch yesterday was fascinating but the highlight was the opportunity to compare the 2008, 2009 and 2010 vintages of the finished wine, all three of which have been rated 5 Stars in Platter’s. Previously known as “Domaine”, the wine is now carries the designation “Family Vineyards” to accommodate EU regulations.
The 2008 (exclusively from Parcel 6 grapes) currently shows red fruit and a hint of some developed earthy, truffle-like aromas. It’s medium bodied with relatively soft acidity and tannins and makes for great drinking right now although should probably satisfy until the end of 2014 (score: 16/20).
The 2009 (from a vintage termed “99% perfect” – generally perfect ripening conditions except for a heatwave just before harvest) is magnificent. Red and black fruit on nose and palate. Seamless in construction with great fruit purity, moderate acidity and fine, spicy tannins. A wine of great intricacy, I think it will provide great drinking until at least the end of 2016 (score: 18/20).
The 2010 (from a difficult vintage due to uneven ripening) is very primary at the moment with ripe dark cherry fruit and noticeable but not displeasing oak on nose and palate. For all its concentration, it appears a tiny bit awkward right now and I think it will be better in twelve months’ time (score: 17/20).