Seven Vintages of Block 5 Pinot Noir

On Tuesday the 18th of August I enjoyed tasting and discussing seven vintages of Block 5 with Matthew Hansen’s wine class at Carlton’s Tre Bicchieri. The vintages ranged from just bottled 2008 to the first release, 1997.
2008 Block 5
Having been bottled ten days ago this is unfair on the wine but interesting to see where the wine is at and to see it next to 2004, a wine it shares a bit in common with. The nose is very spicy. Fresh ginger (observed in the ferment, like 2005, and not an oak flavour) with fragrant red fruits. Interestingly more dark fruits showed in barrel and they will build back as the wine settles in bottle. The palate is harmonious, fresh and zesty on the finish. It is very textural, sweet in pinot fruit and has a lovely flourish. It is reassuring to see the usual mineral tightness and drive on the mid to back palate. From a mild season experiencing well timed rainfall with a finishing burst of heat. Requires three years to really settle and evolve in bottle.

2007 Block 5
Here is a very deep, fleshy, spicy wine. There is also some earth and game complexity with a creamy, subtle choc-mint character. The palate is fresh, supple, fleshy, juicy and tightens with mineral grip on the finish. It is very harmonious. Due to the warm, dry season this wine is richer and shows more flesh that the others. This wine should be given three years to develop and will mature well for at least three more after that.

2005 Block 5
Immediately very complex, even profound. It is actually hard to pinpoint exact characters of complexity but the impression is of outstanding depth and power. Let me start with spice, earth, undergrowth, complex red and dark small berries and minerals. The palate is fresh, firm, dry and savoury, tight, mineral and long. There is a core of lovely sweet fruit and pressure on the back palate. Looking very good now but another five years will see further improvement and I suspect it will live well for another 15 years. The season was very cool but the final two weeks of ripening were very warm and built a lot of power into the fruit.

2004 Block 5
Here is a wine that looked just medium bodied after bottling and quite fragrant and perfumed without the obvious depth and power of wines like 2000 and 2005. Four years later it is absolutely hitting its straps and in this tasting showed as the Block 5 providing the most pleasure alongside the 1997. The nose is creamy and pure, delightfully fragrant with spices, red cherry and subtle strawberry notes. The palate is fresh and supple, beautifully textured and smooth with a typical mineral finish. It should hold like this for the next four or so years and continue to drink well for several years after that. From a moderate season like 2008 without the finishing burst of heat.

2002 Block 5
Perhaps our most challenging season ever? A very cold summer with rainfall at the most inappropriate times. This is quite a strong statement of pinot noir for its deep, sweet, herbal, spicy forest floor characters. The palate is round and supple then dry and grippy with a fresh, mineral end. It is quite different from the other wines. It is immediately more overtly complex but lacks the finer layers of the more regular vintages. Pleasingly the mineral back palate drive is there bit the usual striking harmony of Block 5 and flourish is less evident. It is not fading fast and should hold well for another five years.

2000 Block 5
This wine has always been a favourite. The issue is the more than usual incidence of cork taint. Which is a pity anytime but particularly for this fabulous vintage. The wine had some slight mustiness but showed sweet, herbal red and dark berry characters with complexing forest floor and spice. The palate is fleshy tight, very intense and driven with deep fruit purity. A good bottle of this is equal to any wine we have made and has a 20 year drinking window from vintage date.

1997 Block 5
The first bottling (there was one barrel from 1996 that went into the then Bindi Pinot Noir (now Original Vineyard)). The nose is hedonistic in its fragrance, ripeness and lovely complexity: herbs, flowers and sweet fruit. The palate is fresh, balanced, pure and creamy with a lovely mineral core and a long, smooth finish. At 12 years of age it is not tired and remains a beautiful wine that will continue to drink well for several more years.

The highlights for me from this tasting were the consistent mineral back palate of the wines expressing the vineyard site, the longevity of the wines in general and the ability of less powerful, structured years like 2004 to evolve to a point where there is so much more complexity, intensity and textural length. Pleasingly, despite the warm and dry years the site is clearly expressing the seasonal influences and the vineyard site.

Burgundy Trip July 2009

I have been sifting through my notes from visiting 27 makers in Burgundy during July. Here are some brief thoughts.

I tasted over 400 wines, mostly 2007. There were many, many superb wines.

The 2007 whites are brilliant for their vitality and minerality and purity. I think at the moment the lower level wines are quite delicious and racy but will benefit from several years to build more weight. There is no question that the top wines require three plus years to flesh out and build around their very intense, oh so pure spine. What really struck me when comparing 2007 to 2006 and 2005 was just how specific to site they are and how rich and ready the other vintages looked. I guess 2007 could be labelled a purists vintage for whites.

The 2007 reds are so delicious, complex, balanced and harmonious. They (generalisation here) will all drink and live well for a decade and more. There is so much to like about 2007! The level of Pinot fruit purity is sensational (to my mind think 2006 and 2002). There is a lot of fresh, fragrant red berry fruit, often quite a deal of spice and lovely creaminess in 2007. In more profound vineyards there is, as expected, often an added edge of darker, deeper fruit expression.

The 2008s look deeper, richer and more structured in both whites and reds but the malos are slow and many wines are not resolved yet. I tasted some amazingly textured and deep whites with bracing acid. There is a lot of power and texture. Some producers were thrilled by the combination or fruit depth, acid and mouthfeel. Hedonists wines in many ways. But it is early days.

The 2008 reds are often very deep and powerful though the malos were normally not done and they started with high malic so they will become a bit more tame. I felt 2007 offered more purity and fragrance where as 2008 seemed darker and denser. We really must be careful not to judge too early so what are impressions of wines in barrel or just bottled should be seen in a general sense.

What came across strongly was that the attention to detail in the vineyard and the care being applied in the winery can provide an excellent opportunity to make stunning wines even when the vintage conditions are not perfect. It seems in Burgundy that imperfect weather during the growing season can be rendered unimportant if there are well timed periods of fine, dry, sunny weather post veraison. Both 2007 and 2008 are such instances. An interesting observation was made that the expression of terroir can be heightened in difficult (but not flawed) seasons where as perfect sunny seasons can stamp the wines with vintage, not the vineyard.