If you want a spectacular view to accompany your glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, head to New Zealand house in London. Sitting between Trafalgar Square and Pall Mall, the building is a bit of an architectural eyesore but jump in the lift to the 17th floor, walk up a narrow set of stairs and the panorama …
In what was probably a world first, two Austrians hosted a New Zealand Pinot Noir masterclass.
The unusual double act? Georg J Riedel, the 10th generation of the eponymous family-run glass company, and Salzburg-born winemaker Rudi Bauer, owner of Central Otago winery Quartz Reef.
Think New Zealand red, think Pinot Noir but there’s more to New Zealand red wine than one variety: some of the best reds I’ve reviewed over the past 12 months reflect New Zealand’s ability to produce classy Bordeaux styles as well as sexy Syrah, particularly in the warmer climes of Hawke’s Bay.
When it comes to …
2013 has been the year for Central Otago to shine, showing off the excellent 2010 vintage in the early part of the year followed by a showing of the 2012 new release Pinots.
Many red wine producers are currently selling the 2011 vintage, which is certainly not going to go down as vintage of the century. …
Chardonnay isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when it comes to Central Otago.
Indeed, it plays a bit part: just 47 of the region’s 1795 hectares (or a measly 2.6%) of vines are planted to Chardonnay.
No prizes for guessing the region’s most planted variety: Pinot Noir vineyards cover 1,356 hectares or 75% of all plantings.
Burgundy has clearly shown that Pinot Noir and Chardonnay can thrive alongside one another and with Pinot experiencing such success in Central Otago, you might expect there to be more Chardonnay in the ground.
And if Felton Road’s Chardonnays are anything to go by, there ought to be more.
We expect Felton Road’s Pinot Noirs to be excellent and when they are, we’re not surprised. But I had no expectation when it came to its Chardonnays. They turned out to be a revelation. Felton jumps straight into my top ten NZ Chardonnay producers, joining the likes of Kumeu River, Ata Rangi and friends.
What I like most about their Chardonnays is the vibrancy of the fruit, which is allowed to shine by relatively little new oak, and their dart-like acidity. Winemaker Blair Walter believes that Central Otago Chardonnay can easily be overpowered with new oak and has settled on using a maximum of 10-15 percent.
He explains that oak flavour and oak tannins are exacerbated by the higher acidity found in Central Otago Chardonnay and excessive new oak use can easily mask the more subtle fruit characters. “Oak also suppresses the opportunity to express the more desirable and complexing characters such as minerality,” he added.
In 2013, the Block 2 Chardonnay was not allocated any new barrels. Older oak is the order from now on. “We have sufficient Chardonnay barrel stocks to be able to do that now,” he says.
However, the wines are now staying in old oak longer. “We started experimenting with leaving the older vines and more powerful Block 2 Chardonnay in barrel for 17 months – we used to put them in tank after 12 months to free them [the barrels] up [for the new vintage].”
Walter found that the oak was better integrated and less obvious with the five extra months in oak and, from 2010 the wines have seen 17 months in oak.
2012 Chardonnay Bannockburn
A fine, pure and linear Chardonnay. On the nose, crisp green apple and lemon combines with a hint of complex sulphides. There’s only 10 percent new oak and it’s nice to see the purity of fruit unruffled. Textural mouthfeel but not overtly creamy nor fat thanks to minimal lees stirring. While it went through full malolactic fermentation, the acidity remains firm and as precise as Phil ‘the Power’ Taylor. 18.5/20 or 92/100
2011 Chardonnay Block 2
A vibrant Chardonnay showing Macon-like weight on the mid palate. Expect purity of fruit, a lovely bright lemony character, dash of complex sulphides and ‘mineral’ drive on the finish. Elegant and zingy. 18/20 or 90/100
Central Otago’s Felton Road is widely regarded as one of the country’s best Pinot Noir producers. And, in the same vein as the Bordelais in 2009 and 2010, Felton’s long-serving winemaker Blair Walter is touting 2012 as Central Otago’s “best vintage ever.” And that will surprise a few people.
In general, 2012 wasn’t a great summer for most of New Zealand. It was cool and wet in many parts: the high acidity in many Marlborough sauvignon blancs was cause for a trip to the dentist for new enamel. But Central Otago, the world’s most southerly wine growing region at 45 degrees latitude, escaped the rain and had a warm but not hot growing season.
“We had a spectacular summer in Central Otago. We had the most consistent December we have ever had. Then, through February and March it was warm but not the extremes that cause the vines to shut down,” says Walter.
Meanwhile, the rest of New Zealand is pretty excited about the 2013 harvest but Walter doesn’t think it measures up to 2012 down in Central. “While everyone is talking up 2013 in the North Island, in Central Otago we’re not so excited. In 2013 we had warm days but warm nights as well. I don’t think we can surpass 2012 as a vintage.”
Indeed, the first showing of the 2012s is pretty impressive across the entire range with vibrant acidity.
I have to pick the Calvert Vineyard as my personal favorite: it’s serious, taut and fine. Cornish Point is rounder, more voluptuous, with a quirky minty edge but it doesn’t offer the linear streak that I love in Pinots.
Style-wise, Felton Road is moving towards greater refinement with every vintage. As a region, Central Otago can be guilty of being the Barossa of the Pinot world: overripe, overextracted and overoaked. They’re certainly the biggest pinots in the country
“We don’t go out to make these fruit bomb styles, it’s what nature is giving us but some of us in Central Otago are starting to realize we can pick earlier…it’s easy to make wines to impress people with lots of oak, lots of fruit but is that what people want to drink?” asks Walter.
“I have been guilty of picking when the wine is too ripe,” he adds. But with older vines and more grey hairs, the wines are starting to follow an increasingly linear and delicate track.
“We are looking for more detail, more precision and finesse. We are usually the first to start and first to finish [picking in Bannockburn].” It seems to be working.
2012 Pinot Noir Bannockburn
An appealing Pinot with juicy upfront fruit. Lifted red cherry and blackberry aromas with a violet note. Lovely plumpness on the mid-palate that gives your mouth a cuddle combined with lovely line of acidity and fine grained tannin. On the finish, there’s attractive but not overdone oak-derived spice, clove and cinnamon. While it’s the most simple pinot in the Felton range, it would still kick most Central Otago wines’ butts. 88/100
2012 Pinot Noir Calvert
The most refined of the Felton Pinot family. It has a fine floral nose with a puff of rhubarb. The mid-palate is soft and alluring but it remains finely poised. This wine has great direction, helped by amazing acidity, leaving you salivating. The tannins are fine and round, and there’s plenty of ‘em for a Pinot. There’s some chocolatey oak on the finish with black cherry and ginger lingering long in the mouth. 93/100
2012 Pinot Noir Block 3
Made from 20 year old vines this style is mouthfilling with big tannins for Pinot. It flows mellifluously along the palate and manages to retains a lightness of touch despite its underlying power. Great acidity. Long finish. This has great potential for the long term. 91/100
In part 2: Did you know Felton makes damn good Chardonnay?
France named the owner of luxury goods company LVMH, Bernard Arnault, as the country’s most wealthy in last week’s publication of the annual rich list.
He’s the one that tried to do a ‘Gerard Depardieu’ and get another passport in a bid to avoid France’s 75% tax on millionaires. Perhaps Arnault could play a starring role in upcoming movie Green Card 2?!
While I’m no fan of a tax evader, the latest release from the LVMH-owned Cloudy Bay in Marlborough deserves a mention.
The 2010 Te Wahi is the winery’s first attempt at making Pinot Noir using fruit sourced from Central Otago and it’s decent booze.
While Te Wahi means ‘Our Place’, the fruit is sourced from a few places that are pretty far away from Cloudy Bay’s HQ in Marlborough. It’s actually a blend of three Central Otago sub-regions: Bannockburn, Bendigo and Lowburn and the wine speaks more of Central Otago than it does any of the three sub-regions.
The 2010 vintage was a stunner. The start of the season was cooler than usual, which led to small berry size and lower bunch weights, which would later produce wines with good depth of colour, powerful tannins (on the Pinot spectrum) and fruit concentration.
From January through to harvest, warm weather prevailed and the critical period of March and April provided settled conditions with little disease pressure and the luxury of picking when it suited.
The finished product is very impressive for an inaugural vintage, which is set for release in the U.S. in the coming months.
“Perfumed with vibrant red and black fruits, layers of violets and a distinct note of green herbs – thyme – and a puff of dustiness.
“Pure fruit with good density on the mid-palate yet remains delicate and silky.
“High level of concentration suggest low yields. Fine-grained tannin yet relatively powerful for Pinot with a mouthwatering level of fresh acidity. Oak is harmonious, well integrated and very subtle considering it is 40% new. A very complete and harmonious wine. Ready to drink now for its fruity appeal but the combination of fruit concentration, fresh acid and moderate tannin should see this continue to evolve nicely over the next 4-6 years ” 93/100
There’s no escaping Burgundy when you’re at a Pinot Noir conference. The French region makes the world’s finest examples that most of us can’t afford unless we forego several mortgage payments. It’s inevitable that any Pinot Noir producer would like to achieve the heady heights in terms of quality.
This is benchmarking – the process of determining who is the very best, who sets the standard, and what that standard is. Any ambitious producer in any industry – wine or not – is right to do this because to live in a world where there is no context is to be drifting aimlessly on a sea of bulk wine.
Yet there has become an aversion to comparing Pinots from New Zealand and elsewhere to Burgundy.
Ted Lemon of Littorai Wines in Sonoma and Burn Cottage in Central Otago made it clear that he thought comparisons to Burgundy were unhealthy for New World producers in a speech at the Mornington Peninsula International Pinot Noir conference two weeks ago.
“Look inward,” he said. “Do not measure all things against the Old World. And above all do not see Burgundy as a measuring stick. We must be like Odysseus, lashing ourselves to the mast of the ship in order to resist the siren song of the maidens of Burgundy.”
I agree with Ted that New World producers should not set out to make a Burgundy-like wine if they’re in New Zealand, Australia or Oregon.
Yes, it should be about getting to know your land better and the wines it produces but for those of in the world of communication and education, it’s another matter.
I compared the wines of the Omihi subregion of Waipara to Pommard at Pinot 2013 and it was as if I had talked about Lord Voldemort at Hogwarts. Tumbleweed moment. I make no apology for it. It provided context. These wines are powerful, dense and meaty and when you compare them to Pommard, those not familiar with the wines of Omihi (which are a fairly sizeable group) gain an immediate sense of style.
I agree that wine producers and wine writers should not put Burgundy on a pedestal – let’s face it, the region makes a lot of crap. Take a 10 euro prix fixe lunch at a restaurant in Beaune and you’ll be able to taste wines that aren’t worthy of salad dressing.
I agree that New Zealand Pinot Noir cannot be anything else but New Zealand Pinot Noir – just like Oregon, the Mornington Peninsula and friends. They’re recognizable, inimitable and can be bloody good. But for those of us trying to describe what the wines are like to a wine savvy audience that needs a benchmark, I’m afraid the region-that-shall-not-be-named is the best benchmark we have for the foreseeable future.
In time, we’ll be able to kick those comparisons to the kerb but we are not there yet.
I’m looking forward to that day and thankfully it doesn’t seem too far away for Kiwis. The New Zealand wine industry’s growing maturity was evident at the Wellington Pinot conference in January. There’s a burgeoning sense of self and an attitude that says “This is who we are, this is what we do, and if you don’t like it, plenty of other people do.” There’s a confidence and a pride that has emerged, which wasn’t in evidence at the last Pinot conference in 2010. Long may it continue.
This week the producers of the Waitaki Valley have been on the road, touting their wares.
Despite two of its producers receiving the accolade of New Zealand’s best Pinot Noir at the International Wine Challenge and best Pinot Noir at the Shanghai International Wine Challenge in the past month, most people look perplexed when you mention its name.
It’s in North Otago, in case you were wondering, 160km northeast of Central Otago’s Cromwell. Consultant Jeff Sinnott, winemaker for Shanghai trophy winner Ostler has spent the past 11 years in Central Otago and now having a foot in both camps made a useful comparison.
“Waitaki is slightly warmer than the Gibbston Valley [the coolest part of Central Otago’s subregions] but Waitaki has warmer temperatures in the late autumn which equals longer hang time allowing the tannins to ripen.”
In the warmer regions of Central Otago, such as Bannockburn and Alexandra, the long hang time isn’t usually possible as autumn frosts often dictate harvest decisions. “In Central Otago I don’t think I have ever made a completely tannin ripe wine and I have been making Central wines for 10 years. You are getting two brix a week from veraison to picking the fruit and so it is picked within five weeks [although that is about normal for Burgundy].”
“Then you are tempted to add water to get the alcohol down.” I think this temptation might become too much to bear for some!
Central Otago’s reds are generally sweetly fruited and fuller-bodied than the rest of the country’s Pinots. Final alcohols of 14 or 14.5 percent are quite normal. I mention that I’ve seen a growing tendency for a powerful, log-fire like oak-derived char to become an element of Central Otago’s wines – almost becoming a hallmark of the region.
“One of the most successful Pinot producers in Central Otago is also a barrel importer,” he answered.
“Central Otago is in danger of becoming a parody. It’s turning wines into cartoons and we are trying to make oil paintings here.”.
In the Waitaki, ripening is much slower – almost dangerously slow. The time between veraison and picking can be as much as 10 weeks! I imagine that the local producers must have very short fingernails.
“This is right on the edge of possibility,” adds Sinnott. “A lot of people will follow the line of least resistance but that isn’t available for Waitaki winemakers. I’d say in terms of difficulty, Central would be an 8 and the Waitaki would be a 9.5.”
You’re likely to see more vintage variation as a result. The 2010s are much warmer in profile, with sweeter fruit, lacking the tautness, elegance and minerality of the cooler years, like 2011.
Yields are low – in part due to hostile weather: rain, frost, wind and hungry birds make ripening rapes a risky business. Having experimented with yields as low as 2 tons to the hectare (around 14hl/ha), they’ve found that low yields doesn’t necessarily mean better fruit, as the abundant 1982 vintage in Bordeaux also demonstrated. “We are finding the sweet spot is 4t/ha and any lower you get strong tomato leaf-like character,” says Sinnott.
Black Stilt Pinot Noir 2011
Pure and elegant nose with fine pepper and black cherry fruit aromatics. Light bodied, fine grained, chalky-textured tannin – likely derived from limestone. Racy acidity leaves a clean palate. Not particularly complex but shows the Waitaki’s characteristics and cool climate Pinot Noir typicity. 17/20
Not so cheap but bloody delicious:
John Forrest Pinot Noir 2009
Pure, focused, with a plummy core of fruit overlaid with clove and cinnamon spice. It has fine grained tannins, a chalky texture on the finish with fine acidity and great linearity Complex and elegant. 18.5/20.
Otiake Gewurztraminer 2011
I don’t like Gewurz – it’s just that it’s usually over the top and a bit fat. But this is pure and tight without overt florals. Instead it shows fruit salad, lime, lemon and incredible freshness for a low acid variety. It’s dry and finishes clean. 18/20
Ostler Lakeside Vines Pinot Gris 2011
This is almost Alsatian in style with restrained savoury notes, spice and pear on the nose. It is medium in body, is richly fruited yet retains a tautness of structure. On the long finish there’s white flowers, bruised apple and lavender. Worthy of a 17.5/20 at the very least but shows potential to be as good as premium Alsatian Pinot Gris in the future with vine age.
Pasquale Riesling Shrivel 2011
I have partly fallen in love with this wine because of Pasquale’s owner Antonio, who told me that this was a good wine to have for a lovemaking session before breakfast Clean and pure with intense lemon, mandarin aromas. It is piquant, zesty and perfectly balanced despite 160g/l residual sugar – that’s probably thanks to a T/A of 9! Hearing that I was newly married, Antonio gave me a bottle to take home – I haven’t yet opened it.
The Waitaki Valley in New Zealand’s North Otago region has come of age this week: a Pinot Noir from this marginal region has been named the International Wine Challenge’s best Kiwi Pinot.
The region’s first vineyard, Doctor’s Creek, was planted in 2001 on limestone soils not dissimilar to Burgundy, and the first wines showed a mineral streak that attracted international praise. Since the initial rave reviews, many vineyards have sprouted up on lesser sites funded by absentee landlords, which don’t show that lovingly-nurtured mineral streak, but all the wines have a leanness and restraint that make this region stand out.
Yet it is still a small area and is often overshadowed by Pinot-producing Martinborough and Central Otago. But this week, it is having its time in the sun: John Forrest’s 2009 Waitaki Valley Pinot Noir took the title of best New Zealand Pinot Noir.
It’s affirmation that the region’s pioneers needed. Most New Zealand wine producers wouldn’t plant in the Waitaki Valley if you paid them. The region is nail-bitingly marginal and many of the country’s most successful companies have decided the risks are too high. But others who are braver, or possibly slightly unhinged, have put their money and love into this remote area of the south island.
As I wrote in the New Zealand Herald last year, the region excels at both aromatic whites, which include Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer, as well as reds from Pinot Noir. Production is small scale – at the last count there were just 110ha of vines in the whole region compared to Marlborough’s – which means these wines don’t come cheap. What’s more, Waitaki producers have to contend with hostile weather: rain, frost, wind and hungry birds make ripening rapes a risky business. If the handful of producers in the Waitaki Valley make it to harvest unscathed, the resulting wines show a restrained perfume, elegance and palate-cleansing acidity.
I am an unashamed fan of the handful of producers that are battling adversity to make some interesting wines. It’s also a part of New Zealand that remains unspoilt. Off the beaten track, the former post office in the small town of Kurow has been transformed into a tasting centre for the region’s producers and is worth a detour off State Highway 1 next time you’re in North Otago.