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Revisiting New Zealand Pinot Noir

In 2008, I presented an extensive review of New Zealand Pinot Noir in the PinotFile titled, “Finicky Pinot Noir Thriving in Middle Earth,” (www.princeofpinot.com/article/539/). That article followed my travel to New Zealand in 2008 and the wines reviewed were from the 2003 to 2006 vintages. I found the wines to be inconsistent, but a handful of exported Pinot Noirs were capable of a world class drinking experience. The styles varied but the Pinot Noirs veered more toward New World flashiness than Burgundian restraint. I felt California’s value priced Pinot Noirs were generally superior to those from New Zealand despite the claims of wine writer Matthew Jukes who has said, “New Zealand can claim to make the best good-value Pinot in the world.”

The 2008 New Zealand Pinot Noirs have been arriving in the stateside retail market in recent months and I decided to take another look at the quality of the wines being exported. The 2008 vintage was an excellent one in Martinborough and Central Otago, but was marred by rains in Marlborough. The grape harvest in 2008 ballooned to 280,000 tons, a 39% increase above 2007 due to excellent flowering and a favorable growing season along with an increasing number of areas coming into production. This increase in production and the global recession has caused concerns about oversupply as inventories accumulate of premium New Zealand wines from past vintages. As in the United States, premium New Zealand Pinot Noir sales have faltered.

New Zealand is about the size of Oregon, and despite the relative infancy of its modern wine history, its planted Pinot Noir acreage surpassed Oregon in 2009 (11,619 acres to 11,523). Pinot Noir now makes up 15% of New Zealand’s total vineyard plantings, second only to Sauvignon Blanc and is New Zealand’s second most exported variety. The two biggest export markets for New Zealand are Australia and the UK, but it is projected that the United States eventually will become the number one export market for New Zealand wines. In 2008, New Zealand wine exports were worth $797.8 million, a 14 percent increase over 2007 and a significant increase from the $60 million the industry exported just over a decade earlier.

The modern Pinot Noir winegrowing industry in New Zealand dates to the mid 1970s beginning with experimental plantings of Rolfe and Lis Mills of Rippon Vineyard on the banks of Lake Wanaka in the Central Otago region of the South Island of New Zealand, and concurrently, Nobilo Vintners in Auckland on the North Island. The wine industry has shown remarkable growth reaching 643 wineries by 2009, varying in size from small boutique operations producing a few thousand cases to huge conglomerates with annual sales exceeding two million liters. 85% of New Zealand wineries are foreign-owned.

Geographically, New Zealand has both a North Island and South Island as shown on the New Zealand Winegrowers map on Page 2. The latitudes of 36 to 45 degrees allow wine grapes to be grown throughout both islands except on the cold west coast and pocketed frigid areas. All the major grape growing regions have a maritime climate except Central Otago which is the only viticulture area blessed with a continental weather pattern.

There are ten wine regions, but only half have major plantings of Pinot Noir (2009 total acreage is given in parentheses). The Wairarapa on the southeastern tip of the North Island includes multiple sub-regions including well-known Martinborough (2,123 acres). Nelson is located in the north-central part of the South Island and 25% of the vineyards are planted to Pinot Noir (452 acres). Marlborough, in the northeastern corner of the South Island, has the largest and most recognizable wineries, the largest plantings of Pinot Noir, and the largest production of inexpensive Pinot Noirs (4,942 acres). Waipara is a subregion in the northern part of Canterbury along the coast of the South Island south of Marlborough (769 acres). Central Otago is the most southerly wine region in New Zealand known for its spectacular scenery. 60% of the vineyards are planted to Pinot Noir (2,970 acres).



Early plantings of Pinot Noir in New Zealand were primarily Pommard 5, UCD 10/5 (a clone imported to New Zealand in the 1960s from Wädenswil Research Station in Switzerland by government viticulturist Frank Berrysmith), and UCD 2/10. Later UCD 6 and 13 were added and in the early 1990s, the New Zealand government released the Dijon clones including 113, 114, 115, 667, 777 and 375. There are suitcase clones in the ground as well. Phylloxera has surfaced in New Zealand but is not a significant problem yet. Spread is very slow and there is constant replanting and new planting of Pinot Noir vines on resistant rootstock. The viticulture scheme here has always encouraged non-irrigated vines and organic farming. A code of sustainable practices, Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand, was developed in 2002. Soils are primarily alluvial throughout the country, with some pockets of limestone.

The New Zealanders pioneered the use of screw cap closures and since 2001 practically every winery uses them exclusively for white wines, and all reds except the ultra-premium bottlings which are shipped to the United States with corks to avoid the cheap image that screw-capped wines still have among wine enthusiasts here. There has also been experimentation with Diam agglomerate cork but I did not see this closure on any of the bottlings I sampled recently.

It has been difficult to define a distinctive style for New Zealand Pinot Noir as there are vast differences in microclimates, viticulture and winemaking throughout the two islands. Vintage differences play a significant role in New Zealand as well. Like California and Oregon, there are stylistic extremes varying from elegant, restrained and classic Pinot Noirs, to heavily extracted and generously oaked fruit bombs. Bennett Traub has claimed New Zealand Pinot Noir falls in the middle ground between New World flashiness and Burgundian restraint. He says, “They fit stylistically between the riper, more opulent style of Pinot Noir of top wines from Sonoma, Mendocino and Oregon, and the classic, terroir-focused wines from Burgundy.” Geoff Kelly, writing recently in The World of Fine Wine (Issue 28 2010), points out the criticism that has plagued New Zealand Pinot Noir. I agree with him that the Pinot Noirs often lack textural quality, complexity of aroma and flavor and an expression of place. The may show a floral, leafy quality due to under-ripeness while others are overripe with black plummy flavors. Excessive oak and moderately high alcohol show up as well, although alcohols generally are less than California. That said, the wines have plenty of fruit weight with good color and bright acidity, and are consistently reliable. Age ability parallels California and Oregon Pinot Noir with most premium wines drinking at their prime three to six years after release.

The Pinot Noirs from the two major Pinot Noir producing regions, Martinborough and Central Otago due show differences. The wines from Martinborough tend to have more color and sturdier tannins, sometimes displaying a subtle gaminess, and have lower total acidity. The Pinot Noirs from Central Otago, in contrast, display more vibrant fruit and flamboyance with some of the best wines offering delicacy and subtlety.

There are a handful of stellar producers in New Zealand and many export their wines to the United States. Some of the top bottlings from these and other wineries are not exported. Plenty of inexpensive Pinot Noir from Marlborough is exported and available on supermarket shelves, and these wines, although direct, cheap and supply a satisfactory daily drinking experience, give a skewed and desultory impression of what New Zealand Pinot Noir can be. The value-priced New Zealand Pinot Noirs find it challenging to compete with similar wines in California and Oregon, especially since a number of quality stateside producers are now releasing second labels that are priced around $25. As in the United States, Pinot Noir from New Zealand may not always be 100% Pinot Noir in the value-priced category. In New Zealand, since 2006, 85% of the wine must be from the variety, vintage or area on the label (In the United States, at least 75% of the volume of the wine must be composed of the designated grape variety).

Tim Atkin MW, one of Great Britain’s most respected wine writers, recently listed twenty-five world-class New Zealand producers of Pinot Noir (The World of Fine Wine Issue 27 2010): Ata Rangi, Bald Hills, Bell Hill, Burnt Spur, Churton, Craggy Range, Escarpment, Felton Road, Gibbston Valley, Grasshopper Rock, Julicher Estate, Martinborough Vineyards, Ma Maison, Mount Difficulty, Mount Edward, Neudorf, Pegasus Bay, Pyramid Valley, Quartz Reef, Rippon, Schubert, Seresin Estate, Two Paddocks, Valli, and Wooing Tree. Most of these producers export to the United States and are available from several sources (Sherry-Lehman, JJ Buckley, Hi- Time Cellars, K&L Wines, Southern Wines, and others). Check www.wine-release.com for retailers.

During the past year I reviewed impressive offerings from Alana Estate, Rippon, and Seresin Estate. All the following reviewed wines are currently available in the United States. They are organized according to region of origin. Prices for premium New Zealand Pinot Noirs are comparable to those from California and Oregon. New Zealand Pinot Noir remains a niche market and a novelty in the United States, but will appeal to pinoaficionados with varied and international interests.



Waiparara (Martinborough)

The first vineyards were planted in Martinborough in 1978 by Alistair Taylor at about the same time that a report by Derek Milne was published identifying the stony terraces around the town of Martinborough as ideal for viticulture. By the early 1980s, the area had five mainstay wineries: Ata Rangi, Te Kairanga, Chifney, Dry River and Martinborough Vineyard. The second wave of wineries arrived in the late 1980s including Palliser Estate, and the third wave followed in the 1990s with the arrival of Escarpment and Craggy Range Vineyards at Te Muna.

2008 Ata Rangi Martinborough New Zealand Pinot Noir

13.5% alcohol, $45, screw cap. Imported by Epic Wines, Aptos, CA. · Very shy aromas of darker berry fruit with hints of oak and green garden. Tasty attack of earth-kissed dark red cherries and berries which persist on the fruit-driven and uplifting finish. Nicely balanced and silky textured. Still closed and will benefit from a few years in the cellar. Very good.

2009 Cobblestone Te Muna Martinborough New Zealand Pinot Noir

14.9% alc., 694 cases, $60 (but available in the US at half that price). Imported by Cobblestone Vineyards, Napa, CA. From a vineyard on Te Muna Road. Inaugural wine from this producer that was awarded the “Wine of Show” trophy at the 2010 Romeo Bragato Wine Awards in New Zealand. · Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. The nose is shy with demure berry fruit, sandalwood and a hint of mint. Big-boned core of tasty dark red fruits balanced by healthy tannins and bright acidity producing a grapefruit-tinged finish. Picks up interest with time in the glass and shows admirable persistence on the bright finish. The high alcohol is well-integrated. Good.

2008 Craggy Range Kidnapper’s Vineyard Martinborough New Zealand Chardonnay

13.5% alc., $17. Imported by Kobrand Corp, NY, NY. The 2008 vintage was stellar for Chardonnay in New Zealand. · Very light straw color. Pleasingly clean aromas of white peaches and citrus. Discreetly rich flavors of white stone fruits and apples with a citric peel lift on the refreshing finish. Good (+).

2008 Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard Martinborough New Zealand Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $33. Imported by Kobrand Corp, NY, NY. Vineyard planted to 8 clones in more than 40 different parcels. Indigenous yeast fermentation, aging for 1 year in French oak barrels without racking. Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. · Complex nose offering scents of black cherries, strawberries, sandalwood, and dried herbs including sage. Very tasty essence of dark red cherries and berries with noticeable persistence of cherry flavors on the generous finish. A very subtle green note and hint of tobacco and mushroom peeks out. Softly textured and very smooth in the mouth and very approachable now. Very good.

2008 Dry River Martinborough New Zealand Pinot Noir

12.5% alc., $95, long neck bottle. Imported RO Imports LLC, Napa, CA. · Moderately deep reddish-purple hue in the glass. Amazingly vivid array of dark fruit aromas including hi-tone raspberry with nuances of tea and dried rose petals. Delicious and well-mannered complex of cherry and berry flavors with a very subtle leafy note. Seamless and seductive with flavors that caress the mouth and fan out beautifully on the lush and generous finish. More elegant and approachable than some vintages of this wine. One of the world’s greatest Pinot Noirs and one of the most spellbinding Pinot Noirs I have sampled this year.





2008 Over The Edge Martinborough New Zealand Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., $13, screw cap. Imported by Meadowbank Estates, Alexandria, VA. Second label of Escarpment. Winemaker Larry McKenna. · Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. Deep and intense aromas of black cherries, black raspberries and plum sauce. Delicious core of darker fruits including black currents. Full-bodied and Caliesque in style but with restrained tannins and a soft, sexy and plush mouth feel. I dare you to find a better Pinot anywhere in the world at this price. Highly recommended. Very good.




Winemaker Larry McKenna of Escarpment


2008 Russian Jack Martinborough New Zealand Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., $18, screw cap. Imported by Sorting Table, LLC, Napa, CA. A second label from Martinborough Vineyards. Named after a famous swagger who helped clear the land. · Moderately deep perfume of black cherries, blackberries and vanilla bean. Tasty core of dark cherries and berries accented with cola and vanilla. A charming middle weight wine with soft tannins and pleasing intensity. Cool package. Good.

2008 Palliser Estate The Great Walter Martinborough New Zealand Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., $55, screw cap Imported by Negociants USA Inc, Napa, CA. This wine is the fourth in the “Great Dog” series from Pencarrow Vineyard in Martinborough. Clones 667 and 777. Aged 16 months in 66% new French oak barrels. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Shy aromas of dark berry jam and subtle oak. Delicious dark berry core that really attacks the mid palate with a vengeance. Hints of Dr. Pepper and tobacco add interest. Oak has a definite presence but is beautifully married to the fruit. Soft in the mouth, this wine really grows on you over time in the glass. Very good.

2007 Palliser Estate Martinborough New Zealand Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., $26, screw cap. Imported by Negociants USA Inc, Napa, CA. · Deep reddishpurple color in the glass. Complex aromatic profile featuring dark cherries and berries, savory and oregano spices, ash and oak char. Full-bodied assortment of purple fruits with a hint of pepper and pharmaceutical. Well-structured with firm tannins and a clean finish with a tarry note. Decent.




South Island

2008 Brancott South Island New Zealand Pinot Noir

13.0% alc., $10, screw cap. Imported by Pernod Ricard USA, Purchase, NY. Sourced from vineyards in Marlborough, Waipara and Central Otago. Produced by the conglomerate, Montana Wines Ltd., in Auckland. · Lighter garnet color in the glass. Attractive scents of wooded cherry, raspberry and summer herbs. Simple and direct flavors of strawberries, cherries, Red Vines, and herbs wrapped in silky tannins. Nothing epiphanic, but varietally true and hard to complain about the ten spot price tag. A good starter Pinot for newbies. Decent.



Marlborough

Marlborough is New Zealand’s largest wine growing region and the center of the New Zealand wine industry. The Marlborough wine region represents 62% of the total vineyard area in the country. It’s reputation was established by Sauvignon Blanc which was first produced here in 1977. Today, the region is widely considered to produce the world’s best Sauvignon Blanc. The most visible winery is internationally famous Cloudy Bay, now owned by the French Champagne house, Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin. In the 1970s, Montana started producing wines which were labelled by vintage and grape variety.

The region has fertile soil and temperate weather with warm, sunny days and cool nights allowing for a long growing season. The majority of plantings are around Renwick, Blenheim and Cloudy Bay in the Wairau Valley. Further south in the Awatere Valley are plantings near Seddon on terraces of the Wairau and Awatere rivers.

2009 Cairnbrae Marlborough New Zealand Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., pH 3.58, $17, screw cap. Imported by Station Imports, Colorado Springs, COL. Vineyard neighbors the famous Cloudy Bay Vineyard. Winemaker is Christie Brown. · Moderately intense reddish-purple color in the glass. Cherry and red berry aromas with floral and leafy accents. Slightly tart dried cherry and pomegranate flavors with a green leaf note of under ripeness. The very bright acidity on the finish clamors for food. The wine has some delicate charm but the fruit and acidity are not in cinc. Decent.

2008 Dashwood Marlborough New Zealand Pinot Noir

13.0% alc., $14, screw cap. Imported by Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, NY. From Awatere and Wairau Valley vineyards. Produced by Vavasour Wines Ltd. · Moderate reddish-purple hue in the glass. Fresh aromas of dried red fruits and herbs. Light and simple redder fruits are featured with cherry-red candy flavor prominent. Bright with gossamer tannins making for easy drinkability. Decent.

2006 Delta Vineyard Hatters Hill Marlborough New Zealand Pinot Noir

13.0% alc, $23, screw cap. Imported by Vintus LLC, Pleasantville, NY. From Delta Wine Co.. Tom Hatter was a colorful character who lived in rural Marlborough in the early 1900s. The vineyard was named after him. Dijon clones. Winemakers Matt Thomas and David Glege MW partnered to produce this wine. · Dark red cherry and berry aromas with hints of smoky oak, grass and leaf. Discreetly concentrated core of strawberry and raspberry fruit with underpinnings of grass, tobacco and oak enveloped in mildly firm tannins and sporting a bright citrusy finish. Decent.

2008 Nautilus Marlborough New Zealand Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., $26, screw cap. Imported by Negociants USA Inc, Napa, CA. 7 day cold soak, aged in French oak barrels. 5 clones from 6 vineyards. · Lovely aromas of dark red cherries, strawberries, raspberries with a complimentary spice note. Highly perfumed right out of the bottle. The flavors echo the aromas with added accents of sassafras and savory herbs. Moderately rich with impressive persistence on the finish which sports some restrained dry tannins. Charming and easy to drink. Still fine the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Very good (+).

2008 Saint Clair Family Estate Vicar’s Choice Marlborough New Zealand Pinot Noir

13.0% alc., $18, screw cap. Imported by Winesellers Ltd., Skokie, ILL. Owners Neal and Judy Ibbetson, Marlborough pioneers since 1978, have a relative who is a vicar in the Anglican Church and this wine is his choice of barrel samples. The winemaker is Matt Thomson. · Light in color. Savory and fruity nose that appeals with aromas of strawberries, spice and dried herbs. Light on the palate with flavors of red fruits and herbs. Simple, but nicely composed and easy to drink. Good.

2007 Saint Clair Family Estate Omaka Reserve Marlborough New Zealand Pinot Noir

13.0% alc., $28, screw cap. Imported by Winesellers Ltd., Skokie, ILL. · Moderately deep reddish-purple color in the glass. The aromas build in intensity over time in the glass, offering a jolting array of oakkissed and spiced dark fruits. Thick and dense on the palate, with hedonistic liquor-like flavors of blackberries, ollaliberries, and black plums with an earthy underpinning, caressed by downy tannins. The mouth coating sap really makes an impression. A Caliesque style Pinot without the high alcohol. Very good.

2007 Seresin Estate Leah Marlborough New Zealand Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $29, screw cap. Imported by The Sorting Table, LLC, Napa, CA. A blend of vineyards. Fermented with wild yeast, aged 11 months in French oak barrels, bottled unfiltered. · Moderately dark reddish-purple robe in the glass. Deep and haunting perfume of black raspberries, cedar, sap, oak and cigar box. Earthy, sweet dark fruit core with added interest from cassis, mushroom, plum sauce and tobacco flavors. Well-muscled with firm tannins which are buffered by bright acidity. Good.

2008 Sherwood Estate Marlborough New Zealand Pinot Noir

12.5% alc., $15, screw cap. Imported bySouthern Starz, Inc., Huntington Beach, CA. Vineyards in Marlborough and Waipara owned by Dayne and Jill Sherwood since 1987. · Shy aromas of red cherries and berries with a leafy accent. Simple and light, with flavors of cherries, strawberries, dried herbs and a hint of oak on the finish. Gossamer tannins make for easy sipping. Decent.

2008 The Crossings Marlborough New Zealand Pinot Noir

13.0% alc., $15, screw cap. Imported by WJ Deutsch & Sons Ltd, Harrison, NY. · A lighter style with soft scents of black cherries, toffee and toasted oak, and diluted flavors of earthy red berries and cherries with oak in the background. Quaffable. Decent.



Nelson

Nelson is home to 24 boutique wineries. The vineyards are scattered about the alluvial loam soils of the Waimea Plains and up on the hills of Upper Moutere. The region is situated on the western side of the country near the northern tip of the South Island. Mountains to the west of the region provide a rain shadow effect while the coastline moderates temperature extremes. Nelson receives more rainfall than neighboring Marlborough, but its northern exposure gives it lengthy days of sunshine and the second highest total hours of sun in the country. The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir compete with the best in the country.

2008 Neudorf Tom’s Block Nelson New Zealand Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., 4,080 cases, $30, screw cap. Imported by The Country Vintner Inc., Ashland, VA. Owners Tim and Judy Finn, winemaker John Kavanaugh. Wild yeast fermentation, aged 11 months in French oak barrels, bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately light reddish-purple robe. Very shy redder fruits on the nose with notes of sweet oak and dried apple. Mediumweighted flavors of red berries including cranberry with a hint of spice box. Smoothly textured with dusty tannins. This wine has some charm but at present the flavors trump the aromas. Good.

2007 Neudorf Moutere Nelson New Zealand Pinot Noirneud

14.0% alc., 630 cases, $48, screw cap. Imported by The Country Vintner Inc., Ashland, VA. Wild yeast fermentation, aged 11 months in French oak barrels, bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Demure but pleasing aromas of darker cherry and berry fruits including black currants with a subtle underpinning of oak. The dark fruit veers to the ripe side but is very tasty. Seamless with a refreshing acid tang on the finish. Even better the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle offering an impressive display of fruit and a peacock finish. Worth a search.



Waipara

Waipara is a sub-region of Canterbury, about an hour’s drive north of Christchurch. Canterbury became a focus of attention when the 1984 St. Helena Pinot Noir brought notoriety to the area. Many thought this area might be the anointed home of Pinot Noir in New Zealand and Pinot Noir has become the dominant variety here. Most desirable plantings are on hillsides facing away from the coast. Eastern mountains block out rain from Australia so the region is warm and dry. Pegasus Bay is Waipara’s most noted wine estate, with Pinot Noir vines dating to 1985.

2007 Mountford Estate Waipara New Zealand Chardonnay

14.3% alc., $33, screw cap. Imported by Infinity Imports, Los Angeles, CA. · Straw colored in the glass. Alluring scents of green apple, bergamot, honey and buttered popcorn. Delicious and nuanced with flavors of citrus peel, apple, toffee and allspice. Slightly creamy in texture with bright acidity and a welcoming note of minerality. An impressive wine that supports the notion of many that New Zealand Chardonnay can be striking.

2007 Mountford Estate Liaison Waipara New Zealand Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., $30, screw cap. Imported by Infinity Imports, Los Angeles, CA. Composed of estate and purchased grapes. · Moderate reddish-purple hue in the glass. Lovely perfume of darker fruits with a notable presence of smoky oak. Hearty core of black cherry and ollaliberry with undertones of earth, ash, tobacco and oak char. The flavors have some lingering presence on the finish which is marked by citrus peel. The wine is showing too much oak char at present, but this may well integrate over time. Good.

2008 Waipara Springs Premo Reserve Waipara New Zealand Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $20, screw cap. Imported by Wine Imports LLC, Napa, CA. From the oldest vines in the Waipara Valley. The family estate was established in 1989. 100% de-stemmed, natural yeast fermentation, aged 15 months in French oak barrels. · Very alluring perfume of black cherries, crushed berries, bay leaf and oak toast. Long and complex on the palate with hints of roasted nuts and brown spice augmenting the tasty ripe cherry and berry flavors. Soft in the mouth with refreshing acidity and admirable harmony. Very good.

2007 Mountford Estate Waipara New Zealand Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., $42. Imported by Infinity Imports, Los Angeles, CA. Fruit de-stemmed, 1 week cold soak, aged 16 months in French oak barrels with up to 33% new. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Shy aromas of dark berries and cherries with some smoky oak. Smooth and polished, with focused flavors of black raspberries and black cherries accented with toasted oak and earthy and gamey tones. Like the Liaison bottling, showing plenty of oak at present. Good.

Note: Listen to the recent interview with Mountford Estate winemaker C.P. Lin on Grape Radio at www.graperadio.com/podcast/GR-ENG-USA-2010-11-01.mp3.



Central Otago

Central Otago’s viticultural history began with Frenchman John Desire Feraud, who was attracted to the area during the Dunstan gold rush of 1862. He planted the first wine grapes in Central Otago in 1864. Commercial winemaking thrived for twenty years, but when he left the region, the wine industry ceased and wasn’t revived until the plantings farmed by Rolfe Mills in 1975 in the Wanaka area of Central Otago. Mills later planted the Rippon Vineyard in 1982, the first commercial vineyard in Central Otago since the gold rush days. The first commercial release of Pinot Noir from Central Otago was the 1987 vintage from pioneer Alan Brady at Gibbston Valley Winery. Other early pioneering wineries include Taramea, Black Ridge, William Hill and Chard Farm. Felton Road was the first major commercial vineyard and winery in Central Otago. Established in 1991, Felton Road was releasing wines by 1997 that were bringing international attention to Central Otago. Many wineries and extensive plantings, particularly of Pinot Noir, followed.

Central Otago is located at 45 to 47 degrees latitude, the same latitude as Burgundy and Oregon’s Willamette Valley in the northern hemisphere. It is the fastest growing wine district in New Zealand. Snow capped mountains are a prominent part of the landscape in winter, but the sun shines brightly during the summer and autumn. Very little rain falls in Central Otago per se, but the surrounding country is quite wet so that water is readily available. The river silts, clays, loams and sands that make up the soils are interspersed with ground schist rocks and are therefore free draining. There is a generous amount of mineral compounds present, but restricted plant growth due to low rainfall has resulted in low organic content in the soil, and the soil is low in vigor. Irrigation is a necessity and is finely tuned to keep the vines at the desired degree of stress.

2008 Felton Road Cornish Point Central Otago New Zealand Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., $50, screwcap. Imported by Wilson Daniels, St. Helena, CA. · Moderately dark ruby color in the glass. Haunting perfume of dark stone fruits with hints of oak, compost and pine. Mouth watering and juicy with bright flavors of earth-kissed black cherries, plum sauce, cola, and nutmeg. Well-proportioned tannins and acidity with pleasing persistence of the fruit flavors on the finish. Drinkable now, but can cellar with confidence as it will age effortlessly. The stuff that Pinot dreams are made of.

2008 Felton Road Block 3 Central Otago New Zealand Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., $65, screw cap. Imported by Wilson Daniels, St. Helena, CA. Sourced from Felton Road’s original owner’s (Stewart Elms) first plantings on loamy soil, the so-called “sweet-spot” of the vineyard. · Darkest of the three wines reviewed here. Brooding and tight with a hint of smoky black fruits and toasted oak. Picks up fruit intensity and interest over time in the glass. Moderately dense core of earth-laden black plum and cassis fruit with accents of oak. Grand cru flavor intensity and finish. The tannins are still flamboyant and the wine is reluctant to give up its charm now, but will be great in several years. Still closed the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Very good.

2008 Felton Road Block 5 Central Otago New Zealand Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., $65, screw cap. This block is planted on loam, clay and gravel. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Aggressive aromas of dark Bing cherries, forest floor, spice and pencil lead. Dense and unctuous black cherry core with citrus in the background. Fine-tuned tannins buffer the acidity beautifully. An exceptional wine that is really big and really good, but needs time for full expression. Tasted the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the fruit was more giving but cellaring is definitely indicated. For grown-ups only.



2008 Mud House Central Otago New Zealand Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., $19, screw cap. Imported by Wine Trading Collective, San Francisco, CA. · Moderately light reddish-purple color in the glass. Initially the wine offers bright aromas of strawberries, red cherries and sage, but fades some over time in the glass with toasted oak peeking out. A lighter weighted Pinot that is not much more than pleasant fruit, but is easy to drink. Confected flavors of red cherries, red berries and red hard candy cling to the finish. Decent.

2008 Quartz Reef Bendigo Central Otago New Zealand Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., pH 3.28, $25, screw cap.Imported by Station Imports, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Clones 10/5, 5, 115, 667, 777 and Abel. Aged in 33% new French oak barrels. Gently fined. · Scents of fresh picked berries with plenty of sweet oak. Dark raspberry, blueberry and black cherry fruit is featured wrapped in healthy dry tannins and bright acidity. A vivid and juicy wine that is refreshing to drink and I suspect will improve over time in the bottle. Good.

2008 Tarras Vineyards Central Otago New Zealand Pinot Noir

14.5%, $30, screw cap. Imported by Saranty Imports, Harrison, NY. The winery is named after the Central Otago town of Tarras. From The Steppes Vineyard. · Moderate reddish-purple hue in the glass. Attractive aromas of ripe dark fruits. Tasty black cherry and dark red plum fruit with nicely proportioned tannins and acidity and some persistence on the pleasing finish. A nicely composed solid wine. Good.

2008 Wild Earth Deep Cove Central Otago New Zealand Pinot Noir

13.8% alc., $19, screw cap. Imported by San Francisco Wine Exchange, San Francisco. Sourced by Bannockburn Estate vineyards owned by the Quider family and other Central Otago vineyards. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Attractive aromas of strawberry pie, baking spices and balsam. Soft and smooth on the palate, offering a decent core of red berry flavors with a hint of tutti-frutti. This one is simple and direct and goes down easy. Decent.

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