Central Otago Pinot Noir Ltd conduct a ‘Spring Release Tasting’ for wine media every year to give them a ‘heads up’ on what can be expected to be seen on the marketplace over the forthcoming months. It’s an extremely valuable exercise as the writers attending can get the background of the new vintage wines and be able to make an informed opinion of them. Central Otago Pinot Noir continues its perceived dominance in the market, not only due to the style, quality and diversity of the wines, but also by the good dissemination of information by activities such as the ‘Spring Release Tasting’. It’s a reflection of the co-operation and cohesiveness of the producers in the Central Otago vignoble.
The tasting is preceded by a presentation by winemakers on the vintage conditions and the factors influencing the wines that have been made. This year, Nadine Cross of Peregrine and Blair Walter of Felton Road led the introduction, which touched on 2013, 2011 and 2010 as well as 2012. The 2009 and 2010 pairing is recognised as a great pair of vintages and the last of the 2010s are reaching the market now. These wines are based on low yields with small bunches and small berries that gave wines of colour, tannin and structure. 2011 gave larger crops, with larger bunches and berries that necessitated considerably more work in the vineyard. A wet and cool January and February exacerbated the crucial nature of vineyard management. The best 2011s have “elegance, precision, florals and minerality”. 2012 was a very even growing season, much better than most of the rest of the country, with “no major events” during the season where “everything happened naturally”. A dry, but cooler autumn meant slow ripening which still enabled the proper accumulation of flavours, but with good acids and balance.
The discussion on rainfall pointed out that Central Otago in general has a very even amount of rainfall, and the seasonal variations as measured over the 2008 to 2010 period varied within only 10% of average. It was noted that the timing of the rain determined the impact on the wine. Being a very dry region, the effects of any rain event generally pass quickly.
The Tasting – Blind vs Open
This year’s tasting, held at Northburn Station, was based on the 2012 Pinot Noir wines that are beginning to appear on shelves and lists, along with a smaller selection from 2011 and 2010, these wines being later releases. 58 wines were tasted, of which 31 were from 2012, 19 from 2011 and 7 from 2010. The wines were served ‘blind’, the wines poured for each of the media attendees by stewards to facilitate the tasting and minimise any distraction or disruption. The identity of the wines was revealed after a discussion by the group of winemakers present and the media tasters.
Here are my impressions of each vintage, and I highlight the wines I rated the best. The subject of ‘blind’ tasting and open label tasting should be mentioned here. Blind tasting, of course, removes the prejudice of knowing the identity of the wine in its assessment, enabling high quality, but unknown labels to be recognised, as well as pointing out the underperforming premium ones. It takes a confident and positive taster applying themselves consistently to make the most of blind tasting. I tend to see my notes from blind tastings as less precise than those conducted with identity known, so ask the reader to view them in that context as well.
Blair Walter of Felton Road
One of the rather overqualified stewards
Blair Walter of Felton Road
One of the rather overqualified stewards
The 2012s made a very strong showing for me. The highlights were consistency and elegance. Across the samples, there was generally a very similar expression of style and quality, without the degree of variation as seen in the 2011s. The quality of the wines was generally high, without too many failures or weaker wines. The wines express a cooler vintage, especially compared to 2009 and 2010. The better 2011s seem warmer and more generous. I saw practically no evidence of over-ripeness. With the cooler style comes elegance, moderate alcohols, greater aromatics and perfumes, and red fruit flavours. The wines seem to be driven by acidity rather than structure and tannin. Having stated this, there were very few weak or dilute wines, and a number of wines indicated vine age with their density and presence. This vintage will appeal to those who are critical of the Central Otago “fruit bombs” styles, as the 2012s will be more pure and classical expressions of the Pinot Noir variety.
I felt the winemaking was very sensitive to the nature of the fruit and the extraction not overdone, nor the oaking. Although there is a growing usage of whole cluster fermentation, this was not particularly evident across the wines. Being a slower ripening or cooler year, the incorporation of the stalks would, if anything, have been reduced. However, I did see a strong degree of whole and uncrushed berry (intracellular) fermentation with a number of wines showing confectionary and jammy characters. While these wines are supple and attractively lifted, it does mask “pinosity”, though most such wines settle down. Having tasted many barrel samples of 2013 Pinot Noirs, I find similarities between 2012 and 2013 in terms of weight and fruitiness, even though they are different in their growing season characteristics, the latter appearing riper. The 2012s don’t relate to the previous five or so years as much as they do to the 2013s to me.
The best marks went to the Felton Road wines, all of which, except one, I rated as 5-star. The result should be no surprise, as these wines consistently figure among the very best of Central Otago, and have done so for the longest. The Felton Road ‘Bannockburn’ was intensely perfumed with plush, juicy fruit and complete with balanced acidity and extract. The Felton Road ‘Calvert’ was a little shy, but also very aromatic and refined with outstanding finesse of structure and grip, and a very long finish. The Felton Road ‘Cornish Point’ was my top wine of the tasting, beautifully ripened with florality to the dark and sweet fruit, but possessing great drive and linearity. The least of the Felton Road group to me was the Felton Road ‘Block 5’, quite monolithic, with minerality and a touch of reduction. But this has great structure and power, and real potential. The Felton Road ‘Block 3’ is truly a complete wine, more the classic Central Otago expression with dark cherry-berry, violet and spice, and perfect extract and freshness.
Also in the top league among the 2012s was the newcomer Super Nanny from Nanny Goat, with its superb concentration and distinctive oak spicing, and the Charcoal Gully ‘Sally’s Pinch’ for its boldness, density and full ripeness. Also to be considered in this group was the Gibbston Valley ‘School House’ wine, notable for its intensity, concentration and mouthfilling fruitiness. Wines that were excellent, bordering on outstanding were the fulsome and voluminous Quartz Reef with its complex, savoury nuances, and the vibrantly fruity, but sinewy textured Peregrine. Certainly excellent are the ‘regular’ Gibbston Valley, Pisa Range Estate ‘Black Poplar Block’, Grasshopper Rock and Mondillo. Offering real value will be the Mt Difficulty ‘Roaring Meg’, another wine at this level.
The wines from 2011 are more varied in style and quality. The successful examples for me showed riper, richer fruit aromas and flavours, these being in the darker red and black spectrum. The lesser wine possessed cooler notes of stalks and stems, and a number were distinctly weak and washed-out. The majority of wines sat in the middle-ground, maybe with a little more ripeness and weight than the 2012s on average, but without the acid backbone.
The top wine from this group was the Terra Sancta ‘Jacksons Block’, a powerful and dense wine, robust and powerful and generous in oak. This pipped three other wines by a nose, these being the Mt Difficulty ‘Long Gully’, a luscious red-fruited wine with layers of stalk, spices, earth and cedar, the Carrick ‘Bannockburn’ with its essence-like fruitiness and smooth, silky textures, and the Mount Edward ‘Morrison Vineyard’, a wine of elegance and very attractive lifted and aromatic nature. Also in the leading bunch were the Terra Sancta ‘Slapjack Block’, Rippon ‘Mature Vine’, and Doctors Flat Pinot Noir wines.
Although the sample size of the 2010s was small, they exhibited the established character of structure, texture and grip that is generally common to them all. These wines displayed the riper black fruit aromas and flavours with firmness, density and a linear drive. Interestingly, many of these showed the beginnings of secondary development with savoury interest. Though these are the tail-end or later of this vintage’s releases, they are worthy of interest.
My top wine was the Misha’s Vineyard ‘Verismo’, a wine of great concentration allied to aromatic elegance and lifted perfumes. The finesse of the tannins was the feature. This was followed by the Wooing Tree ‘Sandstorm Reserve’, a fulsome wine sitting in the riper end of the spectrum with a surprising degree of accessibility and fleshiness. I also noted the very high quality of the Misha’s Vineyard ‘High Note’ and Folding Hill ‘Orchard Block’.
The Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration 2014
As noted above, the Spring Release tasting is the result of the co-operation of the winegrowers in all of Central Otago. The region is arguably and enviably the most cohesive in its promotional work in showing the wines to the media and hospitality trade as well as to the wine consumer. One of the best wine events is the Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration, next held over 30 January to 1 February in 2014. This will be the tenth anniversary, and it is promised to be a special one. I’ll be attending and it’ll be a wonderful opportunity of seeing how the 2012s are developing. For more information on the Celebration, go to www.pinotcelebration.co.nz or click here to see the posting about it in my ‘Upcoming Events’ section.