Felton Road is one of the true icons of New Zealand wine. Its Central Otago Pinot Noirs are highly sought-after throughout the world, and the Riesling and Chardonnay wines are nearly of the same stature. Founded in 1991 by Stewart Elms, also famous for his ownership of the City Hotel in Dunedin, he hired his Lincoln Uni laboratory partner Blair Walter as his founding winemaker, and set about planting vines on his purchased land on Felton Road in Bannockburn. Nigel Greening purchased Felton Road in 2000, and now, the core team of Nigel, Blair and viticulturist Gareth King celebrated Felton Road’s 20th vintage with the 2016 wines.
Felton Road Road now encompasses 32 ha across four vineyards, these being ‘The Elms’ with 14.7 ha, ‘Cornish Point’ with 7.6 ha, ‘Calvert’ with 4.6 ha, and MacMuir with 5.1 ha. All are certified biodynamic, and have been under organic and biodynamic farming regimes since 2002. Blair discussed the resulting increased vineyard and soil health, as well as the team’s greater understanding of how to managed the vines and fruit for the best quality. Allied to this is their movement to greater “precision, finesse and sense of place” through decreased inputs and intervention, and earlier harvesting to capture the essence of the fruit in a fresher and natural stage, rather than at the very ripe end of the spectrum which is prevalent in more conventional winegrowing. Blair has found that the Felton Road wines thus sit very comfortably with fine Burgundy wines and the like, with his clientele and markets, and is reassured by the direction Felton Road is taking. 75% of the wine is now exported to 35 countries around the world.
I was very privileged to be invited to a celebratory luncheon with Blair Walter and a select group of hospitality and trade to taste the newly released 2016 wines. The lunch was held at Sterling Woodfire Eatery & Bar, on The Terrace in Wellington. Blair had a fantastic line-up of wines, matched with three courses plus cheese. The venue, though serving excellent food, had the smell of smoke from the woodfire grill permeating the whole restaurant. A fabulous aroma on most occasions, it did interfere with my appreciation of the wines. I made notes on the wines served. I admit they are not my finest efforts, with the smoke influencing my perception. So I present my impressions here, with provisional ratings (in brackets), which have not been added to my database. The lunch, the wines and discussion with Blair and the other attendees was excellent, regardless of the distraction of the smoke. www.feltonroad.com
Blair Walter – Felton Road
Felton Road Bannockburn Central Otago Riesling 2017
Very pale straw colour with slight green hues. The nose is very fine , elegant and tightly bound with white florals, lime fruit and minerals. Medium-dry to medium in taste , and light bodied, the palate is tightly bound with limes, minerals florals and honied notes. The mouthfeel is zesty as, very fine textured from the fruit extract, lovey sugar and acid balance, the acidity soft and ripe. A beautiful coolness, this is very refined. 8.3% alc., 63 g/L RS, TA 8.8 g/L and pH 2.87. 500 cases made. (18.5+/20)
First Course: Winter greens and grain salad, salmon
The under-rated Central Otago variety, Felton Road is the largest grower of Chardonnay in Central Otago. Different styles, all of great merit can be made, this bracket showing ageworthiness.
Felton Road Bannockburn Central Otago Chardonnay 2016
Pale straw colour with slight green hues. This is very elegant, fine and tightly bound, with delicate citrus fruit, stonefruit and nutty notes on nose. Still youthful and unformed, very Chablis-like. Bright and lively on palate with the stonefruits and nutty notes enlivened by the racy acidity. Very fine in texture, very light oaking, this has linearity and drive. Quite minerally. 15% new oak. (18.5/20)
Felton Road ‘Block 6’ Central Otago Chardonnay 2016
Light straw-yellow colour, quite pale. This has a fresh and penetrating nose of stonefruit, but with good stonefruit notes and mineral clarity. Tight and concentrated on palate with savoury and nutty infused white stonefruits, showing subtle barrel-ferment complexities. Some citrus fruit also. Fine textures and balanced, crisp acidity, unfolding nutty and toasty richness. Real underlying power. Mendoza clone fruit. (18.5+/20)
Felton Road ‘Block 2’ Central Otago Chardonnay 2013
Pale straw-yellow, hints of green, still youthful in appearance. This has a beautifully concentrated nose, still with tightness, showing ripe stonefruits with subtle creamy barrel-ferment and nutty oak notes, this has richness and presence. Full and mouthfilling, rich stonefruit melded with creamy barrel-ferment, layers of mealy and nutty notes, still with fresh, soft acidity, very complete. Drinking beautifully, but no hurry. No new oak. (19.5/20)
Felton Road ‘Block 2’ Central Otago Chardonnay 2010
Light golden-yellow colour. The nose is full and broad with savoury stonefruit and citrus fruits, but with excellent depth. This is showing secondary development. Full, rich and deep, very harmonious integrated flavours of ripe, savoury citrus fruit with toasty secondary notes, quite mouthfilling. Maybe a little past its best, but still plenty there to go. 10% new oak. (18.0+/20)
Second Course: Pork scotch, gingerbread sauce, Brussels sprouts and radicchio slaw
These are the new release Pinot Noirs. From what was a warmer growing season. Early picking has resulted in a greater elegance and lighter colour from less anthocyanin development.
Felton Road Bannockburn Central Otago Pinot Noir 2016
Deepish ruby-red colour, with light garnet on edge. The nose is elegant, fine and firm with primary dark-red cherry fruit aromas. The aromatics are deep, dense and well-ripened and very classical, but refined Central Otago expression. Rich and plush on the palate, the dark-red and near black fruit is sweet and ripe, luscious and juicy, but shaped by fine tannin structure. This is an ‘all-together’ wine and quite complete with a solid depth behind it all. (18.5+/20)
Felton Road ‘Calvert’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2016
Ruby-red colour, a little lighter on edge with slight garnet hues. The aromatics are softly full and quite ethereal, with an array of dark red cherry and berry fruits with fragrant florals. On plate elegant and vibrant with tightly bound and intense flavours of black-red berries and dark cherries, the palate is quite refined with velvety textures and ripe acidity, unveiling mineral elements. This is a beautiful and refined rendition of ‘Calvert’. (19.0/20)
Felton Road ‘Block 3’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2016
Dark, deep ruby-red colour, a little lighter on the rim. The nose is fine and firm, with intense savoury dark-red berry with hark herb and savoury whole cluster notes. Already complex. On palate the clone 10/5 savoury dark-red fruit and layers of dark herbs with stalk fragrances are the feature. The richness is balanced by fine structure. But there is an underlying power that carries the wine with linearity. There is no hurry, as the complexities have just begun to show. (19.0/20)
Felton Road ‘Block 5’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2016
Deep ruby-red colour, with slight garnet hues on edge. This has an array of complex and savoury fruit aromas of dark-red berry fruit along with whole bunch interest on the nose. Rich and luscious on palate, quite complex with layers of dried herbs and stalks to the savoury fruit flavours. This is very well balanced by the tannin textures and structural grip. This has plenty of detail and interest with the framework. Just so complex already. (19.5/20)
Third Course: Angus eye fillet, Pont-Neuf potatoes, bordelaise
A series of older Pinot Noir wines, but showing warmer years. These seem bigger than the 2016s, and maybe not as fine and elegant, but the wines are still exemplary.
Felton Road ‘Cornish Point’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2014
Dark, deep, ruby-red colour with slight garnet hues. The nose is full and dense with dark-red fruits and savoury complexities of dark herbs, and a little whole cluster, lovely layers of interest. Fullish-bodied with a solid and rounded core, plush and fulsome with fine-gained extraction and flowery grip, the flavours of red berry fruits well-supported. The core has good line, the acidity soft and ripe, but underling the fruit. This has size and extraction, and is beginning to round out. (18.5+/20)
Felton Road ‘Calvert’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2014
Deep, even ruby-red colour with slight garnet hues. The nose is very fine and intense with penetrating savoury dark-red fruit aromas along with savoury game notes, the perfumes very refined in expression. Beautifully elegant and with stylish proportions, the palate is refined and still tightly bound. The flavours of dark-red fruits dried herbs and savoury game flows along a silky-smooth line. This is liquid velvet! (19.5-/20)
Felton Road ‘Block 3’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2012
Dark, deep ruby-red with garnet hues. The nose is elegant and slightly slender, but has a complex array of aromas, of savoury black and red fruits, with dried herbs and layers of secondary notes. Wonderfully elegant, lusciously fruited and still very vibrant, the fine acidity lends energy. The flavours have complexity and detail. The tannin extraction is very fine, and the wine exudes freshness. (19.0+/20)
Felton Road ‘Block 5’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2012
Dark, deep red colour with garnet hues. The bouquet has depth and a full range of aromas of dark-red fruits and a layer of complex dark and dried herbs, with savoury game nuances. This is quite complete on the nose. On palate, full and robustly structure, the savoury fruit, herb and game flavours supported by plenty of structure. The mouthfeel still fresh and lively with sweetness and energy. Classical ‘Block 5’ complexity and structure. (19.5/20)
Cheese: Taleggio, Pecorino
A pair of fully mature wines, demonstrating the ageworthiness of the ‘Block 3’ wine and degree of interest and complexity built into them. Top Pinot Noir can easily go 10 years of development.
Felton Road ‘Block 3’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2005
Dark hearted red colour with some garnet on edge. The bouquet is well-concentrated with deep aromas of ripe dark berry fruit melded with dark herbs and complex savoury game and notes of earth. This is very integrated but has intensity. The aromas are wonderfully integrated. Rich on palate with sweet, dark-red and savoury dark-red berry fruits, interwoven with a layering of dark and dried herbs, game and tertiary undergrowth. This has good tannin structure in support, the extraction fine in texture, allowing the sweetness tp prevail. Fully ready now, and this has developed with class. (19.5/20)
Felton Road ‘Block 3’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2001
Dark hearted garnet-red with some bricking on edge. The bouquet has secondary dark fruits and dried herb and game aromas entwined with tertiary undergrowth and mushroom notes. This still has perfume and beauty. The palate is a tad tight and beginning to show signs of beginning to dry. But still with sweet fruit, game and herbs and supporting layers of undergrowth and earthy detail. Showing the structure and acidity, the fruit just giving way. (18.0+/20)
Felton Road Central Otago Fine
This is Blair Walter’s take on good brandy. I’ve seen this a few times now and the complexity is building each showing. Some amber colour, and with positive fruit notes on bouquet, powered by the alcohol. A little more rancio to the dark brown fruits and nutty notes. A touch of caramel. The spirit is positive and just a tad fiery, but the palate smooth-flowing with a degree of richness. Some more barrel-ageing will result in greater finesse and detail, and spirit integration.