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Pinot Noir 2017 – Day One Road Trip – North Island

By January 31, 2017No Comments

The New Zealand Pinot Noir Conference, held in Wellington, is arguably the most significant event conducted by this country’s wine industry. It has come an extremely long way since the first event, Pinot Noir 2001, at which I was the Wine Director. Then the industry was trying to bring the world’s attention to the serious efforts with the variety being made here. Nowadays, there’s a feeling of maturity, and indeed, Pinot Noir 2017 showcased ‘Turangawaewae’, the Maori word meaning ‘a sense of place’, our expressions of regionality, district, site and terroir. The concept of a ‘sense of place’ is paramount nowadays if Pinot Noir is to be examined at the highest level.

The programme for Pinot Noir 2017 was an extensive one, covering a diverse range of aspects regarding the variety. There were numerous keynote speeches and discussions, most described as “brilliant”, “fantastic”, “fascinating”, “entertaining” or “moving”, and the culinary programme offered many wines for sampling at lunches and dinners. But the most important part is the offering of wines for tasting by the delegates from producers throughout the country, thus hopefully demonstrating ‘Turangawaewae’. To enable this, exhibition-styled tastings were held over three days. For Day One, it was titled ‘Embrace’ and gave attendees the opportunity of familiarising oneself with current styles. Day Two was called ‘Explore’ with an emphasis on seeing quality. Day Three was named ‘Evolve’ where new releases and innovative bottlings were featured. Delegates each day in turn visited The North Island (including North Canterbury), Nelson/Marlborough or Waitaki/Central Otago. www.pinotnoir.co.nz

Day One: Auckland, Hawke’s Bay, Wairarapa and North Canterbury
On the first day, the majority of producers offered their current release wines, most of these being 2015 or 2014. I attended the ‘Road Trip’ for the North Island, including North Canterbury. These two vintages are deemed successful years in these districts, except for 2014 in North Canterbury, which experienced heavy rainfall at the end of the growing season. Of course, much of the Pinot Noir fruit was already harvested, as they say.

As there were a very large number of wines available for tasting, too many to look at in any depth over the 3 hour session, I took the approach of tasting generally only one wine from each exhibitor, that wine generally the youngest wine. This meant that the wine I tasted was not necessarily the ‘flagship’. Also, due to the constraints, I made brief notes on immediate impressions. Unfortunately, this method usually favours the bigger, riper, more up-front wines with obvious winemaker inputs, and disadvantages the more delicate styles. Also, my approach did not allow for particularly detailed notes for discriminations, so they are repetitive and similar for many wines. I offer my notes following, and trust they are of interest and usefulness, taking into consideration the conditions in which they were made. I highlight the wines that particularly appealed to me by italicising their name. The wines are presented alphabetically by producer within their regions. My notes have not been added to my database, due to the more pressured methodology.

To view my tasting notes of 40 Central Otago wines on the Day Two Road Trip, click here.  To see my tasting notes of 42 Marlborough and Nelson wines on the Day Three Road Trip, click here. To see my report of the International Tasting click here.

Kumeu/Hawke’s Bay

Kumeu River ‘Hunting Hill’ Kumeu Pinot Noir 2015
The ‘Hunting Hill’ fruit previously bottled as the ‘Estate’ but under single vineyard nomenclature since 2013. Light ruby-red, paler in appearance. This has a fine and elegant core, with restrained, stylish aromas of strawberries and red cherries along with dark herbs and a touch of earth. A shy style with tamarillo, plum, nuances of whole berry fermentation jam, and herbs. On the cooler-spectrum edge, with fine extraction and acidity.

Nigel Avery – Sileni Estates

Sileni ‘Springstone’ Hawke’s Bay Pinot Noir 2015
An interesting wine to follow with more ‘Pinosity’ than ‘Dry Red’, changing over the different times I’ve tasted it. Here, lighter colour, a faded edge. Good intensity of red berry fruits with savoury herbal notes and florals. Tightly bound with dark-red berry fruit, some grip and extraction, and acidity lending sinew.

Junction ‘Possession’ Central Hawke’s Bay Pinot Noir 2015
Light ruby-red colour. This has good depth of dark-red berry fruit, showing some smoke and toasty oak. Light primary, aromatic red fruit, tight at the core, not quite unfolding yet The acidity featuring lending crispness and a sharp edge to the mouthfeel. Some time will help here.

Rosie Butler – Lime Rock

Lime Rock Central Hawke’s Bay Pinot Noir 2015
Limestone-influenced soils. Light ruby-red, quite pale. Very fragrant with refined, lifted and delicate florals. Beautiful purity of expression. Again, elegant and quite restrained on palate with strawberry and red florals. Fine-textures and extraction, the acid quite balanced. The purity on palate a feature.


Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir 2015
Darkish ruby-red. This has a deep and intense nose of dark-red fruits with a fragrant floral array and complexing herb nuances. Rich and luscious, but stylishly so, tight and retaining elegance. The rich fruit balanced by fine tannin extraction and subtle acidity. The fruit sweetness is the feature. Not as plush as the 2014, and not as sinewy as the 2013, maybe in-between. Classical stuff that shows immense consistency.

Katherine Jacobs – Big Sky

Big Sky Te Muna Road Martinborough Pinot Noir 2015
Light ruby-red colour, pale edged. The nose shows good depth and density of dark-red berry fruits with savoury and complexing herb notes and whole bunch inputs. Deliciously juicy and rich at core, but still well-bound and needing time to open up. Fine extraction and balanced acidity. A strong heart shows.

Coney ‘Pizzacato’ Martinborough Pinot Noir 2015
Light, pale purple hues to the red colour. Fragrant florals with red cherry fruit, a little more straightforward. Lighter wine highlighting clarity and purity. Red fruits, violet florals, lighter extract and balance acidity.

Craggy Range ‘Te Muna Road Vineyard’ Martinborough Pinot Noir 2015
Bright ruby-red colour with youthful purple hues. Elegance and proportion with bright aromas of dark berry and cherry fruit, a touch of reduction still, but real intensity. Sweet and lusciously juicy palate, clarity and purity of fruit, with restrained extraction and the acidity providing linearity and length.

Decibel Martinborough Pinot Noir 2015
Fruit from the Dodd vineyard. Light ruby-red, pale edged. Very elegant in presentation, with soft red fruits, definite florals and some herbal detail. A more delicate palate, the fruit light and nuanced with subtle herb notes, fresh on acidity and with supple extraction

Dry River Martinborough Pinot Noir 2015
Dark, deep ruby-red with slight purple. Tightly bound with intense aromas of dark-red and black fruits with violet fragrances, nuances of spice and more detail with aeration. A wine of finesse on the palate, vitality of fruit with beauty of florality, in the darker spectrum for sure. Sensationally seamless flow with fine tannin and acid balance.

Escarpment ‘Kupe’ Martinborough Pinot Noir 2015
Dark, deep ruby-red, with a deep heart. This has a full array of aromatics from bright and primary dark-red and black fruits to savoury and sweetly ripe whole cluster, and earth and smoke detail. Startling richness and plush, juicy and vibrant black fruits and integrated, but definite whole bunch. Complete on palate with serious, but fine grip and wonderful acid liveliness. Sensational wine. I give this the nod over the ‘Te Rehua’ today.

Escarpment ‘Te Rehua’ Martinborough Pinot Noir 2015
Very dark, deep ruby-red colour. This is dense and firmly packed with bold, ripe black fruits and plenty of whole bunch. The stalks clearly well-ripened, and the nose unfolds fragrance from the brooding heart. Rich, plush and densely packed on the palate. Great concentration and firmness, but with acid edge vibrancy. This is serious wine to age. Rivals ‘Kupe’.

Gladstone Vineyard Gladstone Pinot Noir 2015
Light ruby-red with some garnet hues, pale on edge. Quite an elegant nose, but with good intensity of dark-red berry fruits and lifted florals, unfolding savoury herb nuances. Lighter expression, but with a positive core of sweet fruit, along with savoury herb detail. Fresh acidity and balanced tannins give proper proportion.

Karl Johner & Raphael Burki – Johner Estate

Johner Estate Gladstone Pinot Noir 2014
Dark ruby-red with good depth. The nose is full with ripe dark-red berry and plum fruits, plush and up-front. Quite succulent and lovely richness, underlined by some power and drive. Fine and poised acidity, the extraction in grip allowing the fruit to speak. Shows better than my earlier review.

Johner Estate ‘Terroir’ Gladstone Pinot Noir 2014
Very interesting soil and limestone cultivation for these vines. Dark, deep, ruby-red colour with purple hues. Complex and refreshingly aromatic nose with dark-red and black fruits with herbal layering. Lovely sweetness and richness, sheer finesse of structure, great flavour penetration, with a gorgeous slipperiness.

Julicher Martinborough Pinot Noir 2014
Medium-deep ruby-red. This has ripe, dark-red berry fruit aromas, quite sweet. On palate juicy and plush, quite soft, supple. Somewhat more restrained and shy at present, especially compared to the 2013 tasted recently. Needs some more time in bottle, but essentially right down the line.

Hiro Kusuda – Kusuda Wines

Kusuda Martinborough Pinot Noir 2015
Fruit from the Martinus Vineyard, drought year and winds reducing yield to 30% that of normal. Lighter red. This is beautifully refined and intense. Tightly bound with lifted florals. Lovely acid tension and super fine extraction give plenty of structure. Florality plus.

Joel Watson – Luna Estate

Luna ‘Eclipse’ Martinborough Pinot Noir 2015
From the ex-Alana site on the Martinborough Terrace. Totally destemmed. Youthful purple-red. This is bright and vibrant in expression, dark red cherries and violets. Very primary on palate with a real core of cherries and violets. Fine-grained tannins, powdery. Upfront. Winemaker: Joel Watson.

Paul Mason – Martinborough Vineyard

Martinborough Vineyard ‘Home Block’ Martinborough Pinot Noir 2014
Very little whole cluster. Moderately deep colour. Full, gentle voluminous nose showing oak spice. Very elegant on palate, but rich and intense. Lovely balance of tannins and acidity. Some subtle secondary savoury complexity appearing. This will always be pleasing.

Palliser Estate Martinborough Pinot Noir 2015
Lighter red. Elegantly concentrated with an intense nose of ripe, dark fruits, showing some herbs in a classical way. Rich and lush on plate, but still elegant. Excellent acidity, fine, light extraction, with fruit sweetness carrying on. This makes enough of a statement, but in a classy way that is not overly showy. Sumptuous, but with style.

Poppy Hammond – Poppies

Poppies Martinborough Pinot Noir 2015
Fruit from the ex-Stratford vineyard. Bright purple-red. Still very primary with dark berry, cherry and plum notes, youthful herbal elements, a touch of green to the nose? Tight with raspberry and herbal flavours, fine-grained tannins, still rawish, needs time to come together.

Marion Deimling & Kai Schubert – Schubert Wines

Schubert ‘Marion’s Vineyard’ Wairarapa Pinot Noir 2015
Pale coloured. This has beautifully fine, but intense aromas of red fruits and spices. Quite tight and elegant, this has a fine core, the aromatic nature of the fruit the feature, but unfolding herbal and liquorice notes, and some savouriness. A wine of finesse.

Te Kairanga ‘Runholder’ Martinborough Pinot Noir 2015
One of the last wines tasted this session. Purple-hued ruby-red colour. The nose is fragrant with good intensity of red berry, cherry, and subtle oak spices. Good fruit richness here, quite vibrant and showing vitality. Clarity of fruit with real freshness and tannin finesse. Finishes with grip and is sinewy. Not as plush as seen in my recent review. Is my palate tiring?

Nigel Elder – The Elder Pinot

The Elder Martinborough Pinot Noir 2014
Dark, deep ruby-red colour. This is full and voluminous with rich, ripe dark-red fruits, along with herb, smoke and toast detail. Bright dark-red berry fruit at the core, quite firm and tight, but thee’ no doubt there’s density and solidness of framework. The tannins are still sufficiently supple and there’s acid freshness. It works so well.

Urlar ‘Select Parcels’ Gladstone Pinot Noir 2016 Barrel Sample
Dark, deep ruby-red colour. The fruit shines with ripe dark raspberries, dark herbal nuances and minerals. Vibrancy and primacy to the fore. Palate features dark raspberry and black cherry fruit, well-ripened and still primary. Lovely firm tannin line, but fine-grained. This has serious structure. The acidity lends liveliness and this exudes potential. Wonderful effort and definition.


Guy Porter – Bellbird Spring

Bellbird Spring ‘Block 8’ Waipara Valley Pinot Noir 2015
Fruit from further inland than the river terraces with clay-influenced soils. There’s more substance to the wine from ‘Block 8’. Garnet-red colour. This is tightly bound with red fruit and red floral aromatics. On palate, red fruits show with freshness and a touch of herbal notes. The tannins are finely extracted and the acidity a little elevated, but still in good balance.

Bell Hill North Canterbury Pinot Noir 2013
Light ruby-red colour. This is an amalgam of finesse and intensity, showing cherry and berry fruit with pure floral elements and subtle herb nuances. Is there any whole cluster? If so, very integrated. Brilliant balance on palate with vitality of fruit, red berry and cherry, with fine herb suggestions, a touch of mineral. Very fine extraction, and acid tension and energy. Classical beauty here.

Black Estate ‘Damsteep’ Waipara Valley Pinot Noir 2015
Dark, deep ruby-red colour. This features sweetly ripe fruit aromas of dark red berries. Lovely purity and the aromatics build in depth. Fresh, juicy, lively, vibrant with wonderful fruit clarity. Tight, fine-grained tannins, and then the fresh acidity kicks in.

Black Estate ‘Home’ Waipara Valley Pinot Noir 2015
Dark, deep ruby-red colour. More subtle and shy, lighter in expression and tightly bound. Gentle red fruits unfold. Again elegant and tight on palate, the restraint a little unexpected. Fresh red fruits, some herb detail, with chalky mineral elements. Fine tannins lead to a dry finish.

Black Estate ‘Netherwood’ Waipara Valley Pinot Noir 2015
Bright, ruby-red with youthful purple hues. A complex nose with an array of florals and dark-red berry fruits, perfumed with intriguing musk nuances! Lusciously rich and juicy with red cherries and bright florals notes, backed with fine-grained tannins and acidity. Still quite primary, but gorgeous vitality. Draws you back for more.

Dom Maxwell & Nik Mavromatis – Greystone

Greystone ‘Vineyard Ferment’ Waipara Valley Pinot Noir 2015 Barrel Sample
Light ruby-red with purple hues. Firm and tightly concentrated with a real density. Reductive aromas at present. Rich and vibrant on palate with matching structure, dark raspberry fruits with a range of dark flavours and reduction at this stage, but with an underlying feeling of ‘goodness’.

Ben Weaver & Erin Harrison – Mt Beautiful

Mt Beautiful North Canterbury Pinot Noir 2015
Medium ruby-red colour. This is softly full with proper density of dark red and black fruits. Savoury herbal complexity unfolds. Rich on palate, lively and deep, with soft tannin extraction and good acidity. This is sweeter and blacker in fruits than when I reviewed it recently.

Pegasus Bay Waipara Valley Pinot Noir 2015
Not yet released. The ‘Prima Donna’’ also on offer. Dark ruby-red. This is full and deep with softly concentrated ripe berry and plum fruits, already showing layers of savoury dried herb and earthy complexities. Fulsome, lusciously juicy, but with structure and density. Black and dak-red fruits, savoury interest, this has great presence without being overbearing.

Pyramid Valley ‘Angel Flower’ Pinot Noir 2015
The ‘Earth Smoke’ Pinot Noir also available if you were prepared to queue! Pale coloured with a little garnet. Soft and refined in expression with a delicate array of florals. A touch of caramel at the core. Savoury sour red cherry fruit, quite soft and luscious with fine-grained tannin structure, yet excellent acid finesse. Idiosyncratic wine that draws you in.

The Bone Line Waipara Valley Pinot Noir 2014
Dark colour, still youthful. The nose is firm and youthfully tight with dark raspberry fruit. This has vibrancy and vitality. Fresh and bright on palate, the fruit flavours still primary. This has a firm core and extracted grip, and lovely acid balance. A surprise for a challenging vintage. No evidence at all of the season’s difficulty.

The Crater Rim ‘Rata Vineyard’ Banks Peninsula Pinot Noir 2015
Although there were bottlings from the Waipara Valley, I chose the ‘Rata’ Banks Peninsula wine, showing to me the more challenging growing season, as well as a different soil/terroir compared to that experienced in Waipara. Moderately deep red with garnet hues. Soft strawberry fruit with some depth, showing dried herb and savoury notes. Lighter on palate with modest richness, but a fine and tight core. Driven by the acidity, a cooler-spectrum style.

Angela Clifford & Lynnette Hudson – Tongue in Groove

Tongue in Groove ‘Cabal Vineyard’ Waipara Valley Pinot Noir 2015
Ruby-red with garnet hues. Fragrant and complex on nose with savoury strawberry, dried herb and complex whole-bunch layers. Rich and again complex on palate with layers of interest. Fine tannin extraction with depth and density, and a smoke and earth character. Lovely acidity. Plenty of interest here.

Waipara Hills ‘Equinox’ Waipara Valley Pinot Noir 2014
The ‘regular’ Waipara Hills bottling from the very good 2015 vintage on offer too, but I chose the higher tier ‘Equinox’ from the tough 2014 year. Pale red colour with some garnet. A lighter bouquet with red berry fruits, tight and elegant with some herbal notes. Lighter on palate too, the fruit volume turned down, but well-balanced across the extraction and acid parameters. Well-managed and skilful winemaking.

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