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The Grand Tasting – Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration 2014

By January 31, 2014No Comments
One of the most important events at the Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration is the ‘Grand Tasting’, held at Northburn Station. It has all 40 participating wineries involved, where they each offer two of their Pinot Noir wines for delegates to taste. Nearly four hours in the morning are allocated for tasters to try the wines before a well-deserved lunch. It’s a fantastic opportunity to talk to the owners or winemakers from the 40 wineries, but one must not dilly-dally, if the intention is to taste all of the wines, as around three minutes per wine will use up all of your time.

Most of the wineries put on a wine from the 2012 vintage, as for many, the 2013 will have just been bottled or still be waiting for that process. And an older vintage wine was selected. To look at a range of older wines gives a historical perspective, and is an indicator of how well a wine from a past vintage will age.

A Chance to Assess the 2012 Pinot Noir Vintage
For most of the professional tasters, to look at the 2012s is of prime importance, as this is the wine about to hit the market. I’ve been lucky to see a number of 2012s in barrel, and at the ‘Spring Release Tasting’ held in September last year. (Click here to see my report.) The conclusion so far, before the tasting is that 2012 is a high quality vintage, the wines in the cooler spectrum showing good aromatics, the wines carried by the acidity. In general, the handling of the fruit has been very sensitive, and extraction and maceration at an appropriate level. And there is a good consistency across sub-regions and producers, more so than previous years. My feeling is the wines are ‘junior’ versions of the 2010s and have the elegance of the 2008s.

At the introductory masterclass held the day before, 12 Pinot Noir wines from the 2012 vintage were showcased in a tasting that asked: ‘Is Central Otago Pinot Noir Coming of Age”. It was a sensational tasting of high quality wines that had been selected for their quality and character. (Click here to see my review of the 12 wines.) I rated all 12 at 5-star, trying to appreciate what the wines had been chosen for. However, the ‘Grand Tasting’ held this day, was a chance to see a more representative range of wines, and make a more definitive call on the 2012 vintage for Pinot Noir in Central Otago. I limited myself to tasting the 2012 wines, to give myself more time to look at each wine. Not every producer there had released their 2012, so there are not 40 wines. www.pinotcelebration.co.nz

The Wines Tasted
Here, I list the wines I tasted alphabetically, with notes, though the wines were not sampled in this order. I’ve given the wines a provisional score, which must not be taken as a definite rating, but an impression of quality, made in the less than ideal situation of an ‘exhibition’ tasting with plenty of distractions. Nevertheless, I’ve posted them. A proper review tasting would provide a more confident score from my perspective. The wines were tasted from the specially commissioned Riedel Central Otago Pinot Noir glass.

The commissioned Riedel Central Otago Pinot Noir glass

Akarua: Deep, dark, full purple-red. Bright, ripe plum aromas, hints of boysenberry, sweet and fruity. Tightly bound core, but with sweetness and succulence. Fleshy fruitiness with supple tannins and great drive. Unfolds from the core to become bold. Underlying acidity shows. Seems very Akarua in style. (18.0+/20)

Aurum ‘Madeleine’: Told this was 100% whole cluster after tasting. Amazing then. Lighter coloured, and very elegant, fresh and refined. Perfumes unfolding to reveal noticeable whole bunch savoury herb and stalk. Excellent complexity. Tightly bound and concentrated palate, but with lovely sweetness. The acidity is piquant. A delicate wine, with balanced savoury complexities for sure, becoming dry on finish. The palate sweetness a little overwhelmed? A great discussion wine. (18.0/20)

Burn Cottage: Dark purple-red colour. The aromatics are the feature with lifted dark red fruits, loads of fine florals, violets and subtle fresh herbs. Again, the perfumes and aromatics are the feature on palate. Acidity carries the fruit with fine-grained tannins in support. Tight and refined and very good length. Has beauty and aromatic purity. (18.5-/20)

Carrick: Bright purple-red. A little shy on nose initially. Florals, herbs and spices unfold, becoming rugged and robust in glass. Plenty of fruit drive and vitality, quite succulent and fresh acid line along with fine-grained tannins. Long finish with perfumes and spices. Needs time to come together, but a lot of interest here. (18.0+/20)

Ceres: Very dark purple red. The bouquet has vibrant violet florals and some confectionary whole berry ferment notes along with dark berry fruit and a slight herbal element. Bright fruited on palate and fine-grained tannins, carried by acidity somewhat, violet fruit and confectionary elements. Very good length. (18.0-/20)

Charcoal Gully ‘Sally’s Pinch’: Vibrant purple-red colour. Real concentration and density with dark perfumed fruits and violet florals. Tight and with good concentration, with firm underlying tannins. Bright and rich fruited, some spice notes, the palate carried by the extraction. (18.5-/20)

Chard Farm ‘Viper’: Lighter coloured, very tight and elegant on bouquet, a combination of red florals and minerals, some cooler spectrum notes, quite sleek. Elegant and more slender on palate, silky tannins, acidity apparent, but with good core and linearity. Seems simpler with big wines tasted around it, but could do with more in it. Maybe I’m missing its beauty? (18.0/20)

Doctors Flat: 26% whole bunch. Very dark coloured, purple-red. Very concentrated and densely packed on nose with ripe black fruits, the whole cluster savoury herb a strong component. Richness and power, the structure and whole bunch looking obvious here, with any cooler spectrum character not showing. Looking very serious on this showing. (18.5+/20)

Felton Road ‘Block 3’: Very dark coloured, purple-red. Elegant proportions, and concentrated aromas with violet floral beauty, spices and a hint of herbal lift, quite beautiful. Elegant on palate too, succulent fruits, vibrant and bright florals and dark cherries, the aromatics the feature. Very fine-grained tannins and poised acidity. Beautiful Pinot Noir in the classical sense. (19.0+/20)

Felton Road ‘Calvert’: Very dark, youthful purple hues. The nose speaks opulence, fragrance and purity of dark fruits. An element of finesse. Very dry on palate, elegant and tightly concentrated, a silky power. Dark red fruits and background acidity, but the dry mouthfeel shows serious extract. Needs time to become richer. (18.0/20)

Folding Hill: Very dark coloured. Still tightly bound and rather unforthcoming, but and elegance and depth with pure floral notes and cherry-berry. Plenty of depth on palate with fine-textures, this showing exciting florality and acid line. Great length. This has potential to unfold more. (18.5-/20)

Gibbston Valley ‘School House’: Deep, dark purple-red. Loads of bright black berry and cherry fruit, with some savoury complexity, spicy herbs, quite robust and voluminous on nose. Powerful on palate, richness and robustness, alcohol and structure, along with real drive. Bright, sweet fruit and spicy layers on finish. (19.0-/20)

Grasshopper Rock: Bright and vivid purple-red colour. Penetrating for a fragrances, pure and lifted. Some cooler-spectrum underlay. On palate showing excellent concentration and succulence. Real linearity and length, carrying the concentration all the way. Finesse to the style and mouthfeel. (18.5/20)

Judge Rock: Bright purple-ruby. Soft and good volume on nose, raspberries and florals, cherries and berries, excellent perfume and aromatic lift. Sweet and juicy, lovely and delicious palate, soft acidity and very fine textures and extract. All there, more up-front. (18.5-/20)

Lowburn Ferry ‘Home Block’: Bright colour with moderate depth. Soft and even on nose, lovely volume with gentle and ethereal soft red fruit aromas, grows in interest in the glass. Some cooler-spectrum notes, bright and aromatic red fruits with slight edge of herbs. Fruit sweetness enhanced by acidity, soft textures and a dry finish. I always underestimate this label, so could have much more in it than I see at present. (18.0/20)

Maori Point: Light but bright purple colour. Some herbal fruit, cooler spectrum and some reduction. Bright red berry fruit on palate with herbal edge. Less fleshy than expected with acid carrying the palate, firm and fine-grained tannins lead to a dry finish. (17.0+/20)

Maude ‘Mt Maude’: 50% whole bunch, beautifully perfumed and floral with a serious core. Great purity of fruit with the whole bunch underneath adding complexity. A crisp, tight, slightly leaner structure, very fine textures, excellent length with spice notes. Beautiful and consistent with other times. The whole cluster works really well here. (19.0-/20)

Mondillo: Dark purple-red, very concentrated with great depth on bouquet. The dark berry fruits enhanced by vivid violet perfumes and oak with spice. Very rich and great concentration, firm tannin backbone with vibrant fruit and acidity. Very exciting. Superb depth and classical stuff in the ‘fruit-bomb’ style in the best possible way. (19.0/20)

Mount Edward: Deepish ruby-red. Attractively lifted, rich nose with ripe red fruits and florals, along with oak spice and interest, well-balanced. Tight, fresh, clean, crisp on palate, with sweet fruit and subtle and intricate detail. Lovely balance and finesse, and supple mouthfeel. It all works well. Seems more complete, but less complex than the ‘Morrison’ wine seen at the masterclass? (18.5-/20)

Mt Difficulty: Lighter purple-red colour. Quite restrained on nose, but with good perfumes along with earth and minerals, chalky and oak plus mint! Is the earth and minerals a Mt D trait? A textural palate rather than sweet-fruited, but still with richness and acid drive. A decent mouthful of mouthfeel. A true food wine. (18.0+/20)

Mud House: Light purple-red. Elegant and confected nose, showing whole berry fermentation lift, more muted than last showing. Lighter weighted, simple, supple and juicy. Quite up-front, with light structure. Acidity noticeable. Not the fruit-bomb pleasantness today. (17.5/20)

Mud House ‘Claim 431’: Dark purple red colour. Concentrated, dark red and black berry fruit aromas with layers of savoury interest. Whole bunch complexities? If so, done really well. Sweet fruited, intense and backed by very fine-grained structure. Oak spices, whole berry lift and complexing savouries too. A step up over the previous wine. Why does that wine win more gold medals? (18.5+/20)

Nanny Goat: Deep purple-red colour. Brackish with stalk/stem and herbal notes to cherryish fruit aromas. Elegant, acid-driven palate with underlying fruit sweetness and richness. A degree of lusciousness, and good textured line. Cooler for sure. (17.5-/20) See ‘Super Nanny’ notes.

Nevis Bluff: Light ruby-red colour. Quite delicate and restrained on bouquet, fruit without great volume and in the cooler, herb-tinged spectrum. Lighter, and simpler in dimension, red berry fruit with herbs and mintiness alongside whole berry fermentation lift. Still attractive. (17.0/20)

Peregrine: Very dark, purple-red. Bright and bold. Lifted fruit with perfumes and some cooler herbal nuances, adding freshness and very Central Otago, more Gibbston? Medium-bodied, classical bright red cherry and berry fruits with prominent textural line and extract. Very good length, dry finish. Needs time and food. (18.0+/20)

Pisa Range Estate ‘Black Poplar’: Dark purple-red. Still very tight, but excellent intensity with dark red and black fruits, and some spices and minerals. Bright, lush fruit with excellent energy, intensity and drive. Still tight. Lovely textural line and real linearity with the fruit. Not a show stopper, but perfect ageability and structure. (18.5+/20)

Quartz Reef: Moderately deep, youthful purple hues. Very tight still, with pretty, aromatic dark berry and violet floral fruit notes tied up with minerals. Some cool, herbals in the mix. Very fine-grained extract and elegant in proportion. Dark fruits, minerals and violets, all underlined by slippery flow. Lovely elegant mouthfeel and length. (18.5/20)

Rockburn: Deep purple-red, the nose has essence of cherry-berry fruits, tightly concentrated with perfumes, all tightly concentrated and bound. Elegantly concentrated with fine tannin line, and sweetly ripe black cherry and raspberry fruit. Underlying power and linearity with some alcohol(?) on finish. Classical proportions. (18.5-/20)

Rock Ferry ‘Trig Hill’: Very dark coloured. Spices galore on the bouquet along with a concentrated core of well-ripened black fruits, revealing florals in glass. Full and lush on palate, quite an open and fulsome mouthfeel and softly extracted. Savoury complexities emerge, with spices, meat and savoury acidity. Already showing some complexity. (18.0/20)

Super Nanny: Bannockburn site, 15% whole bunch. Lighter ruby-red with depth. Concentrated black fruits on nose, spices, oak toast and whole bunch dried savoury herbs all in a melange. Very sweet and lusciously fruited, supple tannins, and oak noticeable, very fine-grained. Still a bit of a statement wine, but very attractive for it. (18.5/20) See ‘Nanny Goat’ notes.

Terra Sancta ‘Estate’: Very dark purple-red colour. An elegant bouquet with an amalgam of bright berry fruit, herbs, minerals and cooler-spectrum florals, revealing some savoury interest. Again,elegantly sized and beautiful proportions. Slightly smaller-scale, but all there with sweet and fragrant fruit and fine, growing tannins, plus acid cut. It’s pretty, but there is a seriousness here. (18.5-/20)

Two Paddocks: Dark ruby-red, lighter on edge. Lovely fragrances, with red cherries, violet florals and hints of toast and oak spices on nose. More medium-bodied and elegant, the palate driven by acidity and flavours carried by very fine-grained tannins. Classical cherry fruit with toasty oak noticeable, good long finish. (18.0+/20)

Valli ‘Gibbston Vineyard’: Very dark, deep, purple-red. Complex array of aromatics on bouquet with ripe dark cherry and tree-tomato fruit, with cool-spectrum herbal nuances, whole cluster savouries and minerals with oak too. Lovely freshness and vitality, very Gibbston with cooler-edged dark fruits and mineral notes. Real penetration and very tightly bound structure and core. Somewhat cooler here than when I reviewed it last month. (18.5+/20)

Wooing Tree: Moderately deep, purple-red colour. Lovely harmonious concentration with richness and fruit depth, plus power on nose. Ripe dark cherry fruit with violet perfumes. It’s all there. Fruit sweetness and excellent fruit volume and dimension, with density. The textures soft and fine-grained and the acidity in the background. Looking extremely together and approachable. Quite complete, looking even better than the day before. (18.5+/20)

Older Vintage Wines Tasted
It was interesting to see a small selection of older wines after tasting the 2012s. The consistency of bright fruit of the 2012s was highlighted after tasting the older wines. The older wines exhibited more development characters. I list the wines alphabetically, the 2011s first, followed by the 2010s. The only producer I failed to taste a wine from was Domain Road, who had their 2011 Pinot Noir on show. This was due to the crowd of people around their pouring station, and my oversight to return. However, I have a note on the wine from my visit two days earlier (click here to see).

Amisfield 2011: Lighter ruby-red colour. An aromatic wine on bouquet with red cherry fruit and slightly cooler herb lift. Elegant and beautifully handled in texture and sweetness on palate, quite juicy and seamless in flow. Some spicy interest, and good length. (18.0/20)

Ellero2011: Dark ruby red colour. Some savoury herb intermixed with dark cherry and berry fruit aromas, some oak resin notes coming through. Similar on palate with savoury red fruits and all componentry there and in balance. The 2012 tasted in the masterclass the day before seems to ramp it up a bit in every dimension. A house/site style with consistency? (17.5/20)

Hawkshead ‘First Vines’ 2011: Dark purple-red colour. Very tightly concentrated with dark cherry and berry fruits along with herbal infusion, plus oak char noticeable. Plenty of depth and dimension. Sweet fruited, but with cooler Gibbston notes. Well-structured, and with fresh acidity, there’s a lot of wine here that will keep it going for years. (18.0+/20)

Rippon 2011: Lighter purple-red colour, still youthful. Cooler-spectrum mint and curranty herb notes along with savoury berry fruit, a touch of game. Quite a complex expression on bouquet. The palate shows the same in flavour, the mouthfeel with good fine-grained tannin and fresh underlying acidity. I prefer a more straightforward fruit expression, but I know those seeking funkiness and complexity will see this differently. (17.5/20)

Northburn ‘Reserve’ 2010: Youthful appearance, deep ruby-red. Full, showing good volume, softly expressed with earthy red berry fruits on nose. Attractively sweet fruited with an underlying line of savoury, herb and earthy complexity. Good robustness of mouthfeel, but in good balance with the fruit. (17.5+/20)

Prophet’s Rock 2010: Dark, deep, strong colour. Very fulsome on nose with savoury red berry fruits, dried herbs and secondary interest showing. A fulsome wine on palate, positive fruited, quite savoury and a touch on the sour side. Plenty of sweetness to the fruit and mouthfeel. Very European and food friendly – or is it because I know Paul made wine there? (17.5+/20)

Surveyor Thomson 2010: Dark red colour with a little garnet now. Full and voluminous with a bouquet showing layers of red fruits, earthy nuances, brown spices, whole bunch elements. A fulsome wine on palate, with sweet and ripe fruit underlying, encased by good tannin structure. Plenty of liveliness and acidity present too. Ageworthy, but now with secondary interest. (18.0-/20)

After the tasting, there was much talk about 2012 being a watershed vintage for Central Otago Pinot Noir, very much as 2002 has turned out to be. The latter year produced big, plummy, fleshy and sweet wines with plenty of extract, the result of a hot and dry year. The feeling was that they would not age well, this reinforced by wine commentators. This has proven to not be the case, and the best examples still have a good life ahead of them.

I see great consistency in the 2012s, more so than the previous vintages. On this count, the wines are superior. My feeling is the wines are not as ripe or as well structured as the 2010s. If one were to compare the best of the 2010s and 2012s, I’d tend to support the 2010s. The tannins in the 2010s are firmer, but there’s fruit extract to support the structure. The 2012s have the beauty, florality and acid drive to see them age well, so will be different to the 2010s. Whether they have the dimension to match the 2010s has yet to be seen.

One comment from Aubert de Villaine from Domaine Romanee-Conti, guest at the Pinot Noir Celebration was that “there are no great or poor vintages, but rather, easy or difficult vintages’. The 2012s were the produce of a relatively ‘easy’ growing season. The industry’s aim for more supple and harmonious Pinot Noirs is possibly seeing the goalposts shift towards the greater appreciation of styles of the 2012s. But at this point, I see ‘greatness’ in many of the 2010s.

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