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Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
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Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.
A TASTING OF NEW ZEALAND PINOT NOIR RELATIVE TO BURGUNDY


Andrew Moore of the Department of Philosophy,  Otago University,  set out an interesting tasting for his Victoria University (Wellington) colleagues recently.  The basic notion was to explore 11 New Zealand pinots he has admired over the years,  along with a reasonably well-regarded and similarly priced pinot noir from Burgundy.  The tasting was presented blind.

This is a theme and approach that appeals to me,  having sometimes been annoyed by the rather patronising slant so many British wine commentators take on New Zealand pinots.  This can all too often be summarised as,  yes they are nice wines,  and clearly varietal,  but too fruity alongside the real thing Burgundy understood.  What is not made clear is the implication that because the wines are different from what they are used to,  they are lesser.  Nor is it made clear that frequently the New Zealand wine is 'different' because they are not so affected by the faults which remain sadly frequent in pinot noir from Burgundy,  but are rarely commented on by winewriters from Britain.

The batch of wines presented illustrated the failings of the British viewpoint delightfully well.  Unless one were absolutely hidebound,  irretrievably stuck in using the wines with which one is most familiar as the only yardstick,  the one French wine in the tasting,  though reasonably well reviewed,  was clearly one of the least impressive pinot noirs on the table.

In New Zealand we often fret about the way our wines do not cellar well,  pinot noir included.  This is an evolutionary thing.  The evidence from this tasting is that better New Zealand wines compare more than favourably with a lighter Beaune-style pinot noir.  Not only are the best of the New Zealand wines in this tasting more varietal than the true burgundy,  but in this case they are keeping better too.  It must be said that 2006 was a poor year in Burgundy.  But it is also true that as our pinot noir vines increase in age,  and our producers slowly gain a better understanding of what comprises appropriate growing,  cropping rates and elevation procedures for pinot noir the grape,  then New Zealand examples of pinot noir can only grow in stature.  

Though it would be nice to achieve it,  in reality it hardly matters if our best pinots do not match the fabulously expensive very best pinot noirs of France.  We have the prospect of producing highly varietal pinot noir more reliably and more affordably than the two countries most closely associated with the grape.  The prospects for New Zealand pinot noir could hardly be more exciting,  with our leading districts having a much less fickle climate for the grape than Oregon or even Burgundy.  

Prices below are merely an indication of the original price.






THE WINES REVIEWED:  Pinot Noir:

2007  Bell Hill Pinot Noir
2007  Bell Hill Pinot Noir Old Weka Pass Road
2008  Craggy Range Pinot Noir Aroha
2006  Drouhin Volnay Clos des Chenes Premier Cru
2009  Escarpment Pinot Noir Kupe
2009  Felton Road Pinot Noir Block 3
  2009  Felton Road Pinot Noir Block 5
2009  Gibbston Valley Pinot Noir China Terrace
2007  Hans Herzog Pinot Noir Grand Duc
2008  Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir
2009  Misha's Vineyard Pinot Noir Verismo
2008  Neudorf Pinot Noir Moutere


2008  Craggy Range Pinot Noir Aroha   18 ½ +  ()
Te Muna Road,  Martinborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $80   [ cork;  hand-harvested @ c. 3.1 t/ha (1.25 t/ac);  fermentation in oak cuves with wild yeasts and 5% whole-bunch;  14 months in French oak 37% new;  RS < 2 g/L;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Good bright pinot noir ruby,  an ideal colour for the variety,  midway in depth.  Bouquet amply meets the first requirement for good pinot noir,  being delightfully and sweetly floral and fragrant,  thoughts of roses,  violets,  and even boronia.  Beneath the florals is fresh cherry fruit,  red grading to black cherries.  Oak is almost invisible on bouquet,  yet shapes the wine pleasingly and adds a touch of cedary complexity.  Palate illustrates a slightly aromatic pinot noir of almost Cote de Nuits elegance and depth,  with classic cherry palate,  the oak slightly more apparent now.  The fruit expands in mouth without being weighty,  the length of varietal flavour being totally of grand cru quality.  Cellar another 2 6 years.  GK 09/13

2009  Felton Road Pinot Noir Block 5   18 ½  ()
Bannockburn,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14%;  $75   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested at just over 5 t/ha (2 t/ac);  c. 26% whole-bunch,  long cold-soak,  wild yeast and a total of 23 days cuvaison;  c.12 months in French oak 38% new,  followed by a further 6 months in 3-year-old oak;  www.feltonroad.com ]
Colour is a variation on ideal,  a little denser than the Aroha,  not quite so bright,  also in the middle of the range.  Bouquet is a little less floral than Aroha,  yet it is fragrant in an attractive dusky way.  In addition there is great fruit presence,  black more than red cherries,  and great purity,  all backed by oak on a similar subtle scale to the Aroha.  In mouth the richness of the fruit is a delight,  real black cherry in a bursting mouthful of flavour,  wonderful acid balance,  slightly more oak than the Aroha,  great length.  These two wines illustrate ideal red-fruits and black-fruits variants on the New Zealand pinot theme,  with pinpoint ripeness.  Cellar 3 8 years.  GK 09/13

2009  Escarpment Pinot Noir Kupe   18 +  ()
Martinborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $80   [ supercritical cork;  mainly clone Abel,  significant percentage whole-bunch;  12 months in French oak,  50% new;  dry extract 29 g/L,  RS <1 g/L;  c.500 cases;  www.escarpment.co.nz ]
Classical pinot ruby,  close in weight to the Block 5 but faintly older.  First presented,  the bouquet was so dramatically Cote de Nuits pinot noir as to be startling, with roses and boronia pouring from the glass,  really amazing.  Later the slightest hint of the pennyroyal aromatic appeared.  On palate,  there is good fruit and varietal character,  but not quite the pinpoint perfection of ripeness the top two wines show.  There is a trace of stalk,  perhaps reflecting winemaker Larry McKenna's interest in the classical whole-bunch approach to maceration.  The whole wine is slightly firmer than the top two,  and provides a fascinating comparison with them.  Cellar 3 8 years.  GK 09/13

2009  Misha's Vineyard Pinot Noir Verismo   18  ()
Bendigo district,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14%;  $60   [ screwcap;  a mix of clones cropped @ c. 4.5 t/ha (1.8 t/ac);  no whole-bunch,  long cold soaking,  wild yeast ferments,  c. 24 days total cuvaison;  MLF and more than 12 months in all-French hogsheads at least 35% new;  www.mishasvineyard.com ]
Lightish pinot noir ruby,  one of the lightest,  very French in hue.  The quantum of florality in the bouquet of this wine is sensational,  sweeping all before it in one's first run through the bouquets.   It is a lighter kind of florality,  though,  more buddleia and roses than violets and boronia,  intriguing.  Then on tasting the degree of flesh apparent on the tongue is a delight,  the fruit all totally in the red-fruits spectrum,  red cherry,  even a hint of strawberry and raspberry.  Oak is again near-invisible,  yet nonetheless totally integral to the palate structure,  beautifully done.  Along with # 5 in the blind tasting (the Martinborough),  one could only think:  this is what the Volnay should have shown.  Cellar 2 6 years.  An almost ethereal wine,  not showing 'typical' Otago characters at all.  But then,  nor do the Mt Difficulty Individual Vineyard wines.  GK 09/13

2009  Gibbston Valley Pinot Noir China Terrace   17 ½ +  ()
Bendigo district,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14%;  $55   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested from a vineyard at c. 300m and north-facing;  c.30 days cuvaison;  10 months in French oak 45% new;  www.gvwines.co.nz ]
Lovely pinot noir ruby,  clearly below midway in density.  Bouquet for this wine sits with the Martinborough and the Misha's in a red-fruited group,  this one just a little deeper and less obviously fragrant,  in a way more enticing.  Flavours are a little richer and darker than both,  red cherry mostly but some black,  and slightly more oak,  with attractive length and richness.  Cellar 3 8 years.  GK 09/13

2008  Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir   17 ½  ()
Martinborough,  New Zealand:  14%;  $60   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested from a range of 10 clones of pinot noir,  including some over 30 years age;  up to 10% whole-bunch;  long cold-soak,  c.20 days cuvaison;  12 months in French oak c.33% new;  www.martinborough-vineyard.co.nz ]
Lightish pinot noir ruby,  a little age creeping in,  the second to lightest.  Even at the blind stage,  one sniff of this and one thinks:  this is exactly what the 'sighter' Volnay (as surmised) should show,  but I don't think it does.  This wine is all about red fruits pinot noir,  red cherries,  hints of strawberry and raspberry,  and light floral notes like buddleia and roses.  Palate matches exactly,  all red fruits,  supple,  just a hint of stalk detracting (particularly in comparison with the Misha's),  very much a Beaune kind of pinot.  It is ageing a little faster than I hoped,  in earlier reviews.  Cellar 2 4 years.  GK 09/13

2008  Neudorf Pinot Noir Moutere   17 +  ()
Moutere Hills,  Nelson,  New Zealand:  14%;  $55   [ screwcap;  nil whole-bunch,  wild-yeast fermentation;  total cuvaison extending to 26 days;  12 months in French oak 28% new;  not fined or filtered;  www.neudorf.co.nz ]
Good pinot noir ruby,  just below midway.  First poured,  this wine did not communicate well,  seeming reserved,  though clean no issues.  In mouth,  the reason seems to be a quite rich but more stalky wine,  with firm tannin structure.  It opened up gradually in the glass,  red more than black cherry,  subtle oak,  but a question mark whether the fruit and implicit florality would emerge with more cellar time,  given the good ratio of fruit,  or would start to dry on the tannins.  Intriguing,  it could overtake the Martinborough in three years,  but for the moment it lacks that wine's charm.  Cellar 3 8 years.  GK 09/13

2009  Felton Road Pinot Noir Block 3   17 +  ()
Bannockburn,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14%;  $75   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested at just over 5 t/ha (2 t/ac);  c. 25% whole-bunch,  long cold-soak,  wild yeast and c. 20 + days cuvaison;  c.14 months in French oak c.35% new,  followed by a further 6 months in 3-year-old oak;  www.feltonroad.com ]
A big pinot noir ruby,  one of the deepest,  raising doubts.  Bouquet is much riper and more full than the wines ranked more highly,  nearly too ripe for florals,  black cherry grading to dark plums fruit,  losing a little on pinot noir typicité therefore.  In mouth,  this Block 3 is a good deal more burly than the Block 5.  The fruit still has excitement and appeal,  but it is a close shave,  the wine skirting over-ripeness and hence dullness.  Oak seems less subtle than the Block 5,  perhaps to match the bigger and riper fruit.  This should cellar well,  and could perhaps become lighter and more enchanting once it loses some tannin.  In a previous very favourable (gold-medal) review I noted the weight but gave it the benefit of the doubt,  thinking it would fine down in cellar.  Not so sure,  now.  Cellar 3 10 years.  GK 09/13

2007  Bell Hill Pinot Noir   17  ()
Waipara Valley,  North Canterbury,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $65   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested from vines planted at classic European densities averaging c.10 000 / ha,  on limestone;  long cold-soak,  28 day cuvaison;  12 14 months in oak,  said to be 100% new;  this wine a 4-barrel selection,  website still difficult to access by address,  via google best;  www.bellhill.co.nz ]
Colour is on the big side for fine pinot noir,  it is the deepest of all the wines,  ruby and velvet,  but with age showing.  Initially opened the bouquet is tending dank and vegetal.  It needs decanting.  With air a quite strong aromatic component hinting at pennyroyal appears,  detracting.  The wine gives the impression of being too ripe for florality,  and even red fruits are lacking on bouquet.  Perhaps there are hints of boronia and black cherry,  though.  In mouth,  the wine is clearly black-fruits pinot noir,  but with rather much winemaker artefact and less attention to the beauty of the grape,  so the whole thing is tending big,  oaky and bold,  as if it were Australian pinot noir,  not New Zealand.  100% new oak is folly.  In its style it will continue to cellar well,  and give pleasure to those favouring this sort of interpretation of the grape.  Cellar 2 6 years.  GK 09/13

2007  Bell Hill Pinot Noir Old Weka Pass Road   16 ½  ()
Waipara Valley,  North Canterbury,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $40   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested from younger vines planted at classic European densities averaging c.10 000 / ha,  on limestone;  long cold-soak,  28 day cuvaison;  12 14 months in oak,  around 66% new;  this wine a 3-barrel selection,  website still difficult to access by address,  via google best;  www.bellhill.co.nz ]
Older pinot noir ruby,  above midway in depth,  older than the Bell Hill proper.  This wine was markedly vegetal on initial opening,  and clearly needed decanting.  It breathes up to a less ripe version of the senior wine,  but here with stalky notes suffused through red fruits more than black.  The level of oak on palate tends to accentuate the stalkyness,  so though the wine is quite rich,  it is awkward.  Old Weka Pass is the label for fruit from younger vines,  or parts of the vineyard excluded from the senior wine.  Actual length of fruit is good,  in its style.  Cellar 2 5 years.  GK 09/13

2006  Drouhin Volnay Clos des Chenes Premier Cru   16  ()
Volnay Premier Cru,  Cote de Beaune,  Burgundy,  France:  16%;  $75   [ cork;  a Drouhin domaine,  now biodynamic;  hand-harvested,  wild-yeast ferments,  cuvaison to 21 days;  fermentation and cuvaison in open wooden vats;  c.16 months in French oak 20% new;  lot of info on fiddly website;  www.drouhin.com ]
Light rosy pinot noir ruby,  light even by French standards,  as Drouhin so often is,  the lightest colour.  Bouquet is much the oldest wine in the set,  disappointingly so,  so that immediately did not help this wine to act as a 'sighter' for both pinot noir the grape,  and the tasting as a whole.  At a stretch,  there is a kind of autumnal florality on browning strawberry and raspberry fruit.  In mouth the impressions on bouquet are amply fulfilled,  adequate red fruits only,  all drying and ageing faster than one would hope,  oak almost invisible yet shaping the wine beautifully,  in this respect showing how pinot noir palates should be done.  The whole wine raises the concept of subtlety in elevation so suited to fine pinot noir,  where ideally the beauty of the grape does the talking and the winemaker is not intruding,  but sadly the wine is already too faded to make these points at all well.  Will hold but not improve.  

This wine was intended to act as a kind of sighter for the blind tasting,  since Drouhin is such a careful exponent of pinot noir values.  It is therefore worthwhile checking what northern hemisphere reviewers more familiar with Burgundy than New Zealanders had to say about this wine at release.  Allen Meadows in Burghound (April 2008):   An expressive and somewhat riper nose of beautifully complex and scented crushed red and blue berry fruit aromas displays undertones of minerality, crushed herb and a touch of earth, all of which are picked up by the equally complex flavors that are rich and full plus offer good volume on the dusty and sweet finish. There is a slight edginess here 89.  David Schildknecht in Wine Advocate (Dec. 2009):  It displays bright tart cherry fruit, but with a slightly vegetal undertone; fresh ginger, but also a slightly radish-like bite. A chalky underlying character accentuates the sense of austerity here 88 +.  

The relatively high scores from both commentators indicate they thought it in sum a fair-enough young pinot noir / burgundy,  though the words don't completely mesh with the scores.  The conclusions which may be drawn from including this wine in the tasting are made in the Introduction.  GK 09/13

2007  Hans Herzog Pinot Noir Grand Duc   15  ()
Marlborough,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $70   [ supercritical cork;  this wine not on the Herzog website,  price indicative,  if along lines of standard PN is;  hand-picked @ conservative cropping rate from 6 clones of PN;  long cold-soak,  c. 21 days cuvaison;  c.18 months in French oak some new;  RS <1 g/L;  www.herzog.co.nz ]
Colour is on the big side for fine pinot noir,  the second deepest,  some age showing.  Bouquet is simply non-simpatico with the tasting,  showing far too much winemaker influence,  and not enough attention to pinot noir the grape.  A pharmaceutical note detracts further I wonder if there are eucalyptus within cooee.  Beyond the poor initial impression,  there is dark fruit ripened beyond florality,  and nutmeggy and spicy oak hinting at brett,  all making a big burly over-ripe / hot climate interpretation of pinot noir that pays no heed to Burgundy.  Palate is moderately rich,  very spicy and oaky,  altogether too tannic and out-of-style.  OK as big red wine,  but priced as something special.  Some of the reviews on-line are bizarre,  if the concept of beauty of varietal expression in pinot noir is to be a guideline in producing world-class pinot noir in New Zealand.  Will hold 2 6 years.  GK 09/13