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Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
independent
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Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.
EVALUATION TASTING JUNE 2019,  WELLINGTON

ESCARPMENT,  GRASSHOPPER ROCK,  NEUDORF,  PYRAMID VALLEY,  VALLI VINEYARDS – ‘RECENT’ RELEASES


Geoff Kelly,  MSc Hons



Introduction:
Two recent public tastings in Wellington allowed the pleasant opportunity to set up a detailed blind tasting,  with a few additional bottles to hand,  thanks to their winemakers.  The first of these was a presentation at Glengarry Wines,  Wellington,  by the new winemaker for Pyramid Valley Wines,  Huw Kinch,  formerly with Larry McKenna at Escarpment Vineyard,  in Martinborough.  As reported by Stuff,  Pyramid Valley Vineyard was sold for $8,000,000 in late 2017 to Aotearoa New Zealand Fine Wine Estates (ANZFWE),  which is now wholly owned by Brian and Adria Sheth,  Americans.  Sheth has established a partnership with local wine-man Steve Smith MW.  Smith is now a director of ANZFWE.  Smith has become well-known for his role in setting up Craggy Range Vineyard in Hawkes Bay,  there in partnership with Terry Peabody and family,  Australians.  Day to day running of Pyramid Valley is now in the hands of Michael Henley,  formerly CEO of Trinity Hill winery,  Hawkes Bay.  ANZFWE also owns Lowburn Ferry vineyard and winery,  in Otago.  

In the present tasting,  Kinch was in the unenviable position of having to present wine made by his predecessors,  Mike and Claudia Weersing,   who bought the Pyramid Valley land in 1999 for $524,700.  There were no wine-oriented  improvements at the time of purchase,  just the land which the Weersings assessed as having rare potential for pinot noir production.

The second tasting was Valli Wines,  at Regional Wines,  Wellington.  Valli Wines is the creation of Grant Taylor,  in Otago.  Taylor has long been known for being unusually simpatico with the pinot noir wine-style.  He is best known for making four more or less matching pinot noir wines each year,  from four of the five main grape-growing sub-regions of Otago:  Gibbston,  Bannockburn,  the Bendigo Terraces,  and the Waitaki Valley to the north-east.  Only Alexandra is not represented – which is regrettable.  This gives Taylor and now his co-winemaker Jen Parr an unmatched grip of the style and diversity of pinot noir wines it may be possible to achieve in Otago.  The tasting was presented by Jen,  an American,  who has adopted New Zealand as her preferred wine-making location.

To these wines from two famous pinot noir zones I added the Escarpment Martinborough 2016 range of pinots noirs,  a year which Larry McKenna describes as near-perfect (not this year's release,  of 2017s,  note),  a matching release from Neudorf,  in the Moutere Hills,  Nelson,  and the 2016 Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir,  from Alexandra.  This provided a great introduction to the scope and style of New Zealand pinot noirs,  and stimulated some thought on related New Zealand wine matters,  as the wines gradually unfolded.  

Wine Pricing in New Zealand:
A key concern which emerges from this tasting has more general applicability in the New Zealand wine scene.  It has to do with how unsophisticated the New Zealand wine scene is,  and how easily New Zealand wine proprietors with an inflated idea of the rarity and value of their wines can exploit an essentially captive and gullible market.  For the fact is,  few New Zealanders are familiar with overseas wines,  and distressingly few winemakers,  for that matter,  regularly taste the benchmark wines of the world.  Accordingly,  overly confident New Zealand winemakers / proprietors can all too easily create an illusion that their wines are of absolute world standard.  And then proceed to price their wines accordingly.  For me,  the only justifiable pricing measure is the intrinsic quality of the wine itself.  For pinot noir,  like it or not,  this still means,  having regard to the pinot noirs produced in Burgundy.  

There is a school of thought in New Zealand wine circles,  one which I  deplore,  which states that New Zealand wine will not be taken seriously on the world wine stage,  until the price of the leading wines matches the sometimes fanciful prices of leading wines in California,  for example.  In my view,  New Zealand wines and their prices should reflect a New Zealand ethos.  Notwithstanding some wayward tendencies in our westwards neighbour,  the twin traditional American values of bigger is better,  and more expensive is better,  are not part of the fabric of the Antipodean way of life.  New Zealand would do well to maintain a wine pricing framework where higher prices are earned solely by achievement,  not by grandiose winemaker claims.  Unfortunately however,  there is a certain class of wine-buyer who must have the most expensive,  irrespective.  Whereas,  if New Zealand wines truly measure up by international standards,  and are shown to measure up in scrupulously-mounted comparative tastings of New Zealand and international wines,  competent international wine-writers will in the fullness of time report on them accordingly.  And the wines will then be sought out,  on their absolute merits,  permitting a steadily increasing price.  

The two key examples of this approach to achieving standing in the wine world have been demonstrated by Te Mata  Estate in Hawkes Bay,  and Stonyridge Estate,  on Waiheke island.  Both from the outset aspired to make cabernet / merlot wines of Bordeaux quality,  Te Mata since 1982 or even 1980,  Stonyridge since 1985.  By New Zealand standards,  that comprises a track record.  Te Mata Coleraine has been the standard-setter or model locally,  for how quality wine should be priced on achievement:  current release price and current auction realisations for the better vintages of the last 30 years are in fairly close accord.  In the context of the present discussion,  even Stonyridge has been more ambitious than the facts would justify,  the auction realisations for all but the 2010 and 2013 vintages being consistently less than the current retail release price.  Thus,  some of the fanciful prices which have been asked for supposedly prestige pinot noirs in New Zealand have simply exploited the gullible.  And when the wines are put to the test,  in blind comparative tastings,  their supposed pre-eminence evaporates.  Unfortunately,  when it comes to the grandiose claims of certain winemakers,  New Zealand wine-writers do little to protect the public.  Many give the impression their first duty is to the winemaker,  who is after all the supplier of their free samples.  Whereas as Robert Parker has so convincingly demonstrated,  the first responsibility of the wine reviewer should be to the customer.

A key point in this discussion is,  since Prohibition,  New Zealand has only had the possibility / potential for making fine wine since the arrival on the market of 1965 McWilliams Cabernet Sauvignon,  in 1969.  Few wineries therefore have had the chance to establish a significant track record.  Pricing should reflect that.  Prices are discussed further below.  

References:  
Hutching,  Chris,  2017:  US billionaire Brian Sheth buys North Canterbury vineyard
www.stuff.co.nz/business/98817839/north-canterbury-wineyard-bought-by-us-billionaire





THE WINES REVIEWED:
The Valli appraisals may have suffered a little from inadequate sample size.  My approach to wine evaluation,  using a fully blind tasting format,  involves much to-ing and fro-ing to establish an absolute rank-of-quality,  rather than simply a first and final impression.  With careful and repeated re-examination over several days,  45 mls is the minimum volume needed to both rank the wines,  and for the sample to remain stable while writing them up,  and continue to remain stable (under ice) through to the critical tasting back / checking against the printed-out manuscript stage.


White
Sparkling
Chardonnay
2017  Neudorf Chardonnay Moutere
2016  Pyramid Valley Chardonnay Field of Fire Home Collection
2016  Pyramid Valley Chardonnay Lion’s Tooth Home Collection
2017  Pyramid Valley Chardonnay Marlborough Growers’ Collection
Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and related blends
2017  Mahi Sauvignon Blanc
2018  Pyramid Valley Sauvignon Blanc Growers’ Collection
2017  Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc
Riesling
2017  Escarpment Riesling Ryan [ Dry ]
2018  Valli Riesling Waitaki
Pinot Gris
2016  Escarpment ‘Gris’ Pinot Gris
2017  Valli Pinot Gris
Gewurztraminer
Viognier
Sweet / Sticky
2015  Valli Riesling Waitaki Late-Harvest 375 ml
All other white wines, blends, etc.
2016  Escarpment ‘Blanc’ Pinot Blanc
Red
Rosé
  2017  Escarpment Nina [ Pinot Noir ] Rosé
2018  Pyramid Valley ‘Orange’ North Canterbury Growers’ Collection
2016  Valli 'Orange' / Pinot Gris The Real McCoy
Cabernet, Merlot, and related blends
Cabernet / Shiraz
Pinot Noir
2016  Escarpment Pinot Noir
2016  Escarpment Pinot Noir Kiwa
2016  Escarpment Pinot Noir Kupe
2016  Escarpment Pinot Noir Te Rehua
2016  Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard
2016  Neudorf Pinot Noir Moutere
2016  Pyramid Valley Pinot Noir Angel Flower Home Collection
2017  Pyramid Valley Pinot Noir Central Otago Growers’ Collection
2016  Pyramid Valley Pinot Noir Earth Smoke Home Collection
2017  Valli  Pinot Noir Bannockburn
2017  Valli Pinot Noir Bendigo
2017  Valli Pinot Noir Gibbston
2011  Valli Pinot Noir Gibbston
2017  Valli Pinot Noir Waitaki
Syrah = Shiraz
Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre & related blends
All other red wines, blends etc
From the Cellar. Older wines.


White
Chardonnay
Moutere Hills,  Nelson,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $79   [ screwcap;  Ch clone mendoza 100%,  hand-picked,  organic viticulture;  high-solids fermentation,  all wild-yeast,  all in barrels only 7% new;  full MLF and 12 months on full lees with monthly stirring in barrel,  followed by 4 months assembly in s/s;  dry;  production 362 x 9-litre cases;  www.neudorf.co.nz ]
Light lemonstraw,  just above midway in depth.  Bouquet is a model of mendoza-informed Antipodean chardonnay,  beautifully pure and sweet,  nearly creamy in the sense of finest Danish butter.  The complexity on bouquet gives the impression of subtle barrel-ferment and lees-autolysis in barrels most of which are far from new,  very beguiling [later – confirmed ].  The bouquet is totally free from trendy reduction.  Palate is not quite so subtle,  the level of new oak now tastable compared with understated fine white burgundy (though there are new-oaky ones too),  malolactic complexity still to marry in,  the palate weight good by New Zealand standards and many examples from Burgundy,  but not exemplary.  It will be much more together and complete in 3 – 5 years.  As with many of these wines,  setting the price ($79) to cater more for an elite market means that reviewers are justified in assessing it by international standards,  not New Zealand commercial / wine show standards.  Even so,  this is a fine New Zealand chardonnay (one of New Zealand’s best,  consistently) which will give great pleasure especially in five years.  It also compares well with the finest Australia has to offer (noting that in West Australia at least they also use clone mendoza,  as gin gin).  How wonderful it is to see leading producers making their top chardonnay with 7%-only new oak.  As the notes imply,  the ratio could be even lower.  With its firm (and finegrain,  not added) acid balance,  it will cellar for at least 20 years.  GK 06/19

Waikari,  Waipara,  North Canterbury,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $125   [ screwcap;  clones mendoza and 95 about equal;  beyond fanciful descriptors,  and a production of 120 x 9-litre cases;  the website is silent;  named for couch-grass (Elymus = Agropyron repens),  presumably referring to in later summer,  swathes of it drying to a straw-gold colour;  www.pyramidvalley.co.nz ]
Lemonstraw,  deeper than some,  above midway in depth.  Bouquet is light,  clean,  pure,  also free of the reduction that caters to the poseurs' brigade,  clearly varietal,  faintly citric with just a slight worry,  is it a bit under-ripe ?  Palate though quite rich unfortunately supports that doubt,  total acid high,  a suggestion of leafyness-stalks,  which makes the lactic component from the MLF fermentation sit unhappily in the complete wine.  There is quite a New Zealand grapefruit suggestion,  on the citric-plus-stalks.  This wine will not cellar as well as the Neudorf Moutere,  imperfect ripeness tending to cripple the development of flavour harmony in chardonnay wines.  

The price of $125 is therefore simply a conceit,  completely unrealistic.  Sadly,  certain wineries get carried away by delusions about their early achievements,  their supposedly unique offering,  sometimes even before they have a track record.  This presumption all too often is aided and abetted by suggestible wine writers,  few of whom in New Zealand taste widely enough to know what a $125 chardonnay should taste like.  And few of whom will step out of line,  not only for fear of losing free samples,  but also because of an industry which demands conformity first and foremost,  without regard to the customer.  This misleading of the customer is relatively easily achieved in a young wine country such as New Zealand,  where wine knowledge is still not part of the fabric of society.  Such wineries end up catering only to the gullible,  and to label snobs,  not genuine wine people.  

It is therefore regrettable that the new owners have chosen to  perpetuate this kind of conceit,  by continuing with the inflated pricing notions of the previous owners.  They would gain much credibility and esteem from the wine-buying public at large,  and do themselves a considerable commercial favour for their own long term,  if they immediately re-priced the entire offering to values compatible with the current quality.  For this wine,  half the present price would still be too much.  Then it is up to the new management and new winemaker to demonstrate that this site is in fact capable of producing the quality of wine the founders were aiming for.  If and when that is achieved,  then re-pricing gradually on merit,  and with regard to the pricing practices of in-fact leading wineries,  will be justifiable.  Meanwhile,  this wine will improve in cellar 3 – 8 years,  but it is not a long-term wine.  GK 06/19

Marlborough,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $38   [ screwcap;  beyond purple prose and a production of 226 x 9-litre cases;  the website is silent on technical detail for this wine;  www.pyramidvalley.co.nz ]
Lemonstraw,  deeper again,  the second deepest of all the whites.  Bouquet is light,  fairly pure (a slight worry on the lees component),  not at all clearly varietal in a blind tasting including barrel-ferment pinot blanc and pinot gris,  vanishingly subtle as to oak and MLF components.  Palate is more revealing,  a little more clearly understated chardonnay,  but in mouth the acid creeps up,  some phenolics detract,  the caveat on bouquet now seems a bit rubbery,  and even though the wine becomes somewhat richer,  it is not satisfying chardonnay.  It will certainly be a lot better in three and five years,  and will cellar for 10 – 15.  It is not as obviously stalky as the Field of Fire Chardonnay.  GK 06/19

Waikari,  Waipara,  North Canterbury,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $125   [ screwcap;  clones mendoza and 95 about equal;  beyond a production of 120 x 9-litre cases;  the website is again silent;  the name refers to the jagged leaves of the common dandelion Taraxacum officinale,  known in France as dent de lion;  www.pyramidvalley.co.nz ]
Straw,  the deepest of the whites.  To first sniff the wine is under-ripe and stalky,  which in chardonnay is an immediate off-switch.  The mystery of Chablis the district has always been the often-perfect physiological maturity achieved at relatively low sugars / alcohols.  In parts of New Zealand and Marlborough particularly,  and in this wine too from Pyramid Valley inland of Waipara,  there is the exact opposite,  imperfect physiological maturity at high sugars / alcohol.  Behind the stalks is butter,  again negative if too much visible,  and oak,  plus a general impression of chardonnay.  In mouth the wine has fair body and richness,  but high acid plus overly extracted phenolics accentuate the oak uncomfortably.  The wine will mellow somewhat in cellar 3 – 8 years,  on the richness,  but the makings for long-term beauty developing in cellar are not present.  The viticultural challenge on this site appears to be to achieve better physiological ripeness / maturity in the fruit,  at much lower degrees Brix.  The price is outrageous,  pretentious beyond belief,  for the quality delivered.  See comments for the Field of Fire Chardonnay.  GK 06/19

Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and related blends
Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13%;  $23   [ screwcap;  SB 100%,  a wine created from seven contributing vineyards,  the goal being a more complex winestyle;  all free-run juice,  no pressings;  some hand-picked,  22% wild-yeast,  7% barrel-fermented,  none of the oak new;  2.5 g/L RS;  www.mahiwine.co.nz ]
Pale lemongreen,  one of the lighter wines in these mixed whites.  Bouquet is immediately sweet,  pure,  beautifully ripe and subtle sauvignon blanc,  nearly floral in a slightly aromatic way,  white peach and black passionfruit fruit qualities,  a hint of sweet basil,  scarcely detectable red capsicum complexity … just enough to confirm sauvignon,  lovely.  As soon as you taste it,  the greater complexity of older oak barrel-ferment and wonderfully pure lees autolysis comes to the fore,  with delectable fruit flavours and apparent concentration / dry extract,  so rare in New Zealand sauvignon blanc.  Finish is nearly dry,  marvellous.  This is complex,  understated,  textural and modern Marlborough sauvignon blanc which will cellar for many years,  up to 20.  GK 06/19

Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13%;  $20   [ screwcap;  SB 100%,  machine picked;  cold-settled,  s/s-fermented,  RS 4 g/L;  www.whitehaven.co.nz ]
Pale lemongreen,  one of the lighter in these mixed whites.  Bouquet is a little more clearly sauvignon blanc than the Mahi,  not quite so ripe,  fractionally more floral with suggestions of elderflower,  plus herbes and trace capsicum,  beautifully pure.  Palate is narrower and sweeter than the Mahi,  much more stainless steel and conventional Marlborough,  but again showing good modern ripeness levels,  and quite good fruit weight.  Finish is ‘standard’ Marlborough ‘dry’ sauvignon blanc.  You can see why it has won gold medals.  Cellar 3 – 5 years,  though will hold longer,  for those who enjoy the changing flavours of older sauvignon.  GK 06/19

Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13%;  $42   [ screwcap;  BF in older 600s;  beyond a production of 145 x 9-litre cases;  the website is silent;  www.pyramidvalley.co.nz ]
Lemongreen,  below midway in depth in the mixed whites.  This wine attempts the tight-rope walk between free-flowing beauty and sur-lie complexity,  and falls off.  There is fruit,  it is recognisably sauvignon blanc,  but the reduced sulphurs level is simply too high.  Trendy me-too winewriters will try to tell you the wine is  ‘mineral’ … but this is merely glib marketing-speak to anyone faintly sensitive to reduction in wine.  Palate is somewhat better,  the reduction now looking more like doughy (as in bread-before-baking,  that is,  still less than pleasant) yeasty complexity,  good fruit,  slightly more acid,  and clearly richer and drier than the Whitehaven,  with probably just a couple of grams residual.  The English would like this.  The price however shows a tenuous grasp on reality,  having regard to the variety,  the market,  and the wine-making achievement.  Doubtfully cellar 5 – 10 years,  maybe longer.  GK 06/19

Riesling
Waitaki Valley,  North Otago,  New Zealand:  12%;  $32   [ screwcap;  Ri 100% grown on limestone-influenced gravels,  cropped at 7 t/ha = 2.7 t/ac from an 13-year old vineyard;  s/s cool-fermented;  RS 14 g/L against TA 9.0,  pH 2.9;  presumably sterile-filtered;  production 316 x 9-litre cases;  www.valliwine.com ]
Very pale lemon,  the lightest white.  Freshly opened the bouquet is shy,  very pure,  lightly floral in a freesias way,  slightly Lisbon-lemon-citric.  There might be just a hint of botrytis,  hinting at the Mosel model.  Palate is fresh,  very crisp,  higher terpenes than any Mosel riesling would be,  yet the delicate sweetness masks the acid beautifully.  The score at this point reflects the wine’s reticence:  likely it will have much more to say at five and eight years.  Cellar 25 years or so.  GK 06/19

Te Muna Road,  Martinborough,  New Zealand:  11.5%;  $24   [ screwcap;  a new approach for Escarpment Riesling,  again an Alsace influence,  some BF and LA in older oak;  RS 1 g/L = dry;  www.escarpment.co.nz ]
Glowing lemon,  precisely at the midpoint (of the 13 whites) in depth of colour.  Bouquet is light,  pure,  rich in one sense yet beautifully delicate in another,  just a hint of sweet hoppy terpenes giving a clue to the variety.  When you sniff more deeply,  there is a faint mandarin citrussy note,  contrasting with the Lisbon lemon of the Otago specimen.  Palate is much stronger,  clear citrussy aromatics,  not the acid and very low pH of the Valli,  in a sense more fine Clare Valley or Coonawarra in style,  but somewhat softer and longer-flavoured,  seemingly faint sweetness lengthening the ‘dry’ and fine-grained finish.  Cellar 5 – 15 years,  maybe longer.  GK 06/19

Pinot Gris
Martinborough district,  New Zealand:  14%;  $30   [ screwcap;  this wine reflects more an Alsace / Burgundy approach to the variety,  again very different to inconsequential ‘beverage’ pinot gris in New Zealand;  BF in older oak (perhaps not as old as the pinot gris),  partial MLF;  RS dry;  www.escarpment.co.nz ]
Slightly warm straw,  alongside the Pinot Blanc.  Bouquet is in the same subtle style as the Escarpment Pinot Blanc,  but fleshier,  less floral,  more pear or nashi flesh,  plus a more obvious barrel-ferment and lees autolysis component.  Palate adds greengage to the fruits,  equally as rich as the Pinot Blanc but with more phenolics and (it seems) more apparent oak,  both lengthening the flavour.  Alongside the Pinot Blanc,  this seems a somewhat coarser grape / wine,  but it is beautifully demonstrative of pinot gris.  Another good food wine,  and style-wise the phenolics would handle stronger flavours than the Pinot Blanc.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 06/19

Gibbston,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $32   [ screwcap;  PG 100% grown on elevated terrace soils,  16-year old vines cropped at 6  t/ha = 2.4 t/ac;  cool s/s ferment,  not fined,  sterile-filtered to bottle,  RS 3.4 g/L;  the winemaker believes it will cellar well;  www.valliwine.com ]
Pale lemon,  the second to palest wine.  Bouquet is unusually floral for New Zealand pinot gris,  reminiscent of some Mission Estate examples of their Tokay d’Alsace from the earliest 1980s [ later:  it is the Mission clone,  from that vineyard ],  attractive in an English primrose or light freesia style,  but in a blind tasting,  confusable with riesling.  Palate is equally fragrant,  pale and pure,  tasting like a medium-dry riesling but with more body and some phenolics,  plus higher acid than examples from further north in New Zealand.  This is an interesting and unusual handling of pinot gris,  but with its higher acid and light sweetness it might be hard to pair with food.  Cellar 5 – 10  years.  GK 06/19

Sweet / Sticky
Waitaki Valley,  North Otago,  New Zealand:  9%;  $50   [ screwcap;  Ri 100% grown on limestone-influenced gravels,  cropped at 2.3 t/ha = 0.9 t/ac from an 8-year old vineyard;  s/s fermented,  no mention of oak;  RS 85 g/L against TA 9.7,  pH 3.0;  not fined,  is sterile-filtered;  production the equivalent of 135 x 9-litre cases;  www.valliwine.com ]
Brilliant lemon,  midway in depth.  Bouquet is a little unusual in a sweet white,  combining Lisbon lemon zest with white button-mushroom botrytis,  plus a white-flower floral note.  It is exquisitely pure.  Palate is immediately aromatic on the citrus zest,  yet subtly so,  with a waxy depth of quality to it while at the same time being light in flavour and texture.  Sweetness is apparent,  yet refreshing on the low pH and fine-grained high acid.  This is a remarkable and wonderful Otago sweet wine which will cellar for 50 years,  changing over the years.  It would be fantastic to follow it,  from its supreme freshness now through to the mellow golden wine decades hence.  GK 06/19

All other white wines, blends, etc.
Te Muna Road,  Martinborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $29   [ screwcap;  this wine is modelled on the relatively full-bodied but scarcely-oaked pinot blancs of the Kaiserstuhl district of Germany;  all BF and 11 months in older oak,  no MLF;  RS 2.5 g/L;  www.escarpment.co.nz ]
Lemonstraw,  just above midway in depth.  Bouquet is both light,  yet nearly floral,  complex and interesting with subtlest older oak barrel-ferment and lees autolysis suggestions,  very pure.  Palate shows real pinot finesse,  white stonefruits,  beautiful ripeness,  exquisitely subtle oak,  absolutely optimising the variety.  I think some years ago I murmured that McKenna’s handling of a Pinot Blanc more befitted chardonnay,  but the approach here absolutely optimises the subtlety and beauty of pinot blanc.  Length of palate,  fruit ripeness,  and the subtlety of the phenolics – just enough to provide a delicate structure to the wine,  all contrast vividly with the some of the coarser chardonnays in the set.  Hard to imagine how pinot blanc could be better:  it will be a delight trying this with subtle food.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 06/19

Red
Rosé
Gibbston,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  13%;  $45   [ screwcap;  PG 100% 15 years age,  grown on elevated terrace soils;  wine-making as for a dry red wine,  extended ferment / cuvaison on skins with 5% whole-bunches for 20 days,  then 14 months in older barrels previously used for pinot noir;  not fined or filtered;  production 107 x 9-litre cases;  www.valliwine.com ]
Colour is pale copper,  to casual glance another rosé in depth,  but more orange than most New Zealand rosés.  The bouquet is most unusual,  strangely floral on blackberry flowers and pale roses,  with a fruit depth and complexity to it which rosés made from pinot noir seldom have.  It is almost aromatic.  Flavour is unusual too,  tasting more like white wine yet aromatic,  some body,  some phenolics yet no noticeable oak,  dry or nearly so,  the late finish revealing some phenolics yet extended on a strange dry nearly-guava flavour.  It will be intriguing pairing this with food,  for it is not so much a drink-alone wine.  This is the first ‘orange wine’ I  have seen that justifies its existence.  It is best considered as a ‘sophisticated’ / over-priced rosé.  Pricing is difficult:  you can follow the logic,  if its making reflects the same effort as a red wine.  And,  the winemaker reports it sells readily.  Cellar 2 – 5,  maybe 8 years might be best.  GK 6/19  GK 06/19

Te Muna Road,  Martinborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $24   [ screwcap;  again an evolving approach in Escarpment Rosé,  some BF in older oak,  a drier finish 1 g/L = dry,  compared with many New Zealand rosés;  www.escarpment.co.nz ]
Palest pink,  almost a ‘blush’ wine.  Bouquet is drab,  nearly a hint of rubber,  on a pale rosé aroma more pinot noir by elimination than conviction.  People not sensitive to reduction might call it faux-strawberry.  Palate is small,  some fruit but tending stalky,  dry or nearly so,  quite acid and phenolic.  It doesn't have the flavour to carry the latter two components.  Maybe it will be more approachable in a couple of years;  doubtfully cellar 3 – 5 years.  GK 06/19

North Canterbury,  New Zealand:  13%;  $33   [ screwcap;  98% PG,  balance Gw and Mu;  BF including on skins of PG,  hence colour;  beyond a production of 111 x 9-litre cases;  the website is again silent;  www.pyramidvalley.co.nz ]
Colour is cloudy coppery rosé,  deeper than the Valli.  Bouquet is scented,  non-winey,  strange,  reminiscent more of patent hair lotion from the 1950s than wine,  ersatz.  Flavour is a little better,  a wild-yeast ferment style in the worst sense of those words,  some body,  dry,  phenolic to the finish.  A wine in this format totally sabotages the reputation and standing Pyramid Valley needs,  if it is to charge such pretentious prices elsewhere in its range – or even on this one.  There is a limit to the gullibility even of label-snobs.  If 'orange wine' / rosé from pinot gris is even needed (which is debatable),  the Valli wine in this tasting demonstrates one way of achieving that.  For the new proprietors to persist with this particular bottling is surely folly.  There is an urgent need for the new proprietors to demonstrate to the wine-world that the ship is on a new course,  one with no compromises and no pretences.  The website would be a good place to start.  GK 06/19

Pinot Noir
Gibbston,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $70   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested @ 3.4 t/ha (1.4 t/ac) from 17-year old vines (a mix of Davis and Dijon clones);  ferments include a 20% whole-bunch component,  cuvaison 24 days;  11 months in French oak 32% new,  the balance first-and second-year;  not fined or filtered;  growing season c.900 GDD;  production 715 x 9-litre cases;  exemplary website,  both for current technical information,  and previous vintages;  www.valliwine.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the deepest of the pinots,  deeper than the 2016 Esk Valley Syrah.  Bouquet has exquisite pinot noir florals capturing exactly the darker faces of pinot noir seen in parts of the Cote de Nuits:  violets,  lilac,  dusky red roses,  but all clearly even fresher and more floral than the Valli Bendigo.  Palate is fresher than the Bendigo too,  seeming lighter,  with the florality continuing right into the palate – a wonderfully rare and desirable attribute in fine pinot noir.  This will become even more apparent as the wine ages.  There is a freshness,  suppleness and charm in this wine reflecting great pinot noir,  with critically less new oak than the Valli Bannockburn – wonderful.  It is clearly a cooler wine than the Bendigo (note the GDD),  but both are beautiful.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 06/19

Bannockburn,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $70   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested @ 3.9 t/ha (1.6 t/ac) from 17-year old vines (Dijon clones only);  ferments include a 25% whole-bunch component,  cuvaison 27 days;  11 months in French oak 27% new,  the balance first-and second-year;  not fined or filtered;  growing season c.1,100 GDD;  production 645 x 9-litre cases;  exemplary website;  www.valliwine.com ]
Good pinot noir ruby,  one of the lighter wines.  Bouquet is wonderfully sweet and evocative of pinot noir,  violets,  dark roses,  just beautiful florals on red and black cherry fruits,  plus vanillin from oak,  exciting.  Palate follows perfectly,  another wine to illustrate the concept of ‘crunchy’ cherry fruit,  the ratio of faintly cedary oak at first sight perfect to add spice,  but not dominate the fruit in any way.  The wine shows fairly good concentration by New Zealand pinot noir standards,  and is long in flavour.  Later the ratio of new oak seems a little too high.  But overall,  this wine is an exciting introduction to good New Zealand pinot noir.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 06/19

Bendigo Terraces,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14%;  $70   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested @ 4.2 t/ha (1.7  t/ac) from 6-year old vines (Dijon clones,  plus Abel clone);  ferments include a 35% whole-bunch component,  cuvaison 27 days;  11.5 months in French oak 31% new,  the balance first-and second-year;  not fined or filtered;  growing season c.1,150 GDD;  production 724 x 9-litre cases;  exemplary website;  www.valliwine.com ]
Bright full pinot ruby,  nearly a wash of carmine and velvet,  one of the darker pinots.  Bouquet has a wonderfully  dusky,  sensuous,  floral component,  quite weighty alongside the Gibbston,  less violets and lilac,  more dark roses again,  but all fragrant and genuinely pinot-y.  Palate is lighter than the bouquet in fruit style,  yet rich and supple with red fruits and black cherry,  plus that key pinot noir concept:  ‘crunchy’ cherry freshness.  There is refreshing acid too,  plus reasonably subtle oak.  This will be an exciting wine to cellar,  as it develops some of the magic of darker Cote de Nuits wine,  as in Morey-Saint-Denis for example.  Cellar 8 – 20 years.  GK 06/19

Moutere Hills,  Nelson,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $65   [ screwcap;  PN all hand-harvested;  all de-stemmed,  all wild-yeast fermentation;  MLF and 11 months in French oak,  15% new,  followed by 4 months assembly in s/s;  dry,  not fined or filtered;  production 303 x 9-litre  cases;  www.neudorf.co.nz ]
A lovely pinot noir ruby,  one of the lighter pinots.  Bouquet is immediately floral,  sweet,  warm,  very much buddleia and red roses,  subtle,  not loud like some pink roses,  enticing.  Below is red cherry fruit.  Palate shows lovely ripeness in this red fruits spectrum,  none of the tell-tale stalks some of the Waipara wines show,  better concentration than I recollect from some Neudorf wines,  altogether long and elegant.  This is an understated wine,  a gentler more feminine winestyle,  more Cru Cotes de Beaune by analogy than Nuits,  deceptive.  It is a perfect introduction to New Zealand pinot noir,  and Neudorf's pricing policy is fair.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/19

Te Muna Road,  Martinborough,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $115   [ screwcap;  PN 100% from 17-year old vines,  close-planted at 6,700 vines / ha;  18 months in French oak 50% new;  not fined or filtered;  RS 0.2 g/L,  dry extract 28.4 g/L;  www.escarpment.co.nz ]
Good pinot noir ruby,  just above midway in depth of colour for the pinots.  Freshly opened there is a strange smell,  needing vigorous decanting / pouring from jug to jug a few times.  With air the wine is transformed into an archetypal Martinborough pinot noir,  exhibiting what I understand people to mean by the descriptor ‘savoury’.  It is a ‘drier’ style of pinot noir than the average of the Otago wines.  Once breathed,  there is a floral quality to the bouquet,  but you have to work at it,  slightly spicy red roses,  more Cote de Nuits in style than Cote de Beaune.  In mouth red fruits dominate,  with surprising richness / dry extract,  much more than the bouquet promises.  The florals continue right into the palate,  a highly desirable attribute.  Tannin structure is quite strong in the wine,  but it is not too oaky,  thank heaven.  Top of head,  this is the best Kupe I have seen,  there being an almost Gevrey-Chambertin quality to it.  If this is a pointer to the future,  McKenna's long-standing faith in his Kupe vineyard will be repaid.  Aftertaste is the best part of the wine,  promising much.  McKenna has long been ambitious for the price on Kupe,  and the latest lift continues the trend.  There is now some track record,  and some consistency.  It will be good when the alcohol comes back a bit in the Te Muna vineyard,  hopefully with increasing vine age.  Cellar 8 – 20 years.  GK 06/19

Martinborough Terrace,  Wairarapa,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $85   [ screwcap;  25-year old vines,  hand-harvested from the Barton vineyard in Martinborough proper;  wild-yeast fermented in wooden cuves,  24 days cuvaison;  18 months in French oak 40% new;  RS <1 g/L,  dry extract 27.3 g/L,  not filtered;  www.escarpment.co.nz ]
Attractive pinot noir ruby,  just below midway in depth.  Like Kupe,  once opened this wine needs decanting,  to open up and breathe.  It then reveals light sweet florals,  hard to characterise as to flower but attractive,  some buddleia,  on red fruits.  Palate once breathed is transformed,  total red fruits harmony,  attractive flavours all Cotes de Beaune,  affording a remarkable comparison with the Neudorf Moutere,  the pinched quality apparent on the freshly opened wine now completely gone.  Length of flavour is attractive,  real pinot noir,  though not quite as long as Kupe.  Cellar 5 – 15  years.  GK 06/19

Alexandra,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  13.3%;  $40   [ screwcap;  PN 100%,  organic viticulture;  all de-stemmed;  added and wild-yeast ferments,  cuvaison c.18 days;  10 months in French oak,  29% new;  dry extract 24.9 g/L;  not fined;  www.grasshopperrock.co.nz ]
Almost a perfect pinot noir ruby,  below midway among the pinots.  Bouquet on this wine in the blind lineup differs in its faint sweet bouquet-garni notes,  plus a delicate apple blossom quality which is lovely but so subtle that it will be missed by many.  Palate shows mostly red fruits,  long red cherry and pomegranate flavours,  just a hint of black cherry adding interest and depth below.  This wine is easy to underestimate:  it needs air,  and it grows on you.  It is crisper than the Neudorf,  not quite the body,  but shows good ripening,  though perhaps with the faintest hint of stalks,  all optimised by subtle oaking.  This is one of the clearest examples of Otago thyme complexity I have seen:  you would not want any more.  Later:  this observation correlates with the owner's notes,  that February in Alexandra was the hottest since the vineyard started.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  On this showing Grasshopper Rock maintains its reputation as almost the definitive example of quality New Zealand pinot noir,  at an unpretentious / affordable / realistic price.  GK 06/19

Lowburn,  Otago,  New Zealand:  13.8%;  $45   [ screwcap;  beyond a fair wine description,  and a production of 491 x 9-litre cases;  the website is again silent;  www.pyramidvalley.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  deep for pinot noir,  deeper than the 2016 Esk Valley Syrah I put into the blind tasting to ‘calibrate’ the wines,  the second deepest pinot.  The bouquet is however deeply floral,  port-wine magnolia and dark red roses,  on black cherry grading to bottled black-doris plums fruit,  all marginal for the (Allen Meadows’) concept ‘pinosity’.  In mouth the wine lightens up in one sense,  to astonishingly rich,  deep,  but still fairly authentic pinot noir,  though it narrowly avoids a hint of sur-maturité / chocolate.  Texture and fine-grained tannins are undoubtedly varietal,  and the flavour is long and saturated,  but at this stage furry on tannins.  I  just wish there had been a tranche of earlier-picked fruit,  or more whole-bunches,  or both,  to lift and lighten the florals in the wine.  It is tending burly / massive,  darker for example than the Gigondas also put in to calibrate the tasting.  Acid is just in balance,  and oak is careful,  subtle.   This should be worth cellaring 8 – 20 years,  to lighten up.  GK 06/19

Martinborough district,  New Zealand:  14%;  $50   [ screwcap;  all hand-harvested from assorted vines ranging in age from 17 years at Te Muna Road to some of the oldest in the district;  all wild-yeast fermented,  15 days cuvaison,  11 months in French oak averaging 25% new;  RS <1 g/L,  dry extract 28 g/L;  www.escarpment.co.nz ]
Pinot noir ruby,  a lovely varietal depth and colour,  towards the deeper end of the pinots.  Bouquet is quieter than the best Otago wines,  fresh and sweet suggesting red roses plus a hint of buddleia,  on red and black cherry fruit,  clearly both and clearly varietal.  It smells not quite as ripe as Kupe.  Palate has a freshness to it again producing the ‘crunchy cherry’ palate factor,  indicating an ideal mix of picking times,  and adding complexity to both bouquet and flavour.  It seems not quite as rich as the top Otago wines,  but the flavour is long.  It is a very typical presentation of Martinborough pinot noir.   Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 06/19

Martinborough Terrace,  Wairarapa,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $85   [ screwcap;  29-year old vines,  Cleland vineyard in Martinborough proper;  wild-yeast fermented in wooden cuves,  23 days cuvaison,  18 months in French oak 40% new;  RS <1 g/L,  dry extract 27.9 g/L,  not filtered;  www.escarpment.co.nz ]
Pinot noir ruby,  right in the middle of the pinots.  This wine is quite different in style from the more highly marked pinot noirs,  a wine more in the alternative mainstream New Zealand pinot noir format characterised by lighter buddleia florals.  In this year's Kiwa there are leafy hints too.  Palate follows perfectly,  the florals continuing,  red fruits more than black,  even a hint of strawberry,  the wine slightly more acid,  and yes – there is trace stalkyness.  It is good,  and varietal,  as far as it goes,  but ideally needed a greater ratio of riper material.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 06/19

Waikari,  Waipara,  North Canterbury,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $125   [ screwcap;  beyond a description of the wine,  and production of 290 x 9-litre cases,  the website is again silent on details of interest to the taster;  this name derives from common fumitory (Fumaria officinalis),  also known in the northern hemisphere as earth smoke,  the general impression a good crop of the weed can give at a  distance;  www.pyramidvalley.co.nz ]
Pinot noir ruby,  right in the middle for depth among the pinot noirs,  but a bit drab.  Bouquet here shares much with the same winery’s Angel Flower Pinot Noir,  this slightly off-centre blackboy style of pinot noir,  with some rose florals,  but more the fragrant purple flesh of blackboy.  A hint of varnish detracts.  Palate is fresh in this styling,  somewhere between red and black cherry but not quite the magic of either,  fractionally riper and more harmonious than Angel Flower,  more concentration,  less stalks.  It is not as pure as Kiwa,  though.  Interesting wine,  worth cellaring 5 – 12 years.  As to the price,  see the comments for Field of Fire Chardonnay.  GK 06/19

Waikari,  Waipara,  North Canterbury,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $125   [ screwcap;  beyond a description of the wine,  and production of 417 x 9-litre cases,  the website is again silent on details of interest to the taster;  the name is given for the common adjunct pasture species yarrow (Achillea millefolium) … why exactly is obscure:  yarrow is unknown by that name in New Zealand,  and is more a weed than a garden beauty;  www.pyramidvalley.co.nz ]
Pinot noir ruby,  near the middle of the pinots for depth of colour,  but a bit drab.  Bouquet is clearly pinot noir,  in another of the aliases New Zealand pinot noir adopts,  blackboy peach aromas,  with a sweet note to it just hinting at the aroma of dried apricots.  Palate is light,  fresh,  neither as ripe or as concentrated as Earth Smoke,  a simpler kind of pinot noir.  Oak is to a maximum here,  plus slight grape phenolics.  Needs to soften / mellow in cellar,  3 – 10 years.  For pricing,  see the comments for Field of Fire Chardonnay.  GK 06/19

Gibbston,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $136   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested @ 4.4 t/ha (1.8 t/ac) from 11-year old vines (a mix of Davis and Dijon clones);  ferments include a 30% whole-bunch component,  cuvaison 24 days;  11 months in French oak 34% new,  the balance first-and second-year;  not fined or filtered;  growing season c.885 GDD;  production 910 x 9-litre cases;  exemplary website;  www.valliwine.com ]
Older lightish pinot noir ruby,  some garnet,  the second lightest wine.  Freshly opened,  the wine smelt tired.  It definitely needs air,  and time in glass,  to expand.  It opens to suggestions of buddleia florals now somewhat faded,  on all red fruits with just a hint of leaf,  as if 2011 were a cooler year [ later:  yes – 885 GDD ].  Palate correlates,  the red fruits browning and receding a little,  lightly cedary oak more apparent,  the nett impression a little acid and leafy.  The wine is fully mature,  earlier than I would hope.  Here too,  the price is unwise,  reflecting its rarity at the winery rather than the wine’s intrinsic merit.  GK 06/19

Waitaki Valley,  North Otago,  New Zealand:  13%;  $70   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested @ 2 t/ha (0.8 t/ac) from 16-year old vines (a mix of Davis and Dijon clones,  some Abel),  growing in limestone-influenced soils;  ferments include a 10% whole-bunch component,  cuvaison 20 days;  11 months in French oak 27% new,  the balance first-and second-year;  not fined or filtered;  growing season c.800 GDD;  production 483 x 9-litre cases;  exemplary website;  www.valliwine.com ]
Light pinot noir ruby,  the lightest of the pinots.  Bouquet fails to achieve appropriate pinot noir ripeness,  being lightly floral but equally leafy / stalky.  The floral notes are more in the light buddleia style.  Red fruits underlie.  Palate is all red fruits,  but very light,  even red currants and pomegranate with red cherry,  with acid and stalks noticeable.  As so often in the Waitaki Valley,  to achieve appropriate ripeness in pinot noir is the great challenge.  Here is a district acutely in need of global warming,  if it is to produce good pinot noir at all consistently.  [ To judge from the Valli two,  the rieslings in this tasting suggest the Waitaki Valley's great future strength.]  Cellar 3 – 8 years only,  in its modest style.  As to the price,  one can understand the desire to have all the wines in the regional set the same price,  since equal work and cost goes into each (approximately – note the cropping rate for this wine).  In my view it would reflect well on the winery to in fact have a lower price for any wine in the set which in that year does not meet the winery's customary standard.  This is after all a New Zealand winery which par excellence demonstrably knows what good pinot noir is about.  The website records reviews from other wine-writers all scoring this wine in the 90s … once again confirming my long-held view that the inability to perceive under-ripeness in red wines is a systemic problem in New Zealand wine judging and wine-writing.  GK 06/19