Central Otago Pinot Noir masterclass
12 wines from the 2012 vintage at the opening event of the Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration 2014

Blair Walter and Grant Taylor

It looks as if the 2012 vintage was a huge success in Central Otago, New Zealand – a region rapidly developing into one of the world’s finest for this grape variety. As the (unofficial) opening event of the tenth Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration, this masterclass of 12 wines from the 2012 vintage sold out quickly, such was the interest.

Blair Walter of Felton Road introduced the tasting. Blair described Central Otago as 'a collaborative but cohesive region; friendly but with a healthy competitive spirit.' As a visitor, the collaborative nature of the region is readily apparent: in my three visits I've never seen anything other than a cohesive spirit among the wine community here, something that I am sure has contributed tremendously to the progress that has been made. Long may it continue.

So how has Central moved on with its Pinots? Blair outlined a number of areas of progress in recent years.

  • a search for place, and wines of place

  •  increasing detail, precision and intrigue

  • increasing vine age

  •  increasing confidence in single-vineyard wines, that quality relates to the site

'The wines are less overtly fruity, with fine savoury notes,' says Blair. 'Fruit bombs appear to have become a thing of the past.' In my tastings around the region, I’d say that this is reflected in the 2011 and 2012 vintages, and in the few looks I got at 2013 samples. It seems, almost across the board, that the wines are progressing along the lines Blair describes. But before we get carried away: could this be a reflection of the vintage conditions over the last few years? This was something suggested to me by one producer. If 2014 or 2015 is a warmer year, might we see the return to big, fruity wines?

As well as Blair, some other growers commented as their wines were tasted. 'Immediate pleasure comes easily to Central Otago,' says Duncan Forsyth of Mount Edward. 'Young vine fruit expression gives you this, but as you mature as a winegrower you start to look past this.' He questions whether this is a function of vine age or a function of the changing perspective of the winegrower: 'I think it's a bit of both.' he concludes.

'It's much harder to understand a particular site than I ever expected,' says Rudi Bauer, whose Quartz Reef wines just seem to be getting better and better. He’s now fully biodynamic in his Bendigo vineyard.

Vine age gets plenty of mentions in discussions of New Zealand Pinot. Matt Dicey (Mount Difficulty) explained that it was from 1995 onwards that people started planting grafted vines. According to Matt (and echoed by many others) Pinot takes a leap in quality once the vines reach about 10 years in age, and then another leap at 18–20 years old. There are only about 15 hectares of vines in the region over 20 years old, and they are on their own roots, and thus susceptible to phylloxera which is now in the region. In 2004 there were 844 hectares of Pinot in Central Otago; now there are 1909 hectares (2014 figures). 56% of vineyards are younger than 10 years, but – thinking poisitively – this does mean almost half are now over this age.

What were the wines like? Overall, really good. The couple I scored slightly lower were showing a bit of oak on the day. There’s every chance this will integrate in time, of course.


Ellero Pinot Noir 2012 Central Otago, New Zealand
From John Montero in Pisa. Fresh and quite stylish with some spice and cherries. There's a hint of chocolate and oak, with nice definition. 92/100
Doctors Flat Pinot Noir 2012 Central Otago, New Zealand
From Bannockburn. Very fresh, bright and vivid with lovely pure, elegant cherry fruit. Supple, fine and silky with nice freshness. This really is elegant. 95/100
Burn Cottage Pinot Noir 2012 Central Otago, New Zealand
Lowburn. Beautifully expressive and pure. Ripe yet fine with open red cherry fruit and some delicious richness. Fine tannins and great precision. 95/100
Mount Maude Pinot Noir 2012 Central Otago, New Zealand
From Wanaka. Very fresh and expressive with bright red cherry fruit. It's lighter in style than some with lovely elegance. So supple and bright, showing nice precision. 94/100
Two Paddocks Last Chance Pinot Noir 2012 Central Otago, New Zealand
Some spicy chocolate/coffee oak notes on the nose. Fresh, textured palate with nice precision. Currently showing too much oak,but it has lovely texture and appealing mineral notes. If the oak settles down this could be special. 92/100
Mount Edward Morrison Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 Central Otago, New Zealand
Ripe and fresh with attractive black cherry fruit. Sweet and ripe but still has good definition. Silky and pure with some lushness, fleshiness and generosity. 94/100
Valli Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2012 Central Otago, New Zealand
This is sourced from Steve Davies' Doctors Flat vineyard. Very stylish, ripe, silky and pure with ripe yet elegant cherry and plum fruit. Sweet red cherries and plums and fine herbal notes on the palate. Seductive and showing nice finesse. 95/100
Quartz Reef Pinot Noir 2012 Central Otago, New Zealand
From Bendigo. Supple, pure and expressive with red and black cherry fruit and nice freshness. Ripe but still fresh with supple fruit and nice precision. Lovely tannins. 94/100
Rippon Tinkers Field Pinot Noir 2012 Central Otago, New Zealand
From Wanaka. Fresh and elegant with supple, attractive, sweet cherry and plum fruit. Silky, elegant and fine with some sappiness. 95/100
Terra Sancta Slapjack Block Pinot Noir 2012 Central Otago, New Zealand
Some spice and herb notes. Nice precise cherry and plum fruit with a bit of oak influence. Precise with attractive freshness. 92/100
Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir 2012 Central Otago, New Zealand
Rich and ripe with lovely spicy black cherry and plum fruit, as well as a hint of oak. Shows appealing richness but also great definition and detail. Some grippy structure, too. 94/100
Mount Difficulty Long Gully Pinot Noir 2012 Central Otago, New Zealand
Fresh, vivid, rich and pure with bright, supple fruit and silky, spicy tannic structure. Lovely freshness and fine spiciness. Precise and bright, a lovely wine. 94/100

See also:

Central Otago masterclass
Burgundy masterclass
24 fine wines tasted at the Grand Dinner

Gibbston Valley
Chard Farm
Wooing Tree
Folding Hill
Mount Difficulty
Lowburn Ferry
Grasshopper Rock
Doctors Flat

Visiting Central Otago, New Zealand (2010) (series)
Visiting Martinborough, New Zealand (series)

Wines tasted 02/14  
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