An extensive tasting of Pinot Noir from North Canterbury, New Zealand

waipara north canterbury pinot noir

North Canterbury is the new-ish term used to describe the vineyard region close to Canterbury, which includes the Waipara Valley. In the couple of days I spent here, I tasted my way through many of the the wines, and these are my notes on the Pinot Noirs that I’ve tried. It’s a region that I’ve visited a few times, and I really like it. When Pinot hits highs here, it hits real highs. But it’s a cool region, and there’s sometimes a bit of inconsistency. For those unfamiliar with the region, this introduction is a good place to start. More notes to come.

Ataahua Pinot Noir 2013 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Juicy with taut red fruits and a touch of spicy reduction. Sweet and savoury notes here with fresh crunchy cherries and grip on the finish. 90/100

bell hill

Bell Hill Pinot Noir 2013 North Canterbury, New Zealand
Very fine and expressive, this has substance and also elegance. There’s a lovely freshness to the palate with sweet red fruits and a bright structure that has a lot to do with the well integrated acidity. Fine herbal notes and really fine-grained tannins here, as well as fresh red cherries and a bit of plum. Lovely wine with a long future ahead of it. 96/100

Bellbird Spring River Terrace Pinot Noir 2015 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Light and distinctive with red cherries, herbs and some spiciness. Grippy and light with a hnt of medicine. 89/100 

Bellbird Spring Block Eight Pinot Noir 2015 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Supple and detailed with fresh red cherries and a bit of spiciness. Made in a lighter style, this is fine and detailed, savoury and sappy. 90/100

Bellbird Spring The Pruner’s Reward Pinot Noir 2014 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Supple and fresh, and a bit spicy and savoury. Bright red cherries and some grip. Lighter styled. 89/100

Black Estate Home Pinot Noir 2015 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Nice depth here: textural with vivid, tightwound cherry and berry fruits. Has some herby undertones and fine spiciness. 93/100

black estate dam steep

Black Estate Damsteep Pinot Noir 2015 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Beautifully focused with pure, silky, fresh cherry fruit and fine spiciness. Real elegance here with nice grainy structure. 94/100 

Black Estate Netherwood Pinot Noir 2015 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Fine, fresh and sappy with bright, mineral cherry and plum fruit. Really elegant. Has a lightness to it and a mineral core. 94/100

the boneline

The Boneline Waimanu Pinot Noir 2014 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Fresh sweet raspberry jam and cherry nose. Floral and direct. Supple palate with sweet, smooth cherry and berry fruits. Very friendly, fruity and approachable, but with really nice fruit. Modern and glossy. 92/100

The Crater Rim Pinot Noir 2013 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Fresh, juicy and supple with bright cherries and plums. Expressive with nice freshness and some grip. 90/100

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The Crater Rim Omihi Rise Pinot Noir 2012 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Fresh, supple and elegant with a bit of savouriness. Fine structure supports the fresh red cherry fruits with nice acidity. Restrained and mineral. 94/100 

Fancrest Estate Pinot Noir 2011 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Supple, fresh, lively and tangy with some cherry fruit and a bit of cola spiciness. Sweet and sour. 88/100 

Georges Road Williams Hill Pinot Noir 2014 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Sweet and supple with a slightly herby edge to the bright raspberry fruit. Slightly green edge here, but attractive with nice sweet fruit. 90/100

Greystone Pinot Noir 2015 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Juicy and bright with vigorous, tight cherry and plum fruit. Juicy and vivid with nice youthful grip. Nicely focused. 93/100

greystone pinot noir

Greystone Thomas Brothers’ Pinot Noir 2013 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Lovely aromatics here: sweet, pure, with lovely red cherries and raspberries. It has a bit of liqueur-like richness and fine spicy notes. Very pretty but also structured. Seductive but not overdone. 94/100 

Main Divide Pinot Noir 2013 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Supple and juicy with herbs and spices. Nicely savoury with a juicy, drinkable quality. Has nice weight and freshness. 90/100

alan mccorkindale

Alan McCorkindale Single Barrel Pinot Noir Pinot Noir 2014 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Beautifully floral red cherry nose with a really smooth, liqueur-like quality. The palate has density and also purity with good structure, some fine spices, red cherries and a hint of leather. Very attractive with real substance. 95/100

Alan McCorkindale Chalky Pinot Noir Pinot Noir 2007 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Some development on the nose with a warm, subtly malty red fruit character. The palate is really beautiful with very fresh, well integrated acidity and bright cherries and herbs. There’s a silkiness here but also the bright acidity provides nice framing. A lovely Pinot with some maturity. 94/100

Mount Brown Estates Grand Reserve Pinot Noir 2014 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Supple and bright with nice sweet juicy berry and cherry fruits, but also a bit of creamy, sweet vanilla character in the background. The floral cherry fruit is really appealing. 90/100

Mount Brown Estates Pinot Noir 2016 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Juicy, fresh, berryish and bright with supple, sweet fruit. Very drinkable and easy, this is Pinot Nouveau in style. 88/100 

Muddy Water Pinot Noir 2013 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Rounded and yet compact at the same time, with sweet cherries and plums. Very appealing with sweet fruit core and a balanced personality. 91/100

Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir 2013 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
There’s a lovely sappy elegance to this wine. Savoury, spicy and a bit grippy with some herbal hints and bright red cherry and plum fruit. Dense black fruits and some spicy structure. Tangy, spicy, savoury finish. Needs time. 93/100

Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir 2014 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Vivid, spicy and ripe with dense black fruits and a slight cherry cola tang. Edgy and spicy with nice fruit character but also a bit of angular wildness. Needs taming: will age do this? 90/100

Pyramid Valley Vineyards Angel Flower Pinot Noir 2015 North Canterbury, New Zealand
Beautiful, haunting aromatics with floral sweet cherries and plums. Really expressive with a tiny bit of sweet lift. The palate is elegant, supple and quite pure with real detail and lovely fine-grained tannins. Sweetly fruited, floral and a bit edgy, with a fresh finish. Some sour cherry, too. Lovely. 95/100

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Pyramid Valley Vineyards Earth Smoke Pinot Noir 2015 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Fresh, floral, slightly sappy nose with lovely, pretty, expressive red cherry and herb fruit. Fine and fruity on the palate but with real sappy elegance. Fresh and focused and very pretty with nice acid structure. So more-ish and beautiful, this captures the elegant heart of Pinot on a good terroir. Very mineral. 96/100 

Terrace Edge Pinot Noir 2012 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Very aromatic with fine sweet cherries and nice finesse. Supple and sweetly fruity with a sappy edge. Refined and with real finesse. 93/100

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Tongue in Groove Cabal Pinot 2014 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Focused red fruits nose is tightwound. The palate has real density and focus to the red cherry, plum and raspberry fruit. Lovely freshness and structure here: this has fruit sweetness but it’s also quite serious and brooding. 94/100

Waipara Hills Isolated Hill Pinot Noir 2014 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Supple, smooth and focused with nice red cherry and plum fruit. There’s a savoury, mineral core as well as appealing elegant fruit. Nice acidity and tannin providing structure. 92/100

Waipara Hills Equinox Pinot Noir 2015 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Floral, slightly herby red fruits nose with a taut, compact, green edge. Fresh red fruits palate with a hint of reduction and some grippy tannins. Nice restraint here. Compact and savoury. 91/100

Waipara Springs Premo Reserve Pinot Noir 2014 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Supple red cherry fruit here: nicely understated with some silky texture and an appealing mineral core. So supple with fresh acidity and fine-grained structure. 92/100

Whistling Buoy Half Acre Pinot Noir 2015 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Very sweetly aromatic with a cedary, spicy, slightly roast coffee edge. Spicy roast coffee and cedar palate. Unusual and a little oak dominated at the moment. 87/100

Whistling Kokolo Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 Waipara, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Very attractive sappy red fruits here. Juicy but elegant with restraint and savouriness, as well as sweet red cherry and plum fruit. Very impressive and shows beautiful balance, with some floral detail. A bit of grip on the finish. 93/100

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Some pictures from Central Otago

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The famous view from Rippon, WanakaOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Chard Farm’s Gibbston Vineyard and its spectacular setting

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Apparently this scene features in Lord of the Rings

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View of Wanaka from the top of a hill

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Lake Dustan, looking over to the Pisa subdistrict

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Central Otago Pinot Noir masterclass, focusing on structure Draft

pinot noir central otago

Lucie Lawrence of Aurum and Grant Taylor of Valli led this masterclass, which was held at Aurum. Also present were Matt Dicey (Mount Difficulty and Ceres), Paul Pujol (Prophet’s Rock) and Blair Walter (Felton Road), who contributed to the discussion. The idea was to look at pairs of wines that each tackled topics relevant to Pinot in Central Otago. Specifically, we were asked to focus on the structure of these wines, which all came from the excellent 2013 vintage.

Grant Taylor

Grant Taylor

The first pair looked at subregional differences and how they relate to structure: one wine was from the coolest subregion (Gibbston) and one from the warmest (Bendigo). Grant pointed out that Gibbston has 20% lower growing degree days (an approximate metric of growing season warmth, abbreviated GDDs) than Bendigo, which is a big difference.

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Quartz Reef Bendigo Pinot Noir 2013
Taut, appealing aromatics of red cherries and spice, with some sandalwood hints. The palate has freshness and focus with a savoury, spicy structure underpinning fresh red fruits. Still quite tannic and structured with a dry finish. Has potential for development. 94/100

valli pinot noir

Valli Gibbston Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013
Highly aromatic floral red cherry fruit nose with some savoury spicy notes, and also a touch of green herb character. The palate is very fresh and lively with good acidity and some raspberry brightness, as well as silky cherry fruit. Very fine. 95/100

The structural difference here? The warmer Bendigo region results in a wine that has more tannin in its structure, whereas the structure in the Gibbston wine is a result of tannin and acidity working in concert.

Blair Walter

Blair Walter

With the second pair, we were looking at vine age, with two wines that were made from vines 21 years and older. Grant pointed out that the average age of a vine in Central Otago is still around 10 or 11 years. These vineyards were planted in 1994 (Maude) and 1992 (Block 3)

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Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir 2013
Lovely tight intense raspberry and cherry aromatics with a distinct peppery spiciness. There’s substance and density to the palate which has rich texture and fine, refined tannins. There’s lovely acidity, too. This has beautiful focus and precision: rich and quite ripe but also has presence and structure. Quite profound. 96/100

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Maude Mt Maude Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013
Really aromatic with sweetly aromatic red and black cherry fruit. There’s nice floral detail. The palate has generosity and silkiness with sweet, pure berry fruits and fine-grained structure. There’s lovely smooth ripe fruit at the core of this wine, but it also has some mineral characters. So pretty but also with a hint of seriousness. 94/100

There was a lot of discussion about the benefits of vine age. Interestingly, it seems that as vines get older the subregional differences, so evident in young vine Pinot, are less clear. The vine begins to express the site more, and factors such as soil type matter more. Older vines are less prone to seasonal variations, and so you taste the vintage less. You also taste the influence of clone less. Blair Walter commented that as the vines he was working with got older he had to acidify far less, and also towards harvest the sugar never takes off in the same way, so the resulting wines often have lower alcohols. Older vines seem to produce wines where the tannins are better integrated, too.

The third pair was titled the winemaker’s journey, and none of us were really sure what that was about. The first wine is made by Dean Shaw, who wasn’t there, but Matt Dicey gave an elegant account of the journey that he’s taken over the 20 odd years he’s been making wine in Central Otago. When he arrived he was young, and was so excited about the amount of fruit that Central Otago delivered in the Pinot Noir wines. But he wanted structure, too, and so worked the wines hard in the winery. Now he thinks less is more: he doesn’t have to work the wines hard, and he extracts less. But the vines are older and as well as fruit he gets structure, too.

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Domaine Thomson Surveyor Thomson Pinot Noir 2013
Very fresh and bright with high acidity and supple, slightly sappy red fruits. There’s a green herbal quality here, along with some grip and juiciness, and a bit of savoury, cedary oak. Very fresh and quite tannic. 93/100

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Ceres Composition Pinot Noir 2013
Sweetly aromatic with warm, spicy red fruit characters. There’s a hint of stewed plum and spice here, too. The palate is vivid with sweet cherry and raspberry fruit and some firm, grippy, drying tannins in the background. Some really nice pretty sweeter notes here but also tannic grip. 93/100

The last pair of wines looked at the issue of whole bunch, one of the hot topics in Pinot Noir.

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Prophet’s Rock Home Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013
Paul Pujol made five small tanks of this wine. One got no pumpovers or plunging, and had no stems. The rest got one hand plunge, and were in tank for 28-32 days, and again, no stems were used. Lovely aromatics: fresh red cherries, fine herbs, a touch of cedar. The palate is structured and quite firm with good tannins and lovely purity. Very fresh with a bit of tannic bite under the sweet fruit. Lovely focus to this wine. 95/100

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Aurum Madeleine Pinot Noir 2013
Lucie Lawrence uses 100% whole bunch for this wine, which started as an experiment with a ton of 667 clone Pinot that didn’t fit anywhere. This clone always has nice stem ripeness, so Lucie took the tank to the vineyard, picked into the tank, and left the intact bunches, with no juice at all, for 12 day, protected with some gas. After this she threw the children to tread the grapes, and then it started fermenting straight away. The temperature and kinetics of the fermentation was so different. At dryness she basket pressed into old barrels. Fine, fresh, slightly green pot pourri notes alongside the pretty, floral cherry fruit. Nice finesse here. Lovely fresh red fruit quality on the palate and a bit of peppery. Bright with nice grip and elegance. 94/100

This was an interesting tasting with some wide ranging discussion on the direction that Central is going in. Grant, who’s been making wine here for almost 25 years, thinks that the quality has kept going up. As a fairly regular visitor, there’s evident progress. The wines used to taste more similar than they do now, and vine age seems to be helping produce more structured wines that have some non-fruit complexity as well as the delicious sweet fruit that Central delivers so consistently. There are stylistic differences that seem to be emerging too. No doubt the collaborative spirit here, evidenced by the way that producers are so happy to show their wines together and talk openly about them, has helped with the progress that has been made.

Some highlights from a Central Otago Pinot Noir tasting

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I arrived in Queenstown to a good English winter: rain showers, low cloud, and a temperature of 8 C. There was snow on top of the hills. This is summer in a cool climate wine region. Time to taste some wine with the mixed international group who’d, like me, just arrived in town.

Eighteen producers gathered in the cellar and tasting room of Mount Edward’s winery at Gibbston. Each had brought a couple of wines, and I tasted all of them. Overally, what struck me is that there’s quite a bit of stylistic diversity, as well as subregional and even vineyard influence. And these wines weren’t just about fruit. Things haven’t been standing still in Central Otago: winegrowers talk with each other, they’re eager to learn. I also got the impression that the influence of the two large contract winemaking facilities, which has been such a feature of the region, is being felt a little less. These are some of my favourites from the tasting.

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Mount Edward Miurkirk Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011 Central Otago, New Zealand
Powerful and quite spicy with nice freshness and precision. Black cherries, spice, and lovely structure, with a hint of olive richness. In a good place. 94/100

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Rippon Pinot Noir 2010 Central Otago, New Zealand
This is a really serious wine. Tight and structured, with real grip, but also tending towards elegance and understatement. There’s a really nice savoury character to this wine. Just on the start of its journey, this has a long life ahead of it. 95/100

Aurum ‘Madeleiene’ Pinot Noir 2014 Central Otago, New Zealand
This is 667 clone, and it’s 100% whole bunch. Lovely sweet black cherry nose with some spiciness. Has a liqueur-like richness to the fruit, but also some savoury spicy structure. Generous, floral, but with some density. 94/100

rudi bauer

Quartz Reef ‘Black Label’ Pinot Noir 2014 Central Otago, New Zealand
This is the one ferment that Rudi Bauer (above) thinks reflects his Bendigo vineyard best, so it’s usually 4 tons of fruit. This is 12 barrels, but only 6 will go to this label. Fresh, sweet, focused black cherry and plum fruit with good structure and fine spiciness. Very pure with nice detail and structure. 94/100

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Akitu Pinot Noir A1 2013 Central Otago, New Zealand
This is the one of the two Akitu wines with a black label. It’s from a vineyard in Wanaka on old schist, and the wines are made at Maude by PJ Charteris. 70% Abel clone, the rest UCD5 and sometimes some 777. Powerful but very fresh with lovely vivid, bright black cherry fruit and good structure. There’s great precision and purity here: a really serious effort. The white label is also delicious and a bit more fruit dominated. 95/100

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Prophet’s Rock Pinot Noir 2009 Central Otago, New Zealand
Paul Pujol (above) says this was a very cool year with a cold February, resulting in lighter coloured wines. The challenge was not to respond to the little extraction of colour in the ferment by working it harder. The result of his restraint is a beautiful pale Pinot that is ageing fabulously. Fine red cherries with some dried herbs and good structure and acid here. 94/100

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Mount Difficulty Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2014 Central Otago, New Zealand
Very fresh and fine with raspberry and cherry fruit. Quite detailed with nice grip and finesse. Lovely fruit quality. 94/100

Felton Road Cornish Point Pinot Noir 2015 Central Otago, New Zealand
One of the prettiest wines I’ve had in a long time, and just about irresistible. Beautiful floral aromatics with supple, silky fruit on the palate. Elegant and accessible with fine sweet red cherries. 95/100

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Valli Gibbston Pinot Noir 2015 Central Otago, New Zealand
Grant Taylor says that he’s no longer scared of cooler vintages, like 2015, even in Gibbston, because they allow the place to show itself. This 2015 is fresh, grippy and firm, as you’d expect of a young wine, but it also has direct cherry and raspberry fruit with a primary, delicious personality. 94/100

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Peregrine Pinnacle Pinot Noir 2014 Central Otago, New Zealand
This is a selection from Peregrine’s Bendigo vineyard, which is farmed organically, and it’s not yet released, hence the picture shows winemaker Nadine Cross’ hand written ‘label’. Very firm and detailed with a fine spiciness and good grip. Lovely structure here with a savoury edge to the red cherry and plum notes. Has grip and good acidity. 95/100

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The stunning Te Mata Peak

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On Saturday morning, Craggy Range’s Brand Manager Hannah Burns took me up Te Mata Peak. It was supposed to be a run, but this is incredibly steep, so we walked most and ran a bit. It’s truly spectacular, and fortunately the weather turned it on. This is a chunk of marine limestone that rises 400 m up, and at the top the views are quite spectacular. Most of New Zealand hasn’t really had a summer yet, but the Hawke’s Bay wine region has been very dry and the prospects are on for a really good vintage. From the top of the peak, you can see how dry it has been.

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Tasting the range at Craggy Range

matt stafford jamie goode

For the last couple of days I’ve been hanging out at Craggy Range, in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. I was last at Craggy in 2007, on my first visit to New Zealand. The personnel have since changed, but the goal hasn’t – to make some of New Zealand’s top wines. There are 80 hectares of vines in the Gimblett Gravels district of Hawke’s Bay, and about the same in Martinborough at the Te Muna Road vineyard, and these form the core of the range. They also have vineyards in Marlborough, but they no longer have any in Central Otago. These are the notes from a range tasting I did with winemaker Matt Stafford (he’s pictured above with me and my red wine stained tasting teeth).

Craggy Range Te Muna Road Riesling 2016 Martinborough, New Zealand
Planted on the terrace, all hand harvested, long pressing, rough rack the next day before fermentation, sit quite warm at 18 C, all stainless steel in 2016. None of this was made in 2015 because of botrytis. In 2016 went in and put the fruit into balance early on in the growing season. pH is 2.8-2.9 most years so it carries 8-10 g rs/l without tasting sweet. So pretty and lively with lovely pure fruit: citrussy and fine with nice texture and some tangerine detail. Lovely elegance and really pretty fruit, with a touch of sweetness on the finish. 91/100

Craggy Range Te Muna Road Sauvignon Blanc 2016 Martinborough, New Zealand
Relatively warm night time temperatures in Martinborough produce Sauvignon that’s usually less punchy than Marlborough. 15-20% is barrel fermented each year, hand harvested and whole bunch pressed. Lovely aromatics here with a tropical passionfruit character. Very lively and expressive on the palate with lovely detail and complexity. Very fruity and vivid with nice crisp lemony acidity backing up the more exotic fruity notes. Really lovely. 92/100

Craggy Range Kidnappers Vineyard Chardonnay 2015 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Silty clay loams near the coast, 30% wild ferment. First crop 2006. Puncheons, 10-15% new, with a little bit of stainless steel too. There’s a toasty, slightly vanilla edge to the nose with lovely pear and peach fruit. Very forward. So fresh and complex on the palate with some toasty, nutty oak backing up bright tangerine and peach notes. There’s a lot of freshness and complexity here, and it has elegance and brightness. 92/100

Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Chardonnay 2015 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Fermented in barriques, with 30% new. Wild ferment. Nice spicy matchstick edge to this. Fresh and complex with real detail and complexity. Citrus with a touch of white peach. Fresh, mineral and complex. 93/100

Craggy Range Te Muna Four 2015 Martinborough, New Zealand
This is a Marcel Deiss-inspired field blend of Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. Winemaker Matt Stafford calls this the chameleon wine because on different days it shows so differently. He destems the Gewurztraminer and leaves it to sit overnight, and then whole bunch presses the rest, there’s a rough rack to older barrels and it’s left to ferment. Wonderful aromatics of lychee, grapes, ripe pears and spice, with a hint of baked apple. The palate is fresh and with sweet fruit but also nice acidity, and it tastes quite dry (just 4 g/l residual sugar in this vintage). There’s a slightly smoky, spicy edge to the fruit. Complex and delicious. 92/100

Craggy Range Te Muna Road Pinot Noir 2015 Martinborough, New Zealand
15-20% whole bunch. Fresh and vivid with lovely detail to the cherry and plum fruit. There’s good structure, a hint of rhubarb, and lovely brightness and intensity. This is still primary and detailed with lovely focus. Nicely complex and bright. 93/100

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Craggy Range Aroha Pinot Noir 2014 Martinborough, New Zealand
First vintage was 2006, after a prestige Pinot was trialled in 2003. This was winemaker Doug Wisor’s favourite lots from Te Muna Road. He’d left some special lots of Pinot on Steve Smith’s desk the Friday before Doug died in a kitesurfing accident. 28% new oak, which is less than there used to be. 50% whole bunch. There’s density and elegance here hand in hand, with fine grained tannins and a touch of oak. Fine red cherries with some tea leaf notes and nice savoury detail complementing the fruit. Has real elegance and presence, and this should develop beautifully. Matt Stafford describes this as ‘the prettiest wine we’ve made.’ 95/100

Craggy Range Aroha Pinot Noir 2013 Martinborough, New Zealand
Complex, meaty, spicy and structured with dense black fruits and some fresh red currant notes, as well as a savoury edgy note lurking under the fruit. Has lovely focus and great concentration, but needs a bit of time to unfurl. Potentially pretty serious. 94/100

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Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2015 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Beautifully peppery and vivid with lovely sweet black cherry fruit, some black pepper and clove, and some lovely grippy tannins under the sweet fruit. This is so drinkable but it also has a more serious side. Very fresh and a bit edgy and wild. So peppery. 93/100

Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah 2014 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
This is the top Syrah from the Gimblett Gravels vineyard, and it mainly comes from Block 14. Smoky, spicy and peppery with lovely dense, sweet black fruits. Delicious stuff: there’s some polish here, but there are edges, too. Dense, concentrated black cherry and blackberry fruit with nice structure. Has a bit of wildness, but also elegance and finesse. Very stylish and brooding. 94/100

Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah 2013 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
This is a dense, structured wine. There’s some lovely floral aromatics, with sweet black cherry and some raspberry. There’s finesse here, and a silkiness to the sweet fruit, but today it is showing a bit of reduction. Give it some time and I think it will be fabulous. 93/100

Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Merlot 2015 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Fresh, vivid and grippy with a bit of spiciness and hints of pepper, as well as a bit of green. Grippy and firm on the palate, and a bit angular. Finishes tannic. 90/100

Craggy Range Te Kahu 2015 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Merlot-dominant blend with some Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. All barrel, about 20% new. Fresh and focused with a lovely gravelly edge to the lovely expressive red and black fruits. It’s really assured and harmonious with midweight fruit working in harmony with the structure. 92/100

Craggy Range Sophia 2014 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Very sophisticated, complex and quite elegant, with sweet, alluring berry fruits and lovely gravel and chalk notes. Pretty, polished and accessible but with some seriousness, too. Lovely with with real focus. The tannins are really well managed here. 94/100

Craggy Range Sophia 2013 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Spicy, grippy and dense with a bit of smokiness with grip and density to the berry fruits. Quite tannic and drying, with real density to it. A big wine that needs more time to show what it’s capable of. Finishes dry and firm. 93/100

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Craggy Range Block 127 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
This is a field blend of Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Syrah. In 2010 they did a young vines selection that blended varieties, but this was a more serious wine inspired by some really good Malbec this vintage. Another one was done in 2015. Floral, fresh and vivid with lovely freshness and a nice green hint. Lovely supple, direct, pure cherry and raspberry fruit drives this wine, and there’s a real elegance to it. So supple and drinkable, yet with some seriousness. 94/100

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On dentists and teeth

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I had a problem. I woke up on Saturday with a nagging ache in my mouth, towards the back, at the left. It wasn’t the sharp pain you’d normally associate with toothache, but it hurt, and when I bit down on the last molar, it was very uncomfortable.

Oh well, I thought, it will go away. I’ll just leave it. The problem is: I was a bit scared. I was due to leave on Wednesday on a trip that would take met to New Zealand, then Australia, then back for a few hours to change clothes and head off again to Vancouver, getting back in the UK on 23 March, and leaving again on another trip on 25. This didn’t leave much time for dental appointments. It simply had to go away.

On Sunday, it was no better. My mouth was very sore and there was clearly something wrong at the back. I wondered what it could be. I concluded that it must be a wisdom tooth growing through, causing the dull ache and general discomfort. I was in big trouble.

On Monday, I called my dentist. There was a slot on Tuesday morning. I had to go: even if it was something that was going to need treatment that I didn’t have time for, I needed to know what I was dealing with. At least then I could plan properly.

I woke up Tuesday morning, and after three days of pain, it was feeling a little bit better. That was reassuring. I headed over to the dentist and prepared to be examined. He asked some questions, dug around a bit, and did an X-ray.

I like my dentist. He’s young, very professional, explains everything, and he knows that I’m a wine taster. When you taste so many wines, you need to have confidence in your teeth. Tasting 100 wines a day, as we do when we are judging, is a real challenge for the mouth. It’s hard enough if all is well, but if your teeth develop sensitivity, then it makes a tough job even harder to do.

So after a bit of deliberation, and a look at the X-ray, he gave me the good news: just a soft tissue infection. He prescribed me antibiotics, and I liked him even more. There would be no problems with the trip.

I popped in an picked up my antibiotics, but rather than head back to the station straight away, I wandered down to the riverside. It was a cold, clear morning where the still air seemed denser than normal. The river was moving slowly, and the light was astonishing: the sort of light you only get on a really cold morning. I was glad of this. I was also glad that nothing was seriously wrong with my mouth, just ahead of a long trip. It had been a scare.

Four affordable Kiwi Pinot Noirs

seresin leah

As I write, I’m at the departure gate waiting to embark on a rather long journey to Kiwi land. So a chance to write up four affordable New Zealand Pinot Noirs I had the other night.

Seresin Leah Pinot Noir 2012 Marlborough, New Zealand
£20 Noel Young, Fareham Wine Cellar, The New Zealand Cellar
13% alcohol
A blend of all three of Seresin’s vineyards, wild fermented, with a long maceration, aged in French oak for 11 months with 15% new oak. A complex, savoury, quite mineral style of Pinot that has fruit but doesn’t let it dominate. There are red cherries, plums, herbs and pepper, with a bit of floral, aromatic lift and a fine, spicy structure. This Pinot shows restraint, elegance, and a slight wild side, with lots of non-fruit complexity. Quite lovely. 93/100

Seresin Momo Organic Pinot Noir 2014 Marlborough, New Zealand
£12.50 The Wine Society
13% alcohol
11 months in old French oak. This is delicious: it’s light, juicy and fruity with a deliciously savoury, meaty, peppery edge to the red cherry and cranberry fruit. This has a lovely savoury twist to it, and a bit of aromatic lift, making it very food friendly. This is a wine with integrity and drinkability, and a little bit of wildness. 91/100

ara pinot noir

Ara Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014 Marlborough, New Zealand
£11.99 Waitrose, but £8.99 until 24 Jan 17
13% alcohol
This is juicy and bright with red cherries, plums and a nice savoury twist. There’s a nice freshness to this wine, and it has real drinkability and food compatibility. There’s some grip, and a hint of pepper, with a crisp, crunchy raspberry edge, as well as a hint of oak. 89/100

The Ned Pinot Noir 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand
£13.99 Majestic, £11.99 mixed six price
13.5% alcohol
This Pinot Noir has lovely floral cherry fruit aromatics, and flavours of spice, redcurrants, cherries and plums. With fruity directness and an appealing, fresh fruity presence, this is utterly more-ish, made in a new world style, and finishing with a bit of oak spice and coffee. Never aims at elegance: this is for those who like a bigger style of Pinot. 89/100

Two affordable Grüner Veltliners

gruner veltliner

I’m a big fan of Grüner Veltliner, Austria’s specialist grape variety. Here are two easily available, affordable examples that deliver some of the personality of this grape.

Domaine Wachau Weissenkirchen Grüner Veltliner Federspiel 2015 Wachau, Austria
£10.99 Majestic, £9.89 mix six price
12.5% alcohol
This is nicely aromatic with floral citrus fruits, coupled with some trademark white pepper that’s typical of this grape variety. It has nice, smooth, dry, textured fruit. A really tasty wine with lovely purity and focus. 90/100

Markus Huber Grüner Veltliner Single Estate 2015 Traisental, Austria
£10.79 Waitrose
12.5% alcohol
There’s a lovely fruity quality to this wine, which shows citrus and white pepper characters. There’s also a bit of white peach and yellow plum richness, and it finishes dry and crisp. 90/100

Wines of the year (9) the rest

continogranreserva

So, my final round-up of wines of the year, 2016. So many good bottles, of which this long series has highlighted just a few.

Contino Gran Reserva 2009 Rioja, Spain
We tried this from bottle and magnum. I preferred the bottle (the magnum will probably be better in time), and this is the one I took the note from. Concentrated, sweetly fruited and bold with smooth autumnal fruits. Spice, black cherries, warm herbs, tobacco. Lovely fine-grained tannic structure with superb balance and potential for further development. 95/100

meinklangkonkret

Meinklang Konkret Rot 2012 Burgenland, Austria
13% alcohol. This is a varietal Saint Laurent, fermented and aged in 900 litre concrete eggs for 12 months. It’s aromatic and floral with lifted raspberry and cranberry fruit. So floral and focused, with a little bit of sweetness from the subtly elevated volatile acidity. The palate has amazing texture and concentration of smooth, sweet black cherry and blackberry fruit. Concentrated and quite profound, with purity and texture, and a grainy, mineral, slightly chalky edge. 95/100

BK Wines Gower Pinot Noir 2014 Adelaide Hills, Australia
Beautifully aromatic and textural with fine sappy notes and sweet cherries and plums. This wine has lovely density with a core of rich but balanced fruit and a lively, juicy finish. Tight and delicious. 95/100

tolpuddle pinot noir

Tolpuddle Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014 Tasmania, Australia
This is youthful, unusual and quite beautiful. Lively peppery, spicy nose has a hint of ginger and some wildly aromatic herbal notes. Distinctive. The palate is juicy and vivid with really fresh, focused cherry and raspberry fruit and very fine spicy notes. Lovely sappy elegance here: youthful and quite beautiful. 95/100

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Yarra Yering Dry Red No 1 2014 Yarra Valley, Australia
From a vineyard planted in 1969, this is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot. 13.5% alcohol. Brooding blackberry and black cherry nose with a tiny hint of mint. Lovely presence on the palate with fresh, concentrated black fruits and a touch of nice green. Lovely elegance coupled with firm structure. Pure and serious. 95/100

Chateau Ste Michelle and Dr Loosen Eroica Single Berry Select Riesling 2007 Washington State
7.5% alcohol. Incredibly concentrated and intense. Viscous and raisiny with lovely citrus drive and intense apricot and peach notes. Stunning stuff: really concentrated but with balancing freshness and nice spiciness. Sensational. 96/100

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