So I’m having such a fun and intense time here in New Zealand, I’m finding it hard to blog every day. But here goes. Sunday saw the final day of the Pinot Noir celebration and it began with a grand Burgundy tasting, chaired by Nick Mills of Rippon, with celebrity guest Aubert de Villane of Domaine de la Romanee Conti. There were six Burgundies to taste, and the final two in particular, a pair of Echezeaux, were stunning to the point of being moving.
The tasting was followed by lunch: we split into several groups and each headed to a different restaurant in town. Mine was Botswana, and the lunch was long and delicious.
It was a beautiful day and I was in danger of getting fat, so time for a nice long run along the shores of Lake Wakatipu. This blew away a few cobwebs, and set me up nicely for the grand dinner, held up at the top of the world in the skyline restaurant, which you access via a cable car. The buzz here was lovely: everyone brought along nice bottles of wine to share with their table.
John Hawkesby conducting the charity auction
Blair Walter and Nigel Greening
Ralph Kyte Powell
Jane Parkinson and Tim Kerruish
And, of course, the stunning view of Queenstown and the Remarkables.
After dinner we headed into town, and kept going until the early hours, and then a bit beyond that. It had been a memorable event.
Day 4 of my visit was a long, enjoyable one. We began with a drive out to the lovely Northburn station, just out of Cromwell. This was to be the setting for the grand tasting of Central Otago Pinot Noir, with 40 wineries showing two wines each: current release plus an older bottle. This was a brilliantly thought out tasting. It was busy and bustling, but there was no problem accessing wines or spittoons, largely because of the lack of tables – instead, wineries each had their bottles on an upturned barrel. And chair of the celebration Jenn Parr kicked things off by singing Janis Joplin. Remarkable. This is a bit of a rogues gallery. Above we have John Harris and Marilyn Duxson, ex-research scientists whose label is Maori Point. 2012 was a really good, fresh wine. Domenic Mondillo knows how to smile for the camera. The 2012 Mondillo is a lovely warm, ripe style. Andrew Hawker, son of Warwick and Jenny Hawker, has returned from studying enology and will begin making the wines at the family property Pisa Range. The 2006 was showing really beautifully, and 12 is good too. Paul Pujol’s Prophet’s Rock wines really impressed. The current release is sleek, textured and mineral and was one of the wines of the tasting. Here’s Central legend Rudi Bauer with Toronto-based Christopher Waters. The Quartz Reef 2012 is one of Rudi’s best. So pure and fine. What can I say about Nick Mills, and his incredible Rippon wines? Nick looks for what he calls ‘tonic’ qualities in the wine, and the Rippon 2011 is just so textured and vital. 2004 from magnum was quite profound. Marlborough-based Tom Hutchison was showing his Rockferry wines. These are concentrated and quite structured Pinots from the Trig Hill vineyard in Bendigo. Claudio Heye’s Surveyor Thomspon wines are quite delicious, with supple, bright, spicy personality. This was my first time trying the Terra Sancta wines, which come from three vineyards in Bannockburn. I really like them. Pictured above, owners Mark Weldon and Sarah Elliot. Grant Taylor is another Central Legend. Seek out his 2012 Valli Gibbston Vineyard and buy as much as you can. He has toyed a little with reduction and got it just right. Matt Connell’s Akarua wines showed well, supple and stylish, balancing richness and freshness. Lucie Lawrence named the Madeleine Pinot Noir after her daughter, and it’s 100% whole bunch. There’s stemmy spiciness and some nice finesse to the 2012 and it will age in an interesting way, I reckon. Marquis Sauvage of Burn Cottage. What a dude. Ted Lemon, Burn Cottage. Top man. Superb wines, juggling richness and elegance in a seamless whole. The tippy tappy brigade. Brookesey, Stocky and Peter Moser. Then it was time for lunch. We were all split up into groups, each going to different wineries. I was off to Mount Maude in Wanaka. This was a great setting: a beautiful vineyard I’d never been to before, and great people. The food was fabulous, as was the company. We ended up back in Queenstown with just a 20 minute turn-around before leaving for another party. This was a celebration at Jack’s Point, a stunning resort and golf course in the shadow of The Remarkables. Lots of wine (including some lovely older bottles of Central wine) and lots of banter. I made the wise choice to go to bed when we got back to Queenstown, despite the siren calls of my chums.
This is turning into a very good trip. Day three began with two visits. The first was at Grasshopper Rock, with Phil Handford. Phil lives in Hamilton, and has a background in agricultural banking, He found the perfect vineyard in Alexandra (the picture above is Clyde, the main town here), and now makes 4000 cases a year of just Pinot Noir from this site. It was my first time in this subdistrict.
We tried all the wines, back to the first vintage. He only makes one wine, which is a sensible strategy, and it’s priced about $10 dollars cheaper than its peers (in the UK it is £20 from Naked Wines), which makes it a total bargain.
Every vintage is good, but a particular standout is the 2010. 2011 is really good, in a slightly lighter style, and when the 2012 is released later this year, I think I will buy some. Pictured above: Phil, one of his rows with leaf plucking in the fruit zone, and a sunburned bunch.
Then it was off to see Steve Davies, in Bannockburn, whose label is Doctors Flat. Steve has a lot of experience as a winemaker, a lot of it gained in the USA, and then with Carrick in Central Otago. He bought a 15 hectare property at 300 m elevation, and has planted 3 ha with vines. The vineyard is managed organically, with every 10th row planted with flowers to encourage beneficial insects.
His wines are really great, with the 2011 and 2012 in particular showing real elegance and precision. He makes the wine at Mount Difficulty and then brings the barrels up to a container he’s parked on his property, and then takes the barrels to VinPro for blending and bottling. It’s an ingenious move.
After a drive back to Queenstown, it was time for the Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration to begin, with a special tasting of selected 2012 wines. This was really good, and demonstrated just how smart 2012 is as a vintage here. I liked all the wines, but it was particularly interesting to taste two interpretations of the same vineyard: Steve’s Doctors Flat, and Grant Taylor’s Valli Bannockburn, also made from the Doctors Flat vineyard. Steve’s was lighter and more expressive, while Grant’s had a bit more flesh. Both were fantastic. Pictured below: Blair Walter (Felton Road) and Grant Taylor, at the tasting.
An early start, time for a 7 am run around the lake in Queenstown, through the botanic gardens. You can just keep on going for as far as you want, and it’s a really beautiful place to run. So much better than squelching through the winter mud. Then a shower, packing belongings, and off to Cromwell with Stephen Farquharson of Wooing Tree (above).
We stopped off for some cherries on the way (Central Otago is famous for them) and had a quick look at the new motor racing circuit (Highlands – www.highlands.co.nz), before a brilliant tasting looking at all the Pinot Noirs that Wooing Tree have produced to date (2005 was the first vintage here). Then it was off to Bendigo, to visit Folding Hill with Tim Kerruish.
Tim is a medic, an ex-pat Brit, who is based in Dunedin. His 4 hectare vineyard is beautifully situated and he’s making some pretty serious wines in relatively small quantities. Once again, we looked at all the Pinots ever made here, going back to 2007.
The 2012 regular Pinot and the 2011 Orchard Block (from a special part of the vineyard next to Tim’s small cider apple orchard) were mind-blowingly good.
Next up, Mount Difficulty, one of the larger producers in the region, with Matt Dicey (above). They’re in the Bannockburn sub-district, and we had a look at the Long Gully vineyard, planted in 1992, as well as heading up to their irrigation pond for a view across the whole of Bannockburn. In terms of tasting, we once again went back in time to 2007: the regular Pinot is ageing in a beautifully elegant, linear direction. The Long Gully 2008 and 2011 were sensationally good, as was the Growers Series Packspur Vineyard 2011, from a high vineyard in Lowburn.
And Lowburn was the site of the next visit. Lowburn Ferry is the vineyard owned by Roger and Jean Gibson. We tried all the Pinots to date, back to 2003. They have aged beautifully, with 2003 and 2005 (2004 was frosted so no wine) in really good shape. Of recent vintages, 2010, 2012 and 2013 (a barrel sample) were all superb.
The wines are made by Peter Bartle(pictured above) at VinPro, one of the two large contract winemaking facilities in the region. This is another interesting story about Central: the availability of top quality contract winemaking has really helped with quality here. The evening saw an informal gathering at Wooing Tree, with several local winemakers joining a bunch of international guests for a spot of dinner. Pictured below is Denis Marshall of Hawkshead together with Becky Potez who is with Prophet’s Rock.
I arrived in Queenstown late Tuesday morning, and I wasn’t feeling too bad. The flight down from Auckland was a beautiful one: you need to get a window seat on the left of the plane (which I did), and then you enjoy superb views of the alps and the fabulous descent into Queenstown airport.
I checked into my hotel and showered, leaving an hour spare before my pick-up. So I wandered into town, bought a couple of bottles of craft ale and went and sat by the lake. It was stunning. Then it was off to Gibbston Valley for a quick lunch and a tasting of some of the single vineyard Pinots with winemakers Christopher Keys and Sascha Herbert.
Christopher is a keen photographer, and I must admit a bit of camera envy: his new toy is the gorgeously retro Nikon DF, which has to be the most beautiful DSLR ever made.
The wines were really superb, with the 2012s excelling. I love the house style at Gibbston Valley: these are proper wines, demonstrating precision and elegance. The older vintages are also lovely (I really like 2007 Le Maitre), but the 2012 China Terrace, Le Maitre and Glenlee were all fabulous young wines, the latter two coming from Gibbston, a subregion that is capable of greatness, although it doesn’t necessarily get there every year.
Alan Brady, the founder and previous owner, happened to be around and he joined us to taste some of the wines, which was a nice touch. He made the first commercial wine of the modern era in the region, in 1987. He is the Maitre,and the vines for this wine are now 30 years old.
Second visit was with Rob Hay (right) at Chard Farm, and his winemaker John Wallace. Rob came here in 1985 and was Alan Brady’s first winemaker. He started Chard Farm in 1987, planting the first of his vineyards, a couple of hectares, in the home block at Gibbston.
Three single vineyard Pinots are made here, and they’re all really good. The house style seems to be one of freshness, which is a good thing, with the 2012s all looking very good. We did a mini vertical of two of the single vineyard wines: the Viper and the Tiger. I liked both the 2012s a great deal, and it was great to taste the 2005 Tiger, which is beginning to develop in a really attractive way, with warm spicy complexity.
I had a free evening, so I decided I had to stay up until normal bedtime so I could then sleep through. It was beautifully sunny and the colours were all vivid, so I visited a bottle shop, chose a Pinot (the Peregrine 2011 for $44 caught my eye), and found a secluded spot on the lake front, sat and had a couple of contemplative glasses. How I saw myself: aesthete drinking sophisticated Pinot in a beautiful setting. How bypassers saw me: sad drunk drinking in public.
A selfie wine tasting of seven good value Austrian wines. This tasting reminded me how much I really like Austrian wine.
As you all know by now, I am a big fan of Portuguese wines, and particularly of the Douro region. It is such a cool place. Of late, I have neglected Portugal a bit. I’m not sure why. Maybe it is because so many other journos are focusing their attention there it has made it harder to be able to tell stories that haven’t already been told. But Portugal will always have a special place in my heart (does this sound cheesy?). It is just so characterful and unique: one of the world’s great wine countries. And if you consider the amount of agricultural land given over to viticulture, Portugal is the world’s leading wine country!
This pair of Douro wines were sent to me to taste by Quinta do Judeu. It’s a Douro Quinta that has not been on too many peoples’ radars, but the wines are pretty good. They’d be candidates for cellaring: both are currently youthful and tight. They are made in quite an Italian style, which is better than those Douro wines made in a new world style with lots of lush fruit and new oak.
Quinta do Judeu Branco 2012 Douro, Portugal
A blend including Viosinho, Malvasia Fina, Rabigato and others. Ripe, rich and textured with grapes, herbs, citrus and pear fruit. This is a rich white but it is still fresh with some grapefruit pith on the finish. Broad, intense and fruit dominated. 89/100
Quinta do Judeu 2012 Douro, Portugal
From 15+ varieties, with the most significant being Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Amarela. Foot trodden in lagares. Savoury, spicy notes on the nose with some chocolate and vanilla, as well as som subtle balsamic notes. Perfumed, floral and taut. The palate shows sweet raspberry, red cherry and plum fruit with a keen, savoury, spicy edge and some grippy structre. High acidity. Bright and not too heavy, but not lacking concentration either. 91/100
I love New Zealand Pinot Noir. When I was beginning my journey into wine, back in the early 1990s, it was a Kiwi Pinot that first switched me on to this wonderful variety. I was hooked by the heartbreak grape.
As last year’s Pinot Noir 2013 event demonstrated, there’s an awful lot of really good Pinot coming from New Zealand, ranging from deliciously drinkable more commercial bottlings to serious fine wines. It’s no longer necessary (or helpful) to keep comparing it with Burgundy.
So I decided to write an extended report, or e-book, on New Zealand Pinot. It contains some introductory chat, on topics such as questions of style, vine age, regionality, clones and also a brief history of Pinot in New Zealand. And then the focus is on wines: 85 producers and 255 wines are reviewed. It is 115 pages long.
I’m not claiming this is the last word on Kiwi Pinot. It’s just the perspective of one person, who drinks and tastes wines from all over the world on a regular basis, and as with any taster, you may agree or disagree with my perspective. But I hope that it is of interest to those who also love New Zealand Pinot, or those who are beginning to journey on this road.
The e-book is available now for US$10, which works out on today’s exchange rates at Euro 7.30, £6, NZ$12 and AUS$11.50.
Because I am in a generous mood, I’m going to offer readers of this blog 20% off the purchase price: use the code 761112 at the checkout to get this discount.
It is also now available on Amazon Kindle, priced slightly lower at US$9 or equivalent, but there’s no discount coupon for this.
Search on your local amazon site to find it. Alternatively, some of the locations are below:
One of the most interesting encounters I had at today’s Liberty Wine tasting was with Armenia, the land-locked country hemmed in by Georgia, Ajerbaijan, Iran and Turkey. This broader area is widely regarded to be the birthplace of wine, and the wine in question that I tasted today is Zorah’s now famous Karasi.
I had a look at the first vintage of this wine, the 2010, back in June 2012, and was impressed. I’m even more impressed with this, the 2011. And in two months the 2012 will be released, and from the chat I had today with owner/founder Zorik Gharibian and his wife Yeraz Tomassians (pictured above), I think I’ll like that even better.
The story is a great one. Gharibian, a fashion guy from Milan, had a vineyard fantasy. He thought about Italy, but then realized it would be far cooler (and more challenging) to go back to his ancestral land, Armenia, to do the vineyard fantasy. He took his time, did his research, and then found the perfect spot: virgin land near the small rural village of Rind in the heart of Vayotz Dzor, the top wine region in the country. The site is at 1400 m surrounded by mountains, and Gharibian planted 15 hectares of vines from cuttings of old vine Areni Noir, the top native red variety. Assisted by consultant winemaker Alberto Antonini, the first wine was made in 2010, using a mixture of stainless steel, barrels, concrete fermenters and a few amphorae.
With the 2012, Gharibian is changing the style a little. ‘We want the full terroir to speak,’ he says. To this end, he’s moving away from stainless steel and small barrels towards concrete and large Slavonian casks. Of the 2012, Gharibian thinks it’s better than the 2011.
But there are more exciting developments. ‘I have found a semi-abandoned vineyard at 1650 metres, 250 metres higher than this one,’ he says. ‘The vines are centuries old, with huge trunks.’ He adds that, ‘the hardest part is to get there.’ From these ancient vines of Areni Noir, he has made a new wine, beginning in 2012, which will be released – if all goes to plan – next year. ‘It has more minerality, more spices and more herbs,’ he says of this developing wine.
He’s also been working with white indigenous varieties that he’s been able to identify. ‘We started with 10 and have now narrowed this down to four.’ The wine from this project might be released in 2016 if things progress as planned. ‘It goes on a slow pace,’ says Gharibian. ‘All we have to look to is the 6000 year old cave next to us,’ he says, referring to the Areni 1 archaeological site which is the oldest evidence of human commercial winemaking activity yet found.
Zorah Karasi Areni Noir 2011 Armenia
Very fresh, bright, vivid and pure with good acidity and fine, expressive cherry and red berry fruit. Supple and fine, this has sweet fruit but it is fresh and structured with lovely purity. Such a stylish wine showing great definition. 93/100 (RRP £22.99 UK agent Liberty Wines)
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