From the cellar

Glenguin Individual Vineyard 1998 Semillon Hunter Valley

Fabulous. A wine that initially retailed for around $18 (less by the case), the last bottle I had was around eight or nine years ago and was still lean and mean. I opened this bottle last night, slightly chilled, and it showed some of the creamy, toasty personality of aged Hunter Semillon. Since we couldn’t finish the bottle, I vacuvinned the wine overnight, now it is just starting to show some of those smoky, minerally notes of old Hunter. Not a big, weighty wine, firm acid on the finish, but that peacock tail, breadth of flavour, on the palate just magic. Lovely.

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After a while, you can work on points for style

One of the highlights of this year’s Central Otago Pinot Celebration came on the final morning. Earlier editions of the Celebration had apparently incorporated a feature tasting of a major overseas Pinot Noir region. This year it was the turn of the Willamette Valley, Oregon.

All of these wines were donated by the producers. So a huge “Thank You” upfront to them. Generally speaking, few Oregon Pinots Noir are available in New Zealand, though this was not always the case. It used to possible to buy Domaine Drouhin here, albeit that this was in their nascent years. And I was fortunate to be able to try Adelsheim and Archery Summit here courtesy of winemaking friends. While another friend, who did a little wine importing from the States, was able to source some of the early vintages of Beaux Freres.


Back to the tasting in Queenstown. I had already tasted at least a couple of these wines previously. In May 2017, I was very very fortunate to gain a place on the Institute of Masters of Wine study tour to Washington and Oregon. If you are talking Pinot Noir in Oregon, mostly you are talking about the Willamette Valley, just south of Portland. There is Pinot grown outside the Willamette, but it is early days yet. And within the Willamette Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area) there are six distinct sub AVAs: Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, Yamhill-Carlton, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge, and Chehalem Mountains. There are proposals for further sub AVAs within the Willamette, most notably that of the Van Duzer Corridor, a subregion near a gap in the western ranges that lets cool air in from the Pacific.

One of the most interesting tastings we had last May was a blind tasting designed to highlight the differences between the six AVAs, if there are any. My take home was that, yes, some of the AVA characters are more distinctive than others, certainly the more established wineries highlight those between AVA differences more than newer producers (and I may expand on this in a future post.)

The tasting in Queenstown however was not blind and, apart from wine eight, locale was not a major topic for discussion. The wines were served in two flights of four wines each, with a lengthy analysis moderated by Elaine Chukan Brown (a Sonoma based writer) and two winemakers, Adam Campbell of Elk Cove and Sam Tannahill who, in conjunction with his wife, owns the Francis Tannahill label, but also makes wine for Rex Hill and A to Z Wineworks. Unfortunately Josh Bergstrom of Bergstrom Wines was not able to make it to Otago due to illness.

Chukan Brown characterised Flight 1 as representing “where Oregon has come from”, whereas Flight 2 as “where Oregon is going to”. If that is so, then the choice is very clear for me. The first flight was the more impressive, all four wines show great typicite, while still, each in their own way, representing the winemaker’s own style. Hence the Eyrie has a lightness and elegance, whereas Bergstrom shows more power and intensity.

Though some of the wines in the second flight are potentially more controversial, there was one wine that I was especially impressed by, but generally the quality was uneven, the winemaking less sure of itself.


Flight 1

Eyrie Outcrop Pinot Noir 2014 (Dundee Hills)

Heightened berry aromatics, underpinned with a delicate forest floor tone, and just a whiff of spice. Nice bright acidity, the tannins are sinewy, but the overall palate impression is of a silky texture, framed in a taut, lithe structure. A precise, focussed wine with years ahead of it. Beautiful. If you ever get the opportunity to taste Eyrie Pinot – grab it immediately.


Elk Cove Mount Richmond Pinot Noir 2014 (Yamhill-Carlton)

A big switch up, this is dark, dense, brooding, a solid, intense style, displaying sweet fruit, still very tight however. That fruit richness (rhubarb? plum?) also evident in the mouth, which is meaty and gamey, so starting to show some secondary development, but a strong, powerful wine needing another year or two to fully hit its straps.


Bergstrom Silice Pinot Noir 2015 (Chehalem Mountains)

Very primary fruit, rich cherry or blueberry, an attractive sweet and sour element here, but accompanied with a dusty, warm note. Hints at reduction, this is a very youthful wine, the palate full and powerful, slightly unyielding in terms of flavour, however boasting a gorgeous silky texture. I would love to see this fascinating wine in another two or three years (later I noted the Bergstrom was sealed with a Diam 10 – as was a bottle of JJ Confuron I opened recently – I will have more to say about closure choice in future posts.)


Francis Tannahill The Hermit Pinot Noir 2014 (Dundee Hills)

Another unevolved, tight wine, concentrated wine, again dense and concentrated, perhaps showing more of a forest floor, earthy complexity, the fruit more in the dusty, dark berry spectrum. Linear and tight in the mouth, the key word here is restraint, while there is masses of rich, spicy fruit, the combined impression is of a structured, taut wine that needs time to open out. Impressive.


Flight 2

Brooks Janus Pinot Noir 2014 (Willamette Valley)

A wild, sauvage character on the nose, lots of secondary development, this is earthy and savoury, rustic and smoky. More of the fruit shows through in the mouth, which is plummy and spicy, accompanied by svelte tannins. A complex, savoury wine which one of my winemaking friends labelled “A grab bag of winemaking faults”, but still enjoyable, not polished, but textural and funky.


Antica Terra Antikythera Pinot Noir 2014 (Eola-Amity Hills)

The nose here shows sweetness and richness, reminiscent of old school Central Pinot, or perhaps even some Californian Pinots Noir, ripe, berryish and firm structured, with dark chocolate characters and uncomplicated, primary fruit. Some commentators complimented this wine on its “spontaneity” but I get totally the opposite impression, certainly it is intense, but also chunky, a little simple and four square.


Walter Scott Sojourner Pinot Noir 2015 (Eola-Amity Hills)

Delicate, perfumed nose here, floral and nuanced. Relatively unevolved in the mouth, some juicy strawberry fruit and chewy yet fine tannins. The texture is both svelte and elegant at the same time. A tight, youthful wine, pretty and polished, the most impressive of the second flight (that winemaking mate questioned whether this was “too pristine” – guess you cannot have it both ways!)


Day Johan Vineyards Pinot Noir 2015 (Willamette Valley)

Deep colour, there is a confected, pastille quality to the fruit, spice and cherry liqueur characters, another upfront, fruity, unevolved style. But the palate is lighter than the others, fresher, some lean tannins and sappy grip. This site is in one of the coolest spots in the Willamette Valley, close to the Van Duzer Corridor – reflected in the shape and personality of the wine.

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The wines of Cantina Terlano

The church at Tramin / Termeno

In September 2013, I was very fortunate to secure a spot on the first official visit of the Institute of Masters of Wine to the Sudtirol, or Alto Adige. The Alto Adige is a semi autonomous region in northern Italy, bordering Switzerland and Austria, and this alpine territory boasts some unique and special wines, including two rather unique red varieties as well as some of the headiest Gewurztraminers in the world.

There are several theories as to the origin of Gewurztraminer, generally they all trace back to northeast France or southwest Germany, but the name in part invokes the town of Tramin in the heart of Alto Adige wine country and we visited that pretty little town on one September morning, where I was able to stand in the middle of an experimental Gewurztraminer vineyard (over a dozen different clones of the variety, each row a different clone), just a few steps from the church bell tower, which started chiming while I walked around the vineyard.

One of the other places we visited, albeit only briefly for a meal, was the beautiful winery of Cantina Terlano. During the few days in Sudtirol we did get to taste several wines from the company, including a sensational Chardonnay that had spent nearly eighteen years on lees prior to bottling.

Alto Adige is not only a beautiful part of Italy, it also produces some of the world’s most unique wines.

It was such a pleasure then to find out that upmarket distributor Macvine has imported several Terlano wines, and they are all, in their own way, worth checking out:

Cantina Terlan ‘Tradition’ Pinot Grigio 2016 $38

This has a fabulous nose, rich and generous, as many people claim Pinot Gris to be, but genuinely this shows stonefruit characters, an earthy, secondary component, even a whiff of yeast lees. In the moth, the wine is creamy and spicy, with great phenolic persistance. A star.

Cantina Terlan ‘Tradition’ Chardonnay 2016 $35

A savoury, nutty, low oak (or no oak) version of Chardonnay which is all about the texture and not about the fruit. Medium weight, but creamy and lush, a wine to enjoy on its own, or with antipasto.

Cantina Terlan ‘ Tradition’ Gewurztraminer 2016 $38

A tight, restrained, delicately flavoured wine, which boasts lychee and stonefruit characters, but otherwise is relatively pure and fresh. The texture is supple – the phenolics here more restrained than you would get on some local versions (i.e. NZ), just off dry, though there is a generous kick of alcohol on the back palate (at 14.5% this is ‘mid range’ for a Sudtirol Gewurz, nothing remarkable there.) Classy, focussed example of this variety, quite different in style (to NZ etc etc etc.)

Nursery vineyard of Gewuztraminer – Tramin / Termeno

Cantina Terlan ‘Selection’ Nova Domus Riserva 2014 $85

Macvine’s exuberant owner Michael Jemison challenged me to unpick the varieties in this wine – and I got pretty close, Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay and something aromatic and unusual, said I. That third variety is Sauvignon Blanc and this is a very special drop. Gorgeous aromatics, I got sea salt, a minerally undertone, plus that herbal lift from the Sauvignon. The palate is juicy and creamy, lots of things going on here, and a fresh finish to keep it all together. Impressive.

Cantina Terlan ‘ Tradition’ Lagrein 2016 $35

The reds of the Alto Adige are really interesting.

The area produces fabulous Pinot Noir, but also two local varieties, Lagrein and Schiava, provide fascinating flavours that suit the cuisine and the lifestyle. I really enjoy Schiava – and it would be nice to see a few more in this country – but for now we have to be content with Lagrein, which is the Merlot or Cab Sauv of that part of the world. Lagrein has been enlisted to do everything, from rose, to entry level red, right up to the oaked, ageworthy, vin de garde styles. There was a mania for Lagrein in Australian some years ago, but then people stopped planting it and we stopped seeing the wines being promoted.

This one has that typical sweet and sour nose of Lagrein, currants combined with a green, herbal edge, there is even a salty, smoky element here. To taste, the wine is plummy and savoury, a nice, clean, uncomplicated ready to drink version, yet still with enough power to handle that red meat course. Very varietal – really good intro to this variety.

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A Message to You, Rudi (Central Otago Pinot Celebration Day 2… and a chunk of Day 3 as well)

Our day concluded with winemaker dinners, at different restaurants all around Queenstown and, once again, I lucked in. I got Rudi Bauer, mind behind Quartz Reef wines, as my host.

As we were walking away from the hotel, he caught up beside me and said, “Paul, you know everything, right? I have a question for you.”

I couldn’t help laughing because the evening before I had told one of my colleagues, who does not seem to have a sense of humour (why does our wine industry attract people with no sense of irony) that I was really pleased to have found somebody who knows more about wine than me.

Look, I was just making this up – I know nothing, really – but I was teasing this person and having a bit of fun. A joke – ok???

So Rudi’s question really came at the right time (thanks, mate.) And, yes, I did know the answer (and it was not strictly about wine, though it was about our industry.)

Rudi is an amazing guy. I have not seen him in years, and here he was wearing a loud Hawaiian shirt. We were off to Blue Kanu, a Pasifica themed restaurant, where we all had to wear flowers (I put mine behind my ear) and there was a traditional Maori greeting and lots of silly speeches.

I got up and gave my Mihi for the very first time in public. This was daunting – I have only done five Te Reo lessons, so still early days yet. But as I told fellow MW Madeleine Strenwerth, a glass or two of wine would set me right, and it did. I am conscious that I was a guest of the Pinot Celebration, and there were a lot of media guests, whereas there were everyday wine lovers there who had paid a lot of money to attend. So I was only able to give my thanks to a very select few, but truly, I would like to pass on heartfelt thanks to all 34 wineries who paid for my attendance at this year’s Central Otago Pinot Celebration.

At the end of the night, our hostess sang Pokarekare Ana and I should have got up and helped. She only did verse 1 and did it two times, so not too hard.

But Rudi, Chris from Gibbston and I retired to an awesome sushi bar/restaurant called Kappa, which was a cool, little piece of Japan in downtown Queenstown. I spent far too long there than I should have (but now we are talking about Day 3…) and met an impressive young somm called Candice Chow, who had just finished service at the Josh Emmett place, Rata. So glad that I hung around with the owner of Kappa – got two new friends out of this experience.

I highly recommend Kappa if you are ever in Queenstown. The winelist is small, but nicely proportioned – the owner kept saying to me that he was not sure about it, but we went through it (thoroughly) and, for the style of cuisine and considering the context of neighbouring eateries, this is a very solid list.

Most importantly the food at Kappa is exceptional.

Footnote – for the benefit of any confusion, Central Otago Pinot paid for one of my flights between Auckland and Queenstown (I organised the other myself, so I could attend the Roger Waters concert) and paid for accommodation while the Celebration was on – everything else I paid for myself

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Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration – more on Day 2 and a note for readers

I am going to be bouncing around a bit for the next few posts. Which means I will be jumping back to Day 1 at some point, but trust me, that will not matter.

What some may not realise is that much of this blog up until this point has been written on an iPhone, not a computer. This makes it very tough to write up large tastings and give them space (also means that Auto correct invariably created typos – thank you Apple!) Over the next week however due to some changes at home and some holidays, I will be able to devote more time to the blog and hopefully you will see some enhancements.

The morning of Day 2 included a fascinating walk around tasting made up of all 34 participating wineries. Each was allowed to show two Pinots Noir – a couple of producers snuck in a third (you know who you are!) By and large the wines were solid across the board. One of my criticisms of Otago Pinot in the past is that there have been major inconsistencies, four or five top producers, a bunch of OK ones in the middle and some wines that seem to lack finess. After this tasting however, I can say that there are fewer of the latter and that as far as top producers go there are now perhaps ten or twelve really top end producers of this variety, maybe more.

Note that not all of Central was represented here. There was at least one of my favourite producers who was not here this year. Whether that be for cost or lack of available wine who knows.

The other criticism that I have had in the past is that many wines tasted the same (often hailing from central wine processing plants) and that levels of extraction outweighed both the amount and the tone of the fruit coming out of the vineyard. Again there have been massive improvements in this area. We are seeing the vineyard clearer now. And the other wonderful thing about this tasting was that some wineries chose to show some of their cool experimental wines, but more on that later.

The organisers did a great job here. A nice large, cool cellar hall, roomy enough (though some people did hang around by the stalls, making it hard to taste efficiently) but there was just enough time to get around all the stalls.

Except I got waylaid by the nibbles…

Also a fantastic morning tea – the Paua frittata was amazing, as were the Pinot Rose Lavender Lamingtons (do we need the recipe???) And outside they had arranged a coffee caravan, with two hip young dudes pulling Allpress. I had brought my Keep Cup down from Auckland – but left it back at the motel this day.

I don’t normally do this – but I had three long blacks.

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Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration – Day 2 continued

After an outstanding walk around tasting at Amisfield winery, and an even more outstanding morning tea, we were all split up to go to different wineries.

I think I lucked in – always wanted to see the cave at Gibbston Valley, and sure enough that is where we ended up.

Absolute scorcher outside, inside it was fabulous, cool and ethereal. And we entered loaded up. Flutes of méthode, with either freshly shucked oysters or little slabs of terrine/rillettes.

Chris, the winemaker at Gibbston Valley gave a beautiful welcome speech and this was followed with a karakia, by way of some waiata.

Chris’s wife was trained in opera singing, but she started with a traditional folk song from her country of birth, but followed up with the famous Puccini aria, “O mio babbino caro”, from Gianni Schicchi.

Absolutely amazing.

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Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration – Day 2

There were officially meant to be 68 wines. But there were actually 73 wines in the room. Some of the wines ran out… And Unfortunately I didn’t get to five wineries, so I got to taste and write notes on some 60 wines, which was a pretty good effort IMHO.

There were lots of highlights during this tasting, not least were the two talented baristas in a caravan out front. But more on this over coming days.

For first impressions, I thought that I would focus on the three NON Otago wines in the room.

So lucky to have two superstars from Oregon represented.

Elk Cove Vineyards Reserve Pinot Noir 2012 Willamette Valley

This is still a juicy, fruity wine, dark cherry, plum, but also showing some meaty, savoury development. Very pretty wine, more elegant than some, the elegant end of the Willamette spectrum, but with Lovely svelte, supple tannins. Impressive.

The next two fascinating wines exhibit the diversity within a very small distance in one Oregon sub region (two miles apart, I think?)

Rex Hill Jacob-Heart Estate Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2015

An old cliché but a goodie “Iron first in velvet glove”, this is a brooding, muscular Pinot, saturated berry fruit, full, generous, but also incredibly youthful.

Rex Hill Shea Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2014

What a seductive nose, warm, inviting, complex, I detected still some oak integrating, but a lovely generosity on the palate, finer structured than the previous wine, but still very, very impressive. A “wine critic’s wine”, but hey I am a wine critic, I LOVE THIS!!!

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