Tasting Reviews

Bannock Brae Central Otago Pinot Noir 2014 – 2002

Wine writer and educator Joelle Thomson led a fascinating vertical tasting of Bannock Brae Pinot Noir, with the flagship ‘Barrel Selection’ wine from 2014 back to 2002. The tasting offered six vintages of these plus the 2015 vintage of the ‘Goldfields’ second label as a pre-taster. The tasting came about from Joelle’s move from Auckland, back to Wellington, during which she came across an older vintage of Bannock Brae ‘Barrel Selection’ wine. She drank it and thoroughly enjoyed it, wondering what other vintages would taste like. Contacting Bannock Brae’s proprietors Crawford and Catherine Brown, they came up with a vertical tasting spanning a dozen years. Joelle presented the wines at Regional Wines, in Wellington. She did so with real competence and I count myself fortunate to have attended, tasting history in motion, and seeing the benefits of bottle-age. www.joellethomson.com www.regionalwines.co.nz

The Browns and Bannock Brae
Crawford and Catherine Brown founded Bannock Brae when they purchased 8 ha of land on Cairnmuir Road in Bannockburn and planted Pinot Noir and Riesling in 1998 under the advice of Robin Dicey. Their first commercial vintage was in 2001, with Matt Dicey making the wines. The Browns diversified their range by creating two tiers of Pinot Noir, the flagship being the ‘Barrel Selection’, and the second label ‘Goldfields’. Both Pinot Noir labels have been well-awarded on the show circuit, and the impression is that Bannock Brae is disproportionally successful for its tiny size. The Browns have downsized their vineyard as time has progressed, selling to their neighbour Akarua, and now comfortably manage around 2 ha of vines, which includes some Gruner Veltliner, planted in 2008
Over the years, the Browns have had different winemakers involved, including Peter Bartle, Matt Connell, Sarah-Kate Dineen, with Jen Parr the current winemaker. The ‘Barrel Selection’ wine is indeed that, where Crawford and the winemaker select the barrels that best appeal to them. Crawford told me that the selection was based on "complex savoury character, body, fine textures and length”, and it’s "all rather subjective”. Crawford is aware that it is personal criteria, which may not appeal in the same way for other people. I’ve certainly found the wine on the bigger side with ripeness, depth of flavour, good structure, and noticeable oak. I can see why it is very successful on the show circuit.

Crawford tells me that the ‘Barrel Selection’ exclusively comes from fruit grown on their Bannock Brae vineyard. Since 2010, they have purchased fruit from outside their vineyard, due to their reduced holdings. It is normally all from neighbouring Bannockburn vineyards or sometimes from Bendigo. The contracted Pinot Noir fruit ends up only in the ‘Goldfields’ label. From the 2014 vintage, the Crawfords have dropped the nomenclature ‘Barrel Selection’ from the title of their top wine.

The Tasting
The tasting was presented with all the wines poured, starting with the ‘Goldfields’ 2015, paired with the Bannock Brae 2014, then tasted and discussed in pairs, moving to the oldest wine, the 2002. The discussion was lively, with many viewpoints and preferences expounded, but the tasting was sensitively directed by Joelle. Here, I offer my notes on the wines.

Bannock Brae ‘Goldfields’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2015
Light red colour with slight purple hues, pale edged. This has a fragrant nose of red florals with notes of fresh herbs and violet florals. This is fine and tightly bound, with perfumes, showing beauty. Medium-bodied, the palate is very fresh and brisk with zesty acidity, showing lifted violet florals, red cherry fruit and subtle thyme herb notes. The extraction is fine-grained and the fresh acidity lends vitality. Somewhat slender, coolish, but fragrant. Drink over the next 4 years. Predominantly clones 5, 6 and 115, from Bannockburn and Bendigo, hand-picked, destemmed and fermented to 14.0% alc., the wine aged 10 months in 15% new French oak barriques. Winemaker: Jen Parr. 17.5/20 May 2017 RRP $35.00

Bannock Brae Central Otago Pinot Noir 2014 
Deepish ruby-red colour with some depth, lighter on the rim. This has a full, solid nose with good depth, showing ripe, dark plum fruit aromas. This is rich, and some alcohol is noticeable. Fulsome on the palate, this has depth and density, the fruit flavours of dark-red berry fruits entwined with earthy elements. The palate is solid and weight, with good presence, the roundness enhanced by soft acidity. Fine-grained tannin extraction supports the fruit and the mouthfeel is one of substance. A little secondary development emerges in the glass. This will keep 6-8 years. Fruit fermented to 13.5% alc., the wine spending around 1 month on skins and aged 12 months in approx. 30% new French oak barriques. Winemaker: Jen Parr. 18.5+/20 May 2017 RRP $55.00

Bannock Brae ‘Barrel Selection’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2013 
Even red colour with slight garnet hues. This has an elegant and fragrant nose, the aromatics finely and evenly presented. Lovely red-berry fruit with an array of florals, a little pepperiness too. This has a tight and refined core, and unveils a range of perfumes. On palate medium-bodied and elegantly proportioned, the fruit is succulent and juicy, with aromatic red berry fruits entwined with dark-red florals. The mouthfeel is vibrant, juicy and lively, the acidity piquant and poised, along with fine-grained tannins.. A wine of elegance and finesse. It will develop over the next 7-9 years. Fruit from the ‘Bannock Brae’ vineyard fermented to 14.2% alc., the wine spending 28 days on skins and aged 11 months in approx. 35% new French oak barrels. Bottled without fining or filtration. Winemaker: Jen Parr. .19.0/20 May 2017 RRP $N/A

Bannock Brae ‘Barrel Selection’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2010 
Dark, deep ruby-red with black hues and some garnet on the edge. The nose is full, solid and deep with great volume, packed with ripe black berried fruits and subtle secondary dried herb, earth and minerally development. The fulsome nature and complexity is sensational. Full-bodied, the palate is weighty and solid, with depth and density of flavour. The fruit is still sweet and succulent, showing black berried fruits melded with earth, dried herbs, minerals and the beginnings of game. The palate possesses power and drive, with firm, fine-grained flowery tannins and integrated acidity. The oaking is apparent, but is integral with the flavours on the very long finish. This is a wine of size and structure., and should keep another decade. Fruit fermented with approx. 6% whole clusters to 14.3% alc., the wine aged 11 months in French oak. Winemaker: Jen Parr. 19.0+/20 May 2017 RRP $N/A

Bannock Brae ‘Barrel Selection’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2008 
Even garnet-red colour, lighter on the rim. This has a light and elegant bouquet with coolish red berry fruits laced with subtle herbal notes, along with some savoury game elements. This is still fresh and fragrant with floral notes unfolding from the integrated core. Medium full bodied, the alcohol power shows under the flavours. This has beautifully integrated flavours of dark-red berry fruit, hints of plums and herbs, and savoury earth secondary complexity. The palate has good grip and acidity, and provides good line. This is fully mature, and showing some cooler nuances with the development. Drink over the next 2-3 years. Clones 5, 6 and 115, fermented to 14.3% alc., the wine aged 10 months in 32% new French oak. Winemaker: Matt Connell. 18.5-/20 May 2017 RRP $N/A

Bannock Brae ‘Barrel Selection’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2006 
Even garnet red with some depth, a little bricking on edge. The bouquet is a little shy, but reveals fruit with depth and density in a solid expression. Certainly in the secondary and beginning to enter the tertiary spectrum with savoury game, dried herbs and earthy detail. On palate quite full-bodied and weighty, the fruit is beginning to dry a little, with flavours of savoury red and brown fruits, dried herbs, earth and game. This still has sweetness, but the tannins and extraction are beginning to prevail, though the crisp acidity shows, lending life and enhances the fruitiness. The finish is tending firm and dry. Drink up. Clones 5, 6 and 115, fermented to 14.5% alc., the wine aged 10 months in 35% new French oak barrels. Winemaker: Matt Connell. 17.5/20 May 2017 RRP $N/A

Bannock Brae ‘Barrel Selection’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2002 
Deepish garnet red colour with a good heart, some brick hues. The bouquet is full and solid with secondary and tertiary aromas of game, earth, dried herbs, mushrooms and undergrowth, but still a sweetly ripe dark-red and brown berried core. On palate still showing sweetly ripe fruit vestiges of dark red and brown berry fruit, this has sweetness and richness. The fruit is matched by fine-grained tannins and soft acidity. The mouthfeel is quite fulsome, with a good core and still showing integrity. The tannins grow and carry the wine to a dry, textured finish. This is still drinking well, but should be consumed now. It has held up remarkably well. Clones 5, 6 and 115 fermented to 14.0% alc., the wine aged 10 months in 50% new French oak. Winemaker: Matt Dicey. 18.0-/20 May 2017 RRP $N/A

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