It was the first time I’d been invited to the Central Otago Spring Release Pinot Noir Tasting, so I was unsure what to expect. On arrival at the conference centre at Orams Marine Village in Westhaven, Auckland, it became obvious that it was a line-up of around 60 Central Otago Pinot Noirs, new release wines, mostly from the 2010 vintage, with some from 2009 and a solitary 2008. The wines were prepared ‘blind’, bottles masked, and the dozen media including two from Australia were allotted a good amount of time to taste them. All of the guests worked their way through them and a feedback session ensued. Jen Parr, winemaker for Terra Sancta (formerly Olssen’s) chaired the discussion, with support from Mike Mulvey of Prophet’s Rock and Michelle Morpeth of Wooing Tree.
The variability in the quality of the 2010s, and with the 2009s, could be attributed to factors such as vine age, experience, site and terroir among others. Generally speaking, most of the better wines for the tasters were from well-established producers and labels with a consistent and successful track record. These producers more often than not had access to older material. How site and terroir show was debateable, as was sub-regionality. The wines were ordered mixed as to their sub-regions, and many of the wines displayed characteristics that are regarded as typical of their origin. I’d like to believe that regionality, site and terroir, all points on a scale of expression of place, exist in Central Otago, as in any of the quality Pinot Noir growing regions, but the winemaker’s hand or signature is a strong, if not dominating influence. It’s a philosophical point whether terroir can be manifest once the winemaker’s influence reaches a certain level. Many believe that terroir is obliterated, others feel it operates as a subtle constant…
Of the near 60 wines tasted, there were some favourites that most tasters agreed on as among the best. In the same vein, there were a few surprises, lesser labels that came through strongly. The tasters present would have had their own preferences in style, so conclusions would have to be taken with a grain of salt. In any case, the tasters were not asked to score, nor were marks recorded, so a group result in preferences cannot be offered, but here are some of my favourites:
From the 2009s, the Mount Edward ‘Muirkirk’ 2009 was bright, lush and powerful in primary fruit, the Pisa Range ‘Black Poplar’ 2009 substantial and solid, the John Forrest ‘Collection’ Bannockburn 2009 packed and with potential to open, the Earth’s End 2009 beautifully floral and fine-grained, then the fully-ripened, black fruited Folding Hill ‘Orchard Block’ 2009 and a complex, dried herb and savoury Mount Edward ‘Stevens’ 2009.
From the 2010s, I enjoyed the tight and chalky Rocky Point 2010, dark fruited, complex and juicy Olssen’s ‘Jackson Barry’ 2010, the complete and layered Felton Road ‘Block 5′ 2010, the concentrated and perfumed Gibbston Valley ‘School House’ 2010, the fully-ripened, plummy and textured Quartz Reef ‘Bendigo Estate’ 2010, the fully-spiced, faceted Olssen’s ‘Slapjack Creek’ 2010, the ripe, accessible and fulsome Akarua ‘Rua’ 2010, the ripe, fine-grained Two Degrees 2010, the perfumed and proportioned Felton Road ‘Cornish Point’ 2010, the elegantly tight and concentrated Carrick Bannockburn 2010, the densely packed and complex earthy Felton Road ‘Block 3′ 2010, the bright and perfumed Gibbston Valley ‘China Terrace’ 2010, the up-front and succulent Tatty Bogler 2010, and the subtle, but lively and fine-grained Rockburn 2010.
Tasting with identity known enables one to allow the knowledge of the background of the wine, the vineyard and the winemaker to play a part in the appreciation of a wine. While easy to be positive, it is far more difficult to be negative and judgemental, a most crucial aspect in assessing a wine this way. It’s easy to make excuses knowing the wine, but also, one can understand the nuances and individuality better, when knowing what to look for.
There is a place for both approaches, and authoritative tasters and magazines such as ‘The World of Fine Wine’ use both methods accordingly. Click here to see my open tasting policy for Raymond Chan Wine Reviews.