Visiting Central Otago with Chris late last year was instructive in many respects, not least in the opportunity it afforded to taste many producers’ second label Pinots alongside their premium offerings. As much as I’d like to believe in the romanticism of wine and winemaking, more often than not I am struck by how calculated a particular range of wines can be. A simple, fruity second label, a heftier mainstream wine, an excessively extracted and oaked reserve label. Very much by the numbers, and quite uninteresting as a set of implicit assumptions around what constitutes quality and value.
Wine, for me, should be anchored in a sense of context and appropriateness. Some wines facilitate a casual weekday meal, others challenge the intellect, and yet others can create a sense of occasion. Variations in structure and flavour profile reflect these roles, rather than a perceived hierarchy of quality. I’m not a relativist when it comes to quality, but I do believe the question isn’t simply a matter of “more” or “bigger.”
I mention all that in passing because this Pinot challenges the idea that a second label wine should be an easy, straightforward drinking experience. It’s a little different from some previous vintages of the Primavera which, while rarely being simple, have sometimes shown to more immediate advantage. The aroma here, by contrast, strikes one with depth and savouriness. It’s almost a difficult aroma profile, with odd notes such as sweet foliage (not quite tomato vine), juicy yet savoury cherry fruit and oak that seems smokey, sappy and a bit raw. Some attractive five spice notes on top too. Some of this angularity is no doubt due to its youth, but this wine seems to have a fundamentally dark aroma.
The palate confirms the density of this wine’s fruit flavour. It’s quite sombre, full of crushed black cherries and plums, sweet and sour sauce, chocolate and some sappiness. Entry is immediate, packed with fruit flavour and pushed along by a good dose of acidity. The middle palate is full of flavour but manages to avoid feeling heavy thanks to the acid and a framework of tannins that are loosely defined yet quite assertive. The flavour profile seems somewhat medicinal at this point, showing mostly in savoury terms and turning in a sappy, slightly oaky direction on the after palate. The finish is clean, long and full of fruit flavour.
I’m not at all confident I have the measure of this wine, and that in itself pleases me. It’s a tasty, deeply fruited, sophisticated Pinot, packed with fruit flavour and happy to exist in a spectrum of flavour that might be regarded as difficult. I understand 2008 was a warm growing season in Tasmania, and the level of fruit ripeness here seems higher than in some previous vintages. In any case, it’s very distinctive and perhaps even brave. I suspect given a few months in bottle it will be even better. A pleasure to taste such complexity and distinctiveness in a second label wine.