Peregrine Pinot Noir 2009

I tasted this alongside a clutch of other Pinots, including some pretty smart Burgundies. It wasn’t the best wine in absolute terms, but it clearly highlighted why Central Otago Pinot is so attractive to so many drinkers.

Up-front aroma with an array of regional notes: dark fruits, wild herbs, spice, some oak. There’s a bit of development but it remains mostly primary. So much for what it smells of; what’s impressive here is its generosity and coherence. This is a big, bouncy Central Otago Pinot that has mellowed enough to have gained a fair bit of sophistication without losing an essentially plush character.

In the mouth, so very generous. Compared to a (rather older) Burgundy consumed at the same sitting, this is a model of relaxation. There’s structure here, but it’s subservient to a palate that focuses on fruit, spice and the sort of flow that meshes one delicious flavour against another, then another. Tertiary flavours add some complexity, and the wine is far from simplistic in its flavours. Yet none of this gets in the way of pure deliciousness.

There’s a lot of things this wine isn’t: intellectual, sub-regional (it’s a blend), or especially serious. But when it tastes this good, who cares?

Price: $NZ60
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Amisfield Pinot Noir 2009

The only recent vintage that rivals 2009 for excitement amongst Central Otago winemakers is 2012, and an unfortunate side effect of the present moment is a relative absence of both vintages as current releases. Mind you, I have been enjoying 2010s for their larger scale, and what I’ve seen of 2013 looks pretty smart too. However, 2009 remains a benchmark vintage and I’ve tried to locate what I can to taste. Amisfield is one of the few producers that still has a 2009 Pinot Noir in its range.

Although Amisfield’s flashy cellar door is just outside of Queenstown, the vineyard and winery are located in the Pisa subregion, just up the road from where I’ve been living the past month. It’s a curious landscape, the often snow-capped Pisa Ranges rising steeply in the background, several levels of topography stepping downwards from them, vines appearing as these terraces achieve a more arable altitude. It’s all quite unlikely, as most of Central Otago seems to be for grape growing.

Those used to fuller expressions of Central Otago Pinot, such as those from Bendigo, may be surprised at how fine-boned this is. The nose is expressive, showing regional herbs and spice alongside savoury red fruit. It’s not overwhemingly complex, but I welcome its savouriness and elegant scale. In the mouth, quite fleshy up front with free flowing fruit and and thread of spice that begins at the edges and works its way in. The middle palate keeps any tendencies towards flab in check as it tightens the wine’s line with acid and tannin. This remains quite structured and, while not especially fine in texture, is certainly silkier than the 2010 vintage I also tasted today. Decent, fruit-driven length.

I wish for a bit more complexity and refinement, but this is nonetheless a solid Central Otago Pinot that shows good sub-regionality.

Price: $NZ40
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Mud House Pinot Noir 2010

Today sees me tasting Mud House’s standard Pinot, at $29 priced only slightly lower than the shimmeringly named Golden Terraces wine. Whatever the imperfections of the single vineyard bottling, it stands in proud stylistic contrast to this wine, which is a much more seductive, polished expression of Central Otago Pinot.

The nose here is much denser and darker in profile, hinting at the twiggy, herbal edges of the Golden Terraces but focusing more intently on luscious fruit. It’s immediately appealing for sure, and whether that appeal lasts is mostly a question of taste; I suspect many will find it lengthily engaging.The palate is full and chewy as expected after such a buxom nose. Entry flows smoothly, widening quickly and communicating generosity and luxe more than quirkiness or edge. Acid seems lower and tannins less prominently textural, all of which fits perfectly with the character of the fruit. The middle palate lifts with bright red fruit and a core of sweetness that anchors it firmly on the tongue. The effect reminds me of mainstream Barossa Shiraz, a style known for its broad appeal. The after palate is a bit more chiselled and lean, and the finish is decent.

I find it interesting — and laudable — that this is so different from the single vineyard wine. It’s a Pinot built for broad appeal, although personally I’d prefer to drink the Golden Terraces for its sharp distinctiveness.

Mud House
Price: $A29
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Mud House Golden Terraces Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010

I remember a most productive visit to the Central Otago Wine Company (a contract winemaking facility) in late 2008 which, because of its diverse production, clearly revealed sub-regional differences amongst Central Otago Pinots. I was interested to explore this further, but have since found myself too lazy to pursue it with any vigour. Nonetheless, that memory has stayed with me and, hence, I was excited to see this wine, whose fruit was sourced from a single vineyard in the Bendigo sub-region, just north of über dump Cromwell.

The nose is certainly Central Otago in character; what interests me about this wine, though, is its relatively subtle expression of the fundamentally powerful berry fruit that marks the region’s Pinots. Whilst fruit is at its core, the aroma profile draws in a range of dustier, more herbal nuances, and I like how these add texture and dimension to what might otherwise be a fat profile.

The palate begins promisingly, with a continuation of the aroma’s dusty spice and texture, expressed through an attack that bristles with acid. The middle palate, fully-fruited and quite generous, disappoints me a little because its fruit seems too sweet to sit easily against both the wine’s structure and its other flavours. It’s like a slightly too obvious boob job on an otherwise attractively imperfect figure, trying too hard to be something it’s not. Of course, others may disagree on this point, but for my taste I would have preferred a more confidently savoury expression of fruit. Moving past this, the after palate shows attractive, dusty tannins and a return to the dark savouriness of the aroma and entry. The finish is adequate in length and pleasingly mouthwatering in effect.

Does that flash of sweetness on the middle palate unbalance the wine? A little, perhaps, but it’s not distracting enough to rob me of the enjoyment of drinking an otherwise highly distinctive Central Otago Pinot.

Mud House
Price: $A36
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Peregrine Chardonnay 2009

Descriptors are unhelpful enough without having to endure the mangling to which we often subject them. The fruit analogues are one thing; “peach” is at least somewhat determinate; the stylistic descriptors are altogether more problematic, which is a shame, because they’re often the most telling words we use as wine writers. Describe a Chardonnay as tasting like grapefruit, and I sort of know what you mean. Describe it as elegant, however, and I’m much less confident I understand the wine’s style. Yet I reach for these stylistic descriptors often in my writing, because I feel they communicate much more of the experience of drinking a wine than fruit notes, or perhaps even structural descriptions.

Partly, the problem arises because we tend to use these descriptors interchangeably, or as euphemisms for one another. To describe a wine as elegant represents an enormous (positive) value judgement, but often it’s code for “lean,” which is, to me at least, less unequivocally good. Indeed, heavily worked styles can be elegant, and lean wines clumsy. Is elegant a worthless descriptor, then? Not at all, but something so abstract must be used with precision and perhaps even caution.

This wine is a case in point. It’s not a lean wine, nor is it nimble, or dainty, or even especially fine. It is, however, complex, worked, generous and, in its way, gaudily elegant. It’s Versace to Chablis’ Armani, a wine dripping with ornament, very much a more is more aesthetic. Yet this is somehow contained within a bright, firm-enough acid structure, so that it stops short of being overwhelming and remains simply a mouth full of pea

ch, butterscotch and herb flavour, slightly hot on the finish, lacking in intensity, making up for it with some fine detail and complexity. Peregrine
Price: $A35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Waipara Hills Central Otago Pinot Noir 2009

How quickly some things change. Only a very few years ago, to buy decent Central Otago Pinot Noir would almost inevitably put a serious dent into one’s wallet. Last time I visited the region, a couple of years ago now, I was heartened to see a lot more reasonably priced wines, still genuine expressions of the style. This wine isn’t exactly bargain basement, but at under $30 retail it sits comfortably in the mid-price bracket.

And, quality-wise, it fits solidly in this bracket too. There’s nothing remarkable about this wine at all and, though that may sound like a put-down, it’s simply a reflection of what it is: an accessible expression of Central Otago Pinot. To the last point first, the wine is true to type. The nose has a characteristic density of fruit that I associate with the region, along with a slightly dirty texture that roughens the aroma profile and lends it an edge. Thyme, dark biscuitty oak, hints of spice. It’s all there in a glossy, slick package.

The palate is similarly slick, structure in particular well-judged. In the earlier days, the region’s Pinots were often criticised for a coarseness of structure and an excess of extract; while this does taste fairly extracted, I’m not seeing an unbalanced structure, acid and tannin being present but not terribly intrusive. This, combined with a full-flavoured fruit profile, creates a lazy plushness that is alternately seductive and bland. This is so easygoing that, at times, I wish for more angularity, more edge. The reality is, though, that one probably needs to step up a rung to get the kind of character this wine suggests but never quite delivers on. As it is, a genuine taste of the region for, in historical terms, not very much money.

Waipara Hills
Price: $A29.90
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Mud House Pinot Noir 2008

It wasn’t too long ago that Central Otago Pinot invariably came with an elevated price tag. One of the surprises, then, of our visit to the region a year or so ago was the range of reasonably priced wines on offer. Indeed, from an accessibility perspective the region seemed to have come of age, with plenty of wines available at all price points.

The sensation, then, this wine might have caused at $28 three or four years ago is considerably harder fought today. Its aroma is exceptionally promising, a smothery blanket of thoroughly regional smells, with sweet and sour plums, cinnamon, a light sappiness and some toasty caramel. If it’s slightly blurry around the edges, and lacks a bit of depth, its volume and exuberance provide adequate compensation. 
The palate is more troublesome to me, as it pushes the boundaries of fruit sweetness. I’ve heard a criticism in the past that Central Otago Pinots have suffered from coarse acidification, a fault from which this wine doesn’t suffer. Indeed, its mouthfeel is voluptuous and slippery, lacking a bit of texture for my taste, though it does present some grainy tannins through the finish. Intensity is moderate, and I’d like to see greater substance to fill out what is a substantial physical presence in the mouth. Flavour-wise, the impression is of pumped up, silicone-breast-implant fruit, along with a fresh sappiness and caramel chews. It’s certainly not confected as a fruit profile; it’s just, well, so pretty. Too pretty, like an overly airbrushed teen model who looks slightly unreal and, hence, rather unsatisfying (not to mention illegal; but I digress). Interesting, quite savoury finish that surges back up after a dip through the after palate.
It’s a good wine, certainly, with plenty of flavour and real regionality. And I admit, it’s no doubt very well judged for broad appeal. For me, though, a bit more savoury complexity would really lift it to the next level. 

Mud House
Price: $A28
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Mount Difficulty Pinot Noir 2005

There’s not much to do in Te Anau, New Zealand, on the night of your very quiet wedding except hunt down a nice restaurant and order the flashest-looking bottle on the list. So it was that I ended up drinking this very wine a couple of years ago. I’ve since tried it a couple of times (most recently in New Zealand with Chris) and it continues to provide enjoyment. Wine’s funny like that; it can be as much about the circumstance as anything else, and often I give in to this subjectivity.

What pleasure in familiarity! It’s like Central Otago in a glass, sweet/sour plum, vanilla oak and ripe tomato leaf enthusiastically leaping from the glass. There’s a bit of peat-like funk that I don’t remember in this wine, and I put it down to the very beginnings of bottle age. The palate is where things are developing more noticeably. Firstly, texture. Mount Difficulty Pinot tends to be quite roughly acidic in youth, and although there’s still abundant acid, it has transformed from sandpaper to plush velvet. Hence, the wine feels full and weighty in the mouth, fruit flavour gorgeously unlocked. Not one for lovers of delicate Pinot, this wine is a full throttle expression of Central Otago fruit, generous and savoury, with ripe vegetal complexities and a cough syrup-like note. After a swell on the middle palate, there’s only marginally less presence on the after palate, and the finish is of good length. Is the finish a bit hot? Or is the oak a tad raw? Perhaps, but I’m not fussed, it’s just so tasty.
It’s a shame I don’t have more of this, as I think it has a good few years’ life left. I’d like to taste it again in perhaps two or three years’ time, as I suspect it will be truly luxurious at that point.

Mount Difficulty
Price: $A50
Closure: Stelvin

Chard Farm Finla Mor Pinot Noir 2007

This label is one of Chard Farm’s lesser Pinot labels, though this doesn’t imply any less integrity in terms of region or winemaking approach. 100% Central Otago fruit, from the Parkburn area, which is nearer to Cromwell than it is to the winery’s location in Gibbston. I mentioned in my writeup of Central Otago wineries that, often, I have enjoyed lesser labels in preference to their “reserve” siblings, because they can represent a fresher, less scaled-up expression of Central Otago fruit, and so showcase the essential attractiveness of this region’s character more directly.

This wine is a good example of my point. A forthright, full nose of savoury Pinot fruit and cough syrup, herbs and light oak. Luscious, very ripe, very fruit-driven, it gives the impression of considerable complexity deriving from the fruit itself rather than any winemaking trickery. In the mouth, impressive presence and generosity. The entry delivers flavour very quickly, along with a slippery, somewhat viscous mouthfeel. Things get fuller towards the middle palate, with savoury fruit washing over the tongue. There are some high toned flavour components here, herbal in character, but the berry fruit is so full it tends to dominate. Good extension through the after palate, with a nice lift and very fine, ripe tannins that create good persistence of flavour on the finish.

A fuller, more luxurious style than many, but one that focuses on fruit character rather than anything more complicated. If I were to level a criticism, it would be that the fruit may lack a little freshness, pushing the boundaries of ripeness somewhat. Still, there’s a lot to enjoy here.

Update: retasted the following morning, this wine showed greater delicacy and layers of perfume. The impression of overripeness was reduced slightly. Nice wine.

Chard Farm
Price: $NZ39
Closure: Stelvin

Three Miners Pinot Noir 2005

One sub-region of Central Otago I’ve not had the pleasure of visiting (as opposed to driving through) is Alexandra. This wine, purchased from the Central Otago Wine Company’s cellar door, was recommended as fairly typical of the sub-region. As an aside, I can highly recommend the drive South from Alexandra, as there’s a stretch of the most spectacular scenery, dotted with schist and scarred by dramatic slits as the Clutha river cuts through the landscape. Quite lovely.

Bang, we’re back in Central Otago. The nose is fragrant, meaty, with a big dose of pepper and dark spice. There’s also a bit of vanilla, a sprig of fresh thyme and rather savoury fruit. Though I’ve listed a lot of descriptors, this isn’t an overwhelmingly complex wine, or perhaps I should write that it’s not an overtly complex wine. There is a fair bit going on here, but its aroma profile has a coherence and integrity that suggests itself more than a collection of independent notes. It’s also quite similar to some cool climate Shirazes I’ve tasted.

In the mouth, more straightforward than suggested by the nose, with a clean shot of fruit dipped in fresh thyme. There’s a bit more sweetness to the fruit, although its core remains savoury. The oak here stands out more, pleasantly so, as its character meshes well with the fruit. Slippery mouthfeel of some elegance, this wine is light to medium bodied at most. Tannins, while adding some grip to the finish, are subdued and gentle.

As a whole, the wine exists mostly in the middle to high registers. By way of comparison, I poured myself a glass of the 2006 Hoddles Creek Pinot while tasting this one. Side by side, the Hoddles Creek was almost all bass notes, lacking presence and detail in the upper registers. Of course, they are completely different wines, both showing integrity in terms of their particular expressions of Pinot. Perhaps less crowd-pleasing, this wine strikes me as a Pinot for enthusiasts who don’t mind a thinner, funkier expression of the grape. I must taste more wines from Alexandra.

Three Miners
Price: $NZ25
Closure: Stelvin