Cambridge Road Martinborough Pinot Noir 2009

When I was in Central Otago recently, I was one of two Australians in the vintage crew, Jimi Lienert being the other. Jimi hails from the Barossa, where his family has a beautiful vineyard. Inevitably we got to tasting a bit while in New Zealand, and again when I passed through the Barossa Valley the other day. Despite growing up surrounded by, and helping to make, traditional Barossan styles, Jimi has a penchant for lighter, elegant wines. After vintage, he toured New Zealand and tasted as widely as possible; this is a bottle he found along the way that he shared with me.

I’m very glad he did, because it’s excellent. Something I’ve often enjoyed about Martinborough Pinots versus those from Central Otago is their shift in balance away from fullness of fruit towards fragrance, savouriness and structure. This is a good example of the style; aromatically it’s spiced and fresh, with berry-cherry compote, just a touch of stalk character (easily carried) and vanilla oak. Although the fruit is present and lush, it doesn’t push its way past the other elements, making this far from a fruit bomb style. With air, further complexities of curry leaf and musk, all aromatic and floral.

In the mouth, structure, depth of flavour, layers and length. There’s something quiet about this wine, though, like a really smart person who just makes enough of a contribution to the conversation. Despite that, its contributions have a tremendous impact, so this wine, although measured, makes itself known. Partly this is due to its acid structure, which drives flavour down the line quite firmly and gives it good length. Partly, it’s due to a complex flavour profile that makes one lean in to look more closely. It’s both sweet and savoury, umami-filled and delicious.

A whole lot of sophisticated, delicious Pinot.

Cambridge Road
Price: $NZ55
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

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

Te Whare Ra Gewürztraminer 2009

Te Whare Ra draws on one of the older vineyards in Marlborough, some vines having been established in 1979 and the rest of the vineyard over the following two decades. To have a reputation for great Gewürztraminer isn’t perhaps an accolade sought after by many producers, but Te Whare Ra’s version is highly regarded, and this was my first taste of it.

Really gorgeous aromas, robust and spicy, fruit expressing in a tropical spectrum and showing good ripeness without tipping over into too much tinned lychee. It’s an immediately complex wine, which isn’t something I was expecting, although I wouldn’t describe it as especially elegant either. It’s too forthright and changeable to communicate any sense of poise. It also throws savoury, somewhat challenging aromas that are a nice counterpoint to the varietal perfume that initially dominates the aroma.

The palate shows more of these slightly unfriendly flavours, adding some shade to a flavour profile that is even more complex than the nose suggests. There’s a bit of sweetness on the palate that pumps up a core of fragrant fruit, all surrounded by spice and other more floral notes. This, like good perfume, moves past individual flavours drawn from nature into a more interesting realm of abstract notes and flavour accords. And always, it has a sharper edge that never quite yields to the prettiness evident throughout the rest of the wine. Mouthfeel starts slippery and progresses to a chalky, slightly grippy after palate, phenolics fine and without bitterness. Slight heat coasts over the finish.

This is a fascinating, delicious and challenging wine.

Te Whare Ra
Price: $N/A
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Sineann Resonance Reserve Pinot Noir 2009

Pinot Noir drives people to extremes. I’m currently doing vintage in Central Otago, New Zealand, and the region’s renown draws Pinot lovers from much further afield than Brisbane; in Peter Rosback’s case, all the way from Oregon. Vigneron at Sineann, Peter travels here each year to make Pinot at Terra Sancta, the winery where I’m working. I was fortunate enough to taste a couple of Peter’s Oregon Pinots last night, both of which were characterful and delicious.

The most striking aspect of this wine’s aroma is its bright fruit, all candied citrus peel and savoury red berries, textured and expressive. Around this core swirls a range of other notes including a good deal of well-matched oak. It’s a very integrated aroma, youthful still, and has a dark, slightly rustic element that roughs up its edges and drags this firmly into artisanal territory.

The palate structure is what really grabs me about this wine, acid and tannin creating wonderful texture and flow. It’s not one of those silky smooth wines; rather, its irregularities are what make it worthwhile, bright fruit coasting atop this undulating landscape. Flavours are sweet-savoury, with no hint of simplicity to the fruit’s character. Again, oak is a feature.

A lovely wine and a worthwhile expression of Pinot.

Price: $N/A
Closure: Vino-Lok
Source: Gift

Eldridge Estate Estate Pinot Noir 2009

It was on a recent visit to David Lloyd of Eldridge Estate that I was gifted a half bottle of this wine, to help warm one of the many lonely motel evenings ahead of me. I’m finally tackling it, somewhat later than I thought I would, though the delay accounts for no loss of pleasure, as this is drinking really well.

Heady, obvious pinosity leaps from the glass along with a good deal of sweet, red fruit. There are sappy edges to the aroma profile too, all underlined by well controlled oak. Although this isn’t a wild, heady style, varietal definition is crystal clear and it presents as very well balanced on opening. Savouriness does creep in with some air, and this tempers the fruit’s sweeter tendencies, which is to my taste.

Mouthfeel is voluptuous and slippery, with edges of acid and tannin texture giving way to a rather buxom impression on the tongue. Flavours are fresh in the mouth and not outsize or exaggerated. As with the nose, the palate strikes me as balanced and refined; it’s an engaging wine that also values quiet moments, those pauses that make sense of sound. The after palate is sappy and refreshingly sour, acid tightening but never quite swamping a core of red fruit.

Not a blockbuster, just a delicious Pinot.

Eldridge Estate
Price: $A35 (375mL)
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Terra Tangra TT 2009

It’s amazing what turns up when people find out you like wine. For example, a friend recently brought this back from a holiday to his native Bulgaria; a lovely gift as I have exactly zero experience with Bulgarian wine, even though the country has a long history of winemaking and is a somewhat prolific contemporary producer. This is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Syrah from a vineyard in the Thracian Valley region, all grown organically.

A spongey, fragile cork was slightly concerning as I opened the bottle, but the wine is clean. The aroma is quite confronting, not because its notes are difficult but because it’s easy; so easy that I’m almost inclined to preserve my modesty (and its dignity) and look away. Yes, this is terribly keen to give it away and makes no secret of its intentions. In wine as in life, this is sometimes appropriate (indeed welcome), so I suggest this is a wine that merely needs to find the right occasion. Soft fruits, a prickle of leaf, spice.

The palate is interesting because the ease of its aroma translates to a buxom mouthfeel and a fruit flavour profile that suggests a hint of residual sugar; I don’t have the technical details of this wine to hand so I can’t confirm if this is the case. Flavours are mostly dark and berry-oriented, with a full burst of red fruits on the middle palate. This is 60% Merlot and it shows. There are also edges of overripeness, which detract a little even as they add savouriness. Structure isn’t a feature, though there’s enough acid to prop up the line. Fruit sweetness hangs over the after palate and finish, the latter of which is more persistent than I expected.

Drinkable and (to me) quite different.

Terra Tangra
Price: N/A
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Mudgee Gold 2009

Some wines are awarded seven gold medals if they’re lucky. This wine, on the other hand, is comprised of seven gold medal winning wines. From the PR, I take it this wine is a blend of seven wines, at the time unfinished and only one year old, that were awarded gold medals at the Mudgee Wine Show. Contributing producers are Andrew Harris Vineyards, Broombee Organic Wines, Burnbrae Winery, Frog Rock Wines, Queens Pinch Vineyard, Robert Oatley Vineyards and Robert Stein Winery.

There’s a good deal of richness on the nose, with quite dense aromas of black fruit emerging alongside an impression of moist earth and brown spice. Dark, manly and quite brooding, this also has a raw, sappy edge. There are some additional complexities too — a bit of mushroom, some blueberries. Quite a bit going on, then, even if it’s not the sort of wine one could describe as detailed, owing to its extroverted blanket of aromas.

The palate is a precise echo of the nose, with a range of dark, thick fruit notes running alongside earthiness and a sharp acid line. The acid feels quite disconnected from the fruit weight at the moment; perhaps this will integrate with some more time. There’s no shortage of impact and intensity at all; this is a forthright wine that sits at the fuller end of the stylistic spectrum. I’m impressed that such weight comes with only 13.5% ABV, and that there is good freshness of fruit evident. I wish for a bit more light and shade, but I think that’s more a stylistic preference on my part. I admit, this isn’t my preferred style of wine.

Nonetheless, some high quality material in this wine for sure. It’s more than simply a curio.

Seven contributing wineries
Price: $A60
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Topper’s Mountain Red Earth Child 2009

Despite a seemingly never ending quest to communicate a “sense of place,” it’s remarkable how few vignerons in Australia put site ahead of variety. The privileging of varietal wines comes at the expense of the idea that site is best expressed through a mix of varieties. This is not a new idea, nor is it completely absent from Australian wine, but it remains rare.

This, then, stands out like the proverbial dog’s balls. Let me count the ways in which it differs from the mainstream: it’s a wine of New England, with nary a grape variety listed on the (front) label and, when one discovers what varieties are in it, there’s an unlikely mix of Petit Verdot, Barbera, Nebbiolo and Tannat. Sui generis.

This is as close to blind tasting as I’ve come without, you know, actually tasting blind. I had no idea what to expect, but the aroma’s absence of expressive fruit still came as something of a surprise. This is a dark, muscular, somewhat closed nose at present. There are hints of black berry fruit, spice, snapped twig and baked goods. I find it somewhat inscrutable, in fact, which is no bad thing. There’s certainly enough density, complexity and coherence to hint at significant potential.

The palate is similarly intriguing and fiercely structured. Both acid and tannin are prominent, which isn’t surprising given the presence of Barbera and Tannat in the mix. The same dark, savoury fruit flavour profile seen on the nose is very much present here, but it runs underneath the wine’s structural framework for now, like a bubbling underground stream. Again, density is a feature and, without any experience of this label, I suggest a bit of age will be kind to it. The after palate is the most generous moment in the wine’s line, where fruit is allowed to bulge slightly before tightening again in a highly structured finish.

A brave, and in many ways successful, wine.

Update: day 2 and the wine is opening up in the most interesting ways. It has become quite floral, with rose petal and Turkish Delight distinct notes on the nose. Fascinating.

Topper’s Mountain
Price: $A38
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Canberra isn’t a region known for its Cabernet, although I admit I’ve always felt warmly about the few that I’ve tasted, most notably Clonakilla’s Ballinderry. This one from Shaw Estate Vineyard is an expressive, varietal Cabernet that has a lot going for it, I think.

The nose is typically dark fruited and leafy, with some surprising and welcome gravel notes too. There’s an elegance without being excessively lean or green that marks this as, for me, a stylish wine, even if angular too. No, this is what Cabernet should smell like: masculine, a bit challenging, putting aside plushness for well defined form.

The palate is more of the same, except the fruit is much more prominent here than on the nose. There’s a mellifluous streak of bright fruit that runs right down the line, perhaps simple and DMS-like but still attractive. Around this gather more leaf and gravel notes, as well as tannins that will delight texture freaks, though which may prove forbidding to less adventurous drinkers. I like their chewy confidence. Oak is present but feels subservient to the fruit’s contribution. A nice, linear finish ends the wine well. I thought this wine was a little hard at the back palate when I first tasted it but this is softening with each sip, so just be sure to give it a good swirl in the glass.

Good Cabernet and good value at $25.

Shaw Vineyard Estate
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample