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Notes from New Zealand, 2011

text and photgraphs © 2011 Tom Cannavan

These notes accompany our in-depth feature on New Zealand 2011.


queenstown Central Otago sure knows how to put on a good show. Flitting between seminars in the lakeside town of Queenstown, lunches and tastings in the vineyards and dinners in spectacular settings like the Skyline restaurant (reached by cable car and with the most extraordinary views over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu) The Pinot Noir Celebration is just that: not just a deadly serious contemplation of the world's most obsessively adored wine grape, but one hell of a three-day party (view from the Skyline, right).

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Celebration, which is organised by Central Otago's winemakers, is the generosity of spirit: the local wines are at the heart of the event of course, but those attending soon discover that the Pinots of other New Zealand regions and from Burgundy and around the world are given due prominence too. The Grand tasting. from which these notes are taken, is held out in the vineyards with Central Otago's winemakers there to pour and discuss their wines. See more at

the wines

This was my second day in New Zealand after a long flight from the UK, and two very early starts. My usual tasting stamina collapsed somewhat in face of the 80+ wines on show, so my apologies for those that were missed. See all Central Otago wines on wine-searcher.

Akarua, 'Rua' Pinot Noir 2009
This is the entry level wine from Akarua, made from estate and purchased fruit. It is bursting with ripe, vibrant raspberry fruit; a real raspberry ripple creaminess and sultry depth. On the palate the fruit retains that pertness and brightness, with whisps of smoky oak, but really it is all about crisp, juicy fruit and nicely done. 89/100.

Akarua, Pinot Noir 2009
Very fine, nicely vegetal and gamy edges here, with sweet, ripe fruit and delicious life and energy on the palate. Great sweetness to the fruit, a little spice and juicy persistence. 91/100.

Akarua Reserve Pinot Noir 2009
Winemaker Matt Connell makes a selection of his best barrels for this reserve wine, the Bannockburn fruit delivering a weight 14.7% alcohol in this vintage. It is sumptuous stuff, the limpid, rippling pool of velvety black fruit disrupted by little floral notes, some beetroot and rhubarb vegetal quality and a swirling smokiness of oak. On the palate this is super sweet and ripe, but it's not sugar that's doing it, it's all fruit: dense, mocha-touched plum and blackberry, with super-silky tannins and lovely acidity, and that seamless smokiness of the oak. A massive wine, and yet it wears it very elegantly indeed. 94/100.

Amisfield, Pinot Noir 2008
There's a smoky, if slightly herbaceous character here, with elegant, ripe red cherry fruit and the oak sitting nicely behind. On the palate the acids are perhaps slightly prominent, the fruit needing a little more weight. 89/100.

Archangel, Pinot Noir 2008
The first vintage of vines planted in 2003. With the Vintner in UK (Tom Gilby). Lovely delicate but fruity nose, but chocolaty and creamy too, with an earthiness and on the palate lovely fruit and creamy focused and silky tannins. Lovely natural concentration here and great depth of fruit. 91/100.

Archangel, Pinot Noir 2009
Slightly more mineral, smoky character here, a little bit of charry quality, and the fruit still there. More edgy than the 2008 perhaps, hinting at more structure and complexity, though without the seductive creaminess at this stage - though the ripe fruit is all there and suggests this will age nicely. 91/100.

Aurum, Matilde Reserve Pinot Noir 2006
Nice briar, woodsmoke and charry notes, but not overdone. A little gamy influence too. The palate has nice fruit sweetness, the tannins and acidity very grippy, leaving this perhaps just a touch too assertive, but a very nice wine. 90/100.

Burn Cottage, Pinot Noir 2009
Ted Lemson of Sonoma, slightly closed but opens nicely with air. Beautiful fruit comes theough: lots of cherry and chocolate, soicy too, the palate showing great depth of fruit and despite having plenty of stuffing, a nicely fresh edge. 91/100.

Carrick, Pinot Noir 2009
Discreet, elegant and immediately sugghests a subtle and fleshy fruit-driven style. The palate has lovely fruit: spicy, but abundantly fresh and has really nice weight and harmony. 90/100.

Carrick, Excelsior Pinot Noir 2007
Much more new oak here, and a much spicier, meatier character, as well as having little floral and almost rose-hip nuances. The palate has good fruit and that hint of kirsch-like, lively fruit. This is complex, if the oak a little overdone for me and would be better with a touch less. 91/100.

Charcoal Gully, Pinot Noir 2008
Lovely floral, bright lift to this. Slightly herbal character which fits in nicely. Really nice on the palate, with silky weight, smooth, juicy fruit but a lovely undertow of sweet, damp earthiness. Lovely, natural balance, if the merest touch of underripeness to the tannins. 89/100.

Chard Farm, Finla Mor Pinot Noir 2007
Deliciously attractive, with a soft bracken and sweet earth edge. A very nice creaminess to the fruit and delicious strawberry softness. The palate has fantastic juicy clarity, with elegant tannins and such beautiful length. 93/100.

Chard Farm, Mata-au Pinot Noir. 2009
The wiinemaking regime here has changed totally, with whole bunches, wild ferment and oak hugely reduced. This has a really delicate colour and woodsmoke and super-sweet, soft strawberry fruit. The elegance continues on the palate, with immensely charming, sweet fruit focus. Delicious and exquisite. 94/100.

Desert Heart, Pinot Noir 2004
Second vintage. Very nice nose, with a little touch of gamy quality and an atyractively vegetal appeal. Fruit has sweetness on the palate, and though it is perhaps a little dilute, a very charming wine with life ahead of it. 90/100.

Desert Heart, McKenzie Run Pinot Noir 2009
Attractive, medium nose with elegant fruit and a briary touch, though I feel this doesn't quite have the flesh for the rather high acidity. 88/100.

Doctors Flat, Pinot Noir 2008
Lovely soft nose, earthy, ripe strawberry aromas and a certain cherry brightness over a subtle, smooth vanilla. The palate has delicious fruit too. This is very fruit focused, with elegant tannins and a liquorice twist of concentration, and although it is quite a big style, it has elegance. 90/100.

Doctors Flat, Pinot Noir 2009
An elegant pinot this, with more of the sweet damp earth and undergrowthy character evident than in the 2008. Delightful fruit, retaining a real juiciness and vitality, powering through beautifully. 92/100.

Domain Road, Pinot Noir 2007
Lovely nose, smoky and charry, lots ogf charming berry fruit. The palate has a plush, round, sweet appeal in a very charming and well balanced wine. 90/100.

Domain Road, Pinot Noir 2009
A little more oak evident at this stage, but the fruit is lovely, with really nice, plump, charming berries just smoothed by vanilla. Another lovely drinking pinot, and whilst not showing the complexity of some, absolutely delicious. 91/100.

Felton Road, Block 3 Pinot Noir 2009
Has the coffeish overlay of oak at this stage, but also nicely plush fruit. That typical block 3 minerality comes through, giving a smoky edge. The palate has delightful balance: it's a poewerful, yoithful block r, but already the finesse of the tannins and the pert, sweet cherry fruit and acidity ae lovely. 93/100.

Felton Road, Block 3 Pinot Noir 2006
Lovely vegetal, open, earthy sweetness, the fruit lovely and bold, a tiny bloody edge of ripeness and sweet cherry acidity very fine. The tight, focvcused minerality is there into the finish with tight, fine tannins. 91/100.

Felton Road, Block 5 Pinot Noir 2005
Smoky, charcoally, intensely mineral nose with very deep, juciy black cherry and blackberry fruit. Lovely depth and density. Fabulous palate just brimming with cedar and touches of espresso, and with delicious length. Fabulous stuff. 94/100.

Felton Road, Block 5 Pinot Noir 2004
Gamey and bold, with touches of coffee and sweet damp earth, and still that bold black fruit concentration. The palate has huge depth too, perhaps a little more powerfully concentrated than the 2005, the tannins a little firmer, but I find the 2005 has lovely elegant concentration. 93/100.

Gibbston Valley, China Terrace Pinot Noir 2009
Bannockburn fruit. Very soft, smoky light-coloured wine with gently gamy and herbal notes weaving through red berries. The palate has delightful fruit sweetness, the smooth, tight tannins and tight-grained chocolaty oak all underpinning. Very stylish. 92/100.

Gibbston Valley, Maitre 200
Gibbston Valley fruit from 28 year old vines. Alan Brady's original plantings. Beautifully composed nose, with meaty and gamy edges, a lovely hinyt of truffle and ripe, red berry fruit. The palate has lovely finesse: the tannins are super fine, the cherry acidity gently assertive ands trhe coffeeish oak just supporting. 93/100.

Grasshopper Rock, Pinot Noir 2008
I like the gently vegetal tones, the sweet juicy fruit and the lively personality here. It displays anice acidity and linearity, with a long, focused finish. 91/100.

Grasshopper Rock, Pinot Noir 2009
Delightful freshness and lightness in this pale-coloured, elicatye and spicy pinot. The palate has the same, vital juiciness as the 08, but perhaps ramps up the concentration slightly. Lovely clarity again thogh. 91/100.

Greylands, Ridge Pinot Noir 2009
Not in UK. Delicate, toucvhed with herbs but a fresh cherryish quality. The palate is firm and juicy, with a delightfully firm, fresh but sweet fruit core. Very nice drinking. 90/100.

Judge Rock, Pinot Noir 2009
Quite a lot of smoky, schisty quite mineral character here, with fine, refined raspberry fruit. Keenly focused on the palate with a juicy cherry acidity giving a real edge, and very crisp, fresh tannins. Delicious stuff, a little infill of smoky oak adding some silky depth. 91/100.

Mount Edward, Morrisons Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009
Delightful nose, with some vegetal notes, a hint of truffle and crisply defined black fruit. The palate has lovely definition, a core of tight black fruit that helps this stay long and focused into a balanced finish. 92/100.

Mount Difficulty, Pinot Noir 2009
Delightfully woodsmoky, schisty nose, the minerality and freshness apparant. Seems quite high-toned, but very attractively so. Lovely focus to the fruit with a really lovely mineral and herb edge and everything in lovely, spirited focus and balance. 92/100.

Mud House, Pinot Noir 2009
Lovely smoky, very perky and bright nose with very refined fruit and the gentle minerality to the fore. The fruit has delightful cherry focus. ReaLly taut and precise, with a great juiciness and vitality. 90/100.

Mud House, Reserve Pinot Noir 2009
One third each of new, w year and older oak from the best fruit. A cappuccino creaminess touch of torrefaction, but the lovely fruit quality comes through. More weight and texture n the palate, more concentration, but not over done. A little bit charry in the finish, but impressive stuff. 91/100.

Pisa Terrace, Pinot Noir 2008
Coffe and malty notes, a nicely earthy and sweet berry fruit. Lovely sweet fruit freshness, with elegant tannins and a warming coffeeish finish. 90/100.

Prophet's Rock, Pinot Noir 2006
Big, sweet, cedary nose with lots of herbs and spices. The palate has loads of substance, with plenty of extract and spice and loads of firm, solid fruit. Big but delicious. 91/100.

Prophet's Rock, Pinot Noir 2007
Lovely cedary complexity, masses of fruit and a little more finess than the 2006. Balanced and deliciously moreish on the palate, the fruit has a much more sinewy, elegantly muscular character and lovely length. 92/100.

Rippon, Pinot Noir 2009
Beautiful colour, and a beautifully elegant nose with charming red fruit, layers of mineral strucxture and a discreetly herbal edge. Beautifully focused and refined palate too, spices and exotic woodsmoke notes, but lovely fruit. 92/100.

Rippon, Pinot Noir 2006 magnum
Lots of weight and thick, rich very sweet fruit, lovely beetrooty undertone but little herb and floral nuances too. Perhaps not the most structured of Pinots, but who cares when it is so delicious and so authentic. 91/100.

TattyBogler Pinot Noir 2009
Nicely smoky notes here and modest but delightdully fresh and focused fruit. The palate is nicely balanced, a little support from older oak and a certain juiciness. Adnams. 88/100.

See all Central Otago wines on wine-searcher.

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