For each library tasting he runs, senior industry wine judge, Geoff Kelly, includes an invitation. This invitation introduces a selection of some of the best New Zealand pinot noirs from the 2003 vintage.
Geoff has watched the evolution of pinot noir in this fine country of ours. For many years Oregon was number two in the world of pinot, obviously after the great reds of Burgundy. In recent years New Zealand has taken this title – with a more manageable climate it’s been easier to produce a consistent style and quality of pinot.
As we looked at the wines in front of us, we were asked to look for what Geoff described as classic pinot: beauty, bouquet, subtlety and finesse. A good pinot should have texture and layers of subtle flavour. This is an important distinction to bear in mind, as my top pinot of the night was rated bottom by Geoff, not because it wasn’t a nice wine, but because it didn’t conform to the definition of a pinot as stated.
Several of the wines tasted on the night also featured as part of both the 2007 and 2010 Pinot Noir conference. In 2010 the wines didn’t come across well. Instead they were described as being tired and oxidised.
The wines are listed in the order of overall popularity: one point for each vote for top wine, one point for each second wine and minus points for each bottom vote.
2003 Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir Marie Zelie 13.5% $179 (Martinborough)
The wine is rich and fruity in a big way, indicating its ability to continue to cellar well for quite a few more years to come. The wine is developing nicely with savoury earthy and forest floor characters mingling with minty notes and cedar box and vanilla aromas. The wine is done something of a disservice by being tasted in a constrained timed setting. My notes indicate that the wine is swamped by the bottle age characters of earth and forest floor until it has a bit of time to really stretch out and open up.
12 months in 100% new French oak, hand-harvested, not fined or filtered.
2003 Felton Road Pinot Noir Block 3 14% $65 (Central Otago)
This wine has retained just a hint of the former freshness from its youth. There are still aromas of red roses and dried flowers that are starting to turn. There are noticeable skunky aromas resulting from sulfur compounds in the wine. These funky characters blow off with a bit of exposure to air. All-in-all an interesting wine with layers of decay over hints of freshness.
15 months in French oak, some of it new, hand-harvested, not fined or filtered
2003 Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir Prima Donna 14.5% $85 (North Canterbury)
Very pale in colour but as dark as you can go with the fruit and floral structures without getting heavy. A reminder that you can’t judge a Pinot by its colour. There are notes and flavours of beetroot, blackcurrant and vanilla with sharp alcohol and slightly sour tannins. Worth noting that this is Geoff’s top wine of the night, where I had it as a middle of the road Pinot. Perfectly nice, entirely enjoyable, but nothing exciting.
18 months in French oak, 60% new, no fining, with coarse filtration only
2003 M Richardson Pinot Noir 14% $50 (Central Otago)
This is the first vintage from Michelle Richardson, the former winemaker from Villa Maria. It was aptly described by one of the other patrons as more Cote de Nuit (a zingy and aromatic quality that lifts the wine) than Cote de Beaune (simpler and softer) in style. My notes describe this wine as feminine and elegant with layers of delicate fragrance of violets and lavender with minty notes. After a decade this pinot is still rather fruity, with a richly bodied and a brilliant texture. This wine is, in a word, yum.
Less than 12 months in French oak, 40% new, hand-harvested, MLF
2003 Dry River Pinot Noir 13% $69 (Martinborough)
There’s so much dark fruit on the Dry River that a decade on it can still be labelled as youthful. Black currant and black cherries dominate the initial wave of aromas and flavours, followed by more herbal and minty qualities. Then there’s just a touch of forest floor attained through bottle age. It’s fruity, savoury, well integrated, the tannins have retained their grip. And it’s drinking nicely.
This is a love or hate wine. This was my top wine of the night, it was Geoff’s bottom Pinot. There’s a subtle distinction there. I don’t believe from the comments made (it may have been called a caricature of excess) that labelling the wine as bottom Pinot meant it was a poorly crafted wine or unenjoyable However, it does mean that the wine does not conform to the definition of a Pinot clearly stated from the outset. If we were looking for delicacy and subtlety as a guide for rating then the pronounced, heavy, dark fruit character would work against the Dry River.
12 months in French oak, 25% new, hand-harvested, not irrigated, sterile filtration
2003 Mt. Difficulty Pinot Noir Target Gully 14% $73 (Central Otago)
This wine is soft and subtle to the extreme. I struggled to find the fruit on this one and the palate is rather short. My notes were succinctly summed up with, ‘the wine has reached its peak and is possibly a bit past it’. It was pointed out that only Grand Cru wines can be expected to still be picking up speed 10 years on. When looked at by others as part of the 2007 Pinot Noir conference this was a standout wine.
13 months in French oak, 40% new, 12% whole bunch
2003 Neudorf Pinot Noir Home Vineyard 14.5% $73 (Nelson)
The palate is plush and bursting with richness, verging on overripe fruit character. The wine is layered with deeper cherry and violet aromas, with spicy cloves and orange peels well integrated with oak flavours. There’s a touch of decay on the palate due to the age of the wine, but all-in-all it’s quite nice.
10 months French oak, 40% new, 100% destemmed, not fined or filtered
2003 Escarpment Pinot Noir Kupe 14% $60 (Martinborough)
This is a fully mature wine. The tannins and alcohol are both still prominent. Imagine this would have been austere when young, more approachable now. The primary elements of the Pinot’s youth have started to fade considerably, but there’s still a bit of life left in this wine. The weight and body of the wine has started to lift. Perfectly nice, but with this lineup, it’s sitting in the middle of the pack.
12 months in French oak, 50% new, 100% de-stemmed
2003 Greenhough Pinot Noir 14% $39 (Nelson)
Clear red berry fruit character with delicate florals still present. The palate is textured but sharp. There’s pleasant leathery characters and a more autumnal nature with earthy notes covered in fallen leaves. Varietal and fragrant. A nice cheery red.
12 months in French oak, 37% new, hand-harvested, not fined or filtered
2003 Dog Point Pinot Noir 13.5% $39 (Marlborough)
The wine is lacking a nose, not much in the way of a bouquet. The palate is a bit musky and musty with notes of older oak. Overall the wine is a bit tired and non-descript as a Pinot by age 10.
18 months in French oak, 50% new, 100% de-stemmed, not fined or filtered
2003 Schubert Pinot Noir 14.5% $45 (Martinborough)
I was convinced this one was the Burgundian marker in the pack. It was the only one where I found the presence of the appealingly stinky barnyard nature and a touch of brett. It was also the only wine in the line-up that has something distinctively different about it. Nicely textured with minimal fruit and some new oak/cigar box characters. I’m surprised to see this so close to the bottom of the list.
13 months in French oak, 75% new, hand-harvested, 100% destemmed
2003 J Drouhin Pommard 13% $60 (Burgundy)
When we looked at this wine later in the tasting it was revealed that the wine was playing the double role as a palate cleanser (it was placed after the Dry River in the lineup) and to get us back to what a Pinot is. I understand its role as a palate cleanser. For me the nose was nearly non-existent. The palate tasting vaguely like red wine with furry tannins. It may be that the other wines in the lineup were so pronounced in comparison that this one was exaggeratedly faded, or it could just be that the wine had died a death.
Less than 18 months in mostly older barrels, hand-harvested.