I went along to the most recent Pinot Noir Club at Glengarry Thorndon Quay as they were hosting Domenic Mondillo and his Central Otago Mondillo range. The Pinot Noir Club, at least on this night, was an old man’s club. The only things missing were the dark velvet lounge suites and clouds of thick cigar smoke. As a young woman, I was an oddity. But, I was there for the wine and not the company.
The 12ha Mondillo vineyard can be found in the warmest part of the coldest region of Central Otago. Split between 10ha of Pinot Noir and 2ha of Riesling.
Mondillo himself, an Italian-American with the nasally broad ‘A’ accent of eastern Massachusetts (think cawwfee), is an accidental Kiwi. When Australia wouldn’t renew his tourist visa in the early 80’s, he came to New Zealand to work a few months in the ski fields. He never left. And instead found himself engrossed in the wine industry, having started at Gibbston Valley wines as a viticulturalist.
The approach to winemaking at Mondillo is to make the best wine the season gives them. Meaning a lot depends on the rain and the weather. There are some consistencies, including the 30% new oak each Pinot Noir is fermented in and the food-friendly nature of the wines.
In terms of tasting, these wines are all straightforward. The wines all know what they are, carrying the same elements of oak and red fruit, but the construction of those ingredients varies from vintage to vintage.
Mondillo’s first vintage, 2004, was a very small production with nothing left. Our Pinot Noir tasting started with the 2005 vintage. November and December 2004 were four degrees below average monthly temperatures, affecting the flowering and resulting in a 50% crop reduction for most of the area. Domenic described 2005 as a hen-and-chicken vintage. In wine-speak a chicken is a small, stunted berry and a hen is a normal berry that will produce the desired full-flavoured juice. As all Mondillo grapes are handpicked, only the hens made it into the wine.
Starting to show its age with a burnt burgundy ring around the edge, the colour still had a dense concentration. This was a really pleasant wine with warming acidity and a really nutty nose. Fabulously dry, the taste carried a lot of oak notes, mingled with plum and berries.
2006 was a lighter crop with less heat. March was cooler than normal, slowing the rate of ripening and resulting in the softer, more feminine wine. This wine had a much more fruit-forward nose with more cherry than plums. The sweetness of the fruit was well balanced by sharp tannins.
The crowd pleasing 2007 vintage was similar to the 2005 in terms of weather with the same problems at flowering. Bone dry, the 2007 had stronger oak quality with more delicate fruit. This wine was unmistakably moreish.
Domenic described the 2008 vintage as picture perfect. Adding that the 2009 was much the same. The 2008 to taste was still rather closed. It didn’t give away much on the nose and have vague notes of fruit, sweetness and warming acidity in the mouth. It would be interesting to try again in a few years. The 2009 by contrast was much more ready-to-drink. Notes of pine, cherry, oak and plum, there was a mid-palate sweetness that complemented and mellowed the sharp, strong, dry nature of the wine.
The 2010 vintage was characterised as being a hotter season with some cold issues in the spring. With its youthful vibrance still intact, the 2010 was a little something different. Spice and savoury notes mixed with just a hint of chocolate. The wine had a distinct silky-smooth texture.
My personal favourites were the 2005, 2007 and 2009. If I could only pick one, it would be the 2007. I’m not alone in enjoying the ‘05 and ‘07 as these are no longer commercially available. What we were tasting was the dwindling supply of Domenic’s library stock. As a Club, there was a divide among drinkers, with strong preferences for the more robust masculine wines of 05 and 07 or the softer, more feminine wines of ‘06 and ‘08.
The evening started and finished with a riesling. We were welcomed to the tasting with a glass of the Central Otago Riesling 2011 was a bright, welcoming wine. Plenty of fruit on the nose, with sweet notes of pineapple and peach. On the palate you find mineral qualities and soft perfumed notes on the finish.
We finished the tasting with a glass of the Nina Late Harvest Riesling 2011 with 65% botrytis-affected fruit. A well-structured sticky with distinct aromas of banana and vanilla. The wine has a thick, silky texture with plenty of tropical fruits and orange peel. A real beauty with really limited stock.