John Saker: always more to learn about Central Otago pinot
Last updated 05:00, February 17 2018
I marvel at the knack of the Central Otago wine community to refresh, rearrange and surprise.
The region put on the 13th edition of its intermittent three-day Pinot Celebration events last month. I've been to a few of them and there's never the slightest suggestion that the gig is getting stale.
Certainly, wine's annual, natural cycle of renewal helps with this. There's always a freshly minted vintage to consider. But in the case of the Central Otago winemakers, the diversity is intensified by a strong collective desire to question past practices and try new things.
The way they express this ethos so honestly is refreshing. "Don't let any new world winemaker tell you he or she hasn't made mistakes," said Ted Lemon, the California-based consultant to Burn Cottage Vineyard. "We all make mistakes because there's still so much we don't know." And this from Prophet's Rock winemaker Paul Pujol: "I learned from the vineyard. I realise now I shouldn't have done the things I did several years ago" (in making pinot noir).
As a result of this, what you may have thought was a typical Central Otago pinot a few years ago might be a hard style to find today.
The Celebration gave me the chance to reacquaint myself with Central's class of 2016, a vintage that has its share of highlights at this early stage. Besides the two I feature later in this column, here are the recent releases to that impressed: Aurum Estate Organic Pinot Noir 2016, Burn Cottage Pinot Noir 2016, Domain Road Defiance Pinot Noir 2016, Gibbston Valley Glenlee Pinot Noir 2016, Mondillo Pinot Noir 2016, Prophet's Rock Cuvée Aux Antipodes 2016 and Quartz Reef Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016.
The event also threw a spotlight on Oregon, the third member of modern pinot noir's golden triangle (think of it as a pyramid with Burgundy at the top and New Zealand and Oregon holding down the base). We don't get to see much Oregon pinot in New Zealand. There were some exciting wines among from the Oregonians we tasted at the event – taut, quite savoury and intricate.
Another surprise came in the form of a pair of older wines. 2011 was never rated as much of a vintage in Central, but the Aurum Mathilde Pinot Noir 2011 and the Prophet's Rock Pinot Noir 2011 were both extraordinarily good. That's pinot… it likes to keep us guessing.
Roaring Meg Central Otago Pinot Noir 2016 $30
What winemaker Matt Dicey achieves with this smartly priced, widely distributed wine is amazing. It offers a joyous gush of succulent dark fruit laced with pretty florals and toasty oak, and doesn't seem to know when to stop. Approachable and delicious.
Two Paddocks Pinot Noir 2016 $50
The intriguing evolution of this wine (and winemaker Dean Shaw) continues with this red fruit-dominant juicy rendition. It has haunting scents, together with great real energy and length.
- Your Weekend
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