What’s in the glass tonight December 9th– Pinot Noir

Kiritea PN 2013

From the Cellar: Kiritea Te Hera Pinot Noir Martinborough 2013 – $$

Deep ruby colour. 13.5% alcohol.

Pronounced floral bouquet with dark cherries, a savoury quality, and cardboard box. It presents as a well-defined and deeply scented wine as I believe a proper Pinot should be.

Sweet entry, smooth to drink, with big fruit flavours. But not brash or simple. Bitter and crunchy on the mid palate, and a peppery finish. Solid, rewarding, primary and persistent, with good structure. I’ll keep my second bottle for another couple of years based on this showing.

Highly Recommended 92 points


MS Tasting – 2004 Brunello di Montalcino

MS Brunello 1

The last Magnum tasting of the year, with a great line-up of 2004 Brunello’s.

Introduced once again by the extremely knowledgeable DB, I reproduce some of his excellent tasting notes here:

The Consorzio de Vino Brunello di Montalcino awarded itself 5 stars for the 2004 vintage. After a virtual write-off in 2002, and an extremely hot, low yielding 2003, everyone was in the mood for some good news. Today, with 13 years of hindsight, several highly respected writers (O’Keefe, Galloni, Belfrage et al) have lowered their assessment to 4 stars. Others, eg Bruce Sanderson from Wine Spectator and James Suckling, hold to their original vintage assessment of 97 points.

Everyone agrees that the weather couldn’t have been better. Ample sunshine right across the region and just enough heat with refreshing rains at just the right times did the trick. September and October featured warm days, cool nights, dry weather, and no pressure on harvest.

So, why do some now believe 2004 was less than great? It comes down to the same old issue – variability, but with a twist. Variability – strong sub-regional differences across Montalcino; the impact of human decisions…use of wood, house style, the different preferences of different markets; tradition versus modernity; and the twist of the scandal which was to hit Montalcino four years later.

But before we discuss all that, let’s go back a couple of years. Such was the reputation of 2004 in Tuscany that our Cellarmaster wisely acquired two sets. One was a set of Brunello which we are about to taste. The other was a set of various reds from the Chianti Classico region which we tasted in April 2015. Our findings at that tasting are relevant to the coming event.

At the 2015 tasting I emphasised that Chianti Classico has always been about blending on an at least 80% Sangiovese base. While there has been a move back to native Tuscan varieties as blending partners, several wineries have preferred to use Merlot, Cab Sav or Syrah. This use of French varieties often comes at the cost of the wine’s identity, and regional typicity. What can emerge, however is a new wine of fine quality eg Solaia and d’Alceo, although these wines bear no resemblance to Chianti Classico. But then they are not called that, and no one has any problems with it.

This is in complete contrast to the Brunello di Montalcino model which requires 100% Sangiovese, and there have been problems. If you want to blend, you can use the DOC San ‘Antimo, or the IGT Toscana. Problem….San ‘Antimo does not command the reputation nor price of Brunello. And the IGT market is overcrowded offering everything from Vino Rosso to the most expensive Super-Tuscans from anywhere in Tuscany including multi-site blends. Many of these wines have anonymous labels and providences, and variable quality, and prices. Some are stunning; several are ”boring” (O’Keefe, and me). Also, there has been a recent market shift away particularly from the monolithic examples as buyers are taking more interest in a wine’s purity of expression.

Brunello has remained the epitome of quality and the price definer in Montalcino. That is one reason why some producers have wanted to blend to beef up their slightly austere Sangiovese to make it more appealing at an earlier age, but they have also wanted access to Brunello’s label, pricing and marketability for what clearly would not be Brunello.

If Montalcino is such a blessed area, and the Brunello clones of Sangiovese are its ultimate expression, as we are told, then why such variability, and why would anyone want to blend in French varieties?

Several reasons. Firstly terroir. Montalcino is a very varied territory. High and rugged in the north and east, and lower, more open and rounded in the south and west. There is more rain in the hills and more Mediterranean influences in the South. Sea breezes in the west, not in the east. North and eastern wines are more Chianti Classico Riserva look-a-likes. Southern and western wines are riper, more rounded, and softer. Soils vary as do micro climates. In a colder year, when wines may be austere, a splash of Merlot would be tempting. In a year like 2004, it shouldn’t have been an issue.

Secondly, availability of land. In 1990, about 3.1 million bottles of Brunello were produced. In 1999 there were 3.5 million. In 2004 5.6 million, and in 2008 6.9 million. Plantings have expanded into all sorts of areas hitherto considered unsuitable and the Consorzio has been pressured to license those for Brunello production. Galloni asserts that really, only 25-33% of available land is suitable for first class Sangiovese. So, a lot of young Brunellos rushed to the market in 2004, coming from the new territories, with relatively low vine age and little acquired wisdom of the new sites’ viticultural requirements. Again, you could compensate for some of this if allowed.

Thirdly, human choices. Some companies are very focused on the American market, and the USA does take about 60% of each year’s total Brunello production. The American palate favours the south/west group of producers being riper, softer, richer. And new oak barrique flavours seem to attract further. Traditional makers prefer larger format, older oak, Slavonian by choice. The resulting two wine styles can be hugely different. In younger vineyards, overconfidence in the fruit’s strength can lead to overworking in wood and if there is any perception of unripeness, this can produce serious imbalance. Blending in up to 15% of licensed Brunello from other vintages is legal. In 2004, this facility anecdotally enabled several companies to quit some hard-to-sell, overripe, 2003 stocks which could be why some wines have been criticised for bakey notes.

Fourthly, there is no clear definition about what “good” Brunello actually is. This is not unique to Montalcino but it underlines much of the ongoing differences between the traditional and modern makers. Ironically, in the Consorzio’s first attempt in defining the style in 1996, allowance was made for blending up to 15% of other black grape varieties, but that didn’t survive the final cut. In the most recent review, in late 2008, the Consorzio voted virtually unanimously to maintain strictly the 100% Sangiovese rule. So, the rules are crystal clear, but what defines “good”? Quality assessment has often been clouded by personal perceptions of what Brunello should be. There has been any amount of scope for debate with misunderstanding, bias, and commercial pressure playing their part. All give ample room for perceptions of “variability” year in, year out. One man’s prize stallion is another’s donkey.

With all the debate, suspicion, innuendo and gradual appearance of more and more darker, richer, Brunellos showing unusual (non- traditional) characteristics, plus the well- known existence throughout the region of 800ha of non Sangiovese red wine varieties (for use in IGT, VDT, etc), plus some “information received”, in 2008 the Italian authorities impounded several million litres of 2003 Brunello on suspicion of illegal blending. Nearly 100 companies were investigated including four of the biggest, most prominent. The issue was thoroughly stirred by several eminent writers and experts who publically opined along the lines of “I have long suspected this” and “I’ve been saying this for years.” In the end, there was no clear outcome. Substantial stocks were re-classified to IGT just to get the stuff out of embargo and on to the market (without prejudice to the makers’ cases that the wines were entirely legal.) The Consorzio, and authorities, received much needed lessons in record keeping, audits, and the ability to test for the presence of alien juice in the wines. All in all, the region was left shocked and paralyzed by the experience as the reputation of Brunello, rightly or wrongly, had been very severely damaged.

While the matter of the 2003s did eventually fade away, there remained a serious issue for the 2004s. Between 2003 and 2008 when the scandal broke, there had been the 2004,5,6, and 7 vintages, and the 2004s were all in their bottles. The argument went that if people had “clearly” cheated in 2003, and this had been long suspected for previous years as well, why wouldn’t they have continued cheating in 2004? A big cloud of suspicion descended on the 2004s and the investigation was expanded to include them. But by that time, the authorities had a much better idea of what the truth was. Several companies were investigated regarding their 2004s but to my knowledge, no wine was embargoed.

Even so, it took a long time for the conspiracy theorists to lie down and biases appeared in some reviews of the 2004s. A classic example is World of Fine Wine’s review of the 2004s in Issue 27, 2010. I give you only two quotes that amply serve to illustrate:

“…the influence of Bordeaux was apparent to all three tasters”

“There was ample evidence of grape varieties other than Sangiovese”

To give them credit, they tried to be positive throughout the tasting and a wine- by- wine check of the seven wines we shall be tasting showed them all to be in the top echelon.

Decanter in August 2009 focused on inconsistence and the arrival of new young-vine wines. There was only one hint at the scandal but the speaker was described as being cynical, and there it rested.

Wine Spectator has remained solidly of the view that 2004 is one of Montalcino’s greatest vintages and that everyone should be more patient. James Suckling agrees.

Another American, Ed McCarthy of Wine Review opined that while 2004 is a ‘top notch year’, it is too early to call it an ‘all-time great’. He discusses variability as a probable cause of the scandal.

Vinous Media expressed the view that 2004 falls into the camp of 4 to 4.5 stars; they marginally preferred 2001. They thought that the warmth of 2004 did not help vineyards in the lower southern region.

Interestingly, Antonio Galloni (who is Vinous) has said himself the South did better than the North in 2004. He picks on a theme of “the continuing emergence of the differences between Montalcino’s various terrains and microclimates.” He welcomed increased numbers of “new style” Brunellos, being more aromatic and expressive of Sangiovese but felt some others needed filling out. He concludes “a solid, classic vintage but I’m not convinced it’s a home run.”

Again, the individual wines we shall taste were all reported highly. I am sure we will be pleased with the seven in the flight:

Poggio Antico Brunello A farm turned vineyard/winery in the late 70s located about 6km south of Montalcino at about 450m facing southwest. Exposed to sea breezes. Calcareous soils, clay and rock. 33ha in mature vines at 3300vines/ha, and another 17ha planted 1997-2001 at 6000 vines/ha. Hand harvested. Yields 5T/ha, two passes over sorting tables. 16 days ferment in stainless steel. 36 months in large Slavonian oak 370-550lts in size. 12 months in bottle.

Lisini Brunello Lisini is about 8km due south of Montalcino at 300-350m, just to the northeast of Sant’Angelo down a dirt road through dense scrub. The soils are soft, sandy, volcanic with some stones and the site is exposed to sea breezes. 20ha under vine. Lisini is one of the district’s historical producers and remains one of the more traditional. The family have been farming here since the 16th century. Mainly massale selection with some vines up to 75 years old. There is one small block remaining of pre-phyloxera from the mid 19th century. Wines are aged in large 1100-4000lt Slavonian botti for up to 3 years.

Costanti Brunello 2km southeast of Montalcino, only walking distance from Fuligni ( see below). A very old family property which first exhibited its Brunello in 1870. Vineyards face southeast on quite a steep slope at 310-400m. 12ha under vine. Soils are blue-grey chalky marl. Costanti uses new BBS clones 5-25 years old. Wood ageing is mixed with 18 months in new and used 350-500lt French tonneaux, and 18 months in 3000lt Slavonian botti.

Fuligni Brunello 2km east of Montalcino on quite open rounded hills facing east-southeast at elevations 0f 380-450m. 11ha under vine. An old Tuscan family but making wine since only 1923. Tending towards a traditional style: aromatic, elegant, and subtle rather than fruit forward. Aged in 500lt French tonneaux for 4-5 months in an old convent on the property, then for 30 months in large Slavonian botti deep underneath the family’s 18th century palazzo in the centre of town.

Il Poggione Another one of Brunello’s pioneers of 100-120 years ago. This is a big estate (530ha total with 140ha in grapes). Located on the southern edge of Sant’Angelo in Colle with large blocks spreading down a long south facing slope right down to the Orcia river. They have made extensive use of new clones since the 1990s but also take cuttings off their oldest block Paganelli (see below). We have two wines from this estate:

Il Poggione Brunello A blend from the four main vineyards on the slope. Typically spends 3 years in 300-500lt French oak.

Il Poggione Riserva Vigna Paganelli A single vineyard wine from the oldest section (1964) of the property. 200m. More alluvial soils. This block relies on its own cuttings for replants. Usually spends 4 years in 300-500lt French oak before bottle ageing.

Argiano Brunello One of the most well-known and visited of Montalcino’s estates. A story-book palazzo built in 1581-1596 on a 120ha plateau in the southwest corner of the region. 50ha of Brunello certified vineyards at 300m. Substantial plantings of French varieties for its two super-tuscans for which it has a high reputation. Owned for some time by members of the Cinzano (drinks) family but sold in 2013 to Brazilian interests. Its first Brunello was 1888. Usually fermented in stainless steel, then a year in French barrique and tonneaux, then a year in large Slavonian botti, then stored in concrete tanks prior to bottling.

MS Brunello 2

And so to the wines:

2004 Costanti Brunello di Montalcino – Browning dark ruby colour. Sweet, floral and aromatic. Scents of pink roses, lanolin, richness, vegemite. I thought quite thinly fruited on the palate, almost skeletal. It improved 100% with supper, which helped ’fill in the corners’, but this wasn’t a balanced example to start. My least favoured wine. I scored this Bronze.

2004 Argiano Brunello di Montalcino – Dark ruby colour. Tainted? Dry, thin fruit on the nose. However, the wine revealed good fruit flavours, richness and smoothness on drinking. Primary fruit, strong tannins, a sour-ish spine. Long hot finish. Gold

2004 Poggio Antico Brunello di Montalcino – Darkest ruby colour, faded edges. Great fruit aromas, with intensity and complexity. Dark plums, prunes, herbs, a savoury character. Lovely balanced fruit and acid. Fine grained tannins. Moderate density with a fresh and long finish. A gorgeous wine, and my third wine of the evening. Gold.

2004 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino – Dark ruby colour, tending brown. Funky and developed, which tendered to smother the fruit aromas, so seemed ‘dumb’. Gorgeous fruit flavours, with a real burst of intensity and acid in the mouth. Pepper, herbal, sour cherries, fine tannins. Silver.

2004 Fuligni Brunello di Montalcino – Brilliant dark ruby colour. V attractive. Bright and elegant nose with engaging fruit aromas and finesse. Rich dark fruit flavours, again I noted finesse, great acid and breadth of fruit concentration, and a hot finish. My second wine of the night. Gold.

2004 Lisini Brunello di Montalcino – Dark ruby colour, tending brown. Started slightly repressed on the nose, but opened up on standing to reveal a very lovely bouquet – poised, with concentration, fleshy and succulent, fruit driven and still quite primary. Elegant texture in the mouth, fruit-rich flavours, brilliant beautiful and classy. Such a young wine still. My wine of the night (WOTN). Gold.

2004 Il Poggione Riserva Vigna Paganelli – Dark ruby colour. Funky and somewhat oxidative, thinning fruit and that vegemite character again, and licorice.  Intense acid texture to drink, bracing and sharp. Herbal with a varnich note. The wine balanced out with food, and I scored this Silver.

To my taste, a mixed bag this. Three great wines, one ok wine, and three that made up the numbers. Easy to see why the commentators who DB referred to wrote what they did about this vintage, and illuminated the wider issues with Brunello and variability.

That is the beauty of wine and terroir and the handmade nature of the finer examples I guess!

MS Brunello 3

Nice to take a few examples home to look at again at the kitchen table, and collect my thoughts.

Thanks to DB and Magnum for another fine and informative tasting. Thanks also for the delicious supper by TJ – a treat in itself!

Straight to the Pool Room – December 2017

Pool Room Dec 2017

A brace of top Chardonnays kept for a sleep-in:

Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay Martinborough 2016 – $$$ – drink now-2021. I thought this was luminous at a recent tasting

Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay Nelson 2016 – $$$+ – drink now-2021. I have ridden past the vineyard where the grapes are grown when I completed in the Abel Tasman Cycle Challenge, but I am yet to try this wine. It is reputedly one of NZs finest of the variety. Guess I will find out in a couple of years time, then.

Ata Rangi tasting with Helen Masters

Ata Rangi tasting 1

In the middle of October I attended a tasting at Regional Wines of the wines of Ata Rangi, the successful Martinborough producer, in the company of their head winemaker Helen Masters. Ata Rangi is a member of the Family of Twelve – a marketing-led ‘grand cru’ grouping of twelve of NZs most noted and celebrated wineries.

We would be looking at a couple of their Pinot Gris vintages, a couple of Chardonnays, their ‘value’ Pinot Noir and then a short vertical of their flagship Pinot Noir, then finishing off with a red blend that is a favourite of mine.

All wines are from Martinborough fruit.

Ata Rangi Tasting 2

2016 Ata Rangi Lismore Pinot Gris – Light rose gold colour. In an Alsatian style. Whole bunch pressed. 5.5g RS.  Lightly aromatic with aromas of licorice, apple and white pepper. Fresh and fine in the mouth. Light citrus, peppery, with balance, long and hot. Not oily, which I prefer.

2012 Ata Rangi Lismore Pinot Gris – Brilliant greenish straw colour. 6.5g RS.  From a cool year. Aromatic, forward and sweet and fruity, further scents of confectionery, apple, mandarins and orange peel. Crisp taste, some development, juicy and luscious, short, sweet and textured. Again, non-oily.

2016 Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay – Crisp light white gold colour. Mendoza clone, 20% new oak.  Fine bouquet with white florals, layered with citrus, honey and melon. Dense, some reduction. Flavours of citrus fruit, lemons and limes, lean and linear, dry and clean. Balanced. Crunchily textural. Lovely acidity and concentration. Like all great Chardonnays, this was luminous. I liked it very much, and bought a bottle for the Pool Room.

2012 Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay – Pale straw colour. Mendoza clone, 20% new oak.  Fine bouquet again, with citrus. Warmer-toned on the nose than the ’16, and showed light spice and butterscotch notes. Dense, flinty and very crisp to taste. There was a kick on the back palate as well. Less balanced, somewhat awkward. Showing the effect of the cool year I suspect. Helen talked this one up, I marked it down.

2016 Ata Rangi Crimson Pinot Noir – Bright ruby colour. A fruit-forward accessible early drinking style. Fruit selected from AR vines under 20 years old. Cheerful. Lean on the nose with red cherries. Red fruit on palate, light and washed, somewhat bitter and lean. Drying, some said supple tannins.

2015 Ata Rangi Crimson Pinot Noir – Bright ruby colour. Fruit-forward, more flavour and density and depth than the ’16, still with the typical bitter/spice finish. Stalky, seed-y tannins. I found both Crimsons were hard to like.

2015 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir – Deep carmine colour. Floral and tight and dense aromas of rich red fruit, dark cherries, savoury, cardboard. Rich fruit flavours, full and ripe yet with lovely crispness and lusciousness. Packed with flavour. Such tension and power. No bitterness at all at the finish. Presistence. Sensational wine.

2010 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir – Deep carmine colour, tending brown. Floral and light. Slightly stalky and bitter. My notes are otherwise silent on this one – I must have been looking the other way because other tasters judged this sensational also.

2008 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir – Deep brown carmine colour. Quite primary still, but some age characters emerging of herbs and forest floor. Punchy to drink, with dark cherries, pepper and spice. Huge extract, packed with fruit flavour. Showed gorgeous poise and elegance over time, and started to sing.

2013 Ata Rangi McCrone Vineyard Pinot Noir – Somewhat dumb, with subdued florality. Big chunky and fat. Big fleshy tannins. Showed the ripeness of the 2013 vintage.

2014 Ata Rangi Celebre – A Merlot dominant/Syrah/Cabernets blend. A cool climate energetic red blend, with fine savoury tannins and ripe berries. Delicious unctuousness.

What’s in the glass tonight November 22nd – Chenin Blanc

Millton Chenin Blanc 2007

From the Cellar: Millton Te Arai Chenin Blanc Gisborne 2007 – $$$

From the foremost of the few producers of this varietal in New Zealand. I can’t say enough good things about Millton. One of the first wines I collected for the Pool Room.

Brilliant gold colour. 12% alc. A biodynamic wine.

Richly aromatic. Satisfyingly complex secondary and tertiary aromas have developed over the past 10 years under my roof – oranges and golden mangoes and honey, bready and unctuous, cardboard, a citrus tang. Lovely.

Sweet and lively to drink. Juicy and mouthwatering. Bright acid throughout, with golden fruit, mango and orange flavours which end on a slightly bitter biscuit finish, long and hot.

There is such youthful vigour here. There are years ahead for this wine. Wish I had more!

One of my Wines of the Year!

Outstanding 96 points

What’s in the glass tonight November 19th – Sauvignon Blanc

Astrolabe Kekerengu Sav B 2015

Astrolabe Kekerengu Coast Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2015 – $$

From a reference producer of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, this wine is one of their series of wines exploring sub-regional expressions of the varietal, this example from near the southern coast of Marlborough.

Pale green straw colour. 13% alc.

Grassy and green on the nose. Green capsicum and gooseberries. Apples. A lichen salinity. Ascetic and austere.

Intense and long flavours. Limes and citrus, green tomatoes. Astringent. A grassy long note. Yet still full-flavoured within the confines of the style. Liking the expression of austerity very much!

Highly Recommended 91 points

What’s in the glass tonight November 2nd – Sauvignon Blanc

Dashwood SB 2016

Dashwood Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2016 – $

Another fantastic Savvy, and cheap too!

Pale straw colour. 13% alc.

A cheery and lively nose, this wine boasted the strongest expression of passionfruit I have ever smelt in a Sauvignon Blanc. There was more to smell every time I went back to the glass: lemons, limes, green apples, hops. Remarkable.

It was crisp and full-flavoured to drink, with a dry apple pip finish.

Highly Recommended 94 points

Straight to the Pool Room – November 2017

Pool Room Nov 2017

A trio of notable Sauvignon Blanc wines for the cellar:

Grove Mill Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2016 – $ – drink now-2021. Rated as Outstanding in the Decanter 2017 review of NZ Savs.

Ata Rangi Sauvignon Blanc Martinborough 2016 – $ – drink now-2021. Bought at a recent tasting of Ata Rangi wines. Outstanding.

MS Tasting – Felton Road with Blair Walter

MS Felton Rd 2

I really looked forward to this tasting of Felton Road wines in the company of Blair Walter, the house’s long-time winemaker.

I hadn’t had much chance to taste many wines with the Society this winter – all the tastings had coincided with a family ski weekend away, and thus I have missed out on Loire whites and red Burgundies amongst others – but this was one tasting I was determined to attend. Cos NZ wines, etc, plus I have tasted and bought Felton Rd wines previously.

Blair kindly provided some introductory notes to the tasting which I reproduce here:

It was 26 years ago that Stewart Elms founded Felton Road, beginning with acquiring the land called The Elms Vineyard on Felton Road in Bannockburn. At that time, there were only about 20 ha of vineyards planted in Central Otago and none in the entire Cromwell basin, where now around 70% of Central Otago’s 1896 ha are now planted. When Nigel bought the winery in 2000, there were three vintages released and the 2000 in barrel, 11 hectares of vines, and the start of a global recognition. Seventeen years on, the core team of myself, Gareth and Nigel have settled down to the long game of turning precocious ambition into a classic fine wine.

There are now 32 hectares in the estate across four properties, all certified biodynamic and all in Bannockburn. The vineyards have been under an organic and biodynamic farming regime commencing in 2002, and the general vineyard and soil health is now inherent and immediately obvious. As the vine trunks grow slowly thicker, our understanding of how best to farm in our unique growing conditions continually builds: resulting in wines which we believe are now showing increasing precision, finesse and sense of place.

Along with the biodynamic viticulture, there are some other fundamental principles that have contributed to Felton Road’s consistent quality that are worth mentioning. We have always been 100% estate grown and never purchased fruit. We see this as absolutely vital in our cool and unique growing environment. There is a modern and unique three level gravity flow winery with that treats the wines very gently, efficiently and respectfully. There are also four underground barrel cellars that provide the required space, temperature and humidity controlled conditions for the elevage; without having to rush wines to bottle. The wines have always been bottled onsite (very unique in Central Otago) with a bottling line that we now own. All of these ensure utmost respect to quality throughout the entire process.


Most of the attention to our Pinot Noirs has been traditionally to either Block 5 and/or Block 3. This has mainly been due to historical reasons: the Block 3 has been produced as a single vineyard wine since our first vintage in 1997, with the Block 5 added in 1999. They are produced in smaller quantities, usually around 6000-7000 bottles, have always been on very strict allocation and are priced higher (2016 vintage is $86). We introduced single vineyard bottlings from Calvert in 2006 and Cornish Point in 2007. We are now bottling around 11-13,000 bottles of each of these two wines and they are both priced at $65 for the 2016 vintage. The fifth Pinot Noir that we make is the Bannockburn ($54) which is a blend of our four vineyards and we produce around 50-64,000 bottles annually. All the wines receive exactly the same viticulture and winemaking. The only exception is for slightly more new oak for the Block 3 (high 30’s compared to 25-33% for the others) and usually around 3 months longer in barrel for the Calvert and Block 5.

One of the question’s we are beginning to ask ourselves is: what are our best sites? (our Grand Crus, if we may!).

The geology and soils of Bannockburn are very complex. There are 10 described soil types along the 3km length of Felton Road alone, and most are dramatically different: from pure, deep, angular schist gravels on the fans; to pockets of ancient clay lake bed sediments; to sandy alluvial gravels closer to the Kawarau River; to deep heavy silts; and fertile wind-blown loess loams; even manmade soils as a result of the gold mining in the late 1800’s. While there are no marine derived limestone soils found in Central Otago, our soils all contain high levels of dendritic lime: pure calcium carbonate that is derived from incomplete leaching due to our very low rainfall. Generally the soils of the lower lying areas are more homogenous with the compound slopes sometimes providing variation that can prove frustrating to farm.

Such is our growing understanding of what the different soils are providing us; just a few months ago we ripped out 0.44 ha of 25 year old Pinot Noir vines in Block 2. We recognise that on these deep schist gravel soils; that we can make far more interesting quality Chardonnay than the lighter and relatively inconsequential Pinot Noirs that result from these soils. Also helping the decision, was that the vines were vulnerable on their own roots and we also wanted to get some more Block 2 Chardonnay planted on phylloxera resistant rootstock.

Another example of our growing understanding and commitment to farming the best soils is that several years ago we had the chance to purchase 10 ha of plantable land just to the east of Block 5 – a veritable gold mine you could say! Digging several soil pits confirmed the soil map of the same schist gravels as Block 2, so we respectfully declined and opted to purchase 6 ha from the original Calvert property (less than 1km away). This new property named MacMuir contained very different, deep, heavy silt soils that we had had 10 years experience farming and making wines from the adjacent Calvert vineyard. These soils provide a wine character and texture we preferred over Pinot Noir on schist gravel. We were even able to decide on the property boundary after digging soil pits and determining where the soils became more shallow and gravelly.

Climate varies slightly across the Bannockburn sub-region from the winds that funnel up the Cromwell Gorge and temper our Cornish Point vineyard so that it doesn’t hold the summer heat for as long into the evening. But then its lakeside location (water on three sides), means it doesn’t get as cold in the evening as the other sites only 6 km away to the west on Felton Road. Altitude plays an effect with the lower lying sites like Cornish Point and Calvert (200-220m) – both being slightly warmer and usually ripening earlier than the higher elevation Elms Vineyard (250-330m), which also loses the sun earlier being situated close to the western hills.

Out of interest and as a way of comparison, there are currently 325 ha of vines planted in Bannockburn – about the same as the communes of Pommard or Nuits-St-Georges. The appellations of the Cote de Nuits have slightly less vineyard area over its compact and narrow 20 km length compared to Central Otago’s 1896 ha which spans up to 70km with over 1800 m of elevation gain between sub-regions. We are not aware of any other wine region in the world which has such dramatically geographically distinct sub-regions.

Up until now, Block 5 and Block 3 have been enjoying the older vine age (planted 1992/93, so 24 and 25 years old). Calvert and Cornish Point are now 16 and 17 years old. Our experience is showing that the difference in vine age between the Block 3 and 5, and Calvert and Cornish Point, is becoming less significant.


Due to the generally low annual rainfall and low relative humidity, variation in rainfall in Central Otago does not play a major role in vintage variation. It varies from the average of 18% less to 27% more (224 to 347mm during the 7 months of the growing season). In fact, the wines we usually like most usually come from our wetter seasons and interestingly from a wetter end to the season (February and March). To follow are our harvest dates for the last several vintages which highlights the fact that we experience little variation in overall growing season heat summation. It’s the variation of actually when we receive the warmer and cooler periods that influences wine style and charater.

I have focussed the wine selection more on our recent releases, as these are wines and stories that we feel are more interesting and significant to share. Great wine is, more than anything, about patience. Enjoyment is the end of the journey, but patience is the path.

Au vins:

Arrival: Felton Road 2012 Chardonnay Block 2

Flight 1

  1. 2016 Felton Road Pinot Noir Cornish Point – our 20th vintage
  2. 2015 Felton Road Pinot Noir Cornish Point
  3. 2014 Felton Road Pinot Noir Cornish Point
  4. 2014 Felton Road Pinot Noir Calvert
  5. 2013 Felton Road Pinot Noir Block 3

Flight 2

  1. 2012 Felton Road Pinot Noir Calvert
  2. 2012 Felton Road Pinot Noir Block 5
  3. 2010 Felton Road Pinot Noir Block 5
  4. 2008 Felton Road Pinot Noir Block 5
  5. 2003 Felton Road Pinot Noir Block 5

To finish: 2007 Felton Road Riesling Block 1

MS Felton Rd 1

2012 Felton Road Block 2 Chardonnay – This was a great start to the tasting. Off schist soils down 3+ metres. Whole bunch ferment. Brilliant clear gold colour. Sleek, citrus, mineral. Like a Chablis. Grapefruit pith & flinty. Aging beautifully. Flavours of feijoa and nettle. To hold and savour.

2016 Felton Road Cornish Point Pinot Noir – A hot year. Picked early, with low acidity in the vineyard. Dark carmine colour. Fruity/fruit forward. Like a Gamay. There was an underlying slightly savoury character, with primary lusciousness, but simple, shallow. Fruity flavours of strawberries. A jammy, hot finish. Hard to find a lot of good things to say about this wine. Think Beaujolais. However, a site ripe for terroir expression and individuality.

2015 Felton Road Cornish Point Pinot Noir – Dark carmine colour. A lovely perfume to this wine. It’s finer, less fruity; a dense core, more earthy and savoury than the first examples. Black fruits. Luscious (obv the Cornish Point expression showing through). Brusque, and spicy. Lovely extract.

2014 Felton Road Cornish Point Pinot Noir – Dark carmine brownish colour. I’m seeing an evolution to this wine. Perfumed. Hine, light fruit. A delicacy and poise that I like very much. There is a richness  here with dark cherries, spice, and persistence Hot finish. An interesting wine.  Three stars, and marked as my Wine of the Flight (WOF)

2014 Felton Road Calvert Pinot Noir –Dark carmine browning colour. Dense fruit on nose. Muscular. There was oak, malo, cardboard, herbal characters. Lighter that the Cornish Point wines, lean, with herbal and celery takes. To drink, I took red fruits, cherries, savouriness, concentration, and silky tannins. Nice.

2013 Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir – Dark carmine colour. The first of the noted ‘Block’ wines. Fine, dense, lifted nose, with spic. Very attractive, Gorgeous deep fruit weight and profile to drink. Such heft, and spice. Long. Dark cherries. I say again, muscular, broader, and also chunky. Softened with lavender notes. Three stars again!

2012 Felton Road Calvert Pinot Noir –Dark carmine browning colour. Perfumed roses, rich, sweet and savoury. Slight varnish note. Lean, light, warm, and dry in the mouth, spice finish. Persistent.

2012 Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir – Dark carmine browning colour. Warm and savoury nose, elegant and poised, clean, dark, complex and complete. A long wine. A lovely pinot ‘tickle’, with fine grained tannins, showing elegance and purity. Two stars.

2010 Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir – Dark carmine browning colour. Beautifully dusty and dappled, exhibiting primary characters of fruit and secondary development of lanolin and herbs. At a new level. Monumental. Sweet entry on palate, really deleicious. Lovely acidity and fruit. Red cherries, highly extractive. Very long. Lovely heat on the finish. Sumptuous, complete. Three stars.  A candidate for WOF.

2008 Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir – Dark carmine browning colour. Gorgeous development: savoury, rich, earthy, leathery. Violets. Lively acidity, great fruit weight and power, minerality, and a bright lifted finish for this older wine. Two stars.  Another candidate for WOF. My Wine of the Night (WOTN). It was so sumptuous!

2003 Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir – Dark carmine browning colour. Most developed of the flight, secondary tending tertiary – almost port-like. Dark violets, dried fruits, figs, involving complexity. Nicely integrated on palate, with good acidity, red and black cherries, earthy and brambly, light tannins, terpenes. Very interesting. Held up fantastically. Two stars.  

2007 Felton Road Block 1 Riesling – Pale green gold colour. 10% alcohol. A lovely fragrance: apples,  very clean. Slight terpene note. Sweet and cordial-ly to taste. There was a complimentary and contrasting freshness and complexity about the wine that gave a lot of interest. Balanced. Fantastic.

MS Felton Rd 3

I took a few of the wines home in Gladwrap to have another look at my kitchen table. It was really good to enjoy them at leisure.

Thanks to Blair Walter and the Society for putting on such an enjoyable and informative evening.


What’s in the glass tonight October 27th – Pinot Noir

Escarpment Kupe 2013

From the Cellar: Escarpment Kupe Pinot Noir Martinborough 2013 – $$$

The flagship Pinot from one of Martinborough’s most experienced winemakers. I have been to many Escarpment tastings, and bought wine following each one. This bottle was one of those, liberated from the cellar to see what development there was after 5 years.

Deep ruby colour. 13.5% alc.

On the nose the wine showed heady, savoury, luscious and dense aromas. There was a subline character to the nose with scents of boxwood, soft red fruit, lanolin, licorice and dark red roses.

The palate told a shorter story: a sweet entry with a bitter finish. It seemed astringent, thin, metallic and hollow. There were red fruit there, but not enough flavour to balance the drying tannins. Finished somewhat long, but it didn’t improve on standing. The nose stayed firm however.

Had this wine “tunnelled”? I have had a couple of disappointing cellar experiences with the Escarpment wines I have bought for the Pool Room, including a Pahi tasted last year. They show so well on release. Had I opened them too early? Or are they not built for the long term? Don’t know, but I have to say I was saddened. I was hoping for this wine to be tremendous. I’ll keep the second one another couple of years and see how it fares.

Recommended 86 points