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Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
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Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.
LOOKING FOR NEW ZEALAND PINOT NOIR WORTH CELLARING


Introduction:  Because I write a column for the wine firm Regional Wines of Wellington titled Worth Cellaring,  it recently seemed an excellent idea to present a couple of pinot noir tastings with the same name,  as practical exercises in choosing suitable wines to cellar.  There were two blind tastings,  the first a bracket of 16 wines under $35,  then a second one for wines over that price.  We confined ourselves to the main labels,  not limited-edition wines.  The wrinkle to the tastings was,  we nominated one wine,  the 2010 Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir,  as the wine to beat in Pt I,  the thought being that any other wine better than that $31 wine must be worth cellaring.  And so it turned out,  in the Pt I blind tasting.  For Pt II more than $35,  the Grasshopper Rock was then a ninth glass,  not blind,  for constant reference,  so tasters could check not only the 16 candidate wines,  but then go back to the $31 Grasshopper and decide whether each and every over-$35 wine was demonstrably a better pinot noir than the $31 yardstick wine.  This worked very well,  as a practical and rigorous way of deciding how to spend hard-won dollars.

Pinot noir as a variety is about beauty,  and in the Introductions to the tastings we talked a good deal about the expression of that beauty via florality and subtle red grading to black fruits.  We discussed the sequence of ripeness as expressed by flower analogies,  the sequence from stalky to leafy to lightly floral as in sweet-peas and buddleia,  grading through to lilac and pink roses,  with more interesting wines continuing through to darker roses and magical aromas such as violets and boronia,  as in the most complex and Cotes de Nuits-like wines.  And in step with that,  there is the fruit expression,  from red currants through red plums and red cherries to the perfect expression of pinot noir,  somewhere between red cherries and black cherries,  and then with sur-maturité / over-ripeness thoughts of darker plums and merlot creeping in.

The whole ripening analogy in pinot noir is infinitely subtle,  and only finds full expression in climates with marked diurnal variation,  not excessive day-time maximum temperatures,  and cool-enough nights.  That is why there is the on-the-face-of-it paradox that pinot noirs from warmer climates such as most of the North Island north of southern elevated central Hawkes Bay produce pinot noirs which in terms of their physiological maturity appear under-ripe / leafy,  while at the same stage being sugar-ripe.  The sequence of ripening smells and flavours in pinot noir is remarkably akin to the ripening curve I published last year for syrah,  in an article in Issue 34 of The World of Fine Wine,  London,  pp. 130 137.  In its florality,  beauty,  and sensory qualities (as opposed to its ampelography),  fine syrah is after all merely stronger more aromatic pinot noir.

When I first started publishing about New Zealand pinot noir in the earliest 1980s,  they were mostly light and weak wines lacking physiological ripeness / maturity,  a product of clone bachtobel brought in more for its production and cropping rate attributes,  and for bubbly,  than for any appreciation of fine pinot noir.  Since then our interpretations of pinot noir have been all over the show.  Influenced as we are by Australia next door,  and pinot noir being red,  and our winemakers in earlier times being little familiar with European norms of finesse and beauty sought in wine,  we went through quite a long ugly phase where big black pinot noirs were being awarded ridiculously high medals in wine competitions for being big and achieving colour,  in a thin-skinned variety.  Lincoln University wine group at one stage in a benighted moment even approved a research project aimed at improving colour in pinot noir.  Some makers added a ratio of a more deeply-coloured variety,  so long as it was below the 85% rule for varietal labelling.

What a joy it is to report that in 2012 our better wines now reflect a much more widespread awareness of what pinot noir really means in the world wine scene.  The wines are on average lighter in colour,  and the best of them even when well-coloured are still truly varietal and burgundian in texture and mouthfeel,  showing power and persistence without weight and heavyness.  The clones now being grown illustrate the varietal attributes of pinot noir pretty well.  Some of the wines reported on here are delightful.

The results are presented firstly by repeating the Invitations to the tastings,  with the schedule of wines for that tasting to show what was tasted with what,  then listing all 32 wines in one sequence of reviews,  which highlights that some of the under $35 wines are more worth cellaring than some of the over $35 ones.  And since the Grasshopper was seen twice,  and since as that great British wine-man Harry Waugh so often said,  how any wine tastes is in accord with the wines it is seen with on the day,  I am including both tasting notes for the Grasshopper,  since the second was written without reference to the first.  Sufficient distraction occurred in the intervening month,  there was no chance of remembering.  




Invitation to Pt I:   The first tasting on Wednesday 17 October 2012 will consider pinot noirs under $35.  Since there are some lovely wines available under that price,  this should be a worthwhile and affordable tasting.  We have the feeling the Grasshopper Rock wine will be the one to beat.  But in selecting the wines,  looking through the last 12 months judging results for pinot noir,  and considering which pinots are the most popular in terms of sales at Regional Wines & Spirits,  one impression comes clearly to the fore.

RWS customers are remarkably upbeat about what they buy,  almost totally disregarding judging results,  for example.  The most popular pinot noir in the firm's trade is not entered in competitions.  And when I looked at the competition results more closely,  you can see why.  If the two most authoritative judgings are the Air New Zealand and the Royal Easter,  in the last 12 months,  no under-$35 pinot noir on Regional's 220-plus pinot list has won a gold medal at both judgings.  

This simple but telling observation suggests that the judging of pinot noir in New Zealand is still all over the show.  The corollary is,  what better idea could there be than looking at them ourselves,  so we can decide on our own palates what to spend our dollars on.  

The selection below is designed to sample the full range,  from Martinborough to Otago via Marlborough and Waipara,  and from bigger producers to smaller. There are some famous names in this price bracket Ata Rangi Crimson and Main Divide,  for example.  There are some improbable ones too,  just to catch up for example,  on what a gold medal means at the New World Wine Awards.  And,  ten of the top-selling 15 wines in Regional's pinot list are included.  We hope you will be delighted to see these wines alongside each other well,  nearly,  in two flights.    

The 16 wines to be tasted are:

2011  Ata Rangi Pinot Noir Crimson
2009  Bannock Brae Pinot Noir Goldfields
2009  Charles Wiffen Pinot Noir
2011  Clifford Bay Pinot Noir
2011  [ Rockburn Wines ] Devil's Staircase Pinot Noir
2010  Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard
2009  [ Pegasus Bay ] Main Divide Pinot Noir
2011  Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir Te Tera
  2009  Mountford Estate Pinot Noir Village
2011  Mount Riley Pinot Noir
2011  Olssens Pinot Noir Nipple Hill
2009  [ Mt Difficulty ] Roaring Meg Pinot Noir
2010  [ Peregrine ] Saddleback Pinot Noir
2011  Tohu Pinot Noir Marlborough Single Vineyard
2009  Villa Maria Pinot Noir Cellar Selection Marlborough
2010  Wooing Tree Pinot Noir Beetle Juice
 



Invitation to Pt II:   The second tasting on Thursday 15 November 2012 will consider pinot noirs over $35 which may be worth cellaring.  It should be equally exciting.  It's not the last tasting for the year,  but one of the last,  and a good way to draw towards a conclusion.

Choosing which wines to include is not straightforward.  Regional's Pinot Noir stock list includes over 220 variants.  But nonetheless some names come to the fore,  for how often have we wondered,  is Ata Rangi really better than Martinborough Vineyard,  or for that matter is Central Otago better than Martinborough ??  And then one wonders,  and what about those high-priced people like Dry River:  is their wine worth the extra ....  The choice can't please everybody,  but we hope you will find it tantalising all the same.  

In Pt I we referred to the role of medals for those wines.  In this batch the issue does not arise.  Considering only the Air New Zealand and the Royal Easter,  as the two competitions that matter in New Zealand,  of the 16 proprietors,  only Palliser Estate occasionally enters the Air New Zealand.

Since Regional Wines is based in Wellington,  there is an emphasis on the Wairarapa,  but otherwise we have taken the standard commercial label of as many 'on-the-tip-of-your-tongue' pinot makers as we could fit in.  No Single Vineyard or otherwise-designated pick-of-the-crop wines,  just the main label.  We have one new-kid-on-the-block wine from Otago (Misha's),  and one Marlborough example (Greywacke),  now that discriminating producers there are moving pinot noir production away from the young alluviums and onto the older hill soils.  Felton Road has been omitted for two reasons:  we only have 2011s in stock,  whereas all other wines are 2010 or 2009,  and Blair was here recently,  so they are fresh in mind.  Instead we have an example from the cooler Wanaka district,  to perhaps contrast with the fatter styles from the Cromwell Basin.  

Our wines are all from 2009 and 2010,  both exciting vintages for pinot noir in New Zealand.  2009 everywhere was particularly attractive,  the wines tending fully ripe,  and well-suited to cellaring.  Some might be even a little over-ripe.  In 2010 the wines seem to be equally good,  slightly different,  some of the wines a little tauter perhaps and more aromatic.  Both years have been pretty remarkable for the variety in climatic terms,  considering the vicissitudes of Burgundy proper:  I imagine it is the winemaking and the crop level which will determine which wines we prefer.  

These Worth Cellaring tastings are being run along much the same lines as my Library Tastings.  Our format for Pt II will be nearly the same as Pt I,  two flights of 8,  to enable us to review a good range,  and achieve a better chance of finding one we like.  This time we have a 17th wine,  2010 Grasshopper Pinot Noir from Alexandra,  which is for reference,  not blind,  to calibrate all the other wines.  It was clearly one of the top two wines in the Pt I tasting,  and currently is the wine to beat.  This should be particularly illuminating from the value-for-money angle.

Please note the pours are small (30 ml),  both to conserve your position with respect to the law,  and to lower the entry price.  Please do NOT drink all 17 x 30 mls,  as that will amount to 510 mls,  two-thirds of a bottle,  which for all except the largest citizens will put you in some jeopardy particularly since the wines average 14% alcohol.  So please come prepared to sniff and sip and savour rather more than actually swallowing.  Such a small volume can very easily be consumed,  without thinking.  And spitting is encouraged.  Also,  we will get a better result if the mind is not clouded with fore-knowledge of the label,  so the wines will be presented blind.  It is much more fun to decide which wine one likes best,  before the price is known.  

The 16 wines to be tasted alongside the reference wine 2009 Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir are:

2010  Ata Rangi Pinot Noir
2010  Craggy Range Pinot Noir Te Muna Road
2010  Dry River Pinot Noir
2010  Escarpment Pinot Noir
2010  Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard
2010  Greywacke Pinot Noir
2010  Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir
2009  Misha's Vineyard Pinot Noir High Note
2010  Mt Difficulty Pinot Noir
  2010  Neudorf Pinot Noir Moutere
2009  Palliser Estate Pinot Noir
2009  Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir
2010  Peregrine Pinot Noir
2009  Pisa Range Estate Pinot Noir Black Poplar Block
2010  Quartz Reef Pinot Noir Bendigo Estate [ Black Label ]
2009  Rippon Pinot Noir Mature Vine
2009  Vynfields Pinot Noir Reserve
 




THE WINES REVIEWED:  Pinot Noir

2010  Mt Difficulty Pinot Noir   18 ½ +  ()
Bannockburn,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14%;  $45   [ screwcap;  vines up to 19 years;  c.10% whole bunch; up to 4 weeks cuvaison;  MLF  and 11 months in French oak c.25% new and on lees,  filtered;  www.mtdifficulty.co.nz ]
Quite big pinot noir ruby,  above midway in depth.  Right from first opening,  this is a clear exposition of dark cherry pinot noir,  with clear floral aromas ranging from dark red rose to boronia.  In mouth it is simply lovely young pinot noir,  quite aromatic,  excellent texture and crunchy black cherry fruit,  subtle oaking,  a new world kind of Cote de Nuits.  It ticks all the boxes for florality,  depth of flavour without heavyness,  perfect tannins,  and subtlety.  This is the most finely-crafted,  explicitly varietal,  and beautiful pinot noir in both sets.  Lovely wine to cellar for 3 10 years.  GK 11/12

2010  Greywacke Pinot Noir   18 ½  ()
Southern Valleys,  Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  14%;  $47   [ screwcap;  hillside plantings;  some whole-bunch components,  wild yeast ferments,  15 months in French oak 45% new;  not entered in Shows;  www.greywacke.com ]
Good pinot noir ruby,  just above halfway in depth.  Bouquet is simply sensational,  an intensely floral pinot noir,  a notch less dark than the top two Otago wines.  There is a suggestion of buddleia and lilac,  but most florals in the rose sector.  Fruit on palate is great,  not as black cherry as the top two Otago wines,  not quite as blackboy peaches as the Escarpment,  just a beautiful mixed-cherry palate with slightly more oak than some.  I have not seen all contenders,  naturally,  but in my view this is the most exciting pinot noir so far made in Marlborough.  The district has traditionally been the volumetric cinderella area for the variety in New Zealand,  having started on quite the wrong foot (wrong clone,  wrong reasons,  wrong places).  This wine is a great tribute to that independent and understated spirit Kevin Judd,  and I hope,  the start of a remarkable line of wines.  Despite the florals,  there is the thought of Cote de Beaune here,  a rich Volnay perhaps.  There are no grands crus in Volnay,  but if there were,  this would match them.  A lighthouse wine for Marlborough.  Cellar 3 8 years.  GK 11/12

2009  Pisa Range Estate Pinot Noir Black Poplar Block   18 ½  ()
Pisa,  Cromwell Basin,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14%;  $41   [ screwcap;  oldest vines 15 years;  nil whole bunch;  c.12 months in French oak,  33% new;  www.pisarangeestate.co.nz ]
Tending big pinot noir ruby,  one of the darker wines,  slightly older naturally enough than the 2010s.  Initially opened,  this is the most elegant young pinot from Pisa Range in some time.  Even so it is better still with some air.  Like the Mount Difficulty,  there are clear dark cherry aromas with beautiful florality,  here more violets and dark roses,  not quite so aromatic.  Fruit shows excellent richness,  yet is poised and neat,  again no heavyness,  great persistence,  slightly more noticeable oak than the Mount Difficulty.  This too is a first-rate example of Otago pinot noir to cellar 3 10 years.  GK 11/12

2010  Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard   18 +  ()
Alexandra,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  13.9%;  $31   [ screwcap;  small % whole bunch;  9 months in French oak,  32% new;  several gold medals;  this review as seen in the > $35 set;  www.grasshopperrock.co.nz ]
Big pinot noir ruby,  the second deepest.  Bouquet is quieter than the top wines,  all in the darkest red roses to boronia on dark cherry sector,  less vibrant and floral than the Mt Difficulty or the Greywacke.  Palate is quite big,  a little on the sturdy side as yet,  not quite the perfect black cherry pitch of the Difficulty,  just a hint of dark plum.  But there is also a trace of stalk adding complexity.  It seems not as supple as the Black Poplar,  yet there is less oak.  This wine illustrates perfectly the whole concept of Otago pinot noir,  the wine darker and more ample than Martinborough,  Nelson and Waipara pinots,  but still in no way heavy.  As suggested in the Introduction to both tastings,  the Grasshopper Pinot Noir was the one to beat.  It achieved that task admirably,  and ended up in the top few for both tastings.  Pretty exciting for a $31 wine.  Cellar 3 10 years.  GK 11/12

2010  Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard   18  ()
Alexandra,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  13.9%;  $31   [ screwcap;  small % whole bunch;  9 months in French oak,  32% new;  several gold medals;  this review as seen in the < $35 set;  www.grasshopperrock.co.nz ]
Big pinot noir ruby,  the deepest of the < $35 wines.  Bouquet is clear black cherry pinot noir,  fragrant and rich,  none of the lighter florals of for example the Martinborough Te Tera but good dusky red rose and boronia suggestions.  Palate stands out in the field,  much the richest in the first bracket,  beautifully ripe,  no suggestions of stalks,  precise black cherry,  yet not heavy or overly fruity as some Otago pinot noirs can be.  Lovely wine,  great value,  cellar 3 10 years.  GK 10/12

2010  Escarpment Pinot Noir   18  ()
Martinborough,  New Zealand:  14%;  $51   [ supercritical cork;  c.70% Te Muna Road,  mix of clones,  30% whole bunch,  wild yeast,  18-day cuvaison;  11 months in French oak,  30% new;  dry extract 31 g/L,  RS <1 g/L;  no longer entered in Shows;  www.escarpment.co.nz ]
Good pinot noir ruby,  one of the darker wines,  close to the Pisa.  Bouquet however is a long way from the Pisa Range,  so much so I used it as # 1 in the tasting to illustrate unequivocally what florality means in pinot noir.  There are elements of buddleia,  lilac,  cherry-ripe (heliotrope) and roses here,  all on fruit which illustrates to perfection the blackboy peach concept in pinot noir,  as well as mixed cherries.  Oak is slightly less subtle than the top wines.  This is the richest of the Martinborough pinot noirs in this tasting,  so it is wonderful to have the dry extract given as cracking the 30 g/L barrier.  And you can taste it,  or more accurately,  feel it.  Proprietors who scoff at the concept of dry extract measurements for wines need to taste this Escarpment,  and think about it.  Cellar 3 10 years.  GK 11/12

2010  Peregrine Pinot Noir   17 ½ +  ()
Lowburn district 57%,  Bendigo 38%,  Gibbston Valley 5%,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $37   [ screwcap;  nil whole-bunch;  10 months in French oak c.35% new;  www.peregrinewines.co.nz ]
Good pinot noir ruby,  above midway in depth.  Bouquet is classic Central Otago pinot,  darkest roses to boronia florals on dark cherry fruit,  beautifully pure.  I pointed this high on bouquet.  In mouth it is a little less,  some hard tannins at this stage taking away some of the charm pinot noir should display,  and slightly more stalk than the Grasshopper.  Highly likely these rough edges will cellar away,  though,  and the wine should score more highly in five years,  since the fruit is good.  Cellar 3 10 years.  GK 11/12

2009  Misha's Vineyard Pinot Noir High Note    17 ½ +  ()
Bendigo district,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14%;  $46   [ screwcap;  wild yeast ferments,  24 days cuvaison;  MLF and c.10 months in all-French hogsheads 27% new;  www.mishasvineyard.com ]
Light pinot noir ruby,  the palest wine in the > $35 set.  What a contentious wine this was,  a number of people liking the bouquet,  but many more disliking the palate to the extent of rating it their bottom wine.  As it turned out,  I ended up rather a lone voice championing the wine as wonderfully fragrant,  in a potentially aethereal Vosne-Romanee style.  The special attribute of this wine is that though the bouquet is so voluminous,  from lilac to rose particularly,  there is no hint of leafyness.  On palate,  it is quite outside the traditional Bendigo district square,  and a pretty special wine.  It is slightly short on the finish,  however.  It ends up the same score as the other Bendigo wine from Quartz Reef,  but the two wines could hardly be more different.  Exciting.  Cellar 3 8 years.  GK 11/12

2010  Quartz Reef Pinot Noir Bendigo Estate [ Black Label ]   17 ½ +  ()
Bendigo district,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $75   [ screwcap;  12-year old vines;  wild yeast fermentation,  6% whole bunches;  total cuvaison including cold-soak up to 26 days;  c.12 months in French oak 16% new;  bottled minimally fined and unfiltered;  suspect this label not entered in Shows;  www.quartzreef.co.nz ]
Pinot noir ruby,  right in the middle for depth.  And bouquet too is lighter in style than some wines under this label have been.  It is clearly floral at a mid-range point,  roses more than boronia,  red cherry more than black,  a hint of aromatic oil / thyme.  Palate has rich fruit clearly cherry-based,  but more oak than the Pisa Range though the two wines share the same winemaker Rudi Bauer.  Tempting to score 18,  but there is less bouquet than the Escarpment and more oak,  so slightly less.  Cellar 3 8 years,  probably 10 years.  GK 11/12

2009  Bannock Brae Pinot Noir Goldfields   17 ½ +  ()
Bannockburn,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14.3%;  $28   [ screwcap;  nil whole bunch;  all the wine in French oak c.8 months,  20% new;  silver Easter,  gold elsewhere;  www.bannockbrae.co.nz ]
Big pinot noir ruby,  the third deepest.  Bouquet is deeply varietal,  clear dark roses and boronia,  on black more than red cherry fruit.  Palate is rich,  a serious wine,  a little tannic now as the youthful fruit retreats a little,  but still clearly varietal.  This is a more substantial wine against the lighter but pretty Tohu,  for example,  and it shows more oak than the Grasshopper.  Cellar 3 10 years.  GK 10/12

2011  Tohu Pinot Noir Marlborough Single Vineyard   17 ½  ()
Awatere Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  14%;  $26   [ screwcap;  no whole bunch;  10 months in French oak 22% new;  gold and silver medals;  www.tohuwines.co.nz ]
Precise pinot noir ruby,  just below midway in depth.  Bouquet on this wine is remarkable,  a beautiful illustration of absolute pinot noir florality spanning the buddleia roses and boronia spectrum.  Below the flowers are red and black cherries.  This wine achieves the rare merit of the bouquet extending into the palate,  but in mouth the wine is smaller,  more red fruits / red cherry,  slightly elevated total acid,  but the flavours nicely ripe.  Oaking is sensitive.  This is clearly the best Tohu Pinot Noir I have seen.  Cellar 2 6 years.  GK 10/12

2010  Neudorf Pinot Noir Moutere   17 ½  ()
Moutere Hills,  Nelson,  New Zealand:  14%;  $54   [ screwcap;  nil whole bunch,  wild-yeast fermentation;  total cuvaison in some years 30 or more days;  MLF and 12 months in French oak 25 - 40%  new (depending on vintage)  and on lees;  minimal fining and filtering;  not entered in Shows;  www.neudorf.co.nz ]
Pinot noir ruby,  well below midway.  The wine opens quietly,  a touch stalky initially.  With air it opens up considerably to mid-range florals in good volume,  red cherries more than black fruits,  quite different stylistically from the Otago wines.  On palate it is let down by some noticeable stalk components,  something it shares with the remarkably similar Ata Rangi.  How weird it is to have the Greywacke from Marlborough eclipsing both the Martinborough Ata Rangi and the Nelson Neudorf Moutere,  both leaders in their district.  The actual fruit in the Neudorf is good red and black cherry mixed,  and the wine will cellar well and be highly varietal.  There will just be this pinched streak in it.  Cellar 3 8 maybe 10 years.  GK 11/12

2010  Ata Rangi Pinot Noir   17 +  ()
Martinborough,  New Zealand:  13.8%;  $72   [ screwcap;  vines up to 30 years age;  all wild yeast ferments,  nil whole bunch;  up to 4 weeks cuvaison;  MLF in barrel;  12 months in French oak c. 25% new;  not filtered;  not entered in Shows;  www.atarangi.co.nz ]
Pinot noir ruby,  below midway,  faintly deeper than the Neudorf.  Though the bouquet is dramatically varietal pinot noir,  it opens sub-optimally ripe,  showing rather much buddleia floral component with an undertone of leaf / stalk.  Palate confirms this impression,  a similar quantum of cherry fruit to the Neudorf but all slightly less ripe,  total acid fractionally higher and the stalks slightly too prominent.  It will cellar well in this fragrant style for 3 8 years,  but then shorten,  I think.  Certainly richer than the 2011 Crimson.  GK 11/12  GK 11/12

2010  Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir   17 +  ()
Martinborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $66   [ screwcap;  oldest vines 30 years;  some whole bunch,  wild yeast fermentation;  usually around 20 days cuvaison;  12 months in French oak around 30% new;  not fined or filtered;  www.martinborough-vineyard.co.nz ]
Pinot noir ruby,  right in the middle.  Bouquet displays to perfection the buddleia / lilac end of the floral spectrum in pinot noir,  on red cherry fruit.  It is slightly sweeter and riper in its varietal expression than the Ata Rangi.  Palate contrasts with the Ata Rangi however in likewise being riper,  but also noticeably less concentrated.  I fear the richest / lowest cropping rate fruit has been put aside for Marie Zelie here,  and the main commercial label has suffered a little.  There is a suggestion of leaf in the later palate,  so maybe 2010 in the Martinborough district is a little cooler in its fruit expression than 2009.  Cellar 3 8 years for a good representative Martinborough pinot noir.  GK 11/12

2010  Wooing Tree Pinot Noir Beetle Juice   17 +  ()
Lowburn,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $28   [ screwcap;  hand-picked;  5% whole-bunch fermentation;  11 months in French oak 30 % new;  silver Air NZ,  gold elsewhere;  www.wooingtree.co.nz ]
Rich pinot noir ruby,  the second deepest of the < $35 wines.  This is intriguing wine,  closest to the Grasshopper in this first set of pinots,  rich,  black cherry more than red,  scarcely floral,  even a touch of plum and thoughts of merlot.  In mouth it is more obviously pinot noir,  not the palate harmony of the Grasshopper,  some less ripe fruit in it as well,  but nearly as rich,  a touch of phenolics which will ease with bottle maturity.  It is not quite as uniformly ripe as the Goldfields.  Cellar 3 8 years.  GK 10/12

2009  Villa Maria Pinot Noir Cellar Selection Marlborough   17  ()
Awatere & Wairau Valleys,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  14%;  $33   [ screwcap;  100% destemmed,  c. 10 months in French oak,  some new;  gold Easter;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Precise pinot noir ruby,  a little age showing,  in the middle for depth.  Bouquet is fragrant,  floral,  attractively varietal,  but not quite as ripe as the top wines.  Palate confirms,  red cherry fruit retreating a little,  just a hint of stalk,  not quite the richness of the better wines,  but still good pinot noir.  Cellar 3 6 years.  GK 10/12

2009  Vynfields Pinot Noir Reserve   17  ()
Martinborough,  New Zealand:  14.9%;  $59   [ screwcap;  100% de-stemmed,  14 months French oak 33% new;  certified organic;  www.vynfields.com ]
Older pinot noir ruby,  below midway in depth,  and markedly older than the 2009 Pisa Range,  raising doubts about the elevage.  And bouquet shows why,  a markedly oaky pinot noir,  right from first opening.  Berry ripeness seems good though at the red cherry level.  Palate confirms the bouquet impressions,  any florality drowned by oaking but it is good fragrant oak.  The fruit ripeness is better than both the Ata Rangi and the Neudorf (the trend in 2009).  The red fruits spectrum of these middle New Zealand pinots really is very distinctive,  against generally darker fruits from Otago.  So you may ask,  why is this wine scored lower than wines said to be slightly less ripe.  Simply,  I prefer varietal expression.  This level of oaking wins medals in lesser wine judgings,  but is not so simpatico with the supremely subtle variety pinot noir,  nor so good as a food wine.  Cellar 3 8 years,  maybe 10.  If you like oaky wines,  please re-rate this wine upwards:  the wine is by no means hopelessly out of balance.  GK 11/12

2009  Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir   17  ()
Waipara Valley,  North Canterbury,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $49   [ screwcap;  vines up to 25 years age,  all wild yeast,  no whole bunch;  MLF and 18 months in French oak,  30% new;  suspect no longer entered in Shows;  www.pegasusbay.com ]
Pinot noir ruby,  virtually identical to the Vynfields,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet is sweetly rose-floral,  very fragrant,  slightly savoury (code for trace brett,  like the previous reference to European complexity),  clearly varietal.  Palate is quite light,  also fragrant,  what a change from Pegasus Bay pinots of 10 years ago when the wines were tending weighty and obtuse,  remarkably similar in fruit ripeness to the Martinborough but slightly richer,  just not quite so pure,  and slightly more tannic.  Cellar 3 8,  maybe 10 years.  GK 11/12

2011  Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir Te Tera   16 ½ +  ()
Martinborough,  New Zealand:  13%;  $29   [ screwcap;  nil whole bunch,  all the wine in French oak c.10 months,  some new;  silver medal;  www.martinborough-vineyard.co.nz ]
Lightish pinot noir ruby,  one of the lightest.  Bouquet improves with decanting to be one of the more pretty floral wines,  buddleia and roses on red cherries only,  no darker fruits.  Palate is pleasing at this simple Volnay level of red fruits,  the oak and phenolics nicely balanced,  slightly leafy,  but all gentle and lingering.  Cellar 2 6 years.  GK 10/12

2011  Ata Rangi Pinot Noir Crimson   16 ½ +  ()
Martinborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $35   [ screwcap;  nil whole bunch;  all the wine in French oak c.9 months,  20% new;  not entered in Shows;  www.atarangi.co.nz ]
Precise pinot noir ruby,  slightly older than the Tohu,  midway in depth.  It must be said immediately,  that in the formal tasting this wine did not show well for the group,  looking hard,  stalky,  and unfriendly.  The remedy is to decant the wine vigorously and pour it from jug to jug five or so times,  to dispel a touch of reduction.  It then expands and ripens in a miraculous fashion,  to show good red and black cherry fruit,  and one of the richer palates in the < $35 bracket,  though there is a touch of stalk.  A bit hard to score,  I have given it the benefit of the doubt,  once aerated.  Remember,  all red wines improve with decanting !  Cellar 5 8 years.  GK 10/12

2009  [ Pegasus Bay ] Main Divide Pinot Noir   16 ½ +  ()
Canterbury,  New Zealand:  14%;  $26   [ screwcap;  nil whole bunch,  all the wine in French oak c.18 months,  20% new;  suspect no longer entered in Shows;  www.pegasusbay.com ]
Good pinot noir ruby,  well above midway in depth.  Like the Crimson,  this is a wine that benefits from splashy decanting.  Getting some air into it serves to ripen the fruit,  in effect,  and reduces the stemmy impression.  Palate is one of the richer wines,  but the flavours of mixed ripeness,  some plummy fruit from sur-maturité,  some tending leafy,  but it balances out quite well,  and should mature harmoniously.  A touch of European complexity.  Cellar 3 8 years.  GK 10/12

2009  [ Mt Difficulty ] Roaring Meg Pinot Noir   16 ½ +  ()
Bannockburn,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14%;  $28   [ screwcap;  includes young vines;  9 months in French oak c. 20% new;  one silver;  www.mtdifficulty.co.nz ]
Precise pinot noir ruby,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet is pure straightforward red fruits pinot noir,  a lovely suggestion of roses florality on red cherry and even a hint of raspberry (in the best sense).  Palate is a little smaller,  but explicitly varietal and showing neat ripeness,  only the slightest thought of leaf or stalks here.  A dependable label,  to cellar 2 6 years.  GK 10/12

2009  Rippon Pinot Noir Mature Vine   16 ½  ()
Wanaka,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14%;  $64   [ supercritical cork;  usually significant whole bunch,  cuvaison many extend to 28 days;  MLF and c.16 months in French oak,  30% new,  then 6 months in older;  not fined or filtered;  suspect not entered in Shows;  www.rippon.co.nz ]
Lighter pinot noir ruby,  the second to lightest wine in the > $35 set.  This is clearly a cooler-climate pinot noir,  highly floral,  but more at the buddleia and even sweet-pea end of the floral spectrum,  red fruits including red currants,  average-year Savigny-les-Beaune in style.  Palate shows a fair concentration of these red fruits,  but total acid is up and the flavour short.  A good illustration of overly cool-climate pinot,  a petite wine to cellar 2 6 years.  GK 11/12

2011  Mount Riley Pinot Noir   16 ½  ()
Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $17   [ screwcap;  no detail,  12 months in French oak,  some new;  silver in Easter;  www.mountriley.co.nz ]
Precise if lightish pinot noir ruby,  attractive.  Bouquet is in the lighter red fruits Marlborough style,  almost strawberry in the best sense grading to red cherries,  with clear sweet buddleia florality.  Palate is a little less,  as is often the case with Marlborough pinot noirs,  all red fruits again,  gently oaked,  perhaps not bone dry,  an easy and popular presentation of the variety.  Cellar 2 5 years.  GK 10/12

2010  [ Peregrine ] Saddleback Pinot Noir   16 +  ()
Bendigo area 65%,  Gibbston Valley 30%,  Pisa district 5%,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $26   [ screwcap;  100% de-stemmed;  10 months in French oak c.20% new;  not entered in Shows;  www.peregrinewines.co.nz ]
Pinot noir ruby,  well above midway in depth.  Bouquet has a hint of mint in a negative sense,  a bit hard,  where one is looking for soft florality.  Below are red fruits and perhaps a floral component.  Palate is lesser,  mainly red cherry,  a little black,  but a stalky / phenolic note creeping in,  fair richness.  More a second wine,  needs time,  cellar 3 8 years.  GK 10/12

2010  Dry River Pinot Noir   16  ()
Martinborough,  New Zealand:  13%;  $90   [ cork;  no wine-making info on website;  earlier vintages have been of the order 20% whole bunch;  12 months in French oak,  25% new;  not entered in Shows;  www.dryriver.co.nz ]
Dark ruby,  much the darkest wine in the set,  and both sets,  not a pinot noir colour.  Bouquet likewise is not all varietal,  displaying dark red bottled plums more akin to merlot,  but then let down by a clear maceration carbonique note.  Palate is extraordinary,  bearing no relation to pinot noir in the sense of burgundy,  simply rich plain over-ripe wine like a modern d'Oc red from a soft variety,  clean and well-made as such.  Dry River has made many heavy and dull pinots over the years,  and through extraordinary marketing has convinced a generation of gullible New Zealanders they were the epitome of pinot noir achievements in New Zealand.  Quite simply,  they are not,  and this 2010 seen formally in a comparative blind judging including good pinot noirs (significantly,  Dry River is never entered in judgings) is one of the less attractive over the years.  Hard to score therefore,  but 16 as big round technically sound red wine,  non-varietal.  In a strict judging,  it could be ruled out-of-class,  and less.  Presumably the maceration carbonique note is an attempt to improve the bouquet / lighten the wine,  but the fruit smells so over-ripe this hasn't worked.  Cellar 3 12 years.  GK 11/12

2011  Clifford Bay Pinot Noir   16  ()
Awatere & Wairau Valleys,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  14%;  $19   [ screwcap;  unknown details,  10 months in oak;  2010 silver Air NZ;  www.cliffordbay.co.nz ]
Light pinot noir ruby,  the second to lightest.  Bouquet is classic first-generation Marlborough pinot noir,  buddleia florals and red fruits only,  fragrant but pretty rather than convincing.  Palate is in line,  light,  almost full rosé in weight,  but pleasantly ripe at this petite level,  without stalky phenolics.  Many Savigny-les-Beaunes are like this.  Pleasant QDR pinot,  and affordable.  Cellar 2 5 years.  GK 10/12

2011  [ Rockburn Wines ] Devil's Staircase Pinot Noir   16  ()
Cromwell Basin,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14%;  $20   [ screwcap;  no info on website,  despite "advanced" tag;  silver Air NZ;  www.rockburn.co.nz ]
Pinot noir ruby,  just below midway in depth.  Bouquet is fragrant,  clearly varietal at the red berry / red cherry level,  not quite pure as if a whole berry component.  Palate is again a little less,  total acid up a little and redcurrant and red cherry fruit retreating,  phenolics creeping into the finish,  making it seem short.  All a little pinched.  Cellar 2 6 years.  GK 10/12

2011  Olssens Pinot Noir Nipple Hill   15 ½  ()
Bannockburn,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $27   [ screwcap;  thought to be some whole bunch;  c.9 months in French oak c.20% new;  change of ownership Olssens now Terra Sancta,  future of labels to evolve;  not entered in Shows (recently);  www.olssens.co.nz ]
Pinot noir ruby,  just above midway.  Bouquet is much the most distinctive in the set,  an overt whole berry / whole bunch / maceration carbonique quality suggesting beaujolais,  not burgundy.  Within that context,  the bouquet is rich.  Palate however lets the wine down,  although the fruit weight is good,  the fruit ripeness is uneven,  and clear stalky flavours permeate the wine,  totally at variance with the magic of good beaujolais.  A clumsy example of the grape,  not suited to cellaring beyond 1 3 years.  GK 10/12

2009  Palliser Estate Pinot Noir   15 +  ()
Martinborough,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $53   [ screwcap;  vines up to 11 years age;  no whole bunch,  all wild-yeast ferments,  c.17 days cuvaison;  MLF and 11 months in all-French oak 24% new;  sterile-filtered;  www.palliser.co.nz ]
Older quite rich pinot noir ruby,  one of the deeper.  Like the Dry River,  but for different reasons,  this wine too stands aside from this group of better New Zealand pinot noirs.  Bouquet is of leathery red fruits looking old for its age,  with savoury brett adding complexity to a distinctly old-fashioned wine.  It would be marked more highly by some of the northern hemisphere wine commentators so fawned-upon by too many wineries in New Zealand.  A perfectly wholesome and food-friendly wine,  but not worth cellaring as pinot noir for purists.  If you like the style,  being sterile filtered it will not succumb to brett-induced drying-out in bottle,  3 8 years.  GK 11/12

2009  Mountford Estate Pinot Noir Village   15  ()
Waipara Valley,  North Canterbury,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $29   [ screwcap;  not Estate fruit,  no info;  not entered in Shows;  www.mountfordvineyard.co.nz ]
Pinot noir ruby,  older than the other wines.  Bouquet is leafy as well as red berries on bouquet,  clearly varietal,  but lacking appropriate ripeness.  Palate shows good richness in the set,  red fruits all through,  but marred by leafy grading to clearly green flavours,  which won't go away with bottle age.  The level of oak makes the stalky notes seem harder.  Lesser wine,  not worth cellaring.  GK 10/12

2009  Charles Wiffen Pinot Noir   14 ½  ()
Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  14%;  $23   [ screwcap;  nil whole bunch,  all the wine in barrel c.10 months in French oak c.25% new;  silver Air NZ;  www.charleswiffenwines.co.nz ]
Older pinot noir ruby,  below midway.  Bouquet is in a more old-fashioned New Zealand pinot noir style,  fragrant but leafy too,  with red fruits and suggestions of clone bachtobel,  botrytis,  brett, and a slightly stewed quality,  all quite winey in one sense.  Palate is richer than some,  but fruit ripeness is uneven,  with some green notes like the Mountford detracting from fruit quality,  and leaving a phenolic aftertaste.  Silver medal unbelievable.  Not worth cellaring.  GK 10/12

2010  Craggy Range Pinot Noir Te Muna Road   14  ()
Martinborough,  New Zealand:  14%;  $39   [ screwcap;  some wild yeast ferments,  nil whole bunch;  all the wine in French oak c.9 months,  31% new;  no longer entered in Shows;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Pinot noir ruby,  towards the lighter end.  Bouquet on this wine is piercingly green,  totally reminiscent of clone bachtobel New Zealand pinot noirs of the early 1980s (except it was never cropped so conservatively in those days).  Craggy Range over the years has not shown the consistent grip on pinot noir that they amply demonstrate with bordeaux blends and syrah.  This wine is totally mistaken in its conception,  creation and goals.  The palate is at best red currants,  but even for that fruit analogy it is severely under-ripe,  the green smells and flavours suffusing the wine from beginning to end,  total acid noticeable.  Not worth cellaring.  GK 11/12