Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.


[ This article originally appeared on the website of Wellington's Regional Wines & Spirits (February 2001),  in a previous format no longer available.  The only changes in this re-publication are those consequent on the improved format for each wine review since adopted,  and to delete references to web-based reviews for a couple of the wines then available,  but not now.  In particular,  no ratings have been changed,  though subsequent experience has shown a couple of reviews were optimistic. ]

PINOT NOIR 2001:  The Tastings

Report on a summary tasting set up from the two reference tastings within the proceedings of the New Zealand Pinot Noir 2001 Conference,  plus a few wines from the associated Tasting Exhibition.  These wines,  both overseas and local,  are evaluated in the context of current New Zealand achievements with the variety.  Thirty-one wines in all.

There were two formal pinot noir tastings in the proceedings for the Pinot Noir 2001 Conference (25 – 28 January,  2001,  in Wellington).  This report is based  on a single comparative tasting set up immediately following those tastings,  together with a few wines from the associated Tasting Exhibition [TE].  The reference tastings comprised a tasting of eight world pinot noirs [WPN],  chaired by Bob Campbell MW,  and a tasting of seven New Zealand pinot noirs [NZPN],  chaired by John Comerford.  The latter seven sampled the main viticultural regions in this country.  My selection from the Tasting Exhibition was shaped by desire for geographic spread,  constrained by cost and logistics.

These notes do not attempt any synthesis of the quite disparate views expressed by delegates during the sessions.  Rather they offer one integrated view of both tastings,  as seen by an independent New Zealand taster in a subsequent blind tasting of carefully conserved samples from both sessions,  plus other Exhibition wines.  It is an unashamedly New Zealand assessment of the variety pinot noir,  but not one unaware of classical norms for pinot noir as expressed in Burgundy.  Scores given here have more relation  to show judging scoring and current practice in Australasia,  rather than to a tasting of Grands Crus in,  for example,  London.  They are a personal assessment,  nonetheless.  The wines were originally presented in the following order:

1998  Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir Reserve  (New Zealand)
1999  Knappstein Lenswood Pinot Noir Reserve  (South Australia)
1997  Bannockburn Pinot Noir  (Victoria,  Australia)
1998  Adelsheim Pinot Noir Bryans Creek  (Oregon)
1999  Saintsbury Pinot Noir Carneros  (California)
1998  Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Knox Alexander  (California)
1999  D. de la Vougeraie les Pierres Blanches Cote de Beaune  (France)
1991  Drouhin Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru  (France)

1999  Kumeu River Pinot Noir  (Auckland)
1999  Vidal Pinot Noir  (Hawkes Bay)
1999  Dry River Pinot Noir Amaranth  (Wairarapa)
1999  Seresin Pinot Noir  (Marlborough)
1999  Neudorf Pinot Noir Moutere Reserve  (Nelson)
1999  Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir Prima Donna  (Canterbury)
1999  Felton Road Pinot Noir Block 3  (Otago)

As always,  one fascinating aspect of the sessions was to note again how speakers from each country inevitably bring their own individual cultural and sensory perspectives to bear on the evaluation of pinot noir.  This taster is no different.  Speakers from cooler climates appeared more concerned with the subtle floral,  fragrant,  and beautiful aspects of the variety,  particularly as seen in bouquet.  Speakers from warmer climates spoke more of textures.  Generalising can only be that,  however.  Two of the standout wines in my assessment of the tastings are from relatively warmer places.

Acknowledgements:  my thanks to Larry McKenna,  Escarpment Vineyard,  Martinborough,   for facilitating this review,  and to one overseas and two local Conference participants,  for commenting on an earlier draft.  That does not imply they agree with any of the rankings or opinions expressed herein.


1998  Adelsheim Pinot Noir Bryans Creek
1998  Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Knox Alexander
1997  Bannockburn Pinot Noir
1998  Calera Pinot Noir Central Coast
1991  Drouhin Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru
1999  Dry River Pinot Noir Amaranth
1997  Faiveley Chambertin Clos de Beze Grand Cru
1997  Faiveley Gevrey-Chambertin Cazetiers Premier Cru
1999  Felton Road Pinot Noir Block 3
1999  Giesen Pinot Noir Reserve Barrel Selection
1999  Greenhough Pinot Noir Hope Vineyard
1999  Iron Horse Pinot Noir
1998  Jadot Gevrey-Chambertin
2000  Kim Crawford Pinot Noir Te Awanga
1999  Knappstein Lenswood Pinot Noir Reserve
1999  Kumeu River Pinot Noir
  1999  Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir
1998  Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir Reserve
1999  Mountford Pinot Noir
1999  Mount Riley Pinot Noir Seventeen Valley
1998  Mt Difficulty Pinot Noir
1999  Muddy Water Pinot Noir
1999  MudHouse Pinot Noir
1999  Neudorf Pinot Noir Moutere Reserve
1999  Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir Prima Donna
1999  Saintsbury Pinot Noir Carneros
1998  Daniel Schuster [ Pinot Noir ] Omihi Hills Selection
1999  Daniel Schuster Pinot Noir Canterbury
1999  Seresin Pinot Noir
1998  Vidal Pinot Noir
1999  Domaine de la Vougeraie Cote de Beaune les Pierres Blanches

1998  Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir Reserve   19  ()
Martinborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $100   [ WPN ]
Full ruby.  One of the biggest pinots in the entire proceedings,  but magically retaining the three essentials for good pinot:  striking florals,  crisp and fragrant varietal berry,  and hints of savoury complexities.  Palate weight firm,  rich,  tending tannic,  more obviously a cellaring wine than many,  big but not heavy,  beautifully balanced and dry. Cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 01/01

1999  Mountford Pinot Noir   18 ½  ()
Waipara,  North Canterbury,  New Zealand:  14.2%;  $50   [ TE ]
Good ruby,  a touch of carmine.  A vibrant redfruits bouquet,  with blackboy peach to the fore.  This wine characterises the intensely fruited cherry / berry New Zealand pinot noir style.  Some florals,  some oak,  an attractive hint of star anise and maraschino too.  Rich palate,  remarkable concentration,  good acid,  fine balance.  This wine,  as with several others,  does however make one reflect that fine New Zealand pinot noir does ideally need full physiological flavour maturity at alcohols nearer Burgundy norms.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 01/01

1997  Bannockburn Pinot Noir   18 ½  ()
Geelong,  Victoria,  Australia:  13.5%;  $40   [ WPN ]
Ruby and garnet.  A compelling varietal bouquet,  but veering towards the beautifully floral and perfumed end of the pinot spectrum:  violets,  jasmine,  roses,  really quite haunting.  Dry yet deceptively rich complex berry palate,  good fruit,  spicy oak,  and a fragrant stalky thread noticeable in the comparative line-up.  It is fair to say that this character was not universally liked,  but those who appreciated it are keen on it as a component of varietal character.  Stimulating pinot noir,  in its fragrant style hinting at Domaine Dujac.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 01/01

1998  Daniel Schuster [ Pinot Noir ] Omihi Hills Selection   18 ½  ()
Waipara,  North Canterbury,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $40   [ TE ]
Good ruby.  A remarkable bouquet,  astonishingly burgundian in a Cote de Nuits fragrant sense.  It is deeply floral,  with attractive berryfruit and spices.  Already a remarkable degree of complexity in the smallfruits / oak interaction,  yet the wine youthful.  Exciting wine,  complex and very dry.  Cellar 10 –15 years.  GK 01/01

1999  Greenhough Pinot Noir Hope Vineyard   18  ()
Nelson,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $35   [ TE ]
Big ruby,  touch of carmine.  A big aromatic black cherry and blackboy peach bouquet,  highly varietal in the New Zealand style.  Fruit concentration is excellent,  and potential complexity on the faintly smoky oak should marry down in bottle.  This is interesting wine,  with a better alcohol balance and more cellar potential than most.  Comparison with the Jadot is useful,  the Greenhough more concentrated,  the Jadot more elegant.  Cellar 10 – 15 years.  GK 01/01

1999  Felton Road Pinot Noir Block 3   18  ()
Bannockburn,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14%;  $45   [ NZPN ]
Good ruby with a touch of carmine.  Another floral and fragrant varietal bouquet,  though very different from the Bannockburn.  Heaps of redfruits,  black cherries and dark plums,  leading into a rich berry palate a little more fleshy than some.  Succulent yet crisp flavours highly reminiscent of black cherry,  an evocative presentation of the fragrant,  flavour-saturated and slightly aromatic style this variety develops in New Zealand’s most continental yet coolest climate.  Complexity on palate less than the other top wines,  however,  and fruit ‘sweetness’ a little more.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 01/01

1998  Mt Difficulty Pinot Noir   18  ()
Bannockburn,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14%;  $32   [ TE ]
Good ruby.  Another fragrant and floral expression of the precise black cherry,  blackboy peach and vibrant fruit of good South Island pinot,  contained in fragrant oak.  Gorgeous acid balance,  totally cherry / berry mouthfeel,  elegant length.  Archetypal Central Otago Pinot Noir,  matching the achievement of the 1999 beautifully.  When this richly flavoured crisp fruit meets the winemaking complexity and experience evident in some of the other top New Zealand wines,  Otago in good vintages will challenge all other New Zealand districts.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 01/01

1999  Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir Prima Donna   17 ½  ()
Waipara,  North Canterbury,  New Zealand:  14%;  $48   [ NZPN ]
Good ruby,  some garnet.  Deeply floral and blackboy peach / darkest plums version of pinot noir,  veering  to the heavy side.  Rich soft fruit,  like the Giesen a fleshy fruit quality and oak interaction hinting at a merlot winestyle,  rather than pinot noir.  A long rich palate,  faintly buttery,  seemingly not bone dry,  perhaps glycerol.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  This is about as heavy as New Zealand pinot can positively be.  Comparison with the 1998 Martinborough Reserve is vital.  A dividing line runs between them.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 01/01

1991  Drouhin Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru   17 ½  ()
Burgundy,  France:  13.5%;  $ –    [ WPN ]
Older ruby and garnet,  appropriate to age.  Beautifully fragrant and floral evolved mushroomy pinot noir bouquet,  totally varietal and also totally burgundian.  Mature,  lightly spicy,  soft mellow chestnutty flavours,  still with good berryfruit.  Like the burly youthful Martinborough Reserve,  this Drouhin displays the three pinot essentials: aethereal florals,  fruit,  and savoury complexity,  but here mellow with maturity.  Delightful drinking,  and in an undemonstrative way,  capturing the concept of burgundy well.  GK 01/01

1998  Jadot Gevrey-Chambertin   17 ½  ()
Burgundy,  France:  13%;  $95   [ TE ]
Attractive mid ruby,  just right for young pinot.  Clean firm aromatic cherry fruit characters on bouquet,  plus a floral dimension and finegrained,  elegant oak.  Flavour more red cherry,  crisp,  highly varietal,  in a lean flavoursome aromatic style,  making some of the New Zealand wines seem over-ripe and lush.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 01/01

1999  MudHouse Pinot Noir   17 ½  ()
Marlborough,  New Zealand:  14%;  $32   [ TE ]
Similar intensity of colour to the Greenhough.  Similar weight of black cherry and blackboy fruit too,  but here the oaking is subtler,  the flavours balanced more to fruit.  Another classic blackboy peach pinot noir,  with good concentration,  and cellar potential 5 – 10 years.  GK 01/01

1999  Giesen Pinot Noir Reserve Barrel Selection   17 ½  ()
Canterbury,  New Zealand:  13%;  $35   [ TE ]
Ruby,  youthful.  A more boisterous expression of red and black cherry,  and the big blackboy peach varietal character as we commonly see it in the South Island of New Zealand.  Flavours a little oaky and weighty,  with suggestions of the merlot styling and buttery softness which detract from some of our too-big pinots.  This one should fine down in cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 01/01

1999  Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir   17  ()
Martinborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $55   [ TE ]
Ruby.  A good volume of floral / aromatic and cherry / berry bouquet,  fragrant,  varietal,  attractive.  An awkward quality in the palate,  youthful,  stalky,  the oak a bit resiny,  but has the potential to marry up into a good North Island slightly aromatic pinot style.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 01/01

1999  Neudorf Pinot Noir Moutere Reserve   17  ()
Nelson,  New Zealand:  13%;  $48   [ NZPN ]
Good ruby,  a touch of carmine.  Very fragrant,  in a floral and redfruits cool-climate style fractionally more leafy than the Jadot Gevrey-Chambertin.  The latter shows a softness of palate and more mellow acid balance which appeals.  Nonetheless,  this is a good representative of one of the distinctive and fragrant crisp pinot noir varietal styles emerging in New Zealand,  which in our temperate climate will wax and wane with the quality of vintage.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 01/01

1997  Faiveley Chambertin Clos de Beze Grand Cru   17  ()
Burgundy,  France:  13%;  $200   [ TE,  price approx. ]
Ruby.  In this blind tasting,  a subtle bouquet with floral and redfruits notes.  On palate fair fruit,  slightly leafy,  elegant,  balanced but understated wine,  lacking the calibre and complexity one hopes for in Clos de Beze.  In this tasting it was therefore a useful marker,  rather than the expected goal post.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 01/01

1998  Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir Knox Alexander   17  ()
Santa Maria,  California,  USA:  13.5%;  $ –    [ WPN ]
Lighter ruby.  Voluminous slightly estery bouquet,  with abundant small redfruits and berry,  plus an aromatic ‘‘redwood’’ note which is distinctive in a blind tasting.  Red rather than black cherry / berry flavours,  a touch acid,  with a succulent fleshy crispness of fruit which is complexed by subtle oak.  Interesting wine,  almost a polar opposite in style to the Bannockburn from Australia,  and inclining to the simpler strawberry end of the pinot spectrum.  Not the depth of varietal quality or the floral complexity we are at best achieving in New Zealand,  but totally in style and a fascinating contribution to this review.  Cellar 5 – 8 years.  GK 01/01

1999  Mount Riley Pinot Noir Seventeen Valley   17  ()
Marlborough,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $38   [ TE ]
Big ruby,  some carmine.  Back to the overt blackboy peach,  very dark plum and smallfruits here,  but more aromatic on new oak.  Excess oak on palate,  but this is a clean and exuberant expression of one mainstream suite of flavours in South Island pinot noir.  And the saturation of flavour against the low given alcohol is very encouraging,  considering so many of our wines are at this stage tending spirity.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 01/01

1997  Faiveley Gevrey-Chambertin Cazetiers Premier Cru   16 ½ +  ()
Burgundy,  France:  13.5%;  $115   [ TE ]
Older ruby.  Breathes to a summer pudding / small redfruits bouquet,  fragrant,  attractive.  The succulent berryfruit offers an uncanny similarity to the Au Bon Climat.  Totally in style for lighter pinot noir,  not complex,  but the fruit weight deceptive.  Slots into the blind tasting brilliantly.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 01/01

1999  Dry River Pinot Noir Amaranth   16 ½  ()
Martinborough,  New Zealand:  13%;  $55   [ NZPN ]
Deep ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the darkest by far.  Clean and slightly spicy /  hessian bouquet,  rich but not clearly varietal.  Fruit on palate is remarkable,  however,  a high-extract almost raisiny chewy richness which eclipses every other wine on the table.  The astonishing feature of this very different presentation of pinot noir is the lightness of aftertaste,  almost a delicacy of fruit tannins.  The wine is more varietal here than anywhere else in the sensory profile.  This might point to a future scarcely hinted at now.  Needs years in cellar to fine down,  but will it build varietal bouquet in bottle ?  Cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 01/01

1999  Saintsbury Pinot Noir Carneros   16 ½  ()
Carneros,  California,  USA:  13.5%;  $ –    [ WPN ]
Good ruby.  Another red berries / summer pudding pinot style,  light,  clean,  fragrant but including a touch of VA,  relatively simple.  Fruit on palate,  subtlety of oak,  and lightness of mouthfeel,  is very burgundian.  Lightens to the finish which is a little sappy and acid.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 01/01

1998  Adelsheim Pinot Noir Bryans Creek   16  ()
Oregon,  USA:  13%;  $ –    [ WPN ]
Good ruby,  touch of carmine.  Initially poured,  and for some time after,  a bouquet dulled by retained fermentation odours.  Breathes to a quite big plummy and blackboy peach fruit which is remarkably in style with a number of the Marlborough / Canterbury wines,  but not as aromatic as the best.  Subtle oaking is attractive.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 01/01

1999  Muddy Water Pinot Noir   16  ()
Waipara,  North Canterbury,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $32   [ TE ]
Lighter ruby.  Another light but clearly varietal and fragrant pinot noir.  Pleasant crisp redberry flavours,  beautifully oaked.  Straightforward,  light,  but very quaffable.  Cellar 3 – 5 years.  GK 01/01

1999  Daniel Schuster Pinot Noir Canterbury   16  ()
Canterbury,  New Zealand:  13%;  $18   [ TE ]
Extraordinary wine.  Colour is very pale,  no more than good rosé.  Bouquet however is an intriguing new world and youthful pinot noir,  with intense florals.  Palate is burgundian,  with crisp cherry / berry fruit.  This is a clear if youthful picture of the variety in Canterbury,  not tipped off-course by new oak,  as so many of the darker wines are.  As is usual with Schuster reds,  a contentious wine,  easily dismissed on colour.  Mouthfeel and dry extract are however delightful,  in a light way.  And the wine sets out to be merely a good-value introduction to the charms of pinot noir.  Omihi is his serious pinot statement.  Cellar 3 – 5 years.  GK 01/01

1999  Domaine de la Vougeraie Cote de Beaune les Pierres Blanches   16  ()
Burgundy,  France:   – %;  $ –    [ WPN ]
Ruby,  touch of carmine.  Initially poured,  and for some time,  retained fermentation odours obscure fruit quality.  Opens to a simple cherry / berry and red plum fruit,  stalky and slightly acid in mouthfeel and balance,  lightest oak.  In the context of this comparative Conference tasting,  I assume this to be included as a straightforward modern French pinot noir of no great repute,  so more typical of the wider market-place.  If so,  it was a most useful addition.  Against some of the local wines,  it shows very constructively how far down the path to fine quality pinot noir we are in New Zealand.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 01/01

1999  Seresin Pinot Noir   15 ½  ()
Marlborough,  New Zealand:  14%;  $34   [ TE ]
Big ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  nearly too much.  A big blackboy peach interpretation of pinot,  but here over-extracted with stewed plum and overtly oaky notes which take it away from the burgundian camp,  and more clearly introduce thoughts of merlot.  Soft,  plump,  slightly buttery / oaky palate,  some similarities to the Giesen,  but this heavier and more alcoholic.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 01/01

1998  Vidal Pinot Noir   15  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $23   [ NZPN ]
Lighter ruby.  Given a breath of air,  a simple red plum bouquet,  light,  anonymous,  faintly almondy.  Pleasant light flavours and mouthfeel,  in style for a warm year Bourgogne rouge,  but little to say about the variety.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 01/01

1999  Knappstein Lenswood Pinot Noir Reserve   14 ½  ()
Adelaide Hills,  South Australia,  Australia:  13.5%;  $ –    [ WPN ]
Light ruby.  Some retained fermentation odours detract initially.  Below,  a minty nearly eucalyptus bouquet,  with light red berry components.  Euc’y / camphory qualities more pervasive on palate.  Though weight and mouthfeel are vaguely burgundian in an awkward-acid way,  this is a hot-climate example of the variety.  GK 01/01

1999  Kumeu River Pinot Noir   14  ()
Kumeu,  Auckland,  New Zealand:  13%;  $34   [ NZPN ]
Light ruby.  A very distinctive bouquet,  varietal to a degree,  but with smoky and bacony notes which are all-dominating on the light,  prematurely maturing berry palate.  Though the Auckland district is lacking in diurnal temperature range,  it is worth noting there have been varietal pinot noirs from Kumeu.  A 1978 Nobilo Pinot Noir opened recently is clearly in style,  fading gracefully.  GK 01/01

1999  Iron Horse Pinot Noir   14  ()
Sonoma,  California,  USA:  14.6%;  $ –    [ TE ]
Ruby.  Fragrant but buttery bouquet,  non-varietal.  Palate weight and mouthfeel vaguely burgundian in style,  but smells and tastes an alcoholic hot-climate wine.  More a soft red.  GK 01/01

2000  Kim Crawford Pinot Noir Te Awanga   14  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $30   [ TE ]
Fresh ruby.  Buttery and oaky scarcely varietal bouquet and flavour,  but pleasant light soft oaky red.  GK 01/01

1998  Calera Pinot Noir Central Coast   13 ½  ()
California,  USA:  13.5%;  $ –    [ TE ]
Light ruby.  Initially,  a bit pongy.  Later a curious smoky stalky redfruits bouquet.  More stalky on palate,  nearly astringent.  Another hot-climate interpretation of pinot noir,  the flavours including strawberry and linseed,  on an awkward acid balance.  GK 01/01