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

Should anyone doubt that good New Zealand pinot noir can foot it with classic examples of the grape from Burgundy,  they should have attended a tasting in Wellington in November.  There the wines resulting from a novel three-way split of the fruit from the Calvert vineyard in Central Otago,  and then vinified by three well-regarded New Zealand pinot makers,  could be compared with the very conservative and classical burgundies from Domaine Rousseau.  For this write-up,  I was able to assemble a small blind tasting of all 12 wines afterwards,  which highlighted the comparisons that could be made.  The Sacred Hill was spliced in a few days later.

Domaine Rousseau:  The annual release of these wines,  distributed in sparing qualities in New Zealand by Peter Maude Fine Wines of Auckland,  is an eagerly awaited event.  In years such as 2005,  when Rousseau himself describes the wines as:  '2005 promises to be a great year for aging, as generous in quantity as in quality.',  demand is high,  and the bottles are rationed one by one.  Rousseau makes classic burgundy,  like Domaine Drouhin,  and their wines typically display exquisite purity,  delicacy and style.  They have not been influenced in the slightest way by the new world clamour for bigger,  darker and all too often clumsier wines,  which some producers including in New Zealand have unwisely opted for.  

Summarising the domaine's website,  the Domaine Rousseau vineyards amount to 13.7 ha, of which 2.2 ha are Village sites,  3.5 are Premiers Crus, and 8 ha are Grands Crus,  in the communes of Gevrey-Chambertin mostly and Morey-Saint-Denis.  Average vine age is 40 – 45 years.

The vineyards are 100% pinot noir,  planted at 10 – 11000 vines per hectare.  Soils are lime-clay,  facing SE.  Clones are chosen for their small production and their concentration. Vineyard practice is traditional with low yields,  from 30 to 40 hectolitres per hectare (1.5 – 2 t/ac). No fertilizer is used.  Green harvest is common in high-yielding years,  to optimise ripening,  phenolic concentration and flavour.  All picking is by hand,  followed by systematic sorting (triage).

Vinification is traditional,  with typically 90% destemming,  about 18 days fermentation in open stainless steel vats with regular pumping-over and punching-down of the cap (pigeage),  and strict control of temperatures to a maximum of 31 – 32°C.  Malolactic fermentation is in barrel.  In general le Chambertin and the Chambertin Clos de Beze are matured in 100% new French oak medium toast,  the Clos Saint-Jacques 70 – 100%.  Clos de la Roche and Ruchottes Chambertin see around one-third new oak.  Mostly the other grands crus are matured in one-year old oak,  the premiers crus and village wines variously older.  Time in oak is up to 20 – 22 months,  with several rackings.  Following assemblage,  the wines are lightly filtered and bottled via gravity to "retain finesse and elegance".  

Average production is 65 000 bottles per year.  80% of the cru classé wine is exported,  to more than 30 countries.

The Central Otago Calvert Vineyard:  As a curtain-raiser to the blind tasting,  Raymond Chan of Regional Wines & Spirits Wellington presented the three contrasting bottlings of 2006 Otago Calvert Vineyard Pinot Noir – also blind.  Calvert is a 10 ha vineyard on Felton Road,  Bannockburn district,  and managed biodynamically by Felton Road Wines.  8 ha are planted with many clones of pinot noir.  In 2006 the fruit was all harvested over several days,  and divided amongst three increasingly-famous New Zealand pinot noir producers:  Felton Road,  longest-established;  Craggy Range,  emerging;  and Pyramid Valley,  new and exciting.  In each case,  as far as is practicable,  each pick and each clone is divided in three,  and consigned as fruit to each winery.  For the distant ones,  this is at four degrees,  temperature-controlled.  Even to Hawkes Bay,  transport can be achieved in c. 24 hours.  

The resulting wines are very different,  and to the wine-lover,  this intriguing experiment illustrates the extent to which the winemaker can influence the ultimate shape and style of the wine.  Thus far,  the reasons are not apparent to outsiders !  This three-way division of the Calvert fruit has been repeated in 2007 and 2008,  and is likely to continue in future years.  It offers a wonderful opportunity to contemplate wine style in some depth.  The wines are therefore well-worth cellaring,  and studying closely over the next 8 – 10 years.  

Acknowledgements:  the detailed background notes Raymond Chan provided for the tasting have been used extensively,  supplemented by each winery's website,  and personal contact where achieved.  



2006  Craggy Range Pinot Noir Calvert Vineyard
2006  Felton Road Pinot Noir Calvert
2006  Pyramid Valley Pinot Noir Calvert Vineyard
2005  Domaine Rousseau Chambertin
2005  Domaine Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze
2005  Domaine Rousseau Charmes-Chambertin
2005  Domaine Rousseau Clos de la Roche
  2005  Domaine Rousseau Clos Saint-Jacques
2005  Domaine Rousseau Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru les Cazetiers
2005  Domaine Rousseau Gevrey-Chambertin
2005  Domaine Rousseau Mazy-Chambertin
2005  Domaine Rousseau Ruchottes Chambertin
2006  Sacred Hill Pinot Noir Prospector

2005  Domaine Rousseau Chambertin   19 +  ()
Gevrey-Chambertin Grand Cru,  Burgundy,  France:  13.5%;  $504   [ cork;  up to 22 months in 100% new French oak;  Rousseau owns 2.1 ha,  16.7% of this pre-eminent vineyard;  making approx 725 cases;  www.domaine-rousseau.com ]
Pinot noir ruby,  below midway in depth.  This year,  it is le Chambertin proper,  not Clos de Beze,  that appeals most.  It is less obviously new-oaky than some recent years.  The depth and precision of precise boronia and violets floral bouquet blending into red and black cherry pinot fruit is just beautiful.  In mouth,  the palate weight is terrific,  perfect near-black cherry fruit,  not as acid as the Clos St Jacques or Clos de Beze,  more the richness of the Clos de la Roche but purer.  This is great pinot noir,  showing all the key features required,  not over-ripe and not over-oaked.  Cellar 10 – 30 years.  GK 11/08

2005  Domaine Rousseau Clos de la Roche   19  ()
Morey-Saint-Denis Grand Cru,  Burgundy,  France:  13.5%;  $221   [ cork;  up to 22 months usually in one third new French oak;  Rousseau owns 1.5 ha,  8.8% of the vineyard,  making approx 490 cases; Clos de la Roche one of the least-recognised and hence best-value grands crus in all Cote de Nuits;  www.domaine-rousseau.com ]
Rich pinot noir ruby,  the second deepest in the tasting,  but still lighter than many New Zealand pinot noirs.  Bouquet on this wine is sensational,  more black than red cherries,  gorgeous boronia florals with a Lisbon lemon blossom aromatic note,  really striking.  Palate follows in the same style,  darkly fruited yet still light on its feet,  rich yet not heavy,  not as new-oaky as the Chambertin proper or Clos St Jacques,  wonderfully succulent.  A winemaker wondered if there might be trace brett,  but at this level,  if so,  it is magic.  Cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 11/08

2005  Domaine Rousseau Mazy-Chambertin   18 ½ +  ()
Gevrey-Chambertin Grand Cru,  Burgundy,  France:  13.5%;  $196   [ cork;  up to 22 months in mostly second-year French oak;  Rousseau owns 0.5 ha,  5.8% of the vineyard;  making approx 175 cases;  www.domaine-rousseau.com ]
Pinot noir ruby,  exactly in the middle for depth of colour.  This is very beautiful wine,  not as new-oaky as the top wines and therefore seemingly understated,  but with an enticing limpid florality to the bouquet which is explicitly pinot noir.  Palate follows on perfectly,  wonderful richness without being heavy,  red and black fruits in equilibrium,  gorgeous acid balance,  great length and purity.  This is benchmark pinot noir,  without any dramatics.  Cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 11/08

2005  Domaine Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Beze   18 ½  ()
Gevrey-Chambertin Grand Cru,  Burgundy,  France:  13.5%;  $504   [ cork;  up to 22 months in 100% new French oak;  Rousseau owns 1.4 ha,  9.2% of the vineyard;  making approx 500 cases;  www.domaine-rousseau.com ]
Pinot noir ruby,  the second-lightest wine.  The last several vintages,  I have rated Clos de Beze my top of the Rousseau set,  but this year it is closer to Saint-Jacques in being quite new-oaky, though demonstrably richer.  It does not seem quite as rich as the Clos de la Roche,  and is clearly less rich and concentrated than the Chambertin.  Total style is classic fragrant red-fruits Rousseau,  and as the oak marries in,  I imagine it will outpoint the Saint-Jacques in 10 years.  Cellar 10 – 25 years,  at least.  GK 11/08

2005  Domaine Rousseau Clos Saint-Jacques   18 ½  ()
Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru,  Burgundy,  France:  13.5%;  $314   [ cork;  up to 22 months in 100% new French oak;  Rousseau owns 2.2 ha,  33% of the vineyard;  making approx 725 cases;  www.domaine-rousseau.com ]
Pinot noir ruby,  lighter than the Chambertin.  This is the most perfectly and explicitly floral of the Rousseaus,  showing red rose,  boronia and Lisbon lemon blossom notes with a hint of something more aromatic still,  like thyme.  Palate is crisper,  oakier and tighter than the top four wines,  not as rich as the Clos de Beze,  over-oaked relative to the Mazy,  but at this stage so beautifully floral that pulls it up in the ranking.  It will harmonise in cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 11/08

2005  Domaine Rousseau Ruchottes Chambertin   18 ½  ()
Gevrey-Chambertin Grand Cru,  Burgundy,  France:  13.5%;  $288   [ cork;  up to 22 months usually in one third new French oak;  Rousseau owns 1.1 ha,  32% of the vineyard,  making approx 350 cases;  www.domaine-rousseau.com ]
Pinot noir ruby,  below midway in depth.  On bouquet,  this wine is confuseable with best Martinborough,  there being a distinct pennyroyal / slightly minty note in the aromatic and floral red-fruits bouquet.  As one tastes it however,  it is richer,  and a Lisbon lemon floral quality creeps in too,  aromatic,  seductive,  distracting from the red and black fruits and quite high new oak.  The differences between these wines are awfully subtle.  Cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 11/08

2006  Craggy Range Pinot Noir Calvert Vineyard   18 +  ()
Bannockburn,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14.2%;  $47   [ screwcap;  hand-picked;  100% de-stemmed,  6 – 8 days cold-soak,  wild-yeast fermentation,  3 – 4 weeks cuvaison,  MLF and 9 months in French oak 45% new,  some lees but no stirring;  dry extract 26.8 g/L;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Rich pinot noir ruby,  the deepest wine in the tasting,  not far from the Clos de la Roche but older in hue.  The manner in which this pinot slots in with the richest Rousseaus is devastating,  with deep dusky florals and black more than red cherry fruit.  It is closest to the Clos de la Roche in style,  with the same dominance of fruit over new oak.  This is wonderfully good pinot noir,  big yet explicitly varietal,  whether new world or old.  If one could only believe that overseas wine writers totally based their reviews on blind assessment,  this would be ranked up there with grands crus from the Cote de Nuits,  particularly those from producers inclining to more opulent wines such as Girardin.  Since all the fruit was picked at the same time,  and divided equally,  why does this Calvert seem richer than the other two ?  [ NB:  the numbers for the Felton Road do not support this assumption. ]  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 11/08

2005  Domaine Rousseau Charmes-Chambertin   18  ()
Gevrey-Chambertin Grand Cru,  Burgundy,  France:  13.5%;  $196   [ cork;  up to 22 months in mostly second-year French oak;  Rousseau owns 1.4 ha,  4.4% of the vineyard;  making approx 450 cases;  www.domaine-rousseau.com ]
Pinot noir ruby,  above midway in depth.  This is intriguing wine,  the bouquet being quite voluminous,  but slightly off target,  or at least unusual for Cote de Nuits.  The Lisbon lemon-like floral qualities are much less subtle,  with a hint even of mandarin zest,  and just the thought of good Rioja,  tempranillo,  and American oak – so fragrant is the wine.  Palate is more in line,  one of the oakier ones,  about the same richness as the Clos Saint-Jacques,  but a little more foursquare.  The (earlier times) Rioja Pomal thought (+ve) persists through the palate.  Cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 11/08

2005  Domaine Rousseau Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru les Cazetiers   17 ½ +  ()
Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru,  Burgundy,  France:  13.5%;  $151   [ cork;  up to 22 months in mostly second-year French oak;  Rousseau owns 0.6 ha,  4.9% of the vineyard;  making approx 200 cases;  www.domaine-rousseau.com ]
Pinot noir ruby,  above midway in depth.  This is the best Rousseau Cazetiers for some years,  it fitting in almost seamlessly with the higher-ranking crus this year.  It is very floral and fragrant in the style of the Clos Saint-Jacques,  showing a distinctive salvia aromatic floral quality and evident new oak.  Again there is also a Rioja hint like the Charmes.  It is clearly not as rich as the Charmes and higher ranked wines,  though.  It is closest in total achievement to the Felton Road Calvert,  but just has a magic touch of depth to it promoting it above that wine.  Cellar 5 – 15 +  years.  GK 11/08

2006  Sacred Hill Pinot Noir Prospector   17 ½  ()
Cromwell / Lowburn district,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $52   [ screwcap;  hand-picked,  100% de-stemmed,  5 days cold soak,  wild yeast fermentation and into barrel in Otago;  16 months in French oak in Hawkes Bay;  RS < 1 g/L;  c. 400 cases;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Pinot noir ruby,  below midway in the set,  but again older than the 2005 Rousseaus.  Bouquet is extraordinary,  much more Cote de Nuits than Cote de Beaune,  clearly pinot noir,  but with a big aromatic floral quality including beeswax reminiscent of maturing Cote Rotie.  Bouquet is lifted by threshold VA.  Palate is red fruits,  highly varietal,  but like some fine Cotes du Rhone there is a garrigue-like aromatic quality one is tempted to ascribe to the thyme-laden breezes of the district.  This too is closest in style to the Felton Calvert,  but fractionally richer,  and quite distinctive among New Zealand pinot noirs of the moment.  This is an exciting debut wine for Sacred Hill's Otago pinot noir.  It puts their Marlborough efforts with the variety thus far in the shade.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 11/08

2006  Felton Road Pinot Noir Calvert   17 ½  ()
Cromwell / Bannockburn district,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $55   [ screwcap;  hand-picked;  24% whole-bunch fermentation,  8 days cold soak;  11 months in French oak c. 33% new;  dry extract 29.2 g/L;  winemaker Blair Walter considers the 2006s:  'perfumed and elegant wines with a wonderful natural balance' though not as intense as some years;  www.feltonroad.com ]
Pinot noir ruby,  one of the lightest,  but older than the 2005 Rousseaus.  Initially opened,  there was a hint of congestion on this,  needing decanting / swirling.  It clears to a fragrant,  almost perfumed (+ve) bouquet,  in the sense of buddleia rather than boronia.  Palate is clean and crisp pinot noir,  much leaner than the Craggy presentation,  as if some stalks had been retained [confirmed],  yet still showing sweet pinot redfruits.  The whole style is reminiscent of Domaine Dujac in the 1980s,  fragrant,  but lean.  Dujac then used more stems than most of his contemporaries,  an approach yielding what one might call classic fragant lighter burgundies – wines out of synch with the new world obsession with fully ripe to over-ripe bigger wines.  Vis-à-vis the question posed in the Craggy review therefore,  the reciprocal question here is,  will those retained stems make the Felton wine ultimately the long-distance runner,  in time overtaking the Craggy ?  It is great we have pinot makers pursuing both approaches to vinification.  Worth cellaring some of each,  to check,  I think.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 11/08

2006  Pyramid Valley Pinot Noir Calvert Vineyard   17 +  ()
Cromwell / Bannockburn district,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14.2%;  $55   [ screwcap;  hand-picked @ 2.6 t/ac;  100% destemmed,  c. 6 days cold-soak,  wild-yeast fermentation,  c. 28 days cuvaison;  15 months on lees in French oak 33% new;  unfined and unfiltered;  500 cases;  www.pyramidvalley.co.nz ]
Pinot noir ruby,  above midway in depth of colour,  and intriguingly,  more youthful than the other New Zealand wines,  more the hue of the Rousseaus.  Bouquet is beautifully varietal but also very vanillin from new oak,  the vanillin to a degree making the floral fruit-derived qualities harder to see – though they are there.  Palate is reminiscent of the Cazetiers in the tasting,  attractive red fruits,  but rather a lot of new oak for the dry extract,  when tasted alongside the French (admittedly top French) examples.  In a blind tasting,  one could easily pick this as a Martinborough wine,  the oak-derived aromatic being confuseable with the pennyroyal hints that district often shows.  Ultimately it is the level of oak that takes this wine down a little in the ranking.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 11/08

2005  Domaine Rousseau Gevrey-Chambertin   16 ½  ()
Gevrey-Chambertin,  Burgundy,  France:  13.5%;  $115   [ cork;  Rousseau owns 2.2 ha of unclassified vineyards in the village;  old oak only;  www.domaine-rousseau.com ]
Pinot noir ruby,  the lightest wine in the tasting.  Freshly opened there is light reduction on this,  a little more than the Felton.  It needs more decanting / swirling / aeration.  It clears to a more generic pinot noir than the other wines,  fatter than some of the New Zealand examples,  but plainer,  with no florals,  older oak,  and straightforward plummy more than cherry fruit.  Considering this Rousseau village wine is now over $100,  it is useful in demonstrating just how good,  and how international (i.e. akin to good French in style) the New Zealand pinots are in this tasting.  The same assessment applies to many other New Zealand pinots.  Comparisons may be odious,  but the conclusions here are inescapable,  except to those blinded by labels or price paid.  Cellar 5 – 15 years,  perhaps longer reflecting on the 1978 Drouhin Gevrey-Chambertin.  GK 11/08