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

This Library Tasting was presented at Regional Wines & Spirits,  Wellington,  on Thursday 25 October,  2012.  The Invitation included the following background material.

2002 was a good vintage in Burgundy.  Wine Spectator does its vintage summaries well.  For the Cote de Beaune they say:  Balanced and fruity; slightly less ripe than Cote de Nuits in some cases – 92,  drink or hold.  For the Cote de Nuits:  Fresh, balanced and elegant. Successful from top to bottom – 96,  drink or hold.  Since we have one of the great Grands Crus of the Cote de Nuits,  that is a pretty exciting prospect.

Jancis Robinson in her more cautious way has this to say:  They are extremely promising on the whole, and the vintage has been talked up to such an extent that growers and merchants are reporting unprecedented demand for 2002s ...  All in all, the grapes seemed to have everything: health, good acidity, reasonable crop levels, full ripeness and, on the basis of most of the wines I have tasted, attractively ripe natural tannins.

Stephen Tanzer agrees:  The better 2002s are beautifully balanced wines with succulent fruit, plenty of mineral and floral character, healthy ripe acidity, and firm tannins that are rarely dry.

Likewise 2002 was favourable in the pinot noir districts of New Zealand.  Martinborough initially suffered from excessive vegetative growth,  but where crop management was appropriate,  quality was saved by a classic southeast-Wairarapa Indian summer.  Nelson was similar.  Central Otago had the earliest harvest since 1990 starting late March,  with lowish yields and small berries producing some very ripe,  powerful and concentrated wines.  Some of the richer wines lacked finesse when young,  perhaps due to enthusiasm for 'hang-time' and dark wines then fashionable,  but they were well-received.  The best have cellared well.  2002 is considered the vintage which 'established' Otago pinot noir.  It will be good to see them at ten years of age.

The goal will be to find floral and fragrant expressions of beautiful pinot noir varietal character at full maturity in the case of the New Zealand wines,  and at early maturity in the case of the French.

Clones and all that:  ten years ago the clone 10/5 was widespread,  replacing the awful bachtobel and related clones initially planted for volumetric (and bubbly) reasons,  which reflected the cropping-level preoccupations of earlier generations of winemakers blighted by their hybrid upbringing.  Since then there has been extensive planting of the 'Dijon' clones and others.  No information is being provided on this topic,  simply because it can detract from assessing the quality of the wine in the glass.  

The following succinct statement from David LeMire (Australia) sums up my view:  It is important, though, to keep discussion of clones in perspective. Many growers of Pinot Noir point out that site trumps clone, in terms of decisions like determining harvest date, and most importantly in terms of quality. Another relevant factor for new world growers is the trade-off between new clones and old vines.  In most new world Pinot Noir regions, mature vines are at a premium, and if growers replace large amounts of vineyards with the latest exciting Dijon clones, the process of reaching the holy grail can be delayed by years.  The same article then lists most of our clones,  from the point of view of the Mornington Peninsula Vignerons Association.

Reflection:  to conclude this Introduction on the slightly philosophical note that characterises so much of the understated writing of UK wine-man Andrew Jefford (in Decanter),  a paraphrase of a recent article exactly on Clos de Tart:

Back in May, I had a chance to renew my acquaintanceship with the wines of Clos de Tart, the 7.5 ha walled Grand Cru wedged between Bonnes Mares and Clos des Lambrays.  The vineyard lies just above the village of Morey-St Denis; the 280-metre contour line runs through its heart, as it does in Clos de la Roche. Burgundy has 33 Grands Crus, but only five of them are in single-ownership; these are locally known as monopoles.  Of the five, this is the biggest.

Clos de Tart acquired its name 870 years ago ... when the climat des Forges was sold to the Bernadine nuns of Notre Dame de Tart in 1141. Genghis Khan had yet to be born; Chaucer's Canterbury Tales lay 250 years ahead ... It must be something of a responsibility to take over running a vineyard with so extensive a history, as Sylvain Pitiot did in 1996.

I've tasted 10 of Pitiot's first 15 vintages on different occasions in recent years, and I'm enthusiastic about his work, particularly since the startlingly good 2001 vintage. The vineyard is planted principally to old vines (an average age of over 60 years); Pitiot likes to harvest late, and Clos de Tart since 1996 is invariably a pleasure to drink, with both wide-ranging sensual appeal and a vivacious, intellectually expressive fruit core.

We tasted back in May ... afterwards the Corney & Barrow customers in attendance asked questions.  'What's the secret?' was one I liked. 'The first secret is a very small yield. The second secret,' said Pitiot, with Taoist perfection, 'is that there is no second secret.'  'What,' fellow journalist Tim Atkin MW asked him, 'has the vineyard taught you?' 'Modesty,' came the reply. 'The quality is in the vine. When the grapes are beautiful, the wine is made.'

I've thought about this remark since; it's typically Burgundian, and sincerely meant. It must, though, also be exasperating and misleading for many of the talented men and women who are pioneering new vineyard sites around the world. You can only make those comments if your vineyard has been purring like the pistons in a Bentley for almost nine centuries. If you're looking at a virgin paddock in Waipara or a few acres of Sonoma Coast forest scrubland, modesty won't get you far. What you need then are courage, vision and determination.

Because all wine growers are engaged in the same act of grape growing and winemaking, we assume a kinship between them that in fact barely exists. The highest level of Burgundian work is like curating or restoring fine art.  Those developing new vineyards, by contrast, are making a wager against the stern scrutiny of history that they can succeed economically to a degree which will eventually permit some understanding of terroir.  

You can't, though, hurry the process – and you'll need not modesty but wild eyes and a jutting chin in the early years.  The only point in common is that the vineyard must pay its way, and reward your work; it must articulate distinction and difference.  That, in the end, is what success or failure will depend on.


2002  Akarua Pinot Noir
2002  Mommessin Clos de Tart Grand Cru Monopole
2000  Daniel Schuster Pinot Noir Omihi Hills Vineyard Selection
2002  Dry River Pinot Noir
2002  Escarpment Pinot Noir
2002  Felton Road Pinot Noir
  2002  Felton Road Pinot Noir Block 3
2002  Girardin Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot Premier Cru
2002  Mt Difficulty Pinot Noir
2001  Neudorf Pinot Noir Home Vineyard
2002  Neudorf Pinot Noir Moutere
2001  Pisa Range Pinot Noir Black Poplar

[ In this report,  the 'admin' section for each wine is mainly the background info provided for tasters,  including my thoughts where I had earlier reviewed the wines,  and other views ]

2002  Felton Road Pinot Noir   18 ½  ()
Bannockburn,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14%;  $47   [ screwcap;  the young wine seemed a little on the plummy side of black cherry,  but as already noted,  this vintage was enthusiastically received.  2012 impressions will be intriguing.  Campbell 2008,  93:  Strong sweet red cherry, plum and wild thyme characters. A plumper wine than the usual more restrained Felton Road style. But attractive with good complexity, nicely balanced and still with potential;  www.feltonroad.com ]
Mature ruby,  a rich and lovely pinot noir colour at 10 years,  in the middle for weight.  Needs decanting preferably into a decanter or other vessel with a good surface-to-air ratio,  and standing for an hour.  Bouquet is then the most floral,  fragrant and complexly varietal in the set,  with clear boronia,  violets and rose notes on cherry fruit.  In mouth the cherries are more black than red,  and the charm of the wine is in the gentle oaking,  so the fruit quality speaks right through to the rich aftertaste.  This wine represents the very best of Otago pinot noir styles,  it is distinctively new world yet also clearly burgundian in a vaguely Cote de Nuits way,  and it is generally a delight.  In a temperate climate cellar it is still remarkably fresh,  now at a peak of early maturity,  which it will hold for several years.  Northern North Island New Zealand bottles will be older.  GK 10/12

2002  Mt Difficulty Pinot Noir   18 ½  ()
Bannockburn,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $40   [ screwcap;  the young wine showed good black cherry fruit and less oak than some of the vintage.  Cooper 2003,  ****:  finely balanced,  full-flavoured … lively wine with sweet fruit characters,  integrated oak, some nutty complexity, supple tannins and good length;  in 2005 Jancis Robinson awarded the 2003 of this label 18.5,  in the top half dozen scores she has given to New Zealand pinot noirs (she particularly liked our 2003s).  In that review she comments of the 2002:  The 2002 had quite marked tannin and a most attractive nose reminiscent of violets;  www.mtdifficulty.co.nz ]
Perfect pinot noir ruby,  the second to lightest wine.  Bouquet is quite different from the standard Felton Road (now labelled Bannockburn),  so much so that one would not suspect they came from essentially the same district and sub-district.  Both floral and fruit notes are red more than black,  the floral quality is softer (more roses,  less boronia),  and the cherries are red,  browning a little now naturally with 10 years development.  The flavours are uncannily burgundian,  much softer and less vibrant than the main Felton,  almost Corton-like and with exact pinot style.  If wine people in other parts of the world ever ran rigorously blind tastings of pinots from around the world,  including around Burgundy,  and included New Zealand wines of this calibre,  they would find themselves considerably surprised.  Nicely mature,  no hurry.  GK 10/12

2001  Pisa Range Pinot Noir Black Poplar   18 +  ()
Cromwell Basin,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $37   [ cork;  in my 2004 reviews of the 2002 Otago pinots,  I contrasted this later-released wine with the 2002s,  saying this: … is classical New Zealand pinot noir,  beautifully subtly oaked … some florals plus red and black cherry fruit … about as big as pinot needs to be.  I am therefore itching to see how it stacks up now,  alongside some of the wines which then seemed on the ample side.  Cooper 2004,  ****:  the 2001 vintage is maturing into a very graceful, savoury, supple wine with excellent richness and harmony.  Robinson 2005,  18:  Very solid, not as obviously sweet as many 2002s, with some real depth;  www.pisarangeestate.co.nz ]
Perfect maturing pinot noir ruby,  close to but slightly deeper than the Mt Difficulty.  Bouquet progressively improves with air to show some of the red and black cherry qualities of the Feltons,  but a little more oak like the Neudorf.  Pinot noir is such a beautiful variety,  the utmost restraint really is essential in its oaking.  Palate reveals delightful pinot noir fruit with the florality which was masked on bouquet by oak now peeping out shyly around the oak,  plus lovely lingering fruit flavours in which the oak is well-assimilated.  At full maturity now,  will hold several years.  GK 10/12

2002  Felton Road Pinot Noir Block 3   18  ()
Bannockburn,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14%;  $60   [ screwcap;  Block 3 has somewhat more oak exposure than the standard wine,  but less than Block 5,  and can seem more balanced.  Campbell 2008,  95:  Although I often prefer the regular label to the “Block” wines on first release this tasting has shown the latters superiority after a few years in bottle. This is altogether better than the regular label with greater intensity, complexity and structure;  Robinson 2009,  17:  Very deep crimson still. Rather racy and still muscular. Lots of density and ripeness. Round and a little simple. Certainly not delicate! Bit of a block indeed!;  www.feltonroad.com ]
Colour is deep going on too deep for fine pinot noir,  the third deepest wine,  and it is distinctly less ruby than the standard Felton.  Bouquet however is in exactly the same style as that wine,  with a similar volume of aroma,  but is more vibrant and less softly floral.  Palate tells us why,  simply a result of more oak relative to similar fruit,  so the wine is slightly firmer and crisp.  The oak tannins may soften,  but rather I suspect the fruit will recede gradually,  leaving the oak more noticeable as with several of the other wines.  In some ways this is the most impressive pinot noir in the set,  but pinot noir being about beauty,  and Burgundy still providing the benchmark examples,  this wine loses a little in charm relative to the top wines.  Cellar 3 – 5 years.  GK 10/12

2001  Neudorf Pinot Noir Home Vineyard   17 ½ +  ()
Moutere Hills,  Nelson,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $56   [ cork;  vineyard price;  this 2001 Neudorf and the 2001 Black Poplar had to be in this tasting,  since they seemed to me to be amongst New Zealand's finest and most burgundian examples of pinot noir,  at that stage.  Whether the 2002s will now win out on size rather than beauty is one point of the tasting,  for good burgundy does age.  New Zealand pinot noir thus far does not age as long as Burgundy's better wines,  largely because our dry extracts are not yet up there with top burgundies,  but it will be sad if in the fullness of time our most burgundian wines do not age for a reasonable time.  I do not have Cooper on the 2001,  but both the flanking vintages he rates 5-stars.  No reviews (beyond mine) available;  www.neudorf.co.nz ]
Lovely mature pinot noir ruby,  well below midway in depth,  slightly older than the Mount Difficulty wine.  Bouquet is more assertive than the other wines,  with several tasters noting slight VA.  This lifted quality adds to rose florals,  and red and black cherry fruit.  Palate is closer to the Mt Difficulty than the Feltons,  red and black cherry equally,  the oak not as fine as the Mt Difficulty so the finish is not quite so smooth.  No doubting though that it is dramatically varietal pinot noir,  at full maturity.  Will hold a year or two yet.  GK 10/12

2002  Mommessin Clos de Tart Grand Cru Monopole   17 ½  ()
Morey-St-Denis,  Cote-de-Nuits,  Burgundy,  France:  13.5%;  $260   [ cork;  original price;  one of the great names,  lately fetching much increased prices;  Robinson 2009,  18:  Healthy crimson. Lots of energy and savour on the nose. Extremely fleshy already with the tannins well hidden, only just perceptible. This wine expands in the mouth and has a lovely fluidity even if it lacks the sheer size of the 2005. Fine tannins on the finish;  Tanzer 2005,  95:  Bright red-ruby. Highly nuanced, expressive nose combines strawberry, raspberry, minerals, lavender, chocolate, underbrush and fennel. Superconcentrated, silky and sweet in the mouth but with superb definition and energy. The wine's sheer density of material completely buffers its 14+% alcohol. Finishes dry and classic, with explosive rising fruit and terrific thrust. The tannins are buried in fruit and soil tones. A great Burgundy;  Rovani for Parker 2004,  94 – 96:  A nose of dark fruits intermingled with roasting spices, bacon, licorice, tar, and red cherries, this powerful wine is rich, deeply concentrated, and intense. Loads of flesh, muscle, and broad layers of blackberries, red fruits, spices, and stones can be discerned in its personality. In addition, this exceptional effort reveals an admirably long finish studded with loads of ripe tannin enveloped in black fruits. It is a great Clos de Tart that should stand the test of time;  no winery website found;  www.clive-coates.com/tastings/domaine/clos-de-tart ]
Rich pinot noir ruby,  nearly identical to the Felton,  in the middle for weight.  Bouquet is however very different from the mainstream Felton,  showing clear sur-maturité qualities including raisin notes and cocoa,  on rich cherry and slightly plummy fruit.  Palate redeems the wine somewhat,  the roundness and richness of the fruit being delightful,  with carefully-judged oak to balance,  but there is no hint of florality.  The overseas appraisals are interesting.  American commentators with their warmer-climate predilections rarely see floral complexity accurately,  and tend not to miss it if absent.  Palate is so much more important to them.  Robinson does not enthuse about florality per se quite as much as I do,  but nonetheless her appraisals tend to reward floral wine styles.  If this bottle is representative of 2002 Clos de Tart,  her comments this time seem generous.  The quality of the tannins and oak in this wine is interesting,  the nett palate impression and feel being closest to the Mt Difficulty,  but the wine markedly richer.  It gives the impression of being a 30+ g/L dry extract wine,  much the richest in the set.  It illustrates that in general,  New Zealand cropping rates are still too high for ultimate quality and longevity in bottle.  Richness aside,  one wants so much more beauty on bouquet,  however.  Will cellar another 5 – 10 years,  and probably improve.  GK 10/12

2002  Escarpment Pinot Noir   17 +  ()
Martinborough,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $45   [ cork;  the second vintage from McKenna's then-new venture.  The young wine showed some tension between berry ripeness and a slight stalk component,  as do many burgundies.  Impressions in maturity awaited with great interest.  No reviews found;  www.escarpment.co.nz ]
Ruby and garnet,  one of the older colours,  and the lightest.  Like the Mount Difficulty,  this wine presents an overtly burgundian bouquet,  one from a lighter more fragrant district such as Volnay,  at full maturity.  Former florality is now autumnal,  on browning red cherries and subtle oak,  all fragrant and pleasing.  Fruit in mouth is much better than the colour implies (typical of good burgundy),  and tannin ripeness is intriguing.  There is just a hint of leaf,  but the richness of the red fruits carries that along and the wine merely seems fresh.  Well mature now,  but will hold a year or two in a temperate climate cellar.  GK 10/12

2002  Akarua Pinot Noir   17  ()
Bannockburn,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $40   [ screwcap;  historic price,  same today,  showing how over-charged we were in the first flush of pinot enthusiasm in New Zealand.  This was a big wine in its younger day,  and much praised.  I took a contrary view on it,  comparing it with Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  It seemed necessary therefore to own a few,  and in due course report back on it.  Impressions awaited with interest;  Cooper 2005,  *****:  densely coloured, deliciously soft and concentrated … arresting …;  www.akarua.com ]
Colour is clearly the freshest,  and it is the second to richest in the set,  all rather big for pinot noir.  Bouquet is 'big' too,  rich and ripe to over-ripe,  as much merlot as pinot noir,  darkly plummy more than cherry,  moderately oaked for the size of the fruit,  fragrant but not floral.  Palate and mouthfeel are good,  tending towards the Clos de Tart,  but the boldness and tannin of the wine takes it further away from pinot charm than that (admittedly more over-ripe) wine.  Very hard to score,  such a fine dividing line between black cherry and too darkly plummy,  and the oaking is well done,  so silver medal – just.  This wine just jumps the hurdle the Dry River falls at,  and may well fine down in cellar.  It will certainly cellar longer than the other New Zealand wines in the set.  It will provide rewarding study for another 5 – 10 years.  GK 10/12

2002  Girardin Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot Premier Cru   16 ½ +  ()
Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru,  Cote de Beaune,  Burgundy,  France:  13.5%;  $48   [ cork;  this wine was bought specifically to illustrate florality in a 2002,  relative to some of the Otago wines then offering at similar prices.  Morgeot is not the longest-lived wine,  yet it can hang on remarkably.  This should be a well-worthwhile line of inquiry into the real and imagined beauties of the burgundy winestyle.  Morgeot is more famous for its chardonnay than its pinot noir,  and apart from my earlier review,  I can find no info.  I do not subscribe to Meadows;  www.vincentgirardin.com/fr ]
Ruby and some garnet,  one of the older colours.  Bouquet is clearly different from the other wines,  due to the added savoury and venison casserole complexities of a significant brett component.  Behind that are autumnal floral notes like the Escarpment,  browning red cherry and a classically (but old-fashionedly) burgundian presence.  The floral qualities of the young wine are sadly no longer apparent,  so an error or mis-appraisal there.  Flavours in mouth are typically Cote de Beaune,  soft,  round,  rich and enveloping,  clearly illuminating how in-style the crystal pure Mt Difficulty is.  Will hold for some years,  but is fully mature.  GK 10/12

2002  Neudorf Pinot Noir Moutere    16 ½  ()
Moutere Hills,  Nelson,  New Zealand:  14%;  $50   [ screwcap;  Cooper 2005,  *****:  a highly complex wine with substantial body, very concentrated flavours, cherryish, nutty and spicy, and a firm tannin grip;  no other reviews found;  www.neudorf.co.nz ]
Pinot noir ruby and garnet,  one of the lightest.  Bouquet is strong,  but one has to decide:  is it floral or is it leafy ?  Florality is the positive side of less ripeness.  Tasting to check is the easiest way,  and yes,  there is less physiological maturity in this fruit,  though the actual volume of fruit is good.  The florals are sweet-pea to buddleia in ripeness level,  the fruit is red currants to red cherry,  and the thread of leafyness adds freshness all through.  In one sense it is under-ripe,  but it is soft too – many cooler years in Burgundy display this suite of aromas and flavours.  Holding well,  no hurry in its style.  GK 10/12

2000  Daniel Schuster Pinot Noir Omihi Hills Vineyard Selection   16  ()
Waipara Valley,  North Canterbury,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $60   [ cork;  exact ripeness has been a problem on this site,  some examples showing both raisin and stalk notes,  presumably reflecting extended hang-time but uneven ripening.  No reviews this wine found,  adjacent vintages mostly 4 stars;  website now lapsed;  www.danielschusterwines.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  quite rich pinot noir weight,  close to but older than the Morgeot.  Bouquet however is quite different from that wine,  being clean,  and complex in a different way.  There are floral notes ranging from buddleia to boronia,  yet a certain firmness too making one wonder if the wine is stalky.  Fruit notes are equally complex,  almost raspberry,  hints of red and black cherry,  but also raisin suggestions and a certain 'black' quality.  In mouth there is good fruit,  and it tastes exactly as it smells,  mixed berry ripeness,  stalky,  total acid elevated,  but oak well judged.  The wine is clearly varietal,  but doesn't gel.  It will cellar for some years yet,  and may come together more,  but the uneven ripeness is the dominating factor.  Pretty interesting wine,  actually,  but not so easy to simply enjoy.  GK 10/12

2002  Dry River Pinot Noir   16  ()
Martinborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $65   [ cork;  historic price;  similar introductory remarks to the Akarua.  Campbell,  2004,  93:  Very dense ripe fruits with a sweet, soft texture. Long, accessible. Moderately complex. Delicious wine - miles away from Burgundy;  Julia Harding 2012 for Jancis Robinson,  17:  Mid smudgy garnet. Complex tertiary aromas – some undergrowth and a little nutty – though there is still sweet and lightly spicy red fruit. Very fresh and quite spicy on the palate. Fruit still rings out clearly. Mouthwatering finish. Tannins seem a little tighter than the two younger wines (2007 and 2008) just tasted;  www.dryriver.co.nz ]
Deep ruby and velvet,  the darkest wine,  doubtful for pinot noir.  And the bouquet confirms that,  the whole wine style being non-varietal,  instead showing over-ripe / sur-maturité going on raisiny and roasted notes.  It smells like a wine from the Languedoc.  Palate is velvety rich,  darkly plummy and raisiny,  starting to develop slightly leathery age complexities,  totally lacking in pinot noir varietal aromas,  flavours or charm.  Even alongside (good) Gigondas,  it is lacking in varietal quality,  relatively speaking.  This wine had to be in the tasting,  since at release I had reviewed it saying inter alia:  I can’t see it ever fitting into a classical pinot tasting,  but I have bought some out of curiosity,  in the hope of being proved wrong !

It is an astonishing commentary on the naiveté of New Zealand wine experience and wine people,  and the gullibility of New Zealand winewriters,  that an entire (small) country was persuaded this kind of wine was great pinot noir – for a remarkably long time.  It remains a hard wine to score:  if strictly as pinot noir it has to be low,  since it has not become either varietal or burgundian with age,  though at the time of release promoted by the proprietor as a fine pinot noir for the cellar.  So forget the label –  enjoy it as big,  soft,  rich,  technically pure red ...  and rue the price.  No hurry in cellar at all,  another 3 – 8 years.  GK 10/12