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

Geoff Kelly  MSc (Hons)

Pinot Noir in New Zealand:
The first reasonably substantial (3,800 words) article on pinot noir in New Zealand,  and pinot noir the winestyle,  was published in September 1982 (Kelly,  1982).  At that point there were three pinot noirs from New Zealand to mention,  a pinot meunier from Victoria,  and 17 from France,  right up to Bonnes Mares and Le Musigny.  How different the world is today,  when there are nearly countless New Zealand pinot noirs,  and it is now widely agreed that in terms of style,  quality and achievement,  New Zealand pinot noir matches Oregon pinot noir.  For many commentators,  because of the relatively greater consistency of climate in New Zealand vis-a-vis Oregon,  New Zealand is considered ahead,  and second only to Burgundy.  And in that context,  some British winewriters are on the verge of saying that for an affordable introduction to real pinot noir,  New Zealand is now more reliable than Burgundy.  Thus,  in the recently-judged Air New Zealand Wine Awards,  the highest-profile wine-judging in New Zealand,  pinot noir was the most-entered winestyle,  at 304 entries,  more than sauvignon blanc.  That is simply hard to believe.

Having just been to Otago at the invitation of COPNL (Central Otago Pinot Noir Ltd,  the winemakers' regional promotional vehicle),  and enjoyed a good sampling of Otago pinot noirs (to be reported on in the near future),  and two other critical pinot noir tastings also,  it seemed more than sensible to follow-up by presenting a public tasting of New Zealand pinot noir in Wellington.  This naturally could only be a tiny sub-sampling of the range,  but the goal remains worthwhile,  to see if any of the commercially available pinot noirs are 'Worth Cellaring'.  The awarding of a gold medal may be a good lead-in to which wines to buy,  but the concept of a wine being Worth Cellaring is,  or can be,  a little different.  And by definition,  it is a personal construct.  And one advantage a tasting of the present kind has is that wines not entered into the big judgings can be assessed in company,  which is always fun.  In the event,  the tasting,  at Regional Wines,  Wellington,  sold out in a couple of days.

So now,  and thinking back to that original 1982 article,  the answer has to be a resounding 'Yes' – the best New Zealand pinot noirs in 2015 are amply Worth Cellaring.  It is still early days for pinot noir in New Zealand,  the oldest vines being around 36 years old,  so naturally we have not achieved wines of the standing and authority of the top wines in the 1982 publication.  But already it is fair to say that a surprising number of the better New Zealand pinot noirs are demonstrably of Premier Cru quality.  And the very best match Grand Cru quality,  without doubt.  These are wines where both grower and winemaker are attentive to:  cropping rate (for wine richness,  texture and dry extract);  to the ripening level / point of picking,  avoiding both too early (leafy wines) or too late (over-ripening,  sur maturité,  and lack of florality);  and then to the oak regime,  and the subtlety of its use,  so that the grape varietal character is enhanced,  not diminished.  More discussion of these factors crops up in the wine reviews,  following.

Another detail about New Zealand pinot noir worth commenting on is the supposed ease with which the wines of the main regions (formerly Martinborough and Central Otago,  but now in truth including Waipara,  Nelson and the rapidly-emerging Marlborough district) can be recognised,  in blind tastings.  There is an assumption that this is easy.  Much of the comment,  however,  is little more than territorial squabbling,  districts seeking to claim the superiority of their approach by mocking to a degree the character of another's.  Otago wines being big,  dark,  simple and juicy,  for example.  As winemakers focus more on the kind of production detail listed above,  and discard the never-relevant notion that depth of colour is any guide to quality in pinot noir,  there is initially going to be greater convergence of style,  rather than the opposite.  Several of the wines in the present tasting were exceedingly tricky to locate,  blind.  It will be decades at the least,  before we have any clear feeling for regionality or regional style in New Zealand,  in the sense of the French appellation assumptions.  At the moment the primary goal in New Zealand must be to achieve what Allen Meadows has so memorably called 'pinosity'.  Not all New Zealand producers see this goal clearly,  yet ...  

The Invitation:
There are hundreds of New Zealand pinot noirs now.  To select 16-only for this exercise is therefore invidious.  But to be a bit different,  we started this time with the thought:  how long since we (in Wellington) have tasted the four Martinborough pinot noir majors alongside each other,  and then ... let's put them up against some other pinots,  including one or two well-known from the district seen as the big challenger to Martinborough,  Central Otago (though Marlborough is coming up at a rate of knots,  too).  But first we thought it important we look at some good-value wines,  since this is what is needed most days.  

But speaking of judgings,  and trying to use their results to guide our buying,  remains very difficult.  This year I compared the results of the just-completed Air New Zealand judging,  the just-announced International Wine & Spirits Competition (UK) results (the IWSC is one of three big United Kingdom wine organisations with lofty notions of its relevance to the wine world,  presumably because its panels are peppered with MWs,  yet time and again the winning wines simply don't measure up),  the Cuisine results for 2015 (which don't compare too well because their pinot noir review was so early in the year,  they lacked the 2014s),  and then the long-established New Zealand Easter Show (also early).  I did not examine the plethora of minor judgings in New Zealand,  which distribute gold medals like confetti.  As last year,  scarcely a wine has won a gold medal in more than one of these competitions.  Villa Maria achieved it,  not once but twice,  2013 Villa Maria Pinot Noir Marlborough Reserve,  and 2013 Villa Maria Pinot Noir Taylors Pass Single Vineyard,  so it is possible.  It is of course true that not all wines are entered in all competitions.  Some proprietors use only one,  where they think they will get the best mileage from their expenditure.  And some use none at all.

So by and large,  procuring good advice on which pinots to buy remains not straightforward.  And many commentators in New Zealand remain inappropriately tolerant of under-ripe green leafy,  or worse – stalky,  tinges in pinot noir (as for other reds),  and of reduction (which simply stops the wine singing).  What better idea could there be,  therefore,  than looking at a few ourselves,  so we can decide on our own palates what to spend our dollars on.  The wines are either 2013 or 2014,  since 2012 was so cool in the Wairarapa.  Both vintages are promising in the main pinot noir districts in New Zealand,  though some of the 2014s are proving slow to unfold.  In checking what is available,  you can't help noticing that in general,  Central Otago has sold out of their 2013s,  whereas Martinborough has not started on the 2014s.  Is this a straw in the wind ?  
Our selection includes the top-selling affordable pinot noir at Regional Wines this year,  and a preview of one 2013 not yet released,  the Martinborough Vineyard wine.  At the last moment it seemed worthwhile to add a seventeenth wine to our selection,  since it has just won gold at the IWSC,  is affordable,  and reflected Marlborough which I had overlooked.  So I thought participants might like to taste it.  This will also give us an external judging-reference point for assessing this fickle grape,  though (as noted) we are no more bound to take notice of them,  than the local judgings.  We will discuss desirable sensory parameters in pinot noir wine during the tasting.  

The allocation of the 17 wines within the two Flights is:

First Flight:
2014 Carrick Pinot Noir Unravelled
2013 Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir
2014 Greystone Pinot Noir
2013 Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir Te Tera
2014 [ Mt Difficulty ] Pinot Noir Roaring Meg
2013 Neudorf Pinot Noir Tom's Block
2013 Pencarrow Pinot Noir
2014 Terra Sancta Pinot Noir Mysterious Diggings   
2014 The Crossings Pinot Noir
Second Flight:
2013 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir
2013 Dry River Pinot Noir
2013 Escarpment Pinot Noir
2014 Felton Road Pinot Noir Cornish Point
2014 Gibbston Valley Pinot Noir China Terrace              
2013 Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir
2014 Maude Pinot Noir
2014 Wanaka Road Pinot Noir

These Worth Cellaring tastings are being run along much the same lines as my Library Tastings.  We have 17 wines,  to enable us to review a greater range,  and achieve a better chance of finding one you like.  The first Flight will be more affordable wines,  up to $35.  The second Flight will be wines from $30 upwards,  including the comparison of the four Martinborough majors with a benchmark Otago wine,  and some others.  Note however the pours are small (30 ml),  both to conserve your position with respect to the law,  and to lower the entry price.  Even so,  please do NOT drink all 17 x 30 mls,  as that will amount to 510 mls,  just over two-thirds of a bottle,  which for all except the largest citizens will clearly put you in jeopardy,  given the new regulations.  Accordingly there will be individual spittoons.  For a 30ml pour,  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.  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.  

Background for this report:
Preparing and presenting tastings is,  or can be,  demanding,  depending on the detail with which the wines are presented.  For the public tasting reported on here,  though the wines are blind for the group (to prevent pre-judgement by label),  during the actual presentation the wines are not blind for me,  so that I can better respond to queries,  and generally keep tabs on proceedings without delay or fumbling.  When there are 16 or 17 wines,  pouring,  tasting,  establishing a  group ranking for the wines before their identity is known,  and then convening some brief discussion of each wine as they are revealed,  all demand some concessions if the tasting is to be completed in the allotted two hours.

Accordingly in writing them up,  I took the opportunity to reassess the wines blind (for me) the following day,  following conservation under ice.  This was more than illuminating.  The wines were therefore tasted three times:  the first at Regional Wines,  Wellington,  in their now-standard Riedel Ouverture 480/00 tasting glass,  then the second time in Zerrutti Ultimo tasting glasses as used for the Pinot Noir 2010 Conference,  and then the third time,  in Schott-Zwiesel XL5s – the standard international tasting glass (ISO 3591 - 1977).    Despite all the verbiage and assumptions about bigger wineglasses created by marketers,  wine-snobs and other pretenders for whom label (and appearances) is more important than actuality,  there is a lot to be said for the smaller glass.  The XL5 glass illuminates,  yet it does not distort.  Reality is always a great starting point,  in wine evaluation.

I have had a query about my reviews,  that it is not always apparent if the views presented are mine,  or (in a tasting such as this,  where I report on a group exercise) whether I am summarising a collective view.  In short,  I always present my view,  which may be quite at variance with the group view.  But naturally in any tasting and discussion about wine,  others raise points one has overlooked.  So sometimes people will find their thoughts adopted forthwith by me,  with or without acknowledgement.  But for this write-up,  I am making a little more clear how the group felt by summarising the blind vote under the brief heading:  Group View:.  This section summarises the votes of the 30 participants,  where tasters are asked to quickly indicate their top wine in the flight,  their second-favoured wine,  and their least wine.  These are tabulated on the whiteboard,  for all to see,  at the blind stage.  Naturally,  not everybody votes,  participation tending to be a function of experience / comfort with the format.  Nonetheless it is indicative ... both for the wines most favoured ... and also for those wines which achieve no 'least' ratings.  So this section provides some counterpoint to the rest of the review,  which is my assessment.  The only catch is,  for reasons of logistical necessity,  the wines on this occasion were presented in two flights,  the first wines under $35,  the second wines more than $30,  so the group rating is within that flight only.  My write-up assembles all the wines into one ranking.

Kelly,  Geoff,  1982:  Burgundies White and Burgundies Red,  2:  Pinot Noir.  Wineglass,  Sept. 1982:  14 – 19.

Winemakers were wonderfully helpful,  and prompt,  in their response to my questionnaire about wine practices.  Consequently there is now intriguing production information available about these wines,  which aficionados can study and draw conclusions from.  For some parameters,  a word of caution may be appropriate,  for in wine practice,  2 + 2 is not always 4.  But what a delight it is to find this openness and preparedness to share information,  which contrasts vividly with an earlier generation of winemakers in New Zealand.  Thank you.  Further,  Martinborough Vineyard through Paul Mason being prepared to make their not-yet-released 2013 main wine available for this tasting is greatly appreciated.


2013  Ata Rangi Pinot Noir
2014  Carrick Pinot Noir Unravelled
2013  Dry River Pinot Noir
2013  Escarpment Pinot Noir
2014  Felton Road Pinot Noir Cornish Point
2014  Gibbston Valley Pinot Noir China Terrace
2013  Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard
2014  Greystone Pinot Noir
2013  Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir
  2013  Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir Te Tera
2014  Maude Pinot Noir
2013  Neudorf Pinot Noir Tom's Block
2013  [ Palliser Estate ] Pencarrow Pinot Noir
2014  [ Mt Difficulty ] Roaring Meg Pinot Noir
2014  Terra Sancta Pinot Noir Mysterious Diggings
2014  [ Yealands Group ] The Crossings Pinot Noir
2014  [ Mount Edward ] Wanaka Road Pinot Noir

2014  Felton Road Pinot Noir Cornish Point   18 ½ +  ()
Bannockburn,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14%;  $69   [ screwcap;  main clones Dijon 114,  115,  667,  777,   Abel,  10/5, UCD 5 and 6,  planted at c.4,040 vines/ha,  all hand-picked from 14-year-old vines @ an average of 5.5 t/ha (2.2 t/ac),  c.25% whole-bunch,  cold soak 9 days,  all wild-yeast ferments,  then c.13 days cuvaison;  c.13 months in French oak c.30% new,  medium toast;  not filtered;  RS nil;  dry extract 26.4 g/L;  production 1,100 cases;  www.feltonroad.com ]
Fresh quite deep pinot noir ruby,  just above midway in depth.  Bouquet is understated yet charming,  a deep sensuous Cote de Nuits kind of florality hinting at violets and darkest roses,  a little boronia,  on red grading to black cherry fruit.  Palate is simply lovely pinot noir,  totally varietal,  a burst of flavour like biting on a mouthful of black cherries,  then the fruit beautifully framed by oak,  yet the oak understated.  This is very fragrant Otago pinot noir showing particularly appealing and complex flavours.  It is undoubtedly of grand cru quality,  succulent and long and seemingly richer in mouth than the dry extract would suggest,  yet dry to the finish.  Glorious wine,  and highly varietal New Zealand pinot noir,  to cellar 5 – 15 years,  maybe longer.  Group View (Flight 2):  5 first places,  4 second,  none least.  GK 11/15

2014  Greystone Pinot Noir   18 ½  ()
Waipara Valley,  North Canterbury,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $34   [ screwcap;  main clones Dijon 777 and 115,  planted at 2,500 vines/ha,  hand-picked @ c. 6 t/ha (2.4 t/ac),  c.11 years age;  10% whole-bunch component,  pre-ferment cold soak c.4 days,  then c.31 days cuvaison with 100% wild yeast;  10.5 months in French oak c.30% new,  medium toast;  not sterile-filtered to bottle;  RS 0.3 g/L:  dry extract 29.2 g/L;  production c.4,000 cases;  www.greystonewines.co.nz ]
Fresh pinot noir ruby,  an identical hue to the Cornish,  but not quite so deep,  just below midway in depth.  The bouquet on this wine is simply sensational.  To all the knockers and mockers who doubt that the first key attribute of great pinot noir is the floral component,  I say simply:  assess this wine.  If the extraordinary florality embracing buddleia,  heliotrope,  French pink tea-roses,  and even violets and dark red roses is not apparent to you,  then quite simply,  you are blind to the concept of 'florality' in wine.  This difficulty is,  sadly,  not uncommon.  Follow-through to the palate is not quite as complete and near-perfect as the Cornish Point,  suggesting that the total achieved ripeness here / the point of picking was fractionally sooner than for the Cornish.  There is the faintest leafyness,  pretty well subliminal.  Accordingly fruit character and flavour is red cherry more than black,  which some tasters in fact prefer.  But on the other hand,  for the second great quality required of pinot noir,  mouth-feel and texture,  even layers of texture,  some say,  the richness of this wine is clearly very good.  The floral qualities permeate the entire palate,  a rare attribute,  giving the wine an extraordinary presence.  After a couple of years in cellar,  it may be more difficult to tell the Greystone from the Cornish Point wine.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  Group View (Flight 1):  4 first places,  six second,  none least.  GK 11/15

2014  [ Mount Edward ] Wanaka Road Pinot Noir   18 ½  ()
Pisa district,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  13.9%;  $31   [ screwcap;  main clones UCD 5,  Abel,  Dijon 777,  planted at c.4,500 vines/ha,  average age not given;  all hand-picked @ an average of 5.8 t/ha (2.3 t/ac),  c.15% whole-bunch,  cold soak 4 – 6 days,  all wild-yeast ferments,  then c.19 days cuvaison;  most of the wine c.10 months in French oak c.20% new,  medium toast;  not sterile-filtered to bottle;  RS nil;  dry extract not given;  production 4,200 cases;  www.mountedward.co.nz ]
Quite big pinot noir ruby,  nearly a wash of carmine and velvet,  the third deepest wine.  One sniff of this,  and there is a deep dusky kind of florality quite in contrast to the Greystone.  There is no buddleia in this,  it is all deeper and more mysterious darkest red roses and violets,  Gevrey-Chambertin,  extraordinarily sensuous.  Flavours and textures in mouth are nearly as definitively black cherry as the Cornish Point,  the wine showing just a little less polish and mellowing in elevation.  But when you reflect that this wine is less than half the price of the Cornish,  it is a pretty wonderful example of fine Otago pinot noir,  to cellar 5 – 15 years.  Group View (Flight 2):  4 first places,  1  second,  2 least.  GK 11/15

2014  Maude Pinot Noir   18 +  ()
Cromwell Basin and Wanaka,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14%;  $30   [ screwcap;  main clones Dijon 115,  UCD 5,  Dijon 667,  10/5,  planted at an average of c.2,500 vines/ha,  average age c.15 years;  all hand-picked in the range 4 t/ha (1.6 t/ac) – 6 t/ha (2.4 t/ac);  c.25% whole-bunch this year,  cold soak 7 days,  a mix of wild- and cultured-yeast ferments,  c.21 days cuvaison;  c.10 months in French oak c.25% new,  medium toast;  not sterile-filtered to bottle;  RS <1 g/L:  dry extract not given;  production 3,000 cases;  www.maudewines.com ]
Fresh pinot noir ruby,  clearly below midway in depth.  This wine sums up the four top wines,  in  the sense it is not as definitive in any of its characters as they are,  but it is fragrant,  and floral with a suggestion of boronia,  on red grading to black cherry fruits.  Texture in mouth is silky / sensuous,  very gentle,  not showing quite the tannin structure of the wines rated more highly,  but still a lovely glass of pinot noir.  This wine too is wonderfully affordable,  offering a quality which only a few years ago was priced more in the $60 bracket.  Those who are confident that all Otago pinots are 'obvious',  and can be recognised blind,  might be tripped up by this one.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  Group View (Flight 2):  3 first places,  1 second,  3 least.  GK 11/15

2013  Escarpment Pinot Noir   18  ()
Te Muna Road 60%,  Martinborough Terrace 40,  Wairarapa,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $51   [ screwcap;  main clones Abel and Dijon 667,  mostly planted at c.3,300 vines/ha,  average age varies from 12 – c.25 years depending on source-vineyard;  all hand-picked @ between 5 and 7 t/ha (2 – 2.8 t/ac),  c.50% whole-bunch this year,  no cold soak as such,  but takes c.3 days for all-wild yeast ferment to start,  then 15 – 21  days cuvaison;  c.11 months in French oak c.20% new,  medium  toast;  not sterile-filtered to bottle;  RS <0.2  g/L:  dry extract 28 g/L;  production not given;  www.escarpment.co.nz ]
Fresh pinot noir ruby,  well above midway in depth.  This is the first of the wines in this blind tasting to exhibit a faint aromatic / minty suggestion reminiscent of pennyroyal on bouquet,  in a highly floral and quite dusky interpretation of pinot noir.  This aromatic quality tends to deflect attention from the kinds of flower analogies that can be recognised.  Fruit qualities are black rather more than red cherry.  Flavours in mouth are rich,  succulent,  a little tannic (at this moment) as if designed for long cellaring,  but not at all extractive or heavy.  For those seeking a darker kind  of pinot noir,  yet one still totally 'within spec',  this wine could rate as highly as any.  Cellar 5 – 15 +  years.  Group View (Flight 2):  2 first places,  3 second,  1 least.  GK 11/15

2013  Ata Rangi Pinot Noir   18  ()
Martinborough Terrace,  Wairarapa,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $84   [ screwcap;  Abel clone c.45%,  assorted Dijon clones 40,  UCD 5 15,  planted at varying densities 2,800 – 4,400 vines/ha,  average age c.23 years;  all hand-picked @ c.4.1 t/ha (1.6 t/ac),  15 – 40% whole-bunch (depending on fruit-ripeness and year etc),  pre-ferment cold soak 5 – 10 days,  then 15 – 20  days cuvaison with 100% wild yeast;  c.15 months in French oak c.35% new,  medium toast;  not sterile-filtered to bottle;  RS 0.5  g/L;  dry extract 30.7 g/L;  production c.2,500  cases;  www.atarangi.co.nz ]
Pinot noir ruby,  just a little more oak-affected in hue (one supposes),  but just above midway in depth.  This is the second of the wines to show faint pennyroyal on bouquet,  mingled with clear French tea-rose and red rose florals,  lovely.  Fruit character is more red cherry than black,  and this leads through to a palate which is fresher than some of the wines rated more highly,  but no less concentrated.  It is important to note that respected pinot noir authorities vary a good deal in their preference for red vs black fruit (meaning cherry) qualities in pinot noir.  For those more in the red fruits camp,  this wine would rate more highly,  particularly given its concentration.  I take the view that provided there is florality,  I am very happy with either hue of cherry.  The tannin structure in this wine is subtler than the Escarpment,  more 'feminine' maybe,  but no less present.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  Group View (Flight 2):  4  first places,  none second,  2 least.  GK 11/15

2013  Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir   17 ½ +  ()
Martinborough Terrace,  Wairarapa,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $66   [ screwcap;  main clones Abel 51%,  UCD 5 31,  10/5 17,  balance Dijon,  half planted at c.2,000 vines/ha,  half 5,000,  average age 22 years,  ranging from 11 – 33;  all hand-picked @ an average of 3.8 t/ha (1.5 t/ac),  c.19% whole-bunch this year,  cold soak 5 – 7 days,  all wild-yeast ferments,  then c.17 days cuvaison;  c.12 months in French oak c.31% new,  medium toast;  not sterile-filtered to bottle;  RS <1 g/L:  dry extract not available (wine not yet released,  NB price above indicative);  production 1,040 cases;  www.martinborough-vineyard.co.nz ]
This wine shows one of the lighter pinot noir ruby colours so far,  and it is also more oak affected than the other top wines,  exactly midway in depth.  First impression is of a wine which is really burgundian in style and approach,  even though it too shows pennyroyal aromatics.  Is this a tell-tale for Martinborough:  I am still uncertain.  The herb itself is quite rare,  so the term is more by analogy.  It could for example reflect trace eucalyptus oil,  brought from afar in this quite windy district.  The whole style of the wine,  and its subtle interaction with oak,  reminds me of the great burgundian producer Armand Rousseau.  The florals are French tea-roses mainly,  on red fruits.  Palate is subtler than the other top wines in one sense,  yet more oaky too.  It is all red fruits of considerable concentration and charm,  markedly extended by oak yet the oak does not dominate.  Those favouring oak in red wines will mark this more highly.  Being lighter in appearance,  it is easy to suppose this might be a shorter-lived  wine,  but not so.  The concentration is there.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  Group View (Flight 2):  2 first places,  5 second,  4 least.  GK 11/15

2013  [ Palliser Estate ] Pencarrow Pinot Noir   17 ½  ()
Martinborough district,  Wairarapa,  New Zealand:  14%;  $28   [ screwcap;  mostly Dijon 667 and 777,  and four others including Abel,  planted at 2,525 vines/ha,  c.14 years age;  10% hand-picked,  mostly machine,  @ c.4.8 t/ha (1.9 t/ac),  20% whole-bunch component,  pre-ferment cold soak 6 days,  then 13 days cuvaison with 90% wild yeast;  all of the wine c.11 months in French oak c.26% new,  medium toast;  sterile-filtered to bottle;  RS 'dry';  dry extract 27.1 g/L;  production c.2,000+ cases;  www.palliser.co.nz ]
Pinot noir ruby,  another in its hue to suggest more oak influence.  And one sniff confirms that,  it  being the oakiest of the 17 wines.  But it is still OK,  within bounds for pinot noir,  not outside some practitioners in Burgundy.  The oak-related vanillin does make it harder to pinpoint flower analogies,  but the wine is fragrant,  heliotrope the closest parallel,  on red fruits more than black.  In mouth the flavours are long and subtle,  and the fruit good,  the oak gentle and mostly older,  giving the impression this would be a great food wine.  It is quite different from the Roaring Meg,  yet between them you feel they give a great summation of affordable New Zealand pinot noir.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  Group View (Flight 1):  8 first places,  5 second,  none least.  GK 11/15

2014  [ Mt Difficulty ] Roaring Meg Pinot Noir   17 ½  ()
Cromwell Basin,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14%;  $29   [ screwcap;  mostly Dijon clones, some Abel and UCD 5,  planted at 2,500 vines/ha,  c.10 years age;  half hand-picked,  half machine,  @ c. 8 t/ha (3.2 t/ac),  very small whole-bunch component,  pre-ferment cold soak c.6 days,  then c.18 days  cuvaison with 100% wild yeast;  all of the wine c.10.5 months in French oak c.20% new,  medium toast;  sterile-filtered to bottle;  RS 0.28 g/L:  dry extract 28.3 g/L;  production c.27,000 cases;  www.mtdifficulty.co.nz ]
Good pinot noir ruby,  just above midway in depth.  This was one of the most dramatically floral wines in the set of 17,  showing a wonderful sweet bouquet reminding of buddleia (butterflies),  and a range of fragrant roses,  just beautiful.  Below is evident red and black cherry,  and great purity,  unequivocally pinot noir.  And the flavour does not disappoint,  being fresh,  even crisply,  cherry fruit,  yet there is no hint of leafy or stalky qualities,  such as some price-point pinots show.   Alongside the Ata Rangi you can see the Roaring Meg has not had the sophisticated oak handling the former enjoys,  yet the nett impression is wonderfully good.  I am tempted to say I have never tasted a Roaring Meg as perfectly ripe and well-shaped as this 2014.  This wine is affordable,  yet it illustrates superbly both what New Zealand pinot noir is about,  and what the burgundy winestyle is about – a real achievement.  Food for thought here too on the cropping rate vs dry extract debate,  the wine tasting so well-fruited it seems not bone-dry,  yet it is.  Cellar 3 – 12 years.  Group View (Flight 1.):   6 first places,  5 second,  none least.  GK 11/15

2014  Gibbston Valley Pinot Noir China Terrace   17 +  ()
Bendigo Terraces,  Cromwell Basin,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14%;  $61   [ screwcap;  main clones Dijon 777 (54%) and Dijon 667,  planted at c.3,400 vines/ha,  average age 13 years,  all hand-picked @ an average of 6 t/ha (2.4 t/ac),  whole-bunch this year ranged from 0 – 100%,  averaging 27% in the finished wine,  cold soak also variable 2 – 8 days,  mix of cultured and wild-yeast ferments,  then between 10 and 20 days cuvaison varying with batch;  c.10 months in French oak c.40% new,  medium  toast;  not sterile-filtered to bottle;  RS 0.2 g/L;  dry extract c.28.5 g/L;  the wine maker comments there is now a desire for more red-fruit character,  ie less hang-time;  production 860 cases;  www.gvwines.co.nz ]
Deeper pinot noir,  some carmine and velvet,  the second deepest wine.  Bouquet is big,  aromatic,  different from the wines rated more highly,  almost as if it smelt tannic,  as well as a hint of mint.  These factors tend to obscure the fact it is also darkly floral,  on black cherry fruit more  than red.  Palate shows great fruit,  a lot of tannin for pinot noir,  yet careful oak,  the whole wine very youthful,  needing air on opening,  but preferably time in bottle.  Though dark,  it does taste like pinot noir,  and will mature into an exciting wine.  Cellar 5 – 15 + years,  to perhaps score higher.  Group View (Flight 2):  4 first places,  8 second,  none least.  GK 11/15

2013  Neudorf Pinot Noir Tom's Block   17  ()
Upper Moutere 85%,  Waimea Plains 15,  Nelson,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $35   [ screwcap;  mostly Dijon 777 and UCD 5,  4 others including Abel,  planted at 2,500 – 3125 vines/ha,  c.15 years age;  all hand-picked,  @ c.5 t/ha (2 t/ac),  nil whole-bunch component,  pre-ferment cold soak 4 – 6 days,  then 15 – 17  days cuvaison with 100% wild yeast;  all of the wine c.10 months in French oak c.22% new,  medium toast;  not sterile-filtered to bottle;  RS 0.6 g/L:  dry extract 26.8 g/L;  production c.2,200 cases;  www.neudorf.co.nz ]
Lightish pinot noir ruby,  the lightest wine in the 17.  Considering this is Neudorf's 'second wine',  this is intriguing pinot noir,  smelling highly burgundian,  another to remind of the Rousseau approach to the variety.  It is floral,  French tea-roses again,  but the key thing is the quality of the red fruits,  with suggestions of strawberries and  raspberries (neither excessive) in red cherries,  quite lovely.  Palate does not show the weakness which those fruit descriptors could imply,  the wine instead being soft and sustained on good fruit length and richness.  This is close to Volnay in style.  If you find many New Zealand pinots too dark for your taste,  try this one.  I think it is a key wine in defining the range of legitimate New Zealand pinot noir styles.  To have such attractive (and explicit) red fruits without leafy / stalky undertones is a rare achievement,  totally burgundian.  Cellar 3 – 8 years or so.  Group View (Flight 1):  no first places,  2 second,  1 least.  GK 11/15

2013  Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir Te Tera   16 ½ +  ()
Martinborough Terrace and Te Muna,  Wairarapa,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $28   [ screwcap;  mostly Dijon clones,  planted at 2,500 vines/ha,  hand-picked @ c. 5 t/ha (2 t/ac),  c.13 years average age;  nil whole-bunch component,  pre-ferment cold soak c.5 – 7 days,  then c.12 – 14 days cuvaison with 100% wild yeast;  95% of the wine c.9 months in French oak c.12% new,  medium toast;  sterile-filtered to bottle;  RS < 1 g/L:  dry extract not done yet;  production c.4,000 cases;  www.martinborough-vineyard.co.nz ]
Absolutely burgundian pinot noir ruby in hue,  below midway in depth.  Like its big brother,  this wine shows a lot of burgundy analogies,  smaller-scale burgundy maybe for this one,  but there is a lovely integration of fragrant red fruits with careful oak.  Palate is all red cherries,  quite remarkably so,  beautifully extended on near-invisible oak.  Finish is more serious than The Crossings wine,  beautifully long-flavoured considering its scale.  This is a lovely 'second wine',  fractionally more leafy than Neudorf Tom's.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  Group View (Flight 1):  no top places,  1 second,  3 least.  GK 11/15

2014  [ Yealands Group ] The Crossings Pinot Noir   16 ½  ()
Awatere Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  14%;  $18   [ screwcap;  all Dijon clones mostly 114,  115,  667,  planted at c.5000 vines/ha,  c.17 years age;  all machine-picked (some are of the view that the new-generation Pellenc destemming harvesters are as good as / better than hand-picking ... ),  @ c.5 t/ha (2 t/ac),  nil whole-bunch component,  pre-ferment cold soak 5 – 7 days,  then 20 – 25  days cuvaison with 100% cultured yeast;  >90% of the wine c.10 months in French oak c.20% new,  medium+ toast;  sterile-filtered to bottle;  RS 1.5  g/L:  dry extract not given;  production c.12,000 cases;  www.thecrossings.co.nz ]
Good pinot noir ruby.  Bouquet is quite strong,  showing both a hint of Blair Walter's (Felton Road) 'cola' quality,  plus florality ranging from buddleia through to roses,  on attractive cherry fruit,  red mostly.  Palate is not quite so good,  a clear suggestion of leafyness and stalks relative to the Roaring Meg,  and a lack of elevation complexity as if there were a significant stainless steel component,  yet on nett impression the wine ranks quite well.  No possibility of thinking of Burgundy,  here,  though.  This was the wine included because of its gold medal in the just-announced UK-based International Wine and Spirit Competition.  This group at one stage modestly described itself as 'setting the international benchmark for quality' [ in wine,  understood ].  It is therefore intriguing to see that in fact the Brits are no more astute at judging absolute quality in pinot noir than many New World judgings,  despite their propinquity to Burgundy.  Cellar 3 – 8 years. Group View (Flight 1):  4 first places,  7 second,  3 least.  GK 11/15

2014  Terra Sancta Pinot Noir Mysterious Diggings   16 +  ()
Bannockburn,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  13%;  $24   [ screwcap;  mostly Dijon 667,  777,  Abel and Dijon 115 clones,  planted at 2,500 vines/ha,  all hand-picked,  average  age c.16 years;  nil whole-bunch component,  cold soak not given,  100% cultured yeast,  cuvaison not given;  c.8  months in French oak,  % new etc not given,  maybe none;  not sterile-filtered to bottle;  RS < 1 g/L:  dry extract not given;  production not given;  www.terrasancta.co.nz ]
Colour is a bit odd,  too fresh and carmine,  though not deep,  below midway.  Bouquet is also slightly outside pinot noir norms,  smelling tannic,  not floral,  on black fruits more than red.  It is fragrant,  but not quite in a regular pinot way.  Flavours and textures are somewhat better than the bouquet,  the wine showing good fruit,  but still a tannic texture.  It generally shapes up as a dark-fruited pinot noir,  but in a charmless way.  Be interesting to see if it gains 'pinosity' in cellar,   5 – 12 years.  Group View (Flight 1):  1 first place,  1 second place,  7 least.  GK 11/15

2013  Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard   16 +  ()
Alexandra,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  13%;  $30   [ screwcap;  main clones Dijon 114,  667,  777,  plus  UCD 5 and Abel,  planted at 5,000 vines/ha,  all hand-picked from vines c.10 years age;  no whole-bunch component,  no info on cuvaison times,  mostly cultured yeast;  all the wine c.10 months in French oak c.30% new,  various toast levels;  RS 0.2 g/L:  dry extract 25.9 g/L;  production not given;  2013 now finished at winery,  due to Emirates taking for Business Class next year;  www.grasshopperrock.co.nz ]
Lightish pinot noir ruby,  the second to lightest wine of the 17.  Unlike the lightest-coloured wine,  this one does smell of stalks,  as well as red fruits not so much red cherry (which would be positive),  but rather more redcurrant,  which is very much a minor Beaune descriptor in a lesser  year – Savigny-les-Beaune etc.  It is fragrant on leafyness,  but barely floral in any sweet sense.  Palate is better than bouquet,  redcurrant grading to red cherry flavours,  but all disappointingly small-scale and leafy,  after the lovely ripe Grasshoppers which this wine earlier set its reputation on,  e.g. the 2009.  It tastes as if this year the cropping rate has near-doubled,  and the ripeness has therefore retreated pro rata.  It is modestly in style,  but (for this vintage at least) no longer the bargain it was.  Cellar 2 – 6 years.  Group View (Flight 1):  2 first places,  no second,  3 least.  GK 11/15

2014  Carrick Pinot Noir Unravelled   16  ()
Bannockburn,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14%;  $20   [ screwcap;  main clones Dijon 777 and 115,  planted at 2,500 vines/ha,  hand-picked @ c. 5 t/ha (2 t/ac),  c.19 years age;  no whole-bunch component,  pre-ferment cold soak c.4 days,  then c.16 days cuvaison with 100% wild yeast;  c.11 months in French oak c.15% new,  light to medium toast;  sterile-filtered to bottle;  RS 0.2 g/L:  dry extract 26.5 g/L;  production 4,000 cases;  www.carrick.co.nz ]
Pinot noir ruby,  just above midway in depth.  Bouquet is tending subdued,  needing a good splashy decanting several times.  It gradually reveals moderately fragrant red grading to black cherry fruits,  straightforward.  Flavour retains the reductive thought,  a bit hard and not forthcoming,  the flavours dark cherry tending to plum.  Sound wine,  but not singing.  It makes you despair of 'commercial' / tinpot judgings,  that a wine like this can still win a gold medal in New Zealand,  in 2015.  When will judge training / screening be brought in ?  Consumers are simply being misled.  Cellar 5 – 12 years,  probably to open up somewhat later,  5 years +.  Group View (Flight 1):  no first places,  no second,  7 least.  GK 11/15

2013  Dry River Pinot Noir   16  ()
Martinborough Terrace,  Wairarapa,  New Zealand:  13%;  $91   [ cork,  no capsule presumably due to the 'for-appearances' bottleneck shape,  so the cork though having a small wax 'hat' can be contaminated by rat urine if the bottles are under the house;  main clones 10/5 and UCD 5,  mostly planted at 2,200 vines/ha,  average age c.25 years;  all hand-picked @ c.4 t/ha (1.6 t/ac),  c.30% whole-bunch this year,  pre-ferment cold soak c.5 days,  then 7 – 10  days cuvaison with a mix of wild and cultured yeasts;  c.12 months in puncheon-sized French oak c.20% new,  medium+ toast;  not sterile-filtered to bottle;  RS <2  g/L:  dry extract c.30 g/L;  production c.800 cases;  www.dryriver.co.nz ]
Colour is deep pinot noir,  the darkest wine.  Bouquet is darkly red winey,  but not varietal.  It is not floral.  It does not smell of cherries.  It smells heavy,  tannic,  and dark like a dull Gigondas with a high percentage of mourvedre,  exactly what pinot noir is not,  or should not be.  Flavours in mouth are strange,  burly and darkly plummy in one sense,  but also tending stalky,  acid and tannic in another.  And throughout,  there is this darkly spicy salami quality,  totally at odds with the concept 'pinot noir'.  Once the identifications were revealed,  tasters commented this wine has won high marks in New Zealand pinot noir evaluations,  how come ?  All that needs to be said is:  anyone marking this wine highly as pinot noir is either:  (1) blind to the concept of florality as epitomised by buddleia,  heliotrope,  French tea-roses,  port-wine magnolia,  violets and boronia etc (many people are so-afflicted,  and it is surely no coincidence that it was the French who developed the fragrant tea-rose family,  and it is the French above all who emphasise the importance of florality in red wine,  and abhor sur-maturité = over-ripeness,  when florality is lost);  or (2) not sufficiently familiar with the classic interpretations of pinot noir quality particularly as seen on bouquet,  as expressed so vividly over many years by André Simon,  Hugh Johnson,  Remington Norman,  Charles Taylor,  Jasper Morris,  and occasionally Allen Meadows (florality is not his long suit);  or (3) is simply not tasting sufficient Premier and Grand Cru burgundy from the good years.  

It would be a wise move if the the new owners of Dry River now ceased to pay homage to founder Neil McCallum,  and instead realised and acknowledged that in his interpretation of pinot noir,  Neil was both wayward and flawed.  This assessment does not detract from his achievements with grapes that he really understood,  notably pinot gris and gewurztraminer,  where he set enviable,  even benchmark (for New Zealand) standards.  That Neil managed to persuade an entire generation of New Zealanders of the supposed merits of his dark and burly pinot noirs is a remarkable testament to the force of his personality,  but not to the quality of the wine.  If the new proprietors would now simply move on,  taste more widely,  and re-define their goals (which would include adopting a conventional bottle),  they now own some of the oldest pinot noir vines in New Zealand,  in one of the prime locations for that variety in this country.  The potential available to them is therefore great.  This wine wastes that opportunity.  Any presumption that a small producer in New Zealand can redefine what pinot noir is about,  is no more than vain folly.  Burgundy remains the absolute benchmark for pinot noir,  and will be so for some time to come.  Cellar this wine 5 – 20 years,  when it may lighten up and become somewhat more in style.  Group View (Flight 2):  no first places,  4 second,  9 least.  GK 11/15