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Wine of the Week for week ending 21 March 2004
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Dry River Pinot Noir 2002
Martinborough, New Zealand

Dry River Pinot Noir 2002 is so youthfully black, deep and inky you could be forgiven for thinking it was a Merlot. It's also so rich and flavoursome that for a moment it almost tastes like a Merlot or perhaps even a Syrah, but it has the 'je ne sais que' that tells you it couldn’t possibly be anything else than an awesome rendition of Pinot Noir.

Its texture is like a plush red velvet cloak with a silken lining that seduces the palate as it wraps itself around it. Meanwhile rose petals flutter from the sky. As the vinous elixir entrances the palate there's the thrill of a touch of cracked pepper, the sweetness of marinated cherries, the richness of deep blue plums and the mysteriousness of vanilla pod and liquorice-like fragrant spices, then finally the flare of the peacock tail at the climax. After tail subsides, woody spices and sweet cherries linger on the aftertaste.

It's a wine with remarkable concentration and richness, a wine that is definitely pinot – what else could be so exotic?

Dry River Pinot Noir 2002 was one of the highlights at the recent Pinot Noir 2004 – the celebration of New Zealand Pinot Noir. It was not the wine that featured in the formal international tasting, however – that was the previous vintage. The Dry River Pinot Noir 2002 was in the tasting room with a hundred or so others. I didn't take notes but I remember this wine; its aura, its presence, its amazing taste and flavour. It helped that, like the impeccable Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2002 beside it, it was slightly chilled to counteract the effects of the interior of the Wellington Events Centre on the city's most humid, hottest day of summer.

The power of this wine reminds me of comments made at the International tasting about the 2001. "It is dangerous to stereotype Pinot Noir", said French expert Michel Bettane. "We are tolerant of a range of styles of Chardonnay …. We should be more open-minded about Pinot Noir", said the UK's Robert Joseph. "Felton Road is the Chambolle-Musigny, Dry River is the Pommard", said Aussie guru James Halliday.

The wine carries 13.5% alcohol and is quite forward for a Dry River Pinot. While it was delicious drinking on its own, we accompanied the wine with home grown lamb shanks that had been cooked on a wine soaked bed of citrus pieces, rosemary and thyme.

Drinking the wine the following two days, the vinous richness has concentrated and the exotic cedary spices are even more entrancing as they mingle with rose, violets, cherries and plums, while hints of tobacco linger. I believe this is going to be one of the great Dry River Pinot Noirs. Time will tell.

Where do you buy this wine? It was released in Spring 2003 when it cost around $66 a bottle and was quickly snapped up by mail order clients. A small amount may be available in retail or at the most expensive restaurants. If you have it in your cellar, lucky you. I just drank my one lonely bottle!

© Sue Courtney
14 March 2004

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