Two wines from the Martinborough region arrived for tasting and possible review. One was Julicher Estate 99 Rows Pinot Noir 2006, a gold medal winner in the 2007 Air New Zealand Wine awards. The other was Dry River Pinot Noir 2006, from a company that produces one of the most sought after, iconic pinot noirs from the region.
I had two Central Otago wines in the tasting box that had been there for some time. One was the highly lauded Pisa Range Estate Black Poplar Pinot Noir 2006 and the other the Wooing Tree Pinot Noir 2006, whose previous debut vintage ended up with a multitude of gold medals, top wine accolades and Trophies.
I was hoping to collect more Central Otago pinot noirs to taste alongside the Pisa Range and the Wooing Tree, to see if there was any regional similarity or any subregional differences. But in the end I thought it time to taste the two southern wines, so I put them up against the Martinborough's, to see how they fared.
I already know I am hopeless in trying to pick the difference between Marlborough and Central Otago pinot noirs, so would picking the difference between Martinborough and Central Otago pinot noirs be easier? On paper it should be.
I think of Central Otago pinot noirs as being fruity, seducing the senses with their cherry scents, underlying savouriness, velvety mouthfeel and overall lushness. They are likely to have hints of dried herbs, especially the region's wild growing thyme.
I think of Martinborough pinot noirs as being more meaty, more immediately savoury and earthy, with perhaps but not necessarily a firmer, tighter tannin structure. The fruit that is there often needs coaxing out, rather than being upfront and jumping out of the glass.
Well, with that in mind, I set about tasting the wines blind and making my assessment. There were two with vibrantly fruity aromas in the typical red cherry black cherry spectrum with gorgeous velvety tannins and lushness. The another two more meaty and savoury, not necessarily bigger wines, but different.
So I picked the two that tantalised with their upfront cherry fruit scents as Central Otago and the two more 'meaty' wines as Martinborough. Wrong!!!!! My hopelessness in picking regional typicity continues.
The wines, however, were all stunning.
The slightly less opaque Wooing Tree Central Otago Pinot Noir 2006 was tasted first and immediately scored an 18.5 gold medal rating. Deep, complex, sweet and savoury with polished oak, it's full-bodied and powerful with lovely spice complexities, hints of anise, rich ripe juicy fruit, a deep earthy savoury undercurrent, a hint of graininess to the texture and a bit of a funky leathery nuance on the quite dry finish.
But as I went along the line-up, the wines' scores would reflect an upward slope on a graph.
Pisa Range Central Otago Pinot Noir 2006 had quite meaty, savoury scents with roast baby beetroot and polished new oak but when tasted it was at first surprisingly lighter than expected. But from a subtle start, this deeply coloured wine was indeed a wine of power and length. Underlying acidity imparts the 'peacocks tail' on the finish together with maraschino, orange pomander and a hint of peppery spice. There's a meaty, leathery undercurrent, reasonably firm grainy tannins and a very dry finish.
Julicher 99 Rows Martinborough Pinot Noir 2006 had immediately appealing sweet cherry scents. This slightly lighter coloured, juicy, forward style is concentrated and fruity both on the nose and in the creamy palate where vanillin oak is supported by an underlying meatiness and structure. Slightly spritzy on the first taste, the spritziness quickly dissipates to reveal a deep, full-bodied meatiness and cedary oak. Spicy, fruity, smooth and savoury, this is an upfront, user-friendly and totally approachable style.
The deepest in colour, by far, in the lineup was the opulent, Dry River Martinborough Pinot Noir 2006 with rich, sweet-fruited black cherry scents that have a cedary, savoury, almost marmite-like overtone. Savoury, earthy and just a little funky to the taste with huge fruit and huge oak, forest floor, tar, leather, black cherry and riper fruits heading to the blackberry spectrum with fruitcake spice, mushrooms and game - if anything, I thought the wine 'too big'.
The wines were tasted over two nights with two meals, venison the first night and lamb steaks the second night. It allowed the tasting to be more of a movie rather than a snapshot of a moment in time. The wines were tasted blind to eliminate label influence, and in a different order the second night. It was touch and go on the first night but on the second night there was one wine that rose above the others.
It was the Dry River Martinborough Pinot Noir 2006 with an ever-evolving revelation of flavours, a silky smooth texture as it travelled across the palate and an exquisite purity of pinot noir expression well into the second night. Once the labels were revealed I was immediately whisked back to the monster 1994 vintage that was still evolving when tasted 10 years later, in 2004. It's also such a totally different style to the more 'elegant', recent 2004 and 2005 vintages, which on reflection, were from very difficult years. Tasting the wine over two nights showed the true depth and long term potential of this magnificent wine. I imagine it will cellar easily for 10 years, perhaps longer given the track record of past vintages.
I recommend all of the above wines, if you can find them.
Julicher 99 Rows Martinborough Pinot Noir 2006 (14% alc., screwcap closure. $29.95 a bottle, www.julicher.co.nz) is the one to open and drink straight away.
Wooing Tree Central Otago Pinot Noir 2006 (14% alc, screwcap closure, $40, www.wooingtree.co.nz) also drinks very well straight away. The most savoury when initially tasted, taking sometime to reveal its rich cherry fruitiness.
Pisa Range Estate Black Poplar 2006 (14% alc, screwcap closure, $40, www.pisarangeestate.co.nz) will benefit from a little decanting when first open to let the flavours evolve and develop a sumptuous overlay. It got better and better over the course of the tasting and I just loved the texture and flow.
Not surprisingly, the luxurious Dry River Martinborough Pinot Noir (13.5% alc, cork closure) is the most expensive and most sought after, selling on mail order for $82 a bottle plus freight. Check out www.dryriver.co.nz.
© Sue Courtney
11 Mar 2008