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Wine of the Week for week ending 25 Oct 2009
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Felton Road Pinot Noirs ... 2008
Central Otago, New Zealand

When the email arrived asking if I'd like to join Blair Walter for a special tasting of the Felton Road new release 2008 Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays and 2009 Rieslings along with two 4-vintage verticals of Pinot Noir, the date was marked on the calendar immediately. I congratulate myself to making it to this A-list invite tasting.

And then the long awaited day arrived. It was a day when the buses were on strike. Not my bus company, though. The Northern Express was still running and though the Park 'n Ride and surrounding street were packed with cars, I found a car park about a kilometre away on a connecting bus route on which buses were still running. Clever. I had telephoned earlier to say I may be late, I was, in fact, the first to arrive.

Blair Walter greeted me at the door to the private room. He has been with Felton road right from the start. This first vintage, the 1997, really put Central Otago and Felton Road on the map when it was awarded Champion Pinot Noir at one of the wine shows the following year. They've not entered a wine show since then, they've had no need to. Everyone was anyone was raving about the wines. Now the Felton Road Pinot Noirs are some of New Zealand's most sought out each year. I personally have a well worn, comfortable soft spot for the Felton Road Rieslings.

Things have changed since the first vintages. The original owner, Stuart Elms, sold to British Felton Road enthusiast, Nigel Greening, who owned the Cornish Point vineyard near by. Since 2002, the vineyard has been converting to organic and biodynamic viticultural regimes. The Cornish Point label came under the Felton Road branding in 2007.

This piece concentrates on the 2008 Pinot Noirs.

I've been a little critical of some of the 2008 vintage Central Otago pinot noirs I've seen so far - light in colour, delicate in flavour, such a contrast to the big, bold, bolshy 2007's. Put a 2008 next to a 2007 and the younger wines some look little darker than a Rose, none deeper than Beaujolais. Well, that's what I thought until this tasting - maybe I had only seen early release Central Otago 2008's, because the Felton Road 2008's all have a deep dense vivid purple garnet colour with a deep translucency that becomes almost opaque in the core of the glass. Noting wishy-washy about these. As I taste through I find a similarity to the five wines - they are savoury and earthy with anise-like spices, underlying acidity, essence of pinot and wonderful persistence of flavour. These wines speak in volume of their quality.

Felton Road Pinot Noir 2008
There's a deep fruit sweetness strumming through the svelte savouriness and while tight on entry it shows such potential. Earthy with underlying acidity, it's full of purple fruit with a sweet edge and a tingle to the spice-infused finish. Love the anise-y tones, the fine tannin structure and the lingering fruit sweetness. A beautiful, harmonious wine and the most accessible of the five right now. Benefits from the components of three vineyards, 11 clones, different rootstocks and micro-sites. Basically it is the 'leftovers'.

Felton Road Calvert Pinot Noir 2008
Another bright savoury wine with a voluptuous sweet veneer - a hint of chocolate too. Tight impression on the palate with well structured underlying acidity and a slightly grippiness to the silky textured tannins. It finishes earthy and savoury with a woody herb character and the aromatic spices pushing through. Becoming quite seductive and more-ish as it lingers. Calvert is shared by three producers but has one viticultural regime. Seems awkward when re-tasted after the Cornish Point.

Felton Road Cornish Point Pinot Noir 2008
A little deeper than No.1 in colour, this has a funky savouriness to the scent with black cherries abundant in the aroma together with the merest hint of paint box and poached tamarillo too. Lovely roundness already apparent but that initial impression is interrupted by a broadness of slightly grainy meaty tannins and underlying acidity - though a little more muted than in the previous two. The flavour is persistent with a silkiness to the mouthfeel and earthy savoury nuances with those characteristic savoury herbs, concentrated dark, bittersweet sweet fruit and again those tantalising anise-like spices. Re-tasted after the Block 3, this is a little hard and perhaps the least complex in the line-up, but is more approachable than the Calvert for drinking right now.

Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir 2008
Awesome aroma - has a velvety sense from the aroma alone - and in the mouth it is voluptuous from the outset- and of all the wines, to me it is the one that most says 'drink me'. Bigger than the previous three with oak quite dominant in the palate, it has lovely deep, rich, ripe bittersweet fruits with an underpinning of orange pomander. Smells beautiful but absolutely needs more time. After a while I sense the classy French oak on the nose too. And the finish is deep and spicy. This is so rounded when tasted again after the Block 5.

Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir 2008
Quite a savoury, earthy, meaty aroma with just the merest hint of chocolate - inhale deeply those beautiful anise spices too. The spiciest of them all in the palate and the most glorious too. Deep, rich, velvety and sensuous with tannins that are complex and alluring; fruit in the dark black cherry/purple spectrum with violets adding to the overall appeal and a woody veneer. Of all the wines, this is the one that is simply pleading to be cellared. Outstanding.

All of the wines are closed with screwcap closures and they all state 14% alcohol on the label.

These wines are highly sought after and even mail order customers are limited to some of the wines. There is a special 'Block Wines' mailing list too. Find out more from The wines are sold in 30 other countries too - even in Sweden.

© Sue Courtney
19 Oct 2009

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