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Wine of the Week for week ending 24 July 2011
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Rockburn Pinot Noir 2009
Central Otago, New Zealand

When it comes to notable Central Otago wineries, a few names stand out for various reasons other than their spectacular wines

Gibbston Valley one of the first
Rippon - one of the most photographed
Felton Road one of the most cult
Chard Farm one of the most treacherous roads to get there
Wooing Tree one of the most evocative names
Quartz Reef one of the most gold mining name related

But there are so many Central Otago wineries now, with newcomers every year, how does a wine brand get into the stand out name category? By producing stand out wines, I would say. And that's why Rockburn is a name that stands out for me.

When I look at their recent show record, they have certainly been producing the goods. In New Zealand they've won gold medals for successive vintages of Pinot Noir, from 2006 to the current release 2009.

In particular the current release Rockburn Central Otago Pinot Noir 2009 has an impressive show record. Two gold medals in New Zealand (NZ International and Royal Easter Shows), two gold medals in Australia (Boutique Winemakers Awards and Sydney International) plus gold in Hong Kong and gold and Best in Show in Shanghai.

But it is not only wine show performances that attract my attention, it is how the wine performs for me when I taste it, if indeed I get the opportunity, and how a $35 to $45 wine performs with food. After all, if you are going to pay that much for wine, it has to be an all-round enjoyable experience.

I had previously tasted the Rockburn Central Otago Pinot Noir 2009 in September last year and again in March this year but got to taste again last week when Rockburn's winemakers, Malcolm Rees-Francis, called in to see me last week (click here for more on this visit).

Malcolm left two Pinot Noirs with me the Rockburn Central Otago Pinot Noir 2009 and the Rockburn Twelve Barrels Pinot Noir 2009. Both had been opened the day before.

The Rockburn Twelve Barrels Pinot Noir 2009, at $85 a bottle, is the most expensive of the pair. It's a wine Malcolm says best defines the site from that season. He selected the twelve best barrels from the vintage, and the wine from these barrels went into neutral barrels for another six months, a process that introduces more air. Thus the fruit becomes more subdued as more savoury characters take over. I thought the wine had a rich, sweet aroma - perfumed, a little floral and the flavours carry on that theme with a liquorice nuance coming through. It's sumptuous without being overpowering and the spicy character is quite intriguing. The finish is long and dry with obvious tannins a wine that's built for the long haul.

Rockburn Central Otago Pinot Noir 2009, tasted a day after opening, is definitely not as fragrant as the freshly opened samples I had tasted before. It seemed really tight on the first sip and I wondered where it was going, then suddenly a burst of sweet fruit filled my mouth with richness and flavour. Spicy, rich and concentrated with black cherry sweet yet not sweet, the tannins are silky and fine and the finish is definitely dry. Then a subtle suggestion of chocolate and an even more subtle suggestion of anise. And after while, it opened up in the glass to let that glorious aroma come through. The cellar door price is $40, though I've seen it for between $35 and $45 in retail. Shop around.

The thing about Pinot Noir is that it is such a delicious food accompaniment and so we went the extra degree to try something special. With duck breasts now available at my local Pak n Save, albeit not much in the 'save' department I suspect, it was an opportunity to try a restaurant style dish for this popular restaurant list wine. So we had duck breasts with a Morello Cherry Sauce (see below) and the tasting plate would include lamb backstrap with a herb crust, and slow cooked mushrooms because if mushrooms don't go with Pinot Noir, nothing will.

When it came to the wine and food matching, the cheaper wine won two matches out of three. The duck with the cherry sauce brought out a spiciness in the wine, and the herb crusted lamb with the slow cooked mushrooms was equally divine. However when the lamb was accompanied with the cherry sauce, the Twelve Barrels won that round. It was the fruitiness of the sauce that was an outstanding contrast to the gamey / savoury flavour of the meat and the Twelve Barrels wine.

For more on Rockburn Wines, visit

Morello Cherry Sauce
I used Delmaine Pitted Morello Cherries, available from the supermarket and slightly modified a recipe I used in April 2007, substituting port for orange liqueur.
In a saucepan combine 1/2 cup of the Morello cherry juice, a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar, a teaspoon of port, the juice and zest of half an orange, 2-3 sprigs of thyme, 3-4 leaves of sage and salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and reduce for 4-5 minutes. The smell that came off this while reducing is the intriguing and sometimes hard-to-describe aroma I often find in Pinot Noir now I know!.
Add half a cup of pitted cherries and simmer for another 2-3 minutes, mashing the cherries into the liquid with a potato masher. Leave to infuse the flavours as short as while cooking the duck or for several hours, it doesn't matter. Just before serving, reheat and thicken with a little cornflour.

© Sue Courtney
18 Jul 2011

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