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Backing the Jockey Not the Horse
© Sue Courtney
14th March 2003

At the Third Central Otago Pinot Celebration held at the beginning of February 2003, the overall theme was "The Hand that makes the Difference".

"It's not the terroir any more," said Blair Walter, the Chairman of the Celebration in his opening address. "That theory has gone to compost. It is really the Hand that makes the Difference. Does the wine reflect the Winemaker? Is it mean and lean, funky or perhaps a 'thinking' wine?".

The New Zealand tasting on the second day of the Celebration had a theme of 'Backing the Jockey, not the Horse". The tasting of 6 wines, 3 from Central Otago and 3 from other parts of New Zealand, was to explore different winemaking approaches.

All of the winemakers were present at the tasting. The wines were poured and tasted, then discussed as pairs. The wines were tasted blind and the labels were not revealed until the discussion was complete although most winemakers clearly recognised their wines.

Pair One:
This first pair was quite different stylistically and a wonderful contrast of the styles that New Zealand can produce.

Kumeu River Pinot Noir 2000 - Auckland
Winemaker: Michael Brajkovich, MW
My comments: This was the lightest in colour of the six wines in the line-up. Aromatic, a little tarry, earthy and tannic. Burgundian-like in a way but with a mocha richness. Savoury, with smoky bacon and leather and little fruit definition. A suggestion of Brett.

Comments from the delegates included these statements:
~ Funky, less florals, sweet red and black fruits, more body than the nose suggests.
~ Smoky. Not Brett but character of region
~ Wonderful complexity, seamless wine
~ Uninvited microbial life. At this point it is a good thing but I would be nervous to cellar
~ Brett is a distractive character and dries out the finish

Mt Difficulty Pinot Noir 2000 - Bannockburn, Central Otago
Winemaker: Matt Dicey
My comments: Good colour. Hints of raisin on the nose and later, going back to it, it seemed a little rubbery too. Very elegant and silky textured on the plate, this is a powerful, savoury, almost salty wine with tons of strawberry and lighter red fruits and a bite of spice on the ripe fruit finish.

Comments from the delegates included these statements:
~ Red fruit, more brightness, more floral. Ripe, more black fruits in the palate. Contained. Looking great in the glass.
~ Lot of oak, nicely integrated with the fruit
~ Showing good development, fruit, tannin weight
~ A brightness and freshness that points to Otago

Pair Two
Wither Hills Pinot Noir 2001 - Marlborough
Winemaker: Brent Marris
My comments: Very attractive creamy, floral, red fruit aroma with hints of musk. Chocolatey, creamy, bright red fruits, spicy and savoury. A lot of oak influence, creamy oak that is quite integrated but well balanced to the voluptuous fruit. It's a very easy drinkable wine, ripe and smooth with great length and a ripe fruit spiciness lingering.

Comments from the delegates included these statements:
~ Attractive spice, musky aromas, confected cherry fruit, hint of game on the nose, herbal edge, maraschino, currant, prune and a bit of spirit
~ Oakiest pairing, enough fruit for it though. 'energetic fruit'.
~ intense, direct rhubarb, cherry, malt, smoke, lovely concentration

Akarua Pinot Noir 2001 - Central Otago
Winemaker: Carol Bunn
My comments: Smells little older with more developed savoury smoky aromas. It is savoury in the mouth too with more earthy notes and lots of spice - a spicy acidity that I found almost numbing. Rich black fruits, black cherries, velvety texture and nicely integrated meaty tannins.

Comments from the delegates included these statements:
~ Rose petal, floral, underlying fruits, cinnamon, cloves, nuts, black cherry, very smart
~ Rich and succulent, cherry, smoky, rich fruit, sweet
~ Strong redcurrant, flat, least exciting

Pair Three
Daniel Schuster Omihi Pinot Noir - Waipara, North Canterbury
Winemaker: Danny Schuster
My comments: Ripe, raisiny, almost over the top in its ripeness. Red and black fruit, savoury oak, spice, rosemary herbs, dark chocolate, creamy, good acidity eking out the length. Long and complex, the more I taste this, the more I like it. It has an infusion of interesting savoury flavours on a silky texture with definite chocolate raisin characters on the finish.

Comments from the delegates included these statements:
~ Favourite pairing Rhubarb, hot chocolate, liquorice.

Kawarau Estate Reserve Cromwell Pinot Noir 2001
Winemaker: Dean Shaw
My comments: Oily tarry, nose, funky. Savoury, hints towards burgundy at first but then the rich NZ fruit flavour comes through. Black pepper, cloves, spice, apples, red fruits, long and savoury with a silky texture and lots of lovely red fruit and strong dried herb flavours that, to me, are very attractive. An interesting and complex wine. My favourite if the tasting.

Comments from the delegates included these statements:
~ Strong dried herbs
~ Super ripe
There was a long discussion on this wine and I have the notes on tape. The best bits will be transcribed here shortly. It was the most controversial wine in the tasting. Sulphur levels were discussed and Dean Shaw, the winemaker, said the grapes were super ripe, coming in at 25 Brix. There was a 20% contribution of stems (whole bunches) in this wine.

This last pair was my favourite. I loved their flavours and their elegant silky textures. This is the third time I have had the Kawarau Estate Reserve Cromwell Pinot Noir 2001 blind and every time I have loved it and placed it top of the tasting. Click here to read another review of this wine

Click here to read the notes on the 3rd Central Otago Celebration Red Burgundy Tasting, hosted by Jasper Morris.

© Sue Courtney. 14 March 2003


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