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Love Fest - A tasting of the Love Estate Pinot Noirs
© Sue Courtney
17 January 2007

Have you tried the wines yet," asked James Love when he telephoned on Monday morning. This is a man with a *loverly* name, you have to agree. He had sent me three wines to try - a mini vertical of pinot noir from the 2003, 2004 and 2005 vintages. They arrived just before Christmas.

"Not yet, I've been on holiday," I replied, promising that I'd get on to it as soon as I could. So last night I made the tasting my highest priority.

love vineyardJames Love is one of Central Otago's newer producers, changing from a farming focus to join the pinot rush at a similar time to many others seeking their fortune in the grape. The stony, 4-hectare, pinot noir vineyard is in the Alexandra subregion of Central Otago, in Hillview Road, on an elevated plateau close to the airstrip. A number of other growers have vineyards here too. The photo (right)was taken when I visited there in September 2006.

James contracted David Grant of the William Hill Winery in nearby Springvale to make the wines and the first vintage was 2002. Named 'Centago' Pinot Noir it won a silver medal in the Air NZ Wine Awards. A name change to James Love Pinot Noir took place for successive vintages. The 2003 went on to win a gold medal at the Bragato Wine Awards as well as a gold medal in a wine competition in Switzerland. awards for growers rather than producers.

I thought about the growing seasons before I tasted the wines.

2003 was a good year for pinot noir in Central Otago in my opinion. However it came on the heels of a hot 2002, a year that produced intensely coloured, lusciously flavoured, heady, alcoholic pinots. So 2003 was poo-pooed by some people because the wines did not have the upfront seductiveness of colour and taste than those in 2002. But with 2003 being cooler and alcohols lower, I thought that in many cases it allowed more of ethereal pinot noir characters to be displayed.

2004 was 'one of those years' that you don't want history to repeat. With dramatically cold and frosty episodes at each end of the season, harvest was late, too late for some growers in the Gibbston Valley who succumbed to frost in the spring and again in the autumn. If the fruit was ripe it could have been saved, but with some of the vines that I saw when I passed through, veraison hadn't even been completed when the autumn frosts hit. A lighter vintage on average, nevertheless there have been some remarkably concentrated wines, in particular Peregrine and Rockburn, two of my favourites.

2005 started with a frost free spring but yields would be disastrously low - a knock-on effect of the previous season then rain during the fruit set period hammering in the nail. But low yields can result in concentrated wines and that has been apparent in some of wines from 2005 already although many are tightly bound at this stage of their life. They need longer to unfold, to reveal some of the subtle intricacies to the best.

So what about the James Love wines? And how would they match to the meal I had prepared, an array of flavours to tempt different intricacies out of any pinot noir. There was crispy fried salmon fillet cooked in a thyme butter. There was a vegetable side of potatoes, mushrooms and thyme. There was a salad sprinkled with fresh pomegranate seeds and finished with a fresh pomegranate juice dressing. And last there was the cheese course, a creamy piquant blue.

James Love Central Otago Pinot Noir 2003
Deep red, but without any purple hues, it smells of bittersweet red berry fruit - like cherries and guavas and cranberries - together with earthy notes and savoury tones, even a hint of smoky bacon. It's quite mellow already, soft and savoury with that bittersweet fruit, leather, rose petals, mulled wine spices, hints of chocolate and plush velvety tannins add to the full-bodied mouthfeel while the acidity pushes through to bring a zesty flair to the lingering finish. I thought it very good. This wine was best with the potato, mushroom and thyme dish. The other foods tended to enhance the acidity in the wine. It contains 14% alcohol by volume and is sealed with a screwcap, and cost around NZ$33 when it was available.  You can probably still buy it if you live in Antwerp.

James Love Central Otago Pinot Noir 2004
Not so expressive on the nose, but from the savoury tones emerges some sweetish smelling, ripe maraschino-like cherry fruit. It's lighter in the palate too, again those hints of leather and plenty of underlying acidity that expresses itself like chocolate-covered raspberries. The tannins are firmer than in the 2003. And the finish is savoury and just a little mocha-like. However this lighter style with its light berryish flavours is a winner with food. It contains 13.7% alcohol by volume, is sealed with a screwcap and costs about NZ$26. It was perfect with the salmon and played beautifully with the pomegranate in the salad.

James Love Central Otago Pinot Noir 2005
Remarkably, this smells very similar to the 2004, just a tad more spicier and much more expressive, however it is deeper in colour with purple tints to the crimson red hue and it tastes quite different with its nutty oak, dry tannins, an array of oriental spices and earthy tones. Guava and cranberry fruit give way to ripe cherry and plum that emerge to linger on the finish, a deep, dark, savoury finish with a subtle, sexy, musky veneer. The wine has long term potential but right now it needs cheese or something soft and creamy to cut through the tannins. Because of this I added the cheese course to the meal. And with the cheese cutting through the tannins, it was a great success. But the wine was too sharp for the salmon and didn't work with the potato dish either. It contains 13.2% alcohol by volume and is sealed with a screwcap. Not yet released, anticipated retail is NZ$29.

Copyright Sue Courtney
Crossposted from my blog.
17 January 2007


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