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.
James 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
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
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