June 28, 2005

Tasting New Zealand Pinot Noir

I’ve been tasting lately with some local winemakers who like to branch out from the usual Oregon fare. This month’s line up featured the wines of New Zealand, tasted blind as usual and discussed together as a group after sampling. One taster is a Kiwi working here for the growing season, the others bring experience from many of the top Oregon producers. And then there’s me, the home brewer looking in from the outside.

I’ve tasted a number of New Zealand whites over the years, but only a handful of reds. So I was excited and overall impressed by what I tasted. Lots of pure flavors and consistency from wine to wine, even if none of them particularly inspired me. These are nice drinking wines, possibly good for aging, probably tasty with a nice meal. The downside the $25-$40 price range, but who knows, maybe that’s just enough to make it feel special.

Two whites to start. The 2002 Pegasus Bay Rielsing Waipara – apparently the gold standard of NZ riesling – was spatlese sweet with a grapefruit aroma and some light diesel notes. In the mouth it was auslese sweet with fat grapefruit and lemon flavors and more diesel. It was nicely fresh but not a brand new wine, with a full texture and a nice finish.

Next the 2004 Villa Maria Pinot Gris Cellar Selection, a greenish tinted, super clean, leesy minerally smelling wine with lime and some alcohol showing. Flavors of salt, minerals, light yellow fruit with a steely edge, light in the middle and finish with obvious alcohol, I should have guessed the grape as it seemed very much like a fair Oregon pinot gris.

The first red was the 2001 Martinborough Pinot Noir Martinborough Terrace. Spicy wood aromas with pure black cherries and some pleasant stalkiness. Silky in the mouth with tart cherries, spice and a bit of French oak char. Turns a little bitter on the finish, but smells and tastes more full with time. I thought this was a pretty good Oregon pinot.

The 2002 Martinborough Pinot Noir Martinborough Terrace had the brightest color and a woodsy almost plasticy aroma with some greenish stemmy notes. Bright and tart on the palate with simple cherry fruit and a slightly harsh bite, this needs time.

The 2000 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir Martinborough showed some voliatile plastic notes but opens nicely with earthy, woodsy spicy cherry aromas. Similar in the mouth with tangy cherry flavors, gains silkiness with time, this was my favorite overall despite being more acidic than the others.

The 2002 Felton Road Central Otago Bannockburn Vineyard was the darkest, with a clean caramelly and sweet black cherry aroma. On the palate were silky berry and caramel flavors, all smooth and integrated but a bit too glossy for my tastes.

And finally the 2002 Patton Valley Pinot Noir Estate Willamette Valley. Interestingly, this Oregon wine was the group favorite by a slight margin over the Felton ROad. Spicy berry and cherry aromas, more caramelly with time, gingerbread, oaky but not aggressively so. Silky caramelly red fruit and spicy earth flavors, tangy on the finish, this is nicely "made" wine but not my style.

And two parting contributions. The 2003 Cameron Pinot Noir Dundee Hills has a dark but translucent color and smoke, ash, and cherry aroma. It’s bright and pretty, not oaky so much as earthy. Very silky on the palate, a bit glossy with a rich but still winey red berry flavor, brightly acidic with tangy on the finish. Nice stuff.

Finally the 2003 Holloran Riesling Le Pavillon Vineyard, a pale wine with a clean light diesel and peach aroma. Medium sweet on the palate with tangy peach, orange, and lemon flavors, strong acidity with a hint of creaminess, but a nice honest riesling that should age a while.

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