This month Decanter, probably the world’s best wine magazine, published the results of a blind tasting of 90 pinot noirs from the Central Otago region of New Zealand.
More than 95 per cent of those wines were recommended, an indication of the high quality of wine coming from a region that many suggest challenges Burgundy and Germany for making the world’s finest pinot. Just over three quarters of all grapes planted in Central Otago are pinot noir.
Decanter rated five of the 90 as outstanding, with 32 highly recommended and 49 recommended. Only four received a “fair” rating and none were considered poor or faulty. As I noted in a column about Central Otago pinots in September last year, none of the wines then were “duds” – an indication of consistency.
Wines at the Decanter tasting were from the 2009 to the 2012 vintages. The 2009 vintage produced excellent fruit, and this shows in the wines. But they can tend to feel overcooked, in the sense that the fruit feels jammy or too powerful in the mouth.
The 2010 vintage was considered very good and those wines should be cellared. The 2011 vintage was average, affected by rain, though good winemakers, as in Burgundy, can still make great wine. In 2012 the vintage was large and consistently good.
These vintage years are relevant because, with a colleague, I this week conducted a tasting of a small and relatively unknown producer called Folding Hill. We tasted wines from 2009 to 2011 of the Orchard Block range, from the Bendigo sub-region.
Co-owner Dr Tim Kerruish said the Orchard Block was on the most southerly aspect of the vineyard. “We have found that it consistently produces exceptional fruit and because of this we take a tonne of grapes and vinify them in a small fermenter entirely using wild yeasts,” he notes on the vineyard’s web site. Dr Kerruish works as a consultant in emergency medicine.
Folding Hill only makes 75 cases a year of its Orchard Block pinots. These wines are relatively unknown, but will have a fine future as the vines get older.
One of the most potent factors to consider for the future is vine age. Folding Hill’s first vines were planted in 2003. Pinot vines tend to give their best fruit at about 20 to 40 years, so expect great things in a couple of decades.
The 2009 tasted and smelled of slightly stewed damson plums, with a touch of aniseed, spice and thyme. The power of the fruit was a little too overwhelming for my colleague, brought up on Burgundy’s subtlety. But tasted two days later, the wine was a dream, suggesting this wine should be cellared for a few more years.
The 2010 felt more savoury, with a touch of mint as well as the flavours of plums and cherries. It seemed more integrated than the 2009, with a pleasing roundness of structure and impressive depth.
Much of Central Otago was originally planted with a range of stone fruits like cherries and peaches and I imagined echoes of those cherry trees appearing in this wine. Appropriate given the wine’s name. The tannins are silky and soft. Use of new oak was limited to about 30 per cent.
The best pinots combine high acidity with restrained use of oak. Ripe fruit is generally a given with Central Otago pinots, though alcohol can be too high and overwhelm some wines. The 2010 feels beautifully balanced and would be a delight with a winter dish like pheasant casserole, or a rich pork dish. Decanter put it in the highly recommended category.
The 2011 was the lightest in colour and texture and closest to Burgundy in style, and the favourite of my colleague. It combined the same delicate acid and sour cherry tang of the 2010 with an ethereal lightness of touch. An elegant and perfumed wine that sang of beauty and place.
At the end of the tasting, the 2011 had the least left in the bottle, which told me it was our favourite on the night.
These were three very different wines, reflecting different vintages. It will be fascinating to see which direction future vintages take. For lovers of great pinot, these are a real treat.
Dr Kerruish has wisely chosen to use DIAM corks. This closure permits the same amount of oxygen as a traditional cork whilst reducing the possibility of cork taint. This opens up possibility for development of these pinots because screwcaps tend to retard development of wine long term.