Tag: pinot noir

Wine Review: 2015 Eldridge Estate “Clonal Blend” Pinot Noir

Wine Review: 2015 Eldridge Estate “Clonal Blend” Pinot Noir

The trumpeting of wine journos across the globe regarding the renewed interest in Australian wines, the so-called Australia 2.0, has led many to dive deeper into the pinot noir producing regions Down Under. As pinot noirs from Victoria and Tasmania start to reappear on the tasting mats of Aussie wine seminars in the states, regions as varied as Gippsland and Macedon in Victoria or Pipers River and Bicheno from Tasmania are now entering the vocabulary of some folks in America’s wine trade.

Chief among these wine regions is the Mornington Peninsula, an area about an hour south-southeast of Melbourne and home to many weekend retreats from city-dwellers. Many of the 50 or so wineries there cater to strong wine tourism emanating from up north with eating establishments attached to cellar doors serving everything from simple deli spreads to fine dining restos with deep wine lists.

It seems as if we should have a deeper understanding of Mornington pinots as this category is not entirely new to America. Indeed, many of America’s first Aussie wine importers saw wineries like Dromana Estate and Kooyong make their presence known. Based on those efforts, other wineries like Turramurra Estate, Yabby Lake and Prancing Horse came to the US on their own.

So with two decades of Mornington Peninsula pinots under the country’s belt, that basic understanding of a “Mornington Style” pinot is probably as elusive today as back then. And it becomes even harder to discern that when living on this side of the Pacific. At a thoroughly engaging conclave of Mornington Peninsula pinot producers a few years ago, I tasted such a wide range of pinot styles that I left with more questions than answers.

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Sam Coverdale, winemaker for Polperro and Even Keel, with Jasper Morris (l), one of the UK’s top Burgundy experts, at the 2013 Mornington Peninsula International Pinot Noir Celebration

There were, of course, classically fuller styles that had come to define a Mornington pinot, particularly wines from Moorooduc Estate, Kooyong and Paringa Estate. At the same time, a wide range of pinots being poured were light bodied, almost whispery in the presence of fruit on the palate with pale colors and understated red fruit aromas. It was as if they were from two different worlds, not one region.

This showcase event raised a particular problem that frequently arises from our vantage point in the States, the difficulty that comes from a snapshot view of a wine region and its styles without any context or background. In this case, the more delicate pinots went against the grain of understanding that Mornington produced a richer, fuller style of pinot. What did these new, delicately constructed wines represent? A difficult vintage? Variability due to subregional differences? Winemakers responding to the “Pursuit of Balance” trend?

These questions are a window into the difficulty of coming to a better understanding of some of the Australian pinot noirs that are starting to make their way across the Pacific. Having an awareness of current styles and trends surrounding pinot noir production in Australia is as important as is a knowledge of subregional styles and vintage conditions. Without this info, it’s hard to place these new wines in some kind of context.

These are concerns that easily arise when getting the opportunity to taste a wine like the 2015 Eldridge Estate Pinot Noir “Clonal Blend”, a wine that clearly and confidentially showed its cards in the glass but also required a few insights to fully understand it. Eldridge Estate is one of the Mornington’s more popular wineries due to owner David Lloyd‘s ceaseless enthusiasm. He has done much to improve the region’s profile through his work with the Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir Celebration. He also hosts many pinot and chardonnay tastings with wines from other countries as well as other Australian regions in his tireless pursuit of improving not only his own wines but those of his neighbors as well.

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David Lloyd of Eldridge Estate (l) chats up Burn Cottage’s Marquis Sauvage at the 2013 Mornington Peninsula International Pinot Noir Celebration

His 8 acre property is located in the Red Hills district of the Mornington, one of around eight or so loosely defined subregions that are quickly becoming apparent. Mostly planted to pinot noir with some chardonnay and gamay scattered about, David has spent much of the last three decades getting to know his vineyard on a more intimate scale which has seen him release some interesting cuvees. One wine is based from a single clone, one of the eight planted on the property. Another bottling sees two wines made from similar blends of clones and winemaking techniques but from parcels only 10 meters apart. He’s clearly on the more geeky end of the winemaking spectrum which makes a visit to taste with him a real blast.

David’s “Clonal Blend” bottling is his top blend where his favorite lots are fashioned together and usually comprise a selection of all clones on the estate. The soon-to-be released 2015 vintage showcased a translucent ruby color and an ethereal bouquet that slowly revealed mildly intense red fruits, sweet cinnamon and smoke. Light-medium bodied, the open attack quickly exposed a kernel of textured red fruits with some subtle dark spice notes on support. With crisp acids driving the finish, it seems appropriate that 2-4 years will see this fill out.

Yet what can be learned about this wine in relation to the questions asked earlier? This is obviously a more delicate expression of pinot noir from Red Hill that stands in stark contrast to their neighbor at Paringa Estate who are known for powerful wines. 2015 is acclaimed as an excellent vintage in Mornington and wine critics are driving the debate for more elegance in pinot. Is David’s wine in line with this or does it stand in contrast with these lines of thought?

It’s clear that this is where the context of what is happening with Aussie pinot overall and in Mornington particularly is so important as new examples arrive on our shores. Where this context and knowledge will come from is the question of the day. Otherwise, the opportunity that Australia 2.0 presents to show what the country can do with pinot will be a wasted one.

Wine Review: 2009 Ostler Pinot Noir “Caroline’s”

Wine Review: 2009 Ostler Pinot Noir “Caroline’s”

Standing behind the table and pouring wine at a consumer table has to be one of the more thankless tasks in the entire wine industry. In addition to the classic salesmen promoting their winery’s portfolio, this front line of wine promotion is often manned by representatives of marketing associations designed to shine a light on the wines of a particular country or appellation. As a fan of New Zealand and Australian wines, I often deal with the government organizations that are charged with introducing their country’s wines to the US market.

David Strada is the man on the frontlines for New Zealand Winegrowers and is often found at consumer wine events focused on pinot noir… Which is where I found him last weekend manning a table at the annual World of Pinot confab in Santa Barbara. As in previous events like these, David brings along an assortment of currently released Kiwi pinots from various regions (the 2014 Quartz Reef Pinot Noir from the Bendigo subregion of Central Otago was most impressive). But it’s always good to check out his selection as he often makes a point of pulling a bottle or two with a bit of bottle age and he did not disappoint with a 2009 Ostler “Caroline’s” Pinot Noir that piqued my interest.

Yes, this is a post about Ostler but only had one picture of that so putting in a Quartz Reef pic as it is in the post.

The pursuit of limestone-laden soils by pinot noir producers has a long and well-established history. Naturally occurring in Burgundy, New World pinot enthusiasts have had to do the hard yards to go out and find the stuff. The search for limestone soils provided the foundation story behind Josh Jensen’s Calera Winery back in the 1970s. In New Zealand, the limestone influence is easily found in the Weka Pass subregion just north of Christchurch where Bell Hill and Pyramid Valley have both made some compelling wines that reflect their soils.

The latest focus in New Zealand for the limestone inclined is the remote Waitaki Valley where vines were first planted in 2001. The region is a few hours east of Central Otago where the exceedingly marginal climate makes it difficult to grow grapes. Indeed, the region has already seen numerous wineries pull out of the region because of low yields and the expenses incurred by growing grapes in such an isolated area. Today, Waitaki is largely planted by small, independent growers, larger outfits having decided the risk of frost and inconsistent yields make it too risky to.

The chalky minerality that can come from limestone soils was easy to notice in the first pinots noirs from Waitaki and those wines immediately garnered considerable recognition. But coming from the 2004 vintage and from very young vines, the palates were also a bit attenuated and lacked the fruitweight to balance the intense mineral-laced spine and tannins.

That was not the case with later vintages as wines from brands like Valli and Forrest began to justify the hype. Clearly, a bit of vine age helped out the wines here. And thanks to a great write-up from Matt Kramer in the Wine Spectator, the 2010 Ostler “Caroline” Pinot Noir, got some sales traction in the US market. At the time (the spring of 2013), it was markedly better than the previous vintage, especially if you were preferred that haunting limestone scent and texture in your pinot.

But what a difference a few years makes. That ripe and clunky ’09 Ostler had softened and revealed a pretty elegance that must have been buried under the fuller-bodied wine of a few years ago. More elegant, even ethereal in texture, the limestone element was clearly in play now and the wine was all the better for it. But most importantly, I was glad I gave that wine a second chance and so I must take this opportunity to say thanks to those who provide them. Thanks, David!

Wine Review: 2015 Felton Road “Block 6” Chardonnay

Wine Review: 2015 Felton Road “Block 6” Chardonnay

Felton Road has become one of Central Otago’s leading wineries in the US market thanks to the ceaseless promotion of their wines across the world’s major wine markets. Critics and writers can do much to enhance a winery’s reputation (and Felton Road has certainly done well in that regard) but you’ve got to pull the cork (or twist the cab in the case of these wines) for the trade and consumers to show there’s some proof to the pudding.

What’s most exciting is that the winery has become one of leading proponents of bottling individual vineyards separately creating, in essence, premier cru sites among the plantings they have dealt with over the past 25 years. Bottlings from their Calvert and Cornish Point vineyards complement the original plantings at the Elms vineyard and show distinct differences even though the sites are only a few miles apart.

Felton Road winemaker Blair Walter at the winery

But what has been really intriguing to those involved in the more geeky side of wine is their early commitment to drill down even further and to bottle individual blocks from their vineyards. Felton Road quickly noticed that certain blocks of their pinot noir plantings performed exceptionally well in their blending trials and began to bottle them separately. The Felton Road “Block 3” and “Block 5” Pinot Noirs have quickly become iconic wines and show the completely different profiles that can come from vineyards not that far apart. The winery has essentially completed the arc from making village-level wines to discovering and bottling their interpretation of grand cru-level cuvees. This is essentially a window into how New Zealand’s pinot noir industry is maturing.

When it comes to chardonnay, Felton Road’s history has seen them release three chardonnays over the years: a Bannockburn regional cuvee, a more-focused bottling from the first vines planted at the Elms Vineyard and their single site Felton Road “Block 2” Chardonnay which was first produced in 2001. Recently, winemaker Blair Walter found that the chardonnay vines from their Block 6 had matured in such a direction that the 2015 wine deserved to be bottled separately. And tasting through a bottle of the 2015 Felton Road “Block 6” Chardonnay indicates that this new bottling will be a perfect addition to the winery’s portfolio.

The grapes for both cuvees are from the Elms Vineyard, the winery’s original plantings from the early 1990s. Both vineyards have similar soils and are planted to the Mendoza clone, the more popular selection used throughout New Zealand until the Dijon clones began to arrive. Block 6 has a more northerly slope (perfect for catching the sun’s energy) and higher elevation than its sibling which faces east.

The new wine is a perfect foil for the winery’s “Block 2” Chardonnay. That chardonnay celebrates a more Chablisienne style with a taut, leaner palate framework, some toasty oak on the edge and a firm fruit presence. It demands introspection as well as some aeration or cellaring to really show itself.

The “Block 6” still retains that Felton Road classicism in terms of the shape of the palate and its emphasis on fruit over oak. But here, there are more tropical notes on the nose and the medium-bodied palate, a statement originating from the Mendoza clone. The bouquet is a bit more outgoing with spice and a whiff of mead mingling with the riper fruit components and chalk-laced citrus to focus the finish.2017-02-05 11.57.25.jpg

Overall, the Block 6 possesses just a bit more plumpness to the palate and softer textures which will provide for more immediate appeal while the firmer Block 2 charts its own path. But the path that is exciting is the confidence the winery is taking to bottle wines from the best parcels of their original plantings. It will be exciting to see what happens as they drill down further on their other vineyards as the future unfolds.

Notes From Marlborough

Notes From Marlborough

The New Zealand wine industry has just finished hosting its 6th edition of Pinot Noir NZ, a tri-annual (now quadrennial) conclave that brings together the country’s pinot noir producers with the global wine community of importers, writers and other hangers on. Prior to the event, wineries from the Marlborough region hosted a few folks to an enlightened traipse through the vineyards of the Awatere and Wairau Valleys and I managed to add on a few winery visits around the trek. Following are a few observations and updates from my visit there.

The Earthquake

It’s clear that the recent earthquake in the country’s South Island had more of an impact on the Marlborough’s wine region than is generally known. Many wineries lost significant amounts of the stainless steel tanks that are needed to age and store wine with reports of some companies suffering up to a 20% decrease in storage capacity. This will cause some wineries to look for storage in other regions if they do not get existing tanks repaired in time or get new ones ordered and installed. That may take some time and the situation is not helped by shortages of stainless steel. Engineers and welders are in short supply and and are working 24/7 to not only get things ready for harvest but to get existing equipment up to newer safety standards.

There’s some concern that a good harvest could test the ability of wineries to process their fruit but a relatively cool summer has seen a slightly smaller cropload on the vines while ripening is anywhere from 5-10 days behind normal. Winemakers express their good luck and fortune that the quake did not come at night when workers were about and that it did not occur closer to harvest creating unimaginable difficulties in the region’s ability to process all the fruit.

Hanging in the Marlborough hills with Ivan Donaldson (Dogpoint), Sam Weaver (Churton), Luc Cowley (Auntsfield) (r-l)

Some nearby tourist areas will clearly suffer as the main road along the island’s western coast and its’ neighboring train track are out of commission. These routes are essential for trucking goods and services up and down the island, equipment, the industry’s workforce and finished wines for transport. Windy backroads are now handling increased traffic adding some significant time and stress for those travelling up and down the South Island. There’s no quick fix for things, estimates range from 18-30 months before roads and tracks are repaired.

New Sauvignon Blanc Styles Shine

Started when Cloudy Bay created its Te Koko sauvignon blanc, many of Marlborough’s savvy producers have taken to producing a more serious interpretation of the grape. This usually entails some barrel fermentation and aging, perhaps some natural yeasts to start things off and a bit of malolactic action as well. The first examples were interesting but tended to accentuate the grape’s herbal characteristics in not the best direction.

Today, wineries have now selected specific vineyards and reviewed their growing techniques to pick fruit that is better suited to these new techniques and the results have been well received by critics and consumers alike. Recent vertical tastings of Giesen’s “The August 1888” and Greywacke’s “Wild” sauvignon blancs revealed a new dimension to the category that the trade and wine enthusiasts should consider.

Giesen’s 2010 “The August” sauvignon showed the benefits of aging

While there is no doubt that the latest releases from both wines showed considerable appeal, giving these wines 4-6 years in the bottle really transforms them to another dimension. Initially focused and compact in their youth, the wines’ complexity and texture were ramped up considerably after spending a few years spent in the cellar. Taking on Burgundian sensibilities while providing hedonistic pleasure, these wines were an exciting revelation during my visit. Here’s hoping that wineries working with this new style of sauvignon blanc take some older vintages to market and show what these wines can offer with a bit of patience and, more importantly, save a parcel or two to be re-released for sale down the track.

Marlborough Turns Up the Volume

For the majority of this decade, Marlborough has seen very little new vineyard expansion. The global financial crisis led many wineries to hit the pause button and at the same time, the prevailing narrative has been that Marlborough would soon be fully planted with no room for left for new vines. Long-held views dictated that water scarcity and frost-prone weather conditions would make a westward expansion of the region’s vignoble a risky proposition. It seems, however, that the region’s nurseries and viticulturalists are back at work. This raises the prospect that continued demand for the region’s wines could see prices rise in the future.

Fueled by double-digit growth over the last few years, brands like Brancott from Pernod Ricard and Constellation’s Kim Crawford are projected to double their sales in the future so the move westward is on again. Apparently, the costs and risks involved with frost and securing water rights is worth it to secure the fruit necessary to maintain the strong growth in sales. And given the slow changes already happening in the region because of climate change, this bet could be a sure winner for those rolling the dice. The ultimate winner, however, is the Marlborough district as a whole as the region’s wines secure and maintain ever more demand for the future.

2014s Are Looking Good

Between the trip to Marlborough and the Pinot Noir conference a few days later, there were plenty of opportunities to taste both upcoming releases and see how some older wines are coming along. It’s pretty clear that 2014 will see a some exceptional wines. Kevin Judd’s Greywacke pinot was exciting aromatically as it offered up an exciting melange of red fruits and sweet spices. It was a thrilling of example of the bright, clean medium-full bodied style that the region can do so well. The Giesen family have now been working with the acclaimed Clayvin vineyard for a few years now focusing their efforts on understanding the vineyard and getting it more healthy. That seems to be paying off with their 2014 that is more structured and full-bodied than the Greywacke example. Here are slightly darker fruits with great precision presented on a balanced platform of focused tannins.

An oldie and a goodie

2007 in Marlbrough was the first superlative vintage to show off the contemporary style that has defined the region. The rich, mouth-filling textures that came to typify Marlborough pinot were the result of new clones, hillside plantings and maturing vines, all of which came together to produce some tasty wines. Dogpoint, like neighboring Greywacke, are classic proponents of the elegant, ethereal style of the region and the 2007 from magnum was holding up beautifully, ready to drink with open aromatics. The 2007 Highfield was always a bigger wine with a core of concentrated fruit thanks to the parcel of Omaka Valley fruit that made up a significant portion of the wine. Today, there’s some softer textures to be found but that deep core remains indicating a few more years remain. All in all, great to see how Marlborough is not just a producer of ready-to-drink pinots.