Central Otago – in Beaune


Tasted in the Hospices de Beaune on Friday 20 October.

Since the mid-1990s I’ve had a special place for pinot noir from New Zealand. The wines had a special quality that regions other than Burgundy largely fail to deliver. The quality of freshness. And by that I don’t just mean acidity, I mean a character of freshness of fruit.

At that time the whole garden didn’t smell of roses, of-course; the ‘entry-level’ wines were delicious and offered the freshness I describe, the problem was with the more expensive ‘reserve’ wines – overwhelmingly soupy, woody, usually unpleasant offerings for an extra 50% of your cash. This result was hardly surprising given the relative youth of the vineyards – even today you will find very few vineyards with an average age of more than 30 years. So young vines, inexperience of the plots, plenty of extraction and nice new oak barrels – the results of such wine-making decisions rarely matched the aspiration behind those decisions. But progress was constant…

When I visited in 2013 I was amazed by general quality of the wines, and discussions with winemakers were largely the same as they would be in Burgundy – about the soils, about biodynamics, about some stem inclusion and, in general, there was much more maturity about the approaches – and of-course, importantly, the vines. Given today’s overheating market for wines from Burgundy, there is often more value to be had with wines from New Zealand, and in particular Central Otago, despite the expense of their importation from the other side of the world…

The tasting…

Now this tasting came about to celebrate the 10th anniversary of an exchange programme between the domaines of Burgundy and New Zealand – both taking a trip to during harvesting to see how the other side of the world does it. I’ve done at least three harvests in Beaune with representatives from the south island of team NZ:

“Structurally, the exchange is run between a wine grower association and an agricultural college on each side…
Around 80 stagaires have now travelled on the exchange and if we assume that each of them have come into contact with at least 5 people, both in their own country and abroad, then it’s entirely possible that several hundred people have been affected by the exchange on both sides.”
Nick Mills, Rippon and the Exchange

To celebrate this anniversary there was a lunch at DRC – Aubert de Villaine was obviously highly engaged, also helping to arrange this venue for the tasting in the Chambre du Roi of the Hospices de Beaune, and also being present the day after for a get-together at the Abbaye of St.Vivant.

Wooing Tree Vineyard

Wooing Tree have 18 hectares planted, near Cromwell, and own another 8 that are not yet planted.

Wooing Tree 2013 Pinot Noir
A nice open, attractive aroma. Supple, fine texture, just a little fat, nicely layered flavour. Delicious (good-plus) villages level wine.


A place that’s impossible to forget – I visited in 2013 – it ha New Zealand’s most iconic view down the vines to Lake Wanaka and a small island – perfectly positioned for photographers!

2012 Rippon, Rippon
Interesting, not classic clean fruit, but there’s more than a hint of inviting sous bois. Good width and energy a little stem-style structure. Another delicious wine.

2012 Rippon, Tinkers Field
Here the nose has a more overt fruit style (there are 25-35% stems in these wines). More width on the palate, more structure too, with fine, mouth-watering, acidity. A complex wine, really well put together but still requiring 2-3 years patience – great length.

2009 Rippon, Emma’s Block
A little more purity of aroma here, good depth, with faint stems. A lovely smooth middle – slightly cooked fruit – but the fresh flavour melts over the palate. Delicious yet still young!

Quartz Reef

Founded in 1996 and named after the large local deposits of Quartz. The vines are in Bendigo sub-region of Central Otago.

2015 Quartz Reef
A faint reduction, and probably because of that the nose is quite profound. Fine and wide style on the palate, the flavour melting beautifully over the palate.

2015 Quartz Reef, Single Ferment
Normally there are 20 different ferments, and at bottling tine it’s the favourite tank that gets this label.
Here the nose is more modest, though serves up a subtly fine freshness. The palate is very fine though – modest acidity but with lovely balance and a really executive, silky texture. This is a real honey but too aromatically discrete today…

2014 Quartz Reef, Single Ferment
Hmm, this has a very inviting nose, freshness but at the same time depth and a certain excitement. Round, fresh, beautifully, silkily textured. A hint of oak structure I feel in the finish, but what a great wine!
Prophet’s Rock

Like Quartz Reef, also from the Bendigo sub-region of Central Otago.

2013 Prophet’s Rock, Home Vineyard
Higher tones, offering a very inviting freshness. In the mouth this is open, melting, delicious wine. All destemmed here with only one pigeage and then remontage. No added yeast – easy!

2014 Prophet’s Rock, Home Vineyard
The same vinification and elevage as the 2013.
Hmm, a midest intensity but very inviting nose. More freshness on the palate, a little more direct and like many here, the flavour slowly, impressively, melting over the palate. A little mineral expression in the finish here – oh and its delicious!

2012 Prophet’s Rock, Retrospect
Only a couple of barrels worth, but kept in bottle and only released after 5 years.
Hmm a lovely sweetness here, I might a say a suggestion of florals too. Modest volume but excellent complexity and fine freshness. Not a wine of weight, but one with a lovely, lovely personality. The last drops in the glass smell fabulous.
Mount Difficulty

A producer with vineyards mainly in the Bannockburn sub-region of Central Otago, but also with vines in Bendigo, Gibbston and Lowburn. The winemaker here also has the job-title of ‘Style Director!’

2015 Mount Difficulty
A blend of 5 vineyards, planted between 1992-1997
Big, weighty almost (but not quite) stinky – but in a good way! Beautiful texture, fine weight, faintly saline. Love that!
2010 Mount Difficulty, Long Gully
A little more whole-cluster here, maybe 25%.
Big, open a little more freshness than the last but similar style. Yep, just a hint of maturity here – wide impressive stuff. Delicious – a little sucrosity and a lot of modestly mature complexity. Clean, fresh, complex and simply delicious wine.

2007 Mount Difficulty, Pipeclay Terrasse
Hmm a bit of age here – modest funk, but fresh funk. Wide, complex, sweet, absolutely ready – what’s to wait for? Just a very tasty wine…

Gibbston Valley

Despite the name of the this producer, they have 2 vineyards in Gibbston Valley but 5 Bendigo – but the Gibbston site was planted first – way back (for NZ) in 1983.

2016 Gibbston Valley
Blend of different sites
A saline depth, not overtly inviting to start. Bright, open clean flavoured and complex. Really quite delicious – unlike the nose.

2016 Gibbston Valley, China Terrace
A fresh and reasonably open nose, otherwise a little modest. Wide, saline, good volume, a nice burst of finishing fresh flavour. Really a tasty wine.

2016 Gibbston Valley, Le Maitre
No irrigation here, 33 yo vines.
Just an accent of reduction. Wide, with a lovely dimension of flavour – still a hint of reduction on the palate too, but a sucrosity that successfully cuts the decent finishing structure. Fine!

Felton Road

‘Minimalist’ winemaking and biodynamic.

2015 Felton Road, Calvert
15 year-old vines, biodynamic for 12 years.
Wide – a nice, not overt, but complex and inviting nose. Really a ripeness of fruit here. Superb texture, lots of aromatic volume in the mouth. Simpy delicious wine!
2015 Felton Road, Cornish Point
A little more aromatic volume here, some freshness at the core of the nose too. Fresh, energetic, with flavours that are slowly melting through the fine texture. A certain minerality in the mid-palate too. Simply delicious again!
2012 Felton Road, Block 5
Mmm, that’s easily the most involving and attractive nose of any wine so far – complex with a hint of salinity. More sucrosity, fine energy. Just an ever-changing brilliant wine. I’d take this any day – Bravo!
Domaine Thomson

The only kiwi winery with vines in burgundy – in Gevrey’s Les Evocelles! This ‘domaine’ has 14 hectares of vines in Lowburn near Cromwell.

2016 Thomson, Explorer
A little saline style of nose – not directly attractive. In the mouth a very subtle reduction, but with a nice width and density of flavour. It finishes well, but in the present company this is quite a modest wine… plenty of finishing tannin though.

2013 Thomson, Surveyor Thompson
More freshness, a hint of sucrosity – a very much more interesting nose. Fresh, wide and with good volume. This is so much more interesting than the last wine – here is depth, complexity and a real interest. Super!

2012 Thomson, Surveyor Thompson
A nice, wide, faintly, modestly mature nose – lovely. Nice volume, with complexity and quite some maturity. Layers of good flavour. Super and ready, despite its relative youth…

Domaine Rewa

5.5 hectares of vines – only 2 of which are pinot – in the ‘foothills of the Pisa Range’ near Cromwell.

2013 Domaine Rewa
20 year-old vines and now biodynamic.
A nice volume of aroma, freshness and even a suggestion of spice. A big volume in the mouth, complex too. This is such a delicious wine – bravo!

Sitting near Lake Dunstan. itself near Cromwell.

2014 Aurum, Pinot Noir
Just a faint reduction on the nose, with a faint herb complexity too. Round, nice texture, a little salinity, still a little herb, but complex and very enjoyable.

2014 Aurum, Mathilde
Modest aromatic freshness. Here is an extra weight of flavour versus the 2014 – with good balance and energy. Long, lovely flavour – super.

2014 Aurum, Madeleine
A fine aromatic freshness, faintly with stems. Extra sweetness on the palate, with less direct weight, more a line and melting flavour. More stem effect here. Excellent wine.

Agree? Disagree? Anything you'd like to add?

There is one response to “Central Otago – in Beaune”

  1. Pacvine31st December 2017 at 7:17 pmPermalinkReply

    Have you ever had any of the Martinborough Vineyard Pinots made by Larry McKenna?

    • billn31st December 2017 at 8:24 pmPermalinkReply

      I don’t know who made them, but the 96-99s that I used to buy were all M V. Hated the reserve for the reasons mentioned, but loved the basic…

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