Recent Central Otago vintages
(Lake Dunstan – Central Otago)
I was delighted to join a handful of critics in Central Otago for a review of 72 recently released Pinot Noir spanning (effectively) three vintages: 2014, 2013 & 2012. The wines were tasted blind after an introduction to vintage conditions. Central Otago doesn’t really “do” bad vintages although a mediocre year, such as 2011, pops up now and again to remind them who’s in charge.
My favourite Burgundy winemaker, Frederic Mugnier, was quoted as saying that he likes his wines to express a sense of place and a sense of vintage. Winemakers should avoid trying to build their wines up in light vintages. They risk pushing their wine into an unnatural shape if they are unsuccessful, or creating a boring homogenous product if they are successful.
Central Otago produced many voluptuous “fruit bomb” styles in 2002, christened the “American vintage” because the wines were precocious and forward. They offered the sort of instant gratification that might be welcomed on the American market. By contrast 2003 produced much tougher, more astringent wines. It was christened “the English vintage” because the wines were closer in structure to the sort of burgundies enjoyed on the English market.
Central Otago Pinot Noir from 2014 might also be described as “an American vintage”. While not exactly “fruit bomb” wines, they tend to be soft, low in acidity (thanks to hot nights in April) and are in many cases ready to be enjoyed now.
2013, on the other hand, might be called “the English vintage”. The wines are often concentrated and very astringent. Most need plenty of cellaring although many (but not all) have enough fruit intensity to emerge with flying colours after a period of bottle age. I recommend enjoying the wines from 2014 before those from 2013.
2012 is my favourite. The wines are elegant and perfectly balanced – neither precocious nor tough. I expect most of them to age perfectly, although many are delicious drinking now.