Quartz Reef Pinot Gris vertical

Quartz Reef vineyards (Photo: Quartz Reef Wines)

I love vertical tastings. They are like an archaeological dig, revealing much about vintage variation, the evolution of a wine style and how the wine responds to bottle age.

I was delighted to receive a 14-bottle vertical tasting of Quartz Reef from 2003 to 2016. I had tasted most of the wines when they were first released, providing me with a helpful reference point to gauge bottle development.

The wine is made from grapes grown on Quartz Reef’s Bendigo vineyard, which was planted in 1998 with a vine density of 5000 vines/ha. The beautiful north-facing, sloping site is farmed using Demeter certified biodynamic principles. Soils are Waenga fine sandy loam. Hand-picked grapes are whole-bunch pressed followed by a warmish indigenous yeast fermentation and subsequent maturation on the yeast lees for 10 months.

Alcohol levels were either 14% or 14.5% between 2003 and 2008, then between 13.5% after that except for 2012 and 2016 which were both 13%. Some of the earlier wines showed a slight alcohol imbalance with a little heat on the finish, which would tend to support the move to lower levels.

Residual sugar varied from a low of 1.6 g/l (2009) to a high of 7.4 g/l in 2010 with the norm about 3 g/l, which seemed about right. I did find that the older wines in the flight were sometimes a little tough. It was as if the fruit had backed off, exposing previously unnoticeable tannins like the ribs of a wrecked sailing ship when the tide goes out. A little more residual sugar might well have masked those tannins.

The Star

The clear winner to me was the 2014 Quartz Reef Bendigo Pinot Gris, an absolutely delicious wine with masses of fruit and an absolutely perfect texture. 2014 was an exceptional pinot gris vintage in Central Otago – the stars had certainly aligned for the bottle I tasted.

Optimum cellaring

I would say 3-4 years are probably an optimum, although vintage variation will impact on peak drinking condition. My ratings increased on the second tasting of 2003 (helped by a bonus for being in such good shape for a 14-year-old pinot gris), 2006, 2008, 2013 and 2014, which suggests that the wines are capable of gaining ground with bottle age. The truly remarkable thing is that all of the wines still offered pleasure even when they had slipped a point or two after extended bottle age.

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