FELTON ROAD IS a fully fledged biodynamic winery in Central Otago on the South Island of New Zealand. Together with Rippon and Quartz Reef, the pioneers of the region, Felton Road is arguably the most highly regarded producer in this remote and beguiling landscape of schistous glacial tills and vast waterways, whose climate – unusually for New Zealand – is largely without maritime influence. While recently visiting “Central”, as it's known, I reacquainted myself with many of the region's wines at Pinot Noir New Zealand 2013, a joyous celebration of the grape, held in Wellington in late January.
Central is fast becoming known for these classy red wines. The dry continental climate and extreme diurnal temperature swings allow for both ripeness and acid retention in the region's wines. By the same token, it also encourages a bumptious sweetness that's increasingly being toned by assiduous attention to vineyard management and picking windows, and, slowly but surely, spurring a trend toward a greater percentage of whole clusters in the cuvées. This results in increasingly savoury flavours in the wines and greater drinkability.
Drinkability is a goal that winemaker Blair Walter always has in mind. I found his 2011s to be an altogether more successful set of wines than the 2010s. The 2009s are also sublime, despite a very warm year.
Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2010: Orange rind, cola and dark cherry fruit. A dense wine with a bit of heat. 88
Bannockburn Chardonnay 2010: Aromas of melon fruit with hints of nougat. Quite simple, yet a fresh, elegant style, given texture by some judicious lees handling. Finishes a tad sweet. 88
Calvert 2011: Engaging aromas of damson plum, Turkish delight, kumquat, nectarine and a tactile jangly structure of mineral and sinew. Yet nothing overt or torrefacted. Beautifully handled oak and, despite its youth, a thoroughly compelling wine with energetic sap honing the sweetness and preventing anything from becoming too much. Long and energetic, with expansive sweet and sour fruit in the mouth as the wine opens. I like this very much, especially if one were to approach any of this line-up sooner rather than later. 93
Calvert 2010: A tighter nose yielding little, with a hint of autumn. Yet sweet cherry in the mouth, expanding into a long, pliant finish. This wine augurs well for a bright future, over the next five to 10 years. 91
Cornish Point 2011: This wine starts round and sweet, with the warmer disposition of the site showing through. Opening over time, liquorice, five-spice and molten black cherry emerge. This wine has swagger and sass, wearing its heart on its sleeve. Upfront and vocal, this is not a soprano but a baritone, or perhaps a metal singer! Lots of weight here and not a Pinot Noir for the faint of heart. Marked tannins keep the focus, rather than the energy or mineral undercurrent present in this producer's other 2011s. A more successful wine than the round and flatter 2010 of this cuvée. 91
Cornish Point 2010: Aromas of rhubarb and a hint of cough drop. Round and voluptuous. From a considerably warmer site. 90
Block 2 Chardonnay 2010: Stone fruit and in particular nectarine aromas. Tighter and more linear. Unfined and unfiltered with fantastic length. Very calcareous as grown on thinner topsoils with a chalky subsoil, yet could do with a bit more complexity. Very pure and tangy, yet...needs time perhaps? 90
Block 3 2011: Tightly furled, with the wine's class manifest in its tightly etched tannins, judiciously managed classy oak and vibrant acidity. There is an edginess to this and a vibrancy that ricochets across the mouth, suggesting the use of stems in the ferment. The nose has a damson plum, tobacco and rhubarb note initially, before it closes down. This wine is a highly strung tightrope walker, needing time to relax. Bodes well for more than a decade of ageing. 95
Block 3 2010: An unresolved nose yielding little at this stage, but inviting nevertheless, with hints of spearmint and menthol, yet not at all herbaceous. The mouth exhibits anise, some stemmy complexity and expansive richness, driven to a long finish by brisk acidity. A rich wine and increasingly so, as it grows in the glass, yet rather ethereal with finely grained tannins. Finishes a bit too sweet for me, although it will become more savoury with age. 92
Block 3 2009: An attractively volatile lift to the nose, with bright floral notes. Bodes well for the palate, driven long by a mineral tang welded to superbly defined tannins. This is the first time during the few days of tasting Central Otago Pinots that I have preferred the 2009 to the 2010. The balance between the wine's structure and fruit here give more of a palpable dryness to the finish. 94
Block 3 2008: Mint and sour tangerine aromas give lift. The palate is mid-weighted with excessively forward fruit, without the structure of this site's better vintages. 88
Block 3 2007: Racy acidity and fine boned tannins are sped along the palate by a touch of VA. A bumptious year apparently, but this wine is ageing gracefully, with time giving a real autumnal savouriness. 93
Block 3 2006: This wine exhibits tannins from the thick grape skins of a very warm vintage. Fat, with rather confected fruit. Some freshness here but the least interesting of this bunch of wines. 86
Block 3 2003: Carnal hints of autumn, dried flowers and wood smoke. Almost Nebbiololike and very attractive. Rhubarb and fruit compote in the mouth. A bit sweet. 90 Block 3 2001: Meaty ferruginous aromas, with candied orange rind in the mouth and tight red berry fruit. Some stemmy complexity here riding über alles as the fruit fades, but fades gracefully. I like this wine in its old-school rustic guise. 91
Block 3 2000: This lacks the grip and vitality of the 2001, although similarly the fruit has evolved, with an autumnal glow, hints of sandalwood, wood smoke and a stemmy complexity. 89
Block 5 2011: Rather blocky and four-square at this stage. Some sweet plum, cinnamon and cardamom, presumably from the oak. Tight, big and hairy chested. Clearly, a very different wine from its more tensile brethren the Block 3, which, today at least, boasts the energy and tension between fruit and structural components that make Pinot Noir the most sexy of all grape varieties. 92.
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