Joelle Thomson's online wine guide

Category: Central Otago (page 1 of 2)

Vineyard tales… pulling old bottles from the cellar…

It takes courage to show people something  you made 15 years ago that you’ve  been storing in a dark, cold wine cellar ever since, but that’s exactly what Crawford and Catherine Brown did last Thursday night at Regional Wines in Wellington.

Or should I say that I did this for them for a roomful of fans of Central Otago Pinot. Most of which we tend to drink when it’s youthful, young, fresh, fruity and new. And if you’ve ever tasted old wine, you’ll know it’s not always a good experience, so a few of these fans approached the wines with trepidation, but I am happy to report that the older wines really did show some attractive aged characters – earthy, but clean.

The older wines of Bannock Brae were, for me, confirmation that Central Otago Pinot Noir can, when well made, age and gain in complexity, concentration and flavour interest. Most of the Bannock Brae wines were unfined and unfiltered, which is Crawford and Catherine’ philosophy because, in their words, they want to present the wines at their most concentrated in flavour.

The youthful wines in this tasting (2014, 2013 and 2010) tasted very primary and relatively light bodied in comparison to the older wines from 2008, 2006 and 2002, which all demonstrated incredibly concentrated fruit flavours, earthy overtones with notes of savoury spice in the background.

I thought the three older wines were in exceptionally good condition, given their age and the youthful nature of the vineyard, the winemaking in Central Otago and even bottling under screwcap.

There has been so much fast and furious growth in the New Zealand wine industry that it is sometimes easy to forget just how youthful the whole concept of winemaking is in this country. Let alone that many of the older wine can actually age well.

So, let’s hear it for experimentation, good cellaring conditions (White Refrigeration advertises on this site and offers a dab hand when it comes to wine cellar design) and for the most southern wine region in the world – Central Otago, where Pinot Noir rules the roost with 78% of the planted grapes there.

How this Central Otago Pinot Noir tasting came about…

Crawford and Catherine suggested a tasting of their aged Central Otago Pinot Noirs  after I wrote about and talked on RNZ National about my discovery of a lovely old bottle of their Pinot Noir, which I unearthed among my personal wine collection when I was packing up to relocate from Auckland to Wellington about 18 months ago now.

Fellow writer Raymond Chan wrote this piece…

Wine writer and educator Joelle Thomson led a fascinating vertical tasting of Bannock Brae Pinot Noir, with the flagship ‘Barrel Selection’ wine from 2014 back to 2002. The tasting offered six vintages of these plus the 2015 vintage of the ‘Goldfields’ second label as a pre-taster. The tasting came about from Joelle’s move from Auckland, back to Wellington, during which she came across an older vintage of Bannock Brae ‘Barrel Selection’ wine. She drank it and thoroughly enjoyed it, wondering what other vintages would taste like. Contacting Bannock Brae’s proprietors Crawford and Catherine Brown, they came up with a vertical tasting spanning a dozen years. Joelle presented the wines at Regional Wines, in Wellington. She did so with real competence and I count myself fortunate to have attended, tasting history in motion, and seeing the benefits of bottle-age.

You can read his whole blog about the Bannock Brae Pinot Noir tasting here:You can read his whole blog here: Bannock Brae Central Otago Pinot Noir 2014-2002 by Raymond Chan.


Pinot highs in Wellington today

It’s day three and it’s fair to say that winemakers, writers and everyone else at the Pinot Noir conference are feeling… well, let’s just say we’re all feeling slightly worse for wear. But the highs of tasting the good, the great and the interesting wines continue. Here’s a style departure – in a good way – from many Central Pinots. It’s made on the elevated shores of the breathtakingly beautiful Lake Wanaka and it’s called…


The word Akitu means the summit and it’s an apt description of one of the highest altitude vineyards anywhere in Central Otago.

Andrew Donaldson planted 12 hectares of Pinot Noir vines on a north facing hillside, 380 metres above sea level in 2002. He made wine from the grapes over the next 10 years but the first time he labelled commercial bottlings of the Pinot Noir was in 2012, which means this brand is still finding its feet.

There are two wines and they are easy to spot: one has a white label and one has a black label. Both are boldly branded Akitu.

The white label 2014 Akitu is a soft, fresh, fruity driven style while the black label 2014 Akitu is firmer, more structured and has an intensely savoury aroma, which comes from its time in oak barrels (22% new) and the inclusion of 24% of whole bunches during fermentation. This helps to elevate the firm structure of the wine and adds weight and length to the palate. Tasty.

5 of the best… wines this year…

It’s still early days and the highs and lows of relocating from this country’s largest city to its capital are still intense. Not only because of 7.8 earthquakes over the past month but because 17 years is a long time in any place and Auckland and Wellington are like chalk and cheese. One contains our closest friends, the other is home to family and my new partner. One is warm, wet and cloudy while the other has intense sunshine but is cooler. One is where we had to be, the other is where we wanted to be.

It was a big decision to move but it was the easiest big decision I have ever made.

Still, 2016 has not been an easy year. For many, it has been one shocking political event after another, while on the home front, my year has been one of intense travel for the three ‘t’s – teaching, talking and tasting wine.

First world problems.

So, without further ado, here’s another:  how does a wine writer whittle thousands of wines down to the 5 best?

With difficulty. But these  5 wines made the most positive impression on yours truly this year.

5 of the best… wines in 2016

Prices are recommended retail

Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvee Brut, $99, 12% ABV

Big and beautiful. Bollinger never fails to impress. This year I have tried and enjoyed old and new bottles of Bolly – from 1966, 1976, 1982 and 1990 at a retrospective champagne tasting in May – followed by brand spanking new bottles to celebrate a milestone. It has everything I love about champagne; character, toasty aromas and savoury flavours, richness and depth and a long finish. What more could you ask for? Stunning.

2014 Terrazes de los Andes Malbec, $27, 14.5% ABV

Take a man with great foresight, an under-appreciated black grape (Malbec) and a little known corner of the wine world (Argentina) and meet one of the best value, high quality reds on Earth – in my view. The late Robert Jean de Vogue pioneered this wine on high altitude terraced vineyards (above 1000 metres in the Andes mountains) in the 1950s, and this latest wine does him proud – it’s deep purple in colour with a burst of intense fruit flavour and a long finish. It has a full body, is earthy and bone dry in taste. A stunner.

2005 Pegasus Bay Chardonnay, $50

This bottle was pulled from the best place possible – the winery’s own cellar – and it was enjoyed outside on a warm autumn morning at Pegasus Bay in North Canterbury. The disclaimer is that I worked (unpaid) a couple of days of vintage there (for the third time) this year, which was to gain insight into wine’s finer details. This full bodied, rich and savoury, complex and delicious Chardonnay is underpinned by zesty citrus notes and a fine thread of bright acidity providing its nerve and zing. Sensation.

2007 Quartz Reef Pinot Noir, $50, 14% ABV

If only I had bought more of this Pinot Noir; half a case wasn’t enough but 9 years of ageing did seem like the perfect time to catch this deep southern red at its tastiest peak of savouriness (is that even a word?). There’s no shortage of good Central Otago Pinot Noir but, in my view, eight to nine years of patience is a small price to pay to enjoy the great ones at their best. Bravo to Rudi Bauer; winemaker of this exceptional drop.

2008 Mount Edward Morrison Vineyard Pinot Noir $65, 14% ABV

Another aged stunner from Central Otago, pulled from my modest wine cellar, which now has a walk-in home (it’s called the other half of the laundry and is not a bad space to mature wine in). This wine still has plenty of time up its tasty sleeve but its soft smooth tannins and bright fruit flavours are moving into a delicious earthy taste.


This year, I have been woed and wowed by vintage champagnes, great bottles of dry Austrian Riesling and exceptionally good French Vouvray, but the wines above are those that have provided the most pleasure – and the biggest sense of surprise.

Every day in Wellington rewards me with the feeling of clarity when I look out of the vast two storey windows of our apartment at the harbour, the hills and the houses precipitously perched on their seemingly impossibly steep slopes. The architecture seems to defy logic as much as our decision to move to a quieter place, which has brought with it an unpredictable sense of relief.

 The sense of clutter I felt when living in Auckland has evaporated and I even enjoy frequent trips back there for work. So, was I suffering from other issues than merely a sense of feeling cluttered?

Undoubtedly. But as an old friend and therapist, Jill Goldson said earlier this year, when suffering from anxiety, feeling overwhelmed or under connected, the best path forward is kindness – to yourself. She sums it up perfectly: “Take time to reflect on conflicted feelings and to seek another perspective, which might be the very best place to start.”

And it’s also a high note to end a strangely conflicted year on.

Happy holidays.

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