Wines that make you go “What the f…”

Hot off the press… new Eon of Bendigo Pinot Noir

“It’s a WTF lunch because that’s how I feel when I taste great Pinot and it’s how I want others to feel when they drink it,” said winemaker Ben Glover at the launch of a new Central Otago Pinot Noir this week.

This week’s biggest New Zealand wine launch was the latest Central Otago Pinot Noir, called Eon and launched in a way that was different, to say the least – it was at a WTF lunch.
“It’s a WTF lunch because that’s how I feel when I taste great Pinot and it’s how I want others to feel when they drink it,” says Glover, who is the group winemaker for Accolade Wines – one of the biggest wine companies in New Zealand.
Glover’s first WTF Pinot Noir moment led to two life long love affairs.
First, the wine; he bought a bottle of 1992 Rippon Vineyard Pinot Noir, which was made by Rudi Bauer; that Austrian winemaking Pinot pioneer who married a Kiwi, survived a near death random hit-and-run car accident and is now one of New Zealand’s most respected Pinot Noir producers.
“That 1992 Rippon Pinot Noir was the initial discovery for me that I could just sit and swirl and sniff a glass of something for up to 15 minutes, even longer, before I even had to offer it up to my other sensory receptacle. It was simply `stunning, the room stopped…” says Glover, who shared the wine with his girlfriend at the time (now his wife – the second positive outcome of that evening).
Skip forward 20 years to the launch of Eon and the ‘us’ in question is a group of New Zealand wine writers, buyers, retailers and other wine professionals. Prior to the tasting, Glover asked us to describe a moment when Pinot Noir had stopped us in our tracks. Most  interpreted this as an opportunity to talk about New Zealand Pinot and came up with a bunch of wines from from far and wide; from Central Hawke’s Bay to Central Otago, and other regions in between.

Three of us shamelessly named premier and grand cru Burgundies.
I can’t speak for the others but when asked to name my most WTF Pinot Noir ever, I instantly thought of a friend’s 40th birthday. It was a big night. It began with Champagne, continued with Huet Vouvray and finished with a Gevrey-Chambertin that blew my mind.

One of the great things about wine is sharing it. And Glover shared our stories of WTF Pinot Noir moments and also bought the wines we each described. It was another WTF moment to taste them all at the Eon launch.
Mine – the 2005 Domaine Armand Rousseau Gevrey-Chambertin Clos St Jaques Premier Cru – was every bit as stunning as always.
Eon Pinot Noir made its debut in Auckland this week (8 March) and will be officially on shop shelves and restaurant wine lists from the start of April.
Glover’s next task is to organise Pinot Noir 2017 on the Wellington waterfront in late January next year. Will it have any WTF moments?

He replied that memories are constantly being updated. I know what he means.
Does wine taste better when shared with certain people?
I already knew the answer, but was reminded when I arrived home and my boyfriend said; “Your best WTF Pinot Noir moment was that Pinot Noir we drank together last week.”


The new Eon of Bendigo Pinot Noir

Eon of Bendigo is a new Pinot Noir brand made from a single vineyard on an 80 hectare block of Pinot Noir grapes planted on three terraces, 300 metres above sea level, in Bendigo, Central Otago.
The first three Eon wines come from three very different vintages; 2012 (a pretty cool year, weather-wise) and the significantly warmer years of 2013 and 2014.
“The challenge with Bendigo is that it is the first of the Central Otago sub-regions to ripen grapes and can show a lot of grunt, and structural tannin, especially in young vines,” says Glover.
His aim is to de-grunt the wines via a range of brave variables – he has increased the amount of clone 777 Pinot Noir grapes in the 2014 Eon to 100%; he has increased the amount of whole bunches of Pinot Noir grapes that are fermented to 44% (many winemakers use no whole bunches, if the stems are green because this can add an astringent character to the wine) and he has reduced the amount of new oak used to an all-time low of 15%; “I’m not a fan of new oak and prefer to provide structure to wine in other ways, such as the grapes’ natural tannin – whole bunches help here – and the search for acidity, which provides structure,” Glover says.

The new Eon of Bendigo Pinot Noirs

2012 Eon of Bendigo Pinot Noir
This bright young Pinot Noir has intense red and dried fruit flavours, such as cherries and cranberies; its juicy acidity is well matched to its medium body and big grippy tannins carry the flavours to a lingering finish.

2013 Eon of Bendigo
This is the second Eon ever made and has big but smooth tannins with intense red fruit characters and a fuller body, thanks to a bigger component of whole bunches in the ferment (safe to do in a riper vintage). That same tight refreshing acidity keeps the wine in check, stretching it to a long finish.

2014 Eon of Bendigo
This robust wine is made entirely from the Pinot Noir clone 777 (unusual, given that Pinot Noir mutates naturally when growing so that it throws all sorts of interesting variations on the same theme) and it has a pretty massive proportion of whole bunches in the ferment (44%) as well as significantly less new oak than most Pinot Noir could ever wish for – just 15% new oak (and some old oak). All of these interesting and different variables have created the most structured of the trio of new Eon Bendigo Pinot Noirs – a wine with big but balanced and smooth tannins supporting intense red fruit and spice flavours – it’s so tasty, it makes me think… WTF.

These wines are made 100% from grapes grown 100% in Bendigo – the same place that winemaker Rudi Bauer now makes his Quartz Reef Pinot Noir from.

WTF wines


New Zealand

2007 Lime Rock White Knuckle Hill Pinot Noir, Hawke’s Bay
2007 Craggy Range Aroha Pinot Noir, Martinborough
2006 Pegasus Bay Prima Donna Pinot Noir, North Canterbury
2004 Rippon Pinot Noir from Wanaka, Central Otago
1994 Fromm La Strada Pinot Noir, Marlborough


2005 Domaine Armand Rousseau Gevrey-Chambertin Clos St Jaques Premier Cru
1988 Domaine Georges Mugneret Ruchottes-Chambertin Grand Cru
2005 Jacques-Frederic Mugnier Musigny Grand Cru

Age is just a number, unless…

A 113 year old bottle survived the Great Depression, two world wars and even the lack of a wine industry

By Joelle Thomson

“Age is a just a number. It’s totally irrelevant unless, of course, you happen to be a bottle of wine,” said the actress Joan Collins, who looks uncannily youthful at 82 years old.

I set the expectation dial low when bracing myself for the first whiff of a 113 year old wine from the rural backblocks of the Wairarapa earlier this month.
The 1903 wine was pulled from amongst the spiders, the dust and the mustiness of the relatively small underground cellar at Brancepeth; a 30,480 square metre homestead and once one of New Zealand’s largest sheep farms in the rural back blocks of the Wairarapa.
In its glory days, in the second half of the 1800s, Brancepeth was home to a school, a blacksmith’s, 300 staff and a 2000-book library, replete with its own librarian who delivered books to the farthest flung staff living on the vast estate.
Today, Brancepeth has been significantly reduced in scale, if not in grandeur.
It remains home to several bottles (‘a few dozen perhaps’ was the estimate given) of that 1903 wine.
“At least we think it’s 1903; we can’t be absolutely certain, but I used to play hide ‘n seek down in the cellar when I was a little kid, and I never touched the bottles – or saw anybody else touch or move them either,” says William Beetham; descendent of the wines’ makers, William and Hermance Beetham.
This suggests that the wine on the shelves labelled ‘1903 Claret’ are in fact exactly as the fading tag states.
Beetham and his father, Edward, decided to open two of these rare old bottles for a small group of winemakers and media this year; the decision followed a request from writer John Saker, who was intrigued by the wine’s existence.
“We knew the wine was special but we were unsure if it was still of any quality,” says Beetham.
The tasting took place in the dining room at Brancepath where wine makers, writers and a small number of media were poured the wine from two different bottles. Neither bottle was decanted through muslin or a sieve to filter fragments of cork, which were a factor to contend with.
Aside from the cork floaties, the first bottle was in immaculate condition, in my view. Its fresh fruit flavours of red cherries and dried red fruit flavours, such as cranberries, were held together by tight acidity; it was staggering to taste so fresh, given its age; even the complex tertiary flavours – of smoked mushrooms and earthiness – tasted clean, adding hugely to its appeal. It was light bodied, but had a lingering finish. Talk about a great old wine. Those red fruit and earth aromas strongly suggested that this was an old Pinot Noir and one that I, for one, would love to have enjoyed a couple of glasses of.
Shame about the second bottle, which wasn’t a patch on the first. It tasted stale, lacking the freshness of that first, remarkable bottle.
The identity of the wine remains a mystery. While it tastes unmistakably Pinot Noir-like, the wine was most likely a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Syrah, which records show were the grapes planted by William Beetham and his French wife Hermance, between 1890 to about 1908.

Find out more about Brancepeth…

* The history of the property is further detailed in Boar’s Path: Brancepeth; a book written and photographed by Alex Hedley and Gareth Winter, which was published in 2012.

Lansdowne Vineyard today…

The original Beetham vineyard is now called Lansdowne Vineyard and was planted in 2002 by Derek Hagar snr and his late son, Derek Hagar jnr, who died from a brain haemorrahage in 2013; the night before harvest that year.
They – or rather their winemaker-neighbour, Karl Johner – made the first vintage in 2009 and has made every vintage since.
Hagar junior’s brain haemorrahage is thought to have been the result of a severe head injury a decade prior when he was living in Southampton in the United Kingdom where he was the victim of a random act of violence one evening.
“He was a great believer in this piece of land and had a strong conviction that we should do everything we could to minimise our intervention in the vineyard and allow the grapes to grow unirrigated and to express what he believed was – and is – a great piece of vineyard land,” says his father, Derek Hagar senior.
The 2010 Lansdowne Pinot Noir won the International Wine & Spirit Competition trophy for Best Pinot Noir in the world.

Find out more about how to start your own wine cellar here… 

Chateau Musar

Meet Lebanon’s most famous winery

The 2007 Chateau Musar costs about $68 and is available in very limited supplies from Negotiants New Zealand… It is pale ruby in colour but the intense flavours of spice, red fruit and a seductive earthiness all make up for that.

If I didn’t know better… five words I almost had to eat this week when Ralph Hochar poured the unconventional wines from Lebanon’s most famous winery; Chateau Musar, which he has spent the past week tasting with New Zealanders in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
Ralph is one of the third generation of Hochars to run their family winery and I invited him to visit a wine class I was teaching at the New Zealand School of Food & Wine for Celia Hay (school founder) where a handful of students and I were privileged to taste the current release of the winery’s top red wine, ‘Musar’ – from Chateau Musar in Lebanon; one of the world’s oldest wine producing countries, despite its under the radar wine profile.
The winery was founded in 1930 by Gaston Hochar in Ghazir, Lebanon, and today it is run by third generation members of the Hochar family, but its reputation for top reds was forged by the late Serge Hochar. A winemaker trained in Bordeaux, Serge learnt about wine from Jean Gayon Riberau and Emile Peynaud; two highly respected (to make an understatement) wine men, whose influence has far reaching effects into many unexpected corners of the wine world. The great ‘Super Tuscans’ (blends of French grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with classic Italian Sangiovese) came about as a result of Emile Peynaud’s influence on a young Italian winemaker; Giacomo Tachis, who brought Italy back onto the world’s wine stage, post World War II. Far from being a digression, this point illustrates how great the influence of Peynaud has impacted on the wine world.
The impact that Peynaud (inadvertently perhaps) had on Lebanese impact is somewhat less known, but the Hochar family members are working to change that. And the quality of their wines support the prices. If anything, these outstanding reds are under-priced in a world that is so deeply divided by bargain bin, low priced bottles and the high priced wines on the market today.
As I say, if I didn’t know better, I’d have thought that the 2007 Chateau Musar red was from Piemonte; Italy’s great north west and home to some of the world’s most silky, elegant wines.