Joelle Thomson

Wine writer and award winning wine author

What I am drinking, reading and savouring each week


Top (and pricey) new Pinot Noirs from Rockburn

Today marks the release of two of New Zealand’s highest priced Pinot Noirs from Rockburn Wines in Central Otago.
They both come from the 2019 vintage; a great year for New Zealand Pinot Noir, to judge by the early trickle of wines slowly but steadily finding their way onto store shelves, both in real life and in the increasingly virtual one. If you can’t pop into a store to buy a bottle, it’s easier than ever to buy online, without having to risk contact with others or the inconvenience of leaving your computer screen. And unlike online clothing purchases, which many of us have been burnt by (don’t even go there, but that’s another story), wine from a bona fide producer is a solid safe bet to purchase via the internet.
The two new Rockburn wines are the 2019 Rockburn Eight Barrels Pinot Noir made with grapes from Gibbston Valley, the last region to be harvested most years and the 2019 Eleven Barrels Pinot Noir from the winery’s vineyard in Lowburn.
The two new wines are part of Rockburn’s Barrels series, which winemaker Malcolm Rees-Francis says is the pinnacle of the winery’s Pinot Noirs because the wines express their vineyard sites and sub regions in the world’s southernmost wine region. Rees-Francis describes the 2019 vintage as a  perfect storm in terms of high quality grapes.

2019 Rockburn Eight Barrels Pinot Noir $96

Winemaker Malcolm Rees-Francis selected his top eight barrels (hence the name) of wines from Gibbston Valley grapes grown on shallow fine sandy loam soils, then made this full bodied, bone dry, intensely impressive Pinot Noir. It’s from the 2019 season, which was warm, damp and frosty but made up for its challenging weather conditions by having a long autumn to accentuate ripening. Grapes were given a seven day cold maceration to extract colour and then fermented in seven tonne fermenters followed by 14 months in French oak, 75% new – a high proportion but the wine does seem to soak it up and definitely has the structure to age for seven to eight years, possibly longer. Impressive now, but needs time to shine its brightest.

2019 Rockburn Eleven Barrels Pinot Noir $96

This is a wine of purity made from a single clone of Pinot Noir (777) and single vineyard in Parkburn, Central Otago. It’s also from the warm, damp and frosty but long 2019 vintage, which allowed great flavour development thanks to the lingering autumn weather that year.  The grapes were given a seven day cold soak to extract colour and tannin, then fermented in seven tonne fermenters followed by 14 months in French oak, only 18% of which was new. I love the fruit expression in this bold wine, which is bone dry, spicy and a gorgeous drink now, when decanted, but will shine with time in the bottle – tuck it away for up to a decade, if willpower allows.