Joelle Thomson

Writer, author, journalist

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A story of place in Bendigo Pinot Noir

I am an independent wine writer and this blog is published weekly

Pinot Noir is the most popular red wine in New Zealand and it is so varied in taste that it increasingly tells a story of place, especially when compared to the country's other most planted grape, Sauvignon Blanc, which generally conforms to a vibrant, fruity, dry or off dry white with juicy tropical flavours. By contrast, Pinot Noir's flavours and style vary wildly from earthy dark, brooding wines that beg for time in the cellar (whether that's under the spare bed, in the garage, in a wine fridge or in a purpose built walk down cellar) to wines that say drink me now with their opulence and silky style. The release of a bunch of high priced and high quality Pinot Noirs this month proves the point, perhaps nowhere more so than the regional differences between Central Otago Pinot Noir with its bright bold fruity appeal and those earthy numbers from Martinborough and North Canterbury. The Escarpment Vineyard in Martinborough has just released its four single vineyard Pinot Noirs, which will feature on this blog next week. 

This pair of Central Otago wines taste more stylistically different than many wine lovers have come to expect from the hot dry Bendigo area. It's exciting to taste such different wines from one place because it highlights the innate truth that there is a wine for all tastes, even if the taster hasn't yet discovered it. Both have firm tannins but the winemaking in one accentuates those while the other wine is a more fruit forward style. 

These two Pinot Noirs of the week highlight the fact that style can vary dramatically while quality remains high. 

18.5/20

2020 Mondillo Pinot Noir RRP $48

Opulent is the word in this silky, fruity new Pinot Noir from Dom Mondillo, who was the first person to plant grapes in Bendigo, Central Otag. His long history in the region has fostered a deep understanding of the place and cemented his love for Pinot Noir. 

This wine is new on the market from the 2020 vintage, a year defined by a cold start, a warm summer and low yields. Grapes were all hand picked, destemmed, cold soaked for colour and fermented with indigenous yeasts, then barrel aged for nearly a year in 30% new French oak. So far, a classic Kiwi Pinot Noir formula but this wine is surprisingly approachable for a new release, with its lifted bright and bold red fruity appeal, firm but smooth and low-ish tannins and a lovely lingering silky finish. 

18.5/20

2019 Prophet's Rock Olearia Pinot Noir RRP $62.99

Olearia is an impressively structured Pinot Noir that drinks well now, but practically asks to be decanted into a large glass or decanter for a couple of hours prior to drinking, to warm and soften its firm tannins and open up its deep dark fruit flavours. Or, preferably, cellar it for five to six years. This small volume wine is made from grapes grown on the highest point of the Rocky Point Vineyard in Bendigo where the wind is pronounced, schist soils dominate and the resulting wine is a dark, earthy take on the Pinot theme.  Winemaker Paul Pujol wanted to explore what type of wine was possible from this part of the vineyard. He named the wine Olearia after a small drought resistant tree that once carpeted Central Otago and also the name of this new addition to Prophet's Rock range of Pinot Noirs. 

* These two wines come from the same small sub region of Central Otago and both taste delicious but entirely different in style. It is fascinating to see how one place can be responsible for such diverse flavours.