My weekly blog… Waitaki wine goes en primeur

In news this week…

It’s fun, decadent and delicious to work with wine (Chilean Malbec – tick, Chianti Classico Extra Virgin Olive Oil – tick, Spanish Mencia – tick, Bollinger for my birthday – tick… this week has been busy).

But like most of life’s fun, decadent and delicious pursuits, it’s not always easy to make a living from, which is why so many small wineries are owned by people with day jobs to fund their winemaking. And it’s also why many wine writers do other things on the side – namely, talk, teach and sell wine; of all of which are among the many ways that we scribes sing for our suppers these days. In my case, I count myself fortunate to have the newly created role of Wine Programme Director at a place we call ‘Regional’ in Wellington city.

It’s the oldest independent wine store still in existence in this city today and it’s having a new lease of life under new owners for the first time in its 30 year history and it’s also home to some outstanding staff, who I count myself lucky to work with. But that’s another story.

The reason for this one is to mention a wine of the week from a forgotten corner of this country – the Waitaki Valley, on the border of North Otago and South Canterbury.

The wine of the week is…

2016 Ostler Caroline’s Pinot Noir $45 

And… it is now available (from this week) en primeur (this is not an ad’)

It’s the 14th year this wine has been made by the brother-in-law duo of Jim Jerram and Jeff Sinnott, who planted some of the first grapevines in the challengingly cool climate of Waitaki in New Zealand’s deep south. The wine was aged in oak for 15 months prior to bottling and it tastes sensational. Here’s what I wrote about it…

North Otago is the newest wine region in New Zealand and also one of its most promising for high quality Pinot Noir, such as Ostler Caroline’s Pinot Noir, made by Jeff Sinnott and Jim Jerram, who together established some of the first vineyards in the Waitaki Valley in the early 2000s. This wine is an elegant style of Pinot Noir with great concentration of flavour (think: cherries and ripe dark plums), a full body and velvety smooth texture. Its hallmark is its ‘Pinotesque’ high acidity, which bodes well for its long term aging, as does its pedigree of very good quality wines since the mid 2000s. Its young history shows an outstanding ability to age and its fruit flavours remain faithful to what great Pinot Noir is all about.

Find out  more or buy it here…

Blast from the past… buy wine from Peg’ Bay and Dog Point’s cellars

One of the most frequently asked wine questions is this: Can I cellar this wine and what will it taste like in 10 years’ time?

This month two New Zealand wineries have put their money where their mouths are and opened up their cellars for the public to buy 10 year old wines.

Pegasus Bay in North Canterbury and Dog Point Vineyards in Marlborough have done the cellaring for us so that we can taste well cellared wines and track the progress of flavour over a decade. It’s an interesting – and tasty – concept.

Lest this sound like a marketing ploy, the wineries in question have chosen one of the best vintages of the past decade and are not flogging off second tier wines, but their flagships. And they’re damned good too, as I have been finding out while tasting samples.

Both wineries make maverick styles of wines at prices people can afford and – for those of us who personally know the makers – they also have a deep love of the great wines of the world, which inspire their styles.

Why keep it

Now that wine is New Zealand’s fifth biggest export earner (and rising), it’s only natural that we would, could and, perhaps, should start keeping some of the best bottles made here. Not everything has to be consumed right now. It’s fun, decadent and delicious to have a small wine cellar. My own dwindled a tad when I relocated from Auckland to Wellington 18 months back because I was trying to rationalise everything I owned, so I shared, drank, swapped and gave away many old bottles. But it’s growing again and these two wineries have a growing place in it because I know their wines can age reliably well – and taste even better five or 10 years down the track.

It’s been great to retaste Dog Point Section 94, Dog Point Chardonnay, Dog Point Pinot Noir, Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir and Pegasus Bay Riesling (all from 2007), but it’s far from the first time I have tried and enjoyed old wines from these two producers.

If you want a wine cellar…

By the way, if you want to cellar wine, then the team at White Refrigeration makes custom-built cellars and consultations are free. If you can convert that unused wardrobe, spot under the stairs or spare space into a wine cellar, why not?

The cellar wines available

2007 Dog Point Vineyard Pinot Noir

2007 Dog Point Chardonnay

2007 Dog Point Section 94

2007 Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir Aged Release

2007 Pegasus Bay Riesling Aged Release

My top picks

2007 Dog Point Section 94

The 2007 Dog Point Section 94 shows Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc in a bright new light – it’s 10 years old and incredibly fresh, no doubt the high acidity preserves it, as do the dialled up flavours and long finish. Here’s a succulent and complex Sauvignon that says more about the place than the grapes grown there, which were 100% barrel fermented, which adds beautiful bells and whistles to this Sauvignon.

2007 Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir Aged Release

It’s a delicious treat to revisit this North Canterbury Pinot Noir’s silky, fresh and complex flavours – every sip taste of black cherries on speed and the zesty acidity (which is Pinot’s hallmark) makes every mouthful linger. It drinks well now and still has many years up its lovely sleeve yet.

How to get them

Dog Point Vineyards… is selling cellared wines now in 6-packs through the Dog Point Vineyard Library Wine Club. Membership is free and includes information and preview offers.

More information at

Pegasus Bay Wines… is selling cellared wines from August via three different channels – at the winery cellar door, via mail order and at some specialist wine stores.

More information at



Cellaring wine

If you’re going to drink old wines now, then it only stands to reason that new ones should go straight into the cellar… or under the stairs, if that’s the place you store tasty treats. Try stashing these for 5 or 10 years.

2015 Pegasus Bay Riesling 12.5% ABV

This is the brand new outrageously good Riesling from New Zealand’s king of spatlese styles – Mat Donaldson, winemaker and eldest son of the Peg’ Bay winemaking dynasty in North Canterbury. Mat is a man on a mission to progressively produce Rieslings that taste ever so slightly drier in style and this is an elegant step in that direction. Concentrated lemon zest, ripe mandarins and fresh peach all combine in this great new wine. (And yes, it is Mat – with one ‘t’.)

2016 Palliser Estate Riesling Martinborough 12% ABV

Dry, deliciously lemony with zingy freshness to burn. If you like this wine now, check it out in 5, 10, or 15 years, depending on your willpower. I have regularly enjoyed many Palliser Estate Rieslings up to 15 years old and been consistently impressed by its freshness and intense flavours.

NZ’s most promising or most challenging wine region?

Waitaki Valley. Small, remote, bone chillingly cold now but super hot in summer…

Waitaki Valley is home to so much limestone and so few people that it looks more like a cross between Scotland and somewhere in the north of France than a remote region in New Zealand. But there you have it – a surprise in the making, as are its wines. It’s hard not to fall for the charms of this eye poppingly stunning region, but one step outside into the cold can easily put paid to a belief that natural beauty alone results in great wines.

If the ability to age is any indication of good wine quality, then the Waitaki Valley has plenty of high quality potential up its wine-y sleeve. And if any proof was needed of the region’s ability to provide conditions for grapes that can make age-worthy wines, it was provided last weekend when Waitaki wine pioneer Jim Jerram flew to Oamaru to pick me up for a bird’s eye view over this spectacularly beautiful valley.

The light plane he flew was close enough to give us an outstanding view of the valley’s plentiful limestone deposits and its patchwork of vines. Jerram later opened his 2011 Ostler Caroline’s Waitaki Valley Pinot Noir and 2012 Ostler Blue House Vines Riesling, both of which clearly have plenty of life up their sleeves. The Riesling was incredibly pale in colour with the high acidity you’d expect from such a cool climate part of the world, balanced by intense flavours of lime and green apple, with lemon zest flavours starting to appear.

The Pinot, on the other hand, was definitely heading down the ‘I’ve been cellared’ path of savoury, earthy flavours and its brick-orange rim revealed a wine that is clearly in its development phase of life. That said, I believe that Pinot has plenty more time up its sleeve because the wine was still driven by fresh acidity, which provided the support structure to its surprisingly full body and its unsurprisingly long finish.

The wines of the Waitaki are defiantly different in style to their Central Otago counterparts – the whites taste more austere while the reds are more savoury and perhaps have more in common with those from North Canterbury, a few hours up the road.

Taste the Waitaki Valley

Taste the wines of the Waitaki on Thursday 17 August from 6pm to 8pm at Regional Wines in Wellington. I am hosting this tasting and the winemakers have all contributed their wines to what we believe is the most comprehensive tasting yet of Waitaki Valley wines. Details to book a spot in this tasting are here:


The wines we will taste include

2015 Ostler Audrey’s Pinot Noir

2015 Ostler Caroline’s Pinot Noir

2016 Pasquale Riesling

2012 Pasquale Chardonnay

2011 Pasquale Pinot Noir

2016 Valli Waitaki Pinot Noir

2015 Valli Waitaki Riesling (off dry)

2014 Valli Waitaki Late Harvest Riesling

2010 John Forrest Collection Waitaki Pinot Noir

2012 John Forrest Collection Waitaki Pinot Noir

2010 John Forrest Collection Waitaki Chardonnay

The Ostler story

Ostler Wines is headed up by Jim Jerram and the wines are made by Jeff Sinnott, who doubles as winemaker and brother in law to Jerram, whose wife Anne (sister of Jeff), is also involved actively in the business.

The Jerrams bought 37 hectares of limestone hillside in the valley  in 2001 when they were holidaying in the Coromandel. They lived in Dunedin at the time, where Jim practised medicine as a GP but (there’s always been a ‘but’, he says), he was looking for an alternative plan.

“I always had been. I’d worked on a high country South Island station as a youth and spent all my holidays in Otago, hunting and flying a plane and bringing a barge down the lake. I always wanted to be a producer and export something because New Zealand needs export, and I wanted to work in an industry with some slightly altruistic aspect too,” he says, adding later on that he worked for two years in Nepal as a young doctor, many moons ago now.

So he knows all about growing things in cool climates – he grew tomatoes in a plastic ‘greenhouse’ at 12,000 feet in Nepal.

Fast forward to today and the Jerram own eight hectares of vines on their limestone walled vineyard, Clos Ostler, which was planted in 2001 to 6 hectares of Pinot Noir and 2 of Pinot Gris. Their first experimental wine was made in 2004. They own other vineyard land in the Waitaki and have a permanent cellar door in Kurow, a town in the valley. There are plans for further expansion at Ostler, which clearly has great potential for high quality wine going forward.

Watch this space.