(The original post is here.)
As wineries ‘round the world have proved over and over, money does not solve all problems. On our last visit to New Zealand, we’d stopped in at Carrick on the recommendation of an acquaintance. It was, apart from a pleasantly drinkable pinot, a complete waste of time and taste buds. And this despite the painfully obvious scale of the funds being thrown at everything in sight…mostly including a then-unfinished tasting room and restaurant facility.
However, in the interim the buzz had spread a bit…just enough to lead to my taking a chance on a bottle at Dunedin’s Bell Pepper Blues. The difference that money cannot necessarily make, time and money can; the wine, a 2002 Pinot Noir, was very nearly extraordinary. A closer investigation was required.
At any given mealtime, the parking lot at Carrick is likely to be full. Rather than hungry tourists stocking up on picnic wine, the draw is the (allegedly; I haven’t eaten there) fine restaurant on the facility, about which there is growing regional and national hype. There’s also a little action at the long tasting bar (which shares a vaulted room with the restaurant), but things seem busier than they are because the tasting counter staff is also responsible for covering the restaurant floor. They do a remarkable job considering the circumstances, but one wonders if – especially at lunch – the promotion of the winery itself might not be better-served by separate staffs.
Carrick 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Central Otago) – Ripe gooseberry, lime and white spice; a nicely juicy wine that almost makes me recant my dire warnings about Central Otago sauvignon. But I fear it may instead be the proverbial exception that proves the rule.
Carrick 2003 Chardonnay (Central Otago) – 50% of this wine spends twelve months in French oak, and handles it fairly well. There’s spicy clove and fig jam, with plenty of ripe, juicy oranges and a balanced finish. Chardonnay’s still not my thing, but this is a good one.
Carrick 2004 Rosé (Central Otago) – Like most pinks from this region, this is made from pinot noir; I don’t get the opportunity to ask if it’s vat-bled or from secondary fruit. It shows very light spiced peach (more white than yellow), to such an extent that it tastes more like a dark-skinned white wine (complete with a touch of tannin; think Alsatian pinot gris) than a true rosé. It’s strange, and I’m not sure I like it even on its own merits.
Carrick 2003 “Unravelled” Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Yes, that’s how they spell it; the term is a play on the regular label’s depiction of a Carrick Bend knot, which here is…literally…unraveled. Or “unravelled.” Whatever. Anyway, this is intended to be a fresh, upfront, early-drinking pinot sold at a lower price, and it succeeds in those goals (though I wouldn’t necessarily call mid-twenties in Kiwi dollars cheap, either). The fruit – mostly strawberry, plum and the persistent Central Otago orange rind characteristic – is very ripe, with nuts and light earth tones introducing themselves and then quickly stepping back to allow the fruit to feature itself. It’s pure, fruity fun, but more complex than I think most would expect. A nice wine, indeed.
Carrick 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Dark plum and somewhat bulky tannin dominate this tight, concentrated wine. The balance is discernibly terrific, and there’s wonderful length, with crisp and acid-enhanced floral esters on the finish…but the wine is very balled-up right now. Give it the necessary aging.
Carrick 2002 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Another stab at the bottling tasted in Dunedin, apparently opened (from an available stock) in response to my enthusiasm for my previous encounter with the wine. This, thanks to the extra year of development, presents as a much richer wine than the ’03, showing generous plum and black cherry with hints of chocolate on the finish. As with my previous encounter with the ‘02, the niggling flaw is a very slightly bitter tannic bite; one wonders if the seemingly more balanced ’03 might, eventually, turn out to be the better wine. But this, too, really needs age to show its true qualities.
This is a winery still on the ascent, with across-the-board improvement in their wines and newer, differently-cloned vineyards working their long, hard slog towards maturity. Despite this, their next two vintages are potentially problematic (which is mostly beyond their control), so one hopes that their obvious strides forward will not stall while they wait for a more reliable vintage. Nonetheless, I will be completely unsurprised to see even greater things from this winery in the future.
And maybe I’ll give the restaurant a try, too.