Silent twins at Olssens
by Thor Iverson
…though none are as dour as the woman behind the counter of a pretty but cluttered tasting room. She glowers sourly at us, barely registering a few grunts in response to our request to taste some wine. I quickly reassess my intention to ask some probing questions, and instead dive right into the tasting.
Olssens 2004 Riesling (Central Otago) – Clean and crisp, showing pure green apple fruit juice with growing acidity on the finish. Tart, limey and fresh on the palate, this is a perfectly nice wine, but may in fact be a bit too acidic to accommodate aging.
Olssens 2001 “Barrel Fermented” Chardonnay (Central Otago) – “100% malolactic fermentation, 70% new oak.” I’m so startled by the words I almost drop my glass; it’s our pourer, still unyieldingly sullen but at least proving herself capable of speech. I nod, taste: dates and sweet orange with a strong caramel component and a short, somewhat harsh finish. This is maturing quickly.
Olssens 2003 Gewürztraminer (Central Otago) – She speaks again: “3 grams per liter residual sugar.” Simple, declarative sentences. Efficient. As for the wine, it shows lightly nutmeg-infused rosewater and cashew on the nose, but the palate is thin and watery. Some roses re-emerge on the finish, but by then it’s too late to save the wine.
Against my better judgment, I make a few comments on what we’ve tasted thus far. Our host seems to brighten a bit at our interest – it’s reflected more in the addition of adjectives and adverbs to her sentences, rather than by any change in visage – and while she’s not precisely rude, she’s also not particularly welcoming, and the resultant mood is more than a bit depressing. I’m momentarily inclined to dispense with the rest of the tasting and depart for happier locales, but stick it out in the interests of education.
Olssens 2001 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Lightly burnt cherry, earth and baked plum. This is elegant and balanced except for a drying component that grows on the finish; don’t hold it much longer, if you’ve got any.
Olssens 2001 Pinot Noir “Slapjack Creek” (Central Otago) – Bigger fruit here, with red cherry and cranberry added to fuller-bodied plum aromas. Tart but intense, with good overall structure despite the (yet again) spiky acidity and a longer finish.
Olssens 2002 “Robert the Bruce” (Central Otago) – There’s every indication (mostly climatological) that this wine – a blend of pinotage, cabernet sauvignon and shiraz – should be an utter disaster, yet it defies expectations. Its initial impression is ripe…write that with an exclamation point…though it later devolves to mixed seed peppers, with a light varnish character and a Juicy Fruit™ finish. Fruity but ultimately a bit soupy, it has complexity and interest, but what it lacks is sufficient quality. Still, points for effort.
From the decorations that adorn the tasting room and the deliberate presence of less-than current vintages (though they are current releases), it’s clear that Olssens has a close eye on its history. That’s fair enough, but the wines lack excitement and forward-looking energy, and despite wide name recognition are uncompetitive with the region’s better producers. That will need to change if the winery is to thrive in the future, lest all that remain is the statuary…both external and internal.
Copyright ©2005 Thor Iverson.