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s p a r k l i n g

Palliser Estate Brut (Martinborough) – The nose initially presents as clean, though eventually it turns a bit estery. The palate undergoes a similar transition, from fine, sharp intensity to fluffy lemon-peach fruit. It’s a credible sparkling wine, though not at the level of the Chauvet products here in the Central Otago, because it lacks both firm conviction and a certain nerve. (3/05)

Quartz Reef “Chauvet” Methode Traditionelle (Central Otago) – Very crisp, with apple and lemongrass in lovely balance. A nice, and surprisingly inexpensive bubbly that performs a good deal better than most of its more expensive competition up north. (3/05)

Arcadia Brut (Central Otago) – Big lemon-lime and grapefruit tartness, but littered with mercaptans. (2/05)

Arcadia 1999 “Central Otago Cuvée” Brut (Central Otago) – More pinot noir than chardonnay, and it shows. Huge red fruit (mostly red cherry and strawberry) with good yeastiness, hints of lemongrass, and an unfortunately acrid geranium note. Not quite where it wants to be, I think. (2/05)

No. 1 Family Estate 1999 “Cuvée Virginie” (Marlborough) – This is the third name for a sparkling wine estate headed by the New Zealand branch of the le Brun family, long the “name of record” for Marlborough bubbly despite their eponymous winery (Cellier Le Brun) now being owned and operated by someone else, and the Cuvée Virginie is designed to be their top-of-the-line fizz. It’s foamy, showing peach, grapefruit, and lemon with a papery texture that I almost always consider a flaw in sparkling wines. The finish is both drying and heavily malic, and I think this wine could use more yeastiness and a general upsurge in complexity. By way of contrast, the highly-regarded Pelorus from Cloudy Bay is often too tropical and ripe for its own good. Somewhere in the middle lies success. (2/05)

w h i t e

Goldwater 2005 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Herbal and grassy. This gets past the underripe chile pepper and most (though not all) of the slightly underripe bell pepper, but doesn’t swing the other way into tropical sweetness, which is good. There’s some pear residue, which helps smooth things. That said, it’s a bit on the wan side. (4/07)

Goldwater 2005 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Well-cooked green asparagus and old pear, with souring acidity. This is still good, but it lacks the complexity it possessed when it came from the Dog Point vineyard. It’s more basic and direct these days, not that directness isn’t a virtue on its own. (3/07)

Daniel Schuster 2006 Riesling (Waipara) – Plenty of spritz here, which fizzes up sweet crystalline lime, candied apple, and whipping needles of acidity slashing like a razor ‘cross the palate. Exquisitely balanced, with a light sweetness that complexes to white button mushrooms on the finish, in concert with a metallic aluminum sheen. This is impressive, albeit in an understated way. (3/07)

Daniel Schuster “Selection” 2004 Chardonnay Petrie (Rakaia) – Fetid apricot and overripe pear with some sweat on the nose. The palate is more generous, showing creamed orange, grapefruit, crisp crabapple and an almost shockingly vivacious acidity. The finish is piercing, with steel flakes in abundance, and matters are brought to a close by the gentle emergence of drying tannin. I find it a bit shocking, but very appealing…though others at the table note the overt butter (which I find restrained) and miss the acidity. (3/07)

Rockburn 2005 Riesling (Central Otago) – Slate/quartz dominated, with clean lemon and green apple. It’s long, concentrated and very intense. A terrific wine. (2/07)

Villa Maria “Private Bin” 2005 Riesling (Marlborough) – Good and intense, with apples and rocky quartz. A fine value. (2/07)

Villa Maria “Private Bin” 2005 “Unoaked” Chardonnay (Hawke’s Bay) – Golden fig, melon and spice with a leafy finish. It’s ripe, but there’s a worrisome Styrofoam note on the midpalate. (2/07)

Mana 2006 Chardonnay (Marlborough) – Stone fruit, grapefruit and clementine with a touch of cream on the nose. It’s better than the sauvignon blanc, but only just. (2/07)

Crossroads “Destination Series” 2005 Chardonnay (Hawke’s Bay) – Crisp and clean, showing melon, pineapple and pine nuts. Ripe and very scrubbed. Simple, fruit-forward chardonnay with no rough edges. (2/07)

Dog Point 2006 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Incredibly intense, with green, white and red pepper (a little like the Italian flag, I suppose). Vivacious, with striking minerality. This wine continues to show the constraints under which so many formulaic Marlborough sauvignons operate, yet it remains unmistakably Marlborough. (2/07)

Grove Mill 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Round, showing grapefruit and pineapple in a sugar wash. The person pouring this wine makes pretentious and somewhat obnoxious noise about Grove Mill’s status as the only carbon-neutral winery in New Zealand. Well, that’s great, and I’m happy for them, but how about a little less residual sugar in this overly goopy sauvignon blanc, rather than appealing to the basest of sugar-loving palates? That’s the sort of neutrality I’d be more interested in. (2/07)

Redcliffe 2005 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – From magnum, though for what reason I can’t imagine. Slightly sulfurous (is it reduction?) with melon, grapefruit and grass. Boring and quite sweet. Dull, dull, dull. (2/07)

Villa Maria “Private Bin” 2006 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Mild and simple, with grass and some vague hints of ripeness. Overall, however, this is quite dilute, and a step down from previous years. (2/07)

Mana 2006 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Gooseberry and pineapple with green, underripe notes. In other words, fairly classic. But I’m over this style. (2/07)

Crossroads “Destination Series” 2006 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Clean and metallic, with a short finish. Different enough to be interesting, but there’s some things missing here. (2/07)

Isabel 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Slightly heat-damaged by the external evidence, and the wine bears this out: the intense aromatics and green-tinged edges are gone, replaced by a creamy, pear-dominated wine that’s primarily about its texture. Sourced from the New Hampshire state liquor system, which has a long and dedicated history of baking their product. (8/06)

Tohu 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Second note, same as the first (or, see two entries below). Does anyone remember Herman’s Hermits? (6/06)

Donaldson Family “Main Divide” 2002 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough/Canterbury) – Zingy and forward, as this wine always is, with vivacious gooseberry and lime juice bouyed by playful acidity. Four years on, the structure and the fruit are slightly less well-integrated than they were, but this is still better than almost all the industrial-quantity New Zealand sauvignon blanc that litters store shelves. (6/06)

Tohu 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Intense, almost overwhelming ripe gooseberry with a fuzzy, alcohol-induced haze. The flavor is undeniable, and there’s nothing “wrong” with the wine, but I wonder if a little restraint might not improve matters. (6/06)

Donaldson Family “Main Divide” 2002 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough/Canterbury) – The bright green sauvignon flavors are starting to relax a bit, showing more of the aged soda and dried green fruit flavors of this lightly-blended (10% sémillon) wine. It’s sharp and distinct, but melts on the finish with pleasantly vegetal notes. (4/06)

Donaldson Family “Main Divide” 2002 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough/Canterbury) – Lemon-lime giving way to ripe asparagus (not a bad thing) and leafy, late summer-sweaty aromas with a tonic undertone. Finishes a touch heavy, but very nice otherwise. (4/06)

Mills Reef 2003 Sauvignon Blanc “Reserve” (Hawkes Bay) – Absolutely classic, if slightly restrained thanks to a brief stay in oak, with grass, crisp lime and grapefruit. Nicely acidic, clean-finishing and perfectly OK. (3/06)

Donaldson Family “Main Divide” 2002 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough/Canterbury) – What one wants from a Kiwi sauvignon: gooseberry, some herbs, the hint but not the bite of capsicum, riper melon notes (but not overripe into the tropical range), in a clean, balanced package. Nicely done. (2/06)

Babich 2004 “Unwooded” Chardonnay (Hawke’s Bay) – Fig and white plum, showing tropical fruit with nice acid and fantastic brightness. (1/06)

Babich 2005 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Clean and crisp, with apple and honeydew supported by great acidity. Balanced and nice. (1/06)

Babich “Winemakers Reserve” 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Gooseberry dominates this huge fruit bomb of a sauvignon, though there’s complexing sweat and grass throughout. What makes this wine, despite the whallop of fruit, is the balance, which is very nice. (1/06)

Kim Crawford 2004 “Dry” Riesling (Marlborough) – Clean, with aluminum siding and lemongrass, but a touch soft for a riesling. (1/06)

Kim Crawford 2004 Pinot Gris (Marlborough) – Very soft, with pear skin and some fennel. Too light. (1/06)

Kim Crawford 2004 “Unoaked” Chardonnay (Marlborough) – Peach, ripe lemon and a sour, overly tart finish. (1/06)

Kim Crawford 2005 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Green apple sorbet and sweet yet underripe grapefruit, again with an overall tartness that’s not entirely pleasant. (1/06)

Crossroads “Destination Series” 2005 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Ripe gooseberry with flecks of steel. Balanced and clean. (1/06)

Dog Point 2003 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Ripe gooseberry and grassy herbs with lime and green apple. Vivid and strong, yet classy. (1/06)

Grove Mill 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Concentrated red fruit (strawberry, mostly) with lemon-lime and pink grapefruit. Extraordinarily ripe, but in a good way. (1/06)

Huia 2004 Pinot Gris (Marlborough) – Lightly sweet and soft pear. Lovely, though very restrained. (1/06)

Huia 2004 Gewürztraminer (Marlborough) – Vague suggestions of lychee and peach, with decent acidity. Similarly restrained. (1/06)

Huia 2003 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Sweaty gooseberry and capsicum. Lighter-bodied. (1/06)

Huia 2001 Chardonnay (Marlborough) – Restrained and balanced, showing calimyrna fig and big acidity. Nice enough. (1/06)

Redcliffe 2005 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Sweet pineapple, gooseberry and ripe apple. Nice, but commercial. (1/06)

Sileni “Cellar Selection” 2005 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Green apple dusted with sugar, gooseberry and tropical fruit that softens considerably on the finish. Dull. (1/06)

Sileni “Cellar Selection” 2004 Chardonnay (Hawke’s Bay) – Shy on the nose, but the palate is pretty much the opposite of shy: tropical fruit (banana, mango, pineapple) with a syrupy texture at war with decent acidity. A little sticky, but tasty. (1/06)

Sileni “Estate Selection” 2003 Semillon “The Circle” (Hawke’s Bay) – White pepper, sharp green apple, and armpit esters (not unusual for sémillon) with a clean, crisp and nicely long finish. Pretty good, with (albeit limited) aging potential. (1/06)

Tohu 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Ripe grapefruit, white plum and smoke with very light sweetness. Solid, if predictable, and a good value. (1/06)

Tohu 2003 “Unoaked” Chardonnay (Gisborne) – Reductive, showing banana extract and not much else. Short and crisp, and more than a little synthetic. This is a step down for this wine. (1/06)

Dog Point 2003 Sauvignon Blanc “Section 94” (Marlborough) – Corked. (11/05)

Te Awa 2003 Sauvignon Blanc (Hawke’s Bay) – Thick, ripe tropical fruit turning flat and candied on the palate…plus (and this isn’t unusual for New Zealand sauvignon blanc) it feels a little off-dry. It’s got a lengthy finish, but it’s a dull length. Like sitting through a Merchant/Ivory snooze-fest. (4/05)

Te Awa 2002 Chardonnay (Hawke’s Bay) – Peach, apricot, and juicy pear with crisped banana skin and apple. Balanced in the fruit-salad way that many New Zealand chardonnays are, but lacks any backpalate interest whatsoever. Half a wine. Maybe three-quarters. (4/05)

Peregrine 2004 “Rastasburn” Riesling (Central Otago) – Well-watered mixed rocks and metals, with more excitable notions of lime zest and grapefruit juice, plus a complexing bite of green olive pit on the finish. Lightly sweet but quickly “dried” by buoyant acidity, this finishes much longer and more austerely than it begins. A very interesting wine. (3/05)

Black Estate 2003 Chardonnay (Waipara) – Butterscotch oak and minerals tasted through a thick screen. It gains fat with food, but what it persistently lacks is complexity…or, for that matter, interest. Despite the weight gain, I think this is “better” – and it’s not good – by itself. (3/05)

Bannockburn Heights “Akarua” 2004 Pinot Gris (Central Otago) – Not very showy, but what’s here is clean pear skin and windblown minerality. It carries just a hint of spice and fatness. I liked this bottle a little better at the winery; now, it seems somewhat wan. (3/05)

Black Estate 2004 Chardonnay (Waipara) – Just bottled (in March 2005), showing minerals and stone fruit, wet grapefruit and a watery finish. The wine is overly-restrained…balanced and elegant, but just not very “there.” Post-bottling shock is a possibility, but there needs to be more to this wine. (3/05)

Black Estate 2003 Chardonnay (Waipara) – Creamier than the ’04, with grapefruit, orange and ripe apple studded with clove and nutmeg. The finish is lithe and mineral-infused. It’s a better wine than the ’04 in almost every respect, but it’s still somewhat indistinct and submissive. (3/05)

Black Estate 2002 Chardonnay (Waipara) – A shy nose, leading to a very creamy plate that – at long last – shows some filling-out and expansiveness. The finish is a little odd, though, as if it’s hesitant to carry through on its promises. The best of the bunch, but still... (3/05)

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2004 Riesling (Waipara) – The nose is dry, with a dusting of white pepper and a little whiff of petrol. Medium-lightness contrasted by a slight thickening from residual sugar defines this wine’s form, though there’s the later suggestion of a thick palate redolent of banana skin. Great acidity and a long, balanced finish round out the package. Nice. (3/05)

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2003 Riesling (Waipara) – Seemingly sweeter than the ’04 (though only apparently so due to decreased acidity), showing stone fruit and pear. It’s a little more obvious than the vintages on either side. (3/05)

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2002 Riesling (Waipara) – Just starting to show the first signs of aged-riesling creaminess, with sweet lemon-lime, spiced honey thick with aromatic flowers, and a very long, silky texture. This is delicious. (3/05)

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2004 Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon (Waipara) – Grassy, with mixed green elements. Peas and a flat wall of vegetables linger on the finish, which is shorter than I’d like. (3/05)

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2002 Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon (Waipara) – Fetid hay, grass and tart green apple. Creamier and much more interesting than the ’04. (3/05)

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 1999 Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc (Waipara) – Shy at first, with ripe melon and apple skin finally emerging, crisped and sharpened by acidity. This has matured nicely, and is probably ready to go. (3/05)

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2004 Chardonnay (barrel sample) (Waipara) – Undergoing cold-stabilization, and recently fined with milk and bentonite. It shows fruit and spice, with good acid and a longish finish. It’s so highly marked by the aforementioned techniques right now that it’s a little hard to assess. (3/05)

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2002 Chardonnay (Waipara) – Rich stone fruit and spiced vanilla, with a sweeter-seeming palate than the ’04. Hudson identifies “sweet corn,” which encompasses both the aroma and texture. Quite nice. (3/05)

Springvale Estate 2002 “Unoaked” Chardonnay (Central Otago) – More cream and less fruit than the winery version, and starting to fray about the edges. Still, it should develop some tertiary characteristics with (very) short aging. (3/05)

Rippon 2004 Osteiner (Central Otago) – Osteiner is one of the zillions of riesling/sylvaner crosses produced in Germany, and may just be unique to the Central Otago and even to Rippon…at least in terms of wine production. Since there’s nothing to compare it to, it’s hard to see what the benchmarks might be, but this one shows tart green fruit and grass with an attenuated finish. It’s cute, but of no sustainable interest, and not ripe enough to be a fun quaffer. With highly acidic food, matters might be improved. (3/05)

Peregrine 2003 Riesling (Central Otago) – Intense, showing steel, grapefruit and lime leaves with an almost electric intensity on the midpalate. Finishes extremely dry and long. Marvelous riesling, with a good future ahead of it. (3/05)

Peregrine 2004 “Rastasburn” Riesling (Central Otago) – Despite the geographic name, Rastasburn is here meant to indicate a stylistic shift towards the off-dry. Which it is, showing lime, mixed apples and a lush, shattered minerality that pulses towards the full-bodied, then retreats to permit a crisp, dry and tingly finish. It’s a bit shorter than the regular ’03 riesling, but very nice nonetheless. (3/05)

Peregrine 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – This is usually sourced from Central Otago fruit, but in 2004 the quality…and more importantly, the quantity…just wasn’t there, and so alternate sources had to be found. I regret not being able to taste the wine in its typical form, but this is hardly a chore: gooseberry and grass, yes, but also a mineral-driven liquidity on the midpalate and finish…something not often found in fruit-focused Marlborough. The only flaw is a somewhat sticky texture, but it’s forgivable. A nice wine. (3/05)

Peregrine 2004 Pinot Gris (Central Otago) – Pinot gris is, in many ways, the chardonnay of New Zealand: mindlessly planted everywhere and producing wines of endless and anonymous tedium, almost without exception. Thankfully, “almost” is the correct term (though it would do no harm to the New Zealand wine industry to grub up 75% of the nation’s pinot gris vines), and this is one of the exceptions. Yeasty and thickly-textured (while the wine is matured in 100% stainless steel, lees stirring adds weight and complexity), but brightened with zingy acidity, showing grapefruit rind and pear with a long, dry finish that shows hints of further complexities to come. A marvelous wine with medium-term aging potential. (3/05)

Peregrine 2004 Gewürztraminer (Central Otago) – Lychee and cashew oil form a fully ripe and quite phenolic nose, with a lovely, elegant complexity on the palate. It’s very light for gewürztraminer (those desiring more weight will want to look to the North Island’s Gisborne region), but nice in that idiom. (3/05)

Saddleback 2003 Chardonnay (Central Otago) – 100% malolactic fermentation, 30% matured in French oak. Intense stone fruit (mostly apricot), fig, nut oil and nutmeg with a light touch of wood and a smooth, balanced aspect. A pleasant, good-quality chardonnay with a bit of aging potential but of no particularly unique distinction…which is, after, the persistent problem with this grape from anything other than the most remarkable terroirs. This, though, is a subjective complaint; the wine is perfectly nice. (3/05)

Saddleback 2004 Chardonnay (Marlborough) – As with the sauvignon blanc, acceptable fruit for this wine was simply not available locally. The nose is tighter, flatter and leafier than the ’03, with banana skin and a long, growing intensity on the palate and a zippy, sorbet-like finish braced with fine acidity. This is more structured and probably longer-aging than the ’03, and certainly less overtly marked by oak, but objectively it’s probably less pleasurable. People will choose based on their perceptions of what constitutes quality in a chardonnay. (3/05)

Springvale Estate 2001 “Unoaked” Chardonnay (Central Otago) – Strong apricot – and perhaps very slightly botrytized? – aromas with white plum and peach. There’s a nice core of fruit here, and while the wine is perhaps a touch sweet, it’s got good structure, length and balance. Pretty and fun. (3/05)

Springvale Estate 2001 “Oaked” Chardonnay (Central Otago) – A touch of charred lemon and apple shrinks from intrusive oak on the nose. The effect of the wood on the palate, however, is tactile rather than organoleptic, as it flattens out the spectrum, hides the spiced (and dried) orange fruit, and abrades the finish to something tannic and dull. It’s long, but things are neither as integrated nor as pleasant as they should be, and the oak ultimately damages the wine more than it adds to its complexity. (3/05)

Springvale Estate 2003 Sauvignon Blanc (Central Otago) – A shy nose, with green pepper and grass on the palate, and a tart, green finish: all the unwelcome signs of underripe sauvignon. (3/05)

Springvale Estate 2003 Gewürztraminer (Central Otago) – Light rose petal, lychee skin, dried apricot pit and almond form an enticing nose that falls completely away on the palate and that provide absolutely no finish whatsoever. Initially pleasant, but ultimately disappointing. (3/05)

Black Ridge 2002 Riesling (Central Otago) – Diesel and mineral with pear skin, wet leaves and a metallic edge; the latter is usually welcome in a riesling, but here it’s a little bit too jarring. The finish is very dry, despite eight grams of residual sugar. Good for short-term drinking, but I don’t like its preparation for the longer haul. (3/05)

Black Ridge 2003 Chardonnay (Central Otago) – Peach and stone fruit with a big impact, and a decent enough balance that persists until the onset of an oily-textured, low-acid finish that eventually dries out all the goop. It’s quite flavorful, but more akin to a good fruit wine than a chardonnay. (3/05)

Black Ridge 2004 “Otago Gold” (Central Otago) – A blend of breidecker, riesling, gewürztraminer and chardonnay, carrying fifteen grams of residual sugar. (What’s breidecker, you ask? A müller-thurgau/chancellor cross, which should fill absolutely no one with anticipation. Further, blends with gewürztraminer are rarely anything more than thinned gewürztraminer.) There’s fusel oil and grapefruit, but only a dab of each, and otherwise this wine is sweet, simple fun that’s completely absent anything of interest or complexity. The proprietor suggests serving it over ice (“you keep on sipping until the ice is dissolved”), which seems as good a use as any: the pastis of the Central Otago. (3/05)

Black Ridge 2004 Gewürztraminer (Central Otago) – My second attempt at this wine, and unfortunately it’s only slightly changed: oily lychee, roses and spiced orange are completely overwhelmed by fat, even blowsy residual sugar (19 grams) and a flabby midpalate. The finish is much better, showing long and luscious, but it’s a shame what one has to go through to get there. This is a cocktail wine, at best. (3/05)

Rippon 2002 Riesling (Lake Wanaka Central Otago) – Fragrant, showing flowers and makrut lime leaves, citrus (mostly grapefruit) and a long, dry finish. OK now, likely to be better in a few years. (3/05)

Rippon 2004 Gewürztraminer (Lake Wanaka Central Otago) – Light and delicate, showing roses and fresh banana. Very, very fragile, and probably not what most people are looking for from gewürztraminer. (3/05)

Kawarau Estate 2003 Chardonnay “Reserve” (Central Otago) – Wood-spicy, showing orange peel, clove and apricot with a short-ish finish. Fine in its idiom. (3/05)

Amisfield “Lake Hayes” 2004 Riesling (Central Otago) – Green apple and yellow-green citrus, clean and crisp but simple. (3/05)

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. (3/05)

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. (3/05)

Bannockburn Heights “Akarua” 2004 Pinot Gris (Central Otago) – Pear and dry, ripe apple with a really great intensity on the finish. This wine is partially fermented in French oak (I don’t know how old), and seems to absorb the experience with deftness. A nice wine. (3/05)

Bannockburn Heights “Akarua” 2004 “Unoaked” Chardonnay (Central Otago) – Peach and tangerine; intensely ripe and fruity, with a short finish. Fun. One must approach most unoaked New World chardonnays with simplified expectations, and this wine satisfies those expectations. (3/05)

Bannockburn Heights “Akarua” 2003 Chardonnay (Central Otago) – 100% malolactic fermentation, with a dollop of new wood (mostly expressed by a clove accent on the nose), but otherwise dominated by ripe pear and nectarine. Unfortunately, the finish is deadened; a nice wine cut short before its time. I often find this character in wines freshly pulled from new wood, but that doesn’t apply here, and so I’m afraid it must be attributed to the wine. (3/05)

Amisfield “Lake Hayes” 2004 Riesling (Central Otago) – Lemon-lime and green apple; a fruit-forward and quite acidic expression of varietal riesling character, but with absolutely no additional complexities. There’s no depth here. (3/05)

Mt. Difficulty 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Central Otago) – Shoots past spicy and zippy into the realm of capsicum, showing chile and black pepper on the nose, palate and finish. There’s a bit of dry crispness, but ultimately this is all about underripeness and harsh pyrazines. It’s “interesting” from a certain point of view, but wouldn’t be much fun to drink. Maybe with salsa. (3/05)

Mt. Difficulty 2004 Riesling Target Gully (Central Otago) – This a sugar/acidity balancing act at 25 g/L residual sugar. It is quite sweet, though with ripe apple, lemon and a blend of steel and slate adding their complexities to the midpalate. It dries a bit (and shortens) on the finish, and while it’s quite fun, there’s a serious undercurrent to it that bodes well for the future. It’s not a great wine by any means, but it is a good one. (3/05)

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. (3/05)

Olssens 2001 “Barrel Fermented” Chardonnay (Central Otago) – Dates and sweet orange with a strong caramel component and a short, somewhat harsh finish. This is maturing quickly. (3/05)

Olssens 2003 Gewürztraminer (Central Otago) – 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. 3 g/L residual sugar. (3/05)

Felton Road 2004 “Dry” Riesling (Central Otago) – 12.5% alcohol, from a bottle that’s been open for three days, and is probably better for it; wind-blown dust and dried apple skin aromas with white plum skin and juicy acidity. Quite strong and vivid, with clear aging potential. (3/05)

Felton Road 2004 Riesling (Central Otago) – 9.5% alcohol, and very slightly off-dry. Shyer on the nose, showing fine-grained sand, a smooth but flattish palate, and a very long finish tart with lemon and Granny Smith apple. Solid and ageable, but not as good as the dry version – or maybe it just needs to be open for a few days. (3/05)

Felton Road 2004 Riesling “Block 1” (Central Otago) – Fuller-bodied than both previous bottles (above), and rich with a blend of powerfully ripe red apples and excellent acidity countered by light sweetness, then finishing long, full-bodied, and balanced. Terrific. (3/05)

Felton Road 2004 Chardonnay (Central Otago) – Mendoza clone, from stainless steel. Nut oils and rotten orange with a strange, slightly oxidized and stale finish. (3/05)

Felton Road 2003 “Barrel Fermented” Chardonnay (Central Otago) – Clove, spiced tangerine and nectarine with denser stone fruit and pear on the palate. A better wine, and perhaps more evidence that most chardonnay really does benefit from a certain measure of wood. (3/05)

Chard Farm 2003 Pinot Gris (Central Otago) – Dry pear skin with a faintly sweet midpalate and leafy anise notes on the finish. Texturally underdeveloped and simple. (2/05)

Gibbston Valley 2003 Pinot Blanc (Central Otago) – Shy on the nose, showing crisp apple and pear with light minerality. Dry, sharp, and surprisingly intense (structurally), but not as generous as it was in the Gibbston Valley tasting room. It probably just needs decanting, but the bottle doesn’t last long enough for us to find out. (2/05)

Kennedy Point 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Much faded vs. when first opened, showing a general sort of green fruitiness, but still drinkable. (2/05)

Chard Farm 2002 Gewurztraminer (Central Otago) – Lychee and peach with stony pear and some varietally-typical bitterness, but lacking much of anything on the midpalate and beyond. Quite dry, but quite disappointing. (2/05)

Chard Farm 2003 Riesling (Central Otago) – Lightly sweet and insubstantial, with lemon, green apple and lime. No minerality and little useful structure. Dullsville. (2/05)

Chard Farm 2003 Chardonnay “Closeburn” (Central Otago) – There’s apparently some Nelson fruit in this wine, which shows light peach, tangerine and orange with good acidity but a disappointingly short finish. (2/05)

Gibbston Valley 2003 Pinot Blanc (Central Otago) – Crystalline lime, tangerine, lemon and grapefruit; very ripe, yet nicely balanced, and showing growing elegance and a medium-crisp finish. It starts lightly sweet, but dries nicely as it lingers and fades. A very pretty wine. (2/05)

Gibbston Valley 2004 Riesling (Central Otago) – Petrol and minerals with grapefruit, medium-tart green apple malic acidity, and a strong core of strawberry. Intense, long and zingy, with excellent balance. Very, very well done, and with the apparent stuffing and poise to reward aging. (2/05)

Gibbston Valley 2004 Pinot Gris (Central Otago) – Tight and reduced, showing crisp pear skin and pear juice tarted up by lemon and ripe green apple. Long, juicy fun. (2/05)

Gibbston Valley 2004 Chardonnay “Greenstone” (Central Otago) – Crisp, ripe red apple and banana skin with petroleum notes. Juicy and exceedingly fruit-forward, and fun despite the gasoline. Short finish, though. (2/05)

Gibbston Valley 2003 Chardonnay “Reserve” (Central Otago) – Raw cashew and fig, with a thin, acidic palate. Insubstantial, with structure but nothing for it to support…like a badly-oaked and badly-underfruited Chablis. (2/05)

Amisfield “Lake Hayes” 2004 Chardonnay (Gisborne) – From a Mendoza clone, half fermented in stainless steel and half in mixed oak barrels, showing clean, dull stone and grapefruit rind flavors. Short and uninteresting. (2/05)

Amisfield “Lake Hayes” 2002 Riesling (Nelson) – Petrol borne on a windy mist, with clean, crisp flavors, and a highly-developed character. This is already fully mature. Should that happen to riesling, even cheap riesling? (2/05)

Amisfield “Lake Hayes” 2004 Riesling (Central Otago/Nelson) – Lime and stones with lots of tart green apple. Fuller, riper and longer than the previous wine, and showing the potential for some (very) short-term development. (2/05)

Amisfield “Lake Hayes” 2003 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Asparagus, boxwood, and sourly anonymous underripe berries. Not at all ripe…or good. (2/05)

Amisfield “Lake Hayes” 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough/Central Otago) – I still don’t think Central Otago sauvignon blanc is a good idea. Here, we’ve got more asparagus and riper underripe fruit, with a wet, thin finish. (2/05)

Kennedy Point 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Waiheke Island) – Shy, with gooseberry and grapefruit but showing decidedly less vivid than either the version tasted at the winery or a previous bottle. I’m not sure what’s up here. Low-level taint would be the natural suspect, but this wine’s under screwcap. Multiple bottlings? Another sort of taint? Barometric pressure? Gremlins? (2/05)

Black Ridge 2004 Gewürztraminer (Central Otago) – 14%, and showing about twice that, alongside a rather shocking amount of residual sugar. It tastes like fresh gewürztraminer must with neutral spirits added, and it’s a horrible match with the food. This is alcoholic fruit juice, not wine. (2/05)

Fiddler’s Green 2003 Riesling (Waipara) – Sweet and fruity, showing lime and sweet melon, but little else. Very simple and a touch cloying; any bit of complexity here would help things immensely. (2/05)

Passage Rock 2004 Viognier (Waiheke Island) – Simple floral and apricot notes on the nose, with decent (if light) stone fruit, yet highly restrained and, to be honest, a little insipid. Unfortunately, this validates my earlier impression of the wine. (2/05)

Donaldson Family "Pegasus Bay" 2004 Riesling (Waipara) – Minerals, cold earth, and a touch of petrol with lime and grapefruit; crisply acidic and long, with obvious aging potential. (2/05)

Peregrine 2003 Riesling (Central Otago) – Fruitier, showing limestone, chalk, and very slight tropicality (Key lime is featured). This wine has a big presence, and is lightly sweet, but it lacks a bit of complexity in comparison to the above-mentioned Pegasus Bay, and will probably not age as well. (2/05)

Kennedy Point 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Alone, this wine remains a touch more malic than most of its brethren. With food, it shows ripe tropical fruit with the slightest edge of green, texturally somewhat oily but at its core pure, yet simple, fun. (2/05)

Wither Hills 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Smooth and ripe, showing intense yet easygoing gooseberry and melon flavors with white plum and a complete absence of green grass, asparagus, cat pee or capsicum. In their place, however, is a smiling façade of what appears to be residual sugar. People iffy on the prototypical “Marlborough style” should give this a shot, while those less iffy will probably find it a little slick and characterless. But it’s an undoubtedly pleasant drink, and it’s hard to fault it too much for sharing a little consumer-friendly trick with thousands of other wines around the world. Personally, I prefer my sauvignon to be a little less user-friendly. (2/05)

Melness 2003 Riesling (New Zealand) – Crisp apple and sharp minerality on the nose turn dull and insubstantial on the palate. Lightness is its chief virtue, and it’s not all that virtuous. (2/05)

Mudbrick 2004 Chardonnay (Waiheke Island) – Just bottled, and showing a little discomfort because of it, with leesy, lactic notes still lingering in the forefront. Behind them, there’s heavy peach, orange skins, and a good balance of welcome acidity. A bit hard to penetrate at the moment, I suspect this will be a perfectly nice chardonnay when it settles down. (2/05)

Mudbrick 2004 Chardonnay “Reserve” (Waiheke Island) – 35% new oak, mostly from Mendoza clones, showing rancid butter, thick tangerine, and a long, tangy finish. That nose is pretty gross, however. (2/05)

Passage Rock 2004 Chardonnay (Gisborne) – An unoaked wine from Mendoza clones, crushed in Gisborne but vinified here (this is, one quickly finds, a common practice all over New Zealand, despite the often striking distances and transportation hassles involved). Slightly buttery but otherwise flat on the palate, with juicy, lively spice emerging on the finish. It’s a bit hard to believe that there’s no oak, though certainly lees make their presence known. There is an overarching flaw, however, and that’s a bit of heat (the wine is 14.1%, but without oak probably doesn’t have enough stuffing to stand up to the alcohol). About as good as unoaked chardonnay outside France gets, but that’s mitigated praise. (2/05)

Passage Rock 2004 Viognier (Waiheke Island) – There’s thyme, lemon and peach with a faint reduction on the nose, a floral, oily palate, and a soft, almost sugary finish. Plus, there’s a strange spritziness to the whole thing. And this, too, is just a touch hot (14.5%, not necessarily out of line for viognier, but it’s still a matter of balance). OK, but no better. (2/05)

Cloudy Bay 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – The allocation games played in the States aren’t as much in evidence in New Zealand, so while this wine retains its reputation and its elevated price, it’s a lot easier to obtain. This version is very acidic, with lime and crystalline tartaric sharpness. Finishes short and, to my palate, somewhat dull. I’m open to the possibility that it’s just the setting, but retasting it later in the evening, I don’t find my impressions to have changed much. (2/05)

Stony Batter 2003 Sauvignon Blanc “Gravestone” (Waiheke Island) – Those expecting the zingy Marlborough style are going to be sorely disappointed by this wine, but those who get the wordplay in “Gravestone” will instantly recognize the intended model. Made with skin contact, barrel fermented in French oak, spending ten months on stirred lees and in 30-40% new oak, this is unquestionably an attempt at the “serious” white Graves style that they’ve also been exploring down in Marlborough (Cloudy Bay, Dog Point, Seresin, and others vinify alternative sauvignons in this general style). The wine is indeed leesy and dense at first, showing stone fruit (mostly peach and apricot) and melon, with some crisper grapefruit and kiwifruit aspects emerging after time. Silkily-textured with interlacings of clover, this is a pretty marvelous but highly controversial wine that will shock and offend as often as it entices. Guaranteed to shock: the price, a hefty $40 NZ at Waiheke’s one wine shop, which places it among the most expensive sauvignons in New Zealand. But it is better, though more extreme, than any effort in this direction that I’ve yet tried. (2/05)

Stony Batter 2003 Chardonnay “Road Works” (Waiheke Island) – Despite light pink grapefruit and faint tropicality, this wine’s impression is mostly textural: smooth and thick-bodied, with moderate acidity and a shorter finish than one would like. A good chardonnay, with structure and a nod towards balance (and thus potential ageability), but not done in what I’d call a popular style, and probably also not the best they can do here. (2/05)

Stony Batter 2003 Cabernets “Road Works” (Waiheke Island) – 88% cabernet franc, 10% cabernet sauvignon, 2% syrah (the previous vintage was mostly merlot). Well, this will happen with all their new vineyards coming on line. A burly brew of blueberry and black cherry with dark, wormy soil and layers of bitter chocolate tannin that finish with some green notes. Thick, sturdy and quite long, this wine shows more potential than it does drinkability, though the oak is a bit too slick and confectionary for my tastes. Still, a credible effort. (2/05)

Kahurangi Estate 2003 Riesling “Reserve” (Moutere) – Made from the country’s oldest riesling vines (they’re not really that old, but all such things are relative anyway), in the moutere clays of Nelson. It’s big and mineral-driven, showing limestone-dominated green apple, massive acidity, and a perfect dose of balancing sweetness. Balanced and long, it’s quite ripe and yet manages to come off like a slightly less stern and Teutonic Spätlese from a warmish climate. Very impressive. (2/05)

Kennedy Point 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Soft grass, lime, and green apple with ripe gooseberries and a nice, tingly finish. Fun. (2/05)

Stonyridge 2003 Riesling (Marlborough) – Crisp green apple, ripe melon, quartzy minerality and great acidity. A little underripe on the finish, but there’s striking fullness and length to this wine, plus a gorgeous balance; the minor sin of mild greenness can be forgiven. It’s not a delicate riesling, however. (2/05)

Stonyridge 2004 Chardonnay Church Bay (Waiheke Island) – Balanced and soft, with oak-infused stone fruit. Pretty, but…well, chardonnay is chardonnay, and it takes a real effort to distinguish one from another. It’s pleasant, but no more. (2/05)

Dry River 1998 Gewurztraminer (Martinborough) – Juicy lychee and bitter macadamia nut; skin-dominated and slightly tannic (not at all unusual for ripe gewürztraminer) with good acidity and a somewhat strange, eggy consistency that’s a little different than the nut oil texture so common to Alsatian versions of this grape. I like it a great deal, though I’d age it longer in an attempt to shed some of the fat, as I think it’s in a bit of an awkward middle age at the moment. (2/05)

r o s é

Peregrine 2004 Rosé (Central Otago) – A pink pinot (not saignée), juicy and off-dry with simplistic strawberry and floral components. Just…eh. (3/05)

Bannockburn Heights “Akarua” 2004 Pinot Rosé (Central Otago) – Big, juicy red fruit with some floral touches. Fun and late-summery, and a succulent foil with wildly varying picnic-style food. (3/05)

Sileni “Cellar Selection” 2004 Rosé “Saignée” (New Zealand) – Red cherry and sour, sour strawberry. Yuck. (1/06)

Rippon Rosé (Lake Wanaka Central Otago) – Non-vintage gamay and pinot noir. Sweet-tart raspberry and strawberry with a candied (but dry) finish that turns to plastic. No good. (3/05)

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. (3/05)

Bannockburn Heights “Akarua” 2004 Pinot Rosé (Central Otago) – From “dropped fruit” rather than from a saignée, which seems a somehow less manipulative thing to do than making a saignée rosé for the primary purpose of concentrating a red, as so often happens. This wine is decidedly not dry – which I guess puts it in the white zin category – but it handles that burden with much more aplomb than most “blush” wines, showing sweet strawberry and red cherry in a pretty, sun-filled punch. Not “serious” in the least. (3/05)

Gibbston Valley 2004 Blanc de Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Very juicy, showing huge cherry syrup and sweet strawberry fruit. Extremely short. This is, unfortunately, much more akin to white zinfandel than it is to a typical rosé. (2/05)

Amisfield 2004 Rosé “Saignée” (Central Otago) – In retrospect, the name of this wine amuses me; over the course of many visits to many wineries, I’ll ask person after person – often the winemaker – if a rosé they’re pouring is made via “saignée” or not, and with a single exception (Lynnette Hudson at Pegasus Bay, who’s worked in Burgundy), not one will know what the hell I’m talking about, necessitating a change to the English translation. Apparently, Mr. Sinnott is another exception. Anyway, this is indeed a “bleeding” of the flagship pinot noir, showing strawberry, red cherry, and a light spice that builds on the finish. Solid rosé, and probably the best wine I’ll taste here. (2/05)

Kennedy Point 2004 Rosé (Waiheke Island) – A rosé of merlot, which I’ve rarely thought to be a good idea, showing oft orange blossom and sweet honeysuckle-laced peach. Too sickly for me. (2/05)

Onetangi Road 2004 Rosé (Waiheke Island) – Juicy raspberry goodness that’s big and slightly hot, but despite the slightly overweight character it’s a really fun, full-fruited summer quaffer. It will get you tipsy, though. I suggest a post-lunch layabout on an isolated beach. (2/05)

Onetangi Road 2004 Rosé (Waiheke Island) – 85% cabernet, 15% merlot. Bright strawberry and dry, spiced raspberry are balanced, with aromatics a touch on the hot side (it could just be the tasting room, which is itself a bit under-cooled) and a medium-short finish. A fun quaffer, though perhaps somewhat hefty for its raw material; in this, it’s not unlike many hundreds of Mediterranean rosés, of which the most nagging flaw is an obvious alcoholic bite. (2/05)

r e d

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2000 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – Licorice, strawberry seed and orange pith slashed by vibrant acidity and a black layer of tannin. There are smoky elements to the aroma (punctuated by black and pink peppercorns, plus a rocky texture) that hint at pinot-as-syrah, but the structure’s completely different. This bottle is much less well-knit than others have been, and I wonder if the wine might not be in the very early stages of crack-up. (5/07)

Daniel Schuster Pinot Noir Twin Vineyards (Canterbury) – A non-vintage bargain pinot. Synthetic sour cherry, with tart greenness dominating. A few strawberry leaves are about all that’s worth mentioning. Simple-minded and not very interesting. (3/07)

Daniel Schuster 2004 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – Ripe strawberry, plum and beet with a deeper cherry core emerging on the palate. There are light but insistent traces of licorice and spice. Texturally, this shows gentle, cottony fruit with a beautifully supple finish that rolls and fades. A lovely wine, exemplifying a soft expression of the Waipara terroir. (3/07)

Daniel Schuster “Selection” 2004 Pinot Noir Omihi Hills (Waipara) – Tighter and more concentrated than the regular Waipara pinot, with the aromas shifted to a darker, black fruit and leather spectrum. There’s a slightly syrupy thickness to the forepalate that eventually lends a smooth texture to a core rich with morels, black truffles, and dark, roasted beets. The wine is round and mouthfilling, squeezing into every corner and filling it with satin. I probably wouldn’t drink this now, because everything is still a little over-wound, but I would most definitely stick a few in the cellar. It’s going to be a beauty. (3/07)

Mount Difficulty 2004 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Fairly simple but boisterous plumberry, orange rind and gravel notes, with more weight than acidity (though this isn’t a heavy wine by any means). Nice. (3/07)

Mana 2006 Pinot Noir (Marlborough) – Filmy raspberry sauce with acrid, slightly bitter medicinal notes. Crisp but underripe. (2/07)

Dog Point 2004 Pinot Noir (Marlborough) – Strawberry, plum, ripe blood orange and golden beet. Balanced, and almost approaching something one might call “elegant”…but in context, because it is fruity. Call it a fruit firecracker, rather than a fruit bomb. (2/07)

Mana 2005 Pinot Noir (Marlborough) – Burnt leaves and nasty, charred red cherry. Very underripe and shockingly tart. (2/07)

Rockburn 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Beet soup nose, turning to blended fat berries and plums. Soft but full-bodied, though it finishes somewhat stringy. It’s cleanly made, but it already shows signs that it might wear down under the ravages of age, so drink it soon. (2/07)

Villa Maria “Private Bin” 2004 Pinot Noir (Marlborough) – Strawberry and red cherry. Simple and pleasant, with light lemon verbena accents. (2/07)

Villa Maria “Private Bin” 2005 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon (Hawke’s Bay) – Herbal medicine and dirt with blueberry and blackberry, finishing with a barky texture. Dissolute. (2/07)

Crossroads “Destination Series” 2004 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon (Hawke’s Bay) – Soupy herbs, blueberry and wood bark. Firm enough, but not very good despite some hand-waving in the direction of structure. (2/07)

Crossroads 2002 “RGF” (Hawke’s Bay) – Sophisticated black fruit and dark leather over stones. Good acid. Balanced and surprisingly polished. (2/07)

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2000 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – Corked. (2/07)

Dog Point 2005 Pinot Noir (Marlborough) – Concentrated plums in the key of jam, with little shreds of orange, walnut and beet zest. Call it a Midwestern Jello “salad,” of sorts…except that it’s much better than that. All the elements are in balance, and the package is unquestionably tasty, but the wine is a little on the monotone side, and eventually grows slightly tiresome. A persistent, nagging weight problem doesn’t help this. (12/06)

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2000 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – At first, this wine can’t decide whether it wants to be grilled-plum syrah, or tart-berried pinot. There’s a lot of acid here, and eventually that acidity decides matters; the smokiness fades a bit, leaving a wine with lots of unfocused flavor but a somewhat hollow midpalate and a perhaps overly crisp finish. Starts wide, finishes narrow. It’s a good wine, but I’m not sure I’m entirely on board with the way it’s aging. (9/06)

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2000 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – Massive black fig, dark plum, orange rind and intense, ripe red beet. It seems like it should be packed with structure, but it’s really not. A bit of a hammer blow pinot, yet one with amazing complexity and persistence. Still, it is big. (8/06)

Stonecutter 2003 Pinot Noir (Martinborough) – Soft plum, tomato (perhaps tamarillo would be more accurate, though there’s no citrus), and golden beet with good acidity and a long, spicy finish that, eventually, turns vegetal and sour. This is just an odd wine. (4/06)

Amisfield 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Cranberry, grapefruit rind and red cherry, with a light, smooth, and balanced palate but a short finish. (1/06)

Babich 2004 Pinot Noir (Marlborough) – A shy nose, but it emerges retronasally as red plum, strawberry and red cherry supported by rich earth. It builds and fills out through the palate to a balanced, long finish. A fine effort. (1/06)

Babich “Winemakers Reserve” 2004 Syrah Gimblett Road Vineyard (Hawke’s Bay) – Soupy, faded blackberry and leather. Too soft and restrained, and that soupy character is never welcome. (1/06)

Kim Crawford 2004 Pinot Noir (Marlborough) – Stewed, nasty Styrofoam and ash aromas. Ick. (1/06)

Crossroads “Destination Series” 2001 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon (Hawke’s Bay) – 12 months in French oak, 20% of it new. Soupy blueberry and milk chocolate with espresso oil and obtrusive green notes. (1/06)

Crossroads “Destination Series” 2001 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon (Hawke’s Bay) – A second bottle of the same wine. Smoother, with more black cherry, but still strongly green-herbed and no better than OK. (1/06)

Sileni “Cellar Selection” 2004 Pinot Noir (Hawke’s Bay) – Not the typical source for New Zealand pinot noir, and maybe this shows why: it’s somewhat weedy and reductive and the same time, with mixed seed peppers and ashes burying mild red fruit. (1/06)

Sileni “Cellar Selection” 2002 Merlot/Cabernet Franc (Hawke’s Bay) – Blueberry, bell pepper and exhaust fumes. Nasty and thin. (1/06)

Tohu 2004 Pinot Noir (Marlborough) – A heavy nose, full of baked plums, golden beets and citrus rind. Surprisingly present for a 2004 pinot noir, but organoleptically about the same as previous years. (1/06)

Te Awa 2002 Syrah (Hawke’s Bay) – Musty pepper dust and grass, silken and broadening on the finish, but ultimately fairly insignificant. (4/05)

Te Awa 2002 Merlot (Hawke’s Bay) – Green veggies, plum, and asparagus with a layer of unpleasant dust. (4/05)

Te Awa 2001 “Boundary” (Hawke’s Bay) – A right bank-styled blend, showing a nice balance of black fruit, blueberry, and black dirt with chewy tannin. This is the one they get right? (4/05)

Black Estate 2004 Pinot Noir (barrel sample) (Waipara) – Red cherry with maraschino accents and plum. Some bitterness on the finish. (3/05)

Black Estate 2003 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – Corked. (3/05)

Black Estate 2003 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – Ripe strawberry with minor green notes. Still moderately tight. There’s light tannin and a zingy, almost tingly mouthfeel. Decent raw materials that never really come together, and that green note is worrisome. (3/05)

Black Estate 2002 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – Slightly sweaty and horsy, with roasted raspberries and a powdery texture. This seems to be maturing rather quickly, and in a fairly odd fashion. (3/05)

Black Estate 2001 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – Balanced, with dark red fruit and gravel. The finish is elegant and pretty, though there’s eventually a drying element. Most of this wine’s qualities are exhibited around its exterior, as there’s a definite flattening on the midpalate. Good, but it’s fading quickly. (3/05)

Black Estate 2000 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – Rocks and sweat, with strawberry seeds dominated a shy nose. The palate is earth and sand, and it turns softly pretty on the finish. However, this is a very insubstantial wine. (3/05)

Black Estate 1999 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – More balanced and fuller than anything I’ve yet tasted, with soft red fruit that feels like cotton candy in the mouth (without the sweetness), earth and moderately-light, seed-like tannin. This is maturing nicely, and it’s by far the class of the lineup. (3/05)

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2003 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – Medium-bodied strawberry and walnut with raspberry and apple-crisp acidity. This is definitely more “Burgundian” than some recent vintages, and it’s delicious and appealing in its youthful fashion. (3/05)

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2001 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – Corked. (3/05)

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2001 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – Darker than the ’03, with strawberry seeds, dark plum and cherry. There’s a slightly soupy cast to the finish, and the tannin edges towards the green, but it’s still a pleasant wine. (3/05)

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2004 Pinot Noir (barrel sample, West Block, 10/5 clone) (Waipara) – Plum, black cherry and juicy, vivid red cherry. These were whole berries, allowed a chilled pre-fermentation maceration and resting on the skins for two weeks, with a natural fermentation, twice-daily punchdowns, and pumping. (3/05)

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2004 Pinot Noir (barrel sample, West Block, 10/5 clone, just pumped over) (Waipara) – Soupier and bigger, with a darker brow and more tannin (obviously). (3/05)

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2004 Pinot Noir (barrel sample, 114 clone) (Waipara) – Graphite-textured tannin and dark blackberry fruit. Slightly coarse, but deliciously so. This is a Dijon clone that’s popular in Burgundy, but (as of yet) one that hasn’t produced much of interest in the Pegasus Bay vineyards. Perhaps with time. (3/05)

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2004 Pinot Noir (barrel sample, 113 clone) (Waipara) – Chocolate and elegant dark plum, blackberry and blueberry. Long. Very fruit-dominated. (3/05)

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2004 Pinot Noir (barrel sample, UC Davis clone 6) (Waipara) – Fatter than other samples, showing medium- to full-bodied blueberry, spiced chocolate and vanilla. Perhaps it’s just particularly amenable to its aging vessel, because it does appear to be soaking up more wood aromatics than the other clones. (3/05)

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2004 Pinot Noir (barrel sample, Scott-Henry trellised 10/5 clone) (Waipara) – Complex and gorgeous, with a lovely texture. This shows true class and breeding. “Not that I’m really into Scott-Henry at all,” notes Lynette, “but [it’s] a really nice vineyard” that used to deliver huge tannin and fruit, but is now coming into balance. These, by the way, are the oldest vines on the property, and it shows. (3/05)

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2003 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon (Waipara) – Just bottled. Chewy black-and-blueberry with a dense, tannic, forceful palate and a medium-length finish. Quite good now, but its real strengths will come with age. This was just bottled, after spending 18 months in barrels (10-15% of them new). (3/05)

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2001 “Maestro” Merlot/Malbec (Waipara) – Blueberry and baked earth studded with walnuts, plus dark plum. The structure is just gorgeous, with ripe tannin and fine wood integration, though chocolate and vanilla do stand out a bit at this stage. The finish is ripe, showing oven-roasted blueberry, boysenberry and apple fading into a lovely, drying finish. Balanced and really, really good, with an excellent future. (3/05)

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2003 “Prima Donna” Pinot Noir (Waipara) – Black and red cherries, then strawberry and plum with soft, graphite-textured tannin. This wine is pure elegance and refinement, lithe and gorgeous as it caresses the palate, with a stupendous finish. Unbelievably good, and unquestionably one of the best pinots in all of New Zealand. (3/05)

Carrick 2003 Pinot Noir “Unraveled” (Central Otago) – Though this is the approachable, simple wine of the Carrick lineup, it’s got more varietal character and interest than many less dedicated producers’ top pinots. There’s bright, ripe red fruit and crisp plum with hints of rind and fresh acidity, plus dustings of earth. It’s lovely and fun, though the short finish does give a good indication of this wine’s future. Still, it serves its purpose with élan. (3/05)

Stonyridge 1996 “Larose” (Waiheke Island) – A truly complete wine, with developed and refined characteristics (yet only about halfway to maturity). There are dark berries, leather and walnuts with thick but ripe tannin and the distant aroma of roasting coffee beans. Excellently balanced and full-bodied, and unquestionably world-class. Perhaps one can quibble that its position amongst the pantheon brings with it little recognizable “Waiheke-ness” (though that might be too much to ask of such a young wine region, as so many wines from that island are either clumsy, green or overroasted), but it’s damned impressive nonetheless. (3/05)

Saddleback 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Light plum, strawberry blossom and red cherry, with sweeter plum notes emerging on the finish. Almost nice, but slightly stemmy, unfinished and underripe. This should be better. (3/05)

Peregrine 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Earth, dark plum and strawberry – a big-fruited wine with just a touch of syrup on the midpalate – given heft and direction by a brooding (yet crisp) structure so well-integrated that it almost escapes notice. Everything expands towards a beautiful finish; this is a lovely wine, with elegance and polish, and fine aging potential (though it will be very hard to avoid in the interim). (3/05)

Springvale Estate 2002 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Gentle plum and baked strawberry turn quickly bizarre, with bark, green olive sourness, and a sandy texture. This wine is light to the point of being watery, both insubstantial and insufficiently aromatic, and is shot through with a nasty green streak. No good. (3/05)

Springvale Estate 2001 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Dirty plum, raspberry, rotten strawberry and more of that green olive note, with tarry tannins and a syrupy texture that adds to an impression that the remaining fruit in this wine is starting to turn to liqueur. This is “better” than the 2002 only in the academic sense, and I’d avoid either version. (3/05)

Black Ridge “Conroy’s” 2004 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – An inexpensive wine meant to be an early- and easy-drinking pinot, except that it’s a little too easy. It’s juicy, perhaps even akin to a slightly flat soda, with light leafy flowers and a short finish. The still-bound CO2 eventually becomes a touch off-putting, but with enough chill this could be a decent quaffer on a hot summer day. (3/05)

Black Ridge 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Sour cherry on the nose, which expands to fuller, riper and fleshier plum, orange peel and earth aromas on the palate. There’s good structure, balance and length here, but the wine persistently tends towards tartness, and one wonders if the fruit will outlast the acidity. (3/05)

Black Ridge 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon (Central Otago) – This shows bell pepper, blackberry, black pepper and dark cherry with good structure, but despite the proprietor’s tremendous enthusiasm it’s just not all that interesting. It’s decent enough, and structured, and will age with all the qualities and problems it currently possesses, but there’s just no call for this wine, and no real purpose in its making other than to prove that it can (very occasionally) be done. (3/05)

Olssens 2001 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Better than the tasting room version, showing lightish strawberry and plum with medium-bodied earthiness and a fading structure. There are some hints of liqueur on the finish, and a vague sort of heat on the nose (though I wonder how much this is exacerbated by the heat in the accompanying food), but in the end the wine turns out to be quite accommodating with our cuisine. (3/05)

Rippon 2001 Pinot Noir (Lake Wanaka Central Otago) – Gravelly strawberry and cedar with higher-toned black fruit in the background. It’s lithe, with a powdery texture that clarifies on the finish. Lovely, though definitely second-tier vs. the greater region’s best offerings. (3/05)

Rippon 2000 Merlot/Syrah (Lake Wanaka Central Otago) – Sweaty blueberry and roasted black berry with chewy walnut bark. A little funky, too; rancid butter, perhaps. There’s sturdy tannin that definitely edges towards the underripe, but very little acidity, and this wine doesn’t appear to have much of a future. (3/05)

Central Otago Wine Cellar 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Lemongrass, red cherry, strawberry and the classic regional orange rind, with pretty good acidity. Fresh, fun and easy-drinking pinot. (3/05)

Dry Gully 2003 Pinot Noir (Alexandra) – Powdery chalk, strawberry leaf, banana skin and chewy celery over a bed of gravel. The tannin’s slightly underripe, leaving the wine with a bitter aftertaste, and overall it’s depressingly light. (3/05)

Two Paddocks 2003 Pinot Noir “First Paddock” (Gibbston) – A fine effort, with elegant strawberry, plum, raspberry, red cherry and orange with very slightly touchy tannin and a long, zingy finish. Tasty stuff. (3/05)

Quartz Reef 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Dark, brooding, extremely structured and saddled with leather notes. Strong and forceful, yet well-built. An excellent expression of a fuller-bodied form of Central Otago pinot, which…as others have noted…is not that hard to achieve, given decent weather. (3/05)

Rockburn 2004 Pinot Noir (barrel sample) (Central Otago) – Dark plum, firm and ripe with lots of structure. But, it’s balanced and quite nice. (3/05)

Pisa Range 2004 Pinot Noir (barrel sample) (Central Otago) – Dried flower petals, celery and earth with darker-toned red and black licorice, yet more refined than either of the previously-tasted pinots. (3/05)

Quartz Reef 2004 Pinot Noir (barrel sample) (Central Otago) – Assemblage #1, showing blueberry, plum and other, bigger and leafier fruit. Strong, but short-finishing and just a bit goopy. (3/05)

Quartz Reef 2004 Pinot Noir (barrel sample) (Central Otago) – Assemblage #2, still sitting on eggs from its recent fining. Here, we have blackberry, plum and black cherry with graphite-like structure. Huge, but complex and absolutely stunning. (3/05)

Quartz Reef 2004 Pinot Noir (barrel sample) (Central Otago) – Assemblage #3, a/k/a “Shrek.” A massive wall of tannin and other structural elements, with penetrating dark blackberry, black cherry, blueberry and boysenberry. Drying and chewy, with massive tannin omnipresent on the finish. (3/05)

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. (3/05)

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. (3/05)

Carrick 2002 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – 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. (3/05)

Bannockburn Heights “Akarua” 2003 Pinot Noir “The Gullies” (Central Otago) – A barrel selection despite the geographical-sounding name, with just 5% new wood and done in an upfront, early-drinking style. Perhaps extremely so: sharp strawberry and fresh red cherry with a rasp of slightly bitter tannin make this a wine very obviously for the now. Only just OK. (3/05)

Bannockburn Heights “Akarua” 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Smooth black cherry, plum and earth (it’s striking how easily these Central Otago pinots move into the black fruit realm), with its own very slightly underripe tannin, but showing much longer and more intense with superior overall structure. It will never be great, but it’s certainly very good, and has aging potential. (3/05)

Mt. Difficulty “Roaring Meg” 2002 Merlot (Central Otago) – Barely acceptable, showing chewy baked plum, brown sugar and drying tannin with a gummy pecan paste and peach stone finish. Boil it down, you’ve got a nice and not-too-sweet dessert topping. (3/05)

Mt. Difficulty 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – A multi-vineyard blend, initially dominated by mercaptans but eventually presenting itself as strawberry, earthy walnut, and chunky black loam with some structure and more than a bit of youthful truculence. Long and interesting, but not for early drinking. (3/05)

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. (3/05)

Olssens 2001 Pinot Noir “Jackson Barry” (Central Otago) – Lovely, if sour, plum and citrus characteristics do battle with strange acidity (not its presence, but its aspect, which is just…I don’t know, somehow inexplicably off) and some stemminess to the finish. Just OK, and a bit of a letdown vs. a slightly superior bottle tasted at The Bunker. (3/05)

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. (3/05)

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. (3/05)

Felton Road 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Richly-flavored, with strawberry, light tannin and smoky graphite in beautiful balance. Elegant, long and luscious; both pure and expressive yet intense enough to be clearly of its place. (3/05)

Felton Road 2003 Pinot Noir Block 3 (Central Otago) – A stronger nose, showing more exotic Asian-influenced aromas…especially including star anise. More structured than the regular bottling, with both smooth tannin and firm acidity, lots of earth and an intriguing bitter orange seed note. Complex and long, with great ageability. (3/05)

Felton Road 2004 Pinot Noir (tank sample) (Central Otago) – Ten days from being bottled, and just barely done with its malolactic fermentation, showing sweet red fruit, plum, and slightly hard tannin. (3/05)

Fromm “La Strada” 2001 Pinot Noir (Marlborough) – This winery steadfastly maintains its allegiance to tree bark, and I suspect that this bottle has fallen victim to a very mild case of cork taint. It’s an indefinitive enough call that I choose not to exchange the wine, but this bottle definitely does not perform up to expectations, and ultimately I regret my reticence; at the very least, a consultation with the wine-savvy proprietor would have been worth the effort. The nose weaves in and out of a moody truculence that doesn’t entire mask the quality within: dark, heavily-structured black soil and leather with black fruit, and a finish showing lighter red berries and floral notes. Crisp acidity brings this rather deep wine back into the universe of pinot, but all-in-all it’s a very difficult bottle, and should perform much better in an intact state. (2/05)

Rockburn 2002 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Classic C.O. plum, spice and citrus (at least, these are my personal keynotes to the regions’ pinots) with earth and a good deal of underlying intensity pumped up by well-integrated structure. Full-bodied and almost vibrating with hidden power, yet on the palate it’s light and lithe enough to be unmistakably pinot noir. A fine, worthy effort, with excellent aging potential. (2/05)

Peacock Ridge 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec/Merlot/Cabernet Franc (Waiheke Island) – More generous than the night before (see immediately below), showing a Bordeaux-like nose of leather, cedar, blackberry and cassis with a gorgeous aromatic presence. There’s still just a touch of chocolate and coffee on the palate, and it is perhaps a bit underfruited vs. the structure (which is impressive), but overall it’s unquestionably a firm, masculine and largely balanced wine with a great deal of potential. Look for great things from this winery in the future. (2/05)

Peacock Ridge 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec/Merlot/Cabernet Franc (Waiheke Island) – As with my previous bottle from this winery, things are very tightly-wound at first. And yet, even through the surliness, one can see the inherently high quality: the wine is classically Bordelais (though on the riper side of that paradigm) while still being unmistakably not of Bordeaux, showing dried cassis, blackberry, tobacco and cedar with a firm, tannic structure. The only differentiator aside from the ripeness – and it’s a mild and possibly inconsequential one – is a coffee/espresso dust note on the palate. Anyway, it’s hardly open for business – more like curious bystanding and gawking – so I recork it and leave it at room temperature, to be reexamined another day. (2/05)

Chard Farm 2003 Pinot Noir “River Run” (Central Otago) – Blended and pleasant red fruit with hints of black cherry and plum, light- to medium-bodied, short and fairly innocuous. Fine, I guess, and while there’s nothing wrong with it… (2/05)

Chard Farm 2003 Pinot Noir “River Run” (Central Otago) – Balanced, with strawberry, plum, citrus, and chewy nut aromas. Ripe and nice, and it might be a touch better in a year or two; don’t hold it any longer than that, however. (2/05)

Chard Farm 2002 Pinot Noir “Finla Mor” (Central Otago) – Darker-fruited than the previous wine, though still with a little brightening red cherry, and a lot more earth. Unfortunately, the tannin is slightly underripe, giving this a green tinge that only worsens on the longish finish. There’s potential here, but it’s unrealized. (2/05)

Chard Farm 2003 Pinot Noir Sugarloaf (Central Otago) – A site-specific pinot from just north of Cromwell (though not from a single vineyard, as such), with strawberry, raspberry and cranberry forming a fairly tart core around which is sprinkled with a disconcerting sift of powdered sugar. Sharp and attenuated. (2/05)

Gibbston Valley 2002 Pinot Noir “Gold River” (Central Otago) – Slightly cardboardy, with red cherry syrup, rubber, and plastic/synthetic notes. Juicy yet overly simple, with a dull Styrofoam sheen on the finish. I’d call this wine horribly flawed. (2/05)

Gibbston Valley 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – A shy nose heralds an elegant, ripe, and structured wine that shows strawberry jam, light fig notes, and cloves. The finish is plummy, with good supporting acidity and a light, middleweight character. Nice wine, and nicely ageable. (2/05)

Gibbston Valley 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Balanced and structured, showing darker plum fruit under the influence of my somewhat aggressive food, with orange rind and a light earthiness supported by mild tannin. Tasty. (2/05)

Amisfield “Lake Hayes” 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – From a blend of four clones. Big and spicy, showing black cherry, sour rhubarb and plum, with good acid and smooth character. Easy-drinking, perhaps even a bit thick, but finishes relatively nicely. (2/05)

Amisfield 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Entirely from Cromwell fruit. Thicker than the previous wine, showing peat, cedar, mixed cherries, and a slightly lurid fragrance similar to that of potpourri. Smooth, soft tannin detracts only via a light bitterness. Decent enough pinot, for near- to midterm drinking. (2/05)

Olssens 2002 Pinot Noir “Jackson Barry” (Central Otago) – This shows very dark fruit – mostly black cherry, plum and blackberry – with lots of fetid/organic black earth and a mélange of fresh and dried morels. Wound up at first, this slowly unravels with air, which has both positive and negative consequences. It’s quite interesting in a very slightly surly sort of Russian River Valley fashion, but it never really shows the potential for additional complexity. The finish is good…rough, but balanced…and perhaps it just needs more time. (2/05)

Sanctuary 2002 Pinotage/Pinot Noir (Marlborough) – This does not the herald the future of Marlborough viticulture. The pinot portion of the fruit is a fluffed up, bringing some lighter red berries into the mix, but the wine is dominated by bitter tannin and a strong paint thinner/nail polish character, giving the wine a varnish-like texture. Worse, it’s more combative than complimentary with the food. I just don’t think this blend is a good idea, especially if the pinotage isn’t exactly of the highest quality. (2/05)

Morton Estate 2002 Pinot Noir (Hawke’s Bay) – Light and fruity, showing strawberry, red plum, and raspberry sharpened by a juicy acidity. The tannin, while light, is somewhat raspy, and the wine’s balance is much improved by food. Still, it’s a fun quaff, and good enough given the circumstances. (2/05)

Peacock Ridge 2002 Merlot “Reserve” (Waiheke Island) – I approach tasting this with some trepidation. I’m not exactly a merlot fanatic, and the word “reserve” fills me with all sorts of horrible visions of over-extraction, over-oaking, and over-fruiting. Yet at first sniff, the wine shows none of those characteristics, and in fact none of any other characteristics either. Tighter than a drum, it is. With a lot of encouraging swirling and decanting back and forth between the bottle and a flower vase (one must make do with the tools at hand), it emerges from hiding…and then blossoms. Soft, rich, ripe fruit with smoky tobacco elements pair with a dusty, silky, but still firm textural component to the structure that plays out on a medium-long finish. A serious, adult approach to this often silly grape, with real interest and the beginnings of complexity. Very, very nicely done. The wine is still firm enough, however, that we put it aside for later consideration. From the next day: After a dozen hours of room-temperature oxidation, the oak has started to dominate the fading fruit, but it’s still a structured and ageable wine, and given better treatment should reward the patient. (2/05)

Cairnbrae Rd. Vineyard “Carrick” 2002 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Tannic at first, it opens up quickly and powerfully, showing rich, slightly roasted red cherry, tomato skin, earthy loam, sand, graphite and drying fall leaves. Excellently balanced, with stunning complexity, grip, and waves of hidden power for the time it remains open. It recedes beneath its tannin after about an hour and a quarter. This is a stunning effort. (2/05)

Mudbrick 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon (barrel sample) (Waiheke Island) – Fragrant leaves and bright blueberry/blackberry fruit infused with cassis and somewhat more exotic notes of mango. There’s also rosemary and black dirt providing a bridge to a ripe, yet solid structure. An outstanding sample, but of course as of yet it’s only a sample. (2/05)

Mudbrick 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon (barrel sample) (Waiheke Island) – From a block of vines near the winery. Softer than the above wine, showing blueberry, walnut, soft and drying tannin, and an ungenerous, slightly short finish. This definitely needs the above component more than the reverse, though if one wants to avoid fruit-bomb cabernet, the opposite could easily be argued. And, in fact, probably will be at blending time. (2/05)

Mudbrick 2004 Pinot Noir (Marlborough) – Sweet plum and fragrant strawberry with graphite notes and an excellent balance of structural tannin and acidity. One of the better Marlborough pinots I’ve tasted (though not in the league of, say, Fromm). (2/05)

Mudbrick 2003 Pinot Noir (Nelson) – An interesting South Island comparison to the previous wine, albeit from a different vintage. Sweeter and prettier than the Marlborough pinot, showing leafy tarragon and a stony, delicate, fine-grained texture. Really lovely. While both pinots are excellent, the latter is unquestionably more refined, the former more powerful. (2/05)

Mudbrick 2004 Syrah (barrel sample) (Waiheke Island) – Resinous, gummy blueberry and leather – this is thick – with good balance and a polished finish. Solid. The final blend is assembled from a mixture of new and old French oak. (2/05)

Mudbrick 2004 Merlot (barrel sample) (Waiheke Island) – From new American oak. Burnt coconut, light dill, big blue- and blackberry with chewy, leathery tannin. Not bad, though obviously (as these things will be) marked by the wood in which it sits. (2/05)

Mudbrick 2004 Merlot (barrel sample) (Waiheke Island) – From older French oak. Sweeter than the above wine, showing blueberry, plum, great acidity, and a beautiful overall balance. Barrel-specific tastings are so interesting. (2/05)

Passage Rock 2003 “Sisters” (Waiheke Island) – A blend of the cabernets, merlot, and malbec, showing leafy, dirt-flecked mint, blueberry, and an odd tar/asphalt note that heralds hard, somewhat bitter tannins full of nut shells and skins. Cranky and difficult. (2/05)

Passage Rock 2002 “Forte” (Waiheke Island) – Merlot, the cabernets, and malbec given a gutsier cellar regimen to produce a bigger, more ageable result. I often prefer earlier-drinking cuvées because of the lavish oak and upswellings of fruit in their “bigger” brethren, but here the reverse is unquestionably the case. Tight, dense and chewy, with a firm, tobacco-scented texture and lots of that ever-compelling (to me, at least) graphite, showing blueberry, blackberry, black cherry, cassis and walnut amidst all the structure. A terrific wine with plenty of aging potential. (2/05)

Passage Rock 2003 “Forté” (Waiheke Island) – Ever the nitpicker, I ask (winemaker) Evans Gander why the ’03 has an accent while the ’02 does not. This, it appears, has never been asked of him before. He studies the bottles with hunched brow, uttering the occasional “hmph.” Finally: “I never noticed that before.” Well, it’s no big deal, but he obviously pays more attention to the winemaking than the labels, which is to the good. Here, we’ve got a just-bottled wine that’s still shaking off some of the rust. Mixed herbs, dirt, blackberry soda and peanut butter are apparent, with more soda notes on the finish; it’s much softer than the ‘02 throughout the palate, then hardens on the finish. One would be inclined to write this off as far inferior to its older sibling, but then these are very early days, and it’s best to wait for bottle shock to wear off before saying anything definitive. (2/05)

Passage Rock 2004 Syrah (barrel sample) (Waiheke Island) – Just racked, but showing better than such wines often do, with leathery blueberry, minted apple, and competing bites of acidity and tannin. Excellent raw materials in search of their potential. (2/05)

Passage Rock 2003 Syrah (Waiheke Island) – My goodness, what a textbook syrah: blackberry, leather, lavender, some mild herbality, and pepper on the finish. A lovely balance and more of that enticing, graphite-like texture make this a stupendous wine that will age very well, but will be painfully hard to avoid in the interim. (2/05)

Passage Rock 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon (barrel sample) (Waiheke Island) – Mid-racking, and again showing better than one might expect. Spiced nutmeg and close, thick black cherry and blueberry, and exciting, graphite tannin and ripe, dense, almost sweet tones to the finish. Powerful and enticing stuff. (2/05)

Kennedy Point 2002 Merlot (Waiheke Island) – Actually a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, malbec, and cabernet franc. There’s plum, blueberry, and walnut with lots of barrel spice – nutmeg and smoked vanilla, primarily – but it’s imbalanced between fruit and tannin, and a bit over-oaked as well. (2/05)

Kennedy Point 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon (Waiheke Island) – Herbed liquor, rosemary and walnut with big greenish tannins. There’s plenty of structure, but it’s not exactly good structure…and it’s not holding much of anything together, either. (2/05)

Kennedy Point 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon (Waiheke Island) – Lots of thyme and sorrel, with peppered almonds and a soft underbelly. A lazy, underripe wine. (2/05)

Stonyridge 2004 Malbec/Franc (Waiheke Island) – “Potentially our worst batch of wine,” offers McKenzie. Quite the sales push. Nonetheless, I both see and don’t see what he means: there are rosemary-dominated herbs, roughed-up black fruit, and tar braced by great acidity in this very rustic witches’ brew. A tough slog for those in search of elegance, perhaps, but surely this is superior to the somewhat boring Church Bay chardonnay. (2/05)

Stonyridge 2004 Malbec Viña del Mar (barrel sample) (Waiheke Island) – Viña del Mar is a hot, steep vineyard near Onetangi Beach, and these grapes are vinified in American oak. The wine is intensely dark, showing concentrated dark berries and citrus with chewy, peanut butter-textured tannin. (2/05)

Stonyridge 2002 “Larose” (Waiheke Island) – The Larose (formerly Larose Cabernets, though it’s actually a full Bordeaux-style blend of cabernet sauvignon, malbec, petit verdot, merlot, and cabernet franc that leans much more heavily on malbec than most other blends of its type) is the top wine at Stonyridge, and the one on which their reputation is largely based; its source vineyards get plenty of attention, with narrow rows, close planting, organic agriculture, under-vine weeding only, and reasonably low yields. I tasted this from barrel a few years ago, so I’m eager to revisit the released version, which McKenzie cautions is from a “lesser vintage.” Big and rich, with blueberries and other dangling red/purple fruit, tobacco, rosemary, black dirt, and notes of espresso-infused chocolate on the finish. The palate is juicy and complex, with great acidity, and the long finish shows a fine-grained, dusty quality. Structured and terrific. (2/05)

Stonyridge 2002 “Larose” (Waiheke Island) – Corked. (2/05)

Stonyridge 2004 Franc/Pinotage (barrel sample) (Waiheke Island) – Shy on the nose, showing dense blackberry, rosemary, and chunks of black dirt. A chewy wine, and not for the faint of heart. (2/05)

Stonyridge 2004 “Larose” (barrel sample) (Waiheke Island) – 80-90% new oak, 50% cabernet sauvignon, 15% petit verdot, plus the rest of the aforementioned gang o’ grapes. Chocolate-covered mixed berries, fragrant tobacco, and a mélange of earths. Long and balanced, showing good potential. (2/05)

Te Motu 2002 Cabernet/Merlot “Dunleavy” (Waiheke Island) – Balanced black cherry and chocolate, with a decently long finish. Simple but pleasant now, yet with enough structure for mid-term development. (2/05)

Te Motu 2001 Cabernet/Merlot “Dunleavy” (Waiheke Island) – Herbs, coffee, dark plum, and bitter chocolate which turns milkier on the finish. Somewhat goopy, with clumsy, tobacco-scented oak. (2/05)

Te Motu 2000 Cabernet/Merlot “Te Motu” (Waiheke Island) – Not, at the time of tasting, yet released for sale. There’s a lot of dirt here – ash, black dirt, coal – and that ashen note carries all the way through the finish, as if the fire on the nearby hillside had somehow gotten into the bottle. There’s also rosemary and dirty leaves, a lush but underripe and anonymous fruit character, and pretty decent acidity, but this wine just isn’t quite where it needs to be. Some more time in the bottle might help, but underripeness is underripeness. (2/05)

Te Motu 1999 Cabernet/Merlot “Te Motu” (Waiheke Island) – This wine, swirled, coats the interior of the glass in rough droplets; something I’ve never seen before. It’s not the glass, because Theresa’s responds exactly the same way. This the best of the tasting, showing bright cherry, ripe strawberry, soft tannin and a fruit-forward, medium-bodied balance that lingers and expands on the finish. A fine effort with good upside potential. (2/05)

Te Motu 1998 Cabernet/Merlot “Te Motu” (Waiheke Island) – Goopy and slightly burnt, with underripe green leaves marring big, lush blueberry flavors and an enticing graphite-textured finish. Neither balanced nor together. Maybe it’s just an awkward middle age, but I suspect not. (2/05)

Te Motu 1997 Cabernet/Merlot “Te Motu” (Waiheke Island) – Ash and thyme-flavored candy, with ripe plum and the first stirrings of maturing fruit, including black cherry-drizzled smoked leaves. Tannin still lingers, but this wine is softening into form. (2/05)

Felton Road 1999 Pinot Noir Block 5 (Central Otago) – A pinot of a different color. Chocolate-covered cherries, orange rind, grey soil and big acidity with lots of emergent peat and clay on the finish. Felton Road produces some of the most restrained examples of high-end pinot in the Central Otago, and yet this wine is a lot heavier and more forward than the St. Innocent. But it’s no less good, just different – Beaune to Nuits, Willamette to RRV to Central Coast, whatever paradigm one wishes to invoke – and, unlike the previous wine, well short of maturity. (2/05)

Esk Valley 2002 Merlot/Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon “Reserve” (Hawke’s Bay) – Smoky plum and baked espresso dust scented with vanilla and bitter milk chocolate. The finish turns to blackberry and thus more obvious acidity, with ripe, slightly herbal tannin for support. I will never love these grapes as much as I love pinot, but here is a fine, well-made, balanced but unquestionably New World (though cooler-climate) take on a Bordeaux-style blend. It does have that faint hint of greenness that will turn off those looking for gobs, but entice those looking for complexity beyond the thuddingly obvious headache of fruit and oak. (2/05)

Trinity Hill 2003 Tempranillo Gimblett Gravels (Hawke’s Bay) – New Zealand winemakers work from a very limited palette of grapes. From region to region, winery to winery, one finds so many of the same grapes (vinified with the same profiles in mind) that a certain ennui is inescapable. No doubt the market has much to do with this state of affairs, but one hopes that as the industry moves inexorably towards maturity, new varietal horizons may be reached by some adventurous winemakers.

Yet, thankfully, not all New Zealand wines taste the same. The most obvious separator of all these identi-grapes is winemaking, but also at work are the first stirrings of terroir. It’s hard to identify much of the signature of the land when a vineyard site is still in its teens (and an entire region, like Marlborough, is barely in its thirties), but some sites are older than others, and certain things may be said, or at least theorized, by those with viticultural and/or tasting experience. Mistakes will undoubtedly be made along the way, winemaking will continue to obscure and obliterate terroir, and marketing will wield its nefarious influence (putting brand identity ahead of site identity), but the attempt to identify emergent site-specificity is an absolutely necessary step in the development of New Zealand as a world-class wine producing country. The Gimblett Gravels are, along with the much more controversial Martinborough Terrace, early steps in that direction.

This wine, however, doesn’t do much to advance either notion. Raw plum, strawberry and rosemary are rather dominated by volatile acidity and goopy chocolate. It’s dark and juicy, but there’s just too much wrong with it. Points for effort, but a barely honorable mention for execution. (2/05)

Passage Rock 2002 “Sisters” (Waiheke Island) – A blend of the cabernets, merlot, and malbec, but frankly it shows as if there’s a heavy dose of syrah in the blend (there’s not). In any case, it’s slightly gobby at the moment, with thick, dark blackberry, boysenberry, and plum dressed with vanilla and richly spiced oak. While this clearly needs time, it’s not entirely promising and may be too weighty for its own good. (2/05)

Goldwater 2001 Cabernet/Merlot Wood’s Hill (Waiheke Island) – Despite almost overwhelming kindness from the Goldwaters on a previous visit to their winery, the more wines that I taste, the less I like this estate. They’ve got an unquestioned local history and the respect that comes with being pioneers, and they also have an unquestioned collection of variably solid efforts behind them, but it seems that they’re being surpassed by better work at a growing number of Waiheke wineries. I’m not quite sure what the problem is, but it’s a shame given their reputation. Anyway, this wine shows mostly ripe cedar, cassis, and blueberry in a firm, balanced package. The finish is rich, but the midpalate that precedes it is a touch watery. A structure necessary for further development is clearly there, yet the weak midpalate is a minor flaw that will only grow in magnitude and importance with age. Put it in the cellar, I think, but with a wary eye on its development. (2/05)

Onetangi Road 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Malbec (Waiheke Island) – Herbed liquor, strawberry, red cherry, and ripe plum with nicely-balanced but hard tannin; too hard for the fruit. Good for short-term cellaring, but the tannin needs to be softer, and that isn’t going to happen here. (2/05)

Onetangi Road 2000 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon (Waiheke Island) – Much richer than the previous wine, with plumy fruit and some buttery notes. Maturing quickly, and already starting to show soft roasted fruit characteristics; one could ask why a 2000 red is already headed for the downslope, or one could just enjoy it as a simple, yet tasty, dinner red. I’ll choose the latter, and leave the questions for the winemaker. (2/05)

Onetangi Road 1999 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon (Waiheke Island) – A little more herbal than the 2000, with blueberry, dark plum skins, and more tannin. Slightly underripe, and thus brighter, and longer than the previous wine, but while it will age longer I think the 2000 is a more drinkable wine, at least at the moment. The underripe notes, however, are worrisome and indicate against positive future development. (2/05)

Onetangi Road 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Malbec “Reserve” (Waiheke Island) – Smooth and balanced plum and tight, dark, tarry tannin with some unfortunate dill aromas. Hard and structured. It’s not particularly compelling right now, but one wonders if it will develop well with that pickle component. (2/05)

Onetangi Road 2000 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon (Waiheke Island) – A touch soupy, but good, showing ripe red fruit and blueberries with lots of spicy melted chocolate oak. It’s interesting how food brings out the wood in this wine, which faded into the background at the tasting room; it’s an effect that I think catches a lot of un-cautious tasters by surprise. While there’s decent balance for this particular blend, it leans a bit towards the low-acid (no shock, really). I find this bottle to be a bit better than the tasting room version, despite the more prominent oak, but while it remains quite drinkable, it also remains nothing special. (2/05)

Berridge 2002 Pinot Noir Drystone (Central Otago) – Orange rind, bitter plum liqueur and slightly dried cherry, concentrated but still medium-bodied. There’s good acidity and a little more structure on the ripe cherry, chocolate, and rhubarb finish, but that finish is a bit short, and dulls to a thin veneer of tar. This is characterful pinot noir, but not all the characters are equally well-drawn. (8/04)

s w e e t  ,  f o r t i f i e d  &  u n u s u a l

Daniel Schuster 2004 “Late Harvest” Riesling Hull Family (Waipara) – Shy, with sweet green apple and a milky texture. It’s very sweet, and while it gives the appearance of concentration, there’s not actually all that much that’s being concentrated. The wine quickly crescendos, then just as quickly decrescendos…it’s all build-up, with no subsequent explosion. The finish is long, tart and vibrating. It’s OK, but definitely not up to the standards of the rest of the portfolio. (3/07)

Sileni “Estate Selection” 2004 “Late Harvest” Semillon (Hawke’s Bay) – Pleasant sweetness layered with light green apple, kiwifruit, apple skin, and ripe tangerine…and there’s just enough acid to make it work. (1/06)

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 1999 “Finale” (Waipara) – Creamy sweet tangerine, orange, spicy wood and noble rot influences, and a luscious balance and texture. (12/05)

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 1999 “Finale” (Waipara) – Late-harvest, botrytized, oak-aged chardonnay, and one of those revelatory wines (like Maculan’s Torcolato) that almost make me reconsider my oft-stated preference for cleaner, no-new-oak stickies. Sweet spiced peach and sweet lemon, densely creamy apricot, unbelievable waves of spice, and Calimyrna fig with a milky, creamy finish. Stunning. (11/05)

Glover’s 1997 Riesling “Late Harvest” (Richmond) – A sub-region of greater Nelson, on the north coast of New Zealand’s South Island, and from one of the most iconoclastic producers I’ve ever met, anywhere. This bottle was label-free when purchased, and given the general disorganization at this “estate” (visit and you’ll understand the implication of the quotes), there very well may be a whole bunch more of it. If you’re in the area, buy a case…and save me a bottle. All fierce acidity and pine needles at first, even a bit watery, but with warmth and air filling out to ripe apple cider and ultra-intense, thick fruit-minerality and a consistency akin to high-acid corn syrup. Long, sharp, and well-balanced, this is one of the best Antipodean rieslings I’ve ever tasted. (11/05)

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2004 “Aria” Riesling (Waipara) – Pineapple, sweet lemon and a crisp, elegant, drying finish of medium length. This should be better in a few years, but it’s quite primary now. (3/05)

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2004 “Encore” Riesling (Waipara) – Very intense, with crystallized peach, quince and apricot. It’s exquisitely sweet, but balanced by sharp, crisp acidity, and finishes long and poised. Beautiful, ageable, and a true masterwork. (3/05)

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2003 “Finale” Chardonnay (Waipara) – Just bottled. Silky-textured, showing spiced citrus, peach and apple pie. The finish is clean and crisp with acidity. Terrific. (3/05)

Olssens 2002 “Late Harvest” Riesling “Desert Gold” (Central Otago) – Petrol, lemon rind, dense sweet apple and Greengage plum, with wet chalk and a building fullness on the palate, plus good acidity. However, it fades on the finish to leave a slightly sludgy impression. 2/3 of a terrific wine. (3/05)

Black Ridge 2003 Gewürztraminer “Late Harvest” (Central Otago) – 20 grams of residual sugar. This wine, which is no more overtly sweet than the basic bottling, shows nice spiced apple and roses with a bitter-sour lychee, pear and peach midpalate that manages to hold into the finish. There’s good intensity here, and the only major flaw is…well, to be indelicate, a sort of “foot cheese” aroma that emerges as the wine warms in the glass. Still, if one can ignore this characteristic, there’s at least potential here. (3/05)

Passage Rock 2004 “Finé” (Waiheke Island) – A semi-dessert wine made from raisined cabernet sauvignon grapes. Like pinot noir/pinotage blends, I don’t foresee this as the next big wine trend, either. Hugely volatile (of course; it seem inevitable with sweet reds), with the baked red/black fruit and chocolate profile of warm-weather cabernets from pretty much everywhere. Aromatically (minus the VA) I might have pegged it as Chilean, or as some anonymous Southeastern Australian megacorp red, but of course the palate gives it away as something different almost instantly…there, it tastes more like a Central Coast pinot noir. No, I’m not really kidding; it’s only perfunctorily sweet, and reminds me a little of the Kosta Browne lineup. Thumbs up for uniqueness, I guess, but I’m sure there are better uses for cabernet grapes. (2/05)

Pegasus Bay 2000 “Finale” (Waipara) – From 375 ml. This late-harvest, nobly-rotted chardonnay is practically a category unto itself; others exist, but virtually none rise to this level. Crisp green apple dusted with cinnamon and nutmeg intermingles with dried peach, richly-spiced botrytis and oak zingers, and terrific, lightening acidity. A marvelous, paradigm-defining wine. (2/05)

Church Road 1999 “Noble” Semillon “Reserve” (Hawke’s Bay) – All the rich, candied fig and lush peach/pear syrup you’d want from a wine of this style, with layered cinnamon and oak spice. Still, the acidity is a bit spiky, and the finish thin enough that the overall impression is considerably more watery than the initial texture would indicate. This wine is almost where it should be, but one suspects that a little more concentration on the fruit (vs. reliance on the externals of botrytis and oak) would improve matters. Still, it’s a good effort and a fun dessert wine. (2/05)

Wishart 2003 “Late Harvest” Chardonnay (Hawke’s Bay) – Crisply acidic, but overly light, dull and boring. (2/05)

Johanneshof 2001 Riesling Auslese (Marlborough) – Massive acidity is completely and oddly separated from thick, lemon, apple and lime leaf fruit with a cardboardy texture. More strange than good at this stage, but a few years in the cellar will probably help. (2/05)

Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 1999 “Finale” (Waipara) – Corked. (8/04)

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