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Central Otago 2002 Pinot Noir Challenge – 24th August 2011


Following my early mention of this tasting on WordPress  last year here is a summary of the wines tasted.

The team of Appellation Central Queenstown wine guides got together for a much anticipated tasting of the 2002 Pinot Noirs. We were delighted to share the occasion with pioneering winemaker, Alan Brady, and founder of Gibbston Valley Wines, Mt Edward Wines and now Wild Irishman.

2002 was a great Central Otago vintage with many of the wines on release showed great structure, deep colour and full tannins, all good signs for aging. In the subsequent years questions were raised about the longevity of the vintage and expectations that some of the wines would peak early.

There has also been plenty of discussion on aging potential of Central Otago Pinot Noirs. Many local cellar door staff will talk in terms of 5 to 8 years, few will boldly talk 10 years plus. The reality is the jury is still out whether Central Otago Pinot Noirs can improve with age beyond a decade.

Nine years on from 2002 we lined six of the best wines of the 2002 vintage for a super challenge. In selecting the wines we also tried to have representations from several of

The great 2002 Pinot Noir Challenge

the different sub-regions of Central Otago – specifically Alexandra, East and West Bannockburn and Gibbston.

The wines in the order we tasted them blind with our average scores –

  • Akarua – Air NZ Trophy winner – 18/20
  • Olssens Slapjack Creek – Multi golds – faulty
  • Gibbston Valley Reserve – Multi golds – 17.5/20
  • Felton Road Block 5 – 17.5/20
  • Black Ridge (Oldest vines in line up) 16/20 (slightly oxidized)
  • Valli (Gibbston) – 18.5/20
  • Mt Edward – 18/20

The verdict:

Two of the wines (both under cork) were faulty reducing actual lineup to Akarua, Gibbston Valley, Felton Road and Valli. These four wine all impressed the panel and it was noted how alive they all were. Not only did the wines have good tannin and acid structure but they had that key ingredients for age worthiness.

First up the Akarua set a very high standard. The wine was a very dark garnet colour with a faded reddish rim, the nose leaped out of the glass with opulent brambly, earthy characters and underlying warm spices. The palate had a gorgeous, rich creamy texture with beautiful fruit sweetness still evident and a finished that lingered on and on. Drinking superbly and will keep developing for another 5 years at this rate!

Gibbston Valley Reserve was another dark coloured wine with a much more brick coloured rim showing more signs of its age, however the nose had a wonderful alluring spiciness and was evidently still quite lively and fresh. A beautifully balanced wine, lean and elegant.

The Felton Road Block 5 lived up to its cult reputation – initial impression was a lively, fresh nose of red berries, on revisiting the wine revealed violets and an underlying forest floor character. The palate was mouth filling and velvety with complex flavours of red fruits, warm spices and dark chocolate.

The Black Ridge was slightly oxidized but still hinted at its potential with sweet spices and a leathery nose and quite a forward palate of red fruits and spices.

Valli was the star of the line up edging out the others as the team favourite. The wine had a developed, pronounced nose of wild thyme, prunes, spices and smoky tar. Very rich and up front the palate was lively with rich dark plums and black cherries still evident, and some gorgeous developed leather, liquorice characters. A well balanced wine with great length and potential to continue developing with further age.

PS. Mt Edward 2002 Pinot Noir came in as a late edition courtesy of our guest for the night,  Alan Brady. The Mt Edward was a remarkably refined wine and showed a beautiful level of elegance  that made me look forward to the few older Mt Edwards still in the cellar.


Philip Green,

UK WSET and founder of Appellation Central Wine Tours, Queenstown

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