2008 Rippon, Mature Vine Pinot Noir
The mountainous Central Otago region on the South Island of New Zealand is an extremely young wine region, but in a short period of time has become known as one of the most promising new places to grow world class Pinot Noir. Rolfe and Lois Mills were among the earliest pioneers in the area, first planting experimental vines on their Rippon farm on Lake Wanaka in 1974, but their first Pinot Noir was produced only in 1989. In 2002, their son Nick returned home and took over as winemaker after four years studying in Burgundy at such esteemed houses as Confuron and Romanee-Conti. Their 30 acres are divided into two vineyards. Emma’s Block faces eastward on the lake front where ancient clay reefs run laterally through the schist gravels. Tinker’s Field is a gentle north facing slope formed by an ancient ejection cone of coarse schist. Both vineyards are farmed biodynamically, with no use of herbicides, fungicides, pesticides or nitrogen fertilizers. While single vineyard wines are made, this Pinot is a blend of the oldest vines from both vineyards, drawing elegance and liveliness from the “feminine” Emma’s Block and focus and power from the “masculine” Tinker’s Field. It’s simply one of the best and most complex non-Burgundy Pinots we’ve tasted in a long time, and that’s why we’re pouring it as a special treat at our New Zealand tasting on June 13. Jancis Robinson has called it “grown-up, sophisticated, the most complex Kiwi Pinot I have ever tasted – and certainly the driest and purest.” There’s no question it will develop even further for another eight to ten years in the cellar. It is $57, which is a great value compared to both Burgundy and Oregon, and we do have more available.
2011 Abadia Retuerta, Le Domaine Blanco de Guarda
If Central Otago is relatively unfamiliar to most American wine consumers, the great Spanish winery Abadia Retuerta is almost completely unknown. Unlike Lopez Heredia in Rioja or Vega Sicilia in Ribera del Duero, it is headquartered in a twelfth-century monastery near a tiny village, Sardon del Duero, which is just outside the official border of the Ribera del Duero appellation. Founded relatively recently, in 1996, Abadia has been known mostly for its complex, earthy Tempranillos. The vineyards rise 2,000 to 2,500 feet above the river, and the soils are a heterogeneous mix of sand, clay, gravel, and limestone. While it’s very hot in the daytime, cool nights give the grapes a chance to ripen properly. This wine, the first white ever released by Abadia Retuerta, developed from ten years of experimentation. The Sauvignon Blanc comes from a sandy plot planted mostly with Merlot in 1993, while the Verdejo comes from the coolest area at the highest part of the vineyards. The result is an amazingly complex wine, with the aromas and tropical fruit of the Verdejo complementing perfectly the crisp, minerally Sauvignon Blanc. Fermentation in oak barrels gives richness without extraneous caramel or vanilla flavors. “Blanco de Guarda” means a white wine made for aging, and it will be at its best within the next three to five years. It would go well with rich fish dishes, or even roast lamb, the favorite dinner of the region. It is $45 and in decent supply.