The Pinot Noirs from Central Otago are Shiraz drinkers Pinot Noirs. (I don't think the producers like this description.) They are very dark in colour, taste of black cherry (generally) and have low natural acidity (apart from the Gibbston sub-region). This is because the area has many sunshine hours, is quite hot and is further from the sea than other New Zealand Pinot Noir regions.
On tasting was the 2010 vintage. In the afternoon, older wines were shown. The 2010 vintage was characterized by a cool spring and a fairly long ripening season, blessed with a sunny autumn. The quality of the wines was generally quite high, with a few top scoring wines.
Felton Road impressed once again. The 2010 wines were lighter than usual. Block 5 was dark, smooth, seamless and elegant (94 points). The standard Bannockburn wine was a little light on. As more fruit goes into single vineyard wines, the percentage of quite young vines in the standard wine increases (91 points). Felton Road also showed Block 3 from the 2011 vintage. This wine was very elegant, ethereal, silky, and with great length. 'Ethereal' is something not often associated with Central Otago wines, but I have seen Block 3 delivering this in great years (95 points).
The other top scorers for me were Maude and Rockburn. The 2010 single vineyard Mt. Maude Pinot Noir had great length and an expanding 'Burgundian fan' on the finish (95 points). The standard wine showed great depth of colour. It is quite a big wine (93 points). It must be said, though that an older Mt. Maude (2007) had not held up that well, delivering a harsher mouthfeel (89 points). Rockburn's The Art Pinot Noir comes from the warm Bannockburn sub-region. This wine has a complex palate of dark cherry and savoury undertones with a smooth finish (95 points). The standard wine from Pisa and Gibbston is a little fruity, but has a decent structure (92 points).
In the next bracket were Chard Farm, Amisfield, Matua Valley, and Quartz Reef. The Chard Farm wines showed a welcome return to form. The Mata-Au Pinot Noir is a blend from four vineyards. It is more in the red fruit spectrum and quite elegant (93 points). The Viper, from a Lowburn vineyard is similarly good, although a little angular (92 points). The Amisfield Pinot Noir is quite savoury with great purity. The finish is slightly alcoholic (93 points). Matua Valley is a major winery with large holdings in Marlborough. The single vineyard Pinot Noir from Cromwell is distinguished by its silkiness (93 points). The single vineyard wine from Bannockburn is a little bigger, but also broader (92 points). Quartz Reef, represented by its irrepressible winemaker Rudi Bauer, showed the blend, which had red cherry character, and is a very balanced wine with great depth and length (94 points). The single vineyard Bendigo wine is elegant, but less expressive (92 points).
In the next category were Burn Cottage, Carrick, Gibbston Valley, Mount Edward, Mt. Difficulty, Mud House, Peregrine, Rippon, Two Paddocks and Wooing Tree. They all showed wines I would score at 90 points or above, but they were either less rounded, structured or had less personality.
A real surprise were the tastings of older wines, and here I mean 10 years plus. I had not drunk Central Otago wines of this age before, and I was sceptical because of the generally low level of acidity in these wines. The 2003 Mt. Difficulty Target Gully Pinot Noir showed real preciseness, and great structure and length (95 points). The 2001 Quartz Reef Pinot Noir from its first vintage was still incredibly vibrant and fresh (94 points).
Overall, this was a very strong showing. These wines will never be Burgundies. Climate, soil and winemaking are different. Their quality and proliferation of producers ensures that Central Otago Pinot Noir will manage to establish a Pinot Noir category in its own right.