New Zealand’s Waipara Valley wine region has had a name change. Well, it’s still Waipara, but the producers of this oft-overlooked (and glorious) wine region are now putting North Canterbury on labels instead.
Given that New Zealand already has Wairarapa, Waiheke, Waikato, Waitaki and Wairau River all used on wine labels, it made sense to differentiate.
On Thursday I dipped into some of North Canterbury’s finest wines too, when Nicholas Brown of Black Estate dropped in with some new releases.
I first visited Black Estate not long after the Christchurch earthquake in November 2011. Back then it was just a shed attached to a vineyard, the winery nascent and the reputation still forming.
Flash forward six years and Black Estate have just been crowned NZ Organic Vineyard of the Year; have a winery restaurant (Winery Restaurant of the Year); a newly opened B & B and the wines are better (and faster selling) than ever.
As for the region, it always amazes me that Central Otago gets all the attention when North Canterbury (and Martinborough for that matter) can regularly make more interesting wines on a regular basis. Volume plays a part, with both regions naturally regulated by low yields and smaller producers. But still, it’s weird that the phalanx of Bell Hill, Pegasus Bay, Pyramid Valley and Black Estate et al tend to get left out of the ‘best Pinot in New Zealand’ discussion.
What I like most about the Black Estate wines is the level of detail. That’s a cliche that is easy to throw at wineries ‘look at the detail’, but here, there is a readily evident precision. Nicholas, winemaker/proprietor/etc, has an air of someone who is across the small things and the wines reflect an uncompromising approach.
That all starts with the vineyard, with all three of the main sites used by Black Estate farmed organically. Fruit is handpicked; wines are fermented with vineyard-derived yeasts (mirroring that of Pyramid Valley); no additives or fining used, sulphur only added (sparingly) at bottling and minimal (if any) filtering.
What also sets apart the Black Estate Pinots is tannins. Tannins are life, and these wines have a certainty of structure that is more than welcome.
All of these wines are available in Australia (or will be shortly), with the ’15 Pinot below due in a month or so. Prices are NZ.
Black Estate Circuit Pinot Gris 2017
The Circuit range uses grower fruit and priced slightly lower than the Estate range. Some barrel ferment used here, helping to craft what is a succulent, gently textured style. There’s a great balance here between soft acidity and gentle richness – it’s restrained, faintly juicy, but never falls into flab or excess sweetness. It’s just a fraction tight for immediate satisfaction (give it 3-6 in bottle), but still an archetype of how to craft rich-but-refreshing Pinot Gris. Best drinking: 2017-2019. 17.7/20, 92/100+. $NZ24. Would I buy it? In a heartbeat.
Black Estate Damsteep Riesling 2015
The Damsteep Riesling style has changed over the years, tending towards a more drier form in recent vintages. This ’15 seems in a bit of a hole; a subtle style vascillitating between primary fruit and secondary development. There’s hint of apricot and orange blossom ripe fruit, but also with a drying grapefruit hint too. I’d love to have another look at this in a year or so. Had me thinking about Wachau Riesling stylistically and promise plus. Best drinking: 2019-2029? 17/20, 90/100+. $NZ27. Would I buy? I’d wait a year or so.
Home Chardonnay 2014
From the Home Vineyard planted in 1994. Current release is 2016, though ’14 is available locally. Golden and mealy, the full style progressed thanks to the bottle age, lovely honey fullness to it, if just a little chubby. As ever, balance is excellent between acid/alcohol/fruit, even if this is a fraction forward. Would appreciate being served a little cooler methinks. Best drinking: 2017-2019. 17.7/20, 92/100. $NZ45. Would I buy it? Just a glass or two.
Black Estate Rosé 2016
Calling this rosé is a misnomer as its more light red. A true field blend, this is 100% whole cluster, co-fermented mix of Pinot Nor, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc. Left on skins for 28 days, it’s a red Ribena colour and awash with blackberry fruit. More like a Beaujolais than anything else, jubey with some carbonic juiciness and a firmish – yet not necessarily tannic – finish. Great balance but an oddity – a light red, yet juicy too. Apparently this has quite a following in NZ and you can see why – it’s serious, juicy, structured and has depth to it. Best drinking: 2017-2018. 17.5/20, 91/100. $NZ30. Would I buy it? A glass.
Black Estate Home Pinot Noir 2014
From the Home Vineyard. Picked early in the face of some rain events. It’s definitely a leaner style, but it doesn’t lack for fruit. Lovely tannins with a vague ferrous edge, it’s not necessary full or generous, but the lines here are very svelte and make for a rather satisfying savoury style. Only question mark here is if the fruit starts to fade. Best drinking: 2017-2020. 17.7/20, 92/100. $NZ45. Would I buy it? I’d go a glass.
Black Estate Netherwood Pinot Noir 2014
The Netherwood is one of the oldest vineyards in the region, planted by Russell Black and Daniel Schuster back in 1986 at a density of 5,000 vines/hectare. This Pinot includes 80% whole bunches and there is a rhubarb whole bunch spiciness all through it. What’s amazing here is the whooshing intensity of flavour through the middle, a power that is unbelievable for a wine that weighs in at just 12% alcohol. Outstanding. It’s lean, it’s tannic, but lacks nothing in the way of flavour. Rare to have this balance between structure and flavour at low alcohols outside of top Burgundy. Very fine wine. Best drinking: 2017-2025. 18.7/20, 95/100. $NZ65. Would I buy it? Yes.
Black Estate Home Pinot Noir 2015
The purple colour here is off the charts. It could almost be young Shiraz. Apparently that purpleness is not unusual in North Canterbury but I found it remarkable. From a warmer season this is a much grander wine and looks rather more complete compared to the ’14. Tannins seems riper too. Such a classy, subtly powerful wine. Structure first, but not hulking. Again just 12.5% alcohol! Best drinking: 2018-2025. 18.5/20, 94/100. NZ$45. Would I buy it? Yes.