jeudi 13 mars 2008

Felton Road tasting, blame it on the vintage?

Last night, the tasting group gathered to taste ten Felton Road wines (see list below), all from the 2006 vintage, with the exception of the 2005 Pinot Noir Block 5. I was really looking forward to tasting the wines of this very successful New Zealand winery. I was planning on publishing my notes on all the wines. Unfortunately, the results were not as good as expected. I will publish the notes on the Rieslings, which happened to be the most successful wines of the evening. I am puzzled when I try to understand what is going on with the other wines, as this was my first tasting of Felton Road's whole range. The least we can say about the Chardonnays is that they have plenty of character. Although both the Elms Vineyard and the estate Chardonnay are very crisp, to the point of being steely, I could not link them to Chablis or to any other Chardonnay producing corners of the world. Both were very bitter and austere and gave not an ounce of pleasure to anyone seated at the table. There is no doubt that the generously oaked estate Chardonnay needs time, but the style is so unusual and unfriendly that it is difficult to predict a future for that wine.
On tasting the 2006 Pinots, all tasters experienced a burning sensation caused by the impressive 14.5% abv. If, on the nose, the wines displayed some of the charms associated with Pinot, on the palate, they were slightly bruising, demanding and abrupt. You felt that the charming raspberry fruit and perfume associated with Pinot Noir were present but masked by the heat of the vintage. Blair Walter, wine maker at Felton Road, does mention in his comments on the Felton Road web site that they experienced some intense heat in 2006. This is not hard to believe when you taste the Pinots (also of note, in 2006, Central Otago's has known an increase in production of 220 % on the two previous vintages, magic!!). The Block 5, a big Pinot by any standard, showed more elegance and more obvious Pinot character, but was from 2005.
Probably half of the tasters enjoyed the Vin Gris, a Pinot Noir based white wine of the very lightest pink hue. Somewhat savoury, bone dry and full of character, it will go down well with food.
If the wines of Felton Road are somewhat disorienting and demanding, they are certainly far from being dull. I look forward to tasting other vintages. If you are able to shed some light on the wines, please feel free to comment below. Now, the Riesling notes:
Block 1 Riesling 2006
On the nose, it is yeasty, with sweet lime and fresh mineral notes. Sweet with good balancing acidity, rich yet very fresh and lively, with the same finish of freshly-squeezed orange and lemon juice as in the estate Riesling, but with more elegance. With age, the sweetness will mellow leaving a complex Riesling of great varietal character and richness. Delectable now, but will reach a summit in a few years. Great length and weight achieved at a very humble 9.5% abv. 17.5 / 20
Riesling 2006
Light petrolly and some mineral notes, but mostly yeasty on the nose; unexpectedly medium dry with lively acidity, great balance and good weight, with a finish reminiscent of freshly squeezed orange and lemon juice. Very clean and crisp, feels less full bodied than the Dry Riesling, but then, there is less alcohol. 16.5 / 20 £13.95 Imbibros (UK)
Dry Riesling 2006
Quite pale and smelling yeasty, lively and fresh; feels bone dry (although I know there is approximately 10 grams of residual sugar!), clean, pure and crisp with good weight and length. Alive! 17 / 20 £13.95 Imbibros (UK)
Wines tasted:
Dry Riesling 2006
Riesling 2006
Block 1 Riesling 2006
Chardonnay Elms Vineyard 2006
Chardonnay 2006
Vin Gris 2006
Calvert Pinot Noir 2006
Pinot Noir 2006
Block 3 Pinot Noir 2006
Block 5 Pinot Noir 2005

8 commentaires:

angela reddin a dit...

Dear Gen

In reply to your comment on the Felton Road Wines you tasted recently, I thought I would give a little bit of background; re the 2006 vintage, Central Otago and Felton Road wines. 2006 saw a warm season resulting in high crops of generally ripe grapes. Heat spikes, whereever they occur in the world, usually accelerate sugar accumulation in the grapes, sometimes without corresponding phenological and physiological maturity. On my first tasting of the 2006 Central Otago vintage, I notice a number of wines with a green streak running through, a sign of picking a little too early. The everpresent danger in Central Otago is a sudden frost (such as occurred in 2004)at any time during the season, when, if it arrives around harvest time, can cause the vine to shut down and cease ripening. Then, unfortunately, whatever stage of maturity the grapes have reached, that will be it. It is something the winemakers in Central have learned to live with, but dread.

You mentioned high alcohols in the Felton Wines. Central Otago receives 11% more ultraviolet light than Burgundy. The growing season is brutally short. Many of the clones planted there are derived from french clones, where were designed for Burgundy to produce MORE sugar (remember, Burgundy legally chaptilises to achieve alcoholic and textural balance). In Central Otago, with the abundance of sunlight the sugar levels soar. Felton Road has produced 14% alcohol in the pinots most vintages. It is natural, and you will see this is a fairly routine level for pinots from the region. I think we would all agree that 13 - 13.5% would a more desired level, but aside from watering the wine down (illegal)or artificially removing the alcohol (unnatural)or genetically modifying clones to produce less sugar (be a long time before another Felton Pinot)or developing yeasts which do not convert sugar into alcohol (again a long wait and Felton wines are made by wild yeast ferments), then for the moment, this is the alcohol levels we will see. One more comment here. I have never noticed an imbalance or "burn" from Feton Road pinots - I am wondering if your case was stored correctly. If only 4 wines out of a case of 12 were deemed correct, I suspect there could be a storage issue here.

The Felton wines have generally received favourable press and trade comments for the 2006 vintage; I would, if I were you, try some of them again soon. Look foorward to hearing your comment.

Regards, Angela Reddin

gare aux goûts a dit...

Dear Angela,

Thank you very much for the very good and detailed background info you provided. It helps to understand that a region prone to frost is also subject to heat spikes and high ultraviolet light that will inevitably boost alcohol levels. As a Canadian, I should known a thing or two about short growing season, frost and extreme weather patterns.

It was my first time tasting Felton Road's range, but I had the pleasure to drink a few vintages of the Estate Pinot, which I always found positively attention-grabbing, certainly more concentrated than Burgundy Pinot, but maintaining freshness, having lovely, charming Pinot fruit and normally having an edge, either some appetising herbal notes or some other character that would make it unique. I never associated it with heavy alcohol. I did buy the Estate Pinot over the years. This certainly explains why I was disappointed. When you buy a wine you do not know or have not researched, you do not expect anything from it and if it is not specially good, you do not talk nor write about it. Perhaps it is precisely because I normally like Felton Road very much that I chose to express my disappointment.

Because I have had a very different and most pleasant experience of Felton Road before, I would agree with you that there might have been something wrong with storage. I will surely try to taste Felton Road 2006 again soon, along with other Central Otago Pinots. I will report my impressions on the blog and let you know.

Anonyme a dit...


I'm sorry that I missed this tasting. Your report describes a range of wines that certainly don't conform to my experience of Felton Road! Chardonnays giving "not one once of pleasure" - bizarre indeed. I recall a blind tasting that you hosted a couple of years ago when two guests quite separately arrived each with a bottle of Felton Road Barrel Fermented Chardonnay. The two wines were comfortably the best of the night, though all tasters consistently marked one higher than the other - the winner was bottled under Stelvin, the 2nd under cork.

As for the Pinots, I will look forward to a Central Otago re-match - I feel sure that Felton will shine!


gare aux goûts a dit...


Thanks for reminding me of the two Felton Road Chardonnays. If a word could resume them both, it is 'delicious'. Thus, I am convinced that there was a problem with the bottles of Chardonnays and Pinots that evening. They were so different from what I have experienced before.

As such, they were not declared faulty: no TCA on the nose, no deep golden colour indicating oxydation for example. But it has reminded me of a few times when I have tasted a wine in the presence of its maker. The winemaker had called for another bottle even in the absence of a fault. He/she simply knows that the wine is not tasting as it should.

Another tasting of Felton Road/Central Otage is absolutely in order.

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