Good things in small packages

21:21, Apr 11 2010

Small is smart.

Big might well be beautiful - and there are plenty who think it is - but when it comes to wine I sometimes wonder whether small is smarter.

What we're talking about here are the so-called boutique wineries (though, in fact, many do not have wineries of their own) which provide much of the interest, the variety and the colour in an industry dominated by a handful of big players.

And we are talking about some of the wineries most at risk as the industry battles one of the biggest slumps in its recent history. Which is only one of the reasons we should be supporting them. The other is best demonstrated by the results from the Royal Easter Show Wine Awards, the first of a new round of competitions which will, throughout the year, reward excellence in viticulture and winemaking , not to mention the passion of people who in some cases stake their futures on the wines that they produce.

To get the picture just take a look at the list of pinot noirs awarded gold medals and see how many labels you recognise. My guess is that the average punter is acquainted with probably less than half of them, in spite of the fact that some of these wineries have previously produced gold medal-winning wines.

Why? Because they're small and most of them are tucked away in Central Otago, which shouldn't come as any surprise. The place is awash with small/smallish vineyards which allows the attention to detail that pinot noir requires as well as a range of soils and microclimates which encourage an assortment of characters.

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No surprise either that most of the successful Central Otago wines are from the 2008 vintage, a large one which produced a range of wines that are more approachable at this stage of their lives than often is the case.

These include: wDavishon 2007 Pinot Noir ($34): From David and Shona Garry's vineyard between Alexandra and Clyde. A gamey, plums and cherries middleweight that has developed some flesh in the bottle. Good buying.wDesert Heart 2008 Mackenzies Run Pinot Noir ($40): A beautifully textured cherried, berried wine from a vineyard established and run on Felton Rd, near Bannockburn, by Denny Downie and Jane Gill.wLake Hayes 2008 Pinot Noir ($35): A soft and generous, reasonably complex wine made by Amisfield a larger company than the rest which now has the services of Clair Mulholland, formerly winemaker at Martinborough Vineyards.wMaori Point 2008 Pinot Noir ($30): A soft, plums and cherries wine off, what was, a rabbit-ridden block of land on the banks of the Clutha River near Tarras that first yielded grapes for John Harris and Marilyn Daxson in 2007. Great value for money.wMondillo 2008 Pinot Noir ($40): The elegant, rich and seamless champion wine of show from a 12ha vineyard planted by chef cum viticulturalist Domenic Mondillo and his wife Ally at Bendigo.wThe Aurora 2008 Bendigo Pinot Noir ($40): Another rich and berried beauty from a vineyard funded by a group of five investors back in the late 1990s and made by award-winning winemaker Carol Bunn. wValli 2008 Bannockburn Vineyard Pinot Noir ($55): A classy supple, savoury premium pinot produced by Central Otago veteran Grant Taylor who also produces Waitaki and Gibbston Valley pinots.wWaitirii Creek 2007 Pinot Noir ($40): A stunning, gutsy wine with appealing herbal, spicy characters from a Gibbston Valley vineyard owned by Auckland businesswoman Paula Ramage and the Ward and Dunn families.w Wooing Tree 2008 Beetle Juice Pinot Noir ($40): From the Cromwell Vineyard owned and run by the Farquharson and Bews families since 2004. A mouthful of silken berries, cherries and plums, also made by Carol Bunn.

Keep an eye out also for other gold medal 2008 pinots from Martinus and Alexia, small producers in the Wairarapa/Martinborough and others from Mud House, Pasquale, Matahiwi, Hunter's, and Vavasour.

And don't be deterred by recommended retail prices for these or for others. Most are available at a discount.

The Southland Times