Feraud's Garden near Clyde, the venue for the annual
Alexandra basin new-release wine tasting. Photo by Charmian
Despite the inclement weather at Labour Day weekend,
Alexandra turned on a warm, sunny day for its annual Alexandra
basin new-release wine tasting.
It was held at Feraud's Garden near Clyde, where the
country's oldest winery building still stands. It was built
by Jean Desire Feraud, a Frenchman who arrived during the
1860s gold rushes, and was the first person to plant vines
and make wine in Central Otago.
Most of today's vineyards in the Alexandra basin are small
and family-owned, and often are overlooked among the
higher-profile wines from bigger companies in the Cromwell
basin, so the growers have got together to promote
themselves. The region even has a wine map, well worth using
if you're visiting.
The day before the new-release tasting, the growers brought
some 85 older wines from the region - the oldest was 1997 Dry
Gully pinot noir - for wine writers Bob Campbell, Yvonne
Lorkin, Cameron Douglas and me to taste.
It was tough tasting and making notes on so many wines in
three hours or so, but it gave us an overview of the
evolution of a regional style and the way the wines age.
Despite the variation of vineyard sites from the high
Hillview Rd area to the warmer Earnscleugh sites, a
characteristic Alexandra style seems to be emerging.
What stood out for me among the pinot noirs was sweet,
succulent fruit in younger wines which develops more
sweetness and richness with age. They also retain a lovely
freshness for four or five years, and after that they tend to
mellow gracefully. Bob Campbell described them as
However, they can be unforgiving if the balance or ripeness
levels are not as good as they could be.
It was a surprise, although it should not have been, the
difference screw caps made once they came into general use
around 2002-03. The wines under screw cap, especially in the
transition years, were fresher than those under cork. We did
not have any wines affected by TCA, which makes it dank,
musty and undrinkable, but wines under cork can show great
variability as they age, and who knows if the samples we
tasted were good or not-so-good bottles.
And the older wines?
One of the oldest, Hawkdun Rise 1998 pinot noir, was fully
mature, gamey and delicious, balanced with a fresh finish.
Among nine Dry Gully pinots from 1997, the 2002, '03 and '05
were drinking particularly well, charming, spicy, textural
and still fresh.
Many of the 2006s and '07s were probably around their peak,
delicious with intense fruit, some with savoury characters,
texture and balance but still with that lovely freshness so
characteristic of the region.
The aromatic wines shared that freshness. Rieslings are
lively, steely wines that take a couple of years to develop
that lovely limey, marmaladey character, similar to some of
the wines from the Mosel in Germany - not surprising perhaps,
as the Alexandra soils are so schisty.
However, my favourites were the gewurztraminers, especially
the 2011 and 2012 from Schist Hills, which had that lovely
fragrant fruit - mint, ginger, lychees with delicate rose
perfumes - and are rich and mouth-filling, but had a
freshness and crispness on the finish unlike some of the
overblown, hot styles from Gisborne. Schist Hills makes its
gewurztraminer from 30-year-old vines from the Black Ridge
Among 18 wineries at the new-release tasting on Sunday, there
were two new ones, Omeo and Barrington.
Bruce Shaw has planted riesling and pinot noir in Hawley Rd,
Earnscleugh, near Omeo creek. I tasted three of his riesling,
the 2010, the new-release 2011 and a sample of the 2012. It
takes a couple of years for it to develop real charm - the
2010 had lovely minerality and lively lime intensity while
retaining a great balance.
Barrington, formed by Jerry and Judy Dowling and David and
Karen Smythe, has vineyards in Muttontown Rd, near the
Clutha. I enjoyed their bright, fresh 2012 pinot gris. They
produce their wines in 375ml bottles as well as the usual