PETER GRIFFIN crowdfunded for a box of wine from Amisfield in Otago and an epic night of winetasting resulted.
Whenever I’m in Central Otago, there’s one obligatory stop I have to make – the tasting room and bistro of Amisfield, the single estate vineyard just across the road from the shore of Lake Hayes and set against the Pisa mountains.
It’s a stunning spot and Amisfield, which only planted its vines in 1999, has come to be known for its consistent quality and the superb dining experience at its beautiful restaurant.
When it comes to the wines, Amisfield is best known for its Pinot Noir but also produces some fantastic whites, from its Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc to Rieslings and Chenin Blancs. Its noble Sauvignon Blanc is one of my favourite dessert wines and it produces a fantastic, deep-red rosé as well.
With its growing popularity in recent years, Amisfield has also become more exclusive. Where once you could pop in for lunch unannounced, now you need to book well in advance – though I suspect Covid-19 has had an inevitable impact on patronage.
With such huge demand for its wines locally and internationally, Amisfield is certainly now a deservedly premium brand. The whites are fairly affordable, but the entry-level Pinot Noir will now set you back $50 a bottle while the exceptional Breakneck Reserve is $80 and the topflight RKV reserve is $120.
I used to be a member of the Amisfield wine club which saw me commit to buying two cases a year. The cost of that quickly became a bit much for me so I’ve bailed out, resorting to picking up a case now and then when they have online specials and my budget can accommodate it.
In April Amisfield advertised one such deal that immediately caught my eye – An Amisfield Estate Pinot Noir vertical case – 12 wines from 2007 to 2018, spanning a fair chunk of the history of this iconic vineyard.
The price – $1260. That was definitely too rich for my blood. But then I thought about it. I have a lot of wine-loving friends. Maybe we could crowdfund it. A flurry of emails later and ten of us had committed $126 each to buy the case between us. We set the date for an epic wine tasting to take us through more than a decade of winemaking at Amisfield.
The Tasting Approach
Should we start with the young and fresh pinots and work back? Or would it be better to let out palates savour the earthier aged pinots first? We debated the approach for a while before deciding on a different approach. We’d mix it up, serving some wines from consecutive vintages, but mainly serving up an older vintage alongside a newer one to allow us to compare and contrast.
With some bubbles as a cleanser to start and a host of delicious vegetarian dishes at hand to accompany our tasting, we lined up the tasting glasses and started pouring.
Here are my tasting notes… ratings out of five.
2016 & 2017
16 – ruby red, has bright fruit, plums and cherries, dominant, smooth with a good long finish, oaky hints to it. ****
17 – had a slight varnish whiff on the nose, more acid than the 16. Plummy, a hint of pepper and plenty of concentrated red fruit, a sort of mocha note to it. More robust than the 16. ****
2009 & 2015
09 – was earthy, with mushrooms on the nose, well rounded, still quite jammy and vibrant and decent raspberry notes. I felt the warmth and subtlety that comes with a decade spent in the bottle blanket my senses. ****½
15 – had a hit of acid upfront, but smooth drinking after that. A fair bit of tannin, but nice caramel notes too. Enjoyed it more as I worked through the glass. ****
2010 & 2014
10 – had firm tannins and a good body, but for me lacked the complexity and warmth of the 09. ***½
14 – was candy floss and red fruits, light, sweet and fruity. Great drinking, delicious with the mushroom pie we had with it. ****
2007 & 2018
The youngest and the oldest, side by side. There was a lot of anticipation around this pair.
07 – was deep and earthy, smooth all the way, still quite dark in appearance, but so delicate and an intriguing mix of fruit and herbaceous notes. A great, great finish that lingered luxuriously. ****½
18 – was light, plum and cherry aromas, quite spicy with a warm, caramel note shot through it. The earthiness I have come to love and which will come with age wasn’t there, but boy, the 18 has plenty going for it. ****½
2008 & 2012
08 – still had good body, more concentrated than the 07. Grippy tannins, jammy and still fruity with that mellow edge that comes with age. ****
12 – had a really pleasant fruity nose, light appearance and light on the tongue, a long and satisfying spicy finish. ****
2011 & 2013
By this point we’d drunk a lot of wine and had a lot of food, so I felt my palate was getting a bit fatigued.
The 11 was smooth, very fruity, a great finish, but seemed to be lacking finesse and tasted younger than its years. A lovely licorice hint to it. ****
The 13 didn’t have much to recommend itself to me. Good, well-balanced fruit, strong tannins, typical pinot notes, but nothing special ***½
Then someone had a good idea. We had pinot left over from some vintages, why not compare an older Amisfield alongside a Nevis Bluff Pinot Noir, a few bottles of which one of our party had brought along – in case we ran out of wine!
2012 & 2012
The 12 Nevis Bluff. It was smooth, but slightly tart. Dark red fruits, but with a strangely watery background to it. A bit one-note. Easy enough drinking, but where’s the earthiness and complexity? ***½
The 12 Amisfield. Immediately more impressive. Smooth silky tannins, good complexity, medium finish. ****
2011 & 2011
The Amisfield 11 was light and fruity with a long finish and great caramel notes. ****½
The Nevis Bluff 11 was a great improvement on the 12 with more of that complexity I was looking for, yet also fresh, fruity and so smooth. ****
2008 & 2008
The swansong, well at least before we got into the port, pear schnapps, Mandarine Napoleon, with a few Steinlagers as palate cleansers along the way, was a 2008 vintage comparison.
The 08 Nevis Bluff left me wanting. It ticks the boxes, subdued red fruits, smooth and long, but not very complex or interesting. ***½
The 08 Amisfield was as above, grippy tannins, jammy and fruity but with the defining characteristics of age – warm, smooth, encouraging and oh so drinkable. ****
Consistently Good Through The Years
The highlights for me then were the 07, 09 and 18 Amisfields, which I each rated ****½. I think the fact that I loved the 18 as much as the 07 says it all about Amisfield Pinot Noir. It is great drinking young, when it’s bright and bursting with fruit. But it is equally as good, if not much better, with a decade or more of age on it, earthy and complex. These are well-made wines that accentuate the best the grapes have to offer combined with some novel characteristics from the unique landscape.
If tastings are a great way to try high-end wines relatively cheaply, crowdfunding amongst your mates for a case is a great way to share the experience of enjoying some pricier wines. There was plenty of wine for all of us to have a decent taste of each vintage and by matching the wines with great food, we had a fantastic and reasonably affordable night of drinking and sharing tasting notes.
We’ve already ordered a mixed case of Amisfield whites for another tasting scheduled for November. It will be a great way to ease into summer with Amisfield’s quality aromatics.
Overall then, Amisfield delighted us and reminded us of why we love this Pinot Noir so much. I’ve got half a dozen bottles of pinot quietly ageing in my cellar. I look forward to drinking them.
I’ll leave you with some pictures from a degustation we did at the Amisfield bistro back in 2016, when the world was a bit safer and saner…
Follow Peter Griffin on Vivino where you can see what he’s been drinking.
And to check out the best prices on Amisfield wines visit Peter’s go-to price comparison site, the world-leading and Kiwi-owned and operated www.wine-searcher.com
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