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Wine of the Week for week ending 14 April 2002
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Black Estate Pinot Noir
Waipara, New Zealand

I don't usually review 'can't buy' wines as 'Wine of the Week' but I'm making an exception in this case. Because while you can't buy the wine now the new release has just been bottled and it will be available in the not too distance future.

Label of Black Estate I'm talking about Black Estate Pinot Noir, a sensational discovery that offers absolutely pure vinous pleasure.

The Black Estate Pinot Noir 2000 appeared on the table at a winemaker's dinner, part of the Waipara Wine Celebration near the end of March. I loved the smoky meatiness on the nose of this wine. Then in the mouth the savoury spice, cherries, plums and the lovely lift of acid-free tamarillos. It was soft, juicy, earthy, balanced and beautifully rounded with its silky and long lingering herbal savouriness. A most sensual wine so very complete and seamless in every way.

The following day I had a chance to meet the man behind the wine, Russell Black. He whisked me up to his 8-hectare sloping vineyard on the main road just north of Blacks Road - no coincidence in the name, by the way. We wandered amongst the vines that he planted in 1993 and 1994. Half the vineyard is Pinot Noir and the other half is Chardonnay. I didn't meet Robin Jones, the vineyard manager. He and Russell oversee the vineyard together, though Russell does all the sitting down jobs having wrecked his back earlier in his farming days when contract fencing and mustering. So he drives the tractor, the mower, the 4-wheel bike and so on.

I'll never forget my visit to this vineyard. "Would you like to see the soil profile", said Russell. There was a cutting in a bank where a roadway was once started but never finished. "We'll have to walk across some grass", he said. Well that didn't worry me one iota. What Russell didn't tell me (or if he did I didn't hear), was that we'd have to walk down a steep bank and across a little river valley to get to the cutting. That didn't worry me too much either, so long as I didn't slip in my silly open toed shoes that were more suitable for wearing to wine festivals than on cross-country rambles. What did worry me, though, was the 3-metre strip of dense, calf-high, thistles at the bottom of the slope that I had to negotiate. Needless to say we took a different route back.

I was glad I had made the intrepid journey to see the sandy clay soil embedded around the layers of limestone and siltstone pebbles. Deeper still, said Russell, were layers of fossilised seabed. A geological profile that the Black Estate pinot noir vines obviously like, a profile that brings out the best flavours in the grapes.

To compensate for the thistle experience Russell took me in his 4WD to the top of the limestone hill on his property, looking over the vines below and across the whole of the Waipara Valley. A magnificent view.

Black Estate Vineyard
Black Estate Vineyard (centre) as seen from the top of the Black property. The vines are covered in nets.
Location of cutting in gully, to right of vineyard, is denoted by yellow arrowhead.

He also gave me a bottle of his Pinot Noir to bring home. He thought it was the 2000 that I loved so much, but it was in fact the 1999. I opened it the other night to share this pinot delight with my husband.

The Black Estate Pinot Noir 1999 had meaty aromas with cherries, plums, savoury herbs, leather and spice. There was a beautiful bright lift of flavour on the plate, a lovely thick texture, rich firm tannins and savoury flavours with lavenders and violets. I loved the complexity and the awesome length with a finish that had the sweet ripe fruit flavours and jaffa (orange citrus and chocolate) lingering. Consumed over two nights, the bottle was too small. We loved it.

So what of the new vintage that's about to be released? The Black Estate Pinot Noir 2001 is a smoky wine with fragrant lavender and herb, savoury spice and an earthy complexity. There's a lovely juiciness to the wine, which finishes with sweet savoury, cherry, citrus and a hint of licorice. I reckon it has great potential.

I am sure Black Estate Wines will be quite sought after. When the 2001 wines are released, they might possibly be found on the shelves of discerning wine retailers but to ensure you don't miss out, join the Black Estate mailing list. Black Estate has not yet joined the cyber world so write to Black Estate at 614 Omihi Road, RD3, Amberley; telephone (03) 314 5888 or fax (03) 314 5800.

The first release of any commercial sized quantity was in 2000. Gradually the quantities will increase as the vines come into full production and eventually we will see about 1,000 cases of each on the market.

Russell is married to Kumiko, who is originally from Japan. Kumiko's heritage is reflected in the Japanese fan on the label. The wines are made by Mark Rattray at his Floating Mountain winery.

© Sue Courtney

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