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Wine of the Week for week ending 17 November 2002
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Rockburn Pinot Noir 2001
Central Otago, New Zealand

Rockburn Wines - another new winery? They seem to be springing up all over the place - especially in Central Otago. But hang on, there's something familiar here - Dick Bunton, the man behind the label and Chris James (a former wine class colleague and once-upon-a-time wine options teammate) for a start. Aren't these names associated with Hay's Lake? Oh I get it. They've changed their name!

Bunton talks and outlines the reasons. "Wine is a business and we need more commercial acumen. 'Rockburn' reflects what Central Otago is all about".

He goes on to say that 'Hay's Lake', which took it name from the original vineyard site at Lake Hayes near Queenstown, is just one of the many Central Otago sub-regions in Central that the company now owns. Bunton doesn't want a name that ties the label to one region, especially since the discovery that the Lake Haye's area is not actually the best site for grapes.

"Central Otago is like Burgundy", he says. "There are distinct sub-regional variations." They want to make the most of this.

Actually I like 'Rockburn' over 'Hay's Lake' for a reason Bunton doesn't mention - there is another producer called 'Lake Hayes' and I always have to think - 'now which one is Chris James associated with?'

Dick Bunton's a cardio-thoracic surgeon who developed his hobby vineyard on the shore of Lake Hayes in 1991. "I like people who drink and smoke", says Bunton. "They keep me in business". He has the services of Greg Hay as viticulturist and Rudi Bauer as winemaker so not surprisingly the first wines produced were quite impressive. And so the expansion began, with both investors (as co-directors) and vineyards. The company now owns 44 hectares of land - the original Lake Hayes site, 8 hectares in Gibbston Valley and 33 hectares in Lowburn on the western side of Lake Dunstan.

Rockburn Central Otago Pinot Noir 2001, the first in the Rockburn livery, impressed me the most at the new release tasting and a bottle consumed over the weekend endorsed that opinion.

It's a typical young Central pinot colour of medium density with ruby garnet hues. The nose is gently spicy with cherry fruit peeking out and the merest suggestion of oak. The flavour is a little herbal on entry but quickly fills out with sweet cherry fruit, wild berry flavours and sweet spices. There's a hint of something intriguingly feral in there too along with thyme and tarragon. It's rich and wonderfully vinous in texture - very fine and svelte. The balance is fabulous and the lovely ripe finish that lingers for so so long has that seductive pinot sweetness.

My weekend food matching effort was a failure so I resort to the food tasted on the previous occasion. Imagine a pan-fried crostini topped with a thin sliver of courgette, a slice of fresh mozzarella cheese and a dollop of walnut and watercress pesto. It's a piquant little bite on its own but a terrific match to the wine. Or a mushroom risotto ball coated in breadcrumbs and either deep-fried or oven roasted - there's some mozzarella cheese that has melted with the cooking and it's another superb bite to wash down with a mouthful of Rockburn.

At first I thought the wine needed food but several hours after opening it was just so delicious to sip and savour on its own.

This is a top pinot from the very good Central Otago 2001 vintage and totally recommended.

It costs around $39.95 a bottle in retail but is cheaper if you buy on mail order - see Just 487 cases were made.

Rockburn Wines are currently only in NZ and in the UK.

© Sue Courtney

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