Must-Have Wine - Red Wine of the Lunar Year (Dragon)
Admittedly my predilection for pinot noir is perhaps a prejudice in my choice of 'Red Wine of the Year' and this sneak preview of my annual retrospective of wine highlights, the Year of the Dragon - 2012.
However, the irrefutable fact is, Rippon Mature Vines Pinot Noir 2009 was the most profoundly complex, texturally sensual and incredibly drinkable wine I encountered all year; a wine of extraordinary charm and approachability even it its youth. And I will go further and declare it is the most impressive current release New World pinot noir I have ever had - period.
I'm sorry, cabernet drinkers, but it's simply not possible to compare the textural pleasure and seemingly invisible tannins of this pinot noir; it would take ten or 20 years for a cabernet sauvignon or Bordeaux to achieve this sort of resolved, silky tannins and I personally don't have that sort of patience or possibly years left in me for ageing wine that length of time.
This is not to say a Rippon Pinot Noir drinks comparatively early, to the contrary, in comparison to other Central Otago Pinot Noirs I find Rippon rather shy in the first few years in bottle; restrained and gentle and not as obviously bold in fruit, however one can sense an underlying brooding character and power that one generally associates with the Central Otago region.
Furthermore, there a very few single varietal wines that change in the glass like pinot noir (the nebbiolo grape and wines of Barolo and Barbaresco are others); continuously evolving in aroma, changing every minute, ameliorating as it breaths and slowly revealing its intrigue and yet only to permute its personality into something different and even more beguiling.
Sure, all red wines benefit with breathing to some extent, but with pinot noir it is an imperative to have the right shaped glass, that wider bowl to accumulate the aromas and you must linger over these scents and give them time to metamorphose.
Actually, it's amazing how much more time one spends nosing pinot noir than actually drinking it and what I find most intriguing is how the berry fruit sensations, flower perfumes, spice and herb nuances can oscillate or reappear; a myriad of nuances and sensations that send the olfactory senses into overdrive with an almost impossible array of complexities - changing with every sniff - and sip.
I also find myself being indulgent or even selfish when it comes to the thought of liberating a great bottle of pinot noir and I tend to scheme on when and how I can do this - on my own - with some fabulous produce of outrageous proportions; a most civilized solitary confinement where there is no distractions of these waves of pleasure and no evidence or even guilt of secretly spoiling oneself rotten.
With my wife overseas on work and my daughter ensconced on the couch in front of the television with pizza and a new DVD, I am executing my pre-contrived plan of a decadently-sized rib of Black Angus beef from Cape Grim, Tasmania, free-range, grass-fed and air-dried-aged 45 days, (from Culina) oven-roasted to medium-rare with baby beetroot and kipfler potatoes - and my bottle of Rippon Mature Vines Pinot Noir 2009.
Deglazing the pan with a generous glug of pinot noir (not the Rippon) I add two large scoops of chefs' veal demi-glace, reducing it down and adding a few splashes of old balsamic and an even older Sherry vinegar, inhaling the hedonistic cooking aromas with much anticipation of drizzling this over the caramelized and perfectly rested beef.
The Rippon has been opened and coming up to temperature for half an hour, as we keep all wines, white and red, in the fridge here in Singapore. Meanwhile whilst I have been cooking, I'm sampling (actually guzzling) another Rippon wine, their brilliant Gewurztraminer 2010.
Now here's a wine that does not necessarily need food; it is the food! It's a real mouthful of glycerol-textured, herbal chrysanthemum flower tea and tropical fruits; tantalizing rich yet zingy in acidity and with a horseradish and white pepper spiciness - wonderful stuff and a great entree.
Ushering myself to the table, I take my Riedel Vinum Burgundy glass and swirl the Rippon Pinot vigorously, the perfume wafting up and mingling with the aromas of roast beef and my marvellous sauce.
Another swirl and raising the glass to the nostrils reveals an intense, essence-like perfume of raspberry and red cherry that saturates the senses, and an eau de vie like scent of juniper berry. A second inhale reveals a deeper scent of red rose petal and herbals nuances of aniseed and lavender.
The first sip; whoa a rush of raspberry-infused fruit, high pitched with amazing intensity and energized by rapier steely-cold acidity and wet-slate mountain-stream freshness on the farewell - but the wine is still a little cool - in temperature. A slice of beef and some roasted beetroot brings back the warmth in the mouth.
Time for a top up and I am now cuddling the glass in my hands and swirling it, and the colour seems to have changed, becoming slightly darker and denser. And there's sweetness to the perfume now, richer black cherry and moving towards more black-berry fruits and a smoky spiciness with clove and cinnamon. I go back for another sniff; sitting back I think to myself, 'this really is a gorgeous perfume'.
Sipping away, one senses the deep-seated power and tanginess of the fruit with tamarillo and red currant piquancy; there's purity and brightness in the red berry/red cherry, and the texture is extraordinarily fine and somewhat restrained -for a New Zealand Pinot.
About an hour or more has passed now - from opening the wine - and as I write this it is breathing out beautifully, evolving and growing immeasurably and is now a dense black cherry in color; extraordinary really as it was initially translucent raspberry red, but you can't see your fingers through the glass now. And the bouquet... sweet mother of all pinot... a hedonistic melange of black berry fruits (note change from red berries) and poached dark plums and that juniper berry thing again... and an intoxicating melange of dried herbs and spiciness.
I am chewing the wine in the mouth now as it has fleshed out exponentially and is seductively rich and silky, silky smooth, caressing the palate and enveloping in juicy-rich succulence; a supreme texture, super-fine with almost invisible tannins, actually some telltale grip at the farewell with complex herbal, tobacco and black tea nuances, and a tangy tamarillo and balsamic twist - ok that might be my sauce - but no, there is definitely that defining tamarillo piquancy.
Another sniff and I am picking up roast beetroot (no it's not from my plate) and there's a real meatiness and savoury gaminess appearing, like venison... and I have this sudden image in the olfactory's of roast venison and an Armagnac and blueberry-Demi-glace thick sauce (It's a vivid impression for me, a dish we had at the first real restaurant I worked at, which I will share the recipe soon...) where was I, yes, it's definitely an aroma/nuance of venison.
But I am having beef, and the smell and flavour of iron in the meat, and the smoky-charred savouriness is in complete simpatico with this pinot - it would not work with a light, sappy pinot - but the power and fullness of texture and spiciness of the Rippon is pairing brilliantly... even if I can't get venison out of my head!
As rich and powerful as the wine has now become, I am still acutely aware of the etherealness, its fine layers of texture and it's carry of piercing, tangy red fruits staining the palate; amazing concentration and so much energy and purity that reminds me of Vieilles Vignes (old vines) Grand Cru Burgundy.
Yes, I know we are not supposed to make such comparisons these days, but I drink a lot of Burgundy and the layered, textural-mouth-feel and plush intensity yet finesse of this wine makes me think of the Vosne-Romanee commune; but even if this Rippon Pinot is wearing a beret there is definitely a kiwi accent, and the infused wet slate minerality and pronounced spiciness could only be Central Otago.
Actually, when I think about it, it's more defined than Central Otago; this is Wanaka and Rippon and essentially an appellation to itself, a Grand Cru Monopole with a unique terroir, the mineral personality in the wine coming from the soils of decomposing schist rock and glacial silica, quartz and mica - the fingerprint of Rippon.
It's an extraordinary place, arguably the most picturesque vineyard in the world with its breathtaking views across Lake Wanaka to the Southern Alps and Mount Aspiring, at the foot of a basin carved by massive glaciers in the last ice age.
And there's a great story behind the property; an enduring story of four generations, 100 years of family ownership of the Wanaka Station and 30 years of growing grapes at the frontier of the world's most southerly wine region. Angela Clifford captures this pioneering spirit in article she wrote for the New Zealand Pinot Noir Celebration 2013, “Define Age - Rippon Celebrates 100 Years on the Land, 30 Years Winegrowing.”
The vision and tenacity of Lois and the late Rolfe Mills is inspirational, a legacy that is now in the hands of the current generation of Mills family with their vigneron son Nick and his wife Jo embracing the land and clearly realising all its potential - and more - with biodynamic viticulture.
The notion of organics in the pristine environment of Wanaka is perhaps considered natural in a region where everything is naturally organic however, the Mills dedication to every facet of their property and nurturing the vines with biodynamic viticulture is discernibly evident in the wines.
I have tasted this change or evolution in their wines and if New Zealand wine producers need proof or reassurance of the merits in biodynamic viticulture, Rippon vineyard is conclusive evidence and it should, or must, compel other vignerons to do the same.
And all this talk of achieving more complexity, texture, finesse and making great pinot noir in New Zealand; well, folks, I have to tell you, it has already been achieved - in this wine.
The only negative from this experience is the bottle is nearly finished; I am savouring the last aromas, cradling my glass and settling back in my chair completely replete and my mind in cogitative (and perhaps intoxicated) state - a pinot noir avatar - comfortably numb to everything else in life other than the pleasure of this great pinot noir and a brilliant piece of beef. Oh, and my sauce.
I fear the situation will be exacerbated with only a few bottles of 2009 Rippon Mature Vines Pinot Noir left in the Asia markets, and most importers will have moved on to the 2010 vintage. But not to worry, only concern yourself with the characteristics and personality of a vintage, as assuredly every wine that is released from Rippon will be distinctive and you should religiously follow ALL their wines; or more to the point snap them up when they are released.
For importers worldwide, visit the Rippon website