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  • May 05, 2019 4 min read 3 Comments

    A big plus to being a wine merchant is we never run out of space nor opportunity to stash away great wines. Having been in business for a long time, our library sees wines that have been tucked away for over a decade. It’s easy to get decades old fine wines on demand if you have the budget, but what’s interesting is we also keep wines from relatively obscure producers, most of which can never be found in a secondary market. It then becomes a joyful process of discovering how a well-crafted wine can really blossom with age. With each discovery, it builds our confidence and skill in identifying top quality age-worthy wines regardless of brand. Afterall, a truly great drinking experience should be about the liquid and not the label.

    Today’s article summarises my recent experience tasting the Borthwick Pinot Noir 2002, and my salute to the craftsmanship of a relatively unknown producer from New Zealand. Just as importantly, I want to make the point that well-made moderately priced pinot noirs can have longevity most people associate only with the most hallowed names.

    Borthwick Vineyard hails from Wairarapa in the North Island, a boutique region that produces only 1% of the country’s wine. It’s a region unfortunately dwarfed by its own world-famous sub-region of Martinborough, with established names like Ata Rangi and Dry River. Borthwick Vineyard on the other hand and fortunately for us, comes from the lesser known sub-region of Gladstone where prices are more moderated.

    As stereotypical as can be, Paddy Borthwick the man comes from a family of cattle and sheep farmers. In 1985, in a bid to diversify the family’s business, Paddy trained at the world renowned Roseworthy College in Australia as a viticulturist and wine maker, followed by wine making stints around the world before settling back in Wairarapa. In 1996, Paddy and his father Robin started Borthwick Vineyard.

    When I first met Paddy in a roadshow in 2005, the impression I had was an affable man with a gentle demeanour. But it was his pinot noir that really sealed the deal. Like most New Zealand pinot noirs, the nose was aromatic, and the body spoke of abundant fruits and spice. But the Borthwick Pinot Noir had a complexity that went beyond that. There were faint hints of earthy notes and mushroom-y undertones, and fair tannins that suggested the wine could develop into something more in future. So with our first order, I made a note to request and keep some of the older vintages for future tastings.

    I recently revisited the Borthwick Pinot Noir 2002 with some customers. The last time I had the same vintage was 2 years ago, so it was the right time to see how the wine has evolved. The corks from both bottles we pulled were still firm, with the red stain still in the bottom end of the corks, suggesting that the corks had done a good job in sealing the wines for the last 17 years. The colour as expected has changed to a brick red tone. The first whiff of the wine gave a slight oxidative note which is common in wines that have undergone prolonged aging. This though went off quickly upon swirling the glass, leaving behind the scent of dark cherries, liquorice and gamey notes.

    Borthwick Pinot Noir 2002 colour

    On the palate, there were thankfully no rusty notes that might suggest the wine had gone into decline. Instead, we were amazed that the pinot noir still tasted fresh, with prominent flavours of red and dark cherries with only a tiny hint of spice to give it just the right lift. The wine felt firm and rounded, the tannins having disappeared into the background. The finish was pretty amazing. I would like to say it went into eternity but to be honest, I was simply enjoying the wine too much to keep a timer on the finish.

    Borthwick Pinot Noir 2002 vs 2016

    It was a very satisfying experience tasting the Borthwick Pinot Noir 2002. The wine was excellent, but for me, to drink such an old vintage of a moderately priced pinot noir from a small producer and for it to hit all the right spots was a HUGE reward. I had only intended to open one bottle while keeping the other in reserve in case the first one had faults. But as you can see, when you had one good bottle, it seemed cruel to leave the other bottle untouched. One of our customers was kind enough to open a bottle of our current vintage Borthwick Pinot Noir 2016 to compare against the 2002. The 2016 is consistent in style not only with the 2002, but with all the vintages in between as far as I can remember. The vineyard is the same and the owner/winemaker is the same, so except for slight vintage variations, I find the pinot noir similar in all aspects.

    I will describe the Borthwick Pinot Noir as a wine that is fresh with lively fruits, with beautiful secondary flavours of mushrooms, game and spice, supported by a fine tannin structure. In its youth, the secondary flavours are subtle, but with age, the medium bodied Borthwick Pinot Noir really stands out as a complete and elegant wine. The wine is always ready for immediate drinking, but if you are patient, you will be rewarded amply.

    We only have 8 bottles left of the Borthwick Pinot Noir 2002 after this tasting. We won’t be selling them as we intend to taste them again. If you are a pinot noir fan, do leave us your name and contact in the comments below. If the chance is right, we will invite you the next time we taste this vintage. Likewise, if you have had similar amazing discoveries on small producers, do share your story too. We will be most happy to hear it.

    Happy drinking,
    Wong Peng Chung (Kenny)
    Founder and Chief Wine Drinker

    3 Responses

    Chew Kuan Yee
    Chew Kuan Yee

    May 09, 2019

    Would definitely like to try aged New World Pinots and see how they compare against their Burgundy peers.


    May 09, 2019

    Always been a fan of NZ Pinot due to their great value. Happy to read an article that bear testament to their aging ability.

    Melvin Leng
    Melvin Leng

    April 18, 2021

    I am a fan of new world Pinot, namely Australia, NZ, and US, as I do see great value and potential from some of the sub-regions. Have always been curious to know about the aging potential of these wines, but it’s difficult to find old or well aged pinots from these regions, considering many of these wineries are fairly young, wineries mostly release only the recent vintage, and very rarely so people stock these for the secondary market. Will definitely love to try these!! Cheers!!

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