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February 4, 2010

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Hollywood star makes his mark with pinots from the paddocks

IT'S a big call nailing the single most impressive wine of last year among so many good bottles and an ever-increasing range of quality, relatively more approachable products around the globe.

However, Two Paddocks Pinot Noir 2006 from Central Otago, New Zealand, is the wine that stimulated my sensory core and thoughts most in terms of complexity, quality and sheer enjoyment.

It was my house red for a period. I simply could not get enough of it, drinking the supplier in Singapore dry. I then resorted to hording bottles on my travels to Malaysia.

I recently satisfied my thirst for it in Hong Kong at the two-star Michelin restaurant Caprice whose head sommelier agreed with my admiration for the wine.

In his words, "This wine is comparable to many red burgundies at several times the price." Quite a statement coming from a Frenchman.

Certainly New Zealand pinot noir is distinguishing itself on the world wine stage and is unquestionably the red grape showing the most potential in the cooler areas.

It is stylistically diverse between the Kiwi regions, with Central Otago centerstage in familiarity, popularity and individuality as arguably the most stunning wine region on the planet.

Perhaps what I like most about Two Paddocks is it's atypical to what people perceive as New Zealand pinot noir and resonates in its individual character.

It is unquestionably antipodean with the attractiveness of brighter berry fruits, texturally soft and inviting viscosity, refreshing acidities and a subtle sweetness.

I find this combination of qualities particularly suited to practically every Asian cuisine - whether spicy or not.

It is, however, noticeably more savory and has that special quality known as "tension," an attribute Allen Meadow's, the leading authority on Burgundy and American pinot noir, describes as the French equivalent of "nervosite."

This characteristic encompasses the nervy, invigorating, natural acidity and taut, yet fine-grained tannins that balance wines endowed with intense fruit.

The proprietor of Two Paddocks is New Zealand actor Sam Neill, who began with modest ambitions to satisfy the thirst of family and friends.

However, by his own admission, he has now become "outrageously ambitious - we want to produce year after year, the world's best pinot noir."

The Two Paddocks wines are made by the Olympian of Central Otago, Dean Shaw, at Central Otago Wine Company. But make no mistake - Sam Neill is an auteurist agriculturalist and pinot noir producer. He just knows that to achieve perfection you need the help of the right people.

My tasting note on the 2006 Two Paddocks Pinot Noir, a blend from the three paddocks: there's a whiff of tobacco leaf and leather among enticing deep scents of black cherries, stewed plum and dried fig with an alluring herbal nuance of wild thyme and lavender.

It is curious how sometimes you can smell the viscosity in some wines, a sort of creamy-lactose milk chocolate sensation, which this wine has. There is also charred woods and black tea among the clove and black pepper spice with a wet slate and rusted iron-like minerality.

The palate entry is tart with tamarillo and sharp raspberry, fleshing out to sweeter red cherry and roasted beetroot with a soft and ethereal mid-palate - an easing back in the chair and nosing type of wine with a deceptive lightness.

The "tension" reminds you of the wines liveliness enhanced by a lingering, savory, herbal-spiciness.

Such intense carry of flavors in a delicate manner is the hallmark of great pinot noir, which this wine has.

It drinks wonderfully now, having a couple of years in bottle, and will develop nicely over five years or more. I suspect it will hold well up to 2016 and maybe longer, given the screwcap.

If you cannot find the 2006, be on the lookout for the equally impressive 2007. If you're in Asia, you would be wise to register your interest with the vineyard direct at


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