This is what attracted me to this stunning new release from Burn Cottage, a rising-star Central Otago property with an impressive pedigree given its relative newness on the scene. Employing meticulous natural farming practices and enlisting California Pinot Noir eminence Ted Lemon (Littorai) as head winemaker, Burn Cottage is an important name to know on this exciting new Pinot Noir frontier: Their 2015 “Moonlight Race” Pinot Noir really floored me, delivering the charm and intensity found in my favorite wines in Burgundy with a touch more power and texture. In tasting and re-tasting this wine, my thoughts ping-ponged from the best wine from the Willamette Valley to Premier Cru Chambolle-Musigny—fresh black and red berries lead the charge on the palate, but a wonderful chord of savory earth and delicate structure quickly accompany them. And then there’s the price, not always a selling point for Central Otago wines, which can climb right up alongside better-known competitors: “Moonlight Race” is a really great buy, easily outperforming countless Pinots costing twice as much. This really is a don’t-miss bottle and encouraging sign for a Pinot Noir value-hunter like myself; Central Otago has proven itself a major player in world class wine.
In 2002, husband and wife Marquis and Dianne Sauvage stumbled upon this undulating, and sheltered-from-the-elements property. There were no neighbors or planted vines, and its only inhabitants were grazing sheep. They purchased the property in a lively back-and-forth auction and the first matter of business was securing the services of Ted Lemon. With a propensity for Central Otago’s wines and climate, Ted eagerly hopped aboard and biodynamic practices were immediately put into place; terroir-expression was to be the driving force behind Burn Cottage’s wines. Keep in mind, back in 2002 biodynamic farming in Central Otago was unheard of—they were alone in their quest. They brought in Highland cattle to graze the land, employed a bee population, and planted an olive grove. Essentially, this is a self-sustaining farm that just happens to make stunning expressions of Pinot Noir. Their self-defining motto: “Great wines are not made from fruit; they are born of the soils which nurture the vines.”
Nestled amongst the mountainous landscape of the South Island, Central Otago is the southernmost winegrowing region in the world, and can claim a climate most similar to Burgundy. For "Moonlight Race," which takes its name for an old water channel (‘race’) that runs through the property, grapes are sourced from three premier vineyards: Burn Cottage (estate-owned, farmed biodynamically), Northburn, and Mark II. All three sites sit at 700-1,000 feet and have vines between 10-20 years of age. Soils range from loam to granite to schist to quartz—the product of glacial deposits and old river beds; there is great diversity here! In the winery, nearly 80% of the grapes are destemmed and a fermentation on ambient yeasts takes place over a three week period. They adhere to biodynamic principles throughout the entire process, limiting the use of sulfur and almost always avoiding racking. The wine sees 25% new French oak and is bottled unfiltered.
The 2015 “Moonlight Race” casts a dark ruby red core with light pink hues leading out to the rim. The nose is incredibly intense, dense and high-toned with aromas of fresh strawberry, framboise liqueur, black and bing cherry, candies rhubarb, dried blood orange peel, pomegranate, rose petal, wild herbs, damp bark, black tea, underbrush, and various kitchen spices. Yes, there is a lot going on. On the palate, the wine is medium-plus bodied and the tannins have some structure but enter with a soft and supple approach. Elevated acidity gives the fruit a mouthwatering feel and you’ll love how the wine envelops your palate with a refined polish. I was astonished with the minerality and complex earth components that follows the fruit panorama—it makes for a lingering Burgundy-like finish. Right out of the bottle, this is one of the most accessible 2015 Pinot Noirs I’ve tried. Fresh and energetic, this is enjoyable with or without a decant. If desired, you can treat it to a 30 minutes of air, but it went straight into my glass with reckless abandon. It will, however, perform at high levels over the next decade so try to keep your hands off a few bottles because it will show additional notes of savor and earth in coming years. I’m treating this like I would a Premier Cru from Côte de Nuits, so enjoy in large Burgundy stems around 60 degrees and pair alongside an elegant, yet unassuming Cornish Hen dish. Cheers!