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The Prince of Pinots – Grant Taylor

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Grant Taylor is a visionary. From humble viticultural beginnings, Grant has forged a name for himself as one of the greatest Pinot Noir makers in the world. He is the only person to be coveted with the award as World’s best Pinot Noir maker three times at the London International Wine Fair. Perhaps his Italian heritage (his great-grandfather was Giuseppe Valli), which meant he grew up immersed in the intricacies of food and grape growing, is to be thanked.

He is a humble man with a vision to make a Pinot Noir that represents the terroir it comes from.  It’s a goal of his to have Central Otago Pinot Noir known as a distinctive style, similar to the appellation of French houses of Burgundy.

He has been based in the Central Otago region of New Zealand for 30 years, and has wines from the Gibbston Valley, the Bannockburn region, Bendigo and the Waitaki region in North Otago, which is a new wine region. He makes Riesling from grapes from the Alexandra region.

He swims against the tide. In his Gibbston Valley vineyard, the trellises run north-south, while everyone else in the Valley plants them east-west. He was the original wine maker at the Gibbston Valley winery, and has done vintages in Oregon. 

Waitaki holds a special place for him as it is his birthplace. This maritime-influenced region of North Otago is producing elegant wines. The limestone and alluvial soils make for arduous work from the vine, but the slow ripening period sees fruit hanging through til late April and early May. Fruit and acid characteristics abound.

I first met Grant in New Zealand four years ago. A pure delight. Recently, I hosted a dinner with his Marketing Manager Hollis Giddens. This well-versed, immaculately dressed wine siren is an asset to the Valli Team. The Mississippi twang is a delight to listen to.

The wines shone bright, educating the guest about the fascinating world of terroir. While the room polarised on which was the favourite, all agreed that they are exquisite wines made with attitude, elegance and sense of place. The restaurant, Harrys of Buderim, provided five courses of sensational food.

Wines Tasted

2012 Valli Alexandra Riesling – light straw colours with hints of green. The nose has delicate lime citrus notes, with some floral and minerality. The palate delights with anterior, tightly wound fruit flavours that develop as the wine warms up. Acidity is wonderfully rampant, with almost no residual sugar. Cellar for six years. Had with chilled leek and Ceas spanner crab soup.

2011 Valli Waitaki Pinot Noir – attractive dusky red colours. The bouquet exudes red, well-ripened fruits. Brambly nuances flitter with some oak characteristics. The palate at first feels overripe, but within 10 minutes it morphs into a complex, integrated wine. Cellar for 10 years. Drank with fried sheep’s cheese fennel salad.

2011 Valli Gibbston Valley Pinot Noir – a brighter red colour. The aromas of delicate red fruits and cherries are typical of the region. Twiggy, funky spicy aromas develop. The palate is silky, but then develops a peak of acid and structure. Cellar 10 years. Drank with Hervey Bay scallops and pork belly on mustard mash.

2011 Valli Bannockburn Pinot Noir – deep red to purple. Big, complex, red to plummy fruits delight. Hints of Asian spice, tarragon and even leathery notes appear. Somewhat typical of the big Pinot Noir of Central Otago, but balanced by Grant Taylor’s ability to produce the ‘iron fist in a velvet glove’. The palate is sweeping with fruit structure and desirability. Cellar 12 years. Drank with Caramelised duck a la orange.