A Vertical Tasting of Dry River

Posted by Michael Hutton on

On Saturday evening we had the great pleasure to host Winemaker Wilco Lam from Dry River. As exciting as it is to taste wines from Martinborough's most prestigious winery, it is even better when old vintages are on show. 

Dry River is a true icon of the New Zealand wine world - one of the very first to plant vines in Martinborough in 1979 by Dr Neil McCullum, Dry River has always held a fanatical level of detail in both the vineyard and the winery. The wines are made in tiny volumes, a total production of around 2,500 cases spread across a wide range of grape varieties. While undoubtedly most famous for their Pinot Noir, over the years Dry River has planted Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Viognier, Syrah, and even a tiny amount of Tempranillo.

Wilco Lam is the Chief Winemaker at Dry River - having originally come from Holland and studies in viticulture, he completed additional winemaking studies at Lincoln in New Zealand in 2003, and joined the Dry River team in 2009.  The consumate professional, Wilco was a wealth of information around the Dry River philosophy, grape growing techniques such as eschewing irrigation, hand picking with multiple passes through the winery over a period of weeks, and deliberate canopy management to maximise tannin influence in the fruit.  He was able to speak in detail about the vintage conditions of each year, and how that impacted on the resulting wines.

We tasted the wines in three flights- tasting three different vintages of each of three Dry River wines: Riesling, Pinot Noir and Syrah.  It was staggering to see how well these wines have aged, with even the oldest vintages showing a freshness and vibrancy that lesser wines would have long lost.  I've summarised my tasting notes of each of the wines below.

Dry River Riesling - 2016 (current vintage). Delicate florals, lemon blossom & orange peel on the nose. Soft acidity but still mouth watering. Dry, good palate weight a clean finish with a hint of steel and spice.  Very enjoyable but felt young and tight in the company of the other wines.

Dry River Riesling 2009 - Tangy lime, flint, and burnt citrus aromas, suggesting a touch of botrytis influence. Surprisingly savoury in the mid palate, with hints of kerosene and smoke with a long chalky finish.

Dry River Riesling 2004 - Deeper golden colour, aromas of almond paste and pastry with dandelion and yellow florals. Mouth filling texture from front to mid palate, Fruits giving way to a stony and textural wine with a lingering finish.

Dry River Pinot Noir 2015 - Sweet floral nose, cherry, strawberry, red liquorice and baking spice. Soft and opulent in the mouth with bright berries, initially bursting with fruit but closing down through the mid palate to woody savoury notes, some earth lurking close by with a leafy chalky finish.

Dry River Pinot Noir 2011 - Sweet earth, black cherry, and hints of old leather on the nose. Juicy and lucious fruit in the mouth, with a generous long & supple finish. 

Dry River Pinot Noir 2008 - Initially shy on the nose with jasmine, rose petals, and chocolate truffle. Freshness on the front palate surprising for a wine of this age, shimmering on the palate with great vibrancy. Milk chocolate and warm brown spice on the finish.

Dry River Syrah 2013 - Barnyard aromas dominate the nose, black leather and old wood, subdued on the palate with a woody finish. Although four years old and from a warm vintage this wine will be showing much more character in future years.

Dry River Syrah 2008 - Gamey nose, almost akin to peated whisky, accompanied by sweet black fruits. Building in texture through the mid palate to a bold finish. Blackberry, hints of jam, with plenty of leather and pleasing tannins pairing with just a hint of black pepper.

Dry River Syrah 2004 - Complex aromas of sea salt, brine, venison. tapenade and vanilla. Charmling initially on the palate building in weight to reveal silky dark fruit, truffle and black pepper. A sumptuous wine in its prime.


At the end of the evening, we voted for our favourite wines of each flight - the oldest wines making an emphatic clean sweet for our enthustiastic tasters. More than anything, a tasting lineup like this is a poster for patience - top tier wines can still be enjoyable in their youth but have spectacular potential to improve with time in the cellar. Many thanks again to Wilco for his expertise and willingness to speak in great detail and care about the wines... and of course for sharing rare treasures direct from the Dry River cellars.


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