Part 1 covered the big 3: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Now we turn our attention to the other varieties grown in the country of the Long White Cloud.
As a self-confessed Riesling lover and fan of NZ wines, I find Kiwi Riesling a bit unsure of what it wants to be. Acidity and flavour are never in doubt, but the residual sugar levels vary significantly from producer to producer – often without explanation on the front label – and don’t always result in a balanced wine. For zing and purity stick to Clare Valley in South Australia, but there are some NZ gems out there.
Tohu Single Vineyard Riesling Awatere, Marlborough 2013
Zing! Made in an Alsace, bone-dry style from the cooler Awatere part of Marlborough. Very clean and linear on the palate, it might be a little too limey and intense for some on its own (though not for me!) Would be fabulous with shellfish.
Yealands Estate Riesling Marlborough 2012
This is their slightly more premium Riesling, the junior range being “Peter Yealands”. It tastes even drier than its 6g of Residual Sugar would suggest – that’s the acidity coming through.
Greywacke Riesling Marlborough 2011
This is made in an off-dry style not unlike Kabinett examples from Germany; it has 22g of residual sugar. I got a strong flavour of chalk – more pleasant than it sounds – along with citrus and honey.
Siegfried Winemakers Collection Sweet Agnes Riesling Nelson 2012
This full-on dessert style has nearly ten times the residual sugar of the Greywacke above. It’s a heavenly liquor with luscious stone fruit, mandarin and buttered brioche – all balanced by ample acidity so it’s never cloying. So moreish!
Touted by some observers as the future of New Zealand red wine, Syrah grows best in the warmer parts of the country (Auckland, Waiheke, Hawke’s Bay) and is closer to the northern Rhone than the Barossa in style – very perfumed and elegant, restrained rather than powerful. Although Syrah likes the heat is it more tolerant of different temperatures than Cabernet Sauvignon, for example. Some producers are now experimenting with Syrah in Marlborough, watch this space!
Tinpot Hut Syrah Hawke’s Bay 2009
Fiona Turner hails from Hawke’s Bay, so it was natural that she would look to her home region for a source of Syrah. The fruit is grown in the Dartmoor Valley and Gimblett Gravels sub-regions, vinified separately then blended together. This is an elegant, supple and refined Syrah with plum and spice on the attack followed by notes of crisp bacon – very much Northern Rhône style.
Man O’ War Dreadnaught Syrah Waiheke 2010
This is the Waiheke outfit’s top Syrah, from the warmest and steepest slopes. Fairly dense and intimidating at first, it gradually opens up to reveal plum, blueberry and pepper with a savoury edge. This might benefit from food right now, but it will soften and develop over the next ten years – a keeper!
Trinity Hill Syrah Hawke’s Bay 2011
Trinity Hill’s winemaker John Hancock is a big fan of the Northern Rhône, Syrah’s spiritual home, after working under Gerard Jaboulet in Côte-Rôtie. Following the practice of that region, a small amount of Viognier is often blended in to soft the palate and add more interest on the nose. This is the entry level Trinity Hill Syrah, with Gimblett Gravels and “Homage” above it, but it acquits itself very well
Craggy Range “Le Sol” Syrah Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay 2011
This was the only wine I noticed that wasn’t available for the consumer tasting that followed the trade tasting, with a very good reason – the price! Craggy Range are all single vineyard wines, but this is getting towards “super-premium” territory. This does everything the other Syrahs above do, but more so. The youngest vintage that Craggy Range recommend drinking now is 2002 – so although this Le Sol can be drunk now, it won’t do itself justice until at least 2021 – then it will sing.
Sometimes spelling makes a big difference. Usually, a wine labelled as “Pinot Gris” will be similar to the Alsace style, intense and often off dry. Those with “Pinot Grigio” are more likely to be light and almost neutral in flavour like the thin, acidic Italian wines which clog up pub winelists everywhere (did I just say that out loud?) For the most part, New Zealand is closer to the Alsace style – even when called a Grigio as the first wine below.
Brancott Estate Pinot Grigio Marlborough 2013
This is round and supple, a very pleasant easy-drinking style. Would partner well with lots of Asian dishes.
Ata Rangi Lismore Pinot Gris Martinborough 2013
As Craighall is to Chardonnay, Lismore is to Pinot Gris. Both ripe pears and pear drop sweets feature on the round palate. It’s very rich and just off-dry – both flavour and sweetness would stand up to Thai food.
Ostler Lakeside Pinot Gris Waitaki Valley 2012
The only wine (I noticed) at the tasting from the Waitaki Valley – a marginal (even for NZ) new wine making region by the South East coast of the South Island. Marginal areas sometimes produce poor wines in bad vintages, but can excel in better vintages – it’s all about taking risks. This wine is off-dry to medium-dry with 15g of RS; it’s not a dessert wine but would be fine with spicy food, or at a push fruit salad. The 2012 is only the second vintage ever made, so vine age should lend even more complexity.
This variety has a lot of potential, in Marlborough (in particular), where nights are cool like its home in Austria. Usually made dry, it is an aromatic alternative to Sauvignon and Riesling, and some (I’m looking at you, Tara!) even prefer it. Grüner is generally medium-bodied and very food-friendly.
Tin Pot Hut McKee Vineyard Marlborough Grüner Veltliner 2012
As the name suggests this is made from grapes grown in a single vineyard, located in the Blind River sub-region of Marlborough. The acidity keeps it dry, clean and crisp, with a fabulous texture that makes you want to roll it round your mouth. This is a subtle wine combining peach and pear with gentle peppery spice.
Siegfried Grüner Veltliner Nelson 2011
One of Nelson’s top producers (see their Sweet Agnes dessert Riesling in part 1) who also make New Zealand’s only Würzer, a white German wine grape variety that is a crossing of Gewürztraminer and Müller-Thurgau. The winery’s founder Hermann Siegfried hails from Austria so he naturally looked to introduce Grüner to Nelson, after the regulation quarantine process. This is a typical example of the grape, with white stone fruit and white pepper (better than it sounds, honestly) from a young vineyard.
The Best of the Rest
A selection of the other wines I found interesting…
Yealands Estate, Awatere Valley Single Vineyard PGR Marlborough 2013
Pinot Gris (50%) Gewurztraminer (15%) Riesling (35%) not unlike an Alsace Edelzwicker blend. It’s so new that it doesn’t even yet feature on the Yealand’s website or even in the tasting catalogue. The small proportion of Gewurz means that it doesn’t dominate – the nose isn’t overwhelmingly floral. If you like the sound of this then also consider Te Whare Re (TWR)’s Toru.
Brancott Estate Letter Series “R” Sauvignon Gris Marlborough 2013
This is the first Sauvignon Gris I have tasted from New Zealand; there are some reasonable examples of the variety from Chile and it sometimes finds its way into white Bordeaux (both dry and sweet). This is a powerful wine with 14.0% abv and the 6.9g/L residual sugar gives it extra body and a hint of sweetness on the finish. Stylistically this is closer to a Pinot Gris than a Sauvignon Blanc. Brancott are hoping that this will help them diversify away from reliance on the latter. Interestingly, they have launched the variety with a premium rather than everyday version.
Hunters MiruMiru Reserve Sparkling Marlborough 2005
This has the traditional Champagne grape blend: Chardonnay (56%) and Pinots Noir and Meunier (44% together) and is made in the traditional method. Apparently this only had eight months on the lees before disgorgement, but it tastes like it was more. Obviously lots of bottle age which has allowed lots of complexity to develop – a class fizz.
Man O’ War Ironclad Waiheke 2010
This is a Bordeaux blend with virtually the full house of black grapes permitted in Bordeaux – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. The grapes are picked and sorted separately from 45 different parcels on the warmer hillside sites, then blended together. As might be expected it tastes something akin to an Haut-Médoc from a warm year, blackcurrant and plum fruit dancing against a background of supple tannins. This is lovely to drink now but will easily keep (and keep developing) until the end of the decade.
Craggy Range “Sophia” Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay 2004 & 2006
Finally, two different vintages of Hawke’s Bay Bordeaux blends from Craggy Range, and older than you might often see available. The Gimblett Gravels sub-region lies over a former riverbed – hence the gravel – and so is very well drained (most quality grapes don’t produce quality wine if they have too much access to water). The 2004 consists of 92% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon whereas the 2006 was made with 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Malbec – a perfect example of adjusting the blend depending on the vintage, as is the norm in Bordeaux. Both of these examples were maturing but not fully mature; there was still plenty of cassis and plum on the palate but cedar and tobacco notes starting to creep in – complex and very drinkable.
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