Tag: Central Otago

Top Selection of Reds [Make Mine a Double #29]

Here are a couple of fab reds from Top Selection, an interesting UK-based boutique wine merchant:

Habla de la Tierra Vino de la Tierra de Extremadura 2014 (13.5%, £14 from Top Selection)

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This is a modern Spanish wine made from a blend of Cab Franc and Tempranillo.

Unlike its offspring Cabernet Sauvignon (see here), Cabernet Franc is far less celebrated. In its home of the Loire Valley it can make some fantastic mid-weight reds, but as that region is often overlooked Cab Franc is rarely shouted about.  In Bordeaux it’s a useful blending grape on both banks, but very rarely makes up the majority of a cuvee. Perhaps its route to fame will be in Argentina where it has been the Next Big Thing for some time.

Extremadura is a Spanish province which has Andalucia to the south and Portugal to the west, with the Douro dipping into its northern reaches.  The only (exclusive*) Denominacion de Origen here is DO Ribera del Guadiana around the banks of the River Guardiana; the Vino de la Tierra Extremadura covers the whole province.

Vinos_de_la_Tierra_de_España
Credit: Emilio Gomez Fernandez

*DO Cava can also be made in Extremadura, but production is very small.

Vinos_DO_de_España
Credit: Emilio Gomez Fernandez

So how does this unusual blend work?  Very well, actually!  It has the bright, fresh raspberry character of Cab Franc on the attack, with the supple roundness of Tempranillo on the finish – a thoroughly delicious wine!

Harwood Hall Central Otago Pinot Noir 2012 (13.5% £19 from Top Selection)

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Most people know where New Zealand is but even seasoned NZ wine fans might not know where the different Kiwi wine regions are in the country.  Central Otago is the most southerly of NZ’s wine regions – and in fact the most southerly place where wine is produced on a commercial basis in any country.  It’s relatively dry, and semi-continental which gives it hot summer days but cool nights and cold winters.

WONZ-regional-map-white
Credit: Wines Of New Zealand

All these factors give Central Otago wines a great intensity of flavour while preserving acidity and freshness.  Although relatively new as a wine region – even by NZ standards – it is among the top places to grow Pinot Noir in the country.

Harwood Hall is a joint venture between two New Zealanders who have worked in the industry for 20 years.  The simple instructions to accompany this wine should be: open, pour, lock the doors, enjoy the wine!  It’s super smooth, pure velvet in the glass.  There are red and black cherries and red berries with a touch of spice, a heavenly combination.

 

Disclosure: both wines kindly provided for review

 

**Click here to see more posts in the Make Mine a Double Series**

 

Top M&S Whites

Last month I picked out six super sparklers from Marks and Spencer.  Now it’s time for some of my favourite M&S whites:

Domaine de la Pinte Arbois Chardonnay 2014 (12.5%, €23.50)

arbois

The region of eastern France is gradually gaining significant recognition for its wide variety of grapes and styles, many of which are particular to the area.  This is something more conventional, being a Chardonnay made in the “ouillé” style whereby evaporation losses are topped up to prevent too much oxygen in the barrel.  This has far more texture and flavour than you’d expect from a “Chardonnay” – it’s different but well worth a try.

Chapel Down Lamberhurst Estate Bacchus Reserve 2015 (11.5%, €19.50)

bacchus

I have been a keen supporter of English sparkling wine for over a decade, but I haven’t shared the same enthusiasm about English still wines.  However, there are a growing number of very good still wines that deserve your attention.  Bacchus was created in 1930s Germany – and is still grown there – but has found a second home in the cool English climate.  Chapel Down’s Reserve bottling is full of stone, tropical and citrus fruit. It’s well balanced and has a touch of residual sugar to counterpoint the mouth watering acidity.

Cupcake Vineyards Chardonnay 2014 (13.0%, €15.50)

cupcake

The Central Coast on the front label is of course the Central Coast of California, which includes Santa Barbara of Sideways fame and Monterey County, where the majority of the Chardonnay grapes were sourced from.

Part of the fermented juice was matured in (mainly old, I reckon) oak barrels and part underwent softening malolactic fermentation in stainless steel tanks, followed by lees stirring.  When recombined this wine gives the best of both world – it has some oak, but not too much, and some creamy lees flavours. Great value for money – just don’t drink it too cold.

Atlantis Santorini 2015 (13.0%, €15.50)

atlantis

Santorini is my favourite wine region of Greece for whites, especially those made wholly or predominantly from Assyrtiko as this is.  Due to its latitude the island receives lots of sun but this is somewhat tempered by sea breezes.  It sees no oak nor malolactic fermentation so remains clean and linear.

Earth’s End Central Otago Riesling 2015 (12.5%, €20.50)

earths-end

Central Otago in the deep south of New Zealand is primarily known for its Pinot Noirs – and rightly so – but its long cool growing season is also suitable for Chardonnay and Riesling.  This has lovely lime notes, and an off dry finish perfectly balances the vibrant acidity.  With Haka instructions on the front, surely this would be a great present for a rugby fan?

Terre di Chieti Pecorino 2015 (12.5%, €15.00)

pecorino

Another recent favourite of mine is Pecorino, an everyday Italian white wine with far more character than the lakes of uninteresting Pinot Grigio that clog up most supermarket shelves.  Both oranges and lemons feature on the palate – it’s a great drop at a keen price.

Villiera Traditional Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2016 (14.0%, €18.50)

villiera

Modest packaging belies a sublime wine, one of the most enjoyable South African Chenins I’ve had for a long time.  The complexity is due to the variety of choices made by winemaker Jeff Grier – a small amount of botrytised grapes was used, part of the wine went through malolactic and part did not, both new and second-use French oak barrels were used.  The end result is a marvel of honey and vanilla – amazingly complex for such a young wine.

Stepp Riesling *S* Kallstadter Saumagen 2015 (13.0%, €22.00)

stepp

Germany’s Pfalz region is beloved of the Wine Hunter himself, Jim Dunlop, and of course makes some great Riesling.  The alcohol of 13.0% is much higher than an average Mosel Riesling, for example, which indicates that this is likely to be significantly drier and more full bodied.  Apricot, lemon, lime and orange make an appearance – just such a lovely wine!

Red Claw Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay 2015 (13.0%, €27.00)

red-claw

From one of Australia’s premium cool climate regions, this is a Chardonnay to make Burgundy lovers weep – or convert!  The fermented wines are matured on their lees in 500L barrels (over double the standard barrique of 225L) with no malolactic fermentation allowed, so freshness is maintained.  This is a grown up wine with lots of lees character and reductive notes.

Frankly Wines Top 10 Whites of 2015

2015 has been an excellent year for wine in Dublin, especially from a personal perspective.  As well as the usual trade tastings, which one can never take for granted, I have been lucky enough to be invited to several excellent wine dinners and receive samples from many new suppliers and retailers – thanks to all.

Here are ten of the white wines which made a big impression on me during the year.  The order is somewhat subjective – this is wine tasting after all – and I’m sure the list would look a little different on another day.

10. Domaine de Terres Blanches Coteaux du Giennois AOC “Alchimie” 2014 (€14/€10, SuperValu)

Coteaux du Giennois Blanc-Alchimie
Coteaux du Giennois Blanc Alchimie 2014

A fruit driven Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire, just outside Sancerre, which is just so damned drinkable. It has some of the explosiveness of a Marlborough savvy but more restrained, so it wouldn’t be out of place at the table. It’s well worth the regular price but is a total steal when on offer.  See more here.

9. Domaine de Maubet Côtes de Gascogne 2014 (€14.99, Honest 2 Goodness)

Domaine de Maubet
Domaine de Maubet Côtes de Gascogne 2014

Whites from South West France continue to impress me with their intense, but balanced, flavours from mainly indigenous grapes – and all at keen prices.  This is one of the best I’ve ever tasted from the area.  See more here.

8. Château Mas “Belluguette” Coteaux de Languedoc 2012 (€20.95, Molloys)

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A premium white wine from the Languedoc, but without a silly price tag. This was one of the biggest surprises of the year – I just hadn’t been expecting such an exuberant white wine from the Languedoc.  The blend is: Vermentino 40%, Roussanne 30%, Grenache 20%, Viognier 10%, with each grape variety is vinified separately in oak barrels for a month.   50% of the blend goes through malolactic fermentation and it is blocked for the remainder. The final blend is then aged in 2/3 French and 1/3 American oak for 4 months.

Molloy’s wine consultant Maureen O’Hara dubbed this a “Dolly Parton” wine – I’d have to say it’s got a lot of front!

7. Two Paddocks Picnic Riesling, Central Otago (€19.99, Curious Wines)

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Although owned by a famous actor, this estate does not make “celebrity wine”. Pinot Noir is the speciality of Two Paddocks, with excellent premium and single vineyard bottlings, but they also make a small amount of Riesling, benefitting from the cool (almost cold!) climate of the southerly most wine region in the world.

“Picnic” is their more accessible, everyday range, for both Pinot and Riesling, and here we have the latter.  It’s just off-dry with lots of Golden Delicious apple, honey and citrus, with a fresh streak of acidity through the middle.  It actually reminded me of a still version of Nyetimber’s 2007 Blanc de Blanc, one of my favourite English sparklers!

6. Argyros Estate Santorini Atlantis 2013 (€15.49, Marks and Spencer)

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Argyros Estate Atlantis Santorini 2013

An excellent Assyrtiko based-blend from the Greek Island of Santorini, linked to the legend of Atlantis.  Old vines and steep slopes contribute to excellent intensity, with lemony flavours and floral aromas.  Such a drinkable and versatile wine.

See more here.

5. Soalheiro Alvarinho Reserva DOC Vinho Verde 2012 (€35.99, Black Pig, JN Wine)

Soalheiro
Soalheiro Alvarinho Reserva 2012 (Credit: Via Viti)

Yes you read that correctly, this is a €35 Vinho Verde!  However, although it shares geography and grape variety with many Vinho Verdes, it is made in a totally different style.  It retains the central fresh core of Alvarinho (aka Albariño in Galicia) yet has a creamy complexity from oak and lees stirring.

In one of the first DNS tastings of 2015 this was tied neck and neck with Rafael Palacios’ famous As Sortes – it’s that good.  See the full article on The Taste here.

4. Hugel Pinot Gris “Jubilee” 2000 (€52 in West Restaurant @ The Twelve Hotel)

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Hugel Pinot Gris “Jubilee” 2000 (Credit: Hugel)

 

One of the highlights of 2015 was a trip away to The Twelve Hotel in Barna, just outside Galway City, to celebrate my wife’s birthday.  It’s our favourite hotel in Ireland, and one that we choose for special occasions. Check out their full wine list here.

Hotel Restaurant wine lists can often be very dull / safe / boring, depending on your point of view, so it warms the cockles of this wino’s heart to see such a well put together list.  It was General Manager & Sommelier Fergus O’Halloran who first got me into Pecorino (see here), but on this occasion it was something else which was really worth writing home about.

Hugel is one of the two large and well-known family producers in Alsace, the other being Trimbach which also sports yellow labels on its bottles. Both are located in achingly pretty villages and have excellent ranges. Jubilee signifies Hugel’s premium range, made from fruit in their Grand Cru Sporen and Pflostig vineyards.  As a general rule I like Pinot Gris to have some sweetness to go with the distinctive apricot & honey flavours and oily texture – this doesn’t disappoint!  Getting a fifteen year old wine of this quality for €52 in a restaurant is amazing!

3. Albert Bichot Domaine Long-Depaquit Chablis Grand Cru “Moutonne” Monopole 2012 (€109.95, The Corkscrew)

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This was the highlight of a focused burgundy tasting given upstairs at Stanley’s by Ben and Barbara of WineMason. As a big fan of Chablis, especially Premier and Grand Cru, I was excited to taste the area’s famous “eighth Grand Cru”.  There are seven Grands Crus recognised by the French national appellations organisation (INAO), though those names appear after “Appellation Chablis Grand Cru Contrôlée”.  La Moutonne is recognised, however, by the Chablis (UGCC) and Burgundy (BIVB) authorities.

The majority of the Moutonne vineyard (95%) is in the Grand Cru Vaudésir with a small part (5%) in Grand Cru Preuses, so you’d expect it to taste almost identical to Albert Bichot’s Grand Cru Vaudésir, which is made in the same way – but it doesn’t!  This is put forward as a reason why Moutonne deserves its own Grand Cru status – but equally it might indicate that several Chablis Grand Crus are not homogenous across their climats.  An interesting debate which needs further research – and I volunteer!

Whatever the nomenclature, it’s a stunning wine – beautifully intertwining minerality, citrus, floral notes and a light toastiness from 25% oak.

2. Gulfi Carjcanti 2011 (€35 – €38, JN Wine and others)

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From South east Sicily comes something unlike anything you’ve tasted before – at least, a single wine containing all the flavours and aromas expressed by this wine.  Tasted with family member Matteo Catani, this is a truly remarkable wine – it showed anise, almond, citrus, apple, and a hint of oxidation which added interest but did not detract from the fruit.

When many producers are churning out identikit Cabernets and Chardonnays, wines that are different and interesting like this really grab the attention.

 

and finally….

1. Craiglee Sunbury Chardonnay 2011 (€33.95, winesdirect.ie, also available by the bottle and by the glass at Ely Wine Bar)

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If you read my favourite White Wines of 2013 or 2014 then the fact that my favourite white tasted in 2015 is a Chardonnay shouldn’t be a surprise.  I might be predictable, but it’s my favourite grape so I won’t apologise.

From a less well known part of Victoria, it shows butterscotch and toasty vanilla round a citrus core.  It’s not the most expensive wine in my listing, and probably not the “finest”, but it is beautifully balanced and the one that I would most fancy opening at anytime!

Also check out the Frankly Wines Top 10 Fizz, Top 10 Sweet wines and Top 10 Reds of 2015.

Five of the best Whites from Sweeney’s Wine Fair

Five of the best Whites from Sweeney’s Wine Fair

Sweeneys Wine Merchants, Glasnevin, Dublin
Sweeneys Wine Merchants, Glasnevin, Dublin

Sweeney’s Wine Merchants in Glasnevin recently held a Wine Fair to celebrate 60 years of business, and 10 at their current home on Hart’s Corner after 50 years closer to town on Dorset Street.  Find them on the web, Facebook and Twitter.

As well as four tables of wines hosted by suppliers there were also Irish craft beers from Kinnegar Brewery plus Gin and  Vodka from Dingle Distillery.  While I enjoyed the sideshows I have chosen five of the best white wines from the main event:

5 Pato Frio DOC Alentejo 2013 (Grace Campbell Wines, €15.00)

Pato Frio DOC Alentejo 2013
Pato Frio DOC Alentejo 2013

Grape: Antão Vaz

As the saying goes, if it looks like a duck, talks like a duck, then it must be a dangerously drinkable Portuguese white wine. I might have made that last bit up. It’s a quacker!

OK, enough of the lame duck jokes now. This is several steps above almost anything you will find in your local Spar, Centra or petrol station (Peter!), but without costing much more. It’s crisp and refreshing with zingy citrus.  It would be delightfully fresh on its own – as an aperitif or sitting out in the sun – or with seafood in particular.

The 2012 vintage showed very well in a tasting of Alentejo wines hosted by Kevin O’Hara of Grace Campbell wines last year.

4 Wild Earth Central Otago Riesling 2011 (Liberty Wines, €22.00)

Wild Earth Central Otago Riesling 2011
Wild Earth Central Otago Riesling 2011

Grape: Erm Riesling

Central Otago, or “Central” as the locals call it (well two syllables is quicker to say than five), is being feted as possibly the best place for Pinot Noir in New Zealand – and therefore a contender for the world outside BurXXXdy. But it is also home to some magnificent Chardonnay and Riesling.

This is just off dry, but you don’t notice the sweetness unless you look for it. Instead, there’s a kiss of sugar enhancing the fruitiness. If it was a young bottle that would have been about it, and very nice it would be too. But this 2011 has close to four years bottle age, so has now developed considerable tertiary flavours and (in particular) aromas.

Aged Riesling is one of the “holy grails” that wine aficionados look for, and of all wines that deserve to be given a chance to age, it’s the big R. To the uninitiated, descriptions of petrol, diesel or even Jet A1 sound far from appealing, but they are enchanting.

The aromas coming off this Wild Earth Riesling were so beguiling that they would have kept me happy all afternoon…though I knew there were lots more wine to taste!

3 Coto de Gomariz DO Ribeiro 2012 (Distinctive Drinks, €20.00)

Coto de Gomariz DO Ribeiro
Coto de Gomariz DO Ribeiro

Grapes: Treixadura / Godello / Loureira / Albariño

This is damned interesting wine that hails from one of Spain’s less well known wine regions, Ribeiro, close to Rías Baixas in Galicia.  Ribeiro shares many grapes with its neighbours in Galicia and just over the border into Portugal

Coto de Gomariz is a grown up wine, fine to drink on its own but perhaps a little subtle in that role. I think it would really shine at the table, where its freshness and texture would be a great partner for seafood, light poultry dishes or even just nibbles.

2 Herdade do Rocim Branco VR Alentejano 2012 (Grace Campbell Wines, €16.50)

Herdade do Rocim Branco VR Alentejano 2012
Herdade do Rocim Branco VR Alentejano 2012

Grapes: Antão Vaz / Arinto / Roupeiro

You might never have heard of the grapes before, but don’t worry, this is a quality wine. One of the attractions of Portuguese wine is that indigenous grapes are still used in the vast majority of wines, so there are still new tastes and sensations to be discovered.  As winemaking has modernised dramatically over the past few decades there are some old vines whose fruit is finally … erm… bearing fruit in the shape of quality wine.

There’s a little fresh citrus but it’s stone fruit to the fore here, peach and apricot.  It is lovely now but I could see this evolving for several years.  The quality is such that I’d happily pay a tenner more than the actual price.

1 Louis Jadot “Bourgogne Blanc” AC Bourgogne 2013 (Findlater WSG, €18.50)

Louis Jadot “Bourgogne Blanc” AC Bourgogne 2013
Louis Jadot “Bourgogne Blanc” AC Bourgogne 2013

Grape: Chardonnay

It’s rare that I would countenance picking up a white Burgundy saying just that – and no more than that – on the label. It’s close to the bottom of the many rungs in Burgundy and so is often used for collecting dilute, unripe and characterless grapes together into a big vat and charging money for the B word.

Jadot take a different approach and are highly selective about the grapes that go into their Bourgogne Blanc. I suspect that some were grown in more prestigious appellations and declassified, as well as growers outside the posh areas who value quality as well as quantity.

Oak is apparent on the nose, though at the tasting this was emphasised by the ISO/INAO tasting glasses which don’t allow Chardonnay to shine (or many grapes, to be Frank). As well as citrus and a hint of stone fruit there’s a lovely creamy texture to this wine, most likely the result of lees stirring. The oak is soft and well integrated on the palate, it doesn’t overpower the fruit in any way.

Real fruit, real oak, and most importantly, the fruit to justify the oak.  This is a real bargain in my eyes and was my favourite white wine of the tasting.

A Taste that’s out of this World

Peregrine Winery Central Otago
Peregrine Winery Central Otago

Some parts of Central Otago look like another world – wild doesn’t even start to cover it. Now vying with Martinborough as the best place for Pinot Noir in New Zealand, there’s an amazing variety of landscapes – some more resembling moonscapes in the former gold-mining areas.

It’s rugged, but beautifully rugged, even on an overcast day.

But it’s not just about Pinot – other varieties do well in the cooler climate down here as well. Chardonnay is an obvious one (Felton Road for example) and so is Riesling.  I think it’s fair to say that New Zealand is still finding its feet with Riesling, but there are some increasingly complex, balanced and just plain delicious wines being made.

Peregrine Central Otago
Peregrine Winery

Peregrine Central Otago Riesling 2010

With excellent acidity, this tastes nigh on dry – the 5 g/l of Residual Sugar adds body and balance without being obviously sweet.  It’s a fabulously versatile wine, great on its own on with anything from seafood to Thai.  At almost five years of age there are secondary aroma and flavours starting to develop along side the lemon and lime of its youth.

Peregrine Riesling Central Otago
Peregrine Riesling

Alcohol is 13.0% which gives you a hint that it’s no featherweight, but has enough body and oomph to really stand up for itself.  This is the type of wine I’d like to buy a case of and drink gradually over the years.

Stockists: not yet available in Ireland, but should have a RRP of €27 – €29

 

Here’s my review of Peregrine’s Pinot Noir on The Taste

thetaste.ie
Taste

 

State Of The Nation (Part 1): The Annual New Zealand Trade Tasting in Dublin

The New Zealand wine industry is in rude health.  It is still a minnow compared to many other countries, even its close neighbour Australia, but the commitment to quality is unmatched.  A few years ago there was a small dip as large amounts of dilute Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from excess production were offloaded cheaply though UK supermarkets.  That imbalance seems to have been corrected and hopefully we have seen the last of that swill.

Last month I attended the Annual New Zealand Trade Tasting in Dublin (with thanks to Jean Smullen for the invitation!) including the Sauvignon Blanc masterclass.  I got to taste virtually all the wines there, though of course there were lots of wineries not represented.  This post (and part 2, to come) reflect my views on the wines I particularly liked, or at least found interesting.

A brief recap as to the wine regions of New Zealand (with the major ones in bold):

  • Wairapa & Canterbury
  • Martinborough & Wairarapa
  • Central Otago
  • Marlborough
  • Nelson
  • Hawke’s Bay
  • Waitaki
  • Auckland, Matakana, Waiheke & Kumeu
  • Gisborne
  • Northland
  • Waikato & Bay Of Plenty

Sauvignon Blanc Masterclass

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L-R: Matt Thomson, Kevin Judd, Jamie Marfell

I got a spot on the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc Masterclass, given by Matt Thomson (Saint Clair), Jamie Marfell (Brancott Estate) and the “godfather of Marlborough Sauvignon”, Kevin Judd (with Cloudy Bay for maaany years and now running his own label Greywacke). Not only did we get a tutored tasting of eight different wines, but there was also lots of interesting information: SB accounts for ~66% of wine production in NZ but ~84% of exports; therefore the the High Commissioner of New Zealand to the UK was probably right that the UK doesn’t get the best NZ Chardonnays see article.

Although the first Sauvignon vines were planted in 1973, the vast majority of current vines were planted in the last decade or so; not only is this due to expansion in the area under vine, Phylloxera hit Marlborough in 1990 so existing vines had to be pulled up and new vines plants (presumably on American rootstocks). Vintage does matter in New Zealand due to the marginal climate – even for whites. It was so cold in 2012 that the grapes were nowhere near ready around the normal harvest time, so winegrowers just had to wait and wait. As Marlborough is dry and windy there is little risk of botrytis.  2012 wines often have green gooseberry flavours rather than the more common tropical and passionfruit characteristics.

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So much Sauvignon, so little time…

In Hawke’s Bay (and to a less extent Wairarapa and Nelson), SB is picked earlier to maintain acidity; hence, flavour is usually less intense than in Marlborough. In particular the cool nights in Marlborough mean the growing season is a long one, and thus more flavour and sugar develops while the acidity slowly drops. As the wines are fermented until technically dry (< 3g RS) they tend to have slightly higher alcohol than other regions. The vast majority of SB is machine harvested so that it can be picked very quickly and at night when temperatures are low (sometimes as cool as 5C). Winemakers are continuously experimenting with the techniques used for the standard, well-recognised style of Sauvignon and are also making alternative styles (see below).

Selected Wine Highlights

I’ve grouped some of the wines I liked best (or found most interesting) by grape rather than producer or importer.

Sauvignon Blanc (An asterix * indicates the wine was part of the Masterclass)

Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2013*

The majority of the fruit comes from the Southern Valleys, a different microclimate from the Wairau “Plains”.  Kevin likes to have a fairly open canopy so that sunlight gets to the grapes.  90% fermented in stainless steel with cultured yeast, 10% fermented in old oak barrels with wild yeast.  Smooth and balanced.

Greywacke Wild Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2012

Partially hand picked, and fermented in (mainly) old French oak barrels with naturally occurring yeast.  Occasional batonnage and two thirds go through MLF for softness (this is usually avoided for regular Sauvignons) and additional maturation on the lees for creaminess and complexity.  Note the current release is usually a year later than the standard Sauvignon.

Saint Clair Pioneer Block 18 Snap Block Sauvignon Blanc, Wairau Valley, Marlborough 2012*

This was one of the most successful 2012s shown at the tasting.  Sourced from a single vineyard, it was pressed quickly in small presses and 100% fermented and matured in stainless steel.  Just lovely.

Hunter’s Kaho Roa Wairau Valley, Marlborough 2012*

OK, this is where it gets complicated: 25% was fermented in new French oak barrels, 75% fermented in stainless steel.  Of the latter, half (37.5%) was transferred into barrel for maturation and the remainder was left in stainless steel.  Nice and round in the mouth with subtle oak/vanilla notes. Tohu Mugwi Reserve Awatere Valley, Marlborough 2012* The most subtle of the alternative style Sauvignons.  Being from the cooler Awatere Valley it has pronounced minerality.  80% goes through MLF to soften it out, but it remains so zesty that if I was told there was 10% Riesling in the blend I would have believed it.

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2013

The original premium Sauvignon that created such a buzz about Marlborough is still a fine drop, though it has plenty of competition nowadays.  The 2013 is smooth in the mouth and has mouth-watering acidity without being sharp.

Cloudy Bay Te Koko Sauvignon Blanc 2011

Possibly the most alternative of all the alternative Sauvignon offerings.  The grape variety isn’t even mentioned on the front label so that consumers don’t pick it up thinking it’s a regular style.  Another winemaker mentioned that their oaked Sauvignon “doesn’t think it’s a Chardonnay” – which could reasonably be levelled at Te Koko – but I love it!

Villa Maria Reserve Sauvignon Blanc Clifford Bay 2012

This is one of my personal favourites (it was the white wine served at my wedding), it really punches above its price point.  The 2012 is turning slightly vegetal with asparagus notes but remains delicious.  I’d be very interested to try the latest vintage as a comparison.

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is really coming on in New Zealand, especially as vines attain ten years of age or more.  For a detailed review check out Jamie Goode’s New Zealand Pinot Noir e-book.  Martinborough has been the pioneer of excellent Pinot in New Zealand, and some of the older vineyards are producing lovely wines.  Central Otago makes a very different style of Pinot – although the temperature can be very low at night, the region gets lots of sunshine so the grapes get thicker skins and high potential alcohol, adding to the colour and body.  Marlborough Pinot is also on the up as vines are now planted on more appropriate sites, rather than just where convenient or next to Sauvignon vines.

Matua Lands & Legends Pinot Noir Central Otago 2012

This is real Central Pinot, darker in colour and bigger in the mouth than Marlborough Pinot Noir; not as subtle but a very enjoyable wine – a Pinot Noir for winter.

Delta Hatters Hill Pinot Noir Marlborough 2009

A step up from the regular Pinot, this is grown on the slope of a hill (hence the name!) rather than in the valley.

Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir Marlborough 2012

On top form with this vintage, fabulously perfumed red fruit on the nose.

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir Martinborough 2011

The Daddy!  One of New Zealand’s top Pinot Noirs, powerful but silky smooth.  My favourite Pinot of the tasting.  For a less expensive taste try Ata Rangi’s Crimson, made from younger vines and so not quite as intense.

Te Pā Pinot Noir Marlborough 2011

A relative newcomer, made in a minimal-intervention way, and sulphur only added just before bottling.  Grapes are sourced from the Wairau and Awatere Valleys.  Matured for 10 months in large new French barrels.  Pinot Noir can often taste of tinned strawberries and raspberries, but this tasted of fresh fruit – just so alive.

Te Pā Rosé Marlborough 2013

After seven days of soaking the crushed grapes, 20% is bled off as a rosé.  This is just delicious – who needs insipid, off-dry rosés when they can drink a real wine?  A secondary effect of making this is of course to concentrate the colour and flavour of the juice that’s left – the full-blown 2013 Pinot Noir will be something to look forward to!

Chardonnay

Although it will never be loved by some, I believe Chardonnay is New Zealand’s best variety; some fine examples are grown in every wine region of significance, from Kumeu and Waiheke near Auckland down to Central Otago.  Kiwi Chardie is often oaked, with a medium to high toast on the barrel, but even the more tropical versions possess a mineral streak and plenty of acidity which make them interesting and fresh.

Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay Martinborough 2011

Recently compared by Anthony Rose in the UK Independent to a Meursault, this is made from 28 year old Mendoza clones (look out for a forthcoming post on clones) which gives a forward, ripe and buttery flavour.  This could be kept for up to two decades – who says New World whites don’t age?

Cloudy Bay Chardonnay Marlborough 2012

For me this has long been the best wine produced by Cloudy Bay, especially in the periods when the quality of the Sauvignon has wavered slightly.  For a Euro or two more it offers far more complexity and will develop nicely over several years.

Man O’War Valhalla Chardonnay Waiheke 2011

Being so far north, and therefore closer to the equator, gives added intensity to the tropical fruit; being on an island helps produce refreshing acidity at harvest.  Alcoholic fermentation is with wild yeast and malolactic fermentation is blocked.

Greywacke Chardonnay Marlborough 2011

My tasting note for this wine was unprintable – it’s that good!

Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Chardonnay Hawke’s Bay 2011

Relatively restrained compared to some of the other Chardies mentioned here; poured by the son of winemaker John Hancock.

Tohu Chardonnay Rapaura Marlborough 2013

If I had tasted this blind then New Zealand would have been way down the list of countries I’d have guessed at. Fermentation and maturation in neutral stainless steel means there is no oak influence. It goes through full malolactic fermentation and then batonnage (lees stiring) twice weekly for six weeks, adding complexity and body. If you like really good 1er Cru Chablis, give this a go!

Riesling, Pinot Gris, Syrah, Cabernet and others will be covered in Part 2

I Know What I Like – Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc – Part 1

This post is the first of several which encourage newcomers to wine or creatures of habit to try something a bit different from their usual drop.

It was prompted by a few requests from friends plus some of the twitter debates over the past few months or so, including whether wine expertise is bunkum or not.  More precisely, one phrase often declared by novice wine drinkers is “I know what I like”, with the follow on (usually unspoken) being “I know what wine is best for me and I won’t try anything else”.  Now, I’m not going to tell those people they are wrong (as such!) – I just want to give those that are hesitant to try something other than their favourite type a path which they could explore.

So firstly, why do people like Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc??

It’s crisp, fruity, fresh, widely available, consistent in quality and reasonably priced – it offers a lot of bang for the buck!  In particular “Savvy” has more intense aromas and flavours than often found in white wine.

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Of course I should declare an interest here and say that Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is one of my favourite wine styles, though not every bottle.  This article is also an excuse for me to post some of the photos I took on honeymoon in Marlborough in 2009!

So if you’re stuck with the same old bottle, week in week out, what should you do?

Step 1 – Buy A Better Brand

Nowadays most supermarkets will have a gondola end of Oyster Bay or even a made up label where excess production has been bought up at rock bottom prices and then vinified on the cheap.  This came to a head when more vineyards came on stream at the same time as the Global Financial Crisis reduced demand for wine in New Zealand’s traditional markets.

Hopefully the glut is over, but there are still brands which are a notch above the bottom, even if they are mass-market.

Brancott Estate used to be called Montana but this caused confusion with American drinkers thinking it came from the US State of that name.  Brancott’s everyday drinking Sauvignon Blanc is a great example, and it’s available nearly everywhere wine is sold in the UK and Ireland.

The other go-to label for me is Villa Maria, now sporting a new look for 2013.  For many people in Ireland in the late 90s and early 00s this was a treat to look forward to at the weekend.  Still privately owned, quality remains consistently good.

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Step 2 – Pay More! (Trade Up)

Here I don’t mean pay more for the sake of it.  While quality and price aren’t perfectly aligned, you often get what you pay for in New Zealand.  There are lots of quality-conscious wineries in Marlborough, both large and small.

Cloudy Bay is the label that put the area and New Zealand as a whole on the wine map for international drinkers.  It became New Zealand’s first “icon” wine, and for many years was only available on allocation.  Although quality has wavered slightly over the years, especially as production volumes increased, it remains a great drop and is always the one to beat.

Villa Maria make a fine entry level SB, as mentioned above, but their black label Clifford Bay is on another plane entirely.  Less immediately pungent but smoother and richer – it’s just sumptuous!  In fact I like it so much that it was the white wine I chose to have served at my wedding.

Another well-regarded producer is Dog Point, founded by Ivan Sutherland & James Healy, the former viticulturist and oenologist respectively from Cloudy Bay.  Their old boss Kevin Judd, who was the founding winemaker of Cloudy Bay, also left to set up his own firm Greywacke.  For his first vintage he bought grapes and rented some winery space from Dog Point, but he moved on to purchasing his own vineyards and facilities.

Other Marlborough producers who are worth trading up to include  Astrolabe (particularly their Awatere Valley), Stanley Estate (also from the Awatere Valley), Nautilus Estate, Saint Clair, Lawson’s Dry Hills, MahiWither Hills and Mud House.

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Step 3 – Same Again, But With A Twist!

One of the things many people like about Sauvignon Blanc is that it usually tastes fresh and hasn’t seen any oak, whether barrels or staves or oak chips in a teabag.  This isn’t the only way of making Sauvignon Blanc, and some of the better Marlborough producers have been following the Sancerre (see next post) practice of either fermenting the must or maturing the wine in oak – or both.  The amount of oak used really does vary, and for many wines only a proportion will be oaked, and perhaps with older rather than brand new barrels.

Great examples from Marlborough include Cloudy Bay Te Koko, Dog Point Section 94, Greywacke Wild Sauvignon, and the newly released Brancott Estate Chosen Rows.  These wines will often be released a year or so after their unoaked stablemates.

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Step 4 – Head Down The Road

In the eyes of many wine drinkers, Marlborough has become synonymous with New Zealand, particularly for Sauvignon Blanc.  It does make up the vast majority of Sauvignon production, but if we do a tour of the rest of Aotearoa then we can find alternative expressions of the grape.

Firstly, to Nelson which is also in the north of the South Island.  Sauvignons here are often more mellow and a bit weightier than Marlborough, so can be easier to match with food.  The most prestigious producer is Judy & Tim Finn’s Neudorf, better known for their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Also check out Woollaston Estate (plus their sibling Tussock and Wingspan labels) and Greenhough.

Towards the east coast of the South Island, just above Christchurch, lies the up-and-coming area of Waipara (not to be confused with Wairarapa!)  Waipara specialises in Pinot Noir and Riesling but does have some Sauvignon Blanc produced by Waipara Springs and Pegasus Bay under their Main Divide label.

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Heading south west but keeping to the eastern side of the Southern Alps, we eventually reach Central Otago, the most southern of New Zealand’s established wine regions.  “Central”, as it’s known for short, is Pinot heaven – the unique climate helps make powerful but supple Pinot Noir, primarily, but also Chardonnay, Riesling and some Sauvignon Blanc.  The region actually has several sub-divisions, (with recommended producers): Bannockburn (Mount Difficulty, Carrick), Gibbston Valley (Gibbston Valley Winery, Peregrine, Chard Farm), Wanaka (Rippon) Cromwell Basin (Amisfield) and Bendigo (Misha’s Vineyard).

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From Marlborough, taking the Inter-Islander ferry over the Cook Strait to Wellington then a short drive north east brings us to Martinborough, part of the larger Wairarapa region.  Also celebrated for its Pinot Noirs, it has some fantastic Sauvignon Blanc producers in Ata Rangi, Palliser Estate, and Craggy Range (Te Muna Road).  These can often be even more tropical than their counterparts in Marlborough.

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Further north the long-established region of Hawke’s Bay, which includes the towns of Napier and Hastings, has a reputation built on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.  Some of these great producers (such as Trinity Hill, Mission Estate, CJ Pask) also make lovely, more gentle, Sauvignon Blancs.

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I hope this has given you some ideas of what you could try as your first few steps out of your wine comfort zone.  It’s always good to try new wines, you will hopefully expand your taste and find more types you like.

Part 2 will look at other countries’ versions of Sauvignon Blanc – watch this space!