Information, Opinion

brandinG wiNe

Celebrity wine is not a new thing and it doesn’t show any sign of slowing down.  among the “celebs” with their name attached to a wine are people from sport (golfers Nick Faldo, Ernie Els, Greg Norman…), the music business (Cliff Richard, Madonna, Sting…) and the film industry (Jolie-Pitt, Sam Neill, Francis Ford Coppola).

The degree of involvement varies significantly; some of them are simply adding their name to the label of a wine made entirely by someone else, whereas others such as Francis Ford Coppola come from a family with a tradition of winemaking and are directly involved.  Sam Neill’s Central Otago wines have been recognised for their intrinsic excellence and are aimed at serious wine aficionados with regards to their price, style and availability.

Flamboyant chat show host Graham Norton was approached by New Zealand newcomers Invivo in 2011 to see if he’d like to try their wines, and he liked them so much that he ended up producing his own varietal Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc with them from the 2014 vintage onwards.

To that were soon added a New Zealand Rosé (Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc grapes from Marlborough (50%), Gisborne (30%), Hawke’s Bay (20%)) and a South Australian Shiraz.  Last year the Sauvignon and the Rosé accounted for 10% of all Kiwi wines sold in Ireland.  Norton isn’t involved in the vineyards but he does have the final call on the blend – even single varietal wines are usually a blend of different sources of fruit – so he does more than just add his name to the label.

How have the wines become so successful?  In my view there are a number of factors:

  • The wine categories themselves are well known and popular (there’s no Graham Norton Franciacorta, for example)
  • Each wine is made in a very approachable, drinkable style to appeal to a large number of people
  • There’s a good match between the populism of Norton’s TV programmes and the style of the wines – unpretentious and accessible

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The latest addition to the portfolio is “Graham Norton’s Own Prosecco DOC Extra Dry”.  It follows the same principles as the previous wines – Prosecco is the most popular type of sparkling wine in the UK and Ireland, and it’s made in a medium-dry style (confusingly labelled Extra Dry, but that won’t put many people off).

As the (much bigger) UK market is more of a target than Ireland, the decision to go for a fully sparkling Spumante style rather than Frizzante makes sense – the wire cage over cork closure projects more quality than the latter’s bit of string.  It does make the wine a little more expensive in Ireland than it needed to be due to the double duty attached to Spumante (as is the case for Champagne, Cava, Crémant etc) but the retail price of €17.99 at Tesco Ireland should still see it flying off the shelves!

What will come next?  My guess is either a Pinot Grigio or an Argentinian Malbec…

 

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Tasting Events

A February Feast, part 1

The end of January to April is a very busy time in the Dublin wine calendar, with lots of country, producer and distributor portfolio tastings.  Among the many excellent events is Tindal’s Portfolio Tasting at the swanky Marker Hotel in Dublin’s Dockland.  I had less than sixty minutes to taste so had to pick and choose; here are the white wines which impressed me most.

Domaine William Fevre Chablis 1er Cru Montmains 2012 (€45, Searsons (online & Monkstown) and 64 Wine (Glasthule))

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William Fevre is undoubtedly in the top echelon of Chablis producers with an extensive range across the chablis hierarchy.  This Premier Cru is better than some Grand Crus I have had, combining zingy acidity, minerality and ripe fruit. Drinking well now but will continue evolving over the next decade.

Domaine William Fevre Chablis Grand Cru Bougros “Côte Bouguerots” 2009 (€90, Searsons (online & Monkstown), Gibneys (Malahide))

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Moving up to Grand Cru level and an older, warmer vintage brings even more complexity, fruit sweetness and integration.  There is still Chablis’s trademark stony minerality and acidity, so it remains refreshing.  Would pair well with white and seafood up to gamebird.

Domaine Bouchard Père et Fils Meursault “Les Clous” 2013 (€47.50, Searsons (online & Monkstown)

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Whereas a ripe Chablis might conceivably fool you into thinking it came from further south in Burgundy, the converse could not be said of this Meursault – it is decidedly of the Côte d’Or.  Bouchard was established close to 300 years ago and have expanded their land under vine at opportune moments.

Meursault is probably my favourite village in the Côte de Beaune, and is the archetype for oaked Chardonnay.  This being said, the use of oak is often judicious, and so it is here; there’s plenty of lemon and orange fruit with a little toastiness from the oak.  Very nice now, but a couple more years of integration would make it even better.

Craggy Range Kidnappers Vineyard Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2013 (€27.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown), Parting Glass (Enniskerry))

Kidnappers Vineyard

This is a cool climate Chardonnay from one of my all time favourite producers, Craggy Range.  The origin of the usual name is explained on their website:

Its namesake, Cape Kidnappers, comes from an incident that occurred during Captain Cook’s first voyage to New Zealand in 1769. When Cook attempted to trade with the native Maori in an armed canoe, a Tahitian servant of Cook’s interpreter was seized. The servant later escaped by jumping into the sea after the canoe was fired upon.

Hawke’s Bay does have some fairly warm areas, with the well-drained Gimblett Gravels in particular perfect for growing Syrah and Bordeaux varieties, but cooler parts are located up in the hills or – as in this case – close to the coast.  The aim is apparently to emulate Chablis; with only a little bit of older oak and clean fruit, it’s definitely close.  The 2013 is drinking well now but will benefit from another year or two – the 2008s I have in my wine fridge are really opening up now!

Domaines Schlumberger Alsace Pinot Blanc “Les Princes Abbés” 2013 (€18.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown)

72DPI 300PX Grand Cru Saering - Domaines Schlumberger

Another intriguingly named wine.  In 1298 the Abbots of the nearby Murbach Abbey were given the status of Prince of the Holy Roman Empire by Emperor Frederick II, and were henceforth known as Abbot Princes.

This is clean and somewhat simple, but fruity and expressive.  When done well, Pinot Blanc can be versatile and more approachable than many other of the Alsace varieties – it will go with lots of things, is well balanced and fruity enough to drink on its own.

Domaines Schlumberger Alsace Grand Cru Saering Riesling 2012 (€29.95, Searsons (online & Monkstown)

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Schlumberger have Riesling vines on several of their Grand Cru properties, and it’s a wine geek’s dream to taste them head to head to see what the difference in terroir makes.  All wines are organic and biodynamic; whether you place importance on these or not, the care that goes into them certainly pays dividends in the glass.

This 2012 Saering is still very young, showing tangy lime and grapefruit, but a pleasure to drink nevertheless.

Domaines Schlumberger Gewurztraminer Vendanges Tardives “Cuvée Christine” 2006 (€64 (750ml), Searsons (online & Monkstown))

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This late harvest Gewurztraminer is named after the family member Christine Schlumberger who ran the firm for almost 20 years after the death of her husband, and was the grandmother of the current Managing Director Alain Beydon-Schlumberger.

All the fruit is picked late from the Kessler Grand Cru vineyard, packed into small crates so as not to damage the fruit, then taken to the winery for gentle pressing.  Fermentation can take from one to three months using ambient yeast.

On pouring, fabulous aromas jump out of the glass – flowers and white fruit.  They continue through to the palate, and although the wine feels round in the mouth it is tangy and fresh, far from cloying.  A seductive wine that exemplifies the late harvest style.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tasting Events

State Of The Nation (Part 2): The Annual New Zealand Trade Tasting in Dublin

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.

Riesling

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!

Syrah

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.

Pinot Gris

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.

Grüner Veltliner

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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Long

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

Information

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!