Tasting Events

Classics… and new Classics

I was delighted to recently invite myself be invited to Classic Drinks‘ Portfolio Tasting at Fade Street Social Restaurant in the heart of Dublin.  Classic supply both on and off trade in Ireland and given their portfolio of 800 wines there’s a good chance that the average Irish wine drinker has tried one.

Here are a few of the wines which stood out for me:

Champagne Pannier Brut NV (RRP €52.99)

Champagne Pannier Brut NV
Champagne Pannier Brut NV

Given my proclivities for quality fizz (a friend and fellow wine blogger dubbed me a “Bubbles Whore”, to which I have no retort) it was no surprise to see me making a beeline for the Champagne.

Louis-Eugène Pannier founded his eponymous Champagne house in 1899 at Dizy, just outside Epernay, later moving to Château-Thierry in the Vallée de la Marne.  The current Cellar Master, Philippe Dupuis, has held the position for over 25 years.  Under him the house has developed a reputation for Pinot-driven but elegant wines.

The Non Vintage is close to a three way equal split of 40% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir and 30% Pinot Meunier. The black grapes provide body and red fruit characters, but the good whack (technical term) of Chardonnay gives citrus, flowers and freshness.  A minimum of 3 years ageing adds additional layers of brioche.  It’s a well balanced and classy Champagne.

Tenuta Sant’ Antonio Scaia Garganega / Chardonnay IGT Veneto 2013 (RRP €16.99)

Tenuta Sant’ Antonio Scaia Garganega / Chardonnay IGT Veneto 2013
Tenuta Sant’ Antonio Scaia Garganega / Chardonnay IGT Veneto 2013

From near Venice comes this blend of local and international white varieties: Garganega 50%, Chardonnay  30%, Trebbiano di Soave 20%.

Garganega is probably most well known for being the basis of Soave DOC / DOCG wines, whose blends often include the other local grape here, Trebbiano di Soave.  In fact, the latter is also known as Verdicchio in the Marche region where it is most popular.

So how is it?  Amazing bang for your buck. More than anything this is peachy – so peachy, in fact, that you can’t be 100% convinced they haven’t put peaches in with the grapes when fermenting!  More info here.

Angove Butterfly Ridge South Australia Riesling Gewurztraminer 2013 (RRP €13.99)

Angove Butterfly Ridge South Australia Riesling Gewurztraminer 2013
Angove Butterfly Ridge South Australia Riesling Gewurztraminer 2013

Angove was founded in the beautiful region of Mclaren Vale (just south of Adelaide in South Australia) in 1886, and are still family run and owned, now by the fifth generation.  The company has sixteen sub-ranges which span a large range of quality levels (and price brackets).

So why doesn’t the new World do more of this type of blend?  Lots of citrus zing from the Riesling with just a touch of peachy body and spicy aromas from the Gewurz.  The precise blend was the matter of some contention, with both (40% / 60%) and (30% / 30%) being quoted, though my guess would be closer to 80% / 20% as otherwise Gewurz would totally steal the show on the nose.

This would be great as an aperitif or flexible enough to cope with many different Asian cuisines – Indian, Thai, Chinese and Japanese.

Seifried Nelson Pinot Gris 2012 (RRP €20.99)

Seifried Nelson Pinot Gris 2012
Seifried Nelson Pinot Gris 2012

Internationally, Nelson is firmly in the shadow of Marlborough when it comes to both export volumes and familiarity with consumers.  Although Nelson isn’t far from Marlborough at the top of the South Island, it gets more precipitation and produces wines of a different style.

Neudorf is one Nelson producer which has received accolades for its owners Tim and Judy Finn, and Seifried is another.  From their website:

The Seifried family have been making stylish food-friendly wines since 1976. The range includes rich full Chardonnays, fine floral Rieslings, lively Sauvignon Blancs, warm plummy Pinot Noirs and intensely delicious dessert wines.

If you see the Seifried “Sweet Agnes” Riesling then snap it up, it’s delicious!

The 2012 Pinot Gris has an Alsace Grand Cru standard and style nose – so much stone fruit, exotic fruit and floral notes.  On the palate these are joined by spice, pear and ginger.  This would be a great food wine with its comforting texture

For my personal taste it would be even better with a touch more residual sugar than its 5g/L, but that’s just me and my Alsace bias.  A lovely wine.

Laroche Chablis Premier Cru AOP Chantrerie 2011 (RRP €32.99)

Laroche Chablis Premier Cru AOP Chantrerie 2011
Laroche Chablis Premier Cru AOP Chantrerie 2011

More than just Chardonnay, more than just Chablis…in fact this is more than just 1er Cru Chablis, it’s a great effort.  There’s a hint of something special on the nose but it really delivers on the palate – it just sings.

Laroche tells us that the fruit is sourced from several Premier Cru vineyards such as Vosgros, Vaucoupins and Vaulignau (I don’t know if selection is alphabetical…) and then blended together so the wine is more than the sum of its parts.

The majority (88%) is aged in stainless steel and the remainder (12%) in oak barrels. The texture and palate weight might lead you to believe that more oak was involved, but this also comes from nine months ageing on fine lees and the minimal filtration. Full info here.

Thanks to Classic Drinks and venue hosts Fade Street Social!

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!