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New Zealand Wine: Annual Trade Tasting 2011

Written by JW. Posted in New Zealand

Last week’s New Zealand Wine’s annual trade tasting in London [despite the rugby ball it was held at Lord’s Cricket Ground] provided confirmation of the rude health of the Kiwi wine industry. The figures are fascinating. 80% of New Zealand’s wine is exported, its wines have the highest average retail price on the UK shelves and in terms of Sauvignon Blanc it has a whopping 45% of the market.  That’s simply incredible when you consider that twenty five years ago New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, or for that matter the entire wine industry, was hardly on the map. Despite the ubiquity of the grape in the Loire, Bordeaux and universally as a vin de pays varietal, France by comparison has a dismal 5.1% of the Sauvignon market.

The key here is the purity and sheer zip and zing of its wines. The whites, and not just Sauvignon Blanc, but Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Gris too, define the term refreshing. But you don’t me to tell you this, the statistics speak for themselves. The accessibility of its red wines is also something to marvel at. If Sauvignon Blanc is King of the whites, then Pinot Noir is Queen of the reds. New Zealand has truly mastered this capricious variety, and produces some of the most fragrant and vibrant examples made anywhere in the world. Pinot can be an infuriating disappointment, even in its native home in Burgundy, but here the variety seems to thrive in a variety of Kiwi regions from the established Martinborough district in North Island to Marlborough, through Waipara and Canterbury and then all the way down to Central Otago in the South.  They just can’t seem to put a foot wrong.  Ata Rangi, Craggy Range, Martinborough Vineyards, Felton Road and Mount Difficulty are all well known producers of top class Pinots but I was also struck by offerings from Escarpment [Larry McKenna’s project, the man previously behind Martinborough Vineyards], Julicher and Schubert Wines also in the Martinborough district, Churton in Marlborough run by Sam Weaver and Rockburn and Wild Earth in Central Otago.

Syrah is the latest variety to show potential in New Zealand. Not everyone is getting it right but Craggy Range, Forrest Estate and Trinity Hill are making really deep wines in Hawke’s Bay and I’ve also been struck by the purity of the Syrahs at Man O’ War in Waiheke Island, especially their ‘Dreadnought’ Syrah since I first tasted it a couple of years ago. That said the 2008, once like great infant Hermitage, has gone to sleep and is nowhere near as thrilling as it was  just after bottling.

New Zealand does produce other fine reds too, though a number of top estates weren’t shown, notably Unison, and there was only one red from Te Mata. There were however a series of interesting themed tastings [including a horizontal of a dozen top Syrahs] and a comparative look at Kiwi Chardonnay versus fine Chablis. The latter, to me at least, showed that while the best New Zealand Chardonnays are terrific and good value and compared well with Chablis, few can rival the sheer majesty and complexity of great Chardonnay from further down in the Cote d’Or. I was reminded of this a few nights later at a tasting of 2009 Burgundy, but then again, the starting prices of the best village wines from Meursault, Puligny and Chassange are higher even than the ultra premium end of New Zealand Chardonnay market so it’s hardly a fair comparison. More on 2009 Burgundies later but for the moment here are the highlights from New Zealand as I saw it last Tuesday….

SAUVIGNON BLANC

Ata Rangi, Sauvignon Blanc Martinborough 2010: Very pale green gold; wonderfully grassy sauvignon nose; ripe and bright with candy and orange peel citrus notes; really rather super and exuberant. Fine 90/100 Jan ‘11

Auntsfield Estate, Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough 2010: Pale green/straw; slightly sweaty sauvignon nose; quite strong and full bodied; some candied notes on the palate. Good 88/100 Jan ’11

Cloudy Bay, Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2010: Colourless; slight trace of grey; gooseberry and some nettle elements but quite round; good zest and zip on the palate; harmonious with the same gooseberry and nettle notes; none of that raspsing aggressive quality that some NZ Sauvignon has. Some candy. Attractive and moreish and good length. Excellent 90/100 Jan ‘11

Mahi Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough 2010: Colourless; candy ripe sauvignon, very fresh tasting; full and yeasty on the palate; ripe and attractive with zip. Very good. 88/100 Jan ‘11

PINOT GRIS

Escarpment, Pinot Gris Martinborough 2009: Washed straw/grey; limes and quite steely; real honey and presence; honey and some peach. Quite fine. Some length. Fresh 88/100 Jan ‘11.

CHARDONNAY

Escarpment, Chardonnay Martinborough 2008: Pale straw; some honey; quite elegant; honeycomb and cream; buttery notes on the palate. Elegant. Good. 88/100 Jan ’11

Julicher, Chardonnay Martinborough 2008: Pale straw/gold; nice smoky Chardonnay, some minerals and slate and some butter; creamy palate with poise. Very good 88-90/100 Jan ‘11

Te Mata, Elston Chardonnay 2009: Pale straw with hints of grey; some obvious weight to the nose but a bit dumb; minerals and animally sweat; palate quite well rounded with hints of vanilla on the finish. Pretty Burgundian in feel. 88-90/100 Jan ‘11

Felton Road, Chardonnay Central Otago  2009: Clear and very pale grey/gold; some minerality; some limes and citrus elements, restrained and interesting; some lees notes on the palate with some minerals, dips a little at the end but should round out I imagine. Good. 88+/100 Jan ‘11

Felton Road, Block 2 Chardonnay Central Otago 2009: Pale straw/hint of green; fresh; limes and crisp with oak as an accent, quite intense; has real race and interest on the palate like fine Burgundy; honey and cream here too with citrus flavours. Very good 90-92/100 Jan ‘11

Pegasus Bay, Chardonnay Waipara 2008: Pale straw, quite warm fermented style; animally; some butterscotch; palate quite attractive; full bodied and masculine; weight with butterscotch but also with some life and acid. Very good 88-90/100 Jan ‘11

Muddy Water, Chardonnay Waipara 2009: Pale straw, lime tinge; fresh butter and crisp Burgundian characters – a St Aubin – well handled wine, quite lively and with some zip but also a noticeably Burgundian edge to the palate. Good length, minerality. Excellent 90/100 Jan ‘11

Mount Difficulty, Chardonnay, Central Otago 2008: Extremely pale straw/grey; oyster shells, minerals and animally notes, broad and masculine Chardonnay with breadth on the palate; again quite more-ish and appetizing. Refreshing with good length. 88-90/100 Jan ‘11

PINOT NOIR – MARTINBOROUGH

Ata Rangi, Pinot Noir, Martinborough 2009: Earthy Pinot colour; plums, beetroot Pinot nose; very clean and fresh, depth to the nose with sweet attractive notes; very engaging palate, attractive and already round; elegant but intense with richness; beetrooty notes; attractive and with good length and bite. Excellent 90-92+/100 Jan ‘11

Craggy Range, Te Muna Pinot Noir Martinborough 2009: Deep cherry; earthy; vibrant nose very alive, strawberry and violets here; silky palate with good length 92+/100 Jan ‘11

Escarpment, Pinot Noir Martinborough 2008: Earthy red; some purple tinges; lovely sweet beetrooty pinot nose; real nice quality and lovely ripeness here; very attractive. Good grippy palate with some pepper and spice and those lovely beetroot notes again. Larry McKenna’s property and he’s a real Pinot master. 90/100 Jan ’11

Julicher Pinot Noir Martinborough 2009: Earthy red; bit denser than 99 rows below; violets but more closed on the nose; palate sweet and ripe with spicy fruit. Density here. Very good but less open today than 99 rows. Potentially even finer though. 90-92+/100 Jan ‘11

Julicher, Pinot Noir 99 Rows Martinborough 2009: Earthy red; lovely beetrooty strawberry Pinot Noir, very attractive; lifted and nice; lots of sweet ripe Pinot on the palate; classy. Creamy and fragrant with some length and grip. Exciting and very good 90+/100 Jan ‘11   

Schubert Wines, Block B Pinot Noir Martinborough 2008: Red earthy and translucent at centre; very floral, feminine wine; silky with ripe and seductive strawberry fruit; good density on the palate. Fragrant and delicate Pinot yet with power and length. 90+/100 Jan ‘11

Schubert Wines, Marion’s Vineyard Pinot Noir Martinborough 2008:Mid red, light at centre; sweet riper nose; more forward strawberry; open; some earth and smoke too; good; sweet ripe palate; like a forward Volnay or Beaune; bright; some spice and pepper. Real grip and savour at the end. Good length. Very good wine. 88-90+/100 Jan ‘11

PINOT NOIR – MARLBOROUGH

Auntsfield Estate, Hawk Hill Pinot Noir 2008: Earthy red, ripe and rich nose, sweetness, ripe notes; opulent pinot on the palate; some pepper and spice, some grip – quite broad. Good effort 88/100 Jan ’11

Cloudy Bay, Pinot Noir Marlborough 2008: Mid red; translucent at centre; nice tomato plant and strawberry Pinot nose; quite intense yet delicate; not at all bad; medium weight. Generous. 88+/100 Jan ‘11

Churton Pinot Noir, The Abyss, Marlborough 2008: Mid depth; earthy; strawberry nose with beetrooty Pinot; very ripe but with layers; grippy palate with good density; harmonious and well balanced with firm acid. Nice wine Good length. Excellent 92+/100 Jan ‘11

Wither Hills, Pinot Noir, Single Vineyard Taylor River Marlborough 2007: Red; some depth; attractive savoury characters and real intensity; more Cotes de Nuit’s territory. Lifted and attractive. Structured palate with good grip and length. Excellent. 91/100 Jan ‘11   

PINOT NOIR – CENTRAL OTAGO

Craggy Range, Calvert Vineyard Pinot Noir Central Otago 2009: Mid red, some depth, ripe and intense wine with layers; good full flavour on the palate with slightly spicy notes. Rich and forward. 90+/100 Jan ‘11

Felton Road, Calvert Pinot Noir Central Otago 2009: Earthy red; rich and ripe Pinot; fragrant but with real richness; beetroot and strawberry ripe and forward; some spice; lots of depth to the palate and good length. Excellent 90+/100 Jan ‘11

Felton Road, Cornish Point Pinot Noir Central Otago 2009: Red; translucent at centre; fragrant, fresh beetrooty nose; silk and satin Pinot; Very good 90+/100 Jan ‘11

Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir, Central Otago 2009:  Red, some depth; beetroot and perfume; this is like real fine Burgundy with a richer, seductive twist; real substance here; plush and near perfect Pinot; rich and attractive on the palate with concentration and bite. Outstanding and thoroughly enjoyable 94/100 Jan ‘11

Felton Road, Block 5 Pinot Noir, Central Otago 2009: Red; similar translucence as the others; soft, velvety wine but with real concentration; beetroot, strawberry notes but not seemingly quite as rich or showy as Block 3 at this stage but nevertheless this is extremely fine Pinot from what must be one of the country’s most exciting producers of the varietal. 92/100 Jan ‘11

Mount Difficulty, Central Otago 2009: Earthy red; some depth; purple at edge; sweet nose, beetroot style Pinot with depth, attractive; grippy palate but with lots of juicy fruit. Very good 88-90/100 Jan ‘11

Wild Earth, Central Otago, Pinot Noir 2008: Earthy, quite fragrant Pinot and nicely clean and fresh; delicacy here and good presence on the palate; clear flavours. Ripe and attractive Pinot 88+/100 Jan ‘11

SYRAH

Craggy Range, Gimblett Gravels, Le Sol Syrah Hawke’s Bay 2007: Dense; lovely rich nose; almost fruit cake like and intense; very pure; great purity here; lots of oak but lots of extract and material and layer upon layer of fruit; deep and dry on the finish but potentially quite excellent 92+/100 Jan ‘11

Forrest Estate, John Forest Collection Gimblett Gravels, Syrah Hawke’s Bay 2006: Deep black; opaque at centre; nice and plush on the nose; open fruit with sweetness and concentration; plush and liquortice notes; quite thick and strapping; good concentration and layers; really ripe. Impressive length and depyth. 90+/100 Jan ‘11

Passage Rock, Syrah Waiheke Island 2008: Quite dark; very ripe sweet nose almost opulent with some earth and a trace of sweat; not bad entry; very pure and true to Syrah; earthy and meaty wine; good density; layers; traces of spice but more meaty syrah; good mouthfeel and tannins ripe – no empty patches. Little oak on the finish. Not bad length. Pretty good 88-90/100 Jan ‘11

Man O’ War, Dreadnought [100% Syrah], Waiheke Island 2009: Deep and dark looking; depth; intense and layered nose; really spicy Northern Rhone style Syrah. Spot on. Sweet and ripe beneath; brambly and briary fruit with pepper and spice. Lots of ripeness, alcohol and oak but really promising. Syrah is what this estate excels at. I wonder if it will creep into its shell like the ’08? 92+/100 Jan ’11

Trinity Hill, Homage Syrah Hawke’s Bay 2007: Deep concentrated colour; thick and quite brooding; lots of density on the nose but also layers and a certain plush quality too. Nice layers here. Very good dense palate with richness and poise; very good and well integrated wine. Excellent and impressive 92+/100 Jan ‘11

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