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New Zealand Wines – Beyond Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc

May 7, 2022 Leave a comment

Let’s say we will stop a random wine lover and will ask what is the very first wine which comes to mind if we would talk about California? I guarantee you that Cabernet Sauvignon and maybe Chardonnay would be the first associations. What about Australia? Shiraz, no doubts. Argentina will serve as a reference to Malbec, and most likely the Rioja would be the first association for Spain. Meanwhile, each one of these countries and regions successfully produces wines from literally hundreds of the grapes.

Now, what would be the first wine association for New Zealand? If you said Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir, I would fully agree with you. Meanwhile, the New Zealand wine scene offers so much more than those two grapes which had been farmed successfully for more than 100 years. New Zealand leads the wine world in terms of sustainability and organic winemaking (here is the post from the last year, for example). And, of course, New Zealand Bordeaux blends and Syrah had been on wine lovers’ horizons for many years, but coming fresh from the New Zealand wine tasting in New York, I can’t help it to comment on the diversity of the wines represented in the tasting.

Well beyond the traditional Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, we had an opportunity to taste Chardonnay, Riesling, red Bordeaux blends, Syrah, sparkling wines, skin-fermented wines, natural wines, and more.

I had about 1.5 hours to taste about 60 wines, walking around and self-pouring – I think I managed to complete this task with some degree of success – whatever you can understand while spending 1.5 minutes per wine on average. While the tasting format and setting were comfortable, I still had a few gripes about it. First, an absolute majority of the white wines were too warm. This was the second tasting in the day, so I don’t know for how long the bottles were standing on the table, but they should’ve been put in the wine chillers at least, even without ice. I’m sure tasting white wines too warm was detrimental for many assessments. My second gripe was with the food – while the food was carried out all the time, most of those little bites had spice/flavor profiles not conducive to tasting subtle wines such as Pinot Noir. I took a few bites at first but quickly stopped paying attention to the food as I understood that it was skewing the palate in the wrong direction.

Before I will leave you with all of my tasting notes (for what it is worth), I want to mention a few favorites.

First, the natural, unfiltered Carrick Winery The Death of von Tempsky Riesling Central Otago was a riot. Yes, it was the wine for the wine geeks, but it invoked association with some of the best natural wine producers, such as Jean-Pierre Robinot and Frank Cornelissen, and every sip was absolutely thought-provoking.

Then there was the Bordeaux blend from Te Mata Estate Winery Coleraine Hawke’s Bay, which was superb – perfectly on point, varietally correct, and delicious. These were my only two 5-rated wines (I didn’t use my traditional rating system, so I stayed with the suggested “5-star” approach, but of course, had to expand it by using “+” and “-“).

Two of the Syrah wines were outstanding, with Bilancia la Collina Syrah Hawke’s Bay offering a purity of the black pepper profile, which was simply superb. And Neudorf Vineyards Neudorf Home Block Moutere Chardonnay Nelson completes the list of top favorites with its perfectly balanced profile of everything which a good Chardonnay should have – apples, vanilla, honey, a hint of butter – everything.

There were lots more absolutely delicious wines, so without further ado, here is the list of wines I tasted, sorted by the regions – with my brief notes.

Auckland
2018 Kumeu River Wines Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay Auckland – Crisp, acidic, tart apples on the finish. Interesting wine. Not the wine we taste. 3
2015 Tantalus Estate Écluse Reserve Auckland ((Cabernets/Merlot/Malbec) – Beautiful Bordeaux blend. Elegant, round, powerful. 4+

Central Otago
2014 Aurum Organic Amber Wine Central Otago – Tasty, but should be colder? Not as impressive as expected. 3
2019 Burn Cottage Burn Cottage Vineyard Pinot Noir Central Otago – Beautiful Pinot nose, plums, lavender, elegant. Tart, cherries, good acidity, good midpalate weight. Elegant. 3+
2020 Carrick Winery The Death of von Tempsky Riesling Central Otago – Wow. Acidity, depth, appearance. Wine for the geeks. Amazing. 5
2016 Domaine Thomson ‘Surveyor Thomson’ Pinot Noir Single Vineyard Central Otago – Super tart. Very lean. 2
2020 Felton Road Calvert Pinot Noir Central Otago – Beautiful Pinot nose. Plums, cherries, inviting and elegant. Round, delicious palate, good balance. 4
2018 Grasshopper Rock Earnscleugh Vineyard Pinot Noir Central Otago – Beautiful nose, touch is smoke. Elegant at first, but the finish is lean and tart. Food wine. 2
NV Quartz Reef Methode Traditionnelle Brut Central Otago – Delicious. Bread, yeast, toasted notes. Superb. 4
2020 Rippon Gewurztraminer Central Otago – Okay (not really). 2-
2020 Te Kano Blanc De Noir Central Otago – Bright floral nose, tropical fruit. Tart fruit on the palate, I would like a bit less sweetness. 3
2020 Te Kano Fume Blanc de Noir Central Otago – Restrained, a hint of fruit. Clean acidity at first, but then super acidic on the finish. Probably good with oysters. 2
2015 Ostler Lakeside Riesling Spatlese Waitaki Central Otago – Excellent. Gunflint, petrol. Good balance of sweetness and acidity. 4+
2019 Valli Waitaki Vineyard Pinot Noir Central Otago – Beautiful smokey nose. Elegant, clean, good presence. One of the best Pinot in the tasting. 4+
2020 Valli Waitaki Vineyard Riesling Central Otago – Not bad. Food friendly. Classic Riesling. 3+

Gisborne
2020 Millton Vineyards & Winery Te Arai Chenin Blanc Gisborne – Sour apples on the nose, lemon tart. Tart lemon on the palate, nice, elegant. 4-

Hawke’s Bay
2019 Alpha Domus The Barnstormer Syrah Bridge Pa Triangle Hawke’s Bay – Superb. A hint of barnyard on the palate and nose, a touch of pepper. Pronounced tannins on the finish. 4+
2019 Bilancia la Collina Syrah Hawke’s Bay – Beautiful nose, rose petals, a hint of pepper. Superb. Black pepper, crisp, light, elegant. 4+
2018 Decibel Wines Malbec Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay – Elegant at first, but could benefit from a bit more body. Tannins are very explicit. Needs time. 3
2017 Smith & Sheth CRU Heretaunga Chardonnay Hawke’s Bay – Delicious. Perfect balance, a hint of gunflint, elegant, restrained. 4+
2018 Te Mata Estate Winery Coleraine Hawke’s Bay (Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet franc) – Perfectly Bordeaux blend all the way, balanced, cassis, round, delicious. Will improve with time. 5-

Marlboro
2019 Astrolabe Wrekin Chardonnay Marlborough Southern Valleys – Delicious. Round, good fruit, good acidity. Excellent chard rendition. 4
2021 Brancott Estate Classic Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – A classic NZ Sauvignon Blanc! Cassis, fresh grass, bigger palate than I expected, a little plump. Nose – 5+, palate – 4
2020 Churton Sauvignon Blanc Organic Marlborough – Ok. Superacidic. 2
2020 Clos Henri Vineyard Petit Clos Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough Wairau Valley – Very nice. Sancerre style. Freshly cut grass, flowers, perfect balance. 4
2021 Dashwood Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Classic nose with restraint, mostly grass. The palate is too sweet. 2
2021 Deep Down Wines Organic Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Sancerre-like elegance. Crisp but a bit too acidic. 3-
2019 Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ‘Section 94’ Marlborough Wairau Valley – Crisp, tart. Tangy. Interesting. 3
2017 Giesen Single Vineyard Clayvin Chardonnay Marlborough Southern Valleys – Excellent. Crisp, well balanced, delicious. 4-
2020 Glover Family Vineyards Zephyr Agent Field Blend Marlborough Wairau Valley (Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer) – Excellent. Wine for geeks, very tasty. Tart, crispy, tangy. Wine for geeks for sure. 4

2017 Greywacke Vineyards Greywacke Chardonnay Marlborough Wairau Valley – Gunflint, butter, vanilla. Not bad, but need to be a bit more balanced. 3+
2017 Hans Herzog Estate Mistral Marlborough (Viognier/Marsanne/Roussanne)- Interesting. Not my wine. 2
2021 Jules Taylor Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Elegant nose, a hint of fresh-cut grass. Nice, elegant, but a bit tart. 3
2020 Jules Taylor OTQ Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough Southern Valleys – Interesting. Softer than a typical NZ SB, not bad. 3
2021 Tohu Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Elegant, restrained nose, good palate, classic. 4
2021 Loveblock TEE Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough Awatere Valley – Horrible? A nose and palate of spoiled oranges. 1
2019 Mahi Pinot Noir Marlborough Wairau Valley – Lean. A bit underwhelming, but drinkable. 3
2021 Stoneleigh Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough Wairau Valley – Excellent. Classic. Clean, a touch of grass, cassis, a touch of grapefruit. Delicious. 4
2019 Te Whare Ra Single Vineyard Riesling ‘D’ Marlborough Wairau Valley – Beautiful! Crisp, tart apples on the finish. A very apple-forward version. 3+
2021 Vavasour Wines Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough Awatere Valley – Elegant, but the acidity is too much – the wine should be colder. 3
2021 Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Superb. Delicious. Classic, fresh, crisp. 4
2019 Villa Maria Single Vineyard Taylors Pass Pinot Noir Marlborough Awatere Valley – Nice, elegant, good round fruit. 3

Martinborough
2018 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir Martinborough – Elegant nose with a hint of smoke. Elegant on the palate, but a bit too lean. 3
2019 Dry River Wines Dry River Riesling Martinborough – A riot. Petrol on the nose, nice, elegant, good acidity, good fruit. Delicious Riesling. 4

Nelson
2020 Neudorf Vineyards Neudorf Home Block Moutere Chardonnay Nelson – Outstanding. Perfectly balanced. Lemon, apples, a remote hint of butter. Excellent. 4+
2021 Seifried Estate Grüner Veltliner Nelson – Elegant, classic Gruner. Herbal nose, round grassy feel on the palate with some Meyer lemons in the mix. Great effort. 4

Northland
2020 The Landing Chardonnay Northland – Delicious. Apples, a hint of vanilla, round, very elegant. 4+

Waipapa
2021 Waipara Springs Pinot Gris Canterbury / Waipara – Nice. A bit too sweet. 3
2021 Waipara Springs Sauvignon Blanc Canterbury / Waipara – Ok. 3
2020 Black Estate Home Pinot Noir Canterbury / Waipara – Interesting. Unusual. Tannic. 3
2018 Mountford Koyamo Pinot Noir Canterbury / Waipara – Excellent. Clean, classic, perfectly balanced, elegant. 4
2018 Mt. Beautiful Winery Pinot Noir Canterbury / Waipara – Not bad. Too lean and tannic. 2
2018 Pegasus Bay Sauvignon Semillon Canterbury / Waipara – Interesting nose, gunflint. Crisp palate. 3+
2018 Pyramid Valley North Canterbury Chardonnay Canterbury / Waipara – Not bad. Middle of the road Chardonnay. 3
2018 The Boneline Iridium Canterbury / Waipara (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc & Merlot) – Iodine and rocks on the nose. The palate is a bit underwhelming. 3

Wairarapa
2019 Borthwick Vineyards Paddy Borthwick Right Hand Pinot Noir Wairarapa – Interesting nose – plums with a distant hint of barnyard. Round, powerful, expressive, peppery. More of Oregon style. 4+

There you are, my friends – New Zealand wines beyond Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. New Zealand wines are not easy to find in the USA but are well worth seeking. Cheers!

New Zealand, Familiar and Not

May 15, 2015 8 comments

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc TastingHere is your motivational quote of the day: “open your mind, and discovery will follow”. If you are wondering what the heck is wrong with this Talkavino guy starting the wine post with motivational quote, read on, I will explain.

Today we will be talking about the wines of New Zealand. What is the first wine which comes to mind when you think “New Zealand”? Don’t know about you, but for me it is a Sauvignon Blanc. Closely followed by Pinot Noir. But then there is beautiful Chardonnay, and Bordeaux blends, and Riesling – please, don’t forget the Riesling!

Two weeks ago I attended the New Zealand wine tasting event in New York. The event consisted of the seminar and the tasting, so below you will find my notes from both. But before I will inundate you with the wines and the tasting notes, let me share some general thoughts.

New Zealand wine industry is relatively young. First Sauvignon Blanc was planted in 1973, and first commercial release took place in 1979. [However, the first vines were planted in New Zealand in 1819, and in 1881 Pinot Noir from Central Otago got gold medal in the “Burgundy” category at the wine show in Sydney – but let’s leave it aside for now]. Through the 1980s, Cloudy Bay found its magic, and New Zealand wines spread out throughout the world (definitely in US). The New Zealand wine export had been growing steadily for many years, from 30M gallons of wine in 2009 to the 44M gallons in 2013, also reaching almost US $1B in revenues in 2013. Also, a lot of New Zealand wineries utilize sustainable winemaking methods and use organic grapes (you can read more here).

What I also sense from reading the blogs and listening to the experts is that the New Zealand winemakers are feeling constrained by what they already achieved and are trying to break the boundaries. Few simple facts for you. There are 11 defined wine regions in New Zealand. However, many winemakers believe that this is not enough, and want to define the sub-regions with much smaller boundaries. Such sub-regions are not yet official [I might stand corrected here – according to the New Zealand wine web site, the sub-regions are defined, but I still don’t know how widespread or how official those designations are], but on many labels you can already see designations for the sub-regions, such as Awatere or Waihopai in Marlborough, or Pisa in Central Otago. Different soils, different micro-climates, different terroirs, if you will – all lead to production of stylistically different wines coming from the different areas of the same bigger region.

There is more to this “breaking the boundaries”. New Zealand wine is not only a Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. There are Syrah, Merlot, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and even Grüner Veltliner and Chenin Blanc wines which are shining. And even familiar Sauvignon Blanc is taking to the totally new territories, by using oak and not only – which leads us to the seminar, so we can finally talk wines.

The seminar was very interesting. It was done in the unusual format. There was no classroom with a head table and presenters. There was a big roundtable (well, it was actually a square), with presenters and winemakers sitting around the room among the participants. But this was not the most unique characteristic of the event. There were 9 Sauvignon Blanc wines presented in the event. And all 9 were … oaked. With the various degree, but yes, all Sauvignon Blanc wines went through some oak ageing process. There was also a 7 years old Sauvignon Blanc wine, which was quite unique for me. All in all, it was very different and interesting. Was it successful? I will defer you to my notes below. Here we go.

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2014 Amisfield Sauvignon Blanc Central Otago (SRP $20)
C: pale straw
N: fresh cut grass, very restrained, lemon notes, minerality, touch of sapidity, interesting complexity.
P: tremendous acidity, more of a Muscadet style, lots of minerality, food wine (oysters!)
V: nice and restrained, Drinkability: 8-

2014 Nautilus Sauvignon Blanc Marlboro (SRP $17.99)
C: light straw, greenish
N: concentrated green notes, more of a fresh vegetables greens in the garden than grass. Touch of sweetness after swirling the glass.
P: very restrained, complex, salinity, white stone fruit, acidity on the finish.
V: Drinkability: 7+

2014 Huia Sauvignon Blanc Marlboro (SRP $19)
C: pale straw
N: hint of gasoline – disappeared after intense swirling. Touch of white fruit, restrained. Hint of lemon. Overall, nose is not very pronounced.
P: tremendous acidity, hint of Granny Smith apples
V: wine finishes nowhere, lacking conclusion. Drinkability: 7-

2014 Neudorf Sauvignon Blanc Nelson (SRP $17.95)
C: light straw yellow
N: non-typical. But may be a distant hint of grass.
P: lemon, fresh, supple, good acidity, nice textural presence. Still, tremendous amount of acidity is coming through, plus tannins in the finish!
V: Drinkability: 7+, okay wine

2014 Craggy Range Te Muna Road Sauvignon Blanc Marlboro (SRP $28.99)
C: pale yellow
N: touch of vanilla, touch of tropical fruit, hint of grapefruit
P: great complexity, restrained, guava, lemon, minerality, grass, touch of tannins, but it is well integrated.
V: Drinkability: 7+

2013 Seresin Marama Sauvignon Blanc Marlboro (SRP $40)
C: light yellow
N: butter, vanilla, butterscotch- wow, is this is a Chard? Pronounced, concentrated flavors!
P: vanilla, butter, more akin to a butterscotch candy, fresh and exuberant! The clearest expression of butterscotch candy of any wines I ever had (bold, I know)
V: it gets 8 (or even 8+) as a Chardonnay and 6 as Sauvignon Blanc. I would be glad to drink this wine – just don’t tell me what it is.

2013 Trinity Hill Sauvignon Blanc Hawke’s Bay (SRP $16.99)
C: light straw yellow
N: very inexpressive. Whatever I think I smell, is a product of my imagination. After 5 minutes of swirling, grass showed up, more of a typical expected SB. Still Very restrained.
P: nice acidity, good with oysters, nice touch of white fruit, fresh and clean
V: Drinkability: 7

2012 Pegasus Bay Sauvignon Blanc Waipara Valley (SRP $28)
C: pale straw yellow
N: complex aromatics, touch of oak, elevated white fruit (apples, hint of tropical fruit). One of the best on the nose so far. Distant hint of grass
P: Elegant, fresh, well integrated acidity, apples
V: one of the best in the tasting. Drinkability: 8-

2008 Mahi Ballot Block Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough (SRP $24)
C: light yellow, doesn’t show the age at all
N: some vegetative notes and fresh salami (yes, you can unfollow me if you want). Some distant resemblance of fruit. On a second thought, it has a Chablis-like minerality. The sausage is off, Chablis is in.
P: most elegant palate in the tasting. Acidity definitely wore off, but the wine is elegant, complex, mellow, just an interesting wine in the style of nicely aged white Rhône.
V: best of the tasting. Very round and elegant. Drinkability: 8.

And then there was a tasting. I didn’t get an opportunity to taste all the wines. Also, as you would expect, I liked some wines more than the others. Thus below are the wines which I liked the most from what I tasted. Oh wait, I still have to explain myself with that “open your mind” intro. Let me do it now, the story is rather simple.

What flavors do you typically associate with the Sauvignon Blanc? Grass? Check. Lemon? Check. Grapefruit? Check. Gooseberry? As Chris Kassel mentioned recently, most of the people who didn’t live in Europe have no idea how Gooseberry smells or tastes, but okay. Check. Some white tropical fruit? Possible and Check. But what about Black Currant? I don’t know about you, but I don’t associate red or black berry aromas with Sauvignon Blanc. But – black currant is one of the main characteristic aromas of Cabernet Sauvignon. And Sauvignon Blanc is a parent of Cabernet Sauvignon. Thus when I heard from one of the hosts talking about the wine “beautiful black currant aroma”, that was a nail on the head! Yes – exactly – the revelation – forget the damn Gooseberry, just open your mind (talking to myself) and understand that black fruit can be associated with white wine (I’m sure the opposite is true). I would honestly say this was my main discovery of the tasting, the revelation.

Now let’s get back to wines. My absolute favorites where Sophora Sparkling wines (simply a wow and an incredible QPR), Syrah from Elephant Hill, Chenin Blanc from Astrolabe, Sauvignon Blanc from Saint Clair, Doctors Grüner Veltliner and Lake Chalis lightly fizzed Sauvignon Blanc – all shown in blue below. But all in all, lots of delicious wines in the tasting. All prices are suggested retail as listed in the brochure. Let’s go:

2014 Amisfield Sauvignon Blanc Pisa, Otago ($20) – +++, clean, restrained
2013 Amisfield Pinot Gris Pisa, Otago ($25) – +++, nice touch of oak
2011 Amisfied Pinot Noir Pisa, Otago ($35) – ++1/2, nice balance, still needs time
2012 Amisfied Pinot Noir Pisa, Otago ($35) – +++, elegant, round, touch of green notes

2014 Ara Pathway Sauvignon Blanc Waihopai, Marlborough ($16.99) – +++, very good, traditional
2013 Ara Pathway Pinot Noir Waihopai, Marlborough ($18.99) – ++1/2, nice, clean
2014 Ara Single Estate Sauvignon Blanc Waihopai, Marlborough ($19.99) – +++, clean, balanced
2013 Ara Single Estate Pinot Noir Waihopai, Marlborough ($23.99) – ++1/2, very good, tannins, needs time

2012 Astrolabe Province Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough ($23) – +++, excellent, black currant, perfect balance
2014 Astrolabe Province Pinot Gris Marlborough ($23) – +++, beautiful aromatics
2012 Astrolabe Province Pinot Noir Marlborough ($28) – +++1/2, excellent!! Best of tatsing?
2013 Astrolabe Vineyards Chenin Blanc Wrekin Vineyard Southern Valleys, Marlborough ($22) – +++, concentrated, Vouvray-like, excellent, creamy

NV Sophora Sparkling Rosé Hawke’s Bay ($16) – +++, wow! beautiful – aromatics and structure of the classic Chgampagne. Outstanding QPR
NV Sophora Sparkling Cuvée Hawke’s Bay ($16) – +++, equally excellent as the previous wine

2012 Domaine-Thomson Surveyor Thomson Single Vineyard Pinot Noir Lowburn, Otago ($44) – ++1/2
2011 Domaine-Thomson Surveyor Thomson Single Vineyard Pinot Noir Lowburn, Otago ($44) – +++, excellent!

2013 Elephant Hill Syrah Hawke’s Bay ($28) – ++++, spectacular! An absolute precision of Syrah with peppery profile

2014 Fire Road Sauvignon Blanc Marlboro ($13) – ++1/2, nice, simple, balanced
2013 Fire Road Pinot Noir Marlboro ($15) – ++1/2, probably best QPR at the tasting

2013 Doctors Grüner Veltliner Marlborough ($18) – +++, touch of petrol, nice
2014 Doctors Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough ($18) – +++, nice, clean, good acidity
2013 Seifried Pinot Gris Nelson ($18) – ++1/2, clean, nice
2012 Seifried Riesling Nelson ($18) – +++, petrol, beautiful
2013 Maimai Syrah Hawke’s Bay ($20) – +++, excellent, dark
2014 Lake Chalis Cracklin’ Savie Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough ($18) – +++1/2, beautiful, fresh, lightly fizzed, very unique. Similar to Moscato in creaminess, but dry
2014 Lake Chalis Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough ($18) – +++, perfect, black currant, beautiful!

2014 Saint Clair Family Estate Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough ($17.99) – +++, beautiful balance
2014 Saint Clair Pioneer Block 18 Snap Block Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough ($26.99) – +++, interesting complexity
2012 Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc Wairau, Marlborough ($31.99) – +++1/2, very complex, very unusual
2012 Saint Clair Pioneer Block 16 Pinot Noir Awatere, Marlborough ($17.99) – +++, Oregon-like, very elegant

And we are done here. What do you think of New Zealand wines? What are your favorites? Did you ever associated Sauvignon Blanc aromas with black currant? Until the next time – cheers!

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