South Island Chardonnay …
3 wines here, each from a different part of the island: Nelson, Marlborough and Central Otago – and each had a different flavour and mouthfeel. The best of these three was the Waimea 2008 Chardonnay from Nelson ($19.99); nice creamy vanilla on the palate with a touch of apple and caramel, finishing off with good acidity. A conversation with the winemaker later in the day enhanced my knowledge of the this wine and a re-taste confirmed that I really liked this one, a lot: 12-18 year old vines, 9 months in barrel with 10-15% new French oak – and only wild yeast used for fermentation. Very nice. (****½)
Lower North Island Chardonnay …
A showing of two Chardonnays from Wairarapa/Martinborough and Hawke’s Bay … The Hawke soared highest here on my scorecard with the Crossroads 2008 Chardonnay Hawkes Bay ($19.95) – a very exciting wine with good fruit, sight vanilla and fresh clean acidity. (****½)
Upper North Island Chardonnay …
Another two (and the last two) Chardonnays, these from Gisborne and Auckland/Waiheke Island … my palate swung to the Coopers Creek 2008 Unoaked Chardonnay from Gisborne ($16.95) – this one had a pineapple-grapefruit mixture with a nice finish. (****)
North Island Pinot Noir …
This time the wines were broken down into three regions instead of a mixture of regions (see North Island Chardonnay): Hawke’s Bay, Wairarapa and Martinborough … some at the tasting cooed over the Martinborough offering but it did not thrill me as much as the two from Hawke’s Bay and Wairarapa. Vidal Estate 2008 Pinot Noir Hawke’s Bay (no price given) was a fruit driven number with black cherry and a touch earthy, good mouthfeel, some lively acidity and a long finish. (****) But the one that thrilled me the most was the Borthwick Vineyard 2008 Pinot Noir, Wairarapa ($34.95) – this one had a nice balance between earthy and fruity with blackberry and black cherry dominating the mid-palate with nice tannins on the finish. (****½)
South Island Pinot Noir …
Final flight had the most wines in it and the most regions represented: Nelson, Marlborough, Waipara, Waitaki Valley and Central Otago … while their was more choice, there were also tougher choices to be made, but I narrowed it down to the ones from Waipara and Central Otago. The Waipara was the Pegasus Bay Winery 2007 Pinot Noir ($47.95) – it wasn’t typical Pinot Noir, but that’s what I liked about it: sweet plumy fruit, lush strawberries, good acidity and a nice minerally-spicy finish (****½). The other Pinot Noir that was impressive was the Felton Road 2008 Pinot Noir – Central Otago ($66.95) – this one delivered lots of strawberry and other red fruit, though it also had a nice mineral seam and good acidity – very tasty (****½).
New Zealand - some thoughts about the tasting …
New Zealand definitely doesn’t suffer from an identity crisis, they know exactly what does well for them, namely Sauvignon Blanc (their mainstay) and Pinot Noir – but what made them great also gives their tasting an element of sameness – you know you’re going to get a lot Savvy B. and Pinot; which is why the seminar took the focus off of the grassy, grapefruit of the Sauv for an hour and placed the white focus firmly onto the Chardonnay grape.
But that’s not all the New Zealanders want you to focus on, they have too many stories to tell … the way the country acts as one is awe-inspiring, from their near universal use of screwcap to their commitment to sustainability by 2012 for all New Zealand wineries (they are already 75% there). For any country that wants to get their wines onto the world stage, New Zealand should be their model for a unified front.
By the Numbers …
New Zealand is all about growth over the past 5 years:
In 2005 there were 516 wineries, in 2009 (the most recent numbers) there were 643.
Over the same period production area has increased from 21,002 hectares to 31,057 hectares.
As for grape varieties planted this should come as no surprise: Sauvignon Blanc makes up 63% of plantings in New Zealand followed by Chardonnay (12%), Pinot Noir (10%) and Merlot (4%) … Riesling also factors in at 2%. As for this day of tasting there’s no surprise here either, of the 50 wineries present, only 7 did not have a Sauvignon Blanc to pour and another 7 didn’t have a Pinot Noir at their table - it was one or the other, never both – unless you count Vinoptima, who had only Gewurztraminer at their table.
Another interesting number is the number of wineries from the Marlborough region, 37, which means only 13 had no Marlborough connection whatsoever.
The Wines: the best of the rest from the tasting …
Te Awa 2009 Left Field Chardonnay ($19.95) – lovely wine, this is an unoaked version of Chardonnay: it gets 5 months of lees contact and spends time in stainless steel barrels. Good fruit, pear, a touch of peach and some really nice pineapple … tropical and delicious, and speaking of delicious, for a wine this good the price is great. (****½)
Spy Valley 2008 Gewurztraminer ($19.95) – this one has the Gewurzt character you’ll recognize with spicy and floral notes, very palate friendly. (****)
Envoy by Spy Valley 2007 Gewurztraminer ($31.95) – the reserve line of Spy Valley shows an intensity of fruit with a touch of sweetness and intense acidity on the finish. (****)
Envoy by Spy Valley 2008 Pinot Gris ($29.00) – ripe delicious apple, touch of peach with a bit of that fruity sweetness that makes this one very enjoyable. (****)
Gibbston Highgate Estate 2008 Soultaker Pinot Noir ($36.95) – nice red fruited Pinot that hit all the bases … raspberry, cherry, strawberry along with some nice licorice tones – delicate and fruity with good acidity and fresh fruit. This wine spends 11-14 months in a mix of new, 2-4 and 5-6 year old oak, approximately a third of the wine in each. (****½)
Hawkshead 2008 Pinot Noir ($38.00) – nice blackberry, cranberry and cinnamon with a touch of spiced plum, good acidity and nice tannins. (****)
Mud House Wines 2008/2009 Pinot Noir ($17.95) – same wine, two different vintages will make their way into the LCBO later this year – if the ’08 is what you get then enjoy it now; if you grab a bottle of the ’09, let it rest another 18 months before consuming (the wait will reward your palate) – both are very nice. (****)
Nautilus 2008 Pinot Noir ($37.00) – smooth red fruit across the tongue with a touch of vanilla and spice. (****)
Te Kairanga 2008 Martinborough Estate Pinot Noir ($25.50) – light cherry fruit, good acidity with a nice finish – fruity and delicious (****)
Villa Maria 207 Private Bin Pinot Noir ($19.95) – good red fruit, earth and spice – this one’s really friendly on the palate and just joined it’s Sauvignon Blanc pal on the LCBO’s general list. (****)
Waimea 2008 Pinot Noir ($19.95) – a 6 vineyard picking of grapes with an average of 12-15 year old vines picked at 1.5 tons per hectare. Good black fruit and leather on the finish with good length and nice acidity on the finish. Aged 2 years in French oak and all wild yeast fermented. (****)
Craggy Range 2007 Sophia Merlot/Cabernet Franc ($66.95) – big fruit, smoky, vanilla notes with big tannins yet with a juicy core and big alcohol to boot (****)
Konrad 2009 Bench Selection Riesling ($22.50) – nice vibrant flavour, good balance between the acid and sweetness to produce a lovely mouthfeel. Sweet start, dry finish and only 8.5% alcohol. (****)
Sandihurst 2007 Riesling ($25.10) – I wish I could tell you the person who turned me on to this Riesling had a lousy palate, but obviously not, very nice mix of fruit (lime and apple) with mineral, petrol and a peach pit dry finish. (****)
Matua Valley Estate Paretai Sauvignon Blanc ($24.95) – this one was beautiful, nice lemon, pineapple and tropical fruit with mineral, delicious apple and lime on the palate, lot of flavour – also with hints of asparagus instead of just straight on grassiness. (****½)
Mud House Wines 2009 Sauvignon Blanc ($15.95) – coming to the LCBO in the fall, if not sooner, this is a welcome addition to the general list, lots of grapefruit, tropical and grassy notes at a good price. (****)
Te Kairanga 2008 Sauvignon Blanc ($16.50) – coming to Vintages in June, just in time for summer sipping, fresh, clean with nice lemony nuances and fresh grapefruit. (****)
Villa Maria 2009 Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc ($15.95) – nice fruit: grapefruit and tropical nose with a lovely pineapple finish, excellent value, and the best Villa Maria I have tried in a few years. (****)
Hunter’s Miru Miru Sparkling ($23.95) – a blend of Chardonnay (58%), Pinot Noir (33%) and Pinot Meunier (9%), crisp yet fruity with yeasty appley notes (****)
Ngatarawa Wines 2009 Silks Syrah ($19.95) – blueberry, chocolate, spice, black raspberry, spiced-plum and white pepper, it’s all in here at an incredibly god price. (****½)
Te Awa 2007 Syrah (sold out) – spicy black fruit, nice acidity and ageworthiness, there’s even a slight hint of violets on the nose; a real tease of a wine that is now no longer available. (****)