Sunday, September 23, 2018

Going Wild

One of most trusted commercial brands on the shelves is ‘Stoneleigh’ from Marlborough.  Life started out around three decades ago when it was a premium brand for Corbans Wines, Stoneleigh being a special iteration of the Rapaura district, which yielded Sauvignon Blanc with the classic punchy passionfruity thiol character.  The Stoneleigh range grew to incorporate other varieties, of which Riesling was my favourite.  A big change came with the purchase of Corbans by its major competitor Montana in 2000, but the Stoneleigh label was retained due to its strength.  That continues today, with Stoneleigh as a special Marlborough brand, still showcasing the Rapaura style.

Over time, the variations of Stoneleigh wine have grown to fill the niches in the market, with the introduction of Pinot Gris and Rosé, and even Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc.  There is a low-alcohol tier, then the more up-market ‘Latitude’ and ‘Rapaura Series’ levels, the latter being the flagship.  One thing that long-time winemaker Jamie Marfell, heading the team since 2002 has done is ensure that the wines are of very high quality and style to guarantee commercial viability.  There is nothing out of place.  Until he introduced Stoneleigh ‘Wild Valley’ – wines made with indigenous yeast fermentation.  In commercial terms, this is risk taking.  In quality and character, one is getting closer to the soil and thus terroir.  This was in 2015 with a Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Noir, followed by a Chardonnay in 2016, the vintage being 2015.  These wines were noted by the critics, but not ‘wildly’ taken up by the consumer.
That should change with the release this year of the 2018 Stoneleigh ‘Wild Valley’ Marlborough Rosé and 2018 Stoneleigh ‘Wild Valley’ Marlborough Pinot Gris.  I think Jamie Marfell decided to step it up a big bit by increasing the depth and richness of fruit character and the weight of the wines.  The Rosé bursts with aromatic fruit but remains mouthwatering.  The Pinot Gris has lovely weight and presence of exotic flavours.  However both have that thread of funkiness and hint of smoke that wild yeasts give.  There’s no corruption, but real detail and interest.  And this from a ‘commercial’ wine!  Here’s a case of risky winemaking coming mainstream!   

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Dark Forces

Where does the best Pinot Noir come from?  The wine world would agree that it is the Cote d’Or, or Burgundy in France.  Of course the French don’t talk about the variety.  It’s the place or terroir.  But with a wider interpretation, you could say that Oregon, New Zealand, California and Australia are also contenders.  There is a dark force, recognised by a few that know there is somewhere else, with great potential – Germany.

Spatbugunder, has only been taken seriously as capable of making fine German wine in a few specific locations, notably the Ahr, or Baden, with the Pfalz  or Rheinhessen as the best areas.  But there are around 12,000 ha of Pinot Noir planted in Germany, the third most in the world.  But how things change.  Climate change, and adventurous and serious growers who see the quality of top Burgundy have made for a number of wonderful bottlings that would surprise the most hardened Burgundy-phile.  There can be complex, barrel-aged, Spatburgunders that have the potential to age and show their terroir.  Sounds familiar?
The Good Doctor visited us one night for dinner.  He brought with him a 2012 Chat Sauvage Lorcher Schlossberg Spatburgunder.  He had visited this specialist domaine based in the Rheingau, and came back filled with awe.  The contents of the bottle showed SWMBO and I why.  Some bottle age complexity meant this was not a youthful showcase, and that it had settled into itself.  The range of fruit and savoury flavours was wonderfully broad and complex.  There was mouthfeel, texture and vinosity.  There was a harmony and complete feel to the wine.  We knew it had provenance, but one that we didn’t see the context of yet.  This opened up a totally new dimension to explore.  Who would know what dark forces might reside there?

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Tine - No Time

Anyone who has followed my blog for any length of time knows that I am a fan of the Donnhoff wines from the Nahe in Germany.  Some subscribe to the thought that the Nahe wines are similar to those of the Mosel.  Then there are others who say that they share a lot in common with Rheingau wines.  To tell the truth I’m a fence sitter.  They are their own style, and I’m sure that those who grow and make Nahe wine would say the same, as they would appreciate the subtle differences more so that outsiders.

The Donnhoff Oberhauser Leistenberg Kabinett has long been a regular staple at our household, SWMBO and I just whipping out a bottle whenever a guest turns up.  Invariably, it’s delicious with its fresh florals and limes, soft acidity and gorgeous balance.  You don’t need to wait for it to come right or settle down.  It’s ready for drinking straight away, but it’ll develop well for several years.  That was just the case with yet another bottle of the 2016 Donnhoff Oberhauser Leistenberg Riesling Kabinett.  All our guests loved this wine.  It needs ‘No Time’ to cellar.
But it’s a different kettle of fish with the Donnhoff Spatlesen and Auslesen wine.  These are somewhat rarer, and definitely more expensive.  Quite a bit more that you might expect.  I’ve had some glorious examples of the Spatlese especially, but with some bottle age.  One can get caught out with the high sulphur levels – which help the tine age – just as at J.J. Prum.  The 2014 Donnhoff Niederhauser Hernannshohle Riesling Spatlese was just that, lots of free sulphur, maybe a touch of bound sulphur too.  The fruit deliciousness was there, with that extra richness – but no, the sulphur got in the way.  A bit of air time helped.  But not enough for me.  The next day SWMBO proclaimed it free, but not for me.  It’s a wine that needs ‘Tiime’ to cellar.  I’ll try not to make the same mistake again. 

Monday, August 27, 2018

Expressions of Exoticism

The range of sweet wines is enormous as is their diversity.  From gentle late harvest to full-blown botrytised wines; then there’s the factor of style, from variety, place, balance and other inputs such as maturation with wood or even controlled flor-yeast effects, as in Takay.
SWMBO and I invited The Normal Man and I-Spy Man together, for pre-loading, as we were heading out to a wine and food matched dinner with Ch. d’Yquem (that’s another story).  We had the choice of many different wines, from bubbly to gently sweet.  But we opted for full-on exoticism and decadence.
The 2015 Millton Vineyard ‘Clos Samuel’ Gisborne ‘Special Berry Selection’ Viognier was what we happily settled on.  The wine comes from a section of the Te Arai vineyard, near the river, where the fruit is prone to botrytis infection.   And in 2015, the Viognier, left out there, got infected in a big way.  James Millton instructed the pickers to select berries properly affected and dried.  The wine is thus technically a Trockenbeerenauslese, but in typical deprecating fashion, he’d rather say it’s closer to a Beeerenauslese.
No matter, the wine was gloriouslu decadent and opulent.   Light orange colour, and with the subtle aromas and flavours of apricots and tropical fruits, with an overlay of orange marmalade, unfolding caramel and toffee.  Unctuous on the palate, but with enough acidity for cut – just.  And just enough alcohol for power, drive and line.  Just a glorious exotic wine to sip on.  It flowed easily, and indeed it did gum up our palates a little.  But then the stickiness cleared.  When we looked back at this wine and compared it to the five vintages of Yquem, it wasn’t out of place.

Sunday, August 26, 2018


I always seem to feel a wine ‘shines’ when it is of excellent quality.  Others talk about a wine ‘singing’ and I can understand that too.  But ‘shine’ indicates a lustre in the appearance and a brightness of aromatics, then a sweetness or richness in taste.  It is a descriptor that works well for me.
The latest wine to ‘shine’ for me was the 2014 Paritua ’21.12’ Hawke’s Bay.  This is the flagship red from this producer in Maraekakaho Road, south-west of Hastings in Hawke’s Bay.  It’s a Cabernet Sauvignon dominant wine with plenty of Merlot and some Cabernet Franc.  It’s made from the best fruit that the vineyard yields, and then winemaker Jason Stent works through all the ferments, and I suspect does the most rigorous of barrel selections.  Black-red with youthful purple hues, the Cabernet Sauvignon shows, but with gorgeous aromatic ripeness.  There’s no herbs here, but there is definitely cassis.  Than then that lifted exotic and new oak adding to the aromatic decadence.  The palate does the same – expressing rich, perfectly ripened black fruits – no over-ripeness, succulent and sweet, the considerable structure, all fine grained, then the new oak lift.  This is brilliant and truly shines.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Alive from the Limestone

It is an accepted truism that limestone-influenced soils yield wines with more tension and liveliness.   It is said the ‘active acidity’ in the soils is conferred to the wines, giving them increased aromatic finesse, and a brightness of palate.  And of course, that magic word – ‘minerality’.  In a slightly more scientific bent, it’s the lower pH of the soils.  One is always pointed to the classical burgundian examples of wines from Volnay in the Cote de Beaune, and in Chambolle-Musigny in the Cote de Nuits.

And from countries blessed with a variety of soils, the include limestone, this principle is touted as gospel.  Just recently I attended a tasting of North Canterbury wines in which the limestone-influenced wines were indeed lighter, more elegant and definitely more perfumed that wines from neighbouring soils.  The clay-influenced wines were heavier and more structured, but that’s another story…

One of our new vignobles in New Zealand is that of North Otago around the Waitaki Valley.  The climate there is not as benevolent as other areas, and yields are seldom satisfactory.  A number of winegrowers were attracted to the area because of the significant presence of limestone in the soils.  But due to economic hardship, many have gone.  Not so Ostler Wine, the enterprise of Jim and Anne Jerram and her brother Jeff Sinnott.  They have persevered, enthused and in fact grown in the size of vineyards.  More importantly, they have released continually from the start, a line of wines that showcase minerality.
The Ostler ‘Lakeside Vines’ Waitaki Valley North Otago Pinot Gris 2017 is a beauty of a wine with clarity of varietal expression with stonefruits, exotic florals and the complexing hand of barrel and lees work to contribute to the mineral expression.  The palate is a healthy 14.5% alc. and it shows a little, but I like power.  The palate has tension as well as the drive, and that sense of minerals throughout.  It’s enough to make people jealous, and consider giving the Waitaki Valley region a go.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Works - Doesn't Work

Some wines just work.  The producer is right.  The style is right.  And when all is done, it tastes just right.  Others don’t give you the same feeling.  The producer may be a god one.  The style of wine is something you normally like.  But somehow, it just doesn’t fit together well, and the taste doesn’t hit the spot, or just feels wrong.

Donnhoff has always been one of our favourite German producers.  This Nahe name is well known for its accessible Kabinetts, its eich Spatlesen, and if you’re lucky sensational Auslese and above.  These wines have never let SWMBO or myself down in any way.  Recently, we’ve tried some of their Trocken wines, and they too are superb. It seems Donnhoff can do no wrong.

Robert Weil in the Rheingau is just as highly regarded.  Their Trocken wines are now seen as top flight, and SWMBO and I have enjoyed many of these.  They have a subtle power and balance.  As with most producers in the main regions, they’ve made the Pradikat classified wines, and still do.
Our day with The Young One and Jo-Lo was to be enhanced with wines from these two producers.  The 2016 Donnhoff Oberhauser Leistenberg Riesling Kabinett was indeed superb.  Beautifully fine yet with a positive heart and line.  Deliciously succulent citrus fruits with florals and a touch of minerals, with perfect acid balance for the sweetness.  Exquisite drinking at this level, that just works.  But then the 2016 Robert Weil Kiedrich Grafenberg Riesling Spatlese shocked us.  Sure it was richer as it should be at the Spatlese level, but the fruit smelt and tasted savoury.  Not oxidised or sour, but certainly off-putting.  There were florals and honey, but the savouriness pervaded.  This was not enjoyable, and it did not work, so we moved to a red.  SWMBO and the I-Spy Man reported the wine to have been much better the next night.  In fact it must have been good, as they finished the bottle, so I didn’t see it again….