Thursday, November 1, 2018

Homage to Harmony

It’s the most natural thing to say that the biggest, boldest and most flavoursome wine is best.  Power is sought-after, and lightness somewhat frowned upon as being weak and sub-standard.  And there’s some truth to this, as the wines with the most impact have been made from the most flavoursome and ripest grapes, had as much goodness taken out of the berries and turned into wine.  Then these wines may have the most inputs to match the fruit intensity and extract.  Such wines sometimes deserve to be put on a pedestal – and revered.  But also along with it is the fact that these wines are made to be shared among many people, as a small glass will suffice.  A large glass can be a bit of work to finish, and a bottle may need to be consumed over the course of more than one day.

Of course, lighter and lesser wines are easier to drink.  There is less challenge, as the flavours are less forceful and mouthfilling.  The structure is undemanding, and there’s nothing to hinder you drinking it easily.  Hang-on here….it sounds like the latter approach is the way to enjoy drinking a wine?  Mind you, weak wine doesn’t satisfy the palate and senses.  So it must be in the middle.  The best wines have great flavour and structure, are full of character, but smooth and easy enough to enjoy without hindrance.  To get to that point is not easy….it takes a master winegrower to judge that balance to make such a wine.
And the 2016 Trinity ‘Homage’ Hawke’s Bay Syrah is one such wine,  Beautifully easy to sip and drink.  The range of aromas and flavours are perfect expressions of the grape and place – and of vintage.  The wine is satisfying and almost sating, but requiring another glass to check.  A full array of detail to draw you one way, then another, and all this accumulating to make something greater than its parts (that’s my psychology training).  There is beauty and true harmony.  A great wine for the soul indeed.  Wondrous enough to evoke a tear of pleasure!

The wine has a story.  Inspired by Gerard Jaboulet of the Rhone and his ‘La Chapelle’ Hermitage, Trinity Hill’s founding winemaker John Hancock created this wine firstly in 2002 as a tribute to Gerard who passed away at the too-young age of 55 years.  Made from the MS Syrah clone which traces its history back to James Busby, plus vines from cuttings that Gerard gave to John as a gift.  Picked at perfect ripeness to show fruit and elegance.  Enough subtle inputs such as whole bunch and oaking to add layers of interest.  And super judgement of extraction and barrel-aging.  John Handcock, Warren Gibson, Damian Fischer and team have made the most delicious wine.  It isn’t the most powerful or striking ‘Homage’, but it’s the most drinkable and enjoyable.  What could be more perfect than that?

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Fine and Funky

Tastes change.  And yet they don’t.  Mainstream Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has edged its way from green and grassy – what the Brits adored in the 1980s – to something riper, often with passionfruit, more textured and detailed, with richness and length being desirable, and without the searing acidity.  The lesser examples of the Loire were the benchmarks for the early Marlborough models, and we in New Zealand could achieve it easily, as we hadn’t learned about pushing ripeness, crop loading and balance.

But in the Loire there were those who took Sauvignon Blanc very seriously.  Who can frRget Didier Dageneau with his bottlings with oak and lees inputs, higher concentration and length.  These cost a bomb to buy and try, but they were revelations to sophistication and minerality, as well as expressions of terroir.

In a way, nothing has changed as we have the likes of James Healy and Ivan Sutherland of Dog Point in the Southern Valley district of Marlborough.  What they have done, as exampled by the 2016 Dog Point ‘Section 94’ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc may seem novel, ground-breaking and the direction forward for Marlborough to go, if the region is to show that it is more than a one-trick pony.  But what they’ve done is realise the like of Dageneau had the right approach for complexity and expression.  Fruit ripened to the perfect place, barrel-fermentation with solids by indigenous yeasts, and lees contact galore.  To those more used to mainstream, these are firm, taut, funk anf gunflinty.  Nothing like what Sauvignon should be.  To those with a broader palate experience, you have detail, finesse, intricacy, funky layers of complexity adding to the fruit.  Minerality for sure, and who knows, expression of place?      

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Preserving Poise

There’s a clear definition between the higher altitude, cooler Eden Valley hills and the warmer Barossa Valley floor, the former producing more elegant and aromatic wines with intensity and freshness – suited to white varieties, and the latter producing full, rich weighty wines with breadth and depth – suited to red wines especially.  And that’s generally the case with the wines that come from the ‘Barossa’ appellation.

There are a number of producers who accentuated the differences between the two sub-regions, rather than homogenise the two by blending.  Earlier this year, I came across the 2016 Sons of Eden ‘Eurus’ Eden Valley Cabernet Sauvignon which went the other way and pushed the ripeness limits of the Eden Valley fruit such that it was not showing the classic blackcurrant and cassis fruit, but more the blackberry and boysenberry fruit.  A magnificent wine it was, but atypical.
Thorn-Clarke is one of those grower-producers who celebrate and seek to express the differences of the two sub-regions.  They have a tier called ‘Eden Trail’ which has Eden Valley-fruited wine only with no Barossa Valley fruit involved.  The classic wine representing Eden Valley from Thorn-Clarke would have to be the 2018 Thorn-Clarke ‘Eden Trail’ Eden Valley Riesling.  Beautifully pristine but with an array of fragrances of florals and citrus fruits – quite exotic, but all the while maintaining great acidity.  The acidity is very soft, but clearly low pH with its beautiful textures to get such freshness and electricity.  But they’ve had to work to preserving the poise in their 2017 Thorn-Clarke ‘Eden Trail’ Eden Valley Chardonnay.  From a naturally cooler growing season, the vintage has given an advantage on freshness and slightly elevated acidity.  But the winemaking team fermented part in barrel and part in tank to add to the fresh and steely nature of the wine.  Don’t worry, it’s still full-on Chardonnay, with nutty and toasty oak.  The creamy barrel-ferment is perfectly cut by the acidity.  They’ve preserved the Eden Valley poise here.  A great wine with grilled and roasted seafood, I reckon.  

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Big Bottle Glory

The Real Mr Parker put on an extravaganza from his wine collecting years that number well into three decades.  And SWMBO and I were privileged to be invited.  It was a vertical tasting of Chapoutier’s ‘Le Pavillon’ Ermitage, from 2013 way back to Michel and Marc Chapoutier’s 1989 inaugural release.  I’ve noted about this event elsewhere, and my picks of the range were the   refined and still vital 1991, the rich and poised 2010 and the vigorous 2005.

But there was one bottle that stood out for all the right reasons, but eclipsed by the three vintages mentioned above.  That was the 1990 Chapoutier ‘Le Pavillon’ Ermitage in a 1.5 Litre magnum bottle.  I think I still have one of these tucked away in the depths of the cellar, so it was fascinating to try Mr Parker’s bottle before broaching mine.  The vintage 1990 was one of a great trio in the Northern Rhone, of 1989, 1990 and 1991.  And each year had its advocates.  The fact that Chapoutier bottled the 1990 in magnum suggests they thought that vintage special.
When it came time to tasting this wine, we had had the benefit of trying all the latter years, so we were accustomed to the style and progression.  ‘Le Pavillon’ is not your ‘normal’ Hermitage.  Coming from select parcels of ‘Les Bessards’, it is in the riper, more savoury and structured style.  It isn’t primary floral and peppery, and the aromatics emerge with bottle-age, along with layers of undergrowth and earthy complexity.  Yet behind it all is an opulence that its sibling ‘L’Ermite’ that some rate higher doesn’t have.
This bottle showed full mature garnet colour with brick – but it still had depth.  The bouquet was the glory of the wine.  Voluminous and layered, near ethereal with its detail, but with a depth and heart that just contributed more interest with aeration.  There were lovely tertiary development complexities, and still with fruit to show.  But there were some savoury, decrepit nuances you’d expect, giving a more complete picture.  On palate, still sweet and luscious, and wonderfully integrated, but the fruitiness, secondary and tertiary notes, plus tannin and acid still obvious and with time to come together further.  It’s drinking at its maturity plateau now, but there’s no hurry for another decade.  Than you Mr Parker.  

Saturday, October 6, 2018

A Little Ripper

Most of us strive to drink the best we can under our circumstances.  Some wine lovers subscribe to the practice of buying and drinking slightly more that we can really afford to!  Both SWMBO and I are guilty of it.  Sometimes you’ve just got to indulge yourselves.  But occasionally, something just pops up to take that monetary pressure off – a really delicious wine that is very affordable.  We go to our local wine merchants to get such bargains, as it’s their job and joy finding such gems.

One such vinous wonder came in front of us just recently.  The 2018 Yalumba ‘Y Series’’ South Australia Viognier.  Now this was a wonder variety over the past few years, but has lost popularity, maybe because Chardonnay has come back, and there’s a plethora of new and innovative varieties coming on the scene.  The variety nearly became extinct after WW2, but it got revived by a handful of far-sighted growers in Condrieu – gotta love those Guigal people!  The Aussies have picked up on the style of Viognier too, with Yalumba at the fore, and they may have the southern hemisphere’s largest plantings and output.  They make a super pure but complex-aging top cuvee ‘The Virgilius’.  Then they have the ‘Eden Valley’ tier, with a contemporary ‘Organic’ Viognier.  The most accessible one in price is their ‘Y Series’.  In N.Z. it sells at an unbelievable $16.95.
The wine is super fresh, crisp and pure.  Clear-cut varietal expression with exotic stonefruits and florals, and on the palate unusually brisk, refreshing acidity, but also the tell-tale richness and hint of unctuousness.  It isn’t going to be complex or sophisticated by any means, but this is just so delicious drinking.  It’s a little ripper.  

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Full House

The high profile Craggy Range winery in Hawke’s Bay has its ‘Prestige Collection’ as its flagship.  The wines were first launched with the 2001 vintage at the winery opening, and they were sensational at the time.  The range consisted of the ‘Les Beaux Cailloux’ Chardonnay, ‘Le Sol’ Syrah, ‘Sophia’ Merlot-based blend and ‘The Quarry’ Cabernet Sauvignon predominant wine – all from their Gimblett Gravels vineyards.  If you needed to make a statement of your arrival on the scene, this was the way to do it.  Then later came the ‘Aroha’ Pinot Noir from the company’s vineyards in Te Muna Road in Martinborough, the first being the 2006 vintage.

For several years, this diverse selection of wines was released as a group, and they were looked forward to every year by keen enthusiasts.  But viticulture and vintages being what they are, there’s always a fly in the ointment.  The Chardonnay vines were virussed, necessitating them being pulled up.  So no ’Les Beaux Cailloux’ from 2011.  Also, the growing seasons weren’t hot enough for a number of years, so no The Quarry since 2011.  There was no ‘Aroha’ in 2010.  The ‘Prestige Collection’ looked a bit skimpy’ from then, but true wine lovers knew it was to protect the brand, as well as the consumer.
Come this year, and the 2016 vintages of the ‘Prestige Collection’, and we have a full house!  And the wines are delicious.  The overall style is of greater elegance, something that Craggy Range have wanted to achieve after the blockbusters of the past.  Vintage 2016 had a hand to play too, especially with the Gimblett Gravels wines.  A very cool and wet start to the growing season worried growers – would the fruit get ripe?  Then a super hot autumn meant the ripeness caught up.  I can’t help that think the cooler start have given these wines elegance.  The 2016 ‘Les Beaux Cailloux’ Chardonnay Gimblett Gravels is a concentrated wine, more in thenutty stonefruit spectrum, rather than sweet or gunflinty.  The 2016 ‘Le Sol’ Syrah Gimblett Gravels is a beauty with exotic spices and freshness.  The 2016 ‘Sophia’ Gimblett Gravels is dense and rich plums, classical Merlot, showing oak inputs.  And the 2016 ‘The Quarry’ Gimblett Gravels has clarity of Cabernet Sauvignon fruit with wonderful intensity.

2016 was an outstanding, even growing season in Martinborough, and the 2016 ‘Aroha’ Te Muna Road Martinborough Pinot Noir reflects this with its ripeness, and more importantly its completeness in the way it is constructed and how it flows across the palate. Overall, this is a great release and worthy of the excitement around it.

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!