Sunday, January 30, 2011

History Won't Repeat

This was a case of History that will Never Repeat. Cooks Wine Co. was the darling of the new age of wine in Kiwiland. This 'corporate' winemaker had a space-age winery at, of all places, Te Kauwhata, south of Auckland. The first releases buzzed the industry and the keen wine drinker with odd and new varietals, and in 1980 released a stunningly different, ground-breaking oak-aged Chardonnay using voluptuous fruit from Gisborne. The wine went on a gold and trophy winning spree, and came to rival the McWilliams version of that grape.

I drank the last of the 1980 long ago, watching a case develop over the years. Of course, we've all moved on to tighter fruit, barrel-ferment, whole bunch press, wild yeasts, MLF and lees. But at least oak aging was a step in the right direction.
This little vertical was thus a piece of history, that will never be repeated. Well, Cooks is long gone - swallowed up by Corbans, which in turn was acquired by Montana, whch was taken by Allied Domecq, which was bought by Pernod Ricard. What next?

The 1982 Cooks Premium Varietal Chardonnay came from Gisborne fruit too. 12.1 alc, and cost $12.88. Now a little grubby, but with cool, melon notes and savoury oak dominating. Identifiably Chardonnay. So too was the 1983. This went gold at the 1983 National Wine Competition. Fruit dried out, leaving sweet, coconutty, new American oak. Almost modern and fresh in an old-fashioned way. This reflected the warmer vintage at 13.5% alc. The 1984 took gold at the 1984 NWC. Fruit all gone dry and toasty, more like an aged Riesling, but sweetened by oak too. High acid and rather sour. Reflecting the cool vintage. Then a change of tack with the 1985 Cooks 'Private Bin' Hawke's Bay Chardonnay. Obviously looking for elegance and a finer fruit source. But that more delicate fruit could not have handled the US oak as well. Hotter year too. Oxidised, VA lift and barley sugar. Botrytis? It went gold at the 1986 Easter Wine Show. Surprisingly, as the wines got younger, they appeared more golden.

What of the best Kiwi Chardonnays made now? Will they last over 25 years like these? This sort of history won't be repeated for sure!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

High Drama

Our night with the Drama Queen, the Little Aussie Battler and the Drama Queen Mum was an excellent one. The LAB had been to deepest Europe and brought back some wines to share over a dinner she wanted to cook.
First was a 2007 Hirsch Riesling 'Gaisberg' from Zobling, Kamptal. An interestingly different wine from most of the Austrian Rieslings we've seen, in that it was softly sweet, honied and almost unctuous, rather than intensely dry, steely and lime-minerally and searing. The subtle influence of botrytis may have added to its enjoyment. Then a 2009 Hirsch Gruner Veltliner 'Heiligenstein' from Kammern, classically dry, subtle herby, with peppery overtones. This is what I see as typical. The Battler reckons GVs can last well, and she saw this as capable of doing just that.
With our lamb shanks and mash (yummmmy!), was a 2002 Quartz Reef Pinot Noir. These 2002 Central Otago Pinots have polarised people. Some love the big ripeness and structure. Others say they are not varietal and lack florals, thinking they will disintegrate. We were in the former camp. Savoury and secondary flavour, along with cooked strawberry and red berry flavours. Big in mouthfeel, but tannins resolving. A really good food wine too. It'll keep well for a few more years yet...
Then with the dessert, two sweeties. First a 2004 Ch. Coutet Barsac. More golden than other 2004s we've seen. Wonderfully soft and subtle, with layers and waves of aroma and flavour developing. Lanolin, barley sugar, caramel and hokey-pokey, all on a full, but gentle palate. Just lacking the Coutet 'cut' that marks this wine. Drink it now! Then a 2003 Neustifter Niederosterreich Welschriesling Eiswein from NE Austria. Golden, with a dramatic, high VA level nose. But on palate big and sweet in the liqueur style. Essence of apricots, marmalade and honey. Again, not the hard acid hit expected as in many German and Canadian examples. A touch of the savoury yellow fruits showed its developing complexity. A dramatic high note to finish a great evening on!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Yin and Yang

All in the world seems to fit into place sometimes. There we were at dinner with the Orange Couple, and it all seemed complementary and complete. We had a dazzling array of food morsels, all good and very varied, spanning all types of cuisines. The wines too were different, but similar too, and they all had their position into the scheme of things.
Firstly a 2004 Dry River Martinborough Pinot Noir, showing typical dried herb character of the cool vintage. Nevertheless, it was sweet and succulent with a depth behind it. The darker flavours indicated a ripeness and push that other people didn't achieve in that year. It harked back to the 2002 Dry River shared with Gordy and Perfect P a few days ago, and made a positive impression as well. This was followed by the Merlot predominant 2000 Te Awa 'Boundary' Red from Hawke's Bay. Troubled by brettanomyces, but still dark and vibrant with quality fruit that was there, just struggling to show. A little hard, dry and four-square. Drinkable and drink now, if you don't mind the animal notes, or quite good, if you see gamey elements as positive.
The oldies were an interesting pair. They followed on from the Te Awa theme, both being Merlot dominant too. Right bank, one each from the two major appellations. The 1982 Clos des Jacobins St Emilion, owned by Cordier at the time. Lightish and coolish with green tobacco flavours, noticeable acidity, hints of savoury animals, still with tannin bite. A little unclean really, and passable, though not really enjoyable. Then the treat of the day, a 1978 Clos Rene Pomerol. Label-less after the ravages of damp storage, but vintage confirmed by the cork on extraction. Still dark red, Ripe plump, black fruits with classical tertiary overtones. The sweetness of fruit still there, excellent freshness and acidity, and fine, mellow tannins. The bottle did not last long. A minor wine in the hierarchy, but here, with 30+ years, it stood up well. All wines have their time of day.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Staying Youthful

While fully mature wines provide great and satisfying drinking and the realisation of potential fulfilled, sometimes wines that are young and yet to peak can give you a sense of joy in that they have much to show and the sense of anticipation is exciting.
Dinner with the King Hitters and Bubbly Ones saw three such wines. A 2008 Amisfield Dry Riesling was almost austerely dry, but the weight and fruit extract was remarkable. Minerals and limes just waiting to ge unleashed, and with it toast with honey, no doubt. It would need 2-3 years to get there though. Even more sensational was the 2007 Te Mata 'Elston' Chardonnay. Lively with lots of citrussy flavours and beautifully fresh and invigourating acidity. Concentrated fruit tinged with the right amount of oak. Delicious now, but you know it will be better in 2-4 years plus. Then a 2004 Sacred Hill 'Brokenstone' Merlot. Dense and packed with dark fruits enriched with raspberry cordial nuances, but framed within a firm, powerful and gripping structure. There was the faintest disturbance of reduction in earlier days, but that's all part of the layers of deep, ripe brooding flavours. A 10 year job at least.
Among the winemaking fraternity, wines that stay young are seen as good ones. A bit like people, really...

Sunday, January 2, 2011

White Out

Our friendship with the B&Bs grows, and this time it was a meal with us. They dropped off a few bottles of oldies that were in need of broaching, and that proved to be the case.
The most versatile and in that sense best wine of the night was the 2005 John Forrest Collection 'The White', an anonymous mix of white varieties that surely has Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay and a few others. Chameleon character in that it changed continuously, from old Savvie (not nice), to limes and toast (very nice), well-textured (very good), to refreshingly crisp (positive). It went well with all the food.
Then two old Rieslings. Of all the whites, this can last well. But the 1998 Forrest Marlborough Riesling did not make it. Deep golden, fully oxidised. Not worth putting in the mouth. That was a very hot year, and quick ripening doesn't seem to work. The 1999 Forrest Marlborough Riesling was better, as it had honey, limes, toast on a softly sweet palate. But as it became exposed to air longer, the oxidation grew. For commercial white wines, they surprised.
Then the white influenced 2005 Yering Station 'Reserve' Shiraz/Viognier. A little dumb at first, then unfolding its true worth. Spices and black pepper on a somewhat forced palate. But all the time unwinding and relaxing with breathing. Notes of its Aussie heritage - a touch of eucalypt - detectable. In the end, a very good wine indeed that would be a comfortable slot-in with the Shiraz/Viognier category if looking at a range of international wines, without giving anything away on the origin front. Very elegant it was. Amazing what a bit of white can add to the mix.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Trade Off

What do you do when hospitality far exceeds any expectation? Well, that's what we experienced from Gordy and Perfect P. The least we could do as a trade off was to open a couple of interesting clarets, as that's what is important to Gordy especially.
It was back to 1983, with Pauillac vs St Julien. A Ch. Pontet Canet vs Ducru Beaucaillou, not exactly equals, but there you have it. The Pontet-Canet was full, up-front, still plummy and dark fruited, but obviously with savoury development characters of game. It looked to lack finesse and liveliness of acidity. The Ducru Beaucaillou very elegant and refined, as it always is. Lovely cool notes of class, with cedar and lead pencils Excellent freshness and acidity, with very fine-grained structure. You could choose one or the other depending on what you wanted. A trade-off really.
With air time, the Pontet-Canet got more vigorous and looked more youthful. The Ducru Beaucaillou got cooler and more mature. Strange how that happens. And we all marvelled at how clean they both were. No brettanomyces!


The New Year is a time for resolutions and aspirations. What a busy day it has been with lots of talking, laughing, eating, drinking and of course some exercise to work it all off. The wines tasted today were wines of aspiration too. Winemakers wanting to move forward and better themselves as well as offering better for the wine drinker. It was appropriate to drink such wines...

A 2008 Yalumba 'Virgiliuis' Viognier is the best expression of the variety for the people who have worked with it the longest in Australia. More aromatic and refined than ever, and also more elegant too. For those in the know, the wine is more complex in nuances than ever. This bottle a touch reduced on nose, but rich and oily textured with excitingly pure, but exotic fruit. Only 13.5% alc. Also in the same league or even higher in aspiration was a 2005 Heymann-Lowenstein Winningen Uhlen 'R' 'Roth Lay'. One of the great dry Mosel Riesling producers. 12.5% alc., with an intriguing depth, line and power. The acidity needing a richer note that maybe I'd see sweetness contributing something. Is dry Mosel Riesling an impossible ask? Gordy would like to think not. Seemingly premature on first taste, this came into itself with air time. So maybe the intention of style is worthwhile?

Then the 'burgundy' pairing. I previously liked the 2008 Fevre Chablis 1er Cru 'Vaulorent in a previous tasting. It had the pizzaz and acidity of 2008 and 1er Cru. But italso had the depth of fruit and oaking of a Grand Cru. It delivered everything on this opening too. Gordy and Perfect P, as well as SWMBO concurred. What a good thing to push the limits of 1er Cru in Chablis! Then onto a 2002 Dry River Pinot Noir. Obviously Pinot Noir with rich red fruits. Full on palate, with tannin structure underneath. On breathing, a little more of the cooler 2002 vintage came through. Gordy not too impressed with the way it went, but I was happier about it. The Dry River people seem to get a lot of flak for what they do. 'Tall Poppy Syndrome' for sure, but for me, they are admirable for going harder, further and hopefully better.