Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hard Yards with Old Chards

They've been sitting there, in the corner for a very long time. For one reason or another, we just didn't want to open them. Of course, the longer they were left, the less appetizing they looked. We bit the bullet. Some old New Zealand Chardonnays, ranging from 1996 back to 1984. You see, you wouldn't really blame us for not going there.....we knew it could be hard yards tasting these.....

The opener was the 1996 Villa Maria PB Gisborne Chard. One of SWMBO's and it was good in its time, punching above its weight. 13.0% alc, aged in French and U.S. oak. You could easily see why it was a PB, and not a Reserve. Light, thin, stonefruits, some oxidation through the line. Not much going for it now...

Then a flight of 1992 vintage wines, also belonging to SWMBO. These were good, premium labels 15 years plus ago. And still are, actually. The 1992 Church Road HB Chard at 13.5% alc. The darkest of all the wines. Broad, flat dulled, loads of botrytis-like characters interwoven with oxidation and oak. OTT for sure. Should have been opened 15 years ago. Then a 1992 Corbans Marlb. Chard, 14.0% alc. 12 months in oak and MLF. Very fine in structure still. Tight, minerally, some oxidation and a little grubbiness. They were tight, crisp, powerful and funky then too. Then the 1992 Villa Maria Reserve Marlb. Chard. From the Waldron and Fletcher sites, still going today. 13.0% alc., 5 months in barrique and 25% MLF. This was the time that Grunter made the wines, in the sleek mould. Golden, full, over-ripe tropical fruit, clean, and way past its best, but not oxidised. A revelation as these Villa Maria wines can be. Gold medal at the 1993 Easter Show. Complex and just drinkable. Funny how the judges then could pick 'em!

Two 1987s followed. The 1987 Ngatarawa 'Alwyn' HB Chard, elegant and just a little attenuated. This was the suspicion at the time, and it still looked it. Refined in its day, and still so, but spoilt by oxidation. 13.0%. Alwyn was ahead of his time understanding the variety, like John Hancock. The 1987 Montana Marlb. Valley Chard was lighter in colour, vinous, dull and flat, with what we called the 'Montana Squirt' - the all pervading 'sameness' regardless of the variety. One theory was that the tanks were so big that there was still a portion of whatever else had been made in it, and the next lot picked and fermented was just added on top! We were cynics then! 12.0% may have been generous on the label.

Last wine was truly a slice of history. A 1984 Kaituna Hills Marlb. Chardonnay, one of the fancy 'Winemakers Selection' wines from Montana that were expensive and hard to access. Revolutionary for such a big company to allow winemakers to play. Stainless-steel fermented, then 3 months in new medium-toast Nevers oak. 11.0% on the label tells it all. Herbal and not really ripe. And understandable, but not forgiven, note of oxidation. Hard work to try these. But it was worth it, as some raised a few eyebrows.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Festive Selection

The weekend was a busy one, with One Wheel Mike and The Baker in town, and along with Mags and Stumper, we headed over the hill to stay at the House of Hospo. Attending a wine festival set us in a great mood, and when we all settled back at our digs, we tried a few refreshing vinos to celebrate us all getting together, yet again. Having an amble among some vineyard plants was on the agenda, as well as celebrating Adam The Man's birthday. So we kept it all quite seemly...

An NV Laurent Perrier Brut set the scene. Always an enigma to me. Sometimes light and inconsequential, other times beautifully floral, elegant and refreshing. This bottle was in the latter camp, and had a bit of time on cork, which surprised us. We had a 2000 Pol Roger Vintage next. Darker in colour, heavier in aldehydes and oxidation. Not quite the finesse that Pol Roger normally displays. Was this bottle sitting upright on the shelves too long? Was there a reason it was sitting there, all on its lonesome, when we recently purchased it? Ah, the vagaries of Champagne, if you get into the minutiae if tracking its provenance.....

The whites were a study of richness. A new release 2009 Yves Cuilleron St-Joseph Blanc 'Lyseras' 50% Marsanne/50% Roussane. Dumb at first, but opening to show an exotic Viognier-like expression, with nice oak spice. A 2009 Terrace Edge Waipara Pinot Gris, just got richer, denser and more decadent in its restrained 15 g/L rs way. A bit of a steal, really. Then the new 2010 Dry River 'Lovat' Gewurztraminer, delicate, but creeping up in opulence and perfumes. It should develop well in bottle. A real statement was the 2008 Pegasus Bay 'Aria' LH Riesling. Honey, marmalade, limes, sweet, but just not cloying. A wow wine that can only be sipped at moderate pace, but then you can't stop...

Then a range of reds that is what wine celebration is all about. The 2002 Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir, lush and juicy still, but banging on the fungal drums with its secondary development. Getting on for me, but of real delight to many present. 25 years is a lifetime in New Zealand viticulture and winemaking terms, and the 1985 Babich Hawke's Bay Cabernet/Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon bottlings showed it perfectly. The Cab/Merlot was light, cool, stalky and herbal, but clean and remarkably fresh, and just drinkable. The Cabernet Sauvignon was a bit dirty, microbial?, but weighty and textured, with more balance. Take your pick, because we didn't get into them. Two 2000 vintage wines were much more interesting. The 2000 Mills Reef 'Elspeth One', a blend of Cab Sauv., Cab Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Syrah, was released as the flagship. SWMBO and I received a bottle as a gift. Still in good condition with a complex range of fruit flavours, but savoury, red berry and spices all together, somewhat lifted by some volatility. Tannins beginning to resolve. But no hurry. This alongside a 2000 Hardy's 'Thomas Hardy' Cabernet Sauvignon from Margaret River & Coonawarra fruit. Varietal blackcurrants, mixed with eucalyptus and mint and a hearty whack of spicy oak. All contained by a fearsomely tannic-building palate. Surprisingly inviting and drinking pretty well, really. But all of these were overshadowed by the mighty 1996 E&E 'Black Pepper' Barossa Shiraz. I'd love to try this with 1996 Grange. The E&E would be smoother, sweeter, more lush and juicy. And the Grange would be more structured and dense. But there wouldn't be much in it in enjoyment. We'd probably go for the former because it'd be more accessible, but still have the depth, power and potential to develop. It was a festival in itself!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

In-Built, On the Line and Waiting

These are three phrases that seem to represent the phases and life situation I've been experiencing lately. My work and indeed SWMBO's is based on the abilities we have acquired or have built within ourselves. We've put our livelihood and lives on the line by trusting and having faith in ourselves. My new venture is based on the modern airwaves - 'on-line' (now that's a pun!) But in truth we've been waiting to do it, and should have done it earlier. Our friends have told us this, and have been waiting for the fruits of my labour to show.
All of this came into focus when we had a surprise visit from Gordy. He's a bit of an inspiration for us, and indeed many other people with his tenacity, passion, and dry sense of humour. He is only the best, so only the best is good enough for him, as far as we are concerned.

To mark his visit, we opened a 1975 Ch. Margaux from the commune of Margaux, of course, and the three phrases seemed applicable to the wine as well. Dark as anything, but with mahogany hues to the colour, this was a solidly constructed wine with power, flesh, fruit and depth. While it showed those savoury, earthy, cedary signs of secondary development, it was remarkably clean, fresh, lively, with vitality and in a way, focus. No hint of the dreaded horsey brett. Tannins dissolved away, but remarkably structured and robust. Certainly less expressive of the commune of Margaux, and more a representation of the 1975 vintage with its size. This was a tough year in its time, the firm tannins needing decades to come into balance. The tannins have. There are certainly none of the ethereal perfumes or feminine touches, but more a matriarchal stance, and possibly masculine. If I had to pick a commune, we all said a cross between Pauillac and Graves. Whatever. At 36 years old it was on its plateau. It would stay on it for another 36 years easily. This is the sort of wine that makes you think of the young ones still with development ahead of it in those massive retrospective vertical tastings going back to the 1800s. In the final analysis, lacking the nuance and layers to be a great wine, but remarkable for its true claret character, robustness and longevity in the modern appreciation of that quality. This was before the Mentzelopoulos family ownership, and in times of a rather dull, forced ownership.

As a first growth it had all the in-built quality criteria and factors. terroir and pedigree. These were put on the line by the less-inspired management and a serious, challenging backward vintage came into play upon opening, thankfully. It's inherent personality was waiting all the time. Only $62.37 when I bought it 29 years ago.