Monday, August 29, 2011

A Sweet Show

It was payback time. Gordy and Perfect P have been extremely kind to SWMBO and me over the last couple of years and no matter how much we have tried to repay the hospitality, we always seem indebted to them. So this time, we were to take them to a show. Not just any show, but a special one that would WOW them. And they accepted our invitation.

Before we headed out, we thought we’d try a new 2011 Brancott Estate ‘B’ Marlborough Noble Sauvignon Blanc. Initially I thought it would be a modestly sweet wine, as the spec. sheet said 23.2 g/L residual sugar. I thought it would be a lovely, mildly sweet intro to the night’s proceedings. On opening and sipping, it was a gloriously full-blown luscious and hedonistic number, showing only a vestige of varietal character and massive, but beautiful botrytis marmalade notes, We didn’t finish the bottle as I thought it prudent to preserve ourselves for what lay ahead…..

The show was indeed a WOW, and everything we had said it would be to our guests. We left feeling sweet so decided to cap the show with a glass and nibble. Along the waterfront to a Hip Hotel, where a 2006 No. 1 Family Estate ‘Cuvee Virginie’ Methode Taditionnelle appeared. This combines richness, intensity and size with finesse and layers of bready, yeasty complexity and seems to be coming more and more seamless. Great with the sashimi served.

We walked down the road and saw a Humming Place that beckoned. A number of tapas plates were ordered, and the wine to have was 2010 Te Whare Ra ‘Toru’, a Marlborough blend of Gewurz, Riesling and Pinot Gris. The perfumes stood out for me, with good acid zip, and a sweetness that went with anything remotely hot or spicy. What a nice combination of varieties.

Even though we were near replete, I led the group to a place my Ancestors would be happy with. Asian of course! And there we had a selection of Chinese desserts. Weirdly sweet, and challenging. Our wine choice was equally odd and provocative, a 2008 Telmo Rodriguez ‘MR’ Malaga, a mountain bush vine Moscatel wine at 13.5% alc. Lovely clarity of fruit, but touched with a savoury note for interest, and sweet, but not obviously overly so. It had its own character and stood up against the different desserts.

Then off home. But Gordy had a sweet surprise for us. Served blind, of course. Deep golden, mature orange in colour. Full, aged, harmonious, decadent waxy Semillon, botrytis and oak, and a trace of oxidation. Soft, lush, weighty and fully integrated, maybe a little too low in acid. Molten barley sugar with a little burning and just turning a little funky. It turned out to be a 2003 Ch. Rieussec Sauternes. I thought it placed in the 1990s and very developed. These 2003s are coming along quickly.

What a sweet wine showing the night turned out to be. And we still owe Gordy and Perfect P!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Comfortable and Cruising

It’s been a little stressful for our little dinner group lately. Natural disasters, new work, some health niggles and pressures that seem to pop up out of nowhere, and we just have had to put off getting together. The situation has mellowed out for all and we are all comfortable and cruising now. We finally managed to meet up at Brucie and the Bassinet Babe’s for dinner. The Eventress was looking in fine form and The New Man must now be called The Settled Man. (Somehow ‘The Old Man’ doesn’t work!), and with SWMBO and yours truly, we were at it again opening wines and sharing gossip.

An NV Moet & Chandon ‘Brut Imperial’ started the proceedings, still fresh and quite delicate. Looked like a new shipment, as the brand seems to be ticking over quickly now. Another half year in bottle would see it show more depth, but we had no problem finishing what was a good starter.

A great cheeseboard came out and a 2009 von Kesselstatt Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Kabinett slowly built up in richness to go especially well with an ash-rolled chevre served with home-made quince paste. I was surprised by the delicacy of the wine, as it has seemed a little bolder, as this site is prone to be, in the past. Then a blast from the past, a 2002 Stonecroft Hawke’s Bay Gewurztraminer. Fully developed and getting golden, the varietal perfumes and spices had given way to burnished characters and an unctuous palate just starting to show signs of drying and bitterness. Remarkable really, and if it was the ‘Old Vine’ version, it may have surprised us even more.

Blind tasting red wines was the next phase, before the roasted lamb and vegetables. We nailed the 2008 Mt Difficulty ‘Long Gully’ Pinot Noir. Probably my wine of the night. Velvety smooth, with the perfect degree of richness, leaving the wine with a sense of finesse. Beautifully ripened red berry and cherry fruits with freshness and bright acidity. Seamless drinking, with restraint. Our host pulled out the stops with a 1996 Gaja ‘Sito Moresco’ Langhe, a blend of Nebbiolo, Merlot and Cabernet in near equal proportions. Powerfully constructed but flawed by considerable brettanomyces. This could have been a sensation. SWMBO corrected guessed Italian too.

The next was a 2004 Craggy Range ‘Le Sol’ Syrah, served not blind. Beautifully rich and not over-bearing in any way. Clearly varietal and without over-ripeness, this was lively, fresh, vibrant with a hedonistic sweetness and quite delicious. Probably the wine of the night for most of the team. Another blast from the past was presented next, blind again. The 1995 Pegasus Bay ‘Maestro’ Waipara Cabernet/Franc/Merlot. Garnet edged, past mature in colour. And distinctly herbal, stalky and acidic. But the aspirations behind the wine were evident. Fine and significant extraction, and a decent dose of spicy new oak was still a feature. I thought it older.

With the sticky pudding and ice cream came a 2009 Schubert ‘Dulce’ sweet wine, made from Muller-Thurgau from vines outside the cellar door in Martinborough and carrying 6.5% alc. A wow wine with its extreme richness, fresh cutting acidity, amazing spice and honey flavours overlaid with marmalade essence. My second wine of the night! And proof that Muller-Thurgau has its uses...

The effect of wine began taking its toll. We were getting too comfortable and cruisy. Time to head home until the next dinner where the catch up, gossip and wine opening and drinking will no doubt continue.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Moments of Magic from Montana

There was a time in our wine industry that biggest was best. And in the 20-30 years ago period it was Montana Wines that was the giant. It has morphed into Brancott Estates nowadays and its pretty much still the biggest, but it isn’t necessarily seen as the best today if world-class, earth-shaking quality and style are the criteria. While today’s Montana still dominates the overall sales, back in the 1980s it also dominated in terms of innovation. New varieties, new production techniques, and the wines relatively affordable if not downright good value. Brancott does the latter part well still, today. And don’t forget, it was Montana that made a serious go of Marlborough, something that we can be proud of today.

Easy to reach in the drink-up racking was a selection of Montana Rieslings and Cabernet Sauvignons. They needed to be opened, and I wasn’t hopeful of too much magic in the bottles. Most of them I’ve tried before, with disappointing results, but a kinder frame of mind might have been a good approach.

First up, three bottles of 1988 Montana Marlborough Rhine Riesling. I’ve waded my way through a few bottles of this, wondering why I had so much to start with. It was the year of Cyclone Bola, which might explain a lot? All in the Montana proprietary claret-styled, slim-line bottle with the Montana crest embossed. Corks came out a treat and all in good nick, soaked less than half-way. On the label 12.0% alc., with 12 g/L rs, a TA of 7.5 g/L and pH of 3.4. Not much has changed, the formula still works for them today. Bottle #1 light golden, showing delicate, rich honied notes and a trace of oxidation. Palate similar, with lovely sugar/acid balance and though a thread of oxidation throughout, quite drinkable. Bottle#2 deep golden colour, dense on nose with deep oxidation and madeira like. Honied but blowsy and past it. Bottle#3. Palest yet, fine, tight, crisp and acidic with less fruit. “There are only good bottles” was the saying that came to mind.

Then two older bottles. The 1983 Montana Marlborough Rhine Riesling, a multi-gold winner in its day, a wine that Serena Sutcliffe praised when she judged the Air N.Z, Wine Awards way, way back. An ullaged bottle, with deep golden colour, some oxidation, dried out a tad, but honey and cream notes, with good acid, and a touch of burnished flavours. A core of quality could be detected. Magic! Then a 1981 Montana Marlborough Rhine Riesling, also ullaged, but in fine condition. More lean and thread, tight and delicately toasty. Not as rich or as concentrated as the 1983, but a delight, despite the line of oxidation.

There’s not much Cabernet Sauvignon in Marlborough now, but in the 1980s there was plenty. Montana’s Marlborough Cabernet Sauvignon was always knife-edge, but ripeness was not being achieved consistently anywhere else, so the Montana wines were relatively acceptable. The vineyard was the Fairhall site and the wines ranged from 11.5 to 12.0% alc. with about 6.1-6.3 g/L TA, and aged in U.S. and French puncheons. The 1990 was dark mahogany-garnet with a solid, deep nose of blackcurrants, green herbs, minted chocolate, all quite in harmony. But weak on palate, somewhat stalky but smooth. The 1987 was lighter coloured, garnet and brick, lean, slightly grubby and corky. Leaf, acid, mustiness, and thinness pervaded this non-beauty. If it wasn’t corked, it wouldn’t be much better. Then a 1986, a little deeper in colour and with a gutsy, grubby nose of herbs, leaf and toasty oak. Mellowed out on palate, the acidity came through, but this was drinkable just.

Then onto an experimental 1982 Montana Wairau Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 11.5% alc. and aged 10 months in U.S. oak puncheons. It was an allocated wine at the time. Deep mahogany and garnet hued, this had an air of complexity and interest. Earthy-dirty, but currant, leafy, herb and stalk, all intermixed with oak toast. Same interest on palate, the acidity elevated, and savoury green. A little ugly in some respects, but this is Kiwi Cabernet, from Marlborough, 29 years old. Some forgiveness is required.

I found some good moments with these Montana wines in the final analysis. Not quite magical, but plenty to interest me and nostalgic as well…

No Hope Whites

Clearing out yet another row of unwanted wines from a wine rack that we care not to look at, because the thought of opening the wines there have very little appeal. They are in essence ‘no hope whites’, but the demand for storage space for new wines that SWMBO has acquired meant that taking the corks out and tasting them was a must. We take the view that if the producer put the wine to bottles, they should at least be tasted, no matter where or when…

The younger wines first. A 1995 Te Horo ‘Aurora’ Sauvignon Blanc, at 11.5%. From Marlborough fruit, the year that it rained and rained, and made by the ever-so-enthusiastic Alastair Pain in the Kapiti Coast. Light golden straw colour, this had a reasonably vinous nose that was identifiably varietal, soft and not asparagus-like at all. However, thin and very acidic, and faded to not much on palate. Surprisingly in condition after all it had against it! This was paired, time frame wise, with a 1996 Villa Maria Private Bin Gisborne Chardonnay, at 13.0%, and “aged in French and American barriques”. Deep golden, but still together on the nose. Over-ripe melon fruits with some oxidation. And as expected blowsy and overblown now, the ripe fruit going heavy, and quite toasty from the oak. It was holding up, but on its last legs. SWMBO bought this after it was highly rated by various authorities, and it has done well.

Then onto the serious stuff (not!) A 1985 Montana ‘Wohnsiedler’ Muller-Thurgau, at 10.5% alc, proudly showing two NWC gold medals for 1983 and 1984. Orange coloured, very oxidised, and quite a thin, nothing wine. Even when it is passed its best, Muller-Thurgau can show its weakness! And the a 1987 Montana Marlborough Valley Chardonnay at 12.0% alc., fruit from the Woodbourne Estate, aged 12 months in French Nevers oak. TA of 8.2 g/L and it shows. Sophisticated for the giant Montana in its day, but now full-golden coloured, green nectarine fruit on bouquet, but aged and oxidised, but very oaky and spicy. The palate extremely acidic, and the toastiness from the oak sticking out.

Sure they were 'no hope whites’, but there was something to learn from them. To the winemakers responsible, my apologies for not opening them and drinking them at their proper times.