Friday, October 28, 2011

Solid as a Brick

We were in a bit of a party mode and Brickers invited us around to his place for a few wines and a bowl of soup. Brickers is a real card and can draw well as well as tell stories. But just as impressive is how he brings out wines to attract one’s attention.

One of the other invited guests opened their wine first, a 2004 Dagueneau Pouilly Fume ‘Pur Sang’. The wild man of the Loire made the best Sauvignons in the world, consistently – solid as a brick! Pale as ever with the most amazing liveliness and acidity allied to minerals, herbs and stonefruits, I saw some oxidation which seemed to integrate with the wine in the glass. It would be easy to underestimate how this could change for the better, but alas, it went down a treat as it was, so I’ll never know…

A rock solid, blue-chip vintage for Burgundy is 2009. Brickers supplied two. The 2009 Faiveley Gevrey-Chambertin 1er ‘Cazetiers’ was remarkable soft, supple and sweet. Not like the Faiveleys of old which were all tannin and extract. This had great dark berry fruits with knife-edge char, toast, game and funky brett. If you could handle the horses, it was a revelation. Otherwise, it will only get worse. Next was a much cleaner 2009 Bouchard Pere Volnay 1er ‘Clos des Chenes’. Clean and clinical, without too much personality really. Hard to fault, I would have preferred drinking the previous wine for character alone.

Serious wines were then on the drinks list. The 2009 Clos des Papes Chateauneuf-du-Pape was dark in colour and dark in fruit; raspberries with game, and plump sweetness backed by a serious backbone. Layers of funky interest lurked below the fruit, and I felt this could turn any way and in any time. Rounding off the party was a 2007 Pio Cesare Barolo. The similarity of Nebbiolo to Pinot Noir was not lost on the guests. Of course darker and more severe in fruit, with sour berry and brick and earth too. This was a lighter, elegant but truly traditional in flavour profile, yet modern in accessibility, the tannins supple and sweet and sour in fruit.

We raise a toast to you Brickers, for such generosity! You’re solid as a brick, mate!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Family Fare

With members of the family all together, a visit to the Martinborough vignoble was in order. Accompanying SWMBO and myself were Jubes, Mags, Wilco Johnny, Lithe Lisa, Flautist Aaaron and Dave-Man, making a lively party keen to taste wine. The aim was to visit producers run by families, to make the day a family affair.

After a heady drive over the Rimutakas and a settling coffee with muffins, we converged on The Cabbage Tree Vineyard where owner and winemaker David Bull showed us his hands-on artisanal operation. It’s just him and his wife Winifred here. The group liked the riper, subtle, stonefruity and weighty 2008 Cabbage Tree Semillon. I was more taken by the 2008 Cabbage Tree Chardonnay with its bold palate and prominent oaking. Fitting right in the Martinborough mould of ripe, savoury fruit and substance with structure, the 2008 Cabbage Tree Pinot Noir was also well-received. Cool, herb-like flavours marked the bouquet of the 2008 Cabbage Tree Merlot, this redeemed by the milk-chocolate flavours and richness on the palate. This first visit was an excellent and very personal introduction to the delights of wine growing.

The next call was to the BioGro certified Vynfields and a session with the elegant owner Kaye McAulay. The classy setting of the two storey villa was the perfect backdrop. We were the first public to taste their NV Vynfields ‘Bliss’ Sparkling Riesling. Though with 20 g/L rs, this seemed drier, but the same lovely lime and honeysuckle flavours were on show. A 2010 Vynfields Dry Riesling was just that. Dry, minerals and limes and a firm line. The 2009 Vynfields ‘Mad Rooster’ polarised the group, some enjoying the savoury spicy confected flavours, the others finding it too rustic. There was no doubt about the stylishness of the 2010 Vynfields Pinot Noir, with its excellent fruit depth and fine, proportioned lines. Talk of organics and biodynamics made us all feel a little more moral and righteous, and we enjoyed our time on the higher ground.

Wine-fuelled hunger drove us to see Marvellous Marvin at the meal-time diner. That refreshed us adequately to continue our vinous journey to meet up with that petit-powerhouse Helen Masters, winemaker at Ata Rangi. This is truly a family concern, with hubby Ben in the background and Clive and Ali, sibling owners all on hand. The new season releases were tasted. A 2011 Ata Rangi Summer Rosé was a benchmark for the style with its bright red fruits and thirst-quenchability. The 2009 Ata Rangi ‘Craighall Chardonnay was as rich and textured, and as complex as the last time I saw it. The new 2010 Ata Rangi ‘Crimson’ Pinot Noir shows its cooler fruit-ripening build up, and was racy and zesty in a fresh and lively way. Much more complete was the 2010 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir. While it shows the vintage too, it is on another plane, or should I say planet? Rounding off the tasting was the 2011 Ata Rangi ‘Kahu’ sticky. Minerals and marmalade, tight and ageworthy, yet already deliciously luscious and decadent.

Our final port of call was the giant of the region, Te Kairanga. Also family-owned, in this case by the Foleys, GM Andrew Shackleton gave us a tour of the impressively functional engine room. Then off to a tasting. The 2010 Te Kairanga Sauvignon Blanc showed very good gooseberryness with some weight and body. A range of Chardonnays was my pick. The 2009 Te Kairanga Chardonnay citrussy and oaky, quite up-front and clear-cut was surpassed by the 2009 Te Kairanga ‘Runholder’ Chardonnay showing more barrel-ferment creaminess and nutty oxidative complexities, which in turn was surpassed by the 2008 Te Kairanga ‘Casarina’ Chardonnay, more complete still. The same progression was seen in the Pinot Noirs, the 2009 Te Kairanga Pinot Noir fruity and linear, quite correct, then a more rich and sweeter 2007 Te Kairanga ‘Runholder’ Pinot Noir, showing some mushroom interest. Even more savoury and gamey was the 2007 Te Kairanga ‘John Martin’ Pinot Noir.

By then it was time to head back home, over the hill, to proceed with the evening activities. They say a family that plays together, stays together. Very true indeed.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Touring On-Premise

Had a little job at one of our top flight eateries, talking to some of the new staff about the New Zealand wine scene. They were a young, but enthusiastic bunch, and well-trained in their craft, but still relatively uninitiated in wine. The cool, maritime influenced climate, concept of regionality and terroir were discussed in the briefest time, as were the ideas of winemaker signature, plus wine and food synergy. The bottom line was that nothing can be better than to visit the regions and be on the land.

The concept put forward by The Peeler was to taste a Sauvignon Blanc, a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir each from Hawke’s Bay, Martinborough, Marlborough and Central Otago. It was a selection The Peeler put together, and it turned out pretty interesting going on this vinous tour, with these on-premise people. SWMBO turned up in support and helped hold it all together.

First up was the Hawke’s Bay group, and the 2011 Te Mata ‘Woodthorpe’ Sauvignon Blanc was crisp, clean, relatively subdued, but with clear-cut varietal gooseberry flavours. Its stablemate, the 2010 Te Mata ‘Elston’ Chardonnay was a stunner. A combination of concentration with stylish elegance. Grapefruit galore with perfect mealiness and nuttiness, creamy barrel-ferment and crisp, racy acidity, just carrying the flavours for ages. There’s about as much Pinot Noir as there is Cabernet Sauvignon in The Bay, but it figures less than 8% of the region’s plantings, so it was Merlot. The 2009 Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Merlot was another outstanding wine. Still dark purple and tightly bound, there was no mistaking the ripeness and richness of the plummy fruit and fine tannin grip. A great showing from these three from the region.

Then onto Martinborough. An interesting older wine came in the form of the 2010 Ata Rangi Sauvignon Blanc, some bean character, but lush and full, still full of sweet fruit and a with a touch of decadence. The 2009 Ata Rangi ‘Petrie Chardonnay also showed some bottle –development character. Savoury fruits, but tight and with linear power. Then a 2009 Porter’s Pinot Noir, quite restrained, but with the expected structure and slightly gamey complexity to the fruit. This had a touch of herbs too, which was both a positive for interest and a negative for indicating a cooler note. The region only makes up less than 3% of the country’s total plantings but the reputation is much bigger. I’ve seen better examples than these, but they weren’t exactly bad!

Marlborough accounts for more than half our plantings, and on that count is our most important region. An even older wine was the 2009 Auntsfield ‘Long Cow’ Sauvignon Blanc. More bean-like, but with considerable fruit sweetness and weight, making it nearly unctuous. An easy wine to underestimate would be the 2010 Mahi Chardonnay. Elegant, citrus and mineral with flinty lees complexities. There’s plenty built in here and I reckon it’ll keep well. Then the surprise find of the day, a 2009 Charles Wiffen Pinot Noir. Chock-full of ripe raspberry fruit, sweet, lush juicy and extremely vinous, with ideal tannin and acid balance. They say Marlborough will be the Pinot Noir engine room, making good quantities of good value, good quality examples. The other regions won’t be able to compare on these three counts taken together.

Then to the far south, Central Otago. As Chardonnay accounts for 4.5% of the plantings and not considered to be ‘there’ yet, we had a 2008 Mt Edward Riesling. This found favour with everyone. Slightly sweet, with citrus and florals and a generous, but not overbearing fruitiness. A touch of honey, but no toastiness yet. The perfect anytime sipper. The 2010 Rippon Sauvignon was one of those raw, complex, wooded styles. Not liked in general, but I thought it a bold wine and good effort. Nettles, spices and nectarines on a substantial palate. The final wine was a 2009 Wanaka Road Pinot Noir, a second label for Mt Edward. Light, supple and friendly, it didn’t have the typical fruit-bomb black cherry fruitiness, but rather, soft red fruits and a more gentle nature.

I think the on-premise folk found it useful. It was a good recap for me, in any event.