Friday, December 30, 2011


This is the time of year we provide a little gift to the friends around us. The Quarriers were close neighbours, but they moved away to build their dream home a couple of years ago. And each time we visit, they seem happier and more composed, living their ideal life. They’ve been keen on local history and their knowledge of the characters and goings-on of the district makes fascinating story-telling. It was over another engrossing session with The Quarriers that SWMBO and I shared a couple of bottles, with several platters of antipasto. I don’t know if it was the relaxed nature of the evening or not, but the wines looked composed and relaxed too.

The Quarriers had visited Europe a few months earlier, so it was appropriate to have a 2005 S.A. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett. We had this before, and it was satisfactory then. Here, it struck a balance of delicacy with distinctive depth. Subtlety of florals, apples, honeysuckle based on slight sweetness, gentle acidity just hinting at richness with a faint toastiness just emerging. The 9.5% alc. totally harmonious.

We followed the white with a 2008 Mount Edward Central Otago Pinot Noir. The 2008s have always been easy drinkers, the crop tending on the large size. The wines have been pleasant for sure, but mostly they lacked the extra ‘X’ factor. This marred my thinking on this wine in the early days, not expecting too much out of it. It’s shyness of youth has continued to blossom, and I’ve never seen it look better. Still dark in colour, the primacy and vibrancy of fruit is sensational. Dark berry fruits with oak shine and spices along with violetty florals. The palate rich and supple, and the tannins composed. Delicious.

Both bottles slipped down a treat, and we learned a little more from The Quarriers that night…

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Shamefully Neglected Chardonnay

I must admit I’m ashamed of myself. 25 years ago, our winegrowers and winemakers could not be expected to make Chardonnay to last a quarter of a century of age. If one were honest, few burgundian vineyards and winemakers have it in them to do the same now. But here we were, cleaning out more remnants, this time New Zealand Chardonnays from 1987. At the time, these were much vaunted labels from some of the most exciting producers at the time. Of the five wines tried, four of the labels still exist, and that says something for stickability if the aspirations for achieving are there from the start. However, shameful on me, they should have been opened and enjoyed 20 years ago. The wines would have been fully mature, and I and my fellow drinkers would have seen them for what the industry could achieve at that time.

This was the time that Kumeu River, Morton ‘Black Label’, Babich ‘Irongate’ and Villa Maria ‘Barrique Fermented’ reigned supreme. All of the following showed orange colours with browning, though varying in depth. Also, oxidation was prevalent, again to varying degrees.

First up was the 1987 Coopers Creek ‘Swamp Road’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay. 13.0% alc. on the babel. This was also one of the hot wines with a history of winning gold medals. Fruit came from the real ‘Swamp Road’ then, and not from other sites away from the Gimblett Gravels bottled as ‘Swamp Reserve’ as it is now. This was lighter orange-brown, with a not particularly attractive earthy, rather unclean, funky nose. A little more air saw positive toasty oak and char characters emerge. Unfortunately, all vinous flavour had dried up and faded, leaving powerful oxidation and extremely high acidity. The ‘Swamp Reserve’ Chardies are all class nowadays, and this is due to Simon Nunns tightening up the style.

Next was the 1987 Ngatarawa ‘Alwyn’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay. Alwyn had founded Ngatarawa a few years earlier after coming back from UC Davis, and championed the variety. In many ways, he was the Hawke’s Bay ‘godfather’ with the academic background and credibility. This was a highly collectable label then, and the current release carry on the tradition. Light orange brown, with intense oxidation, but with a clarity and cleanliness. Bruised apples. Fully burnished with oxidation on palate, the wine still has a gentleness and harmony, like the man who made it. I love drinking Alwyn’s current releases as much as I did then.

The best wine of the line-up was the 1987 Martinborough Vineyard Chardonnay. This was the first effort from Larry McKenna at this most exciting vineyard in a most exciting area. I was buoyed by reports that the 1988 MV Chardonnay recently tasted still was drinkable, and I remember Larry very pleased with that one at the time. Lighter golden brown, this was over-developed for sure, but fruit and oak, nuts and oxidation were showing with elegance. Again, blowsy on the palate, but very definably complex tropical fruits nutty notes, including merged oxidation, good acidity, and actually pleasantly drinkable. Well done Larry, your legacy at MV is carried on by Paul Mason.

Almuth Lorenz was an enigmatic and inspirational woman of great enthusiasm. She took a party of wine lovers, including the Real Mr Parker to her native Germany to meet stars such as Ernie Loosen. Almuth has disappeared from view now. This 1987 Merlen Marlborough Chardonnay was full-on at the time. It was notable for its dark colour and fulsome tropical fruit and oak flavours. Deep brown with mahogany now, this was lifted and had oxidation along with full, soft apricot notes. Very broad, but surprisingly lively from the acidity, the apricot notes spelt botrytis to me. The underlying oxidation really a bit too much. They say botrytis brings on premature development. It did, but there a point where not much else happens except falling off a cliff to oxidation death. This hasn’t quite got there yet.

The final wine was the 2007 Te Whare Ra ‘Duke of Marlborough’ Chardonnay, made by Allan and Joyce Hogan, boutique pioneers in the region. His Chardonnay was touted to be as exciting as his Rieslings, sweet wines and Bordeaux-style reds. So I bought some. The darkest of the set, and quite grubby and green. I suppose I saw it as Marlborough regionality combined with complexity. Some balanced textures, but the flavours are now too dirty to leave the wine in the mouth. Jason & Anna Floweday do a great job at TWR nowadays. But I probably wouldn’t leave their Chardonnay 25 years…

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Surprising Sticky End

Would it be a treasure trove of goodies or a set of disappointments that would be in store for us with the little cache of sweet wines that we dug out from the back of the cellar? Most of the wines were acquired by SWMBO over a decade ago, and in shifting houses they got put in the corner, forgotten. It was with a little trepidation that we broached them; for surely, they had come to a ‘sticky end’ by being left too long.

Firstly a 1994 Villa Maria ‘Cellar Selection’ Marlborough LH Riesling, at 11.0% alc, made with some botrytised fruit. Deep golden, this showed tell-tale signs of oxidation, but carried excellent refreshing acidity and decent amounts of honey and citrus fruit. If only it wasn’t oxidised this would still be an excellent drink. Then a paler coloured 1995 Okahu Estate Northland ‘Reserve’ Chardonnay Desserté. 10.5% alc. and also botyrtised, we assume. On nose rather flat, dull and heavy with honied notes. Again on palate quite dull, redeemed by sheer viscosity and unctuous textures. In remarkable condition, but too flabby to drink any more than a few sips.

The next two wines were more extreme. A 1997 Lintz Estate Martinborough Optima Noble Selection, with 12.0% and 280 g/L rs. Chris Lintz was never afraid to push things, some say too far, hence his fall from grace. This German variety can reach ultra-high brix levels and with full botrytis, this was an OTT wine even on release. However a conglomerate cork tells the story now. Dark mahogany coloured, the nose was marked by a nasty mix of TCA and VA, along with the burnt caramel and toffee aromas and flavours. A tonne of acidity could not carry the overdone flavours, even if the cork taint was not present. A little surprise was the 1981 Tokaji Wine Trust Co. Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos, at 14.0% alc. Dark orange and mahogany coloured, this was dry and dense with sherryfied aromas and flavours. Flor characters, as it should have, but wonderfully lively and vibrant and very fine featured. Very drinkable, and its only failing would be a slight lack of oomph to make it strong enough to handle time in the glass to evolve. As it was, it starting to dry and become austere in front of our eyes.

The finale was an NV Limeburners Bay Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Vin Doux Naturel’ Dessert Wine, made in Hobsonville, carrying 17.5% alc. Now defunct, this winery was one of the champions of this style, of which there was a raft of pretenders and contenders. Looking at this bottle which surely would have fruit at least from the mid 1990s, it showed the viticultural standards of the day with its leafiness. Some porty, caramel, chocolate notes too, along with a spoilage note of little furry animals? That’s why it ended up as a fortified dark red wine, rather than a varietal table red….

The wines were indeed a little surprise in a good way. Expecting the worse, they had redeeming features, let down by negative elements that were exacerbated by time. These stickies did come to a sticky end…

Thursday, December 15, 2011

New and Old at the Cat Club

I’ve been catching up with the Cat Club people for around two decades, meeting at least annually to taste wines with them. They are the most down-to-earth, up-front and unassuming people in the world who love living on the edge of the city, and with nature nearby, the relish simplicity. And that’s how they like their wines – without any pretension. SWMBO and I were invited to be guests at their Christmas function, and it was a fun affair with honest humour and hearty food. A moist, tender and flavoursome ham took my fancy…

We shared our wines with the people around us, and quite a few really made an impression. I haven’t had a taste of the South African NV Pongracz Methode Cap Classique for a number of years now, but it’s always been a classy Champers look-alike, offering exceptional value. Sometimes it is a bit aldehydic, but this evening it was spot on, balancing freshness with complexing autolysis. Another bubbly also showed a touch of class, a 2001 Hartz Barn ‘Black Bead’ Barossa Sparkling Shiraz, still unyielding, but based on ripe fruit without any oak excesses. I suspect it could have handled a little more bottle-age, but it was delicious for its restraint.

Possibly my wine of the night was a 2011 Hunters Marlborough Rosé, most likely made from Pinot Noir, and seemingly off-dry and an amazing purity and depth of fruit flavours. Thirst-quenching, but simultaneously rich with exotic red floral notes. And another impressive wine was the 2008 Vynfields Reserve Martinborough Pinot Noir, wonderfully concentrated, but becoming smooth and silky in texture as the tannins are just beginning to soften. The ripeness of fruit without being overcooked was ideal. Still needing a lot more time was the 2005 Te Mata Awatea Cabernet/Merlot served from magnum. A great year in The Bay for sure, and this was powerfully and tightly concentrated. Initially shy, it blossomed to show dark plums, liquorice and Asian spices with great length.

Our contribution to the evening included some N.Z. Cabernet/Merlot blends a quarter of a century in age. We were not expecting too much out of these 1986 wines, as they never achieved the ripeness they get nowadays. But they were surprisingly drinkable and in reasonably good condition. The 1986 Venture Vineyards Gisborne Cabernet/Merlot was a 50/50 blend from the ‘Sunvale’ estate, the wine aged 9 months in French puncheons. I think they were growers for Corbans, who made the wine. Past its best by a long shot, but still clean, and mellowed out to blandness, with nothing such as stalkiness sticking out. Unfortunately the 1986 Coopers Creek Cabernet/Merlot was not entirely clean. I’ve seen this before a few years ago, and a bit of grubbiness showed then too. The wine has a robustness and liveliness from proper extraction and good acidity. I think the fruit was from the Auckland area.

I really thought the 1986 Matawhero Gisborne Cabernet/Merlot was exceptional last time I saw it. It had developed seamless milk chocolate characters, and this bottle had too, but not with the richness of the earlier bottle. This was a tad drier. Made by the ever-thoughtful Hatsch Kalberer. The 1986 Ngatarawa ‘Glazebrook’ CabernetMelot was drinkable, but just had an unbalancing sourness to the fruit expression. A hint of leaf, quite acceptable, and good acid, and not dried out by any means. Alwyn Corban was a leader then and is still a force in Hawke’s Bay today.

The highlight was a wine that was out of balance – overly oaked at the time no doubt, and still the case today. 25 years ago, it would have been even easier to be seduced by new oak. 1986 Villa Maria Reserve Cabernet/Merlot, im a 60/40 ratio, fruit all from Auckland. Aged 14 months in 100% new 500 Litre barrels. The sweet and spicy oak still prevalent today, but looking more obvious because the fruit had faded away. A little leafy hint and still some acidity. Tannins present and again a little obvious, adding to the dryness. But still quite drinkable and actually enjoyable!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Singular Spice

The family doesn’t get together often with members spread over the country and busy lifestyles, bur a quick dinner before Stormin’ Norm hopped on a plane was one get-together. Jubes had a lovely meal all prepared, and a number of good bottles were dispatched.

One wine was particularly noteworthy, a 2005 Ata Rangi Celebre. A blend of 35% Syrah, 35% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon was just coming into its own. The Syrah component stood out, making it a singular spice experience. Savoury spices, meat, a hint of pepper and a taste of the exotic. Not too much tannin, but still with good freshness and acidity, and no sign of green, showing the quality of the vintage. A touch of the secondaries, ideal for interest. Celebre has never been about great finesse or having the quality to take on the world as a Bordeaux-Rhone style, but rather about drinkability. That’s what maker Clive Paton designed it to be, and sure enough, this is what it was. Deliciously drinkable.

Moroccan-inspired and marinated with a gentlespicy mix, the lamb, cooked on the BBQ, served on cous cous with pumpkin and lots of herbed yoghurt was the dinner, simple and not quite rustic. Just like the wine.