Monday, December 31, 2012

Sweet End and Sticky Finale

The last day and night of the year had been and was always going to be a busy one, especially as SWMBO and the group saw in the new year.  Good wines started to flow as the proceedings and dinner leading to the countdown began.  First the obligatory bubbles, then whites and reds.  Plenty of water too, of course.  New bottles appearing and being broached, as we looked back at the year in retrospect, and thought about the coming year.  It was a lovely end, sweet in our minds, and that called for dessert wines.  Two oldies appeared, from the ‘long lost cellar’. Over a quarter of a century old, and deemed to be well-past their best, but caution to the wind, they were poured into people’s glassware. 

Firstly, a 1987 Penfolds ‘Ne Plus Ultra’ Late Pick Rhine Riesling in 375 ml bottle.  Made from Marlborough fruit, picked at 31° Brix, given 24 hours skin contact and fermented to 11.9% alc.  ‘Thus far and no further” is the translation, and the wine was regarded as pretty avant garde at the time for a big producer , the label owned by Montana.  I’m sure there was a portion of botrytis involved and it was a decadent and luscious wine.  This night, dark mahogany with burnished orange-red colour.  A powerful nose redolent of toffee and caramel, with a savoury, musky and musty note.  Brown rot? Taint?  Hard to tell with so much tertiary character.  On palate, very sweet, again toffee and caramel, with raisins, dried fruits, good sugar and acidity.  Plenty of richness, and only just beginning to show a little texture, dryness and slight coarseness on the finish.  Still a bold and out-there wine, not beautiful and  it hasn’t aged gracefully as a star would have, but not disgracefully either.

Then a 375 ml bottle of 1986 Delegat’s ‘Proprietors Reserve Auslese 1986, which followed on from some award winning numbers under the same label, made from Muller-Thurgau.  This was made from Rhine Riesling grown in Tekaraka, Gisborne, picked at 26° Brix, and a rarer, more expensive number, quite a specialist wine at the time. It too was in the richer, quality-focussed style.  Tonight, this was darkish mahogany colour too, and upon nosing, a scaled-down expression of the Penfolds NPU, a little cleaner, but exuding aromas of raisins, dried fruits, toffee and caramel.  Clearly sweet on palate, the flavours echoing the bouquet, but softer in texture, but carrying some phenolics.  Just beginning to dry out.  It was difficult to decide which was better, and there were votes for each.  My pick was the Penfolds – just.  The overriding thoughts were they were in remarkable condition.  We’d expect world classical dessert wines to last 25+ years, but New Zealand wines don’t seem to manage it normally.  We were a happy group.   

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Source for the World

We all know that France is The Source of all of the world’s best wines, don’t we?  Well that’ll be disputed by a great many people!  Two wines connected with the sentiment in different ways.

Firstly a 2007 ‘La Source’ Bordeaux Blanc from Chateau de Sours.  This is the very top white wine from Martin Krajewski who set up a modern top-flight winery in the Entre-Deux-Mers region.  This is 100% Sauvignon Blanc and given the Rolls-Royce barrel-ferment treatment.  No doubt showing the world how to make complex, barrel-influenced dry whites, and giving the Graves and Pessac-Leognan people a run for their money. As SWMBO said, it ain’t Loire, but it is deep and textural, quite rich and exotic in an austere way.  Not one for drinking on its own as with many Kiwi Savvys.  Named after a stream near or water source for the property, I wonder.  Good wine in any case.

Then a 2008 Maison de Grand Espirit Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru ‘La Belle Voisine’, made by Frederic Magnien.  Sealed in screwcap.  A bit of digging found this the be a joint venture wine between the French and the Aussies – Treasury Wine Estates/Fosters to be a little more exact.  Here’ they’re sourcing classic and elite appellations in France, having the wine made by honest French folk, and sending it around the world, especially to Australia.  How clever is that?  Unfortunately this particular bottling a little light, cool and acidic.  True to type for the vintage, but maybe too accessible, a concession for the modern and international palate?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Running From Old to New

On our travels we ran into the Cho-sen One and his extended family, who extended an invitation for us to join in for dinner.  With the Engineers and the Cookies also going to be present, we knew it would be a lot of fun, and no doubt a lot of wine was going to be opened.  And there was.  It was a feast of bottles running from oldies to newbies, all with interest, and I note some of them.

An initial trio of Trinity Hill Wairarapa Riesling was indeed interesting.  The fruit coming from the ‘Petrie’ vineyard near Masterton, better known for its contribution to the ‘Petrie’ Chardonnay that Ata Rangi make.  The 2003, sealed in screwcap, was in full bloom.  A big wine in mouthfeel, wiyh plenty of vigour, showing lovely toasty notes to the fore, but with limey fruit underneath.  This has energy to go, and was perfect to appreciate how the variety can last a decade.  The 2001, sealed in cork, was unfortunately marred by oxidation.  Fruit faded now, and soft textured.  Not really offensive, but you knew it had gone past the point of no return.  The 1999 was a surprise, still in good condition.  Soft too, and broad, with honey and toast, and the beginnings of losing the plot, but still a good drink. 

We contributed three older Kiwi wines as another group of interest.  All from the 1986 vintage, one that was more forward than the preceding and following years.  The 1986 Robard & Butler Cabernet/Merlot never said where its fruit came from, as it was a negociant label at that time.  It offered value, and flavoursome drinking.  Now, it was still big in the mouth with ripe fruity nuances, but a hint of grubbiness making it a suspicious drink.  Rounded mouthfeel, and fully resolved tannins, but not really pleasant.  The 1986 de Redcliffe Cabernet/Merlot, from near Thames was a cultish wine in its day, made by the enthusiastic Chris Canning.  The fruit wasn’t as ripe as we like it nowadays, and this was seen in the greener flavours and sleek acid streak.  But it had a degree of finesse in a slender way.  Then a 1986 Abel & Co Cabernet/Merlot, from Pomona Road, Kumeu.  The most satisfying of the trio in fruitiness and structure.  Still with life ahead, if it wasn’t for a noticeable dose of volatile acidity.

The in-between wine was brought by the Cookies.  A 1990 Wynns ‘Michael’ Coonawarra Shiraz.  Dark, deep, ripe and chock-full of black fruits, earth and pepper, and sufficient structure to handle the meatiest of steaks and see off another decade of cellaring.  A strong plum and liquorice finish was a feature.

Back to Kiwi land with the reds.  The future of the Gimblett Gravels Matariki label is uncertain now, after being placed into the hands of receivers.  Some current and yet to be released wine made a showing.  The 2009 Matariki ‘Reserve’ Syrah was a worthy match to the Wynns ‘Michael’ tasted earlier.  Sweet, dark spices and ripe plum flavours plus a heap of oak, but magically retained in check so as not to overwhelm.  Delicious stuff.  A 2009 Matariki ‘Reserve’ Merlot/Cabernet showing a little more restraint and style.  Classy strength with ripeness and a lovely flow.  Even better was a 2009 Matariki ‘Quintology’.  Very robust and fulsome, with a mass of ripe black fruits and a full array of flavours.  It’s a bit of a super-star.  The benchmarker served by the Cho-sen One was the 2008 Te Mata ‘Awatea’ Cabernet/Merlot.  A beautiful wine too, which appeared seamless, with harmony and balance.  Classical blackcurrant and leaf, definitely a cooler vintage, and the acidity noticeable, but exuding a sense of finesse.  Not the ripeness of the 2009 Matariki wines, and thus suffering a little by comparison.  But taking a step back, you could see it was a wine with style.  


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Namesake Wine

Most of us enjoy our names.  I first tried a number of Raymond Vineyards wines nearly 25 years ago.  They were pleasant and better than commercial, but not by much.  Mind you, I wasn’t earning a lot, so I couldn’t spend a lot, and the wines we tried were modest in their pricing.  I knew there were wines in higher tiers.  Although I was somewhat disappointed, I felt my namesake wines could be better.  Fast-forward a couple of decades plus, and The Aid Man provided me with the chance to try some more Raymond Vineyards wines.  The company has changed in the meantime, and was bought by the Boisset Burgundy-based family empire in 2009.

There’s the base-level ‘R Collection’.  I wonder what ‘R’ stands for?  I think I’d like it.  The wines were quite correct but slightly uninspiring. The 2011 R Collection ‘Lot 3’ California Chardonnay the best with attractive tropical and citrus fruits showing some lusciousness.  Smart for a primarily unoaked example.  The 2011 R Collection ‘Lot 7’ California Field Blend with all-sorts, as these ‘Field Blends’ are was a fruity, plummy, jammy, easy drink.  A soft anytime number.  Better was the 2011 R Collection ‘Lot 3’ California Merlot, elegant and slender, somewhat in the cooler spectrum, but well-balanced, well-made and attractively modern.  The 2010 R Collection ‘Lot 3’ California Cabernet Sauvignon was surprisingly softer, more mellow and less structured, but pleasant.  Is Merlot the better variety over Cabernet Sauvignon? 

I was happier with the ‘Reserve Selection wines.  The 2011 Raymond ‘Reserve Selection’ Napa Chardonnay fuller, riper, with lush citrusy fruit and the contemporary reductive flinty complexities.  Pretty decent wine that put a smile on my face.  Onto the reds, and the 2009 Raymond ‘Reserve Selection’ Napa Cabernet Sauvignon did enough with its mellow ripeness and integrated harmony to make it a pretty pleasant number.  But why is this so forward and accessible?  Much more ageworthy was the 2008 Raymond ‘Reserve Selection’ Napa Merlot.  Concentrated black fruits, plenty of fine, firm structure and a real wallop of spicy new oak.  A modern Napa rendition that will keep a decade.  It confirmed how good Merlot can be.

It took the flagship 2008 Raymond ‘Generations’ Napa Cabernet to restore my belief in what California Cabernet can be like.  Powerful, but refined, complete and harmonious, with exotic oak spicing on superbly ripened fruit.  Waves of flavour.  A bit of a statement in luxury rather than varietal character for sure.  Worth keeping a decade.  I was proud to be a Raymond.         

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Hatching a Plot

Earlier this year we had the Affectionately Known As (AKA) Man and Lovely booked in to stay with us, but we were called away and missed them.  There was no escape this time – no escape for them, as we hatched a plan to share some hospitality with them.  The AKA Man and Lovely have been very kind to us in the past, so it was a pleasure to reciprocate.  We know that the cleanest, purest dry whites are their favourites, with good bubbles, Chardonnay-based wines and the occasional Pinot Noir seem to hit the spot, so that’s what we poured their way.

Two of the latest NV Champers that SWMBO and I like at the moment were the starters.  SWMBO is enamoured by NV Laurent-Perrier ‘Brut L-P’.  Fresh, light, florals and citrus fruits, the dosage a little noticeable, and invitingly accessible and soft, this is looking as clean and fruity as ever.  It appears lighter than it really is, and there’s plenty of satisfaction.  I’m a fan of the more complex and drier style, and in recent tastings NV Charles Heidsieck ‘Brut Reserve’ has done it for me.  And the bottle serve did it again.  Tighter, drier, with intense flavours of yellow stonefruit Pinot Noir, definite autolysis and aldehyde notes, clearly with plenty of Reserve wine.  A restraine and fruiter Bollinger-esque style in some respects.  The AKA Man and Lovely concurred with their quality and style.

Two N.Z. Chardonnays at the top of their game next as we moved along the plan.  Firstly the newly-released 2011 Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay.  Beautifully vibrant but concentrated citrus and mealy fruit with fine acidity, and the perfect touch of flinty complexities.  It’s youthful, but already a star.  Then the multi-trophy champion 2010 Villa Maria ‘Keltern’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay, softer, richer, sweeter, a year down the track and beginning to come together in harmony.  Masses of complexity with sulphide reduction and flint, but sucked in by the fruit.  It all worked superbly.  The surprising aspect was how quickly this is coming to maturity.  The Neudorf was the winner here.  Both SWMBO and I enjoyed the Villa Maria, but to the refined palates of Lovely and the AKA Man, it was too sweet, and lighter!

Onto the French wines, the highlight of the story.  The white, a 2006 Raveneau Chablis 1er ‘Montee de Tonnerre’.  I feel Chablis of late shows the advances in ripening, and the rapier, cutting acidity of the past is truly gone.  The flintiness is also more mellow, and dare I say it, they can have an unctuous aspect.  This did, but it had a rainwater purity and a delicious delicacy.  Dry as it it could be, it was an all round star, but for the AKA Man, the ultimate.  Then the final act in the plot revealed, an Armand 2001 Rousseau Chambertin.  Faded colour, and initially undemonstrative, but seriously brooding.  A strange, but enormously pleaasing combination of power and elegance.  Complex brown fruits and undergrowth, and the classical ‘blood and fur’ of Gevrey-Chambertin.  Growing in power and density in the glass.  Almost glorious, but not quite.  A wine we all mulled over quietly in our own minds, probably all too fearful of saying it didn’t quite sing at its best, but also that we may not be quite sophisticated to appreciate it fully?

Then a little something to sweeten us on our way.  A 2010 Loosen Erdener Trpppchen Kabinett.  Youthful and sherbetty, with exotic florals.  The sweetness looking more than reality, due to the contrast with the savoury, firmer structured red.  Absolutely decadent in its subtle sweetness and fruitiness.  It wasn’t a wine for Lovely, but the three of us enjoyed its sweet finish to the plot.    

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Pressed to be Trendy

It was a big party at The Grunter’s place.  Flossie’s birthday, and the house was open to a mass of young persons.  A lovely lunch moving on to a lovely night with singing and dancing.  The dichotomy between generations became very evident in the choice of songs and dancing music.  The oldies more tempered and with melody and easy to understand lyrics, and a flowing story.  The modern with understandable rhythm and uncomplicated phrases, in a way lighter and less layered.  Two vintages of the same labelled wine seemed to typify the difference in generations.  One could ask: Is winemaking under pressure to make trendy wines for the times?

The 1998 Redmetal ‘Basket Press’ Hawke’s Bay Merlot/Cabernet Franc, a monster, dark and still brooding with impenetrable black-garnet colour, dense and concentrated with savoury earth and black fruits.  Sure, lots of oak, but now a secondary beast.  Rounded and supple in impression, but a firm heart. SWMBO was afraid it might be bretty as heck, but no, still sweet in fruitiness.  Great wine in a heroic style, and tough to drink without a slab of red meat, but nevertheless impressive.

The 2010 Redmetal ‘Basket Press’ Hawke’s Bay Merlot/Cabernet Franc I’ve tried before.  In the scheme of things today, it looks a rich and satisfying, near old-fashioned wine, full and broad and soft with density.  A crowd-pleaser in a sense, but alongside the 1998, much lighter and elegant, quite a lot more trendy.  Distinctly fruity in a primary way, and fresh with good acidity.  Simpler and far more accessible, representing the now-style.

I’m sure there’s an element of vintage expression.  The 1998s were super-ripe blockbusters, and the 2010 was from a lighter, cooler year.  But the house style is changing, to be more with it.  Such is the pressure to be contemporary.