Monday, November 28, 2016

Spice Trail

Tracing back the origins of vines can be very enlightening.  The dominance of the ‘Limmer’ clone of Syrah, that is regarded as the progenitor in New Zealand, is so strong that in many quarters, it is called the ‘Heritage’ clone.  Ant Mackenzie has released a delicious Gewurztraminer under his Craft Farm label.  The fruit for the wine generally comes from cuttings from the Dry River vineyard in Martinborough, where he still consults.  If Ant got his cuttings from the Dry River ‘Estate’, rather than the newer Colmar vines in the ‘Lovat’ vineyard, then those original cuttings would have come from Denis Irwin of Matawhero in Gisborne.  Where Denis got his from is rather clouded in mystery now.  The trail of spice ends here.  However, Ant's vines did come from the 'Lovat' site, and the Colmar cuttings can be traced to their Alsace development.

Tasting the 2014 Craft Farm ‘Hone Vineyard’ Hawke’s Bay Gewurztraminer with one of the Bassinet-Babes reminded me of some of the best Gewurztraminers from New Zealand that I had tasted.  They of course included Dry River and Matawhero.  Pale coloured, this is so stylishly concentrated that its development in the glass sneaks up on you, and suddenly you are nearly overwhelmed with its concentration, depth and detailed exoticism.  Beautifully fine phenolic handling and poised acidity complete the picture.  There’s no excess either, just intensity and fineness of character, with strength and style.  You are both seduced and filled with admiration.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Staying True

The Rheinhessen has been seen as the lesser of the great German winegrowing regions by wine enthusiasts over time.  The Mosel, Nahe, Rheingau and Pfalz appearing to offer more interest and excitement, especially with their greater focus on Riesling.  The Rheinhessen wines could be seen as ‘charming’, with softness and more gentle aromatics.  But those in the know have accepted this and seen this as balance, and are aware of the more subtle expression, the wines having as much character and reflection of site and soil as those from the other regions.

Weingut Wittman has Rheinhessen roots going back over 350 years and are intimate with the best sites, influenced by limestone, around the town of Westhofen.  The Wittmann family have honed their craft to grow ecologically and biodynamically and they have maintained their reputation and that of the Rheinhessen as a source of great German wine.  They’ve come into their own with the increasing favour of dry wines, the Rheinhessen naturally more gentle in alcohol, and more disposed to balance – something the makers in the other regions may have to work harder at.  They’ve stayed true to what they have been doing for centuries.

Our bottle shared with the Sticker Queen and King was the 2014 Wittman Westhofen Aulerde Riesling GG Trocken.  From the estate’s warmest site, clay plays a greater part.  The wine is indeed broader, denser and more minerally and earthy.  The youth obvious with some bottling sulphur.  But in the glass, the beautiful lime and florals of Riesling began to emerge and meld with the minerality.  Soft and poised acidity, perfectly in its place.  And lovely smooth textures and wonderful precence.  This doesn’t shout, but builds and builds with subtlety.  A great wine.  

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Light, Ethereal and Delicate

The night was no longer young. Guests had had their fill of white and red table wines.  The hostess at A-Prentice suggested it was time to open a port.  This was to be a useful signal to attendees that the evening was drawing to an end.  We had sorted out a small election to choose from, and after one wine that was rather a disaster, it was prudent to open a more respected label.

The chosen wine was the 1975 Sandeman Vintage Port.  Not by any means the grandest port house, and indeed deemed secondary level by many aficionados.  And the vintage, 1975, a sound, but hardly spectacular year.  For those who knew very little, it was an interesting, if not exciting wine, at a venerable 41 years old.  Some of the guests had not been born at that time, and other only had vague memories of childhood.  Others were in the flush of youth.  But for those in the know about port wine, the signs were not auspicious for a great bottle.

Sometimes a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.  Sure enough, opening the wine, it was very pale.  Rose and light orange hues.  But on palate the most delicate and delightful ethereal perfumes.  Florals and subtle notes of sweet red fruits.  A little raisin too.  The palate very light and ethereal in flavours.  But positive in line and length, with a seducing sweetness.  The wine very smooth flowing with a very soft core, and just enough acid to ensure tension.  Delicious in the most refined and elegant way.  It would disappoint those with a disposition for heavy or hearty.  We were all pleased with it.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Big on Finesse

It came time for the big one.  SWMBO had left her place of employment to strike out on her own.  It was a tough decision, as she loved working with most of the labels she represented, and no doubt they loved her working on their behalf.  One of the gifts she received on departure was a 2006 Pegasus Bay ‘Prima Donna’ Waipara Valley Pinot Noir – lovely enough in itself, but here in a 3.0 Litre bottle format.  Under Champagne nomenclature, this is a Jeroboam, equivalent to 4 bottles.

Our annual party at the A-Prentices has always been a fun and casual affair with lots of bottles of wine, plenty of food, and great company and conversation.  But understandably, some people don’t know tasting technique, and they pour themselves big glasses of the most expensive or notable wine, which doesn’t leave much of that bottle for the other 30+ people.  For the last few years, SWMBO and I have brought 1.5 Litre magnums, but even they don’t seem to last, especially when the big pourers get into action.  So the 3.0 Litre was an ideal size to open, not only for this reason, but, the wine was now getting onto a decade in age.

Extracting a normal sized cork, it poured easily.  SWMBO relished the pouring honours, to ensure everybody got a sample.  Dark red in colour with depth and now with garnet and bricking.  The nose very elegant and refined, quite ethereal.  The ‘Prima Donna’ has never been about bigger, fruitier, richer and oakier than the regular Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir, but about the most finesse that could be expressed.  On palate, still very bright, fresh and with vitality, the flavours of red berry fruits showing some savoury secondary complexities.  Yet this was restrained, and you couldn’t say it was funky.  Certainly no excesses here.  Very fine, dry tannins, a tad of dryness appearing, but very smooth in flow.  Almost satin-like.  If you were expecting big things from this big bottle, you wouldn’t get it.  But this was a wine big on finesse.  Beautiful.  Thank you SWMBO.    

Monday, November 7, 2016

Real Juice

The ‘orange’ wine category has grown in significance over the last few years.  The trendy sommeliers around the world have embraced the style, even though a great many of the wines are faulty, unbalanced and just not pleasant to drink.  Sure skin contact can extract greater and more interesting flavours, as well as greater phenolics which can call out for drinking with food to ameliorate the textures.  But if they’re not nice, then they’re not great.

Thank goodness there are many good winemakers who acknowledge this basic tenet, and the number of orange (and natural wines too) bottlings that are delicious are ever-increasing.  I’ve had more ordinary or poor orange wines than good, but I can clearly remember the good ones.  They are the real juice.  Jen Parr at Valli Vineyards in Central Otago has made one of best I’ve tasted and drank lately.  Made from Pinot Gris from Gibbston, with barrel ferment ant aging on lees, the skin contact was judged just right, and the citrussy flavours clear as a bell.  It’s called the 2015 Valli Vineyards ‘The Real McCoy’ Central Otago Pinot Gris Orange Wine, the name a pun on one of the best brands of orange juice.  Clever eh?