Sunday, October 28, 2018

Fine and Funky

Tastes change.  And yet they don’t.  Mainstream Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has edged its way from green and grassy – what the Brits adored in the 1980s – to something riper, often with passionfruit, more textured and detailed, with richness and length being desirable, and without the searing acidity.  The lesser examples of the Loire were the benchmarks for the early Marlborough models, and we in New Zealand could achieve it easily, as we hadn’t learned about pushing ripeness, crop loading and balance.

But in the Loire there were those who took Sauvignon Blanc very seriously.  Who can frRget Didier Dageneau with his bottlings with oak and lees inputs, higher concentration and length.  These cost a bomb to buy and try, but they were revelations to sophistication and minerality, as well as expressions of terroir.

In a way, nothing has changed as we have the likes of James Healy and Ivan Sutherland of Dog Point in the Southern Valley district of Marlborough.  What they have done, as exampled by the 2016 Dog Point ‘Section 94’ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc may seem novel, ground-breaking and the direction forward for Marlborough to go, if the region is to show that it is more than a one-trick pony.  But what they’ve done is realise the like of Dageneau had the right approach for complexity and expression.  Fruit ripened to the perfect place, barrel-fermentation with solids by indigenous yeasts, and lees contact galore.  To those more used to mainstream, these are firm, taut, funk anf gunflinty.  Nothing like what Sauvignon should be.  To those with a broader palate experience, you have detail, finesse, intricacy, funky layers of complexity adding to the fruit.  Minerality for sure, and who knows, expression of place?      

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Preserving Poise

There’s a clear definition between the higher altitude, cooler Eden Valley hills and the warmer Barossa Valley floor, the former producing more elegant and aromatic wines with intensity and freshness – suited to white varieties, and the latter producing full, rich weighty wines with breadth and depth – suited to red wines especially.  And that’s generally the case with the wines that come from the ‘Barossa’ appellation.

There are a number of producers who accentuated the differences between the two sub-regions, rather than homogenise the two by blending.  Earlier this year, I came across the 2016 Sons of Eden ‘Eurus’ Eden Valley Cabernet Sauvignon which went the other way and pushed the ripeness limits of the Eden Valley fruit such that it was not showing the classic blackcurrant and cassis fruit, but more the blackberry and boysenberry fruit.  A magnificent wine it was, but atypical.
Thorn-Clarke is one of those grower-producers who celebrate and seek to express the differences of the two sub-regions.  They have a tier called ‘Eden Trail’ which has Eden Valley-fruited wine only with no Barossa Valley fruit involved.  The classic wine representing Eden Valley from Thorn-Clarke would have to be the 2018 Thorn-Clarke ‘Eden Trail’ Eden Valley Riesling.  Beautifully pristine but with an array of fragrances of florals and citrus fruits – quite exotic, but all the while maintaining great acidity.  The acidity is very soft, but clearly low pH with its beautiful textures to get such freshness and electricity.  But they’ve had to work to preserving the poise in their 2017 Thorn-Clarke ‘Eden Trail’ Eden Valley Chardonnay.  From a naturally cooler growing season, the vintage has given an advantage on freshness and slightly elevated acidity.  But the winemaking team fermented part in barrel and part in tank to add to the fresh and steely nature of the wine.  Don’t worry, it’s still full-on Chardonnay, with nutty and toasty oak.  The creamy barrel-ferment is perfectly cut by the acidity.  They’ve preserved the Eden Valley poise here.  A great wine with grilled and roasted seafood, I reckon.  

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Big Bottle Glory

The Real Mr Parker put on an extravaganza from his wine collecting years that number well into three decades.  And SWMBO and I were privileged to be invited.  It was a vertical tasting of Chapoutier’s ‘Le Pavillon’ Ermitage, from 2013 way back to Michel and Marc Chapoutier’s 1989 inaugural release.  I’ve noted about this event elsewhere, and my picks of the range were the   refined and still vital 1991, the rich and poised 2010 and the vigorous 2005.

But there was one bottle that stood out for all the right reasons, but eclipsed by the three vintages mentioned above.  That was the 1990 Chapoutier ‘Le Pavillon’ Ermitage in a 1.5 Litre magnum bottle.  I think I still have one of these tucked away in the depths of the cellar, so it was fascinating to try Mr Parker’s bottle before broaching mine.  The vintage 1990 was one of a great trio in the Northern Rhone, of 1989, 1990 and 1991.  And each year had its advocates.  The fact that Chapoutier bottled the 1990 in magnum suggests they thought that vintage special.
When it came time to tasting this wine, we had had the benefit of trying all the latter years, so we were accustomed to the style and progression.  ‘Le Pavillon’ is not your ‘normal’ Hermitage.  Coming from select parcels of ‘Les Bessards’, it is in the riper, more savoury and structured style.  It isn’t primary floral and peppery, and the aromatics emerge with bottle-age, along with layers of undergrowth and earthy complexity.  Yet behind it all is an opulence that its sibling ‘L’Ermite’ that some rate higher doesn’t have.
This bottle showed full mature garnet colour with brick – but it still had depth.  The bouquet was the glory of the wine.  Voluminous and layered, near ethereal with its detail, but with a depth and heart that just contributed more interest with aeration.  There were lovely tertiary development complexities, and still with fruit to show.  But there were some savoury, decrepit nuances you’d expect, giving a more complete picture.  On palate, still sweet and luscious, and wonderfully integrated, but the fruitiness, secondary and tertiary notes, plus tannin and acid still obvious and with time to come together further.  It’s drinking at its maturity plateau now, but there’s no hurry for another decade.  Than you Mr Parker.  

Saturday, October 6, 2018

A Little Ripper

Most of us strive to drink the best we can under our circumstances.  Some wine lovers subscribe to the practice of buying and drinking slightly more that we can really afford to!  Both SWMBO and I are guilty of it.  Sometimes you’ve just got to indulge yourselves.  But occasionally, something just pops up to take that monetary pressure off – a really delicious wine that is very affordable.  We go to our local wine merchants to get such bargains, as it’s their job and joy finding such gems.

One such vinous wonder came in front of us just recently.  The 2018 Yalumba ‘Y Series’’ South Australia Viognier.  Now this was a wonder variety over the past few years, but has lost popularity, maybe because Chardonnay has come back, and there’s a plethora of new and innovative varieties coming on the scene.  The variety nearly became extinct after WW2, but it got revived by a handful of far-sighted growers in Condrieu – gotta love those Guigal people!  The Aussies have picked up on the style of Viognier too, with Yalumba at the fore, and they may have the southern hemisphere’s largest plantings and output.  They make a super pure but complex-aging top cuvee ‘The Virgilius’.  Then they have the ‘Eden Valley’ tier, with a contemporary ‘Organic’ Viognier.  The most accessible one in price is their ‘Y Series’.  In N.Z. it sells at an unbelievable $16.95.
The wine is super fresh, crisp and pure.  Clear-cut varietal expression with exotic stonefruits and florals, and on the palate unusually brisk, refreshing acidity, but also the tell-tale richness and hint of unctuousness.  It isn’t going to be complex or sophisticated by any means, but this is just so delicious drinking.  It’s a little ripper.