Cloudy Bay Pelorus 2004

It’s sparkling night at Full Pour, and what better occasion? I believe Chris has a bottle of this same wine, possibly for consumption this evening (in New Zealand), so consider this note a sort of virtual drinking session.

Of course, it’s totally fabulous. Quite an aggressive mousse that settles into a moderately fine bead. On the nose, exuberantly bready like fresh baguettes, plus some mushroom. Full, fragrant and distinctive, though not especially complex or detailed. The palate is an explosion of flavour. There’s a deal of savoury complexity but what hits one here is a big dollop of round, delicious Marlborough fruit. Weight is relatively full. Thank goodness it’s all quite dry. Mouthfeel is lively, with a smooth-feeling effervescence and some creaminess caressing the tongue. Excellent presence in the mouth and impressive length. Very far from Champagne, and all the better for it.

Bloody delicious. Happy 2009!!

Cloudy Bay
Price: $A50
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: December 2008

Deutz Marlborough Cuvée Brut NV

Compared to the Le Brun, this wine is visually a real disappointment; the color is approximately that of [yellow tail] chardonnay, and the bubbles are completely anemic; it’s as if there are two solitary glowworms in the bottom of the glass, casting their mucus nets upwards.

OK, that was gross. My apologies. I’ll continue:

On the nose, there’s a faint reek of sulfur and other than that, nothing at all. In the mouth, it’s strangely unpleasant, an initial sweetness completely obscured by something like whitebait pizza (with white sauce, not marinara).

This is either a bad bottle or simply a “do not put in mouth” wine. Ugh. Looks like I’ll be moving on to another bottle of this unless this magically improves after half an hour’s aeration. Damn.

Deutz
Price: $NZ31
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: December 2008

Daniel Le Brun Methode Traditionelle Brut NV

OK, so let’s start with the nose, which is something akin to uncooked Bisquick mixed with water: it’s got a lovely, fresh biscuity biscuitness to it. It’s overlaid by fresh green apples, but time and time again, the biscuits come to the fore (and by biscuits, I don’t mean cookies, but rather proper American biscuits). Mmm biscuits.

Where was I? Right. Bead is exceptionally fine and vigorous (the fact that I can’t wash wineglasses worth a damn definitely helps: remember not to use soap and don’t be afraid of the odd bit of dust; it really does help with this kind of thing). The mousse is probably exceptional if you have proper flutes; I don’t at the moment, so what I’m getting is a bunch of random bubbling in a large red wine glass. Still, seriously, this is good looking stuff. The color is rather deeper than your typical sparkling wine, which means I’m suspecting some pinot noir in here as well… OK, I just cheated and looked at the back label and sure enough, this wine is 70% pinot (10% of that meunier). Check.

So how’s it taste? The fine bubble dominate at first, prickly and refreshing, and then it all goes a bit sour, fairly acidic, tasting largely of toast, sharp green apples, and fresh bread. Oh, yeah, and biscuits. Delicious biscuits. Mmmm.

This is a fairly exceptional New World sparkling wine; it reminds me of a somewhat less sweet Veuve Clicquot, brimming with yeasty breadiness and sharp, fresh apple-y acidity. I imagine what this wine really wants is minimally prepared seafood – OK, salt and pepper calamari would probably be great too – but all I have is the Chinese take-away from last night, so here’s hoping it’s a good match for cold nasi goreng as well. ūüôā

I should probably also note that this is no longer made by M. de Brun, but by some faceless corporate winery. I don’t remember who this really is – Lion Nathan? I’ll have to research it further.

Bonus points: this is probably the most useless winery Web site I’ve ever seen. Check it out!

Daniel Le Brun
Price: $NZ32
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: December 2008

Offcuts: tasting Marlborough

Sadly, Julian’s already left and is back to work, so I was on my own for this one. I don’t have his sense of style or skill at interacting with tasting room staff, so all faults here are entirely my own.

I’ve never been to Marlborough before; we arrived yesterday at around 5:30pm to discover the entire town rolls up its sidewalks at 5:30pm… including the tourist information desk, which meant it was a bit tricky finding our accommodation at Walnut Block cottages (which, by the way, is by far one of the loveliest places I’ve ever stayed – the room is fantastic, the view over the vineyards is incredible, and the hosts are beyond generous with help and breakfast supplies). Mad props are due to the helpful, friendly staff at the Marlborough Vintners Retreat, who helped us with a free map and directions to our lodgings. (Their hotel also looked incredible and is very well situated for most of the wineries around here.)

I figured that it’d be a good idea to get started right at 9am, which meant our first stop was Saint Clair winery. We pulled up right at 9 only to find their door locked. Thankfully, right across the parking lot is Traditional Country Preserves, a lovely homemade jam and tourist stuff shop (or is that shoppe?) run by fantastically friendly Kiwis; they’ve got most everything you’d want in a wine country shop, what with homemade preserves, olive oil, lavender, all that kind of good stuff. I didn’t sample anything, but I do hope that the quince preserves survive the trip home to California this weekend and that they taste good.

Ten minutes later, Saint Clair’s door was still locked, so we kept going. We passed a home honey-making business called J. Bush on Old Renwich Road and called in for some lovely old school honey: nothing fancy, just high quality manuka and borage honeys in sturdy packaging and at insanely reasonable prices ($7.50 for the manuka, $4.50 for 500g of the others). We then pulled into Allan Scott, which theoretically opened at 9am, only to find an unlocked door and a cheesy gift shop stocked with all kinds of tat. The wines looked okay, but after waiting around five minutes, we left; it was beginning to feel like we’d never actually get around to tasting anything!

Cloudy Bay is just across from Allan Scott, but we had to detour back to our room for allergy medication – coming from a Californian winter, I wasn’t prepared for all of the things that are in bloom down here. Ouch! A couple of Sudafed later and we could at least breathe and smell things again normally.

Back at Cloudy Bay, I was taken aback at how similar it looks to Cape Mentelle, where we’d visited six years ago. I suppose it’s all owned by LVMH these days and the original owners are long gone, but it was kind of cool to run into a building thousands of miles away that looked so similar. They’ve just remodeled to make an even bigger tasting room; it’s cavernous and designed for the hordes of tourists that show up (about 250 on busy days like yesterday, I’m told). Still, the staff were friendly and knowledgeable (although it seemed like the manager was wearing heavy makeup and perfume, which was kind of shocking; it could have been a customer’s perfume, but I noticed it especially when the manager stopped by).

We went through their entire lineup – they were pouring vintage Pelorus at no charge as well just because it was New Year’s Eve. I failed to take proper notes, but they go something like this: NV Pelorus sparkling wine is a lot of fun but not particularly serious; vintage Pelorus is bready and yeasty but with a surprising core of pure NZ fruit in there (one of my favorite wines); sauv blanc is what it is and amazingly good considering the huge volumes that are produced; the chardonnay is probably the best thing they’re doing right now, managing to keep it all in balance and properly French but without sacrificing the exuberance of NZ fruit, the gewuerztraminer is fine but nothing special, the pinot noir is an excellent example of Marlborough pinot, with a relatively smooth, sweet nose followed by a bit of earth and solid tannins on the finish. There was also a pinot gris that didn’t merit much attention (apparently pinot gris is the big thing for NZ consumers at the moment, so everyone’s making one) and the first of many nearly indisgtinguishable Marlborough rieslings (a little residual sugar, acidity that seemed a little week, some light honey and bread on the nose, but overall not too exciting).

Next up was Daniel le Brun’s company, No 1 Family Estate. We pulled up in front of the sign that said Open Wednesday through Sunday… and they weren’t. Nope, locked shut. WTF? Ah well. There was also a small sign that said you could taste some at Domaine Georges Michel, just across the road, so we popped in there. The tasting room staff was a strapping fellow with an outrageous moustache and a vaguely Dutch accent, which seemed odd; the wines were uniformly kind of odd, with a definite banana note to their reserve pinot noir. The sauvignon blanc was done in a gently wooded style that added some texture to the finish but otherwise not much; overall, I’m not sure what to say about the wines other than they’re somewhat amateurish – and very fairly priced for what they are, so I give the place a thumbs up. They do a dessert wine fortified with marc that’s not bad, too.

Herzog is a small winery started by a Swiss winemaker who eventually emigrated to NZ to spend all of his time down there. I was highly skeptical of the operation – their Web site seemed a bit posh and the $195 tasting menu (with paired wines) at their restaurant seemed just a wee bit ridiculous given the location – but surprise, surprise, their wines (and their tasting room) really do bring the game you’d expect at that level of pretension, er, competence. All joking aside, their chardonnay was exceptionally lovely, managing to hit all the bases without any component dominating: nice, biscuity notes, rich mouthfeel, excellent finish, fresh pears and cashews, all that good stuff. Even their montepulciano came across as entirely appropriate for the site and very well considered. Yes, it costs $20 to taste all six of their wines – the highest tasting fee I saw today – but it was worth it, at least to me. Their fake Bordeaux blend was quite good as well, exhibiting somewhat greenish notes which (to me, at least) work exceptionally well with Merlot (cf. the bottle of Osoyoos Larose Julian and I shared last week). The pinot noir was also textbook for the region, with warm, somewhat simple fruit finishing in an earthy, firmly tannic fashion that is pleasing (if not perhaps as awesome as a Bannock Brae or Mt Difficulty wine).

Many years ago, I saw some bottles of Huia wine in San Francisco… and didn’t buy any if only because I thought the label looked naff. Stupid of me, really, especially after trying their wines today, helped out by the winery’s moggie hanging out in the corner of the tasting room. All of their wines were uniformly excellent; they do a sparkler that’s sat on lees for 5 years, giving it a very hard core, aged character that’s not unlike extended maturation wines from Argyle in Oregon (read: love it or hate it; it’s a distinctly savory effect that I very much like but may be a bit dead for most wine drinkers). Their gewurztraminer was one of the stars of the day: think tarry, peppery roses with green notes, a firm, dry finish and incredible mouthfeel. Their other whites seem to use the same trick: they have vineyards on both sides of the valley here, with cooler-climate fruit being used as well as warmer-climate fruit from the valley floor. Different soils, different everything, so when it’s all mixed together you get a great balance of different wines in the same glass. I could happily drink their chardonnay all night long, for sure. Big thumbs up to friendly, welcoming tasting room staff as well.

Nautilus Estate is one of those huge wineries I’ve seen at Tesco a hundred times and never thought to try; the wines they had were OK and would probably taste better labeled Tesco’s Finest. Still, their regular pinot was as good as any (even if their reserve tasted of horrible, bright raspberry lollies), staff were great, and their higher end chardonnay wasn’t bad. Nothing special, though, unless it’s on sale, in which case go for the pinot.

Te Whare Ra looked closed (I saw an ancient, dilapated sign but not an actual tasting room), so we slogged out to Clos Henri, where I paid five bucks to taste the worst wines of the day. Ugh. I had my hopes up, too – French winemaker making wines in New Zealand with an eye to terroir? Sounds good, right? No. Instead, you get a inane tasting room built in a church of sorts (watch out for the lectern, it’s in the way of the spitoon) staffed by an actual French person (a comely lass in her early 20s, ooh la la) who is not au courant with basic English vocabulary (words such as yeast and fault were not ones she had heard of). We tasted two sauv blancs and two pinots; the sauvingnons were tired and flabby with nothing much going for them… and the second of the two pinots smelled flat out faulty in a way I’m not good at describing. Basically, it smelled like it had a major refermentation problem, or a problem with yeast selection… or maybe even microbullage gone horribly wrong, but I couldn’t figure out what the hell was wrong with it. Given that staff couldn’t do anything other than smile and point at the display case with rocks in it (hey! look! terroir!), I wasn’t able to figure out what went wrong; then again, they’re possibly mistaking wine faults for terroir. Hey, it wouldn’t be the first time…

Spy Valley is a winery I’ve seen around a lot that I’ve also avoided because of the labels: they’re so awesomely, consistently well designed that I always assumed the wine must be crap. I mean, why else would you bother, right? Surprise, I’m wrong again. This was another high point of the day. It’s not a boutique winery – their stuff seems squarely aimed at the US $10 price point or thereabouts, or at your typical Tesco shopper – but what they do offer is a wide range of consistently stylish, well made wines. They are now producing a reserve range of wines called Envoy that’s aimed at the hospitality industry, but I think they’d be worth seeking out; the chardonnay was another fine example of everything in its right place and a definite match for the Herzog (at considerably less money). Their two stickies are also delicious – and the merlot was, I think, a real surprise and quite good. Of course, it probably won’t be good every year given the climate here, but at least that one vintage was good.

Seresin’s entrances are marked only by their trademark handprint on large slabs of rock, which is a nice touch, giving the place a real feel of exclusivity… that is completely dashed when you get to their tasting room, which is in a nondescript building that actually looked like a real, live winery… because it is. So: double bonus points for honesty and cleverness. Five bucks to taste here, absolutely worth it given the range of what was on offer. Wines generally very good, organic (and soon to be certified Biodynamic), all somewhat softer and mellower than the competition, with elegant labels. I would love to have tried their wooded sauv blanc but they’re down to 24 bottles left to sell and not pouring (which reminds me, Cloudy Bay sold out of theirs as well – hm, is this a new trend). They had lovely jars of honey for $21 available that still strikes me as the cooler winery tasting room trend; I’m not a fan of boutique olive oil for $30, but give me honey made in the vineyard from the local plants and I’ll buy it, especially if it’s all tarted up in French packaging. They were also super nice and gave us the $10 tasting fee back; $21 for fancypants honey and lots of wine tasting? Excellent value to say the least!

We were faint with hunger at this point in the day, so I suggested we head over to Montana/Brancott, figuring that even if the food wasn’t fabulous, at least it’d be a huge place so we wouldn’t have to wait long for our tucker. The food was in fact moderately fabulous; Dan had a lovely John Dory fillet that was perfectly done, but my Brancott Burger was crap (just too messed with; simple meat, bun, and cheese would have been fine but they added caramelized onions, some weird relish and mustard, and generally couldn’t leave well enough alone). Dan had a higher end Montana pinot with his that was OK but frankly not great (it might have been better served at a cooler temperature, but even so: why buy your pinot from McWine, Inc. when there are smaller wineries with good stuff at cheaper prices?).

Fed and definitely growing tired of tasting, I suggested two more wineries before calling it a day. Lawson’s Dry Hills was super fun, staffed by a wonderful woman who was really exuberant about their wines, again uniformly good and incredibly keenly priced (it’s amazing to find a winery charging the prices they do for such good wine). I was fond of their gewuerztraminer as ever, but the pinot struck me as the best deal of the day at around NZ$22 a bottle, which is I think unheard of for anything that good; it was yet another classic Marlborough wine, with straightforward red fruits followed by firm tannin and earth without being super complex – but when it tastes that good and costs so little, who’s to complain?

Finally, the good humored Wellingtonian tasting room staff at Villa Maria put up with us going through all of their range, including a few from outside the region. Hawke’s Bay syrah and merlot were both delicious and riper than any reds I remember from last visit to NZ eight years ago; they’re now doing a verdelho up by Auckland that had a very bitter (in a good way!) edge to it, and their local wines were, well, okay but nothing great. Hey, it’s another huge winery, so what did you expect? Their botrytised riesling is still however one of the greats, I think; we once drank a decade old bottle and it was truly spectacular.

Anyhow, that’s it from me for now: I’m off to put the 2004 Pelorus and Deutz Marlborough Cuv√©e NV in the fridge. It’ll be 2009 in just a few short hours – it’s time to celebrate and not think too much about what’s going to happen to the 10,000 hectares planted in New Zealand over the past few years (that’s an increase of 48% in just five years – who the heck is going to drink all that wine?) or anything depressing like that. ūüôā

Happy New Year! May your 2009 be happy, healthy, prosperous, and TCA free.

Offcuts: tasting Central Otago (2 of 2)

<< Back to part 1

A hop over to Cairnmuir Road and we were soon tasting more wines, this time at Akarua. Most unexpectedly, we were seriously impressed with the 2005 Chardonnay. Quite worked, it nonetheless has a spine-tingling thrust of acidity on the palate that props up all the elements and allows the various fruit, lees, oak and malo notes to shine. A steal at $NZ25. Both Pinots were also very impressive. The 2006 Gullies is balanced for easy drinking but possesses some sophistication. The 2006 Cadence is just a lovely wine, powerful without being cumbersome, very much of its region, unforced and elegant. It had me wishing for extra money in the bank or, at least, more time to sit and enjoy it. Again, reasonable prices.

It was a relief to visit Bannock Brae Estate after a string of larger operations, for it is determinedly boutique. Four wines, all made in a relatively idiosyncratic style, and a friendly labrador to greet you at cellar door (which doubles as the residence of the owners). All very down to earth. The wines themselves, made by Olssens, are excellent. The 2007 Goldfields Riesling is made in a dry style, fermented in old oak barrels with some lees stirring. The result is a crisp, minerally, fascinatingly textured wine of considerable interest. The two Pinots are interesting. The 2006 Goldfields, another second label wine, is more serious than some of its “drink now” brethren, showing less voluptuousness of fruit and a relatively savoury flavour profile. The 2006 Barrel Selection is quite striking, and different from any other Pinot tasted on the day. Chris quite rightly identified a Nebbiolo-like flavour profile that shows elements of tar and rose petals. It’s almost entirely savoury and finely textured in its presentation. A real “detail” wine and one that was purchased on the day.

Our last stop in the Bannockburn sub-region was Carrick. Although the cellar door was crowded, we quickly tasted the Pinot and found it perhaps a little lacking compared to some of the elegant and individual wines just sampled. Certainly well-made, though.

Driving as quickly as possible through Cromwell to its light commercial heart reveals (quite unexpectedly, given the landscape) more wineries, including Rockburn. I tasted the current release Rockburn Pinot recently on Full Pour and, whilst I found it a pleasant wine, in the context of the day’s tastings its overly sweet flavour profile was more evident and less attractive. In fact, the whole Rockburn range seemed to aim for sweetness of one or other sort, and left us underwhelmed. In particular, the second label Pinot was clumsily oaked (using oak chips) and quite inferior to several other second labels tasted on the day.

Happily, we drove the hundred metres or so to the Central Otago Wine Company, which has an array of wines that piqued our interest. The Central Otago Wine Company, or CowCo for short, is a contract winemaking facility that makes wine for a range of producers across most sub-regions of Central Otago. Consequently, it’s possible to taste your way across the region quite easily. First up for us was the 2007 Sleeping Dogs Chardonnay which, frankly, is superb. A powerful wine, quite worked with vanilla oak, caramel, assertive lemon-like fruit and tingly acid. We were all in agreement on this one. Other wines were tasted, including a range of Pinots the highlight of which for me was probably the 2006 De Vine Pinot Noir, a sappy, acid-driven wine that refreshed my palate after a long day’s tasting. Although there’s romance associated with small wineries that “do it all,” it’s also valuable to have a top contract winemaking service availiable to small growers, and from a consumer’s perspective, I love being able to taste different vineyards’ expressions through the lens of top quality, “hands off” winemaking.  A long chat with the helpful lady at cellar door ensued after tasting had ended, fuelled no doubt by the very generous pours. What a great experience.

Before leaving Cromwell behind, we swung by Wooing Tree for a swirl through the range. A fun producer, this one. The 2008 Blondie (a still Blanc de Noir) and 2008 ros√© are fun, fruity wines that don’t repell more contemplative tasting, though it should be said the entire range aims for hedonistic enjoyment more than anything else. The 2007 Beetle Juice Pinot Noir and 2007 Estate Pinot Noir are both luscious wines, fruit-driven in the most attractive manner. We nicknamed this producer Shagging Tree upon leaving, and with wines like these, why not? Totally seductive, and well priced too.

Our palates were a little tired at this stage, so we retired to the comfort and warmth of Amisfield. Though Amisfield is located close to Queenstown, most of its grapes are sourced from vineyards located in Cromwell. Quite a large range here, part of which we tasted with the assistance of refreshingly rambunctious cellar door staff. Whilst some of the wines were excellent, the main attraction for us here was dinner. Utterly unpretentious food with a focus on simple ingredients and flavours, excellent service and comfortable surrounds. It was a fabulous way to end the day.

——

A couple of reflections to close:

  • I’ve complained in the past about the price of good Central Otago Pinot Noir. No longer. Although there are many premium wines in the $NZ50+ price bracket, there’s now a large range of excellent wines in the $NZ20-40 range. CowCo on its own has several. If only more were exported to Australia.
  • We often enjoyed second label Pinot Noirs more than their premium counterparts. Whilst this may be due to a balance that favours immediate consumption, it also has something to do with the tendency in many more expensive wines to mask the essential, highly attractive regional fruit character with excess oak, acidity and extract. Why hide what makes the region’s Pinots so distinctive and tasty? Indeed, in my opinion the best premiums placed their complex, savoury and delicious fruit on centre stage.
  • On a more personal note, it really is excellent to taste with others, especially someone with a high level of vinous acuity like Chris. A pleasure from start to finish.

Offcuts: tasting Central Otago (1 of 2)

When one isn’t holidaying exclusively with wine in mind, it can be a challenge to balance the amount of time devoted to things vinous versus more generalised tourism, especially when one happens to pass through exciting wine regions. Chris and I have just finished travelling the southern-most tip of New Zealand’s South Island with our respective partners, and whilst a large amount of time was spent drinking, we limited our cellar door visits to a single, rather action-packed day in Central Otago. Here follows a brief summary (in two parts) of the day, with equally brief and, given the tasting format, somewhat rushed impressions. Unsurprisingly, our handwritten notes became less meaningful towards the end of the day.

After some uncharacteristically energetic heckling at the Kawarau Bridge bungy, we stopped at Peregrine right on opening hour (ten o’clock). It’s an impressive facility, with award-winning architecture and an abundance of landscaping. Looking at my notebook, I see scribbled in Dan’s handwriting: Julian needs to buy Dan a present.  A consistent, reasonably priced range of aromatic whites and Pinot Noirs. Standouts were the 2008 Pinot Gris, which is very flavoursome and not at all coarse, plus a correct and lightfooted 2008 Gew√ľrztraminer. We enjoyed all three levels of Pinot, though I found the premium quite closed. The standard Pinot less so, however the current release (2007) is very young and brings with its age a degree of awkwardness. For drinking now, the second tier 2007 Saddleback is all one could wish for. Attractively fruit-driven, light-ish in body and quite delicious.

On to Gibbston Valley Wines, about which I choose to be concise. Aside from a distractingly Frass Canyon-like vibe at cellar door, the wines were uneven and, at worst, quite unappealing. We tried some charming Pinots from older vintages, though, which were gently glowing and talc-like in aroma (or was it the scented soaps?). We had tasted the 2006 Pinot at some length earlier in the week and agreed it is a very well made, correct wine.

Chard Farm, by contrast, was the ideal cellar door experience. Anyone who has visited this winery knows the winding road one takes to get there, and our risk-taking was amply rewarded by friendly, enthusiastic cellar door staff and, more importantly, an excellent range of wines. Chris nominated this as his favourite cellar door experience of the day, and it would be hard to disagree. All the wines tasted were worthwhile, even a fun, one-off 2005 vintage sparkling that is a little sweet for my taste but still enjoyable. Going from notes kindly penned by Dan, we especially enjoyed the 2008 Pinot Gris, which is firmly structured and flavoursome, with an especially interesting, velvety texture. Also a highlight amongst the whites is the 2006 Gew√ľrztraminer, which for me was the best Gew√ľrztraminer of the day: aromatic, tight and curiously herb-driven.

Chard Farm does at least four Pinot Noirs, starting with the 2007 River Run label at the low end. Very easy drinking, fruity and well finished. A step up brings us to the 2007 Finla Mor, which, although drinking well now, is a bigger wine all over. There’s greater density of fruit and quite chewy tannins, yet it retains an essentially fruit-driven character that makes for straightforward enjoyment. Two single vineyard wines from the 2006 vintage, The Tiger and The Viper, both excellent, are subtly different too. I loved the savouriness of these wines, and in terms of premium Pinots, they seemed less overwrought than some others tasted on the day. We left with several bottles.

On to Mount Difficulty for a brief cellar door tasting and a not so brief lunch. I wasn’t terribly fussed with the whites here (although the ros√© was delicious). We had already done a detailed tasting of the 2007 Mount Difficulty Pinot by this stage in our travels. Initially, I found it quite acidic, though the quality of the fruit is evident immediately. Chris had less trouble with the structure and liked this wine from day one. We both agreed that, by day three, it had settled into a thing of luscious beauty, glowing with supple fruit. As an aside, you really can’t beat the view from this cellar door. Well worth a visit for that alone.

On to part 2 >>

Collector Reserve Shiraz 2006

It’s the longest day of the year, and Julian and I are enjoying a glass of this together in Dunedin, New Zealand for no reason other than, well, we wanted to.

I got a sniff of this and squealed “oh, FRUITY!” Of course, that was a gross oversimplification; after a few more minutes, it started heading down a more oaky, yet still hugely Australian path. Good stuff. Gorgeously mouth filling and fairly well oaked (and yet still within reason), this is an exuberantly huge Aussie red that somehow doesn’t strike me as particularly Canberra in any way. Of course, I only know from Lark Hill and Canberra – and maybe that Kamberra stuff, not sure if that was really Canberran – but whatevs, this is delicious.

And here’s the bit where I transcribe some Julian: Pain grill√©, he says, but I think he’s actually joking about one of last night’s wines.

Really dense red fruit, sort of clove-y, spicy oak. Kind of a slightly sappy edge to it as well, he thinks. So, in the mouth it’s quite bright and medium-bodied… structure seems quite acid-driven, fairly tannic here… he really likes the depth of the flavour profile. It’s not a huge flavour profile, but it has really nice depth and is sort of layered nicely. There’s also a really nice, sustained line through the after-palate, really consistent, quite a long wine as well, he thinks.

The awesome thing for me of course is watching Julian drink this – it’s always fun to watch someone caught up in the moment of enjoying something. And of course, it’s extra fun if you haven’t seen your mate in a few years.

That’s it for now, I’m off to finish the bottle while there’s still daylight (another thirty minutes or so, I’m guessing).

Te Mata Estate Elston Chardonnay 2007

One of New Zealand’s higher profile Chardonnays.

Rich aromas that include yellow peach, matchstick, vanilla, toasted nuts and more. There’s certainly a lot going on here. Despite the aroma profile, it’s a little reticent in terms of expressiveness. Not so on the palate, where an impressive intensity of flavour is present almost immediately. Masses of peach and nougat flood the mouth, helped by a relatively viscous mouthfeel and tingly, yet subservient, acid. This is much more forward than my recollection of the 2006, and really quite complex. It’s also pretty worked and this, as with most things vinous, will be a matter of taste. From a full mid palate, the wine moves through an equally flavoursome after palate, more acid driven here, and on to a finish that tapers quite elegantly. Perhaps a little blousy for me, but there’s no denying the power of this fruit, nor the complexity and (relative) balance achieved through winemaking.

A fabulous wine if you’re in the mood for full-on New World Chardonnay.

Te Mata Estate
Price: $NZ40
Closure: Diam
Date tasted: December 2008

Te Mata Estate Woodthorpe Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2008

I’ve occasionally written up Hawkes Bay Sauvignon Blanc wines on this site and have expressed some reservations about the style in light of its more famous cousin to the South. I’ve been waiting for a wine to change my mind and I may have found it in this Te Mata number.

Prickly, rich aromas of passionfruit with a bit of herbal astrigency. On its own terms, this is a very sniffable aroma, quite different from the Marlborough wines but no lesser for it. It’s a bright wine, but less aggressive in comparison and consequently more approachable. On entry, good impact both via structure and flavour intensity. There’s no shortage of fruit here, passionfruit jumping onto the tongue along with a nice line of fine acid and some other complexing flavours. Quite impressive. It reminds me a bit of Adelaide Hills Sauvignon Blanc in its clean, bright and fruit-driven flavour profile. Not as rich as some Hawkes Bay Sauvignon Blancs I’ve had, and I like this leaner profile, as it successfully avoids the laziness observed in some other wines. Not especially long.

Nice wine and, for me, a viable alternative to Marlborough.

Te Mata Estate
Price: $NZ20
Closure: Stelvin
Date tasted: December 2008

Mount Difficulty Roaring Meg Pinot Noir 2007

Mount Difficulty’s second label Pinot. I understand some Central Otago makers use fruit from a variety of regions for their second label wines but, according to the back label here, fruit is 100% Central Otago.

Bright aroma that shows a good whack of what I presume is stalk in addition to clean red fruit. The fruit doesn’t strike me as assertively “Central Otago” in character; it’s varietal but lacks the distinctive flavours I associate with Pinot from this region. Still, an attractive and fun aroma profile, albeit one that may not please those with an aversion to funky stalky notes.

In the mouth, very acid driven and in this respect a little coarse in mouthfeel. Bright, crunchy red fruits and more stalk. It’s dry in the mouth and, interestingly, although tannins are clearly an influence in this regard, they aren’t an obvious textural influence. Lots of flavour, impact and presence. It tapers on the after palate and finish, which are subdued in comparison to the entry and middle palate. I’ve heard Central Otago Pinot referred to as “tadpole” wines in structure, this being a good illustration. Very good value and an excellent, flavoursome wine that went very well with a lamb roast.

Mount Difficulty
Price: $NZ27
Closure: Stelvin
Date tasted: December 2008