Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2013

There are those, I suppose, who will continue to trash Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc because there are so many (figuratively) watered down examples of the style. But we don’t write off Australian Shiraz because of [yellow tail]; a style owes more to its best examples than to its mass-market derivatives. That’s self-evident, but I’m amazed how often many wine lovers use Oyster Bay and its ilk as a crowbar with which to trash a key member of wine’s stylistic lexicon.

Try this instead. As with the 2010 version previously reviewed on this site, this is a great example of the refinement, complexity and transparency a good Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc delivers. Firstly, it smells clearly of what it is. Ferns, capsicum, passionfruit, citrus; this is a catalogue of correctness and, more importantly, balances its aromas so that no one element dominates. It’s also a delicate aroma within its style, avoiding the shoutiness than can plague lesser examples.

In the mouth, textbook balance and structure. I particularly like the way the acid line is completely folded into the fabric of the wine — helped by some weight on the mid-palate — which means the wine is bright without any harshness. Flavours continue their delicate presentation and show really remarkable complexity. Again, I’m reminded of how Riesling can be when it’s young – so transparent, refined yet full of flavour. This is definitely a wine that rewards close tasting. A decent finish, all things considered.

Top wine.

Dog Point
Price: $A23
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Cambridge Road Martinborough Pinot Noir 2009

When I was in Central Otago recently, I was one of two Australians in the vintage crew, Jimi Lienert being the other. Jimi hails from the Barossa, where his family has a beautiful vineyard. Inevitably we got to tasting a bit while in New Zealand, and again when I passed through the Barossa Valley the other day. Despite growing up surrounded by, and helping to make, traditional Barossan styles, Jimi has a penchant for lighter, elegant wines. After vintage, he toured New Zealand and tasted as widely as possible; this is a bottle he found along the way that he shared with me.

I’m very glad he did, because it’s excellent. Something I’ve often enjoyed about Martinborough Pinots versus those from Central Otago is their shift in balance away from fullness of fruit towards fragrance, savouriness and structure. This is a good example of the style; aromatically it’s spiced and fresh, with berry-cherry compote, just a touch of stalk character (easily carried) and vanilla oak. Although the fruit is present and lush, it doesn’t push its way past the other elements, making this far from a fruit bomb style. With air, further complexities of curry leaf and musk, all aromatic and floral.

In the mouth, structure, depth of flavour, layers and length. There’s something quiet about this wine, though, like a really smart person who just makes enough of a contribution to the conversation. Despite that, its contributions have a tremendous impact, so this wine, although measured, makes itself known. Partly this is due to its acid structure, which drives flavour down the line quite firmly and gives it good length. Partly, it’s due to a complex flavour profile that makes one lean in to look more closely. It’s both sweet and savoury, umami-filled and delicious.

A whole lot of sophisticated, delicious Pinot.

Cambridge Road
Price: $NZ55
Closure: Cork
Source: Gift

Peregrine Pinot Noir 2009

I tasted this alongside a clutch of other Pinots, including some pretty smart Burgundies. It wasn’t the best wine in absolute terms, but it clearly highlighted why Central Otago Pinot is so attractive to so many drinkers.

Up-front aroma with an array of regional notes: dark fruits, wild herbs, spice, some oak. There’s a bit of development but it remains mostly primary. So much for what it smells of; what’s impressive here is its generosity and coherence. This is a big, bouncy Central Otago Pinot that has mellowed enough to have gained a fair bit of sophistication without losing an essentially plush character.

In the mouth, so very generous. Compared to a (rather older) Burgundy consumed at the same sitting, this is a model of relaxation. There’s structure here, but it’s subservient to a palate that focuses on fruit, spice and the sort of flow that meshes one delicious flavour against another, then another. Tertiary flavours add some complexity, and the wine is far from simplistic in its flavours. Yet none of this gets in the way of pure deliciousness.

There’s a lot of things this wine isn’t: intellectual, sub-regional (it’s a blend), or especially serious. But when it tastes this good, who cares?

Price: $NZ60
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Amisfield Pinot Noir 2009

The only recent vintage that rivals 2009 for excitement amongst Central Otago winemakers is 2012, and an unfortunate side effect of the present moment is a relative absence of both vintages as current releases. Mind you, I have been enjoying 2010s for their larger scale, and what I’ve seen of 2013 looks pretty smart too. However, 2009 remains a benchmark vintage and I’ve tried to locate what I can to taste. Amisfield is one of the few producers that still has a 2009 Pinot Noir in its range.

Although Amisfield’s flashy cellar door is just outside of Queenstown, the vineyard and winery are located in the Pisa subregion, just up the road from where I’ve been living the past month. It’s a curious landscape, the often snow-capped Pisa Ranges rising steeply in the background, several levels of topography stepping downwards from them, vines appearing as these terraces achieve a more arable altitude. It’s all quite unlikely, as most of Central Otago seems to be for grape growing.

Those used to fuller expressions of Central Otago Pinot, such as those from Bendigo, may be surprised at how fine-boned this is. The nose is expressive, showing regional herbs and spice alongside savoury red fruit. It’s not overwhemingly complex, but I welcome its savouriness and elegant scale. In the mouth, quite fleshy up front with free flowing fruit and and thread of spice that begins at the edges and works its way in. The middle palate keeps any tendencies towards flab in check as it tightens the wine’s line with acid and tannin. This remains quite structured and, while not especially fine in texture, is certainly silkier than the 2010 vintage I also tasted today. Decent, fruit-driven length.

I wish for a bit more complexity and refinement, but this is nonetheless a solid Central Otago Pinot that shows good sub-regionality.

Price: $NZ40
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail

Te Whare Ra Gewürztraminer 2009

Te Whare Ra draws on one of the older vineyards in Marlborough, some vines having been established in 1979 and the rest of the vineyard over the following two decades. To have a reputation for great Gewürztraminer isn’t perhaps an accolade sought after by many producers, but Te Whare Ra’s version is highly regarded, and this was my first taste of it.

Really gorgeous aromas, robust and spicy, fruit expressing in a tropical spectrum and showing good ripeness without tipping over into too much tinned lychee. It’s an immediately complex wine, which isn’t something I was expecting, although I wouldn’t describe it as especially elegant either. It’s too forthright and changeable to communicate any sense of poise. It also throws savoury, somewhat challenging aromas that are a nice counterpoint to the varietal perfume that initially dominates the aroma.

The palate shows more of these slightly unfriendly flavours, adding some shade to a flavour profile that is even more complex than the nose suggests. There’s a bit of sweetness on the palate that pumps up a core of fragrant fruit, all surrounded by spice and other more floral notes. This, like good perfume, moves past individual flavours drawn from nature into a more interesting realm of abstract notes and flavour accords. And always, it has a sharper edge that never quite yields to the prettiness evident throughout the rest of the wine. Mouthfeel starts slippery and progresses to a chalky, slightly grippy after palate, phenolics fine and without bitterness. Slight heat coasts over the finish.

This is a fascinating, delicious and challenging wine.

Te Whare Ra
Price: $N/A
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Gift

Waipara Hills Chardonnay 2011

What with all the Chardonnay play of late, it can be disconcerting to taste an example that isn’t trying to say something new (or old) and bold about how the varietal should taste.

This wine, at first, is self-effacing to the point of blandness. It’s not overtly worked, nor it is self-consciously lean. It’s not much of anything, really, until you realise that it just is, throwing straightforward fruit notes that are part citrus, part stonefruit. It’s totally varietal, if not terribly exuberant in its expression. There’s just a hint of winemaker input in a caramel edge that seems the only embellishment on what is otherwise a pure, fruit-driven style.

The palate maintains the simple purity shown on the nose. It is, again, all about fruit flavours — pineapple, nectarine, lemon. Quite simple and not massively intense, but pretty and unpretentious. Acid is firm and fresh, and the wine fans out softly through the finish in an attractive manner.

In the end, that this wine struck me because it does not sit at a stylistic extreme perhaps says more about me than the wine. It’s nice, though, to taste a straightforward Chardonnay now and then. A pretty antidote to all the fuss.

Waipara Hills
Price: $A22
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Mud House Pinot Noir 2010

Today sees me tasting Mud House’s standard Pinot, at $29 priced only slightly lower than the shimmeringly named Golden Terraces wine. Whatever the imperfections of the single vineyard bottling, it stands in proud stylistic contrast to this wine, which is a much more seductive, polished expression of Central Otago Pinot.

The nose here is much denser and darker in profile, hinting at the twiggy, herbal edges of the Golden Terraces but focusing more intently on luscious fruit. It’s immediately appealing for sure, and whether that appeal lasts is mostly a question of taste; I suspect many will find it lengthily engaging.The palate is full and chewy as expected after such a buxom nose. Entry flows smoothly, widening quickly and communicating generosity and luxe more than quirkiness or edge. Acid seems lower and tannins less prominently textural, all of which fits perfectly with the character of the fruit. The middle palate lifts with bright red fruit and a core of sweetness that anchors it firmly on the tongue. The effect reminds me of mainstream Barossa Shiraz, a style known for its broad appeal. The after palate is a bit more chiselled and lean, and the finish is decent.

I find it interesting — and laudable — that this is so different from the single vineyard wine. It’s a Pinot built for broad appeal, although personally I’d prefer to drink the Golden Terraces for its sharp distinctiveness.

Mud House
Price: $A29
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Mud House Golden Terraces Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010

I remember a most productive visit to the Central Otago Wine Company (a contract winemaking facility) in late 2008 which, because of its diverse production, clearly revealed sub-regional differences amongst Central Otago Pinots. I was interested to explore this further, but have since found myself too lazy to pursue it with any vigour. Nonetheless, that memory has stayed with me and, hence, I was excited to see this wine, whose fruit was sourced from a single vineyard in the Bendigo sub-region, just north of über dump Cromwell.

The nose is certainly Central Otago in character; what interests me about this wine, though, is its relatively subtle expression of the fundamentally powerful berry fruit that marks the region’s Pinots. Whilst fruit is at its core, the aroma profile draws in a range of dustier, more herbal nuances, and I like how these add texture and dimension to what might otherwise be a fat profile.

The palate begins promisingly, with a continuation of the aroma’s dusty spice and texture, expressed through an attack that bristles with acid. The middle palate, fully-fruited and quite generous, disappoints me a little because its fruit seems too sweet to sit easily against both the wine’s structure and its other flavours. It’s like a slightly too obvious boob job on an otherwise attractively imperfect figure, trying too hard to be something it’s not. Of course, others may disagree on this point, but for my taste I would have preferred a more confidently savoury expression of fruit. Moving past this, the after palate shows attractive, dusty tannins and a return to the dark savouriness of the aroma and entry. The finish is adequate in length and pleasingly mouthwatering in effect.

Does that flash of sweetness on the middle palate unbalance the wine? A little, perhaps, but it’s not distracting enough to rob me of the enjoyment of drinking an otherwise highly distinctive Central Otago Pinot.

Mud House
Price: $A36
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Waipara Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2010

I review a fair few Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs, even though it is often difficult to see new and interesting things in what can be a fairly homogenous style. One path to further interest is to head down the terroir route, seeking variety and insight through specialisation. Another, and this wine is an ideal exemplar of what I mean, is to look for the essence of the style in the most mainstream context.

The wine that originally got me hooked on the style, many years ago, was the standard Geisen, a humble drop by any measure. It was explosive, full of flavour and immersed in the utter vulgarity that is, in my view, an essential ingredient of good Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. We often celebrate delicacy and restraint in wine, but there’s a gaudy beauty in excess, and I believe we miss something if we choose not to engage these particular aesthetics.

To the wine at hand; what I like about this is that, without pretense, it exemplifies the drinkability and character of the style. It’s a great mainstream wine. The nose is tropical and heady, with passionfruit, some papaya, a bit of green. This isn’t the complex, edgy wine some producers are exploring in the region. But in its way, it is perfect, showing all that’s good about this varietal, including a degree of loucheness, without unattractive exaggeration or insulting timidity.

The palate is simply delicious, with well balanced acid supporting an array of simple but typical flavours. More passionfruit and lemon curd, tangy and moreish. The trick here is that it sidesteps the least attractive tendencies of the style: an excess of acid, too florid a flavour profile. The middle and after palates are of moderate intensity and good flow. The finish is short, as one expects, but clean, with a nice lift of grassy aromatics cleansing the palate.

A great, highly commercial example of why this is a classic wine style.

Waipara Hills
Price: $A21.90
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Sample

Peregrine Chardonnay 2009

Descriptors are unhelpful enough without having to endure the mangling to which we often subject them. The fruit analogues are one thing; “peach” is at least somewhat determinate; the stylistic descriptors are altogether more problematic, which is a shame, because they’re often the most telling words we use as wine writers. Describe a Chardonnay as tasting like grapefruit, and I sort of know what you mean. Describe it as elegant, however, and I’m much less confident I understand the wine’s style. Yet I reach for these stylistic descriptors often in my writing, because I feel they communicate much more of the experience of drinking a wine than fruit notes, or perhaps even structural descriptions.

Partly, the problem arises because we tend to use these descriptors interchangeably, or as euphemisms for one another. To describe a wine as elegant represents an enormous (positive) value judgement, but often it’s code for “lean,” which is, to me at least, less unequivocally good. Indeed, heavily worked styles can be elegant, and lean wines clumsy. Is elegant a worthless descriptor, then? Not at all, but something so abstract must be used with precision and perhaps even caution.

This wine is a case in point. It’s not a lean wine, nor is it nimble, or dainty, or even especially fine. It is, however, complex, worked, generous and, in its way, gaudily elegant. It’s Versace to Chablis’ Armani, a wine dripping with ornament, very much a more is more aesthetic. Yet this is somehow contained within a bright, firm-enough acid structure, so that it stops short of being overwhelming and remains simply a mouth full of pea

ch, butterscotch and herb flavour, slightly hot on the finish, lacking in intensity, making up for it with some fine detail and complexity. Peregrine
Price: $A35
Closure: Stelvin
Source: Retail