Chard Farm Swiftburn Sauvignon Blanc 2008

There seems to be two types of Sauvignon Blanc made by Central Otago producers: those using local grapes and those made from Marlborough fruit. This wine is the only regional blend I’ve tasted. I must admit, I wasn’t especially taken with this at cellar door, but the other half requested we purchase a bottle, and I’m nothing if not obliging when it comes to purchasing wine. Much to my wallet’s chagrin.

Interesting nose that shows some Marlborough influence in a whiff of capsicum, but this is predominantly a round, fruity aroma profile that is reminiscent of straight Central Otago Sauvignon Blanc. There are some smokey, mineral complexities too. Very pleasant. On the palate, acidity is present but relatively soft, avoiding the harshness that can sometimes mar this variety. Fruit flavours are as per the nose, with some green notes adding an edge to rounder tropical fruit (paw paw, passionfruit, etc). There’s an interesting transition on the after palate to phenolic textures and a herbal tang that remind me a little of some dry Rieslings. Pretty good finish. One might want a bit more intensity of fruit, but what’s there is balanced and tasty.

I’m glad I listened to my better half, as this is actually really quaffable. The regional blend works well and serves to add some verve to a fruit-driven Central Otago flavour profile. Nice wine, nice price.

Chard Farm
Price: $NZ21
Closure: Stelvin
Date tasted: January 2009

Cloudy Bay Pelorus 2004

Looks like I’m a day late to the party here, but what the heck: today’s my last day on the South Island before heading for home via Auckland and Nadi tomorrow.

Even in a dingy motel glass (not even a wine glass!), the bead is persistent and the wine’s making quite a noble effort at building up some resemblance of mousse. The aroma’s hard to pick out, but it seems to be largely of zwieback and Granny Smith apples. Fine and foamy in the mouth, the lush, ripe fruit, surprisingly more pinot than anything else, with hints of roses and wild strawberries, gives way enticingly slowly to a finely toasted end, tapering out into a beautiful finish like the light crust on just-baked bread.

To be honest, this wine is one of my favorite sparkling wines in the world; it walks the line very carefully and deliberately between a garish New World fruitfest and an Old World exercise in severe, elegant restraint. For my money, this is the best wine you can get from Marlborough.

Bonus points: I don’t know who designed the foil for this bottle, but it’s exceptionally easy to remove and just oozes sophistication and needless expense. I love it.

Cloudy Bay
Price: NZ $40.40 (cellar door)
Closure: Cork
Date tasted: January 2009

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.

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. 🙂

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 CuvĂ©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. 🙂

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

Stoneleigh Rapura Series Sauvignon Blanc 2008

Interesting wine, this one. To pontificate for a moment, the potential for obviousness with this style tends to produce a couple of extremes: wines that capitalise on the most outre aspects of the typical flavour profile, and wines that play down the astrigency and aromatic dimension to the point where they become almost apologetic for what they are. Of course, in most cases one seeks a happy medium, and I was happy to discover this wine falls at neither end of the spectrum.

A soft aroma profile that nonetheless shows a range of typical notes: grass, passionfruit and other slightly tropical delights. As a style, it definitely tends towards subtlety, perhaps even dilution, but compensation comes in the form of considerable complexity and delicacy. It’s a nice wine to smell. On the palate, if its tendency towards dilution is confirmed, so too is its complexity, impressive in the context of this style. Entry is driven more by structure than flavour, but this trend is reversed as the wine gains pace. More aromatic and slightly astringent tropical fruits cascade over the middle palate, generating some satisfaction. The after palate and finish gently stroke the palate, fairly subued.

I wonder if the lack of flavour intensity is a result of the vintage? In any case, a very drinkable wine that shows good complexity and well judged balance.

Price: $NZ24
Closure: Stelvin
Date tasted: December 2008

Vidal Sauvignon Blanc 2008

It’s fashionable to bash Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, but I confess I’m a fan. At their best, they represent the sort of flamboyant vulgarity that is its own reward. I think their style misleads some into thinking all examples are equivalent, but I’d suggest their outrĂ© character makes things like balance and scale more important than many other, perhaps more forgiving, wine styles. When Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc goes off the rails, it really shows.

All of which is a less than promising introduction to this wine, made by a Hawkes Bay winery from Marlborough fruit. From what I understand, 2008 wasn’t a spectacular year, many wines showing the challenges of the vintage. This is the first I’ve tried, and it’s not a disaster by any means, but it is firmly tilted towards the sort of herbal grassiness I associate more with Margaret River than Marlborough, and which I have trouble with in excessive quantities.

On the nose, typically forthright yet showing a strident grassiness that sits atop the aroma profile, dominating other notes of crisp passionfruit and gooseberry. This somehow makes it more astringent yet duller at the same time; not a great outcome. It says something for the resilience of this style that, despite the odd balance, this wine is still quite clearly a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. The palate shows a softer wine that, whist remaining shackled to grassy notes, also remains quite drinkable through clever winemaking. By tempering any excess of acidity, the winemakers have softened this wine’s inherently astringent flavour profile to the point where it goes down quite easily. It continues to lack substance in terms of fruit notes, but it’s crisp and clean and refreshing. One could do a lot worse.

As an aside, I must come up with some form of shorthand for “Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc,” as it’s quite cumbersome to type over and over again. Any suggestions?

Vidal Estate
Price: $NZ20
Closure: Stelvin
Date tasted: December 2008

Dog Point Pinot Noir 2006

I loved the 2005 vintage of this wine, and remember it as a generous, wonderfully regional Pinot of utmost deliciousness. Hence, great expectations for this wine.Somewhat hazy ruby colour. Intense, not-quite-funky aromas of sour red fruit and sweet spice (cinnamon/nutmeg, etc), perhaps some autumn leaf as well. There’s quite a lot going on in there, but it’s seductive, not intellectual. It’s also a bit reserved at this stage. An entry with impact, partly due to a flavour profile that registers as sweeter than the nose suggests. Acid moulds the wine’s flow quite assertively, and this creates some textual interest while adding a bright, edgy quality to the fruit flavour. A deeper, plummy note emerged as the wine sat in glass for a couple of hours. There’s a nice sense of widening as the palate progresses, and the finish shows excellent continuity, with ripe, slightly grainy tannins. Oak is notably well balanced.Compared to the rather lush 2005, this shows as a tighter, more controlled wine, perhaps needing some time to relax and unwind. For my taste, it’s just a tad brash for full satisfaction right now. One to revisit in a year or so, perhaps.Dog PointPrice: $A35Closure: CorkDate tasted: May 2008

Saddleback Pinot Noir 2005

Peregrine’s second label Pinot, composed of Central Otago and Marlborough fruit. I’ve noticed this blend of regions in a few Central Otago producers’ lesser wines. It’s an interesting mix in theory, with both regions having quite distinctive Pinot flavour profiles in their own right. Second tasting of this wine, with more positive results this time around.Initially stinky and somewhat unattractive, with stale spice notes dominating a nose of disjointed fruit flavours. After a few minutes, though, the wine is cleaner and more delicious. The Marlborough influence is evident, with a tamarillo-like note in amongst the more Central Otago cola and plum flavours. Good intensity and enough complexity to make it worth smelling repeatedly.Good, flavoursome entry that shows more bright, moderately sweet fruit flavour alongside slightly smokey, spice notes. Certainly prominent acidity, but not overwhelmingly so. Entry continues to a fruit-driven, medium bodied mid-palate of tasty tamarillo and red fruits. Moderate intensity of flavour, and although flavours are bright, they are also dense enough to be mouthfilling. Mouthfeel is quite velvety and sophisticated. The fruit intensity drops off rather precipitously through the after palate, and the finish is consequently a bit hollow.Perhaps not a wine for regional purists, as it’s neither here nor there when it comes to communicating a sense of place. If you can get past that, however, you’ll find a tasty wine of distinctive character and reasonable price. Try it with pork.PeregrinePrice: $NZ25Closure: StelvinDate tasted: May 2008