The Gimblett Gravels might not be the most dramatic stretch of vineyard but looks aren’t everything: on this former river bed, the seemingly poor, stony land didn’t seem fit to grow anything. Occupied by a quarrying firm, a dragstrip and a rifle range, the Gimblett Road welcomed its first wine grower in 1981 who thought …
If you want a spectacular view to accompany your glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, head to New Zealand house in London. Sitting between Trafalgar Square and Pall Mall, the building is a bit of an architectural eyesore but jump in the lift to the 17th floor, walk up a narrow set of stairs and the panorama …
The wines of Sherry and Jura are known for developing under flor – a film-like yeast that protects the wine from oxygen – and now a New Zealand producer is set to launch its first wine aged under flor.
Bellbird Spring in Waipara, an hour’s drive north of Christchurch, has been allowing a Pinot Gris-based …
Angry New Zealand vintners dumped tens of tonnes of rotting grapes at the entrance of Air New Zealand’s Auckland headquarters today* after the national carrier announced it would be serving just one supplier’s wine on its flights, leaving nearly 700 other wineries wondering what the hell they’d done wrong.
While the airline champions its “ …
Wine and urine – not a popular blend today. But in the Middle Ages, the two were often mixed to find out whether a woman was pregnant. It is said the colour change was the key to discovering if you were with child.
However, wine and pregnancy are viewed as less compatible today. Now 33 weeks …
While it rained on most New Zealanders’ barbies in the summer of 2012, the sun had got his hat on in Central Otago.
“It was a lovely season,” says Nadine Cross, winemaker at Peregrine. “We were sitting quiet while the rest of the country was talking about the horrendous summer they were having…not trying to be too smug.”
There weren’t any major incidences to speak of during the season. While there were rain “events” towards the end of the season, with double the annual rainfall recorded in February (71mm) and March (84mm), the producers claim that was a welcome relief for the vines, preventing water stress.
Blair Walter, Felton Road winemaker, explained: “The rain made for very healthy canopies that relieved the stress on the vines. That’s a big factor in Central Otago, we can get a lot of stress from the very hot, dry February/March and very very low humidity, which is not great for plants. They don’t enjoy that.”
If Central Otago does get rain, it doesn’t stay wet for long either: “Even when we do get 20mm of rain and it’s been wet for half a day, you can almost guarantee it’s going to be windy and sunny and things dry out extremely quickly. The 10 days I was in France in June it was overcast and cloudy. I only saw blue sky for a couple of hours and it just reminded me the stability of continental weather systems as opposed to our island weather system,” he added.
In a blind pre-release tasting of the 2012 Pinots, some pretty impressive wines emerged. I am a big fan of the 2010 vintage but 2012 could give it a run for its money.
The best show a combination of ripe fruit, depth on the mid-palate, a fresh line of acidity and abundant mouthcoating tannin. There’s harmony in this vintage when it comes to both alcohol levels and, oak management, which is well handled in 80+ percent of cases.
In general, the 2012s are much more enjoyable than the 2011s, at this early stage. The 2011s show firm rather than fresh acidity and are looking relatively austere. They aren’t particularly joyful whereas there is plenty of appeal in the 12s already; the 12s have got the legs to age too with plenty of concentration, an abundance of tannin, plus fresh acidity.
Inevitably, quality varies across the region with the less successful examples showing a lack of concentration and relatively simple fruit profile, which may be a sign of younger vines. There were also a few disappointments from some of the most highly-regarded producers in the region, whose wines didn’t show as well as expected but perhaps that will change with time in bottle. Overall a 4 ½ out of 5 vintage.
Here are my top 5 wines of the vintage, as tasted in September 2013. All scores will be published on my new website, which should go live next month, IT depending…
My Top 5
2012 Valli Bannockburn Vineyard
I love the smell of an unfined and unfiltered wine, it’s slightly dirty yet unadulterated. This is a very elegant wine; if it were a dance it would be the American smooth. Pure fruit, still closed at the moment but showing total harmony. Great depth of fruit: it manages complexity and density with a lightness and delicacy. Fresh acidity provides dartlike precision. My wine of the vintage. 19/20 or 94/100
2012 Felton Road Block 5
Plum skin and black cherry, firm acidity, fine line, suave but expansive pinot with mouthcoating tannins, concentrated without weight. Mouthwatering. Poised
18.2/20 or 91/100
2012 Mount Difficulty
Complex nose showing plum skin, florals, slight aspirin character, sweet fruit on entry. Light bodied, delicate yet mouthfilling with fresh acidity. An attractive and feminine pinot. Fine line.18/20 or 90/100
2012 Valli Gibbston Vineyard
Vibrant purple appearance. Both struck match and toasty oak dominate the nose at the moment but the class of the wine shows through: pure, focussed and relatively delicate on the mid palate. Attractive structure and high concentration with lovely flow; plum and clove spice linger long on the palate. A great wine but it just needs to get over its reductive edge. 18/20 or 90/100
2012 Pisa Range Black Poplar Block
A tad meaty – slightly reductive at this stage and not giving up much on the nose. On the palate, it has depth and focus. Quite a mysterious little number, there’s clearly plenty of fruit lurking in the glass but it’s a tightly-coiled spring right now. Very pure and silken texture. fine mouthcoating tannins have an almost chalky grain to them. A little warm on the finish but the structure shows low yields with good concentration and long length. Like to see this again late in its life. 17.7/20 or 88/100
They give their vines a brazilian wax and in the winery, Dry River is no less radical.
Throw away your winemaking books when you enter their cellar.
Okay, so there’s a prefermentation cold soak, which is fairly standard practice for many Pinot Noir producers, in a bid to increase colour intensity and aromatic lift, but that’s where anything standard finishes.
Pinot tends to be in contact with skins (maceration) for 21-28 days in most wineries. Not at Dry River: it’s game over for the skins after 12-14 days. Post fermentation maceration? No, sir-ee. Ferment to dryness and press off straight away.
“We’d rather not have long fermentation on reds for the extraction of tannins from seeds and stems because those are not the phenolics that we are after. We are trying to extract real gentle phenolics that have developed in the vineyard,” explains Dutch winemaker, Wilco Lam.
Once the fermentation is done and dusted, is it time for barrel fermentation? Yes and no. First there’s malolactic fermentation in tank rather than in barrel.
Safely through malo and in barrel, most winemakers would rack their wines (transfer from one barrel to another as part of the clarification process, which also provides aeration). No thanks, no racking here. Lazy, I joke. And doesn’t the wine get a sulfide-induced stink, if there’s no exposure to oxygen through racking?
No, says Dutch winemaker Wilco Lam. “Because we allow malolactic fermentation in tank, when you transfer them to barrel, the lees content is a lot lower than pressing and going to barrel with quite heavy lees [lees are reductive]. There’s a lot less SO2 production happening there in barrel.”
But surely they get a bit smelly? “Sometimes – but we won’t find out until we take it out of barrel. Yes, we’ll follow them but we’d rather deal with it afterwards than deal with it beforehand. If they need a little copper [sulphate] going to barrel [to remove the sulphide] we will.”
Okay, I see their reasoning but why don’t you rack? It’s about bottle maturation, apparently. “We exclude oxygen at any stage for all varieties and we believe that will give us extra longevity in the bottle, avoiding any oxidation possible.”
Extra longevity? Most Kiwi Pinot is purchased and consumed before the wine is out of nappies. Luckily for Dry River, they have an almost cult (sorry I hate the c-word too) following in New Zealand. They have educated their mail-order only customers that these wines are produced for the long haul and shouldn’t be opened for at least five to 10 years. If only we could spread the ‘you don’t have to drink your wine immediately’ word further afield, drinkers would see another side to NZ Pinot.
2011 Dry River Pinot Noir
Forget sweetly-fruited pinot noir, this Kiwi pinot is all about structure. Currently closed on the nose. Delicate on the mid-palate, almost ethereal, showing density of fruit without weight. Subtle spice and clove oak spice on the long finish. 90/100
2003 Dry River Pinot Noir
Now starting to develop but it still has plenty of time on its hands. It is showing some secondary mushroom-like character, broody spice and smoked meat. High level of concentration from very low crops yet delicate in the mouth, finishing with great drive and linearity, likely due to whole bunch fermentation. Long length. 93/100
1992 Dry River Riesling
Remarkably fresh for a wine that’s celebrating its 21st birthday. Bouquet is developed but not fully mature,: expect lime and peach fruit, honeyed notes and mandarin. Beautifully balanced, linear and fresh. 92/100
In Martinborough, a winery has been giving its vines a pretty thorough leaf strip since day one. Now it’s upped the vineyard maintenance, going for the full Brazilian.
You won’t find a leaf shading the swelling fruit at Dry River and the decision to go the whole hog is getting earlier and earlier in the season.
The already-extreme leaf plucking regime at Dry River has been “radicalised even more” recently.
The vines now get denuded during flowering.
Like your first brazilian, there’s definitely a bit of fear involved in this method. “Yes people are very scared for complete leaf removal and the effects of it,” says Wilco Lam, winemaker at Dry River. “For us we’ve been doing the trials for many many many years and every time our preference is for the early early leaf plucking. It’s all to do with tannins.”
Following both chemical and sensory evaluation, Wilco explains that they get both higher and riper phenolics than vines that have more leaves shading their fruit. “It’s about increased anthocyanins and better assimilation of the phenolics. My philosophy is to increase the bank account of these phenolics and have them really high. Pick them when they are at their most transparent and ripe state but don’t hang fruit for a long time either.” Since most of their Pinots come in at 12.5 or 13% alcohol, it seems that phenolic ripeness doesn’t have to equal high alcohol.
So why aren’t more vineyards getting a brazilian?
“I don’t know. That’s what we are wondering too,” admits Wilco. “Dry River was radical from the start and that raised a few eyebrows. Now leaf plucking is common in New Zealand but only for dappled light not for full-on sun.”
Perhaps it’s the fact that there’s a hole in the ozone layer above New Zealand, which means you get burned to a crisp in minutes. But Wilco claims the grapes develop their own Ambre Solaire if you denude them of all their shade early on. “The more you leaf pluck, the more the vine becomes resistant to sunburn as well.”
And they’re not content with what nature has given them in the warmth department: there’s white reflective mulch under the red vines for the whole growing season, which reflects light and aids tannin ripeness. Why? “We can’t rely on heat in Martinborough. In New Zealand, most vines are planted high off the ground so we can’t rely on any UBV to do the work for us hence the white mulch.”
Bonkers? “Almost everything we do goes against logic,” laughs Wilco, including some of their winemaking methods, which I’ll cover in the next blog.
When should you release your wine?
It’s a predicament most wineries face and is a trade off between what’s good for the wine and what’s good for the winery’s accounts.
The issue was evident at a recent tasting of the 2011 Pinot Noirs from the Wairarapa. The current release that Martinborough producers are pouring is tight with high acidity and fairly sturdy tannins. This combination means they’re pretty hard to taste, and they certainly shouldn’t be drunk yet even though it is the current vintage hitting the shelves.
At a regional seminar, New Zealand’s only Master Sommelier Cameron Douglas, said: “If I had a magic wand I would say don’t release these wines for another 18 months. They are taut and poised. It’s almost like an early release look at them.”
But this is what consumers will soon be pouring and it doesn’t do the region any favours. “They are released too early and people are selling them to be drunk and that would be a disappointment for them,” noted Wilco Lam of Dry River. While Dry River has released its 2011 Pinot Noir, it has with an almost-cult following, and it’s likely that most of their mail-order customers will have the good sense to put it in the cellar. If only all producers had that luxury.
The season started well with bunch set that was “too good” according to Ata Rangi, which meant extensive crop thinning was necessary if producers wanted to ensure the fruit on the vine ripened. Larry McKenna of Escarpment noted: “Up to 30% was dropped at veraison which is a very hard thing to witness.”
The start of the summer was warm, putting water stress on the vines, leading to small berries on bunches. February and March cooled off with what Craggy Range called “small pesky rain events” during the harvest period, which meant picking dates were crucial.
While some have managed to make successful wines that will come round in a few years, it’s certainly not the region’s greatest vintage with a few too many showing a definite underripe herbal character and startling acidity.
My picks of the vintage:
2011 Dry River Pinot Noir
This wine is not about New World fruit sweetness but structure. Currently closed on the nose and palate, it possesses density without weight – great concentration yet remaining delicate on the mid palate. Firm acidity and around 30 percent whole bunch provides linearity and abundant tannin for Pinot Noir. Refreshingly low in alcohol at 13%. Long finish with subtle spice and clove. Don’t even think about opening it for the next five years – it’s tight as a pair of skinny jeans after a big meal. 18/20 or 90/100
2011 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir
Fairly closed on the nose but there’s a pretty wine lurking beneath with cranberry, plum and a floral note, if you really work at it. Vibrant wine with aspirin-like textural component (the winemaker Helen Masters suggests it could come from the skin and seeds – or the soils). Well balanced with firm acidity. Needs time. 17.5/20 88/90
2011 Vynfields Pinot Noir
A more open and voluptuous example of the vintage than both Ata Rangi and Dry River. Lifted floral and violets on the nose, likely from cold soak. Supply and fleshy on the mid palate (100% destemmed) with firm acidity providing good drive. 17.5/20 87/100
All samples tasted September 2013.
Mountford, one of the top dozenish pinot noir producers in New Zealand, has been left winemaker-less.
The Waipara winery’s Taiwanese-born blind winemaker C.P.Lin (and his labrador Winston), who has been at the estate since 1997 has left amid curious circumstances. Most of the wine world learned the news on twitter, as did his employers, they say.
“This has been terrible news and we are very sad to hear that CP has announced this in such a way, he has not personally informed us of his decision, we have heard somewhat like you,” said owner Kathryn Ryan in an email.
A source that wished to remain unnamed claimed that Lin was unhappy with the direction of the business. Decanter.com said that Lin had criticized the owners for “focusing 100% on profit’ to the detriment of wine quality, which Ryan rejects.
“In regards to a plan, it remains the same – our focus is on making premiums wines from our vineyards – which continue to be well managed. As to another consulting winemaker – we will address this on our return.” The estate is also without an assistant winemaker with the position advertised on the site winejobsonline. Applications close on August 9.
Lin was first offered the job after telling the Waipara estate’s founders their wines were “crap”. Since then, its single vineyard pinots have become highly regarded, as per my tasting in Waipara in December 2012.
2009 Mountford The Rise
Perfumed: plum, violets and red cherry with a hint of VA – in a good way. Shows good mid palate weight and a very fine line of acidity. Taut mineral finish – could it be the limestone in the soils? 18/20
2009 Mountford The Gradient
Very pure fruit. Very interesting nose: lots of complex characters from plum, smoke and herbal notes. Complexity follows in the mouth, silky texture, high level of concentration, oak well integrated. Long length. Has potential for the longer term (Unfined and unfiltered.) 17.5 +/20