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Kiwis in America

Where the bloody hell are you?

It’s a line taken from a famous Australian tourism campaign. And at Vinexpo, I was wondering where the bloody hell all the Kiwis and Aussies were. Presumably they’ve vowed not to come within 100 miles of the Bordeaux fair after the 2003 debacle when the air conditioning broke down and the 2007 edition when South African exhibitors were left with no wine to pour after a shipment was stopped on the French-Belgian border..Conspiracy theories abound.

Their absence meant that they missed a fact-filled presentation from John Gillespie of the Wine Market Council and Danny Brager of analysts Nielsen on the state of play Stateside.

And things are looking good for New Zealand despite the continued strength of the New Zealand dollar against the Greenback.

In the year to May 25, 2013, imported wine sales were up just 1.3 percent by volume and 3.5 percent by value in the United States but sales of Kiwi wine in the U.S. were up 20 percent in volume and 18.5 percent in value. Argentina was the only country that came close to New Zealand’s impressive growth, Nielsen figures show.

In addition, New Zealand has the highest average price per bottle at $10.80 compared to an average of $6.89.

Poor old Australia saw volume and value fall in the last year and could only manage a miserly average price of $4.94.

I know which side of the Tasman Sea I’d rather be on as a wine producer.

The Wine Council also showed that New Zealand is sitting pretty with core wine drinkers: those who drink wine at least once a week and represent 93 percent of the wine consumed in the U.S.. 27 percent of core drinkers say they have bought New Zealand wine in the past three months. But there’s still room for growth: 86 percent said they had purchased Californian wine in the last three months, 57 percent had consumed Italian wine, 47 percent French and 42 percent Australian.

Interestingly, millennials and Gen Xers are more likely to purchase New Zealand wine so perhaps that’s a useful bit of info for marketing departments – don’t target the oldies!

While everyone’s talking about China being the golden ticket into Willy Wonka’s Wine Factory, the U.S. spends 14 billion on wine a year and is still the world’s largest consumer of wine.

Yes, there are a lot of non-drinkers in the United States but of the 228m adults in the U.S., there are still 100 million potential wine drinkers – that’s 25 times the New Zealand population! The message is clear: don’t forget the west in the rush to the east. They like New Zealand wine and they’re willing to splash out on a Kiwi cuvee.

Posted in - Blog Posts & Uncategorized on June 27th 2013 0 Comments

Record Gold Haul at IWC for Kiwis

New Zealand winemakers showed they make damn good wine at the 30th International Wine Challenge winning a record 38 gold medals

Thirteen of the golds went to Kiwi Pinot Noir.

Gold medal Pinot winners include two wines from the Waitaki Valley: the John Forrest Collection 2010 Pinot Noir and Ostler’s Caroline Pinot Noir 2010. As usual, Central Otago fared well with golds for Tarras Vineyards, Brennan Wines, Grasshopper Rock and Kingsmill. While Marlborough producers have admitted Pinot Noir is still a work in progress in the region, it still managed to take a few golds with its leading red variety.

Great value Sauvignon Blanc also scored very well at the IWC.  Winemakers Vidal produced a Gold medal White Label Series Sauvignon Blanc (2012) as did Villa Maria with their Single Vineyard Southern Clays 2012.  Both wines retail for less than ten pounds.

Lesser-known grape varieties are also faring well on the international show scene. Yealand Estates picked up a gold for its Grüner Veltliner 2012 while Stanley Estates produced a gold medal winning Albarino (2012) from its 0.5 hectare site in Marlborough’s Awatere Valley.

There were also wins for lesser-known producers, showing its not just the big guns who are making good wine.

Charles Metcalfe, co-chairman of the IWC, says: “The New Zealand gold medal wines at this year’s International Wine Challenge have been stunning.  We’ve come to expect excellent Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc from them, and as usual they have delivered, but their ability to cultivate foreign grapes shows their mastery of their craft.  These wines have been tasted against thousands of contenders so it is a tremendous achievement that will catapult their product to an international audience.”

New Zealand’s Gold Medal winning wines:
Blind River Sauvignon Blanc 2012
Brennan Pinot Noir 2010
B2 Pinot Noir 2011
Coney Pizzicato Pinot Noir 2012
Delegat Awatere Valley Marlborough Pinot Noir 2012
John Forrest Collection Brancott Pinot Noir 2010
John Forrest Collection Waitaki Valley Pinot Noir 2010
Framingham Sauvignon Blanc 2012
Grasshopper Rock Central Otago Pinot Noir 2011
Huntaway Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2012
Julicher Estate 99 Rows Pinot Noir 2010
Kingsmill Tippet’s Dam Pinot Noir 2011
Tohu Mugwi Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2011
Lawson’s Dry Hills Chardonnay 2009
Lawson’s Dry Hills Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2012
Lone Goat Canterbury Late Harvest Riesling 2007
The Kings Favour Sauvignon Blanc 2012
Matua Valley Single Vineyard Marlborough Chardonnay 2011
Mills Reef Elspeth Cabernet Merlot 2009
Mills Reef Elspeth Trust Vineyard Syrah 2011
Mission Estate Martinborough Pinot Noir 2012
Nautilus Estate Marlborough Chardonnay 2011
Ostler Caroline’s Pinot Noir 2010
Otu Sauvignon Blanc 2012
O:TU 102 Single Vineyard 2012
Church Road Reserve Chardonnay 2011
Saint Clair Pioneer Block 5 Bull Block Pinot Noir 2011
Waipara Springs Premo Pinot Noir 2010
Stanley Estate Albarino 2012
Tarras Vineyards the Canyon Pinot Noir 2009
Vidal Reserve Series Syrah 2010
Vidal White Label Series Sauvignon Blanc 2012
Villa Maria Private Bin Syrah 2010
Villa Maria Single Vineyard Southern Clays Sauvignon Blanc 2012
Mansion House Bay Vineyard Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2012

Posted in - Blog Posts & Uncategorized on May 14th 2013 0 Comments

The Best of NZ Chardonnay

The standard of New Zealand Chardonnay ought to be better.

After living in Middle Earth for more than three years, there are few Kiwi Chardonnays that have escaped my glass. Unfortunately, an astounding number have been about as inspiring as a day out with a librarian.

It’s sad but true that the vast majority of Kiwi Chardonnays have thus far failed to reach their potential. We have a cool, maritime climate with abundant sunshine. If Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir thrive here it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that Chardonnay should be right at home.

Why, then, are so many New Zealand Chardonnays soft, sweetly fruited, buttery as Lurpak (or Challenger for American readers), and overpowered by oak?

It could be suggested that the overpowering butter/milk flavor and textures are due to high malic acid levels found in New Zealand Chardonnay – a result of the cool climate.  Put the wine through the malolactic fermentation and the whopping malic acids are converted to a whole lot of lactic acid. The result? Butter, cream, and milky notes. The sweet fruit characters probably derive from the intense sunlight in New Zealand and the Mendoza clone isn’t probably helping matters.

Then again, perhaps this overt style isn’t anything to do with malic acid. There are plenty of malo-inducing bacteria that don’t produce diacetyl, which is responsible for the buttery character. Anna Flowerday of Te Whare Ra believes it’s also a stylistic choice that winemakers are taking. “There are people that do like lots of butter and the honking, big-everything kind of Chardonnay-style.”

But there are a handful of producers making some astonishingly good Chardonnays in New Zealand in a more reductive mould, which are hugely successful, proving that this non-aromatic varietal can excel here.

What are they doing that others are not? 

Many producers use whole bunch pressing in a bid to retain delicacy and keep the phenolic content low; wild fermentation in barrels and larger 500-liter puncheons are du-jour followed by time on lees in barrel. 

But these techniques are used by both those making the great Chardonnay and those that are distinctly average. What is it that truly sets them apart? The vineyard?

Or, is it a great winemaker? Chardonnay is seen as a winemaker’s grape – a blank canvas to stamp a signature upon. Is it surprising, therefore, that two of New Zealand’s Masters of Wine (Michael Brajkovich at Kumeu River and Alastair Maling at Villa Maria) consistently make some of the country’s best Chardonnays year after year, in regions that aren’t renowned for their greatness?

When New Zealand Chardonnay is good it’s great: pure, taut and fine. The best examples show off the country’s cool climate white stone fruit and citrus with a supporting cuddle from hazelnut-like oak. They have focus on the mid-palate, linearity and poise.

Unfortunately, too many distinctly average Chardonnays are made in New Zealand, which doesn’t do the producer nor the country any favours.

    The Top 5 Chardonnay producers in New Zealand (IMHO)

1. Kumeu River, Auckland
Okay, no surprises here but the Brajkovich family keep pulling it out of the bag year-in year-out in a region that fails to attain greatness otherwise. There are five Chardonnays in the range, starting from the its “village” chardonnay, which kicks the butt of other Kiwi Chardonnays at this price point. Its single vineyard wines, particularly Mate’s Vineyard – named after Michael Brajkovich’s late father – are superlative, and show that New Zealand can be taken as seriously as Burgundy in the Chardonnay stakes – now and again.
2. Villa Maria
They may be a rather large operation, producing some ordinary Chardonnays at its commercial tier but the Chardonnays from its Keltern and Ihumatao (good look pronouncing that one)  Vineyards consistently perform.
3. Pegasus Bay
Better known for its ass-kicking Riesling, this party-hard family-run business turns out complex Chardonnay from low yields with interesting aromatics and taut linear structure. Steer clear if you don’t like sulfides though. The wineries more ‘commercial’ brand Main Divide is pretty impressive at the price.
4. Black Estate
I think I may have a crush on this relative newcomer. Everything they have turns to gold at the moment: from their broody Omihi Pinot Noir and Beaujolais-like Netherwood rose to their Omihi Chardonnay. They can’t put a foot wrong at the moment. Keep your eyes –  and lips – on this Waipara outfit.
Owners Judy and Tim Finn have developed a reputation for classy Chardonnay –  and rightly so. They are the go-to winery in Nelson and their Chardonnays are finely woven and restrained.

Current Release Tasting Notes (for those of you that like reading this sort of thing)

2011 Black Estate Chardonnay, Waipara
Relatively aromatic for a non-aromatic varietal (!) Talcum powder, white flowers and white stoned fruit provide a rather Riesling-like aromatic profile.  There’s also a high level of sulfites – but in a good white Bordeaux struck match way.. Linear structure, taut, focused. Delicate on the mid palate and fine acidity belie its cool climate origins. Nutty oak and alcohol well integrated. 18.5/20

2008 Pegasus Bay Chardonnay, Waipara

Hugely powerful Chassagne-like style with superb concentration of fruit suggesting low yields. Intense aromatically lime toast-like reductive notes dominate at first giving way to white stone fruit and perfumed white talc notes. Structured and focused with a fine line of steely acidity on the finish. Punchy yet classy –  18.5/20

2011 Neudorf Chardonnay, Nelson
Fine and pure nose with lemon citrus, white peach and French oak derived subtle hazelnut-like nuances.  Delightful texture: delicate, taut and linear.  Tastes like a good Maconnais Chardonnay. 18/20

Posted in - Blog Posts & Uncategorized on May 8th 2013 0 Comments

Central Otago Gets It Right In 2010

I have to admit I have been questioning Central Otago’s credentials of late. I have been underwhelmed and overpowered by too many massive, alcoholic, oaky examples that are more like Barossa Shiraz than Pinot Noir.

Today my faith has been restored. The 2010 vintage is a cracker and subregion Gibbston has excelled.

Gibbston is the coolest subregion in Central and fruit often struggles to ripen. When the weather gods are being kind, it makes the best wines in the region, if not the country. “It was the best summer we have had in Central for a long time,” says Duncan Forsyth of Mount Edward. “We had four weeks in summer sitting outside then it cooled down towards the end of the season so you could pick it without having excess sugar. If you flower before Christmas you know you have a good chance and it flowered in early December so we could move away from that edge of ripe/unripe.”

Even in the warmer areas of Central Otago around the town of Cromwell and up into Alexandra, there’s a finesse throughout the wines. Perhaps it was the weather – or, is it a growing maturity in the region? There’s more experimentation with early picking, whole bunch fermentation and a move away from oak-fuelled wines.

Blair Walter, winemaker at Felton Road for the past 17 years, pilot and Messerschmitt driver (when it isn’t in pieces) explains: “We have been working on more finesse, early picking. We are blessed being established and having a reputation, which gives me the confidence to go and do what I want with the wines.” Today, the winery generally uses around 25% whole bunch in its fermentations and the wine stays on skins for around 21 days “which is critical to give velvety tannins,” he says.

There appears to be a changing mindset as the region matures and I hope it isn’t premature of me to say that this seems to be reflected in this vintage.

Forsyth believes things have changed. “You get so much natural big fruit which is a lovely thing for a lot of people and a lovely thing for consumers. It’s a nice place to be but as you grow up a bit, you don’t want to be there any longer. I think that the key producers have been finding out what it is to have restraint in the last few years.”

My Top 2010 Wines from Central Otago

2010 First Paddock by Two Paddocks (Gibbston)
Bloody hell New Zealand really can make make restrained and taut Pinot. Hooray. This is a triumph – pure and fragrant, tight and elegant. Restrained and taut – perhaps due to 50 percent whole bunch fermentation providing linearity and drive. Like your best knickers for a special occasion, it is both silky and delicate. The damson and especially black cherry aromas are quintessentially Central Otago. And it’s only 13% which means you can potentially drink more than two glasses – but no more, or you may lose your knickers. 19/20

2010 Rippon Estate Tinker’s Field
Fine and driven, or ‘compacted without the volume’ says producer Nick Mills. It has linearity, focus and admirable purity.  Texturally interesting with a fine chalk-like grained tannin – it’s like I’m licking stones. Brilliant. 19/20

2010 Felton Block 5 Pinot Noir

Okay it might seem a bit predictable but Felton Road really does know how to make Pinot. This is still relatively closed on the nose but there’s plenty of good stuff going on in the mouth. It is particularly elegant and delicate for Central Otago. 25% whole bunch provides a linear focused structure and more than 3 weeks on skins gives abundant,velvety, mouth-coating tannins, this has a long life ahead. 19/20

2010 Mount Edward Stevens Vineyard
If you can get your hands on one of the 42 cases produced, consider yourself darned lucky. At the risk of sounding sexist, this is a classy, feminine pinot noir, showing elegance and delicacy. The aromas are pure and focused, reminiscent of black cherry and damson with an attractive herbal lift.  The tannins are fine and the oak provides an appealing spice but fades into the background –  like it should always do.  18.5+/20

2010 Burn Cottage Pinot Noir
Another elegant little number. It is highly aromatic with red fruits and lifted florals on the nose.  Relatively light bodied for a Central Otago wine which is a nice change. But it’s the texture that really gets me: it is slightly chalky and has very fine, mouthcoating tannins. There’s plenty of tannin too which will give this vino longevity. Great drive across the palate and fresh acidity on the finish. 18.5/20

2010 Prophets Rock Pinot Noir Reserve
Fragrant and incredibly pure with with wild flowers, damson, orange peel and black cherry bopping you on the nose as soon as you stick your hooter in the glass. Full bodied yet manages to retain its elegance – which makes for an unusual combination. Texturally, it has abundant tannins and a very interesting chalky texture on the mid palate akin to soluble aspirin in water. And hooray for just 13.5% alcohol. 18.5/20

Posted in - Blog Posts & Uncategorized on January 30th 2013 0 Comments

Atheists & Bastards – Day 1 at Pinot 2013

It’s been three years in the making but the sun has finally decided to shine in New Zealand’s normally wet and windy capital Wellington. Oh, and it’s Pinot2013.

New Zealand is a small wine producer – it’s the world’s 17th largest wine producer – after Serbia of all places, and I can’t say I’ve been to many Serbian wine conferences. Smaller still, Pinot Noir represents just one-tenth of New Zealand’s production, and Sam Neill, of Alcatraz and Jurassic Park fame turned Central Otago winery owner put that into perspective. “We are here for 0.10176 of the world’s wine,” he noted.  Yet, the wine world’s glitterati including Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, Jeannie Cho Lee MW and Matt Kramer have turned up so it must be a worthy 0.10176.

Matt Kramer kicked things off with a cracking keynote speech entitled ‘Can Atheists Create Great Pinot Noir?’ I can’t say any more – you’ll have to wait to read all about it on’s news tomorrow.

Sam Neill followed that up with a comedy speech, scoring Kramer a harsh 84/100. Now he knows what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a sub-90 Wine Spectator score!

Having been told his job was to entertain us, Neill certainly did that, despite modestly claiming he was no entertainer. “Good God, have you seen any of my films? I don’t do entertaining. I am the sort of chap that gets cast as someone who’ll cheerfully cut off a woman’s finger with a blunt axe just to make a point. I’ve just finished working for the BBC – I was playing a psychotic cop from Belfast who tortures people for information. I’m not an entertainer!”

Nevertheless that didn’t stop him from giving us a comprehensive overview of how to use the word bastard, and there can’t be many times that has happened at a keynote speech at a wine conference. Apparently it can be used as a term of endearment in Australasia – although that’s news to me. Perhaps I have led a sheltered life. For example, “Jasper Morris, what a funny bastard he is,” said Neill. “Tim Atkin – what an excellent bastard he is,” he added.

But it turned out all this blaspheming was leading up to a point. “Vis-a-vis Burgundy, I see us as the bastards of Pinot Noir. As in good bastards as well as in the literal sense we are the bastards of Pinot Noir…We are the bastards of Pinot cos we are unwanted and unacknowledged.

“And like the best bastards anywhere, we don’t care. We take what we want from the old culture [Europe] and we discard what we see as obsolete and we are free to innovate. It’s good to be bastards. And it’s even better to be good bastards.”

So I’m surrounded by bastards. Good bastards it seems. All 0.10176 of them.




Posted in - Blog Posts & Uncategorized on January 28th 2013 0 Comments

What to Expect at Pinot2013

The wine world and his wife will descend on Wellington next week for the country’s three-yearly Pinot Noir love-in. It’s New Zealand’s chance to show what’s so great about the country’s most-planted red grape in its own backyard. This is the fourth time journalists, winemakers and pinot lovers have converged on the country’s windy capital for four days of fresh-idea-filled forums and after hour’s fun.

But what makes New Zealand Pinot Noir so interesting that it is worthy of a four-day conference? Well, when it’s good, it’s very very good – my hat goes off to wineries including Rippon Estate in Wanaka, and Martinborough producers Escarpment and Ata Rangi, that have consistently delivered Pinots the country can be proud of. But when it’s not good, New Zealand Pinot Noir is a dry red wine that is easy to drink but not something you’d want to go and champion as the country’s finest.

Since the first Pinot Noir conference in 2001, the country’s vines have had time to mature. Today, many of the country’s Pinot Noir vines are reaching a decent level of maturity and thus the fruit they are producing is getting better, and will continue to improve. There’s also better vine material, a better understanding of what works and where plus a greater understanding of how to treat this noble variety.

The country’s winemakers are also getting more mature in their attitudes towards Pinot Noir.  While the fruit-forward drink-me now Pinot Noirs have been commercially successful, they haven’t shown the elegance nor finesse that you find in the best Pinot Noir. But the country’s winemakers have been running trials and symposiums in a bid to refine the wines and it is an exciting time to be following their progress.

So, if you’re in Wellington between January 28 and 31, chances are you’ll see many of the country’s leading winemakers and a smattering of the world’s top wine journalists in Pinot-mode. More likely, they’ll be seen after hours in a bar around Cuba Street or Courtenay Place, drinking and dancing – some until dawn. My advice for those wishing to get to the end of the conference in one piece? Nothing good happens after midnight!

***Venue Change at Aromatics Symposium in Nelson***
Organisers of the Nelson International Aromatics Symposium 2013 say the event will go ahead next weekend in spite of yesterday’s devastating fire at the Moutere Hills Community Centre, where the event was to be held.

The Nelson Wineart event has been held at the Moutere Hills Community Centre since 2007.

Symposium Chairman Patrick Stowe, of Rimu Grove Winery, said the organising committee was devastated to hear the news of yesterday’s fire. Arrangements have been made to relocate the symposium to Seifried Estate’s Restaurant and Function Centre.

Posted in - Blog Posts & Uncategorized on January 22nd 2013 0 Comments

Waipara Pinot File

Take a bunch of Master of Wine students, add a week of seminars and then give them a quiz at the end. Inevitably, brain cells will be fried and confidence battered but they should be able to name the four major wine producing regions of New Zealand’s South Island, right?

Wrong! And this is the worry. It took yours truly, a New Zealand resident to remind everyone that Waipara/North Canterbury existed. Marlborough, Central Otago and Nelson were all ticked off without worry but the fourth region – what could it be?

If this is the state of play for Master of Wine students, who should have a mastery of wine general knowledge at their fingertips before even embarking upon the course, then where the hell is Waipara/North Canterbury for the rest of the wine drinking population? And herein lies the problem.

Which is a shame, because they make some pretty good booze. I’ve been impressed by the aromatic whites in the past – particularly the Rieslings (most notably Pegasus Bay) and even (God forbid) Pinot Gris.

With wine conference Pinot 2013 on the horizon, and a free day in earthquake-damaged Christchurch over the Christmas period, a quick trip up to Waipara, just an hour’s drive north seemed timely.

So, off I went up State Highway 1 – the country’s major road, which has just one lane for the majority of its length. Astounding but not altogether unsurprising when you consider there are just over 4 million people living in New Zealand.

Waipara might not be as well known as it might like to be but Pinot Noir lovers should be keeping a watchful eye on a number of its producers.

Waipara Pinot Noir has been characterized by “greater barnyard, herbal and violet aromas and in-mouth fruit density/concentration” in Elizabeth Tomasino’s thesis on New Zealand Pinot Noir, which is part of her doctorate at local university Lincoln.

To some extent that is true. Sitting half-way-ish between Marlborough and Central Otago, its Pinots have a density somewhere between a serious Marlborough Pinot and a butch Central Otago style. The herbal and violet character are certainly apparent throughout the wines of the region and there are a large number that are savoury.

But the picture isn’t that simple.

Waipara has three main soil types: Glasnevin gravels, Glenmark glacial clays and limestone-derived clays.

The gravels are free-draining, low-in-nutrient, bony soils in the southern part of the Waipara Valley. They could be compared to the gravels in Marlborough – both are former river beds. The Pinot styles from this area are lighter in style with juicy, fruit-forward appeal. There’s little structure, hardly any tannin and would be best served chilled a la Beaujolais. A couple of producers including Pegasus Bay and Bellbird Spring are making more serious styles but these soils just don’t give a burly structure.

The most exciting area in Waipara, in my opinion, seems to be in an area known as Omihi, north of the small town of Waipara. The vineyards are on slopes – which is relatively unusual for New Zealand –  facing north and north-west. The soils here are limestone-derived clays. You can see the white limestone outcrops at the top of the hills and these have eroded over time to produce clays. The higher you go up the hills, the greater the limestone content in your soil; further down the slopes, the clay content increases. These soils are giving a greater density, weight and savoury character to the producers’ wines, which you don’t find in the fruit grown on the gravels less than 10km away.

The Glenmark glacial clays around the township of Waipara – which you certainly couldn’t call glamorous – produce a style that is a halfway house between the Glasnevin gravels and limestone-derived clays of Omihi.

Picks of my regional tasting 27/12.

2010 Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir (Glasnevin gravels)
Fragrant feminine nose, herbal and violet character with a touch of pencil lead. Light bodied style with good fruit concentration, fine acidity and fine tannin providing some grip. Smoky oak supports the fruit. 17.5

2009 Mountford The Rise (Omihi)
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? 18

2010 Crater Rim Coronary Hill (Omihi)
Not a great gift for those with a dicky ticker but this Pinot certainly shows potential. Dense and brooding, savoury. Tightly wound at this stage and unwilling to give up its fruit easily. High level of fruit concentration with smoky oak supporting the whole. 18

-With thanks to Black Estate for hosting the tasting and the Waipara tiki-tour. Its 2010 Omihi Series Pinot Noir floats my boat too. Good stuff.


Posted in - Blog Posts & Uncategorized on January 6th 2013 0 Comments

The Year That Was 2012

Approaching 2013, it appears that December passed my blog by in a whirlwind of deaths and marriages, and rejected master of wine synopses in between a full-time job and Christmas shopping. I am called the queen of the thoughtful gift by my family but this year, I may have lost this title in the end-of-year hubbub.

It’s been a year of ups and downs but at the top of the ups is passing the Master of Wine tasting exam at the second go to add to my theory pass. After much whooping, jumping up and down and Champagne drinking, I realized that I had to think of a dissertation topic, which I had not given much thought to previously. Let’s face it, so few people pass the MW tasting exam I didn’t want to tempt fate by thinking ahead. Unfortunately, that’s landed me in a bit of bother. My first dissertation proposal that I sent in to the Master of Wine moderator was sent back telling me that my topic was basically a no-go.  20 hours of research down the drain.

This meant December was a mad rush to come up with plan B. I needed a new theme, many visits to the local library for research purposes, to speak to experts in the field and write up something worthy by the week before Christmas.  I am now waiting to find out if my new topic (which has to be handed in anonymously so I can’t tell you what it is) is going to satisfy the moderator. This means I can’t do anything over the Christmas period but wait, losing more vital weeks before handing it in in June. Perhaps I will have to submit in 2014, as the new title requires the work of a small army. No wonder so many people falter at the last hurdle.

Looking forward to the coming year, there’s Pinot 2013 in Wellington to look forward to. I’m on a panel along with Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, Tim Atkin MW and Matt Kramer, which means I’ll have to think of something intelligent to say. There’s hopefully a trip to Vinexpo planned in June and who knows, if I can get that dissertation in in time, there may be two letters after my name in September. And that, like tea and dunking biscuits, would be nice.

Posted in - Blog Posts & Uncategorized on December 30th 2012 0 Comments

New Zealand Wine in 2015

What shape and size will the New Zealand wine industry be in 2015? That’s the question the country’s wine body New Zealand Winegrowers has been asking.

The result is a new Vineyard Register, which shows that New Zealand’s wine regions now host 34,269 hectares of vines bearing fruit. To put that figure into context, neighbouring Australia’s surplus vineyard area in 2009 was about the same size as today’s New Zealand industry.

The 2012 vineyard figure is 669ha higher than the last register in 2009, which seems odd. Anyone who has toured the country’s wine regions in the past three years will know that planting has not been on anyone’s mind while the country tried to deal with the fallout caused by a record harvest in 2008, which took the industry by surprise. Winegrowers admits “that most of this [669ha] increase is related to underestimates within the 2009 survey rather than increased plantings in the intervening years.”

Indeed, wineries have been concentrating on opening new markets and increasing sales to deal with increased production rather than putting more plants in the ground. Philip Manson, New Zealand Winegrowers’ general manager for sustainability, explains: “Post-2008 vintage, there was a period that the sector’s supply of wine got ahead of their demand at the time. The focus of most of the sector since that time has been building markets, focusing on value growth. Our vintages subsequent to 2008 have allowed us in large measure to redress the supply demand imbalance, and we have grown markets significantly.”

It was bad news for grape growers, who struggled to find buyers for their fruit post-2008. But what a difference a harvest makes.

After a smaller than predicted 2012 vintage (-18%), the country has rapidly gone from oversupply to undersupply. There have been stories circulating that planting has started up again but we’ll have to wait until Winegrowers undertake a survey of the country’s nurseries in February to find out more about the level of new plantings. Nevertheless, the latest report finds that the industry’s producing vineyard will have increased by just 683ha by 2015.

All the data shows that bulk prices are rising and land transactions are on the rise as supply runs dry. A PWC report published this month stated “given the current supply shortage, wine companies will either seek to acquire more vineyards or enter into longer term supply arrangements to secure their fruit.” This is well illustrated by last week’s purchase of a 2000ha sheep and beef station in Marlborough by Brent Marris of Marisco Vineyards. In a press release, it claimed that its sales were growing at the equivalent of a massive 100ha a year and thus it intends to plant 100ha on the new property in 2013.

It is entrepreneurs like Marris, which continue to make Marlborough the dominant force in New Zealand’s wine industry. The country’s largest region currently accounts for 66 percent of the country’s vineyards. Its dominance is set to remain with 430ha of the estimated 683ha increase based in the Marlborough region. There will be smaller increases in Hawke’s Bay (+97ha), Canterbury (+89ha), Nelson (53ha)  and just a 5 hectare increase anticipated in Pinot Noir-producing Central Otago.

On the varietal side, the largest increases will be seen in Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir so don’t expect the pair’s dominance throughout the country to be challenged.

There’s been plenty of interest in ‘alternative’ varieties but from the new figures, they won’t attain any sort of critical mass in the near future. Albarino, for example, has been attracting lots of media interest but there are only 13ha across New Zealand. By 2015, there will still only be 23.8ha – it’s hardly going to be the new Sauvignon Blanc, which will cover more than 20,000ha. Similarly, the nation’s Gruner Veltliner plantings – that many journalists are wetting their pants about –  are set to increase by a less than impressive 5ha to 36ha, so don’t get too excited.

Thankfully, the Muller Thurgau plantings are going to dwindle but there are some other interesting varieties on the register that are worthy of being in an oddball section in Jancis Robinson’s new grape bible: Albany Surprise, Breidecker, Osteiner and Seibel all make an appearance.

Kolor, a teinturier (red fleshed variety) is also set for a marginal rise. It will be planted by Yealands Estate to add colour to Sauvignon Blanc. It has already released the first ‘Sauvignoir’ in the domestic market, using Kolor from Chile to bring the red hue to the wine.

But Sauvignoir isn’t going to transform the New Zealand wine industry. By 2015, the vineyard area is going to be slightly larger but the story remains much the same: Marlborough Savvy and Pinot Noir are here to stay.


Posted in - Blog Posts & Uncategorized on November 26th 2012 0 Comments

The Best of Gimblett Gravels

A tasting took place in Paris in 1976, pitting the wines of Bordeaux against California. We all now know it as the Judgment of Paris and the results made the wine world realize New World wines weren’t so bad after all.

Ever since the famed tasting, the Bordelais have been challenged by a swathe of New World producers, eager to gain the same prestige as the Napa Valley. In 2008, it was the turn of the Gimblett Gravels to take on Bordeaux at its own game.

The Hawke’s Bay region on New Zealand’s North Island made headlines for taking several high profile scalps.

The Gimblett Gravels is a 400-hectare section on a former river bed. Its stony soils perform the same job as the pudding stones of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, warming up quickly in the early spring, allowing an earlier budburst and thus longer growing season. They retain heat throughout the season, allowing the Cabernet to ripen in most years (although 2011 and 2012 could be pretty green after less than balmy summers).

A recent tasting at Auckland’s Stardome Observatory underlined that a handful of producers are worth seeking out for their Bordeaux blends, particularly Newton Forrest’s Cornerstone range, Sacred Hill’s flagship wines and Esk Valley Winemakers Reserve. Trinity Hill and Mills Reef are not far behind either.

Inevitably, other producers in the area haven’t quite reached the standard required to take on Bordeaux classed growths.

The major criticisms would include too much sweet fruit and too much oak – why some producers choose to use American oak on their Bordeaux blends, is beyond me. Bordeaux producers don’t use American oak for a reason. There’s also the age-old problem of the spoilage yeast brettanomyces, creating a shitty stink and drying out the palate.

Generally, the quality is good across the board but the top producers show that there is still room for vast improvement from many wineries.

Here are my top 5 picks from the black-teeth inducing tasting (all prices are in NZ dollars)

Newton Forrest Cornerstone 2009

65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25 % Malbec, 10% Merlot, 19 months in French oak
RPP $60
Tight and youthful with a long life ahead. This is a mid weight Cabernet, without the sweet fruit typically association with the new world. Black fruit with the characteristic herbal edge of Cabernet and a crunch note of graphite. Fine tannins, classy and elegant. 19/20

Esk Valley Winemakers Reserve Merlot Malbec Cabernet 2010

73% Merlot, 14% Malbec, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19 months in 65% new French oak
RRP $59.99
Rich black fruit and spice characters. Round abundant tannins, fresh acidity and long length combine to make a very classy wine 18.5/20

Sacred Hill Helmsman 2006
45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 18 months in new and 1 year-old French oak
This is New Zealand Cabernet for the Bordeaux lover who needs convincing that the New World can take on Bordeaux at their own game. It is starting to develop secondary characters including a meaty, savoury character (and, no, it’s not brett) with subtle tobacco and vanilla notes to boot. The taut structure and firm acidity is holding this wine together well. Drink now to 4 years. 18.5/20

Sacred Hill Helmsman 2010
45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 44% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc. 18 months in 40% new French oak.
The youthful 2010 example is equally impressive. Great purity of fruit, linear and taut with good mid palate weight and rich tannins. Intense cassis and herbal characteristics. There’s plenty of vanilla-like French oak on the nose and palate yet it’s not overpowering and will surely integrate as the 2006 shows. 19/20

Villa Maria Reserve Malbec 2009
100% Malbec, 20 months in 65% new French oak
Intense aromatics redolent of violets, black fruits and spice. It has great purity of fruit, is deliate on the mid plaate with round firm tannns and a fresh finish. It hides its 14% alcohol impeccably. 18/20

Posted in - Blog Posts & Uncategorized on November 3rd 2012 0 Comments