New Zealand Medal Makers
Thursday 24 May
Can Valerie Adams continue NZ's gold rush in London?
If the New Zealand Olympic team performs as well as its wine industry did at the 2012 International Wine Challenge (IWC), there will be plenty of happy Kiwis.
New Zealand wineries took 26 gold medals this year, an increase of almost 25% year on year, which placed New Zealand as the 6th most-awarded wine producing country in the world.
Trans-Tasman rival Australia won 69 golds but let’s remember how small New Zealand is - it has 37,000 hectares of vines in total while Australia has almost five times as many vineyards, covering 172,000 hectares.
Delegat’s Wine Estate and Mills Reef Winery led the way for New Zealand wineries each picking up two of the highly coveted gold medals. New Zealand wines were also awarded 100 silver medals and 166 bronze medals.
New Zealand wines were also rated as the ‘cleanest’ wines in the world – Kiwi entries had the lowest incidence of wine faults such as cork taint or oxidation compared with entries from 49 other countries. With more than nine out of ten bottles of New Zealand wine sealed under screwcap, the aluminium closure industry will surely be claiming victory over their natural cork rivals.
The 29th IWC saw 425 gold medals awarded (the highest gold medal tally in the history of the IWC) with winning wines selected from a record 50 countries. For the first time, there were entries from Colombia and Bosnia and Herzegovina with the latter awarded one silver and two bronze, establishing them as emerging contenders for quality wine production.
Here are some of the highlights from this year’s results:
- The top three gold medal-winning nations for 2012 are reigning champions France with 120, Australia 69 and Portugal 55
- France topped the medal board overall with a total of 1,136 medals, while Australia came second with 673 and Portugal third with 444
- There were entries from 50 countries
En Rama aims to pick sherry off the flor
Thursday 17 May
With the London International Wine fair fast approaching (again!) there’s a host of new launches filing up my inbox.
Another vintage of Pinot Grigio doesn’t cut the mustard but the re-appearance of La Gitana Manzanilla En Rama gets my taste buds working.
La Gitana En Rama was first released in November 2011 and quickly sold out. In a stroke of luck (right time, right place), I managed to get my greasy hands on a single bottle courtesy of a sherry bar. It will, no doubt, be as hot as a stolen car again this time around.
En Rama is pure, unadulterated Manzanilla. It is only possible to bottle this special batch twice a year – in spring and autumn - when the flor is at its thickest. It is unfined and unfiltered unlike most sherries produced commercially and thus is more unstable but, in my experience, more interesting. Javier Hidalgo explains: “It is precisely in those two moments of the year when we bottle en rama, to catch the maximum intensity of flor aromas and taste.”
Historically, transport facilities made it far more complicated to ship wines drawn directly from the cask due to the exposure to extreme temperatures in transit. With improvements in transportation , the bodega has been working to preserve this style of manzanilla in its natural form, as you would taste in the bodegas in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. With no stabilisation, it should be drunk within three months of bottling.
Javier Hidalgo adds: “For me en rama supposes the experience of eating the plum I grab from the tree it the countryside, with the sun shining and the birds singing around me. Straight from the branch (“rama” in Spanish) to the mouth. Certainly different from the conventionally bottled wine.”
It is hoped the new en rama sherries from both La Gitana and Tio Pepe will give the sherry industry a much needed boost.
The effects of global warming in Champagne
Wednesday 2 May
Global warming doubters should head to Champagne where climate change is undoubtedly occurring. Following one of the earliest harvests on record in 2011, the Champagne region was hit hard by frost in April.
Speaking to Michel Drappier this week, the “manager, secretary, and babysitter” of Champagne Drappier, he admitted the region had been “badly hit”.
In terms of volume reduction, he said: “It could be 10, 15, 20 or 25 percent but we don’t know yet because we had a hot period in March and had an early budburst. The frost arrived and since then growth has been very slow because it has been cold.” However, Drappier isn’t worried about supplies running short - there is plenty of reserve wine in the region’s cellars.
But quality is a concern: “When you have frost the second budburst is not of the same quality. Vineyards are weaker against mildews and botrytis. When Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are badly frosted the shoots are more fragile. They are not as well fed by the sap, so that may affect the quality of the grape to the end.”
Looking back to the 2011 vintage, one of the earliest on record, it raises further questions about the consequences of global warming. “The climate has changed for sure because on average harvest would be September 22, but now the average is September 10,” he notes.
The Champagne house harvested its first crop in on August 21 1821, so early vintages are not totally unknown but at that time, yields were much lower, so the fruit ripened more quickly.
In terms of grape analysis, acids have fallen in recent years, according to Drappier but pH, which is crucial for wine stability, has altered little due to earlier harvest dates. And when it comes to wine’s sweetness level, the extra ripeness of the fruit means the sugar content in the liqueur de dosage is falling. (Consumers also seem to be moving toward Champagnes with a lower dosage.)
What’s more, climate change could alter the mix of varieties in the region. Currently Pinot Noir is the most-planted variety (39% of plantings), followed by Pinot Meunier (33%) and Chardonnay (28%). Yet, a little-planted variety, Arbanne, which along with Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris make up 0.3% of total plantings in the Champagne region, may have a greater role to play in the future. Arbanne is a late ripening variety with high acidity and plenty of elegance, according to Drappier. I checked Oz Clarke’s Grapes and Wines, and the Oxford Companion to find out more about this little known variety but it didn’t get a mention! We’ll have to take Michel’s word for its characteristics.
Petit Meslier, another marginal variety, which is most commonly found in the Marne valley is also ripening more reliable too so it may have a greater role to play in the future. Both varieties are included in Drappier’s Blanc de Quatre Blancs. Unfortunately, it’s sold out in New Zealand so I’m going to have to wait for my first taste until the next shipment arrives.