Why does Waitaki deserve its win?
Monday 25 June
The Waitaki Valley in New Zealand’s North Otago region has come of age this week: a Pinot Noir from this marginal region has been named the International Wine Challenge’s best Kiwi Pinot.
The region’s first vineyard, Doctor’s Creek, was planted in 2001 on limestone soils not dissimilar to Burgundy, and the first wines showed a mineral streak that attracted international praise. Since the initial rave reviews, many vineyards have sprouted up on lesser sites funded by absentee landlords, which don’t show that lovingly-nurtured mineral streak, but all the wines have a leanness and restraint that make this region stand out.
Yet it is still a small area and is often overshadowed by Pinot-producing Martinborough and Central Otago. But this week, it is having its time in the sun: John Forrest’s 2009 Waitaki Valley Pinot Noir took the title of best New Zealand Pinot Noir.
It’s affirmation that the region’s pioneers needed. Most New Zealand wine producers wouldn’t plant in the Waitaki Valley if you paid them. The region is nail-bitingly marginal and many of the country’s most successful companies have decided the risks are too high. But others who are braver, or possibly slightly unhinged, have put their money and love into this remote area of the south island.
As I wrote in the New Zealand Herald last year, the region excels at both aromatic whites, which include Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer, as well as reds from Pinot Noir. Production is small scale - at the last count there were just 110ha of vines in the whole region compared to Marlborough’s - which means these wines don’t come cheap. What’s more, Waitaki producers have to contend with hostile weather: rain, frost, wind and hungry birds make ripening rapes a risky business. If the handful of producers in the Waitaki Valley make it to harvest unscathed, the resulting wines show a restrained perfume, elegance and palate-cleansing acidity.
I am an unashamed fan of the handful of producers that are battling adversity to make some interesting wines. It’s also a part of New Zealand that remains unspoilt. Off the beaten track, the former post office in the small town of Kurow has been transformed into a tasting centre for the region’s producers and is worth a detour off State Highway 1 next time you’re in North Otago.
7 Days In Wine
Friday 22 June
A lot happens in a week at wine-searcher so thank the Lord it’s Friday - am in need of a rest from wine news, which flowed like a raging torrent in the past seven days.
It was the sexily-titled Organisation of Vine and Wine’s annual get-together this week, held in renowned winemaking country, Turkey. According to the latest statistics, as reported in my article on wine-searcher.com, the world’s total vineyard area is at a new 10-year low (7,585,000 hectares). Hooray you might shout but there’s a crux: due to an “upwards trend in yields, favorable climate conditions and continued improvements in viticultural techniques,” global grape production in 2011 was the highest seen in a decade. So much for reducing the oversupply.
Next, Burgundy is in a state of disarray. Firstly, one of the regions top negociants Labouré Roi hit the headlines for mislabelling wines, illegal blending and falsely claiming wines had won prizes, as reported here. Local newspaper Le Bien Public reported that between 2005 and 2009 Labouré-Roi may have sold more than 2 million bottles with labels that did not match the wine within. Innocent until proven guilty but even the prosecutor has said they’ll likely be charged.
As if that wasn’t enough trouble for a region, which rarely hits the headlines, Chablis then brought Burgundy to the world’s attention again. Chablis launched a breakaway from the rest of Burgundy in mid 2011 and the final vote was held this week. Some producers were pissed off that while contributing more than a quarter of the budget to the Burgundy Wine Board (the BIVB), the regional marketing campaign was centred around the Cote d’Or. Having gained concessions, Chablis producers voted in favour of remaining part of the BIVB - likely playing a larger part in regional marketing from now on (mainly to keep them on side, one presumes).
On the other side of the pond, prices of Screaming Eagle’s first-ever sauvignon blanc have increased by almost ten times on the secondary market. As a result, the cult winery has decided to limit future production to prevent speculation.
The producer recently offered 600 bottles of 2010 sauvignon blanc at $250 (ouch) to customers who are on its “active list” on the condition that the bottles would not be offered on the secondary market. That hasn’t prevented some opportunistic clients who are trying to profit from it: the same wine is now being sold at an eye-watering $2,150 a bottle by Californian fine-wine retailer Cult Wines, while a six-bottle case listed by Spectrum Wine Auctions has an estimate of $7,000. The highest bid at the time of writing was $5,650. You can read the full story here.
So that was the week that was.
Bon weekend mes petits pois.
Calling all aspiring wine writers
Wednesday 13 June
Young Wine Writer Awards Ceremony 2006
Applications for the 12th young wine writer of the year award have opened. It is six years since I won the award, which opened the door for me to enter the world of wine journalism and get my bottom pinched by Oz Clarke (he was reprimanded for that but has since tried his luck again on several occasions!).
All you have to do is write 1500 words on anything you want as long as it’s wine-related – oh, and you have to be under 30. Ah, youth.
Having spent the first half of 2006 in Australia working the harvest in Victoria’s Alpine Valleys, I travelled around Australia’s wine regions in a clapped out Mitsubishi (it gave up the ghost in Queensland, sadly), which inspired my winning article on the Mornington Peninsula. I had gone to Australia thinking that I might want to be a winemaker but the vintage experience soon knocked all romantic notions out of me and gave me the impetus to pursue writing. Thankfully I got my lucky break with the young wine writer competition. The prize has also opened doors for wine writers including Peter Richards MW and Stuart George.
There are two major prizes - £1000 to spend on a trip to a wine region of your choosing plus a 14-day all-expenses paid trip to Australia – that’s a better deal than you get as a journalist!!
Entries close on 30 September 2012 so get your thinking caps on and put pen to paper.
MW exam 2012 - The Experience
Monday 11 June
So, it is with great relief – and a blog that I have finished the Master of Wine examinations (for another year at least).
Having passed the theory examination last year but only passed one of the three tasting papers, I was back in Sydney for the tasting extravaganza.
I was ready as I ever would be, I had focused on tasting, learning my ageing regulations for Rioja, Chianti, Barolo, ensuring I knew the production techniques for Amarone, Bual Madeira and white Zinfandel…
As usual, paper one was the white wine paper; paper two the red exam; and the mixed bag of the weird and the wonderful on day three.
Interestingly, I was disappointed after day one, leaving a page blank thus losing marks and almost having a wee sob. But I pulled myself together and when the crib sheet was distributed, I’d spotted 10 of the 12 wines as closely as humanly possible under blind conditions. I left paper three happy (that might have been because I imbibed all the 2004 Louis Roederer - too delicious to leave) but later found out I had bombed on at least three of the 12 wines - that might be my undoing. I hope not.
Overall, I left the exam knowing I’d worked hard and done my best – which is all my mother tells me I can do, so it must be true.
Okay, so I missed the Barefoot Moscato (by more than a mile) and the Passito di Pantelleria was a Rutherglen Muscat in my mouth on the day but hopefully getting 27 of the 36 wines as near as damn it will be enough to get me over the line. If not, I did my best, mum.
Here are the wines:
2010 Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie, Château de la Bretesche, Loire, France
2010 Vouvray Sec Cuvée Silex, D. Vigneau- Chevreau, Loire, France
2010 Menetou Salon Cuvée Beatrice, Henry Pellé, Loire, France
2009 Coteaux du Layon Chaume, Domaine des Forges, Loire, France
2010 Forte Alto pinot grigio, Alto-Adige, Italy
2011 Wither Hills pinot gris, Marlborough, New Zealand
2009 Zind Humbrecht pinot gris reserve, Alsace, France
2008 Puligny Montrachet, 1er Cru Perrieres, Jean Louis Chavy, Burgundy
2008 Meursault, Pierre Morey, Burgundy, France
2008 Tahbilk marsanne, Victoria, Australia
2010 Crozes-Hermitage blanc, Alain Graillot, Rhone, France
2010 Santa Rita ‘120’ carmenere, Central Valley, Chile
2009 Robert Mondavi cabernet sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
2009 Yalumba ‘The Cigar’ cabernet sauvignon, Coonawarra, Australia
2008 Lady May, Glenelly, Stellenbosch, South Africa
2006 Chateau Quinault L’Enclos Grand Cru, St Emilion, Bordeaux
2007 Geremia, Rocca di Montegrossi, Tuscany, Italy
2008 Claus Preisinger zweigelt, Burgenland, Austria
2008 Vale do Bomfim, Dow, Douro, Portugal
2008 Becker Estate pinot noir, Pfalz, Germany
2008 Fess Parker’s Vineyard Syrah, JC Cellars, Santa Barbara, California
2007 Cornas Les Vieilles Vignes, Alain Voge, Rhone, France
2010 Mollydooker, The Boxer [shiraz], South Australia
2004 Louis Roederer Brut Vintage, Champagne, France
NV Louis Roederer Brut Premier, Champagne, France
2005 Huet Vouvray Petillant, Loire, France
NV Jacob’s Creek sparkling shiraz, South East Australia
NV Brancott Estate sauvignon blanc brut, Marlborough, New Zealand
NV Beringer sparkling zinfandel rose, California, USA
2009 Zeltinger Himmelreich riesling eiswein ‘junior’, Selbach Oster, Mosel
2009 Tamar Ridge Kayena botrytis riesling, Tasmania, Australia
NV Martini, Asti, Piedmont, Italy
NV Rivesaltes muscat, vin doux naturel, France
NV Barefoot moscato, California, USA
2009 moscato passito di Pantelleria, ‘Ben Ryé’, Sicily, Italy