The Waitaki Valley and why Central Otago is “turning wines into cartoons”
Friday 3 August
This week the producers of the Waitaki Valley have been on the road, touting their wares.
Despite two of its producers receiving the accolade of New Zealand’s best Pinot Noir at the International Wine Challenge and best Pinot Noir at the Shanghai International Wine Challenge in the past month, most people look perplexed when you mention its name.
It’s in North Otago, in case you were wondering, 160km northeast of Central Otago’s Cromwell. Consultant Jeff Sinnott, winemaker for Shanghai trophy winner Ostler has spent the past 11 years in Central Otago and now having a foot in both camps made a useful comparison.
“Waitaki is slightly warmer than the Gibbston Valley [the coolest part of Central Otago’s subregions] but Waitaki has warmer temperatures in the late autumn which equals longer hang time allowing the tannins to ripen.”
In the warmer regions of Central Otago, such as Bannockburn and Alexandra, the long hang time isn’t usually possible as autumn frosts often dictate harvest decisions. “In Central Otago I don’t think I have ever made a completely tannin ripe wine and I have been making Central wines for 10 years. You are getting two brix a week from veraison to picking the fruit and so it is picked within five weeks [although that is about normal for Burgundy].”
“Then you are tempted to add water to get the alcohol down.” I think this temptation might become too much to bear for some!
Central Otago’s reds are generally sweetly fruited and fuller-bodied than the rest of the country’s Pinots. Final alcohols of 14 or 14.5 percent are quite normal. I mention that I’ve seen a growing tendency for a powerful, log-fire like oak-derived char to become an element of Central Otago’s wines – almost becoming a hallmark of the region.
“One of the most successful Pinot producers in Central Otago is also a barrel importer,” he answered.
“Central Otago is in danger of becoming a parody. It’s turning wines into cartoons and we are trying to make oil paintings here.”.
In the Waitaki, ripening is much slower – almost dangerously slow. The time between veraison and picking can be as much as 10 weeks! I imagine that the local producers must have very short fingernails.
“This is right on the edge of possibility,” adds Sinnott. “A lot of people will follow the line of least resistance but that isn’t available for Waitaki winemakers. I’d say in terms of difficulty, Central would be an 8 and the Waitaki would be a 9.5.”
You’re likely to see more vintage variation as a result. The 2010s are much warmer in profile, with sweeter fruit, lacking the tautness, elegance and minerality of the cooler years, like 2011.
Yields are low – in part due to hostile weather: rain, frost, wind and hungry birds make ripening rapes a risky business. Having experimented with yields as low as 2 tons to the hectare (around 14hl/ha), they’ve found that low yields doesn’t necessarily mean better fruit, as the abundant 1982 vintage in Bordeaux also demonstrated. “We are finding the sweet spot is 4t/ha and any lower you get strong tomato leaf-like character,” says Sinnott.
For value: Black Stilt Pinot Noir 2011
Pure and elegant nose with fine pepper and black cherry fruit aromatics. Light bodied, fine grained, chalky-textured tannin - likely derived from limestone. Racy acidity leaves a clean palate. Not particularly complex but shows the Waitaki’s characteristics and cool climate Pinot Noir typicity. 17/20
Not so cheap but bloody delicious: John Forrest Pinot Noir 2009
Pure, focused, with a plummy core of fruit overlaid with clove and cinnamon spice. It has fine grained tannins, a chalky texture on the finish with fine acidity and great linearity Complex and elegant. 18.5/20.
Aromatic whites: Otiake Gewurztraminer 2011
I don’t like Gewurz - it’s just that it’s usually over the top and a bit fat. But this is pure and tight without overt florals. Instead it shows fruit salad, lime, lemon and incredible freshness for a low acid variety. It’s dry and finishes clean. 18/20
Ostler Lakeside Vines Pinot Gris 2011
This is almost Alsatian in style with restrained savoury notes, spice and pear on the nose. It is medium in body, is richly fruited yet retains a tautness of structure. On the long finish there’s white flowers, bruised apple and lavender. Worthy of a 17.5/20 at the very least but shows potential to be as good as premium Alsatian Pinot Gris in the future with vine age.
Sweeties: Pasquale Riesling Shrivel 2011
I have partly fallen in love with this wine because of Pasquale’s owner Antonio, who told me that this was a good wine to have for a lovemaking session before breakfast Clean and pure with intense lemon, mandarin aromas. It is piquant, zesty and perfectly balanced despite 160g/l residual sugar - that’s probably thanks to a T/A of 9! Hearing that I was newly married, Antonio gave me a bottle to take home - I haven’t yet opened it.
There has been a steady stream of new rules on labelling wines since the Organization of Vine and Wine’s (OIV) annual get together in Turkey last month.
Both allergen labelling and rules on removing alcohol from wine have been introduced.
For those of you with sensitive stomachs, wine labels in Europe must now state whether wine contains traces of egg or milk, as I first reported on wine-searcher.com.
Eggs and milk products are used to fine wine and traces may remain in the final product. However, European wine producers were exempt from declaring their use until the European Commission announced in late May that new rules would come into effect on July 1, 2012. The legislation also applies to imported wines sold in Europe.
The Commission says the new ruling is about “better informing European consumers of potential allergic risks.”
If producers wish to market their wines in all 27 E.U. countries, they would theoretically have to provide labels in a minimum of 15 languages. This is not practical so a series of pictorial logos has been developed, featuring pictures of a milk carton and/or two eggs – as well as the symbol for sulphites – SO2.
There is one exception to the new rules. If egg or milk-based products have been used during production but cannot be detected by laboratory analysis, the affected wines do not have to carry allergen labeling.
Wines made in 2012 are exempt if they were labeled before June 30. All others from the 2012 vintage are subject to the new regulations, which were drawn up following recommendations from the European Food Safety Authority and the OIV.
New laws on reduced alcohol wines
For some time, there’s been debate on alcohol removal through technologies such as spinning cone and reverse osmosis. With a growing trend for lower alcohol and lighter style wines, the OIV couldn’t ignore the issue at its recent meeting in Turkey, as we reported on wine-searcher.com.
Correcting the alcohol content of a particular wine, which means to reduce ethanol to improve its balance, is now allowed with a maximum reduction of 20%. Products obtained through this practice must still conform to the definition of wine – so must be above 8.5% alcohol (wine like Moscato d’Asti at 5.5% and German wines naturally low in alcohol have special derogations).
If the alcohol content of the wine is reduced by more than 20%, it will fall under a dealcoholisation process, which means to remove part or almost all of the ethanol content in wine in order to develop low or reduced alcohol content products.
Here are the OIV’ new product definitions for such products:
• “Beverage obtained by partial dealcoholisation of wine” for products with an alcohol content from 0.5% to 8.5%
• “Beverage obtained by dealcoholisation of wine” for products with an alcohol content below 0.5%.
Those definitions aren’t particularly sexy nor do they roll off the tongue. Can you imagine turning up to a friend’s house and saying “I’ve brought a wine – no, sorry, it’s a beverage obtained by partial dealcoholisation of wine”? No, nor can I.
The OIV is currently working to develop definitions for products that do not fall under the aforementioned resolutions, more particularly wines that have gone through an alcohol reduction of more than 20% but do still respect the minimum alcohol level for wine.
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
When New Zealand makes an unoaked Macon-like wine with 12 percent alcohol, which is cheaper than most Chardonnays in the country, it’s time to sit up and take notice.
Sacred Hill’s recently released Virgin Chardonnay is unoaked with no malolactic fermentation, creating a crisp clean wine with pure white stone fruit and citrus flavours. Having been disappointed all too often with expensive, buttery and oaky New Zealand Chardonnays (Villa Maria’s Keltern Chardonnay and Kumeu River excepting), I wondered why aren’t there more unoaked Chardonnays in New Zealand?
Australia is way ahead of its Tasman neighbour, making a host of earlier picked “unwooded” Chardonnays to satiate an ever-growing appetite for refreshing, crisp white wines.
Bish thinks the unoaked Kiwi Chardonnay has an undeserved reputation from the late ‘90s and early 2000s, when unoaked Chardy sales were going well. “I think the whole genre got a bit overplayed. It ended up being a not-very-flash vinous grocery wine selling under $15 and that tainted the category,” he says.
Then there’s the competition circuit, where delicate, understated wines get overwhelmed by the fruit and oak bombs. “Oaky Chardonnay wins awards. It [the Virgin Chardonnay] has not got a shitshow of winning a gold medal in a line up of Chardonnays,” says Bish.
Bish has been pestering his team to do a Chablis-like style for some time. “I have been nagging people to do it for years.” With the winery looking for something new to celebrate its 25th anniversary, Bish got his opening and the Virgin Chardonnay was born.
Unfortunately, the cool summer and all-round crappy weather in New Zealand’s north island means there won’t be any Chardonnay from the block used to produce Rifleman’s and the Virgin this year, so the 250 cases produced last year will have to last us until 2013.
In the meantime, I shall be on the lookout for more Virgins in New Zealand and leave you with a classic bit of Madonna…
Last week I filled in a questionnaire for an upcoming article about how to deal with the wine media, which turned out into a bit of a rant. I couldn’t believe it, the floodgates opened before me and I couldn’t stem the tide. I’m turning into a grumpy old woman, I thought.
So, here are some handy hints that might make the wine media look more favourably on your winery…
First off, what was my bugbear, I was asked? “Unsolicited samples,” I replied, ”sent out willy nilly when I don’t have any articles coming up that are vaguely related. “ It’s lovely to get free wine, but at the same time if you called first or sent an email to check if it was relevant you might save yourself a lot of money in postage and wine. Your accountant will also thank you.
And don’t send them in polystyrene. Aren’t wineries meant to be clean and green? I’ve had some people giggle at that request but you can’t recycle it, and it makes me snarl before I’ve even opened it up!
This weekend, God forbid I received an unsolicited sample in a polystyrene box. Not naming names, but initials V M, you know who you are.
If you do send a sample, we certainly don’t need tasting notes with the samples, which arrive in the polystyrene carton nine times out of 10. Surely the whole point of sending a bottle is so we can make our own mind up?
More technical information would be good such as pH, TA, alcohol, plus RRP and stockists - and your contact information! It’s as simple as putting a sticky label on the bottle with all these details rather than sending another piece of paper that is easily lost.
This morning I received two press releases telling me about bronze and silver medal wins. If it’s not a trophy at a major international competition, it will get deleted. Village shows, county fairs and competitions with your friend Jimmy don’t count.
And don’t send an email for every single wine that’s launched. It just makes us scratchy.
Remember, journalists are always looking for new and interesting things. Give us updates how the season is going – we often aren’t in the wine regions so it would be good to receive such information.
Are you running any trials in the vineyard or winery – that’s always interesting too. Is a member of your team doing something out of the ordinary? Wine is about stories and people. We have to go fishing in a large ocean for stories, so make sure you hook on to our bait.
And, if all else fails, spell our names correctly.
Right, that’s it, I’m off watch myself in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.