Wines of the week… Is $365 too much to pay for a bottle?

Would you ever spend $365 on a bottle of wine? If so, what would make you dig that deep?

It’s a question I’ve been pondering a lot lately, after tasting Yalumba’s new red, The Caley, named after Fred Caley Smith, a grandson of Samuel Smith (founder of Yalumba Wines) and a man whose wide global travels helped horticulture and viticulture in South Australia so much that he was made an honorary horticultural commissioner for the South Australian Government in the late 1990s.

This year, Yalumba Wines sent me three bottles of The Caley from 2013, 2014 and 2015 to taste at an online event hosted by winemaker Kevin Glastonbury and Jessica Hill-Smith.

The Caley is a blend of two grapes and two regions. Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz are not typically blended together, unless you’re in Australia. The two regions are Coonawarra (home to the Cabernet Sauvignon from The Menzies Vineyard) and Barossa Valley (home to the Shiraz).

Price aside, I am impressed by the wines, which are given all the full winemaking treatment. Long maturation in oak provides next level controlled oxidative maturation and smoothness to these wines, of which the 2015 was my top pick.

I am still pondering the price.

Will The Caley take on Penfold’s Grange to rival it at auction in years to come as a highly collectible showpiece? Perhaps, but the price is beyond my budget. That said, I like this wine enough to rate it highly and make it a wine of the week.

Happy weekend wine-ing.

Wine of the week

2015 The Caley $36, 19/20

The first vintage of The Caley was first released in 2012 and it has since been made from the 2013, 2014 and 2015 vintages. It is a classic unconvental Australian blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz from Coonawarra and the Barossa Valley, respectively. The percentage of new oak wine is high, as is the wine’s maturation time. Every vintage of The Caley that’s been made to date has had 21 months of maturation in barrel, with high proportions of new oak. Winemaker Kevin Glastonbury says the aim is to have about 40% new oak, which may drop back to 35% over time. This vintage, the 2015, had 46% new oak and the wine tastes full bodied, spicy and has powerful notes of cedar and secondary complexity but it’s the structure of the ripe Cabernet Sauvignon which leads this savoury, black olive and dried herb tasting red wine from Yalumba.

It’s a keeper. You could tap into it now, given the wine is five years old but give it another decade and it will start to reveal the aged dark fruit and floral perfume that the great Cabernets of the world are revered for.

Yalumba Wines was founded by Samuel Smith in 1849 at Angaston in the Barossa Valley, South Australia.

New releases from Hunter’s Wines

This year marks the 38th for Hunter’s Sauvignon Blanc, which makes it one of the oldest wine producers in Marlborough and one of the first to put Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc on the world’s wine map, so to speak, in 1986 with its oak aged Sauvignon. Hunter’s remains family owned and run by Jane Hunter OBE and Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (CNZM) for services to viticulture. She is also a recipient of the UK Women in Wine Award.
The winery continues to make Sauvignon Blanc today but also produces aromatic whites, Pinot Noir and has a long history of high quality sparkling wine made in the traditional method; using the same techniques as champagne.
Newly released statistics from New Zealand Winegrowers show a rise in Marlborough’s producing vineyard hectares to 27,808 hectares today, up from 27,176 last year.

18.5/20
2020 Hunter’s Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc $19.90
The first vintage of Hunter’s Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc was 1982 and the style is tropical and fruit driven on the nose and palate with vibrant acidity giving it drive. It’s bone dry in taste, which adds another refreshing string to this white wine’s crisp, bright bow. It drinks well now and can age, thanks to that high acidity, which helps to preserve the wine.
The logo on the back label adds creditability to this wine because it represents Appellation Marlborough Wine (AMW) which means 100% of the grapes used in it were grown in Marlborough.
Vegan certified by the New Zealand Vegetarian Society.

17.5/20
2020 Hunter’s Marlborough Pinot Gris $19.90
This tasty Pinot Gris is between medium dry and medium sweet. It was fermented to 13.5% ABV. The grapes were picked progressively at different stages of ripeness to add complexity to the finished wine. After picking, pressed grapes were fermented in a combination of stainless steel and old French oak barrels then blended back together for a relatively short lees aging time, which adds body and softness in the mid palate. A touch of fresh acidity balances the medium dry style. Flavours include notes of white pear, nashi pears and green apple with a hint of citrus.
Vegan certified by the New Zealand Vegetarian Society.

 17.5+/20
2020 Hunter’s Marlborough Gewurztraminer $24.90
Gewurz is the German word for spice and an apt name for wines made from the Gewurztraminer grape; one of the spiciest, most aromatically intense in the wine world. This is an excellent example made in a style between medium dry and medium sweet with fermentation finished at 14% ABV. All grapes were machine harvested in two separate picks from a single vineyard on Rapaura Road, Blenheim, next door to Hunter’s Wines. The wine has pronounced spice and floral aromas balanced by a note of fresh acidity to balance its richness.
Vegan certified by the New Zealand Vegetarian Society.

 18.5/20
2018 Hunter’s Offshoot Marlborough Chardonnay $34.90
Offshoot is the innovative label at Hunter’s and this toasty, full bodied Chardonnay was made from grapes cropped at low levels, all Mendoza clone grapes grown on the winery’s Rapaura Road vineyard. Mendoza Chardonnay is also known as hen and chicken because this variation of Chardonnay grows with relatively small bunches with variable berry size on the same bunches, which typically provides high concentration and bright acidity (from the smaller grape berries).
The grapes were crushed and cloudy juice fermented in French oak, 30% new, 70% being two year old, 900 litre oak barrels, for 12 months. It was fermented to 12.5% ABV and retains 1.46 grams per litre of residual sugar. The wine was given an extra six months in tank for aging, prior to bottling. It is savoury and rich in flavour with a creamy smooth texture and long finish. Super tasty with aging potential of up to five years.

18.5/20
2019 Hunter’s Marlborough Pinot Noir $28.90
This excellent Pinot Noir comes from the 2019 vintage, one of the best for Marlborough Pinot in the past five years. It’s made from grapes grown mostly in the Southern Valleys of Marlborough where the climate and gently sloping hillside vineyards provide wines with great structure and earthy intensity as well as brightness of fruit flavour. All grapes were hand picked, 30% whole bunches added to the ferment to provide structure and texture, reducing the need for oak to add this body. The wine was aged in French oak for 10 months, a modest 25% new and it was bottled without fining and had some filtration.
Vegan certified by the New Zealand Vegetarian Society.

Wine of the week… A family milestone in Marlborough

This year marks the 40th for Daniel and Adele le Brun, who have pared back their plans to celebrate on a large scale due to Covid-19. The pair pioneered sparkling winemaking in New Zealand in the early 1980s, producing high quality  méthode traditionelle (the same winemaking method as champagne) from the start. They released their first bubbly in 1985, only to run into anti-French sentiment in the wake of the Rainbow Warrior sinking in New Zealand. “But Adele turned a negative into a positive by using the anti-French atmosphere to promote New Zealand wine made the same way as champagne, only at a fraction of the cost,” said Daniel le Brun, in a phone interview with me this week.

The challenges of making wine in Marlborough’s early days were numerous, including restrictive land subdivision laws, difficulty obtaining finance due to wine being an untested industry at the time and a lack of available grapevines to plan. Not to mention a beer drinking, farming culture to contend with. But Le Brun comes from a long line of French winemakers (whose winemaking and viticulture date back to 1684) and he couldn’t believe his luck when he arrived in New Zealand as a curious traveller to find such ideal weather.

“I’ve never had a bad vintage because the climate here is so much more reliable and better than it is in Champagne,” he told me when recalling the struggles, joys and long journey to make it this far from nothing but bare paddocks of land in Marlborough, when he first arrived there with wife and partner, Adele, their six month old daughter Virginie and three dogs. They now have a son, Remy, and the entire family is involved in the winemaking. They own four hectares of land and buy the remaining grapes they need.

This pink bubbly is my pick of their line up. I love its flavours and the history that went into making the wine.

Wine of the week
No 1 Family Estate Rosé NV $47

This toasty little pink bubbly is 100% Marlborough grapes and 100% Pinot Noir, fermented to 12.5% ABV with 7.5 grams of residual sugar per litre – almost bone dry and it tastes like it. It was aged for 18 months on lees prior to disgorgement, initially in December 2019, with ongoing disgorgements to retain fresh wines to meet market demand.
To say this wine delivers great value for money is a wild understatement.