Vino

Top drops under $20 (and over) and wine news from Joelle Thomson

5 top drops… my best wines from a week of tasting…

This weekly blog is a place I can share some of the top drops that come my way as a wine writer. Wine is work. And let’s not forget the coffee, missing from this photo.

The aim of this weekly 5 top blog is to share wines that are consistent, uncompromised and thoughtfully made – the same aims I have in mind when writing about them. After writing for nearly every major daily newspaper in New Zealand, I am now a regular contributor to Capital magazine in Wellington, NZ WinegrowerDrinksbiz and Good magazine. I also work as wine programme director at Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington, all of which means I taste a vast number of wines every week and the following five at the tip of a far longer iceberg.

So, what makes a great wine?

Is it only the taste?

I often think great wine is as much about affordability, accessibility and company as it is about flavour because a humble wine can taste fantastic when shared with the right person, just as some of the world’s most expensive wines can taste good but not great, if there’s no one to share them with. So, meet Madam Sass.

 

Sassy Pinot

2016 Madam Sass Pinot Noir $26, 13.5% ABV

The makers of Madam Sass Pinot Noir have channeled their energy into creating an appealingly cheeky brand as well as a drink-me-now red from the world’s most southern wine region, Central Otago. This is the first vintage of Madam Sass Pinot Noir, which is made with grapes grown in Bendigo, one of the sunniest spots in Otago. The warmth and sunshine translate to ripe, rich and dark cherry flavours and a medium body, underpinned by firm but balanced acidity, which adds a nervy edge to Madam Sass, which is made by Accolade Wines.

Where to buy: it’s widely available.

 

Top Aussie drop… for the cellar

2014 Vasse Felix Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon $45, 14.5%ABV

It’s not only yours truly who celebrated a five decade milestone this year (ouch) but this wine also does, thanks to being founded in 1967 by Dr Tom Cullity, who broke new ground in Margaret River when he produced this far flung region’s first significant red wine from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec in 1972. This new release is a big, brooding Western Aussie red made 100% from Cabernet Sauvignon and needs plenty of time in the bottle before it reaches the pinnacle of its tannic power and savoury structure. It drinks well now, if decanted, and has potential to age for over a decade.

Where to buy: specialist stores or order from Negociants NZ, phone 0800 634 624 or ordersnz@negociants.com  or www.negociantsnz.com

 

Great southern white

2017 Felton Road Bannockburn Riesling $30, 8.5% ABV

It’s tempting to think Central Otago is all about Pinot Noir; after all, there’s plenty of it down there – 80% of the region’s vineyards are planted with Pinot, but here’s a white that shows the great potential of sizzlingly fresh, succulently seductive Rieslings from the world’s most southern wine region. It’s one of two Rieslings made by Blair Walter at Felton Road, who puts this wine’s most vibrant fruit forward in this flavoursome drop with its ripe limes, white peach and nectarine tastes. Like a great Riesling from the Mosel in Germany, this beautiful Bannockburn Riesling walks a precarious tightrope between its fresh high acidity, its low alcohol (8.5% ABV) and its high but balanced residual sugar. Not that you’d think of this wine as ‘sweet’. It’s long succulent finish keeps the mouth watering for more.

Where to buy: www.FeltonRoad.com or email: wines@FeltonRoad.com

 

Nelson Pinot power

2015 Greenhough Hope Vineyard Nelson Pinot Noir $, ABV %

Certified organic

Small yields, high quality and certified organic grapes are the story of this Pinot Noir, which was grown on the Hope Vineyard in Nelson from vines with an average age of 20 years. The grapes were destemmed into open top fermenters, treated to a pre-fermentation soak of 4-5 days to extract colour and tannin and then, during fermentation, plunged twice daily to gently coax their most flavoursome side out. This wine is all about silky Pinotesque elegance coupled with earthy, spicy flavoursome depth and a long finish, thanks to winemakers Andrew Greenhough and Jenny Wheeler.

Where to buy: Greenhough Vineyards, phone 03 542 3868 or email: info@greenhough.co.nz

 

Champion winner under $20

2016 Waipara Hills Waipara Valley Riesling $21.90,  12.5%

The champion wine of this year’s New Zealand Aromatic Wine Competition was this humbly priced Riesling, which is made with grapes grown on the Mound and Deans vineyards on the south side of the Waipara Valley in North Canterbury. Most of the grapes in this wine were pressed immediately but a small portion were left to soak on skins for 12 hours to extract flavour, then the juice was settled, inoculated with commercial yeasts and fermentation stopped at a medium dry level of  13 grams per litre of residual sugar – not too sweet at all,  but ideal for delivering a beautiful burst of lime, ripe mandarin and incredibly pretty floral aromas. This is an outstanding wine at a humble price.

Where to buy: it’s widely available.

 

PS: The New Zealand Aromatic Wine Competition began in 2003 as part of the Canterbury A&P Show, which is now in its 155th year and was first established in 1863.

The 2017 New Zealand Aromatic Wine Competition

The full list of winners from this year’s show is here.

Beck & Caul Supreme Champion Wine of the Show

2016 Waipara Hills Waipara Valley Riesling

Champion Sauvignon Blanc Winner

2017 Villa Maria Reserve Wairau Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2017

Champion Pinot Gris Winner – 2017 Summerhouse Pinot Gris

Champion Rosé Winner – 2017 Waipara Hills Waipara Valley Pinot Rosé

Champion Gewürztraminer Winner – 2017 Saint Clair Pioneer Block 12 Lone Gum Gewurztraminer

Champion Other Aromatic Varieties Winner – 2016 Left Field Gisborne Albarino

Champion Riesling Trophy Winner – 2016 Waipara Hills Waipara Valley Riesling 2016

MacVine Champion Canterbury Wine

2016 Waipara Hills Waipara Valley Riesling 2016

Champion Canterbury Rosé Winner

2017 Waipara Hills Waipara Valley Pinot Rosé 2017

Champion Riesling Trophy Winner

2016 Waipara Hills Waipara Valley Riesling 

Champion Sweet Winner

2015 Tohu Raiha Reserve Noble Riesling 2015

Winemaker of the Year 2017

Michael Wood, Obsidian Vineyard

www.theshow.co.nz/show-entries/international-aromatic-wine-competition/#results

Weekly wine Q&A… new phase at Luna

Joel Watson is the winemaker at Luna Estate; the new incarnation of the amalgamated Alana Estate and Murdoch James wineries.

Joel spoke with me early this week after the 25th Toast Martinborough wine, food and music festival, which gave us a chance to talk about replacing Sauvignon Blanc with Pinot Noir, moving countries and rebranding wineries. He was hired in January 2015 as winemaker for Alana Estate and Murdoch James, which have now been combined into  Luna Estate – which also happens to be the name of the daughter of the winery’s Wellington based owners, Charlie and Nancy Zheng, who are  property developers with a passion for Pinot Noir.

Here’s a little snippet of our chat.

How long have you been drinking wine?

Joel Watson: I had my first glass of wine when I was 14. Tim Turvey from Clearview Estate in Hawke’s Bay gave it to me; he’s an old family friend. I was a little kid and helped him put nets on his vineyard. I remember that wine really well, it was a poignant moment for me. It was  Chardonnay. He said ‘here, have a taste of this’ and I remember thinking it was really rich and round. I’ve been drinking wine ever since.

How has your wine drinking changed over the years?

Joel Watson: I drink less but better quality. I don’t try and taste now. I try and figure out how a wine feels in the mouth. I’ve got a thing called synaesthesia where one sense can cross over to another, so when I taste I see colours and shapes. I didn’t realise I was doing it until I seriously got into wine.

What’s your favourite colour or shape in a wine?

Joel Watson: I like it when I smell pink. When I taste that in a red wine, it reminds me of flowers.

When did you decide to dive in and work with wine?

Joel: When I was about 19 when I moved to Sydney and later to Melbourne where I worked in a big restaurant and this guy said ‘you’ll be perfect as a wine waiter’. I wanted an adventure, so I did it.

Do you miss hospitality?

Joel Watson: Sometimes. I must do because I opened up Little Square Pizza in Martinborough. It’s a massive change from serving wine to making it, but once you’ve done a few harvests, it’s amazing the cross over in skills that are needed in both.

What inspires your winemaking?

Joel Watson: Quality of fruit. We’ve got some amazing vineyards and it sounds cliché but wine does start in the vineyard. We have refocussed at Luna on Pinot Noir. We are spending more time and energy in the vineyards rather than in the winery.

What factors make wine so rewarding?

Joel Watson: Time and place. There are very few things that capture time and place as wine does, and there’s certainly no other agricultural product that inspires time and place in the way that wine does. Even when you’ve finished the bottle, there’s still a reminder of what you do. It’s a tactile reminder.

What trends do you see emerging with wine today?

Joel Watson: Low fi winemaking, which I support. I balk at the term ‘natural winemaking’ because there’s no such thing. Winemaking is a profoundly unnatural thing. But low-fi I like. So, I low-fi on most of the wines; particulary the single vineyard stuff. I add sulphur very late – I’ve got no problem using sulphur but it’s how you use it.

And young people who love wine as their alcohol of choice are an important trend. Wine is losing its air of exclusivity. It’s becoming more of an everyday thing. It’s about growing the culture of wine, for me. There seems to be more mindfulness now about wine and how it is enjoyed.

Three Luna Pinot Noirs

2016 Luna Pinot Noir $35, 12.5% ABV

17.5/20

This Pinot Noir will be made in significant volumes going forward and it’s an upfront fruity soft red with a medium body and fresh red cherry, plum and redcurrant flavours with a clean, dry finish. It drinks well now.

 

2016 Luna Eclipse Pinot Noir Martinborough $55, 13.5% ABV

16.5/20

Stony soils were home to the grapes that made their way into this bottle of Martinborough Pinot Noir, which puts its fruity foot forward in a very youthful, full bodied Pinot Noir, which is underpinned with savoury notes, in part due to being bottled unfined and unfiltered. It drinks well now but needs decanted two to three hours prior to drinking. It has potential for aging for four to five years, possibly beyond.

2016 Luna Blue Rock Pinot Noir $55, 13% ABV

17.5/20

Blue Rock Pinot Noir is my pick of the two top Pinot Noirs from Luna Estate  in Martinborough, thanks to its juicy, succulent, earthy flavours and and its full bodied style. It’s made from grapes grown on an elevated hillside vineyard south of Martinborough, planted in the Abel clone of Pinot – the region’s most highly prized Pinot clone. Blue Rock Vineyard is a slightly warmer site than many in the region, says winemaker Joel Watson, and this translates to the wine’s full body and earthy taste. It was bottled unfined and unfiltered and drinks best when decanted two to three hours prior to drinking. It can age for four to five years, possibly beyond in good cellaring conditions.

5 of the best wines of the week… top drops

Every week I publish 5 top drops which are the peaks of the mountain of wines that come my way as a wine writer, which has been my job for the past 23 years. Or is it more of a flash hobby than an actual job, as Master of Wine Stephen Wong once suggested? After 23 years of writing weekly columns for nearly every major daily newspaper in New Zealand, I am now a regular contributor to Capital magazine in Wellington, NZ WinegrowerDrinksbiz and Good magazine. I also work as wine programme director at Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington. The 5 top drops usually go to ‘press’ on this site each Friday. Last week became a little busy so, without further ado, here are last week’s top 5 drops.

 

Pink with a difference…  

2017 Silver Wing Nada Syrah Rose Waipara $24, 11.5% ABV, 17.5/20

Hand picked Syrah grapes were whole bunch pressed and settled in tank (a portion of the juice was frozen and added back at bottling to produce a spritzy wine with a little cloudiness). The majority of the juice was then racked to barrels where it went through wild yeast fermentation and spent five months in elevage. This is a pale salmon wine with a cloudy appearance, a refreshing spritzy bubble and a dry taste, which makes it my kind of rosé from a small, adventurous producer in North Canterbury, New Zealand. www.silverwingwines.co.nz

 

Best Wild Sauvignon yet… 

2015 Greywacke Wild Sauvignon Marlborough, $30, 14% ABV, 18.5/20

This is an outstanding wine that shines a new light on Sauvignon Blanc, thanks to Kevin Judd who trademarked the Greywacke brand in 1993 when he was still working at Cloudy Bay Wines.  He later trademarked the name Wild Sauvignon, which is the flagship wine for his Greywacke brand – “It’s our interpretation of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc out of left field and it’s a style of wine that I personally think is pretty tasty,” said Kevin, who was in Wellington recently to taste every vintage of his Wild Sauvignon Blanc. This version was made with grapes grown predominantly in Marlborough’s Southern Valleys, but for the past four years, Kevin has also bought grapes from the Awatere Valley.  The first year it was made was in 2009 and the winemaking has remained consistent to a formula, which Kevin tweaks in response to the year’s weather. That formula always includes 100% barrel fermentation, 100% wild yeast and about two thirds of the wine going through malolactic fermentation to soften the acidity. The finished wine spends about 11 months in barrel and remains in tank for another six months where it goes through battonage (the French name for stirring the lees – the decomposing yeast cells left over in the wine). The oak is kept at 10% new oak (or less). This latest Wild Sauvignon is, in my view, the best yet.

 

Powerful Pinot

2015 Mammoth Pinot Noir Moutere Hills Nelson $60, 13.5% ABV, 18.5/20

Michael Glover likes to push boundaries but it hasn’t always been that way. A winemaking stint in Italy many moons ago opened new doors of flavour and showed him unconventional ways of making wine. He now grows grapes without irrigation in the Moutere Hills, outside Nelson, New Zealand, which he treats to 100% whole bunch fermentation with no acid, yeast or enzyme additions and then produces this outstanding, full bodied South Island Pinot Noir as a result. It’s rich in flavour but not entirely all about fruit, which is what makes this wine so good, to me. It’s the earthy depth, the dark fruit flavours and the silky mouthfeel that give this wine its powerful but somehow elegant voice. You’ve heard the expression an iron fist in a velvet glove, well, here it is because it drinks well now but clearly has aging potential too; for up to a decade in a good cellar.

 

That southern Pinot… 

2014 Chard Farm Mata-Au Pinot Noir, $39, 13.8% ABV, 18.5/20

Otago Pinot Noirs seem to be a dime a dozen in New Zealand right now, so it’s worth searching for the goodies and here’s a bottle that stands head and shoulders above the crowd, without its producers charging like wounded you-know-whats for the privilege of enjoying it. This wine is made from two vineyards – the Tiger Vineyard at Lowburn and the Viper Vineyard at Parkburn (not that there are any vipers down that way). The name Mata-Au (pronounced martar-o) refers to the nearby Clutha River and this wine is all about silky mouthfeel, intense bright pretty red fruit flavours, characteristic high acidity which is balanced by a rounded full body. www.chardfarm.co.nz

 

Italian stallion… 

Umani Ronchi Vigor Sangiovese Merlot IGT $26.99, 17.5/20

What’s the main thing about a good Italian red? I often think it’s the dark, ripe flavours of the fruit. I’m thinking blueberries, black plums, ripe peaches and liquorice; and that’s what this big Central Italian red is all about, thanks to being grown at elevation to benefit from more intense sunshine than flat vineyards would allow. In this case, those vineyards are in the municipality of Osimo, 150 metres above sea level on a south east facing hillside in the Marche region in central Italy. It’s a blend of 75% Sangiovese with 25% Merlot for its softening effects; and it works a treat. This is a lovely smooth, spicy red with firm acidity adding a nervy edge to a drink-me-now wine from a consistently outstanding producer.

« Older posts

© 2017 Vino

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑