Joelle Thomson

Writer, author, journalist

Month: February 2017 (page 1 of 7)

Big ‘n buttery… Matawhero Church House Chardonnay

Big and buttery… top Gisborne Chardonnay

2016 Matawhero Church House Chardonnay $25.90

You can expect – and find – plenty to love in this bone dry, full bodied, barrel fermented Gisborne Chardonnay, which is all about creamy freshness and crisp citrus flavours. I love the taste of Chardonnay when its citrusy freshness is encouraged to shine in wines such as this newest vintage of Matawhero Church House Chardonnay 2016, which is made with grapes grown on the Tietjen and Briant vineyards in Gisborne. It’s a mix of different clones and the grapes were harvested when the temperatures were still relatively cool in the morning, which accentuates the wine’s freshness and moderate but refreshing acidity. The finish is long and tasty. This is a stunner.

Glengarry’s and other specialist stores stock this wine and Hancocks is the New Zealand distributor.

Warren Moran is my hero… a voice of reason

Meet a new book that dispels nonsensical notions about wine tasting of soil and about the reality of terroir and turangawaewae – that sense of place we can sometimes taste…

New Zealand Wine, The Land, the vines, the people by Warren Moran, published by Auckland University Press, 384 pages, RRP $69.99

Every once in a  blue moon, a voice of surprisingly sane reason pops up in print. This is it. Author Warren Moran is a geographer and professor at the University of Auckland, who has written widely on wine – and read extremely widely too, as his new book reveals from its first chapter to its last discerning drop of wisdom. He dispels many suggestions that terms such as old world and new world can possibly still be valid because he shows a wide range of examples where these ideas are turned on their heads, particularly within the New Zealand wine scene.

This is important, given that wine is now the sixth biggest export earner for this country.

First and foremost for any published book, this is a great read. It is well written, straightforward and draws on fascinating writers, research and statistics that provide rich context to the New Zealand wine scene today.

It is also an authoritative book because, from the start, Moran dives into deep waters. He tackles the controversial and, he suggests, increasingly outmoded, notion that the French word ‘terroir’ has one clear meaning. He quotes a wide range of authors, old and new, to highlight what he describes as ‘the advertising hype’, which adopts the narrow meaning of ‘terroir’ as soil.

Terroir advertising hype

“In recent years we have been bombarded with so much about the soils and geology of Burgundy in particular that we are in danger of believing that the region makes great wine because the soils are ideally suited to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay,” he writes, adding from authors Roger Dion and Rolade Gadille’s book, Grands traits d’une geography viticolb de la France (1943) that “It suits us to see the qualities of our wine regions, the effect of a natural privilege, of a particular grace accorded to the land of France, as if there were greater honour for our country to receive from the heavens than from the struggles of people this renowned wine industry in which our ancestors found a collective pride even before the feeling of a French nation stirred in them.”

He suggests that terroir has at least six facets that interact and overlap from the physical territorial meaning of the word to growing grapes to the legal and promotional human aspects. He explains each, then leaves readers to make up their own minds.

New Zealand wine explosion

Not only does this book touch on controversial sacred cows, it contains a staggering amount of humbling facts and the figures that Moran has dug up. Like this one: in 1960, only 388 hectares of grapes were planted in New Zealand, 85% of which were in West Auckland and Hawke’s Bay and mostly in hybrid grape varieties. Their strong disease resistance made hybrid grapes the order of the day, including the once well known Albany Surprise, which began to be replaced with Vitis vinifera grapes, such as Muller Thurgau, in the 1970s.

For those who can read between the lines, his research offers outstanding suggestions on why a lot of New Zealand wine often tasted overtly green in flavour, due to being planted widely and extensively along the Hawke’s Bay’s coastline, but rarely ever inland where the weather is more settled, drier and less windy.

Further into the book, his strong theme continues with both the geographical and political history of the Gimblett Gravels and those who were instrumental in marketing – and capitalising on – this 800 hectares of stony soils.

No doubt, it helps that Moran has been watching, reading about, researching and writing on New Zealand wine since his 1959 MA thesis, but his measured global view and courage are incredibly refreshing. Talk about a breath of fresh air. His book is a great read and beautifully presented tome on the history of New Zealand, but for those who want food for thought with their nightly glass of vino, here it is at last – a book that tackles terroir with measured analysis and a lack of fear.

Or should that be turangawaewae?

Italian stallion… Ornellaia’s new importer

You have to hand it to Negociants New Zealand. When it comes to sourcing, importing, distributing and – perhaps most importantly of all, selling – a diverse range of high quality, highly sought after wines from all over the world, this company pretty much has it nailed. Of course they are not alone.

The range of imported wines in New Zealand has never been more adventurous, if you track the diversity available in both traditional retail stores and within the trade for restaurants and bars to stock. The mention of Negociants is timely because the company has just taken over the distribution of Italy’s highly revered Super Tuscan wine, Ornellaia.
The brand’s initial presence in New Zealand was pioneered by Master of Wine and lover of Italian vino, Stephen Bennett, who hosted several outstanding tastings of Ornellaia over the past 15 years-plus – including at Decant in Christchurch, Kemp Wines at Harbourside and the Fine Wine Delivery Company in Auckland. He was a staunch advocate of these wines, as of all great Italian wines – which are a tough sell, particularly in a modest sized market, such as New Zealand.
The latest tastings of Ornellaia, held earlier this month, were in Auckland and Wellington. They were the first official outings of the brand since Negociants NZ became the official distributor. Our host was Patrick Lachapele, who was born in Bordeaux, now lives in Hong Kong and is charged with the task of introducing the Ornellaia wines to the Asia-Pacific region. The tasting began with a small pour of the company’s maverick new white – Poggio Alle Gazze dell’ Ornellaia, a Tuscan take on the Sauvignon Blanc theme, only blended with Vermentino, Verdicchio and Viognier and from the 2015 vintage. It’s an interesting dry white but it was not the main event.

That was Ornellaia. It is  very good wine but when it came to the price (approximate retail is $249.99 a bottle), I was more seduced by both Le Volte and Le Serre Nuove Dell’Ornellaia. And of course, Masseto, which was not present at this tasting but which I was lucky enough to have enjoyed a year ago. Read more about Masseto (100% Merlot) below.

Tasting notes are below but first…

Ornellaia Estate is in the Bolgheri DOCG (first formed for whites in 1983, with reds included from 1994 onwards). It is on the Tuscan coast – a region best known for cheap pink wine, until the late 1960s.
Today this area is not only known as ‘the California of Tuscany’, due to its strong tourism industry, but also as home to the wines that, perhaps more than any others, showed the world that Italy could make great wines, post World War II when Europeans were trying to piece their lives back together after war.
This vineyard was not the first to break new high quality Italian wine ground, but it followed in the footsteps of those who did, such as Sassacaia.
Since Ornellaia’s first grapes were planted in 1981, the wine has had a stellar reputation internationally, especially with collectors and lovers of Cabernet Sauvignon based red wines.
Its first vintage was 1985. There are 99 hectares of vineyard, 20 of which are organically managed. The land is planted in Cabernet Sauvignon (40 hectares), Merlot (40 hectares), Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, with a tiny fraction of white grapes, including Petit Manseng, Sauvignon Blanc, Verdicchio and Viognier.
The first Ornellaia in 1985 was made by Ludovico Antinori and it was eclipsed by the estate’s release in 1986 of the estate’s 100% Merlot, which is called Masetto.

And then there’s Masseto – a Merlot marvel

Masseto is a ground breaking red wine that costs anything from $675 to $1000+ a bottle (click on Wine-Searcher above on this page for more detail).
It is made from a 7 hectare area of the vineyard where the soils are rated highly for their richness.
Revere it you may – I always do – but I also regard the price as too high. Masseto was modelled on the big, soft, plummy great reds of the right bank vineyards in Bordeaux, such as Pomerol. And like those wines, it costs a pretty penny too. The last bottle I was lucky enough to have not only tasted but consumed with two friends had cost one of them the best part of $800+.Those are the kinds of friends I love having and plan to keep because, like Masseto, they are rare.
That said, it’s always amazing to taste and drink Masetto because it shines a refreshingly savoury light on the soft and plummy Merlot grape.
The estate also produces an incredibly intense, top quality olive oil, which is, sadly, not available in New Zealand.

The wines…

2014 Le Volte dell’ Ornellaia IGT $39.99
This wine is heavily dependent on the much maligned Merlot grape, which makes up 70% of the blend and tastes bigger, more savoury and fuller bodied than it does in most other places that Merlot is made. This blend is 70% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Sangiovese (the only grapes not sourced from the estate and bought in from nearby Maremma). It was aged for nine months in oak (no new oak and all French – for now). It’s dry with high tannins and acidity, a full body and long finish with very dark berry and plum flavours. It drinks well now and, in my view, can age for 4 to 5 years further.

2013 Le Serre Nuove Dell’ Ornellaia $84 to $109
Hand harvested grapes go into this second tier wine from Ornellaia, which is Cabernet Sauvignon (36%) and Merlot (32%) with relatively significant amounts of Cabernet Franc (20%) and Petit Verdot – just 12% and a late ripening grape, usually used to boost colour, tannin and perfume but only in very warm vintages in its traditional French home, Bordeaux. Everything is different in Tuscany where the climate is warmer due to being closer to the Equator. This provides richer flavours due to a more favourable ripening period.
The wine spent 15 months in barrels, 25% new and the remainder in older barrels.
It’s still youthful and has the potential to develop for up to a decade and, history suggests, far beyond that too.

2013 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia $249.99
Black fruit flavours, dry as a bone and full bodied, this top notch Italian wine may be firmly in the special occasion category or, for many, the once-in-a-lifetime drink, but it’s  important on the world stage because it highlights Cabernet Sauvignon and its other late ripening grape blending partners here, on the Tuscan coast, where they have a new lease of flavour with darker fruit characters, firm but smooth tannins and that quintessential Italianesque savouryness, which provides its sense of turangawaewae (place) in the bottle. A keeper.

Exact prices vary because retailers range in the mark ups they apply.

Ornellaia ownership
The Ornellaia estate has had something of a chequered career of ownership, of late. it was founded by Lodovico Antinori, who is the brother of Piero Antinori (founder of the nearby Tenuta San Guido’s Sassacaia). In 1999, Lodovico sold a share of Tenuta dell’Ornellaia to the late Robert Mondavi, who later took complete control of the estate with the Frescobaldi family and then in 2005 Constellation Brands (which had bought Mondavi) sold the rest to Frescobaldi. So now it’s back to business as an Italian company.

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