Vino

Joelle Thomson's online wine guide

Month: August 2017 (page 1 of 2)

A wine worth cellaring

A top drop for the wine cellar… 2014 Amisfield RKV Pinot Noir $120

It can be a rocky road for wines made from grapes grown in cool climates, even when those grapes are planted on north facing slopes to maximise sunshine, but for one of Central Otago’s highest priced Pinot Noirs, it can be even tougher because the vines face both north and south on the steeply sloping Rocky Knoll Vineyard.

The vineyard is owned by Amisfield Winery. It’s a gravelly and dry site, so the vines often struggle in this arid environment, yielding fewer grapes than the average vineyard at Amsifield Wines does. Winemaker Stephanie Lambert says the Rocky Knoll Vineyard was planted with the expectation that it would grow high quality Pinot Noir grapes, but there was no guarantee until the wines were made and the proof was in the bottle, but at blind tastings conducted over the years at the winery, the batches of Pinot Noir made from the Rocky Knoll have always stood out.

For this reason the wine, fondly nicknamed RKV Pinot, has evolved as a highly expressive, small volume wine that expresses its site.

The first Amisfield RKV Pinot Noir was made 10 years ago but it has not been produced every year; there was none in 2011 and only tiny volumes in 2009.

A wine worth cellaring

2014 Amisfield RKV Pinot Noir $120

This intensely coloured, richly flavoursome southern wine is an outstanding expression of Central Otago Pinot Noir. Not only because it is super concentrated in flavour, thanks to low crop levels in the vineyard, but also because it is a true expression of both its place of origin and the grape variety it’s made from. There’s no doubting this is Pinot Noir, thanks to its freshness, driven by high acidity, which balances the rich fruit flavours and adds length. The new 2014 Amisfield RKV Pinot Noir drinks well now and will age well for up to 10 years, thanks to its firm tannins (derived partly from whole bunch fermentation) and the high acidity.

There’s a smidgeon of Riesling on the Rocky Knoll Vineyard too, which mostly makes its way into Amisfield Dry Riesling, which is another stunner of a wine. 

Vineyard tales of great whites in Marlborough

Big wine regions often get a bad rap but where would we be without them? Last week I visited Marlborough with a group of New Zealanders who work with wine (from the Hamilton Beer & Wine Company and Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington). And we were all staggered by this region’s heavy reliance on Sauvignon Blanc. Even when you do expect it,  the stats can be a tad overwhelming. Here they are…

Marlborough in a snapshot

85% of Marlborough’s wine production is Sauvignon Blanc

3 subregions account for plantings of this white grape

45% of grapes grown in the Wairau Valley

25% of grapes grown in the Southern Valley

30% of grapes grown in the Awatere Valley

Pinot Noir… there’s of it in Marlborough than in Central Otago

Chardonnay… there’s plenty and it’s very good but totally eclipsed

 

So, there we were visiting Astrolabe, Whitehaven Wines and Nautilus Estate, marvelling at the outstanding taste and modest prices of the Chardonnays ($26, $22 and $35, respectively) only to discover that these wines account for less than 5% of the overall production at both Whitehaven and Nautilus. Percentages weren’t discussed at Astrolabe, but winemaker Simon Waghorn’s firmest focus is naturally on Sauvignon Blanc and he makes a wide range from different vineyards, sub-regions, single vineyards and blends.

There are good reasons for this a focus. New Zealand wine is now the fifth biggest export earner for the country, and Sauvignon Blanc makes up about 85% of this.

But still, it’s surprising how good New Zealand Chardonnay is today and how small its profile is.  So, why is Chardonnay overlooked?

Is it because of the big buttery numbers that ruled in roost back in the 1980s and ’90s? Or the heavily oaked versions that followed? Or the easier, non oaky charms of Pinot Gris, which is nibbling at Chardonnay’s heels in New Zealand’s national vineyard today?

Ten years ago, I remember a blind date telling me unequivocally that there was no way he would drink a Marlborough Chardonnay because they simply weren’t any good.  I tried to persuade a little open mindedness because back then there were some exceptional Marlborough Chardonnays, but he wasn’t having a bar of it. Needless to say, he didn’t last longer than five minutes.

Today, Marlborough is emerging as one of New Zealand’s most promising Chardonnay regions, even if it’s still only making a relative trickle of wine made from this perennially popular white grape. Large oak puncheons (500 litres) are favoured by Whitehaven winemaker Sam Smail and large 3000 litre cuves are often used for fermentation by Nautilus Estate winemaker Clive Jones, who has reduced the amount of Chardonnay he makes in order to focus on better quality. When opening old Nautilus Chardonnays a couple of years ago, Jones was as amazed as the rest of us at the youthfulness and consistency of these wines under screwcap. They might have been nudging eight years of bottle age, but they were as fresh as a daisy and looked like they had only been in bottle for about two years, due to their pale lemon colour.

It’s nearly the weekend, or perhaps yours has already started, but sitting on my desk are two Chardonnays from another great, under rated Chardonnay region – Margaret River in Western Australia. As we in print media, watch this space for notes on Vasse Felix Chardonnays, made at a winery which turns 50 years young this year. You don’t need to convince me that 1967 was a good year to be born.

 

 

 

 

Taste The Terraces with winemaker Gordon Russell…

The Terraces tasting… Thursday 7 September, Regional Wines, Wellington

It’s 23 years and counting since I first met Hawke’s Bay winemaker Gordon Russell at a tasting at Wellington’s biggest independent wine store, Regional Wines & Spirits, and next month he’s back – to taste more wines from a wider range of grapes and a long string of very good vintages.

The pinnacle of the tasting is The Terraces, which is a blend of red grapes; the exact proportions and identities of which have changed over the past two and a half decades.

Since its inaugural release in 1991, Esk Valley’s The Terraces has been made in only 13 vintages, and with the release of the 2015, this is the first time in history that three consecutive vintages of The Terraces have been bottled. Come and taste all three of those vintages together, as winemaker Gordon Russell takes us on a journey through his wines, starting with a hand picked selection of the core Esk Valley range, travelling via the hillside vineyard at this small winery up to The Terraces.

Here’s the full line-up that we will be tasting on Thursday 7 September at Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington:

2017 Esk Valley Verdelho
2016 Esk Valley Winemaker’s Reserve Chardonnay
2015 Esk Valley Gimblett Gravels Syrah
2014 Esk Valley Winemaker’s Reserve Syrah
2010 Esk Valley The Hillside
2013 Esk Valley The Terraces
2014 Esk Valley The Terraces
2015 Esk Valley The Terraces
2016 Esk Valley Late Harvest Chenin Blanc

Bookings are open now and essential for this tasting, phone 04 385 6952.

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