Kusuda Wines – keepers

Hiro Kusuda was born in Japan, studied winemaking in Germany and has settled in New Zealand where he makes wines that reward those who cellar them…

They say good things come to those who wait and we all know how long fermentation can take, so it’s lucky that winemakers are a patient bunch. Or should I say, they have no choice when it comes to watching their grapes transform into wine and the wine change as it ages.

A conversation with Martinborough winemaker Hiro Kusuda this month threw a controversial variable into the concept of cellaring wine, namely: corks versus screw caps.

Which closure allows wine to put its best foot forward as it ages?

Kusuda is the founder of the eponymous Kusuda Wines in Martinborough in the Wairarapa, a region with a big name for Pinot Noir but relatively minuscule production. The area’s entire production is only about 2% of New Zealand’s annual wine output because spring winds often wipe out a significant proportion of potential crops by reducing the sizes of grapes and bunches.

This hasn’t stopped Martinborough wine producers like Kusuda from forging something of a cult following for his wines. He makes three: Pinot Noir, Syrah and Riesling. All up, his production each year is about 1000 cases, sometimes less, if the wind has a big say in matters. Most of the wine sells to Japan, with the balance trickling  onto shelves in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, including at his local store, Martinborough Wine Merchants, which was formerly The Martinborough Wine Centre.

Kusuda prefers the taste of aged wines sealed with corks rather than screwcaps. It’s an unusual perspective in New Zealand these days. According to New Zealand Winegrowers, approximately 97% of this country’s wines are sealed with screw caps. The majority of the remaining 3% is sparkling wine.

Kusuda uses corks and screwcaps on all of his wines, dividing the choice of closure between different wine markets and his own cellar, but choosing to seal 100% of his Rieslings  with screw caps.

His choice of closure is part pragmatic, part personal. He wants to see which closure allows wine to fare best in good cellar conditions in the long term.

“Wines mature differently under different closures. I taste wines under cork and screw caps often and about eight or nine times out of 10, I prefer cork.”

He concedes that wine under cork can taste less fresh when aged than the wine under screw caps.

“But if you’re opening a 10 year old Riesling, would you look for fresh fruit? You have certain expectations for wine of a certain age, and I think that the balance between freshness and fruit profile and tertiary flavours can vary.”

While Kusuda confesses to a personal preference for the types of flavours in old wines that are sealed with corks, he remains committed to all of his Rieslings being sealed with screw caps, as mentioned above. This takes into account the market in the Southern Hemisphere, which is strongly focussed on screw cap closures. It is also perhaps an inadvertent acknowledgement on his part that there are unpredictable rates of cork taint, random oxidation (under cork) and accentuated sulphides, which can be more pronounced in certain wines sealed with screwcaps, but can equally be problematic in wines that are sealed with effective corks, which can also accentuate the aromatic perception of sulphides.

Despite all of the closure issues, debates and pragmatics, which will remain hot topics within the wine community, Kusuda makes wines that can transform beautifully with time in a cellar. His Riesling is arguably the best example.

A wine to keep

 2015 Kusuda Martinborough Riesling $49, 12.5% ABV

Hiro Kusuda made his first Martinborough Riesling in 2009 and he seals all of his Rieslings with screw caps. The wine contains 2.9 grams of residual sugar per litre, which makes it drier than many mainstream whites but its pronounced citrus and peach flavours combined with balanced high acidity give it strong fruity appeal and  refreshing flavours, which make it taste intensely zesty. Just 3760 bottles were produced.


Transformers – wines to keep

Five of the best wines to cellar

There’s a common (mis)perception that the only wines worth building a wine cellar with are incredibly pricey, usually from Europe and often inaccessibly hard to find, but history reveals that most wines improve after a year or two in the bottle. A large number improve for 5 years and many for a decade – or more. It all depends what flavours you like, how patient you are and how much dosh you want to spend.

The world is changing and so are the wines worth keeping.

Who would have thought a $10 Aussie white (Jacob’s Creek Riesling) or a $20 Sicilian red (Cent’are Nero d’Avola) or a $60 Central Otago Pinot (Bannock Brae) would change positively beyond recognition after 10 years in the bottle. And they were cellared in less than perfect conditions, namely, the humid basement of an Auckland house I shared in Grey Lynn in the 2000s, followed by the draughty cupboard in a dilapidated 1800s Auckland cottage on the cold east face of Arch Hill.

The key to cellaring is to choose wines that can change for the better. This is usually determined by high amounts of tannin in reds, acid in whites or sweetness in botrytised and other late harvest styles. Tannins, acids and sugars are all preservatives.

Then there’s the issue of where to keep them. Most of us don’t have a wine cellar or a house with an underground space that could become one. The answer is to build. This can cost a large amount or a modest one, if it’s in a small cupboard, an unused room or even an insulated garden shed.

Like the wine choice, the physical cellar space can be optimised if  left to the experts, such as those at White Refrigeration; www.whiterefrigeration.co.nz/

Here are five top wines that are worth keeping for at least five years, in some cases, far longer. All are available now.

The Central Otago Pinot 

2014 Bannock Brae Central Otago Pinot Noir $60

Many of us wax lyrical about Central Otago Pinot Noir and its fruit bomb flavours but I prefer these wines after 8 or 9 years of leaving them to their cherry fruit and oak/cedar devices. A bottle of 2007 Bannock Brae Pinot Noir tasted last year is a great case in point. I stumbled upon it when moving house and was more than  pleasantly surprised by its earthy rich flavours; I remember tasting it back in 2009 and thinking it was nice but this was a revelation.

The new 2014 Bannock Brae Pinot Noir ticks all the drink-me-right-now boxes – dry, full bodied, fruity and spicy – but it’ll be so much better in another 8-9 years.

The southern white

 2015 Ceres Black Rabbit Vineyard Riesling $22

Central Otago winemakers may have most of their eggs in the red wine basket (80% of the region is planted with Pinot Noir grapes) but this cool southern area is ideally suited to a cool, crisp white wines, such as the Ceres Black Rabbit Riesling (winner of a pure gold medal at the 2015 Air New Zealand Wine Awards), which tastes like succulent limes, fresh crunchy green apples and lemon curd. It’s refreshing and crisp with very high acidity, which means it will age superbly for up to a decade; possibly beyond.

The keeper Shiraz

2010 Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz $40

Originally Bin 28 was named after the Kalimna Vineyard, which Penfolds Wines bought in 1945, but the words South Australia on the front label mean this is a multi-regional blend of grapes from this reliably warm, Mediterranean-style climate. This is ideal for Shiraz, which needs heat to develop its trademark dense dark fruit, spicy, robust tannins flavours, which wines like this one absolute winners –right now, if you like the big-is-best style or in another 15 to 20 years, if you prefer to taste smooth, savoury, earthy and impressively long lived reds, as a bottle I opened from my cellar two years ago showed.

The budget bargain

2015 Jacob’s Creek Classic Riesling $10.59

Bottles this good are rare anywhere in the world. It’s a wonder it doesn’t cost double because of its ability to transform positively for 10 years, which give it the breathing space to taste all about fresh lemons and limes and crisp red apples with notes of honey and white flowers. That’s no mean feat for a wine that costs $10.

The big red

2014 Vidal Hawke’s Bay Legacy Syrah $79.99

It’s a high price but this is from arguably the better of two exceptionally warm, dry years (rarities in New Zealand’s maritime climate); 2013 was the first and the 2014 reds are now proving to have the muscle, the power and the savoury dark spice flavours that can age exceptionally well for up to a decade, perhaps far beyond.

All of these wines were tasted by me in the past six months and all are currently available.

Accidental wine cellar

Annemarie Begg’s story: “It’s by accident that I have a wine cellar – I piled things on top of wine boxes and forgot about them but the Penfolds reds I found years later are delicious…”

If you want something done, apparently you should give it to a busy person, so the cliché goes, and Annemarie Begg is just the type – a businesswoman with a company to run, a family to care for and a new wine cellar business.

That’s why her story is on this website. The cellar business is the newest part of her fast growing refrigeration company, so we asked her to share a couple of her favourite bottles with us. Not literally – just to tell us their identities and how long she’d kept the wines for.

Turns out, she only ever cellared wine by accident.

This is her story.

When did you first store wine for longer than the trip home from the supermarket?

“I’ve got a few bottles of 2006 and 2007 reds and at first they were in the cupboard under the stairs and then I put something on top of the boxes and completely forgot about them.”

How did you unearth them?

“We found them when moving house, so drank a few bottles with friends and, they were so yummy, I hoped they weren’t too expensive. I’ve got some Penfolds from 2006 – it’s not Grange but it was delicious, so it’s great to have another couple of bottles there.”

Where did you buy them?

“I used to get deliveries from the Fine Wine Delivery Company, Caro’s in Parnell and from Glengarry’s, so over the years I’ve had lots of different wines to try and it’s always interesting not having to choose them but getting to enjoy them.”

Where are you hiding your wine these days?

“In plain view. I’ve got a small wine fridge, which keeps between 12 and 20 bottles; some bottle sizes take up more room; Riesling or Pinot Gris bottles take less, wheras Champagne bottles take up more space. The fridge is for everyday. It’s not a cellar.”

What led to wine cellars as a business?

“A few years ago we were asked to build a wine storage area in a client’s house. It’s built since then.”

What types of wine cellars do you build?

“Some are big modern spaces with heated glass doors and mirrors while others are really small because their owners don’t have big budgets, but the dollar value of their wine is important, so they want to protect it.”

What are you drinking each day?”

“I love Champagne but not daily. I’m enjoying Otago Pinot Noirs; I know they can be little more expensive but they have a bit more body, I think and I like that. Sauvignon Blanc is my favourite white and I love rose in summer.”

Where do you buy wine now days?

“Farro is over the road from work (in Grey Lynn, Auckland) and it sometimes has wines you can’t get anywhere else. I also found it interesting being at Soul Bar (at Auckland’s Viaduct) on Sunday for Mother’s Day lunch and knowing that nobody else in the country could get the particular wine we were drinking. That was a good experience for me.”

If budget wasn’t an option, what would you fill your daily wine fridge with?

“Champagne – Veuve Clicquot is my favourite.”


Annemarie Begg is the managing director of White Refrigeration in Auckland, New Zealand.