Joelle Thomson's online wine guide

Category: Marlborough (page 1 of 5)

Meet the maker… Colere wines…

He uses unknown grapes to make uncommonly good (and sustainable) wines with ancient artwork on the labels and modern-with-a-twist flavours in the bottles… Meet Julian Richards and his new(ish) wine brand – Colere.

Richards was born and bred… in the South Island and remains there at his home base in North Canterbury (New Zealand’s most under rated wine region, in my view, but that’s another story).

He has worked everywhere from… the vineyard to the cellar floor of wineries, and his brand Colere is a new opportunity for him to curate, create and cultivate interesting and different wines made from mostly mainstream grape varieties and often from grapes that need to find a home – hence, the word sustainable in the headline of this story. That said, Richard’s is a pretty big fan of Pinot Blanc (a man after my own heart then). Even though there is a scant amount of this interesting French white grape still growing in New Zealand – a mere 29 hectares – he is a big champion of it. So much so that his latest one is a 50/50 blend of Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, which adds strong commercial appeal (since ‘Gris’ is better known), and this wine was then aged for a massive four years in old oak barrels, where it softened, gained savoury flavours and yet retains its varietal stamp of freshness (citrusy flavours) and white fruit (pear).

The word Colere is Latin… and means to farm, cultivate and worship. It’s a complex message that Richards wants to convey in wines that remain, importantly, extremely affordable. It’s incredibly refreshing to see a new wine brand like this one, which champions old artwork on the labels (it’s from the early 1800s and it really is a story for another day, so let’s park that for now).

Inside the bottles, the wines are modern with a twist… These are not orange wines and Richards is not pigeon holing them under any  ‘natural’ banners, either. He came into Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington this week (where I spend a portion of my working week on tastings and education) to taste his new wines with a group of us.

The wines speak come from… vineyards around Marlborough and Martinborough and, as you read this, he is in the process of making a quirky new take on a traditional French blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blend from North Canterbury. Quantities will be small and it is from the 2017 vintage. I look forward to trying it as I love the outstanding North Canterbury Sauvignon Blanc Semillon blend  from Pegasus Bay. But I digress.

Try these… 

Big beautiful Chardonnay

2011 Colere Kerner Marlborough Chardonnay 

Big, buttery and beautifully crisp – this Chardonnay was made from grapes treated like royalty – they were hand picked, whole bunch pressed, native yeast fermented in barrels for 8 months and then further aged in tanks…

Tastes of… tangy citrus fruit with big buttery and creamy mouth feel; like big fresh crisp Chablis with body to burn.

Silky seductive Pinot Noir 

2014 Colere Pinot Noir Wairarapa 

This new Martinborough Pinot Noir is bright ruby with juicy flavours of red plumd and cherries, with succulent acidity adding a long finish. A big elegant beauty from Te Muna – 9 kms east of Martinborough township.

Check out Colere winemaker Julian Richard’s new website:

Dialling up Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc…

The same wine in a different way… Matt Large on Marlborough savvy

Experimental wines may not make the accountants ecstatic, but they keep winemakers engaged and punters happy. Excuse the use of the word ‘punter’ but it fits, especially when used for the new Wither Hills cellar door and winery restaurant, which finally opened on 9 December last year to keep visitors to Marlborough well fed and watered.

The newly expanded cellar door and restaurant opened after  delays, due to earthquakes and complications, including a random event that nearly decimated this famous winery. But that’s another story. We’re here to talk about happy endings, which Wither Hills has plenty of these days.
Like most wineries in Marlborough, Wither Hills relies heavily on  Sauvignon Blanc. Approximately 75% of the winery’s production is made up of Sauvignon Blanc – a direct reflection of the region’s total vineyard area and production.

If this appears to be a heavy reliance on one thing, it is. But this is the story of New Zealand’s wine industry today and Marlborough’s nearest neighbours – Nelson and North Canterbury – are also now home to more Sauvignon Blanc than any other grape, with 39% of each region’s total vineyard area planted in this popular white  variety. While that makes sense, given the strong export demand for Kiwi savvy, it seems a great shame to me that Riesling and Chardonnay have both fallen from their prime spots, respectively, in these regions. Both are every bit as good in quality and have great aging potential in all South Island wine regions, in my view.
So, back to Marlborough, where it’s heartening to see and taste experimental wines at Wither Hills cellar door, thanks to winemakers Matt Large and Sally Williams, who are both big champions of their cellar release range. Wines available only at the cellar door include Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Chardonnay and a fortified Pinot Noir, among others. But since Sauvignon rules the roost here, I asked winemaker Matt Large what he would do, if he could make a wine from any grape, in any style.
His answer?
He would like to make the star attraction but in a different way.

“If I had an open slate to try anything at all, I’d like to do something with Sauvignon Blanc. Not so much a different style but a wine with a different intensity – what we do but on steroids. The intensity, the weight and the aromatic palate weight – all dialled up,” says Matt.

Every year, he and Sally make about 3000 cases (give or take a little, depending on vintage variation) of Rarangi Sauvignon Blanc, which is a single vineyard wine. This is comparatively miniscule compared to the 200,000 cases of Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc the pair produce, most of it destined for export.

Wine is now the seventh biggest export earner for New Zealand. Growth has been significant in the past couple of decades, particularly in the United Kingdom, but the focus is now on the United States, Australia, Asia and the domestic market rather than growing quantity.

Back to the future, Matt is quietly confident the winery has access to good quality Sauvignon Blanc grapes from which to make that intense Sauvignon Blanc he has in mind.

Wither Hills fact file…

  • Wither Hills was established in 1994
  • The winery was named after the southern landmark Wither Hills in the Wairau Valley, which is the source of all grapes in the winery’s production
  • It was begun by the Marris family and is now owned by Lion NZ
  • Significant vineyards include the Taylor River Vineyard at the start of the southern valleys and Rarangi, closer to the coast
  • 50-60% of grapes in Wither Hills wines comes from estate owned vineyards

Hawke’s Bay’s secret Pinots…

Where are New Zealand’s next top quality Pinot Noir regions?

It never seemed important until I was standing at a wine festival in Hawke’s Bay, two weeks before this country’s biggest ever Pinot Noir gig in living history – Pinot Noir NZ 2017, which attracted record numbers of people from all round the world, but let’s not digress.

The wine festival in question was this year’s – and the third annual – Bridge Pa Wine Festival. It’s a small festival, by anyone’s stretch of imagination – only six wineries are involved and they range from small to medium to pretty darned large, namely Sileni Estates.

It was not the first time, but it struck me just how strongly the Hawke’s Bay’s Pinot Noir scene has been eclipsed for many years by its big reds from the Gimblett Gravels and its very good to outstanding Chardonnays. Not to mention by all of its southern counterparts.

So…. it may come as a surprise to find that in many years the Bay produces more Pinot Noir than the entire North Canterbury region. And it’s one producer who makes this do-able – Sileni Estates. This medium sized, family owned winery owns significant inland vineyards that benefit from both cool climate coastal breezes, inland vineyard positions and a slight elevation that makes a big difference – up to 180 to 200 metres.
At last count, Sileni Estates makes five different Pinot Noirs, Not all of these wines are in production every single year. They range from a soft, fresh and fruity ‘everyday’ style of wine to the serious structured Sileni EV (Exceptional Vintage) Hawke’s Bay Pinot Noir – a judicious 20% new French oak allows the red fruit, refreshing high acidity and softness of this wine to shine. Words such as iron fist, velvet glove spring to mind. It’s a surprising wine, once you realise where it comes from because it does not rely on oak for body, on big dark red grapes for appeal or on a sexy regional name for marketability. This is a pale ruby coloured, bone dry, soft and sensual tasting Hawke’s Bay Pinot Noir with fresh zingy crispness adding an interesting but balanced tartness to the ripe red cherry fruit flavours.

This wine bodes well for the Bay’s red wine future, as do the supposed entry level Pinot Noirs from Sileni, both styles proving that the diverse Hawke’s Bay region has many strings to its different microclimate bows.

The bigger picture is that Central Otago has the highest proportion of Pinot Noir planted in New Zealand because 80% of its 1943 hectares are devoted to this grape. It is also home to many of the big namers, such as Mt Difficulty, Felton Road, Carrick Wines, Mt Edward and Gibbston Valley, among many others.

And yet, Marlborough has more Pinot Noir planted overall than Central Otago. Two of New Zealand’s smallest regions make some of the most distinctive and savoury tasting wines – the Wairarapa (now marketing itself as Wellington Wine Country and home to just 2.8% of New Zealand’s total wine production) and North Canterbury (home to 3.4% of the country’s total wine production).

Despite what first springs to mind when Pinot Noir and New Zealand are mentioned, it’s worth keeping an open mind, I thought to myself, as I drank a glass (ok, two) of Sileni Pinot Noir, marvelling at its intensity and softness – iron fist, velvet glove? Definitely. And deliciously so.

Pinot snapshot…

There are 36,192 hectares of producing vineyard land in New Zealand, of which red grapes account for just 7,960 hectares of the total.

Pinot Noir grapes account for 70% of the reds and 5573 hectares of vines grown nationwide.

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