Alternative Gisborne wines

Wines like Albarino and Petit Manseng not only sound like a foreign language (which they are to English speakers) but they are so unfamiliar to many New Zealanders that it can be difficult to get these wines into the mainstream. Unless… you also happen to have three Chardonnays that tick three different price boxes.

Enter Spade Oak Vineyard.

This Gisborne based wine brand is owned by Steve and Eileen Voysey, who are partners in wine and in life. Last week Steve was in the so-called windy capital city (on a sun drenched, windless day) and he popped by with his wine distributor, Sue Davies of Wine2Trade (her business) to taste his  wines.

We started with Albarino – a wine that may be offbeat in New Zealand but is very much on trend in the Northern Hemisphere right now where it is having a renaissance, along with all things Spanish relating to vino and food.

Albarino is made in a wide range of styles from fresh, flinty and green in taste to big, bold and creamy. Voysey likes to make (and to drink) the fresher style, avoiding using any malolactic conversion in his winemaking because, he feels, this makes the wine taste too heavy and big. Not that he’s adverse to using plenty of malolactic fermentation in his Chardonnays, of which we tasted three.

But first Albarino, which is originally from the maritime north west of Spain, most notably Rias Baixas DO, a defined wine production area north of the Portuguese border. Heading south into northern Portugal takes a visitor to  Vinho Verde, the region where the same grape is known as Alvarinho.

Both of these areas have relatively high rainfall, which makes fungal diseases one of their biggest issues when it comes to growing grapes. This means that thick skinned grapes, such as Albarino / Alvarinho can fit the bill  nicely. Many winemakers here in New Zealand can relate, which is why Albarino is working a treat, particularly in Gisborne, which is home to Riversun Nurseries – the biggest grapevine nursery in New Zealand and therefore the main gateway for disease-free grapevines which are certified in identity (important in a young wine country, such as this one).

The Voyseys are not the only ones making Albarino and Steve says it’s thanks to the biggest producers, such as Villa Maria Wines, that this grape is gaining ground in people’s minds.

Albarino is currently the most promising newcomer grape in New Zealand at the moment, in my view. Its thick skins, vibrant acidity and green flavours make it a natural fit for this cool, mostly maritime country. And I am impressed not only with the Voyseys’ version of Albarino, but with all of the other wines made from this white grape, given that I have been fortunate enough to try nearly all of them and several times alongside each other too. The other wineries making Albarino currently include Cooper’s Creek, Hihi, Matawhero, TW and Villa Maria and one that I have not yet tried, Tono.

It is not the only thing that Steve and Eileen Voysey are doing well. They  make three Chardonnays in different styles, and are also dabbling with Petit Manseng, which traditionally grows in Jurancon, south west of Bordeaux, where it makes some of France’s greatest but least known sweet wines.

Petit Manseng is a late ripening, high acid grape with small thick skinned berries, which tend to shrivel on the vines rather than be prone to the ‘noble’ fungus we call botrytis.

The following Spade Oak Vineyards wines were tasted by me with winemaker Steve Voysey in August this year.

2015 Spade Oak Vineyards Heart of Gold Albarino RRP $23ish

This is the fourth vintage of Albarino from Spade Oak’s one hectare of Albarino grapes, so volumes are pretty small and it’s still early days, despite which the style of the wine is one that winemaker Steve Voysey is consistent on. He picks the grapes for this wine slightly earlier than the other grapes he harvests, which enables him to make a wine that retains its fresh flavours and also cruises in with a lighter style at 12.5% alcohol.

Voysey has also been to Rias Baixas and tried a range of different Albarinos, including sparkling versions, higher alcohol and creamy styles  (made using malolactic fermentation) but he prefers to make (and drink) the fresh vibrant styles. Otherwise, he feels, the wine tends to lose the freshness that so distinctly marks out what he describes as “the New Zealandish white wine flavour and strong point”.

He prefers to save the big creamy bells and whistles for the variety where they are expected… Chardonnay.

My top wines from Spade Oak Vineyards, August 2016

2014 Spade Oak Vineyards Chardonnay $18-$19

This is a big, creamy crowd pleaser with all the soft, smooth Chardonnay bells and whistles, moderate acidity and a full body. It delivers good value at this price.

2014 Spade Oak Vineyards The Prospect Chardonnay Ormond $25

Machine picked grapes don’t usually tend to be treated to a full, 100% barrel fermentation because it’s a high cost winemaking technique, but it also results in an impressive, full bodied Chardonnay in this wine. It’s made from grapes grown on two historically important Gisborne Chardonnay vineyards (both formerly owned by Montana Wines and, later, by Pernod Ricard, but now owned by the contract winemaking facility, Indevin). This wine is a blend of grapes grown on both sites; Ormond Vineyard is warmer at night, has an earlier for harvest and adds the softness and roundness to the wine whereas Patutahi tends to provide grapes with a little more acidity and freshness due to higher day-night temperature variation.

2015 Spade Oak Vineyards Vigneron Chardonnay Gisborne $33

This is the flagship Chardonnay from Spade Oak wines and is the youngest of the trio here, made from hand harvested grapes and given full malolactic fermentation (which means 100% of the wine went through a second fermentation to soften the sharp malic acid into softer lactic acidity). It’s an impressive full bodied Chardonnay which is more about savoury flavours than buttery appeal, but successfully straddles both, thanks to wild yeast fermentation, which can tend to accentuate savoury flavours. This wine has rich flavours, a full body and a long finish.


2013 Spade Oak Vineyards Petit Manseng $32, 375ml (half bottle)

Four long rows grapes is a minuscule .4 of a hectare (in case you didn’t see the dot, that’s less than half a hectare) of very small grapes, which grow in very loose bunches and develop their pronounced ripe yellow raison-like flavours purely from hanging on the vines long after all other grapes have been harvested. Petit Manseng grapes have very thick skins, so they do not tend to develop fungal diseases and therefore they shrivel, which reduces their moisture, resulting in tropical fruit flavours of mango, pineapple and dried fruit flavours of figs and raisons. This grape was picked at 30-32 prix (high high high) and it still had 9-10 grams of natural acidity at harvest, which helps to balance its intense richness. It was my absolute favourite of this tasting, due to the balancing freshness of that impressive acidity, which stretches out the wine to a long finish.

Voysey has made four vintages of Petit Manseng and released two so there are two more in the pipeline.

This wine will drink well with tasty hard cheeses and will cellar for up to a decade, possibly beyond because its acidity lends it a long life.

2015 Spade Oak Vineyards Late Harvest Viognier RRP $32, 375ml (half bottle)

Saving the treacliest wine till last, this has a deep golden colour with intense orange and spice-like flavours and a medium plus finish. It’s like liquid honey in texture and will drink well with sweet creamy desserts.