5 top drops that push the boat of flavour into deep waters of deliciousness…
As Justin Dry – our Friday interview this week – says: our favourite wines might be a very personal thing but no matter what they are, they always taste better when shared. And with the year drawing swiftly to a close (some of us are happy to see the back of it), it’s only fitting to share 5 top drops for the silly season.
These are my final 5 top drops of the week for 2017 but I will post the year’s top 10 wines (personal choices, that is) in the next week or two.
The following wines were selected from a combination of my work as wine writer (I get sent wine to review), wine lover (I put my money where my mouth is) and Wine Programme Director (writing and tastings) at Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington, New Zealand.
So, without further chit chat, here they are – 5 top drops that really push the boat of deliciousness out into deep calm waters of great flavour.
Spy’s top white… dry Riesling
2016 Spy Valley Envoy Dry Riesling Johnson Vineyard $32
It’s rare to find bone dry Riesling in New Zealand, especially when it’s fermented in old German oak ‘fuder’ (barrels) and has only ever been made four times.
Meet Envoy. Spy Valley’s top dry white is made from grapes grown on the sunny slopes of the Johnson Vineyard in the Waihopai Valley, Marlborough – a free draining site where stony soils mix with clay at a slight elevation, which means the vines get more intense sunshine and, in good years, gain greater aromatic flavour, thanks to careful harvest decisions from winemakers Paul Bourgeois and Richelle Collier.
All the grapes used in this wine were hand picked after being trained on two canes which were shoot and bunch thinned to restrict yields. They were fermented in old oak which does not imprint its own flavour on the wine, instead allowing it to shine with softness as well as the characteristic high but, in this case, beautifully balanced acidity, which stretches out this wine’s flavours to a long finish. Delicious.
Available from… specialist wine retailers.
Great Italian white
2015 Umani Ronchi Verdicchio di Castelli di Jesi $23
Verdicchio is an indigenous Italian white grape that comes from the Marche region in central Italy – go to Tuscany, then head straight over to the east coast on the Adriatic Sea. It has the body of a fleshy big Chardonnay and the acidity of Chenin Blanc; speaking of which, great Verdicchios can also age superlatively, for those with the necessary will power. This accessibly priced white is just one of the growing number of Verdicchios available in New Zealand these days… It’s a fantastic dry white with full body and a long, succulent, intensely lemon zesty finish.
Available from… specialist wine retailers.
Dog Point Pinot
2015 Dog Point Marlborough Pinot Noir $47
The 2015 vintage was a great one in New Zealand with drier weather, lower rainfall and a warmer summer than most years, which eased the pressure on winemakers to pick grapes before their optimal window, and this is what makes the reds from that year so tasty. Like the year, this wine is dry, super concentrated in flavour (black cherries, savoury spice, hints of mushroom) and a full body. It drinks well now, but be sure to decant it and let the wine sit for two hours or more, before drinking. It also has outstanding potential to cellar well and evolve into an even more complex wine.
Old vines, oak fermentation, maturation on decomposing yeast cells… it may sound like an interesting combination of factors, but this wine is an outstanding dry white that rocks my boat with its full body, complex flavours of green fresh herbs, ripe tropical fruit and nutty flavours. Year in, year out, this wine ticks all the boxes with its full body, vibrant freshness and super concentration of flavour; not least thanks to being made from grapes grown on a north facing, 30 year old vineyard in North Canterbury. Both the Sauvignon Blanc and the Semillon spent a portion of time fermenting and aging in old oak barrels, which adds body, softness and builds the textural deliciousness into this wine.
Ticks all the boxes – a champagne made by the grape grower, who hand picked all the grapes, used wild yeast fermentation and a combo of oak and stainless steel for fermentation, then aged it for two years in bottle, prior to disgorgement (six months longer than the legal minimum aging time in the Champagne region).
This is a 100% Chardonnay, hence it’s a blanc de blanc, and it is the best champagne that I have tasted so far this summer. Despite my personal preference for Pinot Noir dominant bubbles, this one blew my mind – a champagne that is, like Bollinger and many other great wines, first and foremost, a wine – the bubbles add a je ne sais quoi.
If you’re a sucker for a big buttery Chardonnay, Gisborne was the place to be this Labour Weekend.
And not only in Gisborne but on board the W165 – the last train of its type in operation in New Zealand today. If you haven’t heard of the W165, you’re not alone because it’s usually safely ensconced under cover of darkness to protect the massive restoration job done by a group of Gisborne train spotters. This Labour Weekend (last month), the W165 was wheeled out, renamed The Chardonnay Express and commandeered by a bunch of Gisborne Chardonnay makers, who hosted over 100 people who paid to enjoy eight Big Buttery Chardonnays (let’s call them BBCs) with eight matching morsels of food on a half day ride that took us from the centre of town across the airport runway out to Muriwai on the coast.
It was the first time the Chardonnay Express has run, but hopefully won’t be the last.
The ride was the highlight of a Chardonnay-themed weekend, which was a collaboration between winemakers, tourism operators and Air New Zealand – which came on board, if you’ll excuse the pun, to subsidise flight packages to lure as many people as possible to Gisborne for the event.
Gisborne winemaker Steve Voysey hopes this wine tourism package will prove successful enough to take place again, hopefully several times a year. It’s partly about attracting more people to Gisborne; partly about upping the profile of the region’s wines. Production of which has declined significantly over the past decade, as statistics highlight – there were 2,142 hectares of grapes planted in the region in 2008 compared to 1,371 hectares today. That’s a pretty big drop, by anyone’s measure.
It’s a balance between making money from selling to a defined market and over production, which does no one any favours, says Voysey, who has a foot in both camps. He makes wine for his own relatively small volume wine brand, Spade Oak, when he founded and co-owns with his life and work partner, Eileen Voysey. And he is also a consultant to Indevin and LeaderBrand; two large volume wine production companies based in Gisborne.
Like most of New Zealand, Gisborne has a maritime climate, but its northern location means that sunshine hours are not only long, but the climate is generally warmer, which, in turn, means grapes tend to have lower acidity than they do further south. This means Gisborne Chardonnay can taste very ripe in flavour, full bodied and soft. And, when treated to a little malolactic fermentation (the conversion of malic acid in grapes into softer lactic acid), it can taste very rich and creamy.
These styles of Chardonnays remain extremely popular in New Zealand today, despite a strong swing, by some winemakers, towards crisper, lighter bodied, less creamy dry whites made from the Chardonnay grape. And while that can be potentially confusing for lovers of BBCs, variety is the spice of many of life’s best things, including wine, so, in my view, Chardonnay has never been better. Modern Chardonnay offers wines at both stylistic extremes, with many welcome shades of grey in between.
Speaking of which, Gisborne has other strings to its wine bow nowadays too. It’s true that its overall volume has declined, but there’s never been so much diversity, thanks to unusual varieties such as Albarino, Chenin Blanc, Marsanne and Vermentino, which are all made in Gisborne today thanks to Riversun Nurseries – New Zealand’s biggest vine nursery which just so happens to be the gateway to New Zealand for new and improved as well as experimental grapes, which winemakers have embraced with enthusiasm.
Chardonnay remains numero uno in Gisborne and it is what this region does best.
About that train… The Chardonnay Express
The W165 is the last remaining train of its type in operation in New Zealand. It was the first of 11 WA Class locomotives to be built in Dunedin in 1897 and put into service in 1898 it was put into service in Wellington, later transferring to Palmerston North, Taihape and Napier, with stints of shunting duties in Putaruru, Huntly, Te Kuiti and Frankton, before being finally retired to Gisborne in 1960. It spent decades rusting in Young Nick’s Playground in Awapuni Road, Gisborne, before being restored by a group of Gisborne rail enthusiasts in 1985. Their aim was to restore the train to its original condition and in 1999 they put it back on the track in a fully restored condition.
Gisborne Chardonnay Group
Oak Barrel Fermented Chardonnay production is a must for those who belong to this group because they highlight the strongest wine style for this region – “We are focussing on what Gisborne does best at a premium but affordable level.”
Oak adds a significant cost to wine production but also adds a tangible taste to the wines.
The list… Big Buttery Chardonnays from Gisborne
The BBCs served aboard the W165 for its inaugural journey as the Chardonnay Express this year were:
In the interests of appealing to those who would like to buy BBCs and are keen on ratings, mine are out of 20 and appear beside each wine.
2016 Matawhero Irwin Chardonnay 18.5/20
The new flagship wine from one of Gisborne’s oldest wineries, which has a new lease of life thanks to Kirsten and Richard Searle who bought the brand from wine pioneer Denis Irwin.
This is nice and nutty, big on body, balanced on the oak front (a combo of 30% new American and Hungarian, both of which provide plenty of spicy taste appeal).
It’s named after both the late Bill Irwin (Denis’ father) and Denis – a homage to both these wine pioneers, whose Matawhero Gewürztraminer was one of the first modern wines to make drinkers sit up and take notice of Gisborne as a region capable of high quality wine.
Full bodied, dry and, more importantly, big and buttery with softness, smooth texture and strong creamy flavours.
2015 Bushmere Estate Classic Chardonnay 16.5/20
If you’re a fan of a little crisp freshness with your creamy Chardonnay, then here it is – a modern buttery number that successfully straddles vibrant freshness with softness too.
2015 Stone Bridge Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 17/20
As its name implies, this wine was fermented entirely in oak barrels and it’s a soft, big buttery wine with loads of spice flavour too.
2015 Le Pont Chardonnay 16.5/20
Soft, creamy, medium bodied and buttery; this wine was made from hand harvested grapes then fermented with wild yeasts, which add a lovely savoury complexity to the wine.
2015 Spade Oak Vigneron Chardonnay 18.5/20
This “vigneron” label is the top range of Spade Oak wines and in this case it was made from hand harvested grapes, wild yeast fermented and went through 100% malolactic fermentation. It’s full bodied, has a beautiful balance of big smooth creamy roundness, tempered by vibrant acidity which adds a sense of freshness and length to the wine.
2015 Wrights Reserve Chardonnay 18.5/20
Geoff and Nicola Wright’s full bodied Chardonnay has organic certification from AsureQuality and did exceptionally well in Cuisine magazine’s tasting this year, cruising into the top five. This is smooth with pronounced fruit concentration – think ripe yellow fruit flavours with nutty, yeasty and creamy aromas and long finish.
2014 TW Reserve Chardonnay 17.5/20
Big, buttery and noticeably oak-influenced, thanks to an equal combo of French, American and Hungarian oak barrels, in which the wine was aged. This is a great style for those who like bigger-is-better Chardonnays…
Bravo, Gisborne Chardonnay producers… bring them on.