Wines of the week, news and reviews

Month: April 2017 (page 1 of 2)

Retrospective tasting – Central Otago Pinot Noir

Bannock Brae retrospective tasting on Thursday 25 May 2017, Wellington

How well does Central Otago Pinot Noir age after a decade and a half in the bottle?

It’s a question that will no doubt encourage a wide range of answers at a retrospective tasting of Bannock Brae Pinot Noirs, to be held at Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington on 25 May.

The wines span vintages from 2002 to 2014, with the exceptions of 2004 and 2012, the only two years in which the wines were not produced.

Here are the wines we will taste on the night:

2015 Goldfields Central Otago Pinot Noir

2014 Bannock Brae Central Otago Pinot Noir

2013 Bannock Brae Central Otago Pinot Noir

2010 Bannock Brae Central Otago Pinot Noir

2008 Bannock Brae Central Otago Pinot Noir

2006 Bannock Brae Central Otago Pinot Noir

2012 Bannock Brae Central Otago Pinot Noir

This tasting was prompted by Auckland based wine distributor David Batten, who says he has been impressed by the longevity and high quality of Central Otago Pinot Noir after it has been in the bottle for seven to eight years-plus.

Some of the six vintages of Bannock Brae Pinot Noir will also be available for purchase on the night of the tasting and going forward at Regional Wines & Spirits, which has a new owner, who took over in October last year.

Bookings are essential to secure a spot in this tasting, which will be hosted by yours truly. Book and find out more here:

Challenging and complex: the 2017 vintage in Hawke’s Bay…

Here is one perspective on vintage 2017 in Hawke’s Bay… More will follow on this site. Watch this space…

Two words beginning with ‘c’ sum up vintage 2017 in Hawke’s Bay for Bordeaux oenologist Ludwig Vanneron, consultant to the small Waimarama Estate: challenging and complex. I asked him to share his thoughts on how he responds to heavy rainfall pre-harvest on late ripening  grapes. Here are his thoughts.

“When it’s rainy in Bordeaux, we say it is better to pick grapes more ripe under rain than green (and dry) with sunshine.

“There are actually several factors to take into account: dilution (water makes berries bigger), tightness (compacité) of bunches, risk of burst, split, and rot infection (where it starts, and how fast it grows depending on the vineyard, the plots and the grapes).

“The look,  analysis and weight of grapes can give an idea of the dilution effect. If we must pick green grapes like unripe Cabernet (high pyrazine content), fining, oaky adjuncts and micro-oxygenation could improve the wines.

“Bursting effects and rot infection require high attention and care. Everyday we have to take a look in the vineyard and check how it grows. If it is located only in some bunches, which are very tight, and weather is forecast to improve, then a healthy sort by hand before picking can be done. Then, another problem is the cost, but making good or very good wines in bad conditions is always more expensive.

“Rot infection requires a change to enological practices by taking care of aeration and oxidation effects, due to laccase compounds produced by botrytis. If there is lots of oxidation, mostly from the beginning, as soon as must is free out of the berries, then laccase starts and we lose aromas and colour degradation is more sensitive as well. So adjunctions of specific tanins (proanthocyanidic) are required, and fermentation needs to start quickly by putting yeasts straight into the vats. The goal is to fix the colour, as much as possible, by using other types of tannins and adapted winemaking practices.”

What is the biggest challenge in a rainy vintage when you would like to leave grapes hanging on the vines for longer?

“Our only goal is to make the best wine we can from the best grapes possible. The first point to consider is the work in the vineyard and how the vines were managed during the growing season to maximise healthy ripe grapes.

“Among the keys are: well timed pruning, the spread of bunches from one vine to the next, the removal of young shoots (pampres, in French), the quality of tucking on trellising system (main shoots have to be straight up, no crossing), removal of lateral shoots, leaf plucking, crop thinning, applications of specific products (natural defense stimulators, among others) and timing along with quality of sprays for treatments.

“The type of grapes is important to consider. If red, they may be able to  wait, in the anticipation they could become more ripe, even if the risk of rot infection is high (natural tanins in the berries act like a fence against botrytis attack). For white grapes, we must have a different approach as we are looking after aromas first but rot produces laccase and early fining of must (at settling) helps to create clean juice early, which is a good start for keeping varietal flavours.

“To leave grapes hanging on the vines for longer, the aim is to reduce green characters. Pyrazines are at a higher level during veraison, then they decrease week after week during maturation. Merlot is easier as pyrazines are not as high as they are in Cabernet, and the maturation time required to get ripe grapes is approximately 45-50 days after the colour change of veraison whereas Cabernet Sauvignon’s is 60-70 days. This makes it more difficult to get lower amounts of pyrazines in berries.

How can you eliminate green pyrazine flavours from Cabernet?

“One way is to remove the first leaf in front of the bunches at an early stage (2 to 3mm berry size). Then by doing this practice, you “cut” the factory of pyrazine production, and the level at the veraison time is lower, making easier to reach ripening at the end because we start with lower quantities of pyrazine, so we can expect lower amounts when the grapes are ripe.”

What are the key differences in the winemaking process for Cabernet grapes harvested earlier than ideal?

“The risks are pyrazine and green flavours, including green and harsh tannins. Specific fining like PVPP, the use of micro-oxigenation, combined with external tannins adjuncts (toasted oak chips) and adapted enological practices during the winemaking roadmap will make the wines taste better.”

Will this impact on pruning and crop levels for next year?

“No. Each vintage is different and has its own characteristics. Frost or hail are much more annoying for the years that follow, compared to rain.”

3 Top drops… adventurous Sauvignon Blancs

Oak and Sauvignon Blanc aren’t usually attached at the hip but when winemakers take the plunge (if you’ll excuse the pun) and marry the two together, the results can be surprisingly tasty, as Michael Glover’s Mammoth Rare White, Clos Henri Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and Pegasus Bay Sauvignon Blanc Semillon all show.

These wines are ripples on the ocean of Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand, but show how well the country’s dominant grape variety responds to bells and whistle winemaking that integrates controlled oxidative winemaking methods.

These wines command respect. Mana. Thoughtful drinking too. Why?

They break the usual style mould. Their makers have enabled these wines to develop a complex range of flavours, which express the grape, the climate in which it’s grown and also accentuate interesting winemaking techniques.

PS… Sauvignon is now 85% of New Zealand wine exports and 74% of the country’s white wine vineyard area (and white grapes make up 28,231 of the country’s total 36,192 hectares)… so it’s more important now than ever to see wines such as these trickle out of left field and into mainstream  retail stores, restaurants and bars. They’re out there for us to enjoy and to cellar them too – they will provide an interesting snapshot of the evolution in New Zealand white wine, in years to come. They are sealed with screw caps, which is another feather in their cap of age-ability in the medium to long term.

2015 Clos Henri Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc $33, 14% ABV

Clos Henri’s flagship white is a bone dry, full bodied different take on the Sauvignon Blanc theme, modelled after Sancerre in Loire Valley. The  Marlborough vineyard is planted at high density to restrain the high vigour of Sauvignon Blanc so the vines can put more energy into the grapes rather than the leaf canopy to concentrate the berries. Dry farming (no irrigation) also keeps vigour under control, forcing vine roots deep into the soil.

The wine is pale in colour but intense in taste with pronounced aromas of limes, lemons, green apple, grapefruit and even a hint of wild flowers, all supported by a creamy mouthfeel, balanced by high acidity and a long, zesty finish. It was fermented in 90% stainless steel and 10% old French oak barrels, then aged on  yeast lees for 8 months with lees stirring, both of which encourage a Sauvignon Blanc with body to burn. It works because of the concentration of fruit flavour in tandem with the winemaking.

2015 Pegasus Bay Sauvignon Blanc Semillon $31

You can taste this wine before the glass reaches your lips, thanks to the  intense aromas of elderflower, orange blossom and ripe tropical fruit, held in check by nutty dry flavours, thanks to 15% of the Sauvignon Blanc and all of the Semillon being fermented in French oak (new for the Sauvignon Blanc; old French oak for the Semillon). Both varieties were harvested from 30 year old vines, which means crop levels were relatively low, which provides concentration in this full bodied wine.

It’s dry, richly textural and modelled on the best Bordeaux white blends – putting North Canterbury’s finest freshest foot forward when it comes to white wines. Pegasus Bay Sauvignon Blanc Semillon is consistently one of the South Island’s most distinctive whites and is beginning to show a history of ageing superlatively well for up to 10 years, and it’s highly probable it can continue to evolve positively for even longer.

2015 Mammoth Rare White Nelson $50

The Waimea Plains in Nelson are home to a winemaker who eschews many of the winemaking methods he learnt at university, in favour of wines he’s on a crusade for. Meet Michael Glover. His wines are labelled Mahana Estate, with the exception of Mammoth Rare White. There are few words on this front label, which is a full frontal photo of a mammoth coming up the mountain, painted in Kapova Cave in the South Ural. This is Glover paying his respects to European history. It was while in Europe; Italy, to be precise, that he learnt there was more to winemaking life than safe methods and, when working in a winery in Campania (Naples is the capital of this Italian region), he saw white grapes being destemmed in old acacia wood puncheons (500 litre barrels) to be fermented on their skins – an old technique, which can add texture, weight and flavour (and hardness too, if not carefully managed).

Long story short, Mammoth Rare White is made from hand picked grapes grown on an organically certified vineyard with no irrigation. It began its transformation from juice into wine via a carbonic maceration (stems, skins and all, no air) for 14 days being being pressed into 200 litre French oak ‘cigars’ (to accentuate the lees – spent yeast cells – flavour in the wine). It spent 18 months there before being bottled as a bone dry, full bodied, full throttle, massively flavoursome white wine. Would you recognise it as a Sauvignon Blanc?
Yes, but with so much more besides beautiful bright fruit flavours, which remain intact here, alongside creamy, nutty, spicy, oatmeal-type flavours. A stunner from the top tip of the South Island – Nelson. Bravo.


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