… for the under dogs

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It’s hard to imagine anyone describing Jenny Dobson as an underdog but her latest wine venture is a different story. It’s small scale production of Fiano, one of Italy’s most obscure white grapes, until it was rescued from near extinction by winemakers, such as Antonio Mastroberadino, who made his first 30 bottles in 1945.

So if you haven’t heard of Fiano, you’re in good company. Production remained small, even in Italy, until around the 1980s when it started to become fashionable. And while it may never make it to the mainstream in a big way, it’s good to see (well, taste) Fiano that has spread its wings to the Southern Hemisphere. That’s where Jenny Dobson comes in. She’s better known as a winemaker of bold and powerful reds made from classic Bordeaux grapes such as Merlot and Cabernet but Fiano has become her sideline labour of love. Quantities remain miniscule but what she lacks in quantity, she more than makes up for in quality (if you’ll excuse the cliché) and this week she visited Wellington to show four vintages of her Fiano from 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

She has actually made it since 2013 with Bryce Campbell, who planted the first Fiano vineyard in New Zealand in 2010. His health took a turn for the worse in 2015 so he offered Dobson the chance to manage his vineyard and make the wine.


What it tastes like

“I’m not trying to make them all the same – it’s what the vineyard and the vintage give and it ages beautifully.”

She has 300 vines from which to make Fiano and since it’s a loose bunched grape variety with thick skins, quantities look set to remain rather small. It ripens late, even in Hawke’s Bay (one of the warmest grape growing regions in New Zealand) and its thick skins suit the country’s maritime climate well.


Wines of the week

2018 Fiano by Jenny Dobson Hawke’s Bay $35

Fiano ripens late in Hawke’s Bay and is harvested around the same time as Syrah and Cabernet – “Everybody’s forgotten about whites by then” – says Dobson, who fermented this one in stainless steel and left the wine on lees for five months with a little stirring. It’s a big, full bodied, dry white with flavours of hazelnut, apricot and a citrusy, dry, long finish. Tasty.

Bellbird Spring Aeris $48, 500mls, 17.5% ABV

Another under dog that over performs is Aeris. It’s the latest brainchild of one of North Canterbury’s best winemakers, Guy Porter of Bellbird Spring, whose grapes are 100% certified organic.

He made this heady, nutty, dry, aged white from Pinot Gris that was fermented to dryness in old oak barriques then topped up and stored for a year. For the next two years the wine was aged in old oak on ullage under a veil of flor yeast. In the fourth year the flor died off and it was then aged for another four years. Aeris is an wine unfortified but has an alcoholic strength of 17.5% due to evaporation in cask.

The Latin word Aeris translates as air and it’s the wine’s contact with air that gives the characteristic flavour.

If you’re a sherry fan, here’s a stunning different take on Pinot Gris from the South Island of New Zealand. And sherry was the inspiration behind this wine, as were the  sous voile wines of Jura, France.


2017 Wild Earth Central Otago Pinot Noir $29 to $30

Tough vintage, very good wine – produced for the wine brand founded by Quintin Quider in Central Otago. If anyone needs proof that not all Pinots are created equal, here it is – hardly an alternative under dog of a wine, especially in New Zealand where Pinot Noir rules the red wine roost, but this relatively small scale Otago Pinot proves to be the exception rather than the rule, thanks to top winemaking that results in lively savoury flavours and freshness to burn. It drinks well now and will age well too for up to five years, potentially longer.

Author: Joelle Thomson

I am a wine writer, author and educator... first bitten by a big buttery Chardonnay on a dark and stormy night in the 1980s and there was no turning back... Follow my tastings and join some too on this new site.

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