Pinot highs in Wellington today

It’s day three and it’s fair to say that winemakers, writers and everyone else at the Pinot Noir conference are feeling… well, let’s just say we’re all feeling slightly worse for wear. But the highs of tasting the good, the great and the interesting wines continue. Here’s a style departure – in a good way – from many Central Pinots. It’s made on the elevated shores of the breathtakingly beautiful Lake Wanaka and it’s called…

Akitu…

The word Akitu means the summit and it’s an apt description of one of the highest altitude vineyards anywhere in Central Otago.

Andrew Donaldson planted 12 hectares of Pinot Noir vines on a north facing hillside, 380 metres above sea level in 2002. He made wine from the grapes over the next 10 years but the first time he labelled commercial bottlings of the Pinot Noir was in 2012, which means this brand is still finding its feet.

There are two wines and they are easy to spot: one has a white label and one has a black label. Both are boldly branded Akitu.

The white label 2014 Akitu is a soft, fresh, fruity driven style while the black label 2014 Akitu is firmer, more structured and has an intensely savoury aroma, which comes from its time in oak barrels (22% new) and the inclusion of 24% of whole bunches during fermentation. This helps to elevate the firm structure of the wine and adds weight and length to the palate. Tasty.

www.akitu.co.nz

5 of the best… wines this year…

It’s still early days and the highs and lows of relocating from this country’s largest city to its capital are still intense. Not only because of 7.8 earthquakes over the past month but because 17 years is a long time in any place and Auckland and Wellington are like chalk and cheese. One contains our closest friends, the other is home to family and my new partner. One is warm, wet and cloudy while the other has intense sunshine but is cooler. One is where we had to be, the other is where we wanted to be.

It was a big decision to move but it was the easiest big decision I have ever made.

Still, 2016 has not been an easy year. For many, it has been one shocking political event after another, while on the home front, my year has been one of intense travel for the three ‘t’s – teaching, talking and tasting wine.

First world problems.

So, without further ado, here’s another:  how does a wine writer whittle thousands of wines down to the 5 best?

With difficulty. But these  5 wines made the most positive impression on yours truly this year.

5 of the best… wines in 2016

Prices are recommended retail

Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvee Brut, $99, 12% ABV

Big and beautiful. Bollinger never fails to impress. This year I have tried and enjoyed old and new bottles of Bolly – from 1966, 1976, 1982 and 1990 at a retrospective champagne tasting in May – followed by brand spanking new bottles to celebrate a milestone. It has everything I love about champagne; character, toasty aromas and savoury flavours, richness and depth and a long finish. What more could you ask for? Stunning.

2014 Terrazes de los Andes Malbec, $27, 14.5% ABV

Take a man with great foresight, an under-appreciated black grape (Malbec) and a little known corner of the wine world (Argentina) and meet one of the best value, high quality reds on Earth – in my view. The late Robert Jean de Vogue pioneered this wine on high altitude terraced vineyards (above 1000 metres in the Andes mountains) in the 1950s, and this latest wine does him proud – it’s deep purple in colour with a burst of intense fruit flavour and a long finish. It has a full body, is earthy and bone dry in taste. A stunner.

2005 Pegasus Bay Chardonnay, $50

This bottle was pulled from the best place possible – the winery’s own cellar – and it was enjoyed outside on a warm autumn morning at Pegasus Bay in North Canterbury. The disclaimer is that I worked (unpaid) a couple of days of vintage there (for the third time) this year, which was to gain insight into wine’s finer details. This full bodied, rich and savoury, complex and delicious Chardonnay is underpinned by zesty citrus notes and a fine thread of bright acidity providing its nerve and zing. Sensation.

2007 Quartz Reef Pinot Noir, $50, 14% ABV

If only I had bought more of this Pinot Noir; half a case wasn’t enough but 9 years of ageing did seem like the perfect time to catch this deep southern red at its tastiest peak of savouriness (is that even a word?). There’s no shortage of good Central Otago Pinot Noir but, in my view, eight to nine years of patience is a small price to pay to enjoy the great ones at their best. Bravo to Rudi Bauer; winemaker of this exceptional drop.

2008 Mount Edward Morrison Vineyard Pinot Noir $65, 14% ABV

Another aged stunner from Central Otago, pulled from my modest wine cellar, which now has a walk-in home (it’s called the other half of the laundry and is not a bad space to mature wine in). This wine still has plenty of time up its tasty sleeve but its soft smooth tannins and bright fruit flavours are moving into a delicious earthy taste.

 

This year, I have been woed and wowed by vintage champagnes, great bottles of dry Austrian Riesling and exceptionally good French Vouvray, but the wines above are those that have provided the most pleasure – and the biggest sense of surprise.

Every day in Wellington rewards me with the feeling of clarity when I look out of the vast two storey windows of our apartment at the harbour, the hills and the houses precipitously perched on their seemingly impossibly steep slopes. The architecture seems to defy logic as much as our decision to move to a quieter place, which has brought with it an unpredictable sense of relief.

 The sense of clutter I felt when living in Auckland has evaporated and I even enjoy frequent trips back there for work. So, was I suffering from other issues than merely a sense of feeling cluttered?

Undoubtedly. But as an old friend and therapist, Jill Goldson said earlier this year, when suffering from anxiety, feeling overwhelmed or under connected, the best path forward is kindness – to yourself. She sums it up perfectly: “Take time to reflect on conflicted feelings and to seek another perspective, which might be the very best place to start.”

And it’s also a high note to end a strangely conflicted year on.

Happy holidays.

Wines of the week… 17 August

Let’s just say it’s already been a surrounded-by-new-bottles kind of week because it’s only Wednesday and here we are with a best of the bunch blog. It’s no wonder, really. Not only is New Zealand wine one of the first things we see at the supermarket, it’s the sixth biggest export earner for this country – a significant rise from ninth biggest this time last year.

The following wines were tasted alongside a range of other comparable wines, which were all from New Zealand and all relatively new, with some very recently bottled, as the two 2016 wines show.

Chardonnay of the week

2014 Domaine Rewa Central Otago Chardonnay 14% ABV 

Domaine Rewa Chardonnay is made from grapes grown on a 5.5 hectare vineyard at Pisa, a short drive north of Cromwell in one of Central Otago’s most sun drenched grape growing sub-regions. This Chardonnay highlights what I believe is the strong potential in Otago for high quality whites, due to this wine’s rich flavours, full body, fresh vibrant (high) acidity and balanced creamy softness. Lingering flavours of ripe citrus, nectarines and white peach add to its appeal. www.domainerewa.com

Biodynamics is a philosophy of growing plants sustainably, which includes, among other things, planting, pruning and harvesting according to the phases of the moon. It also includes no systemic sprays, such as herbicides, fungicides, insecticides or pesticides. 

Top Pinot Gris

2016 Jules Taylor Marlborough Pinot Gris 13.5% ABV $23.99

There’s a reason Jules Taylor Pinot Gris keeps appearing on the wine lists at the Gypsy Tea Rooms and The Elbow Room – two small but busy neighbourhood wine bars in Auckland. This Pinot Gris consistently rates highly (with me) for its intensely fresh flavours of subtle white fleshed fruit, such as white pears, white peach and lychees. It’s dry with refreshing crispness and a medium body, all giving it a strong lead on many of its competitors. This is a very good wine with 3 to 4 years time up its sleeve, but why wait? It tastes great now. www.julestaylor.com

Disclaimer: I select the wines for both the Gypsy Tea Rooms and The Elbow Room wine bars in Auckland.

Sensational Sauvignon 

2015 Alluviale Sauvignon Blanc Semillon Hawke’s Bay 13% ABV $23.99

Hawke’s Bay winemaker Ant McKenzie bought the highly revered Alluviale brand earlier this year (2016) and has launched this wine recently, which brings his love of Bordeaux’ best to bear in this dry, fleshy, crisp white wine, which is pale in colour with intense aromas of lemon grass, lime juice, green apple and brie, thanks to the 14% portion of barrel fermented Semillon, which is nicely balanced by the crisp 81% Sauvignon Blanc and the 5% Muscat Blanc, which adds an aromatic je ne said quo. Not only stunning wine but outstanding value for money. www.alluviale.com

Best orange wine

2015 Aurum Organic Amber Wine Central Otago 13.5% ABV 

Lucie Lawrence is a French winemaker who married a Kiwi viticulturist and settled in Central Otago where she makes a trickle of the region’s best Pinot Noirs – and dabbles with 60 cases of this orange Pinot Gris. It was fermented with wild yeasts on skins (hence the orange hue) and bottled unfined and unfiltered. The wine is bone dry, with high (but balanced) acidity, and a light creamy influence adding softness. If rose is your thing, try this adventurous organic amber wine. aurumwines.co.nz

Best newcomer 2016

2016 Jules Taylor Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc $ 23.99 13% ABV

Juicy, fresh and brand spanking new, this intensely tropical tasting Sauvignon Blanc shines the spotlight on the freshest wines on the market in this country right now – 2016 whites. It’s a super fresh sunshine-in-a-glass style of wine with tropical fruit – pineapples, papayas – a medium body and long finish. What’s not to like. www.julestaylor.com

Top Central Pinot Noir

2013 Domaine Rewa Central Otago Pinot Noir 13% ABV

Pinot Noir is the grape that occupies 80% of Central Otago’s vineyards, and this one is made from a single vineyard at Lowburn, just north of Cromwell. All the grapes in this wine were hand harvested and destemmed prior to fermentation, which keeps the dark fruit flavours to the fore while 8.5 months in French oak softens its youthful vibrancy so that each sip is a silky experience. A delicious newcomer made in small quantities, which puts the country’s southernmost wine region’s best foot forward. www.domainerewa.com