Weekly wine news and top drops

Category: NZ wine (page 1 of 84)

Tasty experiments with Pinot Noir

If fermenting a wine in the vineyard sounds like an edgy idea, how about trying it in the cool of autumn in the South Island?

WInemaker Dom Maxwell and marketer Nik Mavromatis of Greystone Wines

The wines in question are the 2016 Greystone Vineyard Ferment Pinot Noir and brand new 2017 Greystone Vineyard Ferment Pinot Noir. They are made from 100% certified organic grapes, fermented 100% with wild yeasts and aged 100% in older oak (no new barriques here). They were also fermented entirely in the vineyard.

It’s an unusual place to ferment grapes, even if it does, ironically, seem to be the most logical place to do it. No transportation is needed, for one thing, and that means the grapes can be picked and placed immediately into their fermentation vessels. What could be more logical?

The first time winemaker Dom Maxwell ever bottled a Pinot Noir that was fermented in the vineyard (rather than in the winery) was 2013 but that wine was firmly in the experimental category. Three years later, he made the first vineyard ferment Pinot Noir that was destined for commercial release.

It’s a distinctively different style of Pinot Noir from one of the great Pinot regions in this country – North Canterbury, which is home to Greystone Wines.

This week, a bunch of wine writers and retailers visited the vineyard to watch the Pinot grapes fermenting and taste the wines. I was invited. It was a great insight into an interesting new way (or should that be, an old traditional way) of producing Pinot Noir?

The wines are made without added yeasts. They are bottled unfined and unfiltered. Sulphur dioxide added only at bottling.

They are not the only top notch Pinot Noirs made at Greystone Wines by any stretch, but these wines do push new and interesting boundaries – in a good way. Winemaker Dom Maxwell uses 20% whole bunches of Pinot Noir in the ferment tanks and visits them all once a day, every day, to test the ferments. They tend to be .5% lower in alcohol than their counterparts that are fermented in the winery, which may in part be due to the wild yeasts and in part to the long, slow ferments in the cooler outdoor temperatures. In general, the outdoor ferments range from 24 to 34 degrees Celcius while the indoor winery ferments range from 26 to 33 degrees.

How it tastes

The 2016 Greystone Vineyard Ferment Pinot Noir is a silky, graceful Pinot Noir and is as understated as its front label, which features an evocative illustration of the vineyard. The artwork is by illustrator Hanna Berry, who wandered into the vineyard with her sketchpad and drew a  picture perfect rendition of it, in black and white. It’s a fitting illustration for a Pinot Noir that is as interesting and tasty as the winemaking thought behind it.

Winemaker Dom Maxwell says he’s learnt a lot from the vineyard – “The best teacher when it comes to making wine.”

Journey into wine podcast… and wines for the weekend

NZ Wine podcast features my story this week

Whether it happens by accident or by design, it can be interesting to hear people’s stories of how they were bitten by the big buttery Chardonnay bug.

It’s at least 30 years ago since I fell in love with big buttery Chardonnays and more recently I’ve become smitten with podcasts too. Interesting podcasts can  transform insufferably long car journeys into fascinating ones, turn morning walks into mini wellness retreats and boring evenings into tantalising ones, thanks to the stories of those they feature.

Boris Lamont is the founder of the NZ Wine podcast, which features a quirky range of characters who love wine. I love listening to their stories, so it was a privilege to be asked to be among them on the NZ Wine podcast with Boris.

Click here to listen:


Wines of the week…

Bargain buy

4 stars

2015 Crater Rim Waipara Pinot Noir $22

This earthy Pinot Noir is from the third in a trio of warm, dry vintages with long, late summers that gave Pinot a chance to fully ripen, retain fresh acidity and drive, all thanks to the warm days and cool nights in North Canterbury. The wine was fermented with indigenous yeasts, aged in French oak for 13 months and bottled unfined and unfiltered, which is where those tasty savoury flavours come from. Its silky red fruit flavours give it the X factor and for $22, I call this an unbelievable bargain.

Available at specialist stores and online at


Treat of the week

5 stars

2012 Brown Brothers Patricia Pinot Noir Chardonnay Brut $39.99

This is one of Australia’s best bubblies every year. In the past week I have tasted and shared three bottles of it, two from the 2011 vintage and this fresh new release from 2012, which is my pick. And fresh is the word because this wine spent six years on lees in bottle, post-fermentation, where these decomposing yeast cells released all sorts of tasty flavours, protecting the wine and keeping it fresh at the same time. That’s twice the time of most vintage champagnes but at a fraction of the cost and with grapes grown on a single vineyard too. In this case, it’s the Whitlands Vineyard, 800 metres above sea level in the King Valley, Victoria, where the warm days and cool nights allow the Pinot Noir (80%) and Chardonnay (20%) to retain their refreshing acidity. The wine tastes creamy, citrusy and full bodied.

It’s a fitting tribute to the late Patricia Brown, matriarch and much missed grandmother of the Brown Brothers who own and run the winery in Milawa, Victoria, today. This is the 16th release.
Residual sugar is dry at 8.5g per litre total. The first vintage of Patricia sparkling was 1997.

Available at specialist wine stores and online at


Reaching for the stars

 4.5 stars

2016 Pyramid Valley Field of Fire Chardonnay $99 to $100

Small, south east facing and biodynamic. Field of fire is all these things and remote. It’s a tiny vineyard on the home block at Pyramid Valley Vineyards in Waikari, 40 minutes’ drive inland from the Waipara Valley in North Canterbury. It’s also home to the Chardonnay grapes that went into this wine, which was aged for 10 months in barrel on yeast lees following fermentation. The vineyard was planted in 2001. The first vintage was 2006.

This wine was aged in a 50/50 mix of amphora and oak. It tastes full bodied, vibrant and fresh, thanks to pronounced acidity. It drinks well now and can age for 10 years plus (willpower allowing).

Available at specialist wine stores and online at

Weekly wine news and top wines of the week

Pyramid Valley vineyard in Waikari, North Canterbury

Pyramid Valley takes a new direction

The new owners of Pyramid Valley Vineyards in North Canterbury have announced that the winery will become a two-estate property, with vineyards in Canterbury and Central Otago.

Master of Wine Steve Smith and business partner Brian Sheth purchased Pyramid Valley in October 2017, setting up Aotearoa Fine Wine Estates (AONZ) at the same time .

Their aim is to produce North Canterbury and Central Otago wines, focusing on high quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

The original vineyard in Pyramid Valley Road will now be known as Waikari Estate, named after the eponymous nearby township. The second estate will be the original Lowburn Ferry property in Cromwell, Central Otago. This has been renamed Manata Estate, in homage to a local Maori legend. It’s a 26 hectare property, which will be fully planted over the next two years, mostly in Pinot Noir with smaller amounts of Chardonnay.

Both estates be fully biodynamic.


New identity for importer

Master of Wine Stephen Bennett announced the new name of his wine company this week as Mucho Gusto Wine Co.

The new identity took effect on 1 April and replaces the former name Bennett & Deller, which was the founding name of the business that he set up nearly 20 years ago with a former business partner.

His business focuses strongly on Spanish wines and other imports across wide range of prices.


Wines of the week

Here are this week’s three top drops – the wines that have most impressed me from daily tastings over the past seven days. I hope you enjoy them.

Bargain buy

4 stars

2017 Mud House The Narrows Pinot Noir $19.99, 13% ABV

How many Pinots under $20 taste as good as this? Rhetorical question.

This wine is made from grapes from the narrowing of Marlborough’s Upper Wairau Valley where north facing slopes aid ripening during Marlborough’s long, sunny autumns. Winemaker Cleighten Cornelius destemmed and cold soaked the grapes for a week then fermented them with indigenous yeasts and hand plunging to extract  moderate colour and tannins. He pressed the wine into new French oak barrels for less than a year and fined it prior to bottling.

It tastes dry, silky, lightly spicy with red fruit aromas and edgy acidity adding length to each sip.


Treat of the week

4.5 stars

2015 Guigal Cotes du Rhone $26.99

Talk about an alignment of the stars – Guigal Cotes du Rhone has always been good value when it comes to cheeky little French reds from the sunny southern Rhone, but this vintage is a noticeable step up in fruit concentration from the 2014 (which was also tasty).

The wine has improved immeasurably over the past decade. For good reason. It’s now aged at the family owned winery in Ampuis in the northern Rhone, which allows total control of the three year standard aging process prior to release for this stellar wine. It’s an interesting blend of 65% Syrah, 35% Grenache and 5% Mourvedre, which adds rich mocha and cocoa flavours, body and oomph to this exceptionally tasty red wine.

Velvety smooth, full bodied and fresh.

It is traditionally held back three years prior to release.


Reach for the stars

2017 Pegasus Bay Vergence Red $40

This is one of two edgy new wines from North Canterbury’s Pegasus Bay wines.

Vergence means the pupils of the eyes looking outward before they focus – a fitting name for an experimental wine, made 100% from Pinot Noir grapes from in Central Otago rather than North Canterbury. The grapes were 100% whole bunch fermented and sealed in a tank with a small amount of juice in an oxygen free environment where it went through intracellular fermentation (berries release CO2) during its initial week-long fermentation. Bunches were then softly foot pressed and primary fermentation continued, prior to a year’s aging French oak and bottling with no fining or filtration.

It tastes dry and full bodied with powerful  aromas of pepper, spice and dried herbs. Decanted, it drinks well now and can age for many years in correct cellaring conditions.

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