I was once invited to post 5 positive things that happen to me every day on a private Facebook page. It’s a nice idea, but every day? Needless to say, posting 5 top wines once a week can be also be challenging but for different reasons…
There are simply so many tasty wines made in and imported to New Zealand today. This weekly blog is about the creme de la creme of them. The following wines are the absolute bests that I’ve tried over the past seven days in my work as a wine writer and as Wine Programme Director (tastings, writing) at Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington and also as a wine lover.
So here we go… it’s the silly season but here are some very un-silly sparkling wines and lovely whites.
Big flavour, small name Champagne
Champagne Gatinois Aÿ Grand Cru Brut Tradition NV France $67.99
Gatinois is based in the village of Aÿ in the Champagne region and is run by the father son team Pierre and Louis Cheval-Gatinois, who own 7.5 hectares of Grand Cru vineyards and sell half their grapes to Bollinger and other top champagne producers. They also make their own wines. This blend of 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay spends at least three years on lees (decomposing yeast cells) after secondary fermentation in bottle and this is where its rich toasty flavours come from. It’s full bodied, nutty, dry and complex with a slightly oxidative style which provides balancing softness to the refreshing acidity and long finish. Amazing wine.
Another similarly beautiful, Pinot Noir dominant bubbly is Andre Clouet about $54 – toasty and delicious.
Blanc de Blancs
Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Latitude $95.99
On special for $88.99 next Wednesday at Regional Wines & Spirits
Biodynamic, blanc de blancs (champagne speak for 100% Chardonnay) which is made from hand harvested grapes fermented in a combo of wood and stainless steel tanks with wild yeasts. Reserve (older) wines make up about a third of the blend and this is aged in the bottle on lees (decomposing yeast cells) for 2 years – 6 months longer than the legal minimum waging time for non vintage champagnes. The dosage is low at 4 grams per litre, which means this wine tastes drier than most champagnes but not austere, thanks to the richness supplied by the long lees aging and full body from the softening creamy effects of aging Chardonnay in wood.
Method in Marlborough
Nautilus Brut NV $41.99
Modelled on Bollinger, this Pinot Noir dominant Marlborough bubbly is made in the traditional method, which is another way of saying like champagne – second fermentation in the bottle. It’s then ages on lees (decomposing cells after fermentation) for an extended period of time, which provides big rich toasty flavours; the hallmark of Bollly and Pinot Noir dominant sparkling wine styles. A stunner.
Vezzoli Franciacorta Brut $32.99
Italian top end fizz made 100% from Chardonnay grown in the Franciacorta DOCG in Lombardia; northern Italy. This is also made in the traditional method – the same way as champagne – and it tastes fresh, dry, full bodied and creamy – a dead giveaway this is Chardonnay.
Great name, great wine
2014 Tongue in Groove Riesling $ , % ABV
I’m a sucker for a great name and this is one of the best because the wine lives up to its moniker, filling every groove in the mouth with its full bodied ripe peachiness. The refreshing citrusy flavours add an amazingly long, zesty, complex finish and every sip is hard to forget. This is a wine of beauty, thanks to Riesling devotee Lynnette Hudson and Angela Clifford; the front face duo behind this wine (which includes other silent team members too).
2015 Craggy Range Le Sol Gimblett Gravels $136, 13.5% ABV
A top drop at a top price from the Gimblett Gravels; the name Le Sol refers to the Heritage Syrah clone, which winemaker Matt Stafford uses to make this bone dry, dark purple hued Syrah. The grapes were 100% hand harvested at 23.9 prix and fermented in open top French oak then aged in 30% new French barriques for 17 months. It’s unfined (so, technically, it could quality as vegan) and it was coarsely filtered. Now the technical stuff is out of the way, what does it taste like?
Incredibly dry, youthful and super powerful on the dark fruit flavoured front – it drinks well now, if you decant it at least three hours prior to drinking and serve in large glassware. Otherwise, stash it in a dark cool spot for at least 5 years. It will age superbly.
This wine is a surprise, in so many ways. To start off with, it’s an unusual bottle because the traditional Bordeaux shape suggests Cabernet and Merlot rather than Syrah. And this may seem like a moot point (bottle shape doesn’t alter the taste, right?) but this wine is surprising in other ways too – its flavours verge on smooth soft caramel and far far nicer in terms of its riper flavours – dark fruit and dark plums and very smooth flavours and long finish… This is the wine of the five that I would opt to drink now, but there is no doubt it can age – for at least 5-6 years. A stunner.
This wine lives up to its name; it’s an interesting blend of Cabernet Sauvignon 51%, Merlot 27%, and Malbec 22% (of which there’s precious little in New Zealand). The colour is deep ruby, opaque and stylistically this is an open wine right now with forward fruit flavours that intermingle with notes of spice (cardamon, cinnamon, nutmeg…) and a full bodied, long smooth finish. It’s a lovely drink now and also needs to be decanted. It will age for at least 5-6 years.
2015 Sacred Hill Deerstalkers Syrah $59.99, 13% ABV
Excellent complex Syrah with dark ruby colour, bone dry style and a full body with rich dark fruit. It could age well but is open to drinking and enjoying now too; thanks to its smooth, soft, velvety mouthfeel and powerful dark fruit flavours, which intermingle beautifully with notes of spice, cedar and a hint of pepper. It’s one of my top three wines of the 2015 Gimblett Gravels line up.
Tasty. And a bargain to boot. This Syrah has to take the top prize when it comes to value for money, but don’t let that dissuade you from enjoying its massively complex, rich, dark, powerful and intense fruit flavours and complexity. It’s full bodied, youthfully complex, fruit forward but has great ageing potential for at least 5-6 years. It is best served in a large glass after it has been decanted for at least three hours.
The Gimblett Gravels 2015 Annual Vintage Selection
The 2015 selection is the eighth consecutive one following the 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 vintages; its aim is to provide:
a perspective on the style of Gimblett Gravels wines from one year
to show the evolution and progression of the wines
The 2015 Annual Vintage Selection includes seven blended reds and five Syrahs, all independently selected from submissions made independently by wineries to Master of Wine Andrew Caillard.
The full line up of wines
2015 Babich Irongate, $39.95
2015 Babich The Patriarch, $79.95
2015 Mission Estate Reserve Cabernet Merlot $29
2015 Sacred Hill Brokenstone $49.99
2015 Stonecroft Cabernet Sauvignon $47
2015 Te Awa Single Estate Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon $29
2015 Villa Maria Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot $49.99
2015 Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah $135
2015 Ka Tahi Rangatira Syrah $29.99
2015 Sacred Hill Deerstalkers Syrah $59.99
2015 Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Syrah $35
2015 Vidal Reserve Syrah $24.99
Prices quoted are recommended retail and do vary.
Breaking news… Craggy Range opens new cellar door
The cellar door of one of Hawke’s Bay’s largest wineries reopened last week after six weeks of refurbishment, which saw the space completely gutted to make way for a relaxed tasting experience.
Craggy Range general manager Aaron Drummond says the new cellar door, which opened this week, was modelled on its Northern Hemisphere counterparts in the Californian wine regions of the Sonoma and Napa valleys.
“The United States wine industry is much further advanced in delivering a great customer experience. Our visitors can still enjoy the more traditional tasting at the bench/bar, but for those that are interested in learning more about the wines, sitting down in a relaxed environment and tasting with the staff is a much more interesting and enjoyable experience.”
With the reopening of the cellar door, a new bites and platter menu has been designed for Terroir restaurant by head chef Casey McDonald, who began this year. i
The Cellar Door is at the Giants Winery on Waimarama Road and is open seven days from 10am to 6pm.
The project is the first stage of a two part redesign for the cellar door and will be followed by the Terroir by Craggy Range restaurant in winter 2018. Design on both has been led by Paul Izzard from Izzard Design.
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.