Joelle Thomson

Author, journalist, writer

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Wine of the year (not what you think)

This column is published every Friday.

I’ve never understood why sherry is relegated to being a nana’s drink. Apart from the fact that one of my nanas didn’t drink, the other one was made of much sterner stuff than cream sherry.

She liked whisky. Neat. In a short glass. Otherwise, gin ‘n tonic took her fancy and she was also partial to  Pimm’s.

One of the most pleasant afternoons of my life was spent sipping Pimm’s with her and my boyfriend on the large lawn of the working class suburb were Nana lived. We had spent the day digging over the massive vegetable garden on her quarter acre section and Pimm’s was our reward. But that’s another story. As is cream sherry.

Last week was International Sherry Week. And nothing could be further from mind than cream sherry. The week was a chance to highlight what’s great about sherry – its incredible versatility and ability to match a wide range of food, from salty mouthwatering hard cheese and warm, salty almonds panfried in spicy paprika to fresh, light goat’s cheese and, at the other end of the spectrum, moist fresh gingerbread served with the rare PX sweet sherries.

This is the sixth year of International Sherry Week, which ran from 4 to 10 November and included 2,574 registered events world wide. The most popular events were food and wine pairings. If sherry strikes anyone as a strange drink, it only needs to be presented with food to match for a lightbulb moment.

The best sherry in the tasting that I presented during International Sherry Week was not the sweet PX with gingerbread (ironically made using my nana’s age-old recipe) but a palo cortado – the rarest and most debated style of dry, tangy sherry, which occurs when a fino loses its flor yeast and takes on a whole new personality. It’s similar to amontillado, only even better.

The only trouble is, it’s almost impossible to find palo cortado these days. The one that I tasted found me. I owe winemaker Marcel Giesen for opening my eyes (and those of customers at Regional Wines who I served it to) to a serious next level of dry sherry. He sent two bottles from his wine cellar – an unfiltered, deeply amber, incredibly complex palo cortado and an unfiltered, amber hued fino. Both were from Bodegas Catetano del Pino Y Cia. A winery that dates back to 1886 when it was founded by Don Cayetano del Pino Vazquez, who won gold medals in the late 1800s and early 1900s in Egypt and the Philippines.

International Sherry Week is now in its sixth year. It’s organised by the Consejo Regulador Jerez-Xerez-Sherry. New countries taking part this year included Dubai, Thailand, Malta and the Isle of Man.

Sherry is one of the great wines of the world. Viva la dry sherry.

Wines of the week (two sherries and a great white)

Lustau Los Arcos Amontillado $19 to $24

This wine has body to burn. It’s one of my favourite wine styles in the world, thanks to its incredibly fresh flavours that are harnessed to complex aged characters since the average age of Lustau’s Los Arcos Amontillado is 12 years, during which the wine has matured and developed in old oak butts; approximately 475 to 500 litres. It’s all about adding complexity rather than oaky flavour and this wine has it in spades; flavours of caramel, ripe orange zest and creamy buttery notes, great concentration and a long finish. Delicious.

Cayetano del Pino Y Cia Palo Cortado

This wine is not available in New Zealand.

This the best wine I’ve tasted all year. (Big call, I know, because I’ve been enjoying some outstanding New Zealand Pinot Noirs, not to mention – well, okay – some great Barbarescos, amongst others).

Palo Cortado is generally considered to be the rarest type of sherry and definitely the one that causes the most disagreement about what exactly it is. Some say it’s a hybrid style between amontillado and olosoro but in fact palo cortado originated as a wine that started life as a fino which deviated from style, due to unplanned yeast activity. Casks  affected this way were taken out of the fino sherry solera aging system and marked with a vertical line, known as a palo. The wine was then fortified and named palo cortado.

This wine has had a light filtration but no fining or cold stabilisation, so it’s hazy amber in colour and full bodied with notes of caramel, dried apricots, dried peach and sandlewood aromas. Dry as a bone, rich and lingering.

This palo cortado is unavailable in this country, but, luckily for sherry lovers, Lustau also has a palo cortado in its stable. And it’s available directly from the importer, EuroVintage.

2017 Pegasus Bay Sauvignon Semillon $29 to $33

The Donaldson family was inspired by the great whites of Bordeaux to make this full bodied, rich and dry blend of 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Semillon. Sauvignon was mostly fermented in stainless steel with a small portion in new French oak and all the Semillon was fermented in barrel for complexity. The wine was left on lees for 10 months to develop flavour, then aged in bottle for another year before release.

As always, the newest 2017 Pegasus Bay Sauvignon Semillon is an absolute winner. One of my favourite dry whites every year.

… for the under dogs

This blog is published every Friday

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.

bellbirdspring.co.nz/

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.

When life makes you take notice

A close brush with her life has made my mum sit up and take notice of a favourite book of mine: 1001 Wines You Must Try Before You Die – “You should be getting me better acquainted with wines like these,” she said last weekend, in her characteristically dry witted way.

It’s hard to laugh when someone is ill the way Mum has been, but thanks to incredible advances in science and health care, she has taken a remarkable turn for the better. It’s good to see her enjoying life, food and wine again, as well as having her sense of humour intact. Something that anyone needs when reading 1001 Wines You Must Try Before You Die. It’s not only hard to find most of these wines. It’s almost impossible.

Still, it’s an enviable list, even if most of us mere mortals will never get the chance to try treasures like the 1976 Hugel Riesling Selection de Grains Nobles or the 2010 A A Badenhorst Family Wines Dry White (Chenin Blanc, Roussanne and 10 other grapes), let alone Veuve Clicquot’s rare NV Extra Brut Extra Old (47% Pinot Noir, 27% Chardonnay, 26% Meunier, doubled aged; three years on lees with a little oak followed by three years in bottle).

If you’re still with me, the 1001 list was curated by people who did actually try the wines, namely, editor Neil Beckett and his team of highly experienced professionals in the global wine industry. The specific wines on the 1001 list change with each new volume of 1001 Wines You Must Try Before You Die. And rare as it is to find these wines anywhere but in the quirkiest of wine cellars, the book’s long list led me to create a new, short list of my own; a list of wines we can all find, all award winners in the latest bunch of wine competitions held in this country last month, two of which I judged (the Marlborough Wine Show and the Hawke’s Bay A&P Bayleys Wine Show). Winning wines from other wine shows have been sent to yours truly to evaluate, in the hope I might write about them. I am writing about the best of them, including the following trio (and those in last week’s column).

The good news is: these wines are affordable. Better still, they are all widely available. As in, it is possible to find them on shop shelves. As it should be.

 

Award winning wines of the week

2018 Saint Clair Pioneer Block 9 Big John Riesling $25-$26

This year’s Marlborough Wine Show Trophy for Champion Riesling went to this succulent, tasty little number which is named after vineyard owner, John Walsh, who is six foot ten-inches tall and affectionately known in viticultural circles as Big John. It’s a stony vineyard at 40 metres above sea level on Marlborough’s Wairau Plains, a sun drenched site with warm days and cool nights that let Riesling slowly ripen, gaining intensely citrus flavours, which shine in this outstanding wine from a very good vintage.

Find out more at www.saintclair.co.nz/

2017 Tohu Single Vineyard Riesling $29.99

Take a 2.8 hectare vineyard in the windy Awatere Valley in Marlborough, add the cool climate loving Riesling grape and here’s one of the four wines to score 95 out of 100 in the aromatic wine class at this year’s New World Wine Awards. It’s made by the first Māori owned wine company in the country, Tohu. The wine is made from hand picked grapes from 16 year old vines in the vineyard’s Puketapu block, 230 metres above sea level. The wine tastes dry, light bodied, intensely flavoursome – think, fresh green apples, bright lemon zest and a long finish.

Find out more at www.tohuwines.co.nz

 

2018 Stoneleigh Rapaura Series Chardonnay $20-$23

This is the sort of wine that has gold medal winner written all over it as judges at this year’s New World Wine Awards discovered, thanks to its creamy, full bodied style,  refreshing crisp citrusy flavours and its long, savoury finish. It’s priced extremely modestly for a wine of this quality, thanks to winemaker Jamie Marfell’s talents and those of his winemaking team. Best of all, like all winners in the New World Wine Awards, it’s not hard to find this drop of golden goodness.

Find out more at www.stoneleigh.com/en-nz

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