Once again the difficult task - which wines to choose for my wine taster's dozen? - the top 12 wines of the year. They're all from New Zealand except for one Australian sensation. It's funny how some of the same names just keep popping up. And some of the regulars have more than one wine in the dozen.
Villa Maria Clifford Bay Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2001 (Marlborough)
- Tasted in February 2002 in a line-up of New Zealand's best sauvignon blancs it was a hard decision to pick a favourite but when I did, this was the wine it turned out to be. It's a wine that always takes a little while to unfold when released. A truly great New Zealand sauvignon blanc and one that went on to even greater international glory later in the year.
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2002 (Marlborough)
Back to its very very best, this one has aromas and flavours of passionfruit, gooseberries and cut grass. Everything that one would expect in Marlborough Sauvignon blanc from a year that was quite difficult for some producers. Confirming my opinion, when tasted at a retailer's tasting evening in a blind tasting it was the crowd favourite too. Pity the folks who have to pay premiums for this wine elsewhere in the world. If you haven't tried a Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc before, the 2002 is the one that should break your virginity.
Cloudy Bay Chardonnay 2000 (Marlborough)
I fell in love with this wine when I tasted it blind in September 2001 year and couldn't wait for its release in February when it indeed lived up to my expectations. But the best test was a blind tasting my friend Craig Thomson of www.kiwiwinefanclub.co.nz did in September - 6 kiwi versus 6 Aussie chardonnays. My personal favourite with a scintillating 19 points was, you guessed it, Cloudy Bay Chardonnay 2000.
Wine of the Week - 21st April 2002.
Spencer Hill Coastal Ridge Chardonnay 2001 (Nelson)
Absolutely stunning when first tasted in early August, a bottle consumed a week or so later had us drooling over the flavours of caramel and cream, the texture and the balance. A truly stunning wine that went on to win successive gold medals at four New Zealand wine shows and the trophy for Champion Chardonnay at 3 of them.
Wine of the Week - 29th September 2002.
Pegasus Bay Aria Riesling 2001 (Waipara)
Just about pipped at the post by the Melness Riesling 2001, which I actually thought was very much like a Pegasus Bay wine when tasted blind. Both totally delicious but the Pegasus Bay Aria just has the edge. Low alcohol, just 8.5%, so refreshing and I can drink a BIG glass without fear of going over the limit. It's a slightly sweetish wine with wonderful fruit balanced to the zesty acidity and the benefit of a little bottle age.
We're drinking a bottle of this wine tonight - New Years Eve.
Dry River Craighall Riesling 2001 (Martinborough)
"A hauntingly pure riesling", I wrote in May. A stunning stunning wine. A wine to enjoy now or cellar. And this is a wine that WILL age. I found a bottle of 1993 Dry River Craighall Riesling to show to some visiting Bostonians in November. They knew nothing of this wine but Theresa raved about its "smell of white roses and earthiness, its nuttiness and remarkable dry petroliness". I look forward to trying the Dry River Craighall Riesling 2001 when it too is eight years old.
Wine of the Week - 9th June 2002.
Dry River Estate Gewurztraminer 2002 (Martinborough)
My desert island wine. It's just a little baby but a wine that epitomises just what can be achieved with gewurztraminer in New Zealand. It's not too sweet and not too dry, just simply luscious in its flavour. I bought only three. That's all I could get my hands on.
Wine of the Week - 1 December 2002.
Daniel Schuster Omihi Selection Pinot Noir 2001 (Waipara)
The Waipara area continues to provide a pinot for my annual winetaster's dozen, but this year Daniel Schuster topples Pegasus Bay from the elite spot. This is truly a sensational wine, not surprising given that the second label from this producer, the Schuster Twin Vineyards Pinot Noir 2001 was also a top-notch wine. This beat off some strong contenders this year including my favourite Central Otago pinot from Gibbston Valley, the perpetual top three from Martinborough and the absolutely gorgeous Neudorf Home Block Pinot Noir 2001.
Wine of the Week - 6th October 2002.
Vidal Estate 'Joseph Soler' Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 (Hawkes Bay)
I love it when the producers hold onto and cellar wines for us then release them when they have that little bit of age. It's the first release of the new icon wine for Vidal Estate and comes up against some very strong contenders, such as Montana's iconic wine, Tom. The Joseph Soler is truly delicious with great fruit, great structure and with its ripe opulence and fine-grained velvety tannin structure it is so very drinkable. Only a fool wouldn't like it.
Wine of the Week - 15th December 2002.
Craggy Range Seven Poplars Merlot 2000 (Hawkes Bay)
This came up against the stunning Sacred Hill Brokenstone Merlot 2000 and the CJ Pask Reserve Merlot 2000, wines that are absolute tops but with tannins that beg these wines be aged. The Craggy Range was truly sumptuous on opening, immensely flavoursome and drinkable but still with plenty of potential to age. This gave it the nod over the others today.
Wine of the Week - 31st December 2002.
Stonyridge Malbec 2000 (Waiheke Island)
"So deep in colour it is almost inky black. It's ripe, rich and smoky with juicy plum and blackberry fruit, a lovely tannin structure and superb weight. The chocolate and sweet berry flavours are delicious. This wine is simply phenomenal! " Evidently only 30 bottles of this wine were made, then rest of the barrel went in the Stonyridge Larose blend. But what a wine! Tall, dark, handsome and oh so sexy with its voluptuousness as it wrapped itself around my tongue. Stephen and I finished the bottle over lunch. Yum.
But a pre-release tasting of the 2002 is just as gorgeous - perhaps even more so. But the baby wine needs to grow up. Hopefully Stephen will take my advice and bottle more than just enough for the most serious of collectors.
In passing reference in the Wine of the Week - 17th March 2002.
And from across the oceans . . .
Morris Old Premium Liqueur Muscat (Rutherglen, Victoria, Australia
I had this sensational wine in Australia at the winery but the hot weather in Rutherglen almost had me passing out. It was still one of the wines of the tour. Come back to normal blind tasting conditions where I was part of the panel judging the Muscats and Tokays at the Liquorland Top100 International Wine Competition. I stuck my neck out and gave it 20 points out of 20. I wasn't the only one. This truly sensational wine went on to win the trophy for the fortified wine category. A snip (so long as you only just sip) at $70 a bottle.
© Sue Courtney
31 December 2002