There's been a change of guard at Lawson's Dry Hills Winery down Marlborough way. Mike Just, who made the wines there for eight years, left after the 2004 vintage to make his mark on the world with his own label, Clayridge. But Mike did not leave a sinking ship because when he left the helm, his right hand man since 2001, Marcus Wright, was there to step into command.
And Marcus has done that with confidence and style.
We’ve already seen his craftsmanship result in gold medals and trophies for the Lawson's Dry Hills Marlborough Pinot Gris 2005 from both the New Zealand International Wine Show and the Air New Zealand Wine Awards.
Now another wine from Marcus, the Lawson's Dry Hills Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2005, has been released and although it hasn't won any gold medals or trophies yet, it has the potential to do so in time.
Readers who follow my columns know I have a long-seeded love affair with Gewurztraminer and the Lawson's Dry Hills in particular. It could be something to do with the age of the vines or it could be something to do with the site.
The Lawson's Gewurztraminer vines are some of the oldest in Marlborough because when Ross and Barbara Lawson planted their 3.6ha vineyard in the early 1980's on the low-lying clay slopes of the Wither Hills, next to their home in Alabama Road near Blenheim, they planted Gewurztraminer. But until they founded the Lawson's Dry Hills label in 1992 they sold on the grapes.
These Gewurztraminer vines have considerable age on them now and with every vintage the complexity that older vines introduce to a wine, is there.
Lawson's Dry Hills Gewurztraminer 2005 lives up to the quality I expect from this label. It's a clear, transparent lemon gold colour with perfumed, floral, rose Turkish Delight aromas and mouthfilling lychee-rich flavours infused with orange-rind, orange water and exotic spices on a slightly grainy, silky texture with a lusciousness evolving on the rich finish where ginger and white pepper linger on the aftertaste.
But there is something different about the 2005 when I compare it to previous years. It seems sweeter and looking back at the technical info from the last few years, the residual sugar in the wine - that is the natural sugar from the grapes that remains after fermentation - has been creeping up. In 2003 and 2004 the wines were technically 'dry' with less than 7.5 grams per litre of residual sugar. In 2004 there was 7.8 grams per litre of residual sugar in the wine, while the 2005 vintage has 8.6 grams of residual sugar. These two most recent wines are technically 'medium'.
But what may make the wine seem sweeter or drier than the actual sugar content in the wine, is the relative acidity. The more acidity there is in the wine, the more the sweetness is offset.
Lawson's Dry Hills Gewurztraminer 2005 has only has 4.9 grams per litre of total acidity, which is in alignment with the typical description of Gewurztraminer as a low acid grape. So while the 2004 with 6.2 grams per litre of total acidity tasted like it could be classified as 'dry', the 2005 does not. As a consequence, the 2005 vintage is more Alsace in style than it has ever been. But you can’t take the Marlborough out of the wine and this is quintessential Marlborough Gewurztraminer that will be absolutely stunning in six month's to a year's time.
Lawson's Dry Hills Gewurztraminer 2005 is a blend of grapes from the original Lawson's Gewurztraminer vineyard combined with their own newer plantings and those from an adjacent vineyard of older Gewurztraminer vines owned by Peter Woodward. It was a long cool, later ripening vintage with some botrytis in the grapes. The parcels of fruit were fermented separately and winemaker Marcus used different techniques for each of the ferments, for example grapes from the younger Lawson's grapes were stopped fermented to leave some natural grape sugar in the wine. Pressings from all the parcels, which account for 6% of the total, were fermented in old French oak. The finished wine carries 14% alcohol by volume and is naturally sealed with a screwcap. Find out more from the Lawson's Dry Hills website.
Lawson's Dry Hills Gewurztraminer 2005 is widely available and the recommended retail price is $21.95.
While it won a silver medal at the Royal Easter Show Wine Awards judged at the end of February, I'm tipping that Lawson's Dry Hills Gewurztraminer 2005 will win gold on the show circuit in the latter part of this year.
© Sue Courtney
5 March 2006
Footnote: Lawson's Dry Hills Gewurztraminer 2005 did indeed go on to win a gold medal - and a trophy too at the New Zealand International Wine Show 2006, judged in September 2006. Ironically, it was the WineoftheWeek.com Trophy for Champion Gewurztraminer that it won.
24th Sept 2006