"How do you justify a $55 Pinot Noir?" I asked winemaker Ant Mackenzie at the launch of Envoy, the exciting new range of super premium wines from Marlborough's Johnson Estate, the producers of the hugely successful Spy Valley label. I can't exactly remember what Ant's answer was, but the proof was right there in the taste because it's one of the most intensely flavoured, richly coloured, deeply earthy Pinot Noirs to come out of Marlborough. It's 100% single vineyard from the company's original 1993 plantings of the 10/5 clone of pinot noir and the grapes chosen for this wine were picked last.
"They had the most physiological ripeness, the most tannin and most of all, the most interest," said Ant. "The site has an outstanding ability to give very dark concentrated fruit; dark, beefy, savoury fruit, in fact some would say not very pretty fruit," he added.
What is 'not pretty'?, I thought. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all and I didn't find anything ugly about the wine at all. Must have been the full barrel ferment with wild yeasts and the 18 months aging in barrel on light yeast lees that transformed the 'not pretty' fruit into this beautiful wine.
Envoy Marlborough Pinot Noir 2005 is a rich dense ruby colour with purple hints - in the light of the tasting room it seems dense and opaque. There's a funky, savoury, pinot character to the nose with a pretty waft of rose petal and the taste is bright and spicy with a gorgeously balanced acidic core and deep purple black fruits, like plum and blackberry. It's inky and extracted, concentrated, earthy and spicy with a yeast lees-influenced thick creamy undercurrent and a long dry finish. A gorgeous evocative pinot noir but right now it just needs a little more time to let the tannins integrate into the core so the wine can develop a sexy voluptuousness, which it is showing glimpses of already.
It has 14% alcohol by volume and like all the wines in the range, is sealed with a screwcap.
Despite it's youth it's delicious on its own, but matched with olive tapenade spread on a thin slice of toasted bruschetta, it's even more sensational.
The Envoy Pinot Noir is matched for quality by the gorgeous Envoy Chardonnay. "It could just about be from Auckland," I said to Ant, who was quite taken aback by my suggestion.
"I'm thinking of Kumeu River and Villa Maria Ihumatao - two of the country's top wines - and I can definitely see some of the Kumeu River flair in this wine." Phew! I think I managed to convince Ant I was talking about outstanding quality.
"It's a lean minerally style" said Ant, so I asked him if he used the word 'minerally' as a flavour or a texture. He said flavour.
Envoy Marlborough Chardonnay 2005 is light gold, bright and gemmy and smells complexly seductive with its rich fleshy aromatics of smoky creamy oak, mealy yeast lees, stonefruit and toasted lemon. An opulent, mealy, barrel fermented style with oak spice from the classy French oak, it's quite grainy textured, the nectarine and citrus-like fruit is focussed and despite the overall opulence, it is long, lean and powerful, with great potential for aging. It has 14% alcohol and costs $36 a bottle.
"We want to become known as one of the best producers of aromatic wines in New Zealand," Ant said as we tasted through the Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer.
Envoy Marlborough Riesling 2005 is a tight, dryish, austere style with a grainy, steely texture and bright lemon and lime flavours. It's crisp, zesty and spicy with a long dry finish and lemon honey emerging on the aftertaste. Showing very good aging potential, it has 12% alcohol, 16 g/L residual sugar, 8.77 g/L acidity and costs $33 a bottle.
Envoy Marlborough Pinot Gris 2006 is aromatic and lightly floral with the hallmark pear drop scent of the variety and tastes full-bodied, floral, spicy and luscious with some rose musk traits reminiscent of Gewurztraminer but it is 100% Pinot Gris I am assured. Fermented in German oak ovals, though there is no hint of oak in the taste, just tropical fruit, quince and honey building to a slightly viscous mouthfilling finish with creamed nuts, citrus zest and a hint of toffee as it lingers. My favourite of the aromatics, it has 14% alcohol, 22 g/L residual sugar, 4.87 g/L acidity and costs $33 a bottle.
Envoy Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2006 is light gold coloured, aromatic and perfumed with Turkish delight and Asian spices - the aroma is complex and full and the taste is rich and unctuous with orange water, spiced orange zest, vibrant citrus and lemon honey spice. A powerful, mouthfilling wine and, like the Pinot Gris, fermented in German oak ovals. It has 12.5% alcohol, 30 g/L residual sugar, 4.77 g/L acidity and costs $33 a bottle.
Envoy Marlborough Pinot Gris VT 2006 is made from late harvested grapes without any botrytis. At first the lime sherbet-like aromatics give an impression of Riesling, then the hallmark pear aromas of Pinot Gris emerge. There's honey in the palate but with lovely piercing acidity coming through the sweetness to balance the rich, rounded, nectar with a sweet tangy acidity and lingering fruit salad flavours. There's a hint of herb, like pineapple sage, and a mealy richness from the oak ferment and seven months aging in barrel on yeast lees. It has 12.5% alcohol, 103 g/L residual sugar, 6.6 g/L acidity and costs $29 a bottle.
'How do people know what VT means?" I said after finding there was no explanation on the back of the bottle.
"Part of the enjoyment of wine is learning about them," said Ant. "It's part of the story".
VT, of course, is the abbreviation for the French term, Vendage Tardive, which translates to 'late harvest'.
And so I learn more of the story, the story of Envoy - the emissary or the communicator - delivering the message of the particular single vineyard sites at Johnson Estate in the lower Waihopai Valley where the grapes for these wines were grown. It's all part of the Spy Valley mystery and intrigue.
I can't find a website, so best to dial up www.spyvalleywine.co.nz or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Sue Courtney
14 May 2007