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Archive: February 2009
Feb 27th: The end of a short era at First Glass
Feb 26th: A preview of the new Penfolds Bins
Feb 25th: A retrospective Stonecroft tasting
Feb 24th: Nostalgia at Eskdale
Feb 23rd: That stunning Stonecroft Gewurztraminer
Feb 22nd: Hawkes Bay wineries new and not so new
Feb 21st: Art Deco Wine Diversion
Feb 20th: Lumbering round Eastern Hawkes Bay
Feb 19th: A wine tourist in Gisborne
Feb 17th: Chardonnay from another Bay
Feb 16th: Peachy Chardonnay
Feb 15th: Gorgeous Sweeties
Feb 12th: Key Wine Critics visit New Zealand
Feb 11th: Blame it on the Weather
Feb 10th: Corked Wine Replacement
Feb 8th: Sweltering heat thirst quencher and hedonistic Pinot Noir
Feb 7th: Savouring the Savvies
Feb 5th: Why we like Pinot Gris and why we don't
Feb 2nd: Doing what you love
The end of a short era at First Glass
Sam Kim left First Glass today after four years as manager in the retail store to concentrate on his new wine writing career. He has a high profile weekly newspaper column, a monthly magazine column and he is going to try and get his promising wine review magazine, 'Wine Orbit', re-established. I thought Sam must have flagged Wine Orbit after struggling to keep to his initially optimistic monthly schedule. Having the paying gigs and working a full time job wouldn't help.The first issue was dated June/July 2007 and the most recent issue that I've seen is Issue 4, dated April 2008.
Sam was popular at First Glass and that popularity was apparent for his last appearance as co-host of the Wednesday night tasting because all the seats were taken and there was hardly any standing room left either. Kingsley even let Sam present the Chardonnays - a first I would think. There were three of the C wines- the rather approachable West Brook Barrique Fermented Marlborough Chardonnay 2006, the big blowsy TW "Tietjen Witters" Gisborne Chardonnay 2006 and the distinctly classy Selaks Founders Reserve Hawke's Bay Chardonnay 2007. There were other highlights at the tasting, including some very smart Rieslings and Pinot Noir. Click here to read my reviews.
Had a very small sip of some Chardonnays of a totally different league with Sam after work today. Morton Estate Coniglio Chardonnay 2002, Craggy Range les Beau Cailloux Chardonnay 2006 and Ata Rangi Martinborough Chardonnay 2007 among them. All totally delicious five star wines.
No doubt Sam and I will bump into each other from time to time, in the first instance as early as tomorrow at the Royal Easter Show Wine Awards judging.
A preview of the new Penfolds Bins
The first of March is the date of the annual Penfolds 'Bin' wines release and today a bunch of people gathered in Auckland to preview the wines and hear Jamie Sach (pictured), the Penfolds 'Wine Ambassador', speak. The Penfolds' guys seems to have turns coming to New Zealand. Last year, Steve Lienert popped across and the year before, Jamie. Peter Gago comes here often too.
There are just five wines in this release, all from South Australia, all with 14.5% alcohol (stated on the label) and now all with screwcap closures. These are my impressions.
Penfolds Bin 138 Old Vines Barossa Grenache Mourvedre Shiraz 2007
Deep in colour but not so dense as the others in this tasting, this has violets, dried herbs and purple fruit aromas and seems a little stalky, dry and grainy textured in the mouth until the succulent creamy oak comes through. A savoury, Rhonish-styled wine with dried herbs and peppery notes to the finish then an expansive aftertaste with blueberry, raspberry, liquorice, sweet vanilla and a hint of mint. 66% Grenache, 21% Mourvedre and 13% Shiraz with 14 months in American oak. After a shaky start it opens up well in the glass. RRP indicated as NZ$24.99.
Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz 2007
Deep dark red with a purple hue, the aroma is vibrant and youthful with purple fruits and white pepper but there is a "weedy" veneer too. Quite sweet on entry to the palate with berry and plum fruit, violets, cake spices and a hint of chocolate. Lighter bodied/ thinner than I remember for this Bin with a fine texture and a lifted peppery finish but wait for the aftertaste to fill out with a pretty, vanillin sweetness overlaid with dried herb and peppery spice. RRP NZ$23.99.
Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2006
Deep black red, not quite opaque, with purple-red tints to the edges, this has creamy oak on the nose together with something that reminds me of cow dung - definitely not as opulently scented as in the past. Sweet fruit immediately on entry - red fruit, cake cherry and some chocolate notes with a hint of chilli amongst the black pepper, firm tannins and earth. Not the typical Bin 28 'seduce me, drink me now' but the potential for evolution in the cellar is patently obvious and an impression of opulence and suppleness is left in the mouth as the wine lingers. A sleeper that will be an absolute stunner with time. RRP NZ$23.99.
Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
Deep black red with pinky-red edges. Deep cassis, a hint of mint, classic cedar and dried earth on the nose. Sweet entry to the palate with a lovely supple tannin structure yet firm, dry and quite tight at this stage of its life. It has red fruits, dried herbs, savoury spicy French oak and a long lasting finish where the creamy vanilla of the American oak component comes through. Taste and savour. Experience the growing intensity as the flavours expand in the mouth because this is another Penfolds wine with long term potential. Don't believe the people who write this 407 off. This is very good and from my side of the ditch it can only be Australian Cabernet Sauvignon. RRP NZ$37.99.
Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2006
Deep black red with crimson edges. Chocolate notes on the nose together with plum, cedar, vanilla, spice and violets. Classic 389 in the palate, a combination of dark, soft Shiraz and lifted Cabernet, the wine has mouthfilling flavours of black fruits, biscuits and tingly spices that range from fruitcake spice through to black pepper with velvet textured grainy tannins and vanillin oak. Tight to start but as it opens up in the glass the layers and layers of complexity come through. Delicious purple fruit evolves in a savoury package and lifted red berries, creamy oak and spice notes linger. A quick taste is simply not enough. As always, the highlight of the tasting. RRP NZ$37.99.
I think the 2006's will be very long lived.
A retrospective Stonecroft tasting
Funny how coincidences happen. While visiting Stonecroft Wines in Hawkes Bay on Sunday, Glen Limmer mentioned to me that Alan would be in Auckland on the Tuesday showing the new releases and some of his older vintages including several 'firsts'. She printed out the details for me so I would know where to go. That night I received an email from Alan (pictured below) saying it wasn't his usual tasting round and as he only had one bottle of some of the wines, a very select group had been invited. However wine writer Peter Saunders had just emailed to say he couldn't make it so I could take his place. Thank you Peter for being unavailable. Your absence made my day!
These notes are mainly on the older and oldest wines. I mentioned the current releases briefly on the Feb 22nd blog entry (below) and they will eventually be listed in my Wine Review pages. The new release 2007 reds and the 2007 and 2008 whites are superb right across the board and I have no hesitation in recommending all of them. But now it's the turn of the older wines.
There was a moment of sadness as the cork was prised on the last bottle of Stonecroft Chardonnay 1987, the first wine that Alan made. It was like golden syrup in colour and slightly oxidised to the taste with underlying orange liquer-like acidity and an anticlimax after the build up but perhaps expected from a 22-year-old wine. Another coincidence is that this was the first Stonecroft wine we ever bought.
It should be noted of the back vintages tasted that Stonecroft Chardonnay 2002 was absolutely superb. It had a fresh appearance and a rich, full smoky, mealy, savoury flavour and with the bottle nicely chilled, the fruit seemed quite crunchy and fleshy.
Stonecroft Gewurztraminer 2008, my Wine of the Week this week, seemed even more exotic today with heady spices and a seamless texture. It is simply amazing.
However most exciting of the 'Traminer' lineup, of all the whites in fact, was Stonecroft Gewurztraminer 1996. This outstanding wine debunks the myth that Gewurztraminer doesn't age. Thirteen years on from vintage it has the most glorious, concentrated, mellow honey and stonefruit scents and a full, rounded, soft textured palate with melon, subtle spices, honey and flower musk. The spiciness intensifies and the lingering flavours are simply delicious.
Stonecroft Gewurztraminer 1988 has to be mentioned, as this 21-year-old wine is the first 'Traminer' Alan ever made. A late harvest style, it has a 36-carat gold colour, a mellow, creamy, honey and subtle exotic spice and rose petal aroma and a sweetish palate with a light nectar-like texture and a lifted, spicy finish. Remarkably fresh and just a delight to taste.
Stonecroft Syrah 1995 was the outstanding red of the older wines. Rich, deep, smoky and spicy with plum-like fruit and floral notes and a plushness to the slightly grippy tannins, it seemed very youthful and voluptuous. Michael Cooper and I were in agreement with this wine, both on its status and on its seductive drinkability. It would be the wine to open to drink a big glass of that night.
Stonecroft Syrah 1989 is now quite developed. Savoury, a little herbal and a little murky in colour and texture, it has lost most of its varietal definition, perhaps because of the 10% Cabernet component, but is still very okay to drink.
Stonecroft Mere Road Cabernet Sauvignon 1988 is bricking on the edge of the deep murky pool of liquid. Not too sure about the aroma because it was hiding and while it initially seemed quite thin in the palate, it had a vinous richness that intensifies. I can imagine sitting around and sipping on this with bread and cheese and friends that appreciate older wines.
Stonecroft Zinfandel 1998 was the first Zin ever made in New Zealand and it was a tiny production. All the bottles were 375ml and with the label stating 'Friends of Stonecroft', mail order customers received a bottle as a gift on the purchase of a case of wine. Eleven years after vintage, this has turned into liquid chocolate with red fruits on the mellow nose and currants and raisins with hints of liquorice in the slightly porty palate. Tannins are smooth and rounded, fruit is succulent, oak is sweet and there is a spicy lift to the finish. Another delicious wine.
A tasting of some absolute highlights, and hopefully my notes are useful to those of you who read this and have Stonecroft wines in your cellar.
Nostalgia at Eskdale
"Are you still open to the public," I asked the lady who answered the phone.
"Of course," Trish Salonius replied.
So we made the detour to Eskdale Winegrowers on the way to Taupo from Napier.
It was my turn to drive and I was hoping for obvious signage on the highway. There was none.
"Slow down, it's here," said Neil, as we approached a road on the left, just 1.8 kilometres from the SH2 / Taupo turnoff. This was Eskdale Lane where there was a road sign stating 'Winery' that accompanied a road sign to a cemetery. The larger display sign, announcing Eskdale Winegrowers, was positioned between the thick trunks of two oaks and sited for traffic heading the opposite way.
At the winery, it was as if time had stood still. Apart from the layers of dust in the winery being thicker, nothing else seemed to have changed since our last visit here, probably at least seven years before.
"I'll open a bottle for you to taste," said owner Kim Salonius and I chose the Gewurztraminer. The Stonecroft Gewurztraminer was still very present in my mind and I remember Alan Limmer telling me that he had some terrific times drinking Matawhero Gewurztraminer on Kim's deck as they watched the sun go down. Alan had worked a vintage with Kim in 1983 and established his own vineyard later that year using stock from Matawhero Vineyards.
Eskdale Winegrowers Gewurztraminer 2004 ($20, Diam closure) is the current release. It's developing a slight petrol note and is very dry but is rich in flavour with a long, heady finish. Kim obtained his first Gewurztraminer vine cuttings from Matawhero in 1973. Now that the old Matawhero vineyard in Gisborne has been replanted, the Eskdale vines are quite possibly the oldest Gewurztraminer vines in New Zealand. (Dry River was planted with Matawhero cuttings in 1979).
We also tasted Eskdale Malbec 2006 ($25, Diam closure). This has a rich purple glow to the saturated colour. Aromas of leather, crushed violets and plums escape from the glass and it has that Malbec meaty, leathery, earthy rusticity in the palate together with dried herbs, florals, a creamy richness from the French oak and the succulent purple and black fruit. There's a spicy thing going on in there too.
We bought a bottle of each and for nostalgia's sake, a bottle of the current release Eskdale Cabernet Malbec - vintage 2002!
That Stunning Stonecroft Gewurztraminer
Yesterday (see below) while recounting the visit to Stonecroft, I mentioned there was a white. It was a stunning white. It was a surreal white. It was Stonecroft Hawkes Bay Gewurztraminer 2008. It is this week's Wine of the Week. Click here to read the review.
Hawkes Bay Wineries new and not so new
A dull start to a lazy Sunday didn't have the sunshine hiding for long. It would be just another sunny day in beautiful Hawkes Bay. We decided to forgo the Art Deco Great Gatsby Picnic on the foreshore, where most of our fellow Art Deco MG'ers would be hanging out for the day, and do a spot of wine tasting instead. The agenda was wineries old and new. Heading down the coast towards Te Mata Peak - now brilliant in its outline compared to the other day - we passed Askerne Winery (closed) and turned into Te Mata Road to pass Te Mata Estate (closed) and Black Barn (closed). We were out and about far too early, it seemed. We cruised around the Black Barn complex where they were setting up for a show then travelled a little further along the road to Zepelin. I'd not heard of this winery before but they have evidently being around for some time. Malcolm Reeves makes the wines.
They charge $5 per person for tastings, refundable on purchase of wine.
Zepelin had a 2008 Rose ($19.90), a 2005 Merlot Cab Franc ($31.90) and 2005 and 2006 Cabernet Merlots ($19.90 each). I preferred the 2005 Cab Merlot of these wines - some nice development happening there. But the best of all was the 2005 Syrah ($38.90) which I rated 4 stars from the tiny tasting portion. It had been opened the day before with perhaps only one or two pours previously out of the bottle. Sweet fruit, creamy oak, hints of cherry and chocolate with a spicy savoury finish and no bitterness at all, it was the most expensive but it was definitely the best.
Next stop was Triangle Red Tasting Centre along Ngatarawa Road, where the wines of Bushhawk, Bridge Pa and Oshawa are served. Quite liked the Triangle Red Experience, a tasting of six wines for $9.50 per person. The 30ml pours were big enough to share. There was a bread accompaniment too. As two tastings were complimentary, we were able to taste all 8 of the wines on show. The highlight here, as to be expected, was the Bridge Pa Louis Syrah 2005 (5 stars).
Further along Ngatarawara Road, past Ngatawara Wines, was Salvare Estate, another new name to me. They opened in July last year. The best wine, to my palate, was the Salvare Hawkes Bay Viognier 2008 ($25) - beautiful aromatics, rich weighty palate and a long full finish. Some of the reds had been open too long and were not the best for tasting I even mentioned that one wine had turned acetic. Not a nice flavour. The guy serving the wines looked at me as if I was crazy. Elise Montgomery makes the wines and she certainly has a good track record. It was shame we could not taste fresh bottles. At least the tastings were free. They do olive oil and other condiment tastings here too. Like the arty labels.
Our lunch stop was at Trinity Hill, where after our wine tasting we bought bread rolls and cold meats to supplement our tomatoes and cheese, and picnicked on the lawn to the sound of a lone guitarist. He was quite alone until we arrived. We had two glasses of wine between us to share for lunch. One was Trinity Hill Arneis 2008, a super wine for chilling. Honeyed aromatics and nutty flavours with a full-bodied, heady spiciness and a hint of lemon grass. Nice on its own. Nice with the food. The other wine was Trinity Hill Tempranillo 2007 - a rich, savoury red with a point of difference.
"We have to go to Stonecroft," said Neil." Of course" I replied. Gosh, these wines right across the range have to be some of the best if not the best of their styles, in Hawkes Bay. Three Syrahs - Crofters Syrah NV - a blend of 2006 and 2007 fruit (5 stars) Stonecroft Serine Syrah 2007 - (5 stars) a blend of old and new vines, and Stonecroft Syrah 2007 (6 stars) - so deep and intense with a beautifully integrated spiciness and a juicy sweet savouriness. Just sublime. Loved the Stonecroft Zinfandel 2007 (5 stars) and the Ruhanui Merlot Cabernet Syrah 2007. But there was another wine, a white, more about that later.
Last stop was Crossroads Winery and their new cellar door, open daily 11am - 5pm. The tasting room and deck had opened for business just two weeks before. The wine labels have been revamped too. They are very smartly presented now - the same logo as on the sign. The highlight here was Crossroads Talisman 2007 (5 stars), a blend of six unnamed varieties. This bottle had been opened two days but had not suffered at all. A huge wine, I could see it going 15 years easily, The $40 price is really a bargain.
Art Deco Wine Diversion
In contrast to yesterday, today dawned bright and clear for the Art Deco weekend's main events and we had time to visit a couple of wineries before the vintage car parade. The route this morning had us heading to Puketapu and the Dartmoor Valley, past Mission Estate and Church Road in Taradale a little south west of Napier. Here we found the Moana Park cellar door, www.moanapark.co.nz, which had never been open whenever I had passed by before. There's a new owner now.
Moana Park has an attractive setting and tastings were free. We were even asked if we would like to have the tasting outside on the sail covered deck. Very cool. There were three white and three reds to try with a Vineyard Selection (VS) series and a Vineyard Tribute (VT) series, the latter being the equivalent of 'reserve'. Moana Park VS Chardonnay 2008 ($22) was already very drinkable (3 stars) and the Moana Park VS Pinot Gris 2008 ($22) was a rich, weighty style with an opulence to the slightly bitter, flinty finish (3.5 stars). The Moana Park VT Gewurztraminer 2008 ($35) was varietally correct with loads of spice and musk and an impression of sweetness although fermented dry. Rather pricey, however.
Moana Park VS Pinot Noir Small Batch Row 12 2008 ($30)was light in colour but had plenty of flavour. Smoky, a little feral, smooth textured and with a juicy sweetness to the finish with a long lasting savoury overtone, it was a gentle easy drinking style. (3 stars)
Moana Park VT Syrah Viognier 2007 ($35) had appealing floral and berry aromas with a hint of pepper and truffle. Silky textured in the palate with creamy oak, plenty of sweet fruit, fruitcake spices, a tarry undercurrent and a juicy finish, it has upfront deliciousness but I found something bitter in there that I'm tasting in many HB Syrahs (and don't like - one day I will put my finger on) so an anticlimax. 3.5 stars.
Moana Park VT Syrah Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($35) is deep in colour with a cassis and sweet oak nose and well defined Cabernet stature in the palate - blackcurrant, cherry, firm tannins and a long savoury finish with the veneer of the 70% new oak coming through but unfortunately leaving a rather dry mouth feel. Shows promise if you have the patience to cellar for at least 5 years. I awarded it 4 stars for its potential.
I didn't want to taste the Port and I wasn't poured the Moana Park VT Ice Wine 2007 because there wasn't enough in the bottle so had a sip of Neil's to find apricot and honey over a thick viscous texture. Mmmm, lip licking and very nice.
Next stop was Puketapu Pub in the Dartmoor Valley where owner Mary Danielson hosts tasting of wines from nearby vineyard, 'The Grail' - www.grailwine.co.nz. Tastings were free.
First up The Grail Rose 2008 ($17), a blend of Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet and Syrah chilled to perfection. Not too sweet nor too dry with strawberry and bramble fruit, a lightly viscous texture and a spicy finish this really hit the spot. 4 stars.
We were told that The Grail Sauvignon Blanc 2007 ($22) polarises people and I could see why. Served far too cold it had a canned pineapple aroma and was overly leesy in the palate with a touch of oak and canned pea flavours. I like this style, but this didn't impress me. However the next wine did. It was The Grail Merlot Cabernet Merlot 2007 ($25), a blend of 50% Merlot 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Malbec and 13% Cabernet Franc. Crushed fresh berries, plums and smoky oak on the nose and an equally rich in fruit palate with creamy oak and velvety tannins it was very juicy and flavoursome. 4.5 stars.
The Grail Syrah 2007 had a bright peppery aroma with perfumed fruit that carried through to the abundantly fruity palate to be joined with an array of pepper and spice with hints of liquorice and creamy oak sweetness, Just a little 'hard' on the finish and a little drying too. 3 stars.
By now, vintage cars, on a tour of the wine country, were passing in numbers, each hooting their vintage sounding horns as they passed the pub. It was time to head back to Napier for the Art Deco Vintage Car Parade.
Lumbering around eastern Hawkes Bay
A wet start on Friday morning for our long weekend in Napier did not deter our group of MG's heading out for a run. We left Napier for Ormond Road near Hastings to drive 'Oak Avenue'- a kilometre of road with 135 year old oaks lining both sides. I'd been through here last October on the Trinity Hill Tempranillo day and it is an incredibly awesome sight. Next stop was Te Mata Peak, slightly in the clouds, where we could look down through the mist on to the Craggy Range vineyards, winery and restaurant below. After descending the peak, we passed Back Barn and Te Mata Estate then turned right into Waimarama Road. We passed Craggy Range at road level and looked up at the peak where we had stood less than 25 minutes before, The tiki tour followed the Tuki Tuki River inland then after crossing the river we headed to the seaside villages of Haumoana and Te Awanga. We passed the cellar doors of Beach House Wines, Elephant Hill, Clearview Estate and Kim Crawford on route to the Clifton Bay Cafe at the end of the road. This is a recommended stop for morning tea.
Neil and I left the group for a spot of wine tasting at the new Elephant Hill Winery - the cellar door opened for the first time on 1 November last year.
Tastings here are free if you are dining in the restaurant or if you buy wine to take away, otherwise there is a charge of $5 per person.
There were seven wines for tasting including three Sauvignon Blancs, one from 2008 and two from 2007. I liked the Elephant Hill Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2007 ($29) the best. This is a barrel fermented, lees aged style - loved the smoky stonefruit and hazelnut scents and the rich stonefruit and nectarine in the palate with citrus acidity, a tropical fruit finish and a flinty, slightly grainy undercurrent. 4.5 stars.
The Elephant Hill Chardonnay 2007 ($22) has nutty scents and smoky, wheaty, honeyed oak flavours with a tinge of grapefruit, It's lightly viscous in texture with a savoury, smoky finish. 3.5 stars.
Elephant Hill Pinot Noir 2007 ($29) is the only wine that comes from elsewhere, in this case Alexandra, Central Otago. Perfumed aromatics lead into a sweet spicy palate with a reasonable oak component. It is long and tasty with floral notes on the finish. 4 stars.
Elephant Hill Syrah 2007 ($29) is a medium bodied style. It's bright ruby in colour with white pepper, bramble and rose petal scents however I found the palate just a little too tarry and meaty for my liking. 3 stars.
The deeply coloured Elephant Hill Reserve Syrah 2007 ($45) had everything that the other Syrah lacked. Full-bodied and perfumed with fruitcake spice, creamy oak, a hint of vanilla with florals emerging and a hint of chocolate too - and despite the firm tannins the finish was rounded and smooth. 4+stars.
A very informative tasting and the tasting host have us a map to plan more vineyard stops.
We stopped for lunch to experience the Elephant Hill cuisine. Lunch portions are small but the wine by the glass portions are generous- and they should be. My glass of Pinot Noir to accompany a tiny confit of duck on a sea of parsnip puree ($20) was $14. Our wines arrived with complimentary breads and dips. However my Pinot Noir was a disappointing wine and food match, despite it being recommended; the parsnip was too sweet and made the wine taste bitter. I didnt finish it. Our bill for two came to $60 - that was one food course and one glass of wine each.
So we've been there done that. It's another winery to strike off the 'to visit' list. But we've still got more new Hawkes Bay wineries to discover tomorrow. Hopefully we'll find Internet access again too.
A wine tourist in Gisborne
"Wines of Gisborne, Welcome to the Chardonnay capital of New Zealand", stated the sign on the main highway as we drove into Gisborne from the northern end of SH2. We'd been passing vineyards for a quite a few kilometres before we reached the welcome sign. It had been a long drive from Whakatane, but a splendiferous drive via the little used Motu Rd with a 48 kilometre stretch of gravel. Great for our group of topless MGs (map to come).
We had now split off from the others and were looking forward to being wine tourists and trying some of Gisborne's finest. We passed a 'Wines of Gisborne' sign pointing to a side road and followed its direction. Lots of vineyards but no sign to announce a winery. I recognised Vinoptima but the 'authorised personnel only' sign meant this was definitely not a wine tourist stop.
We decided to drive into town via Back Ormond Road past Waihirere, where vines were first planted in the region in 1851, not exactly sure where. More 'Wines of Gisborne' signs, more nameless vineyards. On reaching our motel we asked for a vineyard map and found that we had been past Wrights, Hihi and TW - we had seen the TW sign at one stage.
Our map key told us not many wineries were open on Tuesdays. Amor Bendall, on the other road heading north around the coast, opened daily, so did KEW - but closed at 4pm and it was almost 4pm, Goldenvines had tastings in town from 3pm to 5pm, Bushmere opened daily until 6pm and Millton daily until 5pm. We decided to go to Bushmere and we could call in at Millton on our way out of town in the morning. We would later find out that Millton had started harvest preparations and wine tastings had been suspended.
We arrived at Bushmere to find proprietor Shona Egan readying the room for a tour group. We dont open midweek anymore, she said, explaining that the map was wrong. They stopped their midweek tastings after Waitangi Day weekend due to a lack of wine tourists. They now open Thursdays to Sundays only. As she was showing us on the map where else we could possibly go (KEW and Millton) the tour guide rang to say he was running 30 minutes late. "Oh I could give you a tasting now, if you would like," said Shona. Luck must have been on our side.
Wine tastings at Bushmere cost $5 per person, refundable on purchase. I was impressed to find that each new wine came in a fresh glass and water accompanied the tastings, in a water glass. A book with technical information was offered to me when it Shona noticed me taking notes.
I had been very impressed with Bushmeres Chardonnay in the past - see these archives and again, what they now call the Classic, impressed. Bushmere Classic Chardonnay 2006 ($22) is a lovely, creamy barrel ferment style, savoury and mealy with stone fruit and oak spice combining beautifully for a sweet, savoury sensation.
We then had a sneak preview of the soon to be released 2007 (about mid March, thinks Shona) - a super vintage year in Gisborne, the best for 35 years, she said. Oak is still a little dominant in this mouthfilling powerful number thats crammed with delicious fruit and has a rich creamy butterscotch finish.
We also tasted an unoaked Chardonnay, two vintages of Gewurztraminer, a gorgeous Rosa dEstate 2008 pink made from Malbec and Merlot, and two vintages of Merlot. I didnt really take to the Merlots, but I liked the pink and all the whites, especially Bushmere Gisborne Viognier 2008 ($25). This needs some time to open up and decanting is recommended so Shona suggested we put the glasses to one side while we finished the tasting. I wasnt sure of this wine at first with pears (like Pinot Gris) on the nose and mealy nutty biscuity scents leading into a palate thats a bit phenolic at first but then, oh boy, what a transformation. Rich and heady with an oily texture, pristine apricot fruit and a finish that just lasts and lasts and asserts this really is Viognier. It impressed so much, we bought a bottle to taste again another day.
They were picking grapes at Patutahi when we left this morning, The 2009 vintage is underway.
Farewell to Gisborne. Now we are headed to Napier where its going to be hard to choose just which wineries to visit.
Chardonnay from another Bay
Many of us Kiwi wine lovers think of 'The Bay' as Hawkes Bay but as I was driving through the Bay of Plenty today, quite a way north of Hawkes Bay, it was the perfect opportunity to visit one of New Zealand's 'off the beaten' track vineyards. New Zealand's most famous Bay of Plenty winery is Mills Reef, just out of Tauranga, but they only make their wine here. Their grapes are mostly grown in Hawkes Bay. But at Plummer's Point, 17 km north west of Tauranga, grapevines are flourishing. The is the Emeny Road Vineyard, named after the road where the vineyard resides. It is the lifestyle dream of Richard and Andrea Cashmore. The vines are in front of their home that overlooks Tauranga Harbour and Matakana Island and slope gently towards the water.
They planted grapes here in 1999, 2145 chardonnay vines to be exact, from three different clones, and the first wine was made from the vintage of 2002. Their best show result to date is a silver medal for the 2004.
Emeny Road Reserve Tauranga Chardonnay 2007 is light gold in colour. Nutty, malo, butterscotch scents lead into a smooth textured palate where there are nutty and slightly 'burnt butter' flavours with abundant citrus and a tropical fruit brightness with just a lick of pineapple. The finish is long and full with a creamy buttery richness. I tried the wine at room temperature and later chilled and I'd say "do not over chill" as it accentuates the grapefruit character. Sealed with a screwcap, it has 13.5% alcohol and costs $20 a bottle.
This wine has unprecedented popularity in Tauranga restaurants and cafes. No wonder, because it's local. Made at the nearby Mills Reef winery by the skilful and talented Mills Reef winemaking team of Paddy and Tim Preston, the grapes don't have far to travel. Check out www.emenyroad.co.nz for more information.
Yesterday it was the turn of the sweeties. Today is the peach and Chardonnay test. I just had to see if I could repeat the all time awesome Chardonnay and fresh peach experience. The first time we discovered the delight of freshly picked summer peaches and Chardonnay was with the Mission Jewelstone Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 1994 - one of my all time favourite Chardonnays, I would have to say and I've been searching for the ultimate peach and Chardonnay taste experience ever since. I hope I never find it.
The wine I chose for this year's peach and Chardonnay test is Sileni The Lodge Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2007. I'd had a sneak preview of this the other day from a bottle that had been opened a day or so and knew it was delish and full of peachy tones. I had a bottle in my tasting box so it seemed the perfect wine to indulge in.
Sileni The Lodge Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2007 is a Chardonnay-lovers dream. Brilliant light gold with green/yellow glints, it a savoury smelling wine with lifted oak spice notes. It's citrussy on entry to the palate and ultra fleshy and juicy, like biting into a fresh ripe peach - oh yes. There's oak spice too and lovely nutty, creamy, mealy complexities. Honeyed oak coats the tongue. This a big wine, full of stonefruit and just a hint of pineapple. A classy wine with all the bells and whistles and a savoury finish that sits in nicely with the sweet oak and takes you back to the start.
It worked well with ripe fresh peaches and defnitely passed the test. With the spice in the wine it would also be awesome with a chilled peach soup. The plan was to make that for dinner, but time ran out. But I just know it would have worked. I can taste it just by thinking about it. Check out the delicious Chilled Peach Soup recipe here.
Sileni The Lodge Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2007 is sealed with a screwcap and has 14% alcohol by volume. Listed retail price is $34.95 but it's selling around town for up to $12 less. A sign of the times, I guess.
The Wine of the Week is 'on time' this week. It's because I just had to get the notes typed up of the gorgeous sweet wines we tried today to accompany fresh peaches straight off the tree. As I said in the WOTW review, the sweeties tend to get overlooked because it takes some time to think about, then prepare a suitable food match, especially as desserts are not my forte. But according to my sister, Bob Campbell MW said the only way to eat fresh peaches is to eat them outside, under the peach tree, with a glass of sweet wine. We found out , however, that not all sweet wines work with fresh peaches.
Wines tasted were
Fromm Late Harvest Gewurztraminer 2006 from Marlborough
Valli Vin Santo Pinto Gris 2006 from Otago
Riverby Noble Riesling 2008 from Marlborough and
Spy Valley Noble Chardonnay 2007 from Marlborough.
Which one was the Wine of the Week? Click here to read the review.
Key wine critics visit New Zealand
Jancis Robinson MW and Neal Martin - writer for Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate - have been in New Zealand recently.
Jancis was interviewed for TV3 news - click here to see the video.
Blogger Adon Kumar met Jancis in Auckland airport between her international and domestic flights. Check out what he has to say at Culture and Wine.
Neal Martin has been touring the country. He didn't stay long in this northern part of the country last time he was here. I wonder if he filled the gaps this time.
Blame it on the Weather
I had to ring a wine importer today with my tail between my legs. I forgot to turn up at a wine tasting yesterday after I had RSVP'ed that I would be there. I hate it when that happens - not that it happens to me often although I did miss a Champagne tasting once. That was in summer too. I'm blaming it on the weather.
Yesterday I spent part of the morning sitting in the cool back room of a tyre dealership while my car was adorned with expensive new tyres and the wheels aligned. Then I drove to Kumeu to get my corked wine replaced and on the way home I stopped at the butchers. What a contrast between the ice cold airconditioning of the butchers shop, the cool airconditioning of my car and the muggy tropical-like heat outside. The humidity was hovering in the 90's.
At home I opened every window in the house, turned the fans on (I don't have aircon) and still I sweltered. A cold shower only gave momentary relief. I forgot all about the wine tasting.
It was a tasting of South African wines hosted by Planet Wine. I was looking forward to it not only because it was a celebration of 350 years of winemaking in South Africa but also because I had downloaded the Platter Guide with tasting notes and ratings of the wines on show to see how my palate concurred with those reviewers.
Vergelegen in particular was one I wanted to try. I remember their Sauvignon Blanc from a few years ago - as good as any from Marlborough. Plus some rare Chenin Blanc - not rare in South Africa but rare here. I remember when we used to be able to buy Steen, which is what the Chenin's were sometimes called. And there were several Pinotage's I wanted to try, including one called Flagstone Writer's Block - I now I can relate to that. Must be a good one at a cool $50 retail off www.planetwine.co.nz.
It was an opportunity lost. And today, after my cold midday shower, I'm spruced up and ready but with nowhere to go.
Corked Wine Replacement
Drove to Kumeu this morning, to Kumeu River Wines to present them with my bottle of Kumeu River Maté's Chardonnay 1999 that we opened on Saturday night and was disgustingly corked. Milan came to the counter, pulled out the cork that I had jammed into the bottle, poured a sample, put it to his nose and his reaction confirmed why I was there.
"Do you get many corked wines returned," I asked.
"Not these days," he said. All their wines are closed with screwcaps now and the corked wine problem has just about been eradicated. It's only when a treasure, like my 1999, is pulled from the cellar, perhaps for a special occasion, as was my situation, and you immediately know by the swimming pool scent that the wine is stuffed.
"You can tell by the colour too," said Milan. The deep gold was darker than expected for the normal aging of this wine, but I couldn't tell in the subtle lighting of the restaurant.
So my replacement bottle is Kumeu River Maté's Vineyard Chardonnay 2007, which I definitely won't be drinking straight away. Hopefully it will be perfection when the screwcap is eventually twisted off. At least it won't be corked.
Fortunately we had taken a backup wine to the restaurant, such is my faith in corks, especially on wines of the 1998 / 1999 vintage. These years produced high failure rates, high enough for overseas shipments to be recalled and for producers like Kumeu River and Villa Maria to become some of the high profile names in the change to screwcaps.
The backup replacement on Saturday night was Saint Clair Omaka Reserve Marlborough Chardonnay 2006, which by coincidence I had tasted at the weekly Wednesday tasting. Sealed with a screwcap, the aromas were seductively Chardonnay. A glorious wine with beautiful oak, mealy notes, a touch of butterscotch and a clean, crisp, citrussy backbone. Tasting notes of this and other wines tasted on the Wednesday are, as usual, on my Wednesday Roundup page.
We finished the Saint Clair last night and accompanied it with a potato bake - two potatoes very thinly sliced, one onion very thinly sliced, one tomato finely sliced, 1/4 cup of grated cheese and a quarter cup of chopped sliced ham, Toss all together, season with pepper (as cheese and ham are already quite salty), place in a round casserole dish, pour over half a cup of cream, cover and bake for about 75 minutes at 170 degrees C. It's a simply perfect match.
Snow in Kumeu
So you're driving south from Kumeu township and when you round the corner just before Kumeu River Wines, it looks like there is snow on the Hunting Hill and covering Mate's Vineyard where the top of the vines are at road level. BUt it's hardly likely in the steamy, tropical-like heat that's covering the region today and the almost intolerable humidity, at least here in my office. It's the nets, as you can tell when you get closer. It means harvest is nigh.
Wine of the Week
This week's Wine of the Week is the Mills Reef Reserve Merlot Malbec 2007 from Hawkes Bay. Click here to read the review.
Sweltering heat thirst quencher and hedonistic Pinot Noir
Crikey, it's been hot. We recorded just under 30 degrees C here today and that's only in Auckland, which is nowhere near the hottest part of the country. How are the vineyards faring? I wonder because I saw that temperatures up to 40 degrees were recorded in some Martinborough and Wairarapa vineyards today at peak temperature time between 3pm and 4pm this afternoon. A possible record.
Even at 8pm tonight it was still pretty warm and the chilled bottle of Gibbston Valley Le Fou Riesling 2007 from Central Otago that we sipped really hit the spot. Lightly chilled, this wine has a very shy lemon balm aroma but with some coaxing, the honey, the blossoms, the zest emerges. It's a pale gold colour with a brightness to the hue and a touch of viscosity to the appearance and the taste is clean, refreshing, mouthwatering and cooling in the 24.3 degree Celsius temperature at 8pm in the evening. But what about the flavours, the lemon and lime flavours enriched with a honeyed sweetness? It seems to have a very light touch but there's a syrup maderia cake richness to the mid palate and a finish that just lasts and lasts. Love that piercing acidity that cuts through the wine yet so beautifully in balance. The bottle was opened last night and accompanied scallops and artichokes in a lemon cream sauce and a cucumber salad, it was a match that really worked.
The grapes came from the Bendigo subregion of Central Otago and the finished wine has 10% alcohol. 40 grams residual sugar, a pH of 3 and 8 grams per litre of total acidity. Retail price is $35 and it's evidently only available from Gibbston Valley Winery or from their website www.gvwines.co.nz.
This wine is one of Craig Thomson's Kiwi Wine Fan Club's 'Top 20 Wines' of the top 20 wines of the last 10 years. It was also the runner up to his Wine of the Year last year. I can see why it seduced him and his KWFC colleagues. It's pretty awesome wine.
Also tasted last night and in the running for the most hedonistic vinous experience of the year so far is Gibbston Valley Reserve Pinot Noir 2002 from the Gibbston subregion of Central Otago. It's a deep orange tinged garnet colour and has a deep earthy, savoury and rich fruity aroma and a smooth, silky texture and there's something about the taste that makes you feel alive. There's dark cherry with a moist fruit cake richness and a funky, earthy, sensual, sexual savouriness. Amazingly there is still some underlying acidity keeping the wine fresh for its age. And there is a lovely spicy thing going on - heading towards liquorice, perhaps. Concentrated and full-bodied yet with a beautifully light touch, this was magnificent with roast duck garnished with ginger and orange zest and a citrus glaze. The wine has 13.5% alcohol, it spent 11 months in 100% new French oak and it has a screwcap closure. Is it available? No.
We also opened a 1999 Kumeu River Mate's Chardonnay - such a disappointment to find it was corked.
Savouring the Savvies
Yesterday was Waitangi Day, a holiday in New Zealand, so the day off gave me a chance to catch up on some much needed tasting. With a whole snapper that someone had given me waiting to be cooked for dinner, I decided Sauvignon Blanc would be the theme.
I had eleven 2008 vintage Sauvignon Blancs in the tasting box from a spread of regions representing Martinborough and the greater Wairarapa in the lower North Island and Marlborough, Nelson and Waipara in the South Island. I found some very tasty wines although none I would score a gold medal too.
My top wine of the tasting came from Nelson, with the Kaimira Estate Nelson Sauvignon Blanc 2008 really taking my fancy, followed by Julicher Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 and Spinyback Nelson Sauvignon Blanc 2008. Nautilus Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 was in 4th place.
Interesting that Julicher was the only wine that both Neil and I selected in our top three. The Julicher was his 3rd pick after his initial favourite, Brightside Nelson Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (the second label of Kaimira), and the newly launched Eliot Brothers Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 in second place. His choices were interesting because while I liked the Brightside, initially scoring it low silver, I down-pointed it to bronze because the finish was just too short for the variety. The Eliot Brothers performed poorly in the tasting for me - I noted it as having unbalanced sweetness.
This was a difficult tasting in a way. When I taste like this I have the luxury of time and over the hour that I spent on the wines but I couldn't believe how much they changed in the glass. While characters on the first impression stayed, the wines definitely evolved, most for the better, with some becoming more complex with an interesting medley of tastes. I'm all for decanting wines like Pinot Gris. Perhaps we should decant Sauvignon Blanc too?
My favourite wine, the Kaimira Estate Nelson Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (18/20) had flavours that whisked me to my garden - sweet tangelo-like citrus and fresh fragrant summer herbs, like coriander, tarragon and basil.
Julicher Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc (17.5/20) was very subtle to start but the flavours punched through with lots of tangy vivaciousness. Possibly not a 'show wine' because it lacks that upfront kapow! but opens up so beautifully.
I though the Spinyback Nelson Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (17/20) at $15 full retail, was an absolute winner for the punters. A sweeter style but with very good balancing acidity, it is texturally pleasing with powerful aromas and flavours. It is the second label for Waimea Estate and the Waimea Estate Nelson Sauvignon Blanc 2008, tasted in December, was just gorgeous, deserving the gold medal it won at the Air NZ Wine Awards.
Nautilus Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (16.5/20) is positively Marlborough - a little old fashioned perhaps. It was one of those wines that was slow to open up, but when it did it displayed its classic regionality with pride and had a lasting rich, juicy finish.
Brightside Nelson Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (16.5/20)
Camshorn Waipara Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (16/20)
Gladstone 12000 Miles Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (15.5/20)
Gladstone Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (16/20)
Matakana Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (16/20)
Ti Point Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (15.5/20)
All the notes along with other recent tastings, are on my Sauvignon Blanc Tasting notes page.
Why we like Pinot Gris and why we don't
Pinot Gris. Such a contentious grape variety. Exciting to some. Dull and boring to others. These two wines, from the same winemaker but from different vintages and different quality levels, are perhaps classic examples of Pinot Gris that seduces and Pinot Gris that discourages a second kiss. Of course, quite vastly different vintage conditions too - 2006 could almost be seen as perfection in Marlborough while 2008 was perfection until the heavens opened midway through harvest.
Stoneleigh Rapaura Series Marlborough Pinot Gris 2006
A beautiful Pinot Gris with a peachy, nutty, slightly mealy aroma that has a spicy, lightly zesty aura and a hint of orange blossom. The aromas carry through to the medium to full bodied palate that has a juicy tropical and stone fruit brightness and freshness throughout, the texture is lightly viscous with a slightly pear-like graininess and the finish is long and full. A very pleasing wine with soft acidity, it has a richness and lusciousness that has garnered with bottle age and it should appeal to even the most hardened Pinot Gris knockers. This is higher up the quality ladder with an RRP of about $24 down to $17.95 on special. It has $13.5% alcohol and 11 grams of residual sugar. When I first tasted it in September 2006, I said this was a classic case of a wine that needed decanting to bring out its full beauty - because that beauty was definitely there then. Now, without decanting, it has instant gratification.
Another glass? Yes, yes please.
Stoneleigh Marlborough Pinot Gris 2008
Dry, a little herbal smelling with a hint of spice on the nose, there's just a touch of sweetness in the palate with a biscuity backbone and a sweet citrus zest finish. Overall I think this is a little boring and dull, maybe it is the savoury herbaceous which dominates the front to mid palate and there's a citrussy bitterness to the aftertaste that lingers. Yes, that's what it is - orange bitters!
This has 13% alcohol and a full price of $21.95, which makes the discount look good when it is specialled in supermarkets for sometimes as low as $13.99.
A second glass perhaps? Not for me, no thanks.
Doing what you love
Combining my two favourite pastimes - the MG automobile marque and good wine - was realised on Sunday with the MG Car Club's Annual Vineyard Picnic Run. I was the catalyst for this run and called it "Wine Trails Old and New", plotting a route to our destination via vinous related sites. We drove past places where vineyards once were, like the site of the old Penfolds winery in Lincoln Road, Henderson, now a petrol station; through streets with grape, winemaker or wine names and past grapevines with their bountiful crops revelling in this fabulous Auckland summer. The nets are going on already.
The destination, Kerr Farm Vineyard in Kumeu, provided a stunning setting for the 31 MG cars to park on the lawn to a backdrop of vines and once everyone had arrived, vigneron Jaison Kerr (standing at right of picture, in white) gave a most informative and educational wine tasting. He presented five wines, all made from grapes grown on the vineyard that was first planted in 1969 - some of the original Chardonnay and Pinotage vines are still there - other vines are younger. Jaison and Wendy Kerr bought the property in 1989 - they had celebrated their 20th year of ownership just the day before - and released the first Kerr Farm in 1995.
Kerr Farm Kumeu Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2008 ($20) is a crisp fresh wine with good lemon acidity, a peachy mid palate and a touch of pineapple on the finish. It had an underlying herbaceousness and bite and served chilled, it really hit the spot. It was the wine we chose to accompany our picnic. With 14.5% alcohol by volume, it's a rich, weighty wine with a lingering finish - an excellent and rare example of northern NZ savvie.
Kerr Farm Thelma Grace Unoaked Chardonnay 2008 ($20) is fresh and fruity with some honeyed lees influence that adds a savoury aspect. It's quite dry with a spicy richness to the full-bodied finish. 14% alc.
Kerr Farm Limited Release Kumeu Chardonnay 2006 ($25) has noticeable yellow gold colour. It's quite savoury with a spicy, mealy yeast lees and toasty oak influence. Ripe grilled peach fills the mid palate and the long finish is dry with creamy vanillin oak. 14.5% alc.
Kerr Farm 'P06' Kumeu Pinotage 2006 ($20) is just gorgeous. It has a hint of blue to the velvety crimson colour and tastes so smooth, soft and warm with fruitcake cherry over a spicy backbone with an earthy, game-meat finish. It's medium to full-bodied with a lovely combination of softness, fruitiness and savouriness with a spiciness emerging as the flavours linger and creamy oak on the aftertaste. Just 12.5% alcohol, yet not thin. A personal favourite but also chosen by others as their favourite too. Many bottles of P06 were packed into MG boots to take home to enjoy another day.
Kerr Farm Kumeu Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 ($22) is showing its age in its fading orange garnet colour. Integrated and mellow with earthy savoury flavours, cigar box and leather, the fruit is now secondary as the wine nears its peak, but still has a year or two to go. 13% alc.
The car club run had been postponed from January 11th when the heavens opened to give the vines a good drink. The fruit is definitely benefiting from that watering right now.
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