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Murray Almond's "From the Left Island"

A New Zealand Tasting in July
© Murray Almond
15 July 2001

One of my great joys is drinking wine with others, to challenge, share opinions and enjoy great wine. For some years I've done this regularly with The Good Doctor, and we've managed to turn blind wine tasting into a blood sport; "OK so it's obviously a 1986 Coonawarra Cab, now tell me about it". To this end we are also joined on occasion by others including TGD's Next Door Neighbour, together with Gail and The Other Good Doctor.

Sometimes the wines are just whatever's hanging around, sometimes there's a theme, on this night I asked TGD, NDN, ToGD and Gail to bring New Zealand Wines.

TGD was running late, which is typical, he works hard and he's often up to his elbows in someone or other. So ToGD grabbed the Screwpull and poured a nicely chilled wine. He poured all glasses himself so we wouldn't get a chance to feel if the bottle was tall or fat. ToGD's been to my seminar on 'How to Cheat at Wine Tasting'. So back to first principles, the wine showed a medium straw colour of crystal clarity. The aroma showed a slightly toasty nose, with slight lime/melon overtones. It was showing good riesling nose, although the toasty bit gave a bit of leaning towards a wine with some age. The palate had fresh acid up front but was gentle overall at the front with a medium weight palate with fresh sharp fruit at the back palate before a medium to long finish. Reminiscent of a riesling 5-6 years age.

As such it was a surprise with ToGD unmasked the 1998 Palliser Estate Riesling. It's a delicious wine however with that toasty character I don't think it will age really well. It's on special down here for $10aud, which is a very keen price for that class of wine.

TGD arrived, bottles in hand, which he'd washed, in time for NDN to pour his wine. This also had a medium straw colour. I thought it was Sancerre-like, TGD and ToGD thought it was Chablis-like in character with a touch of sulphur. Quite lean on the nose with muted fruit, however the fruit that was there showed great class. The palate has a nice richness, acid up front, melon and crush lemon leaves, it's a low oaked wine that is very much to my liking. It's quite forward on the palate and showed fantastic elegance. It's very young and would age very nicely for many years.

NDN unmasked a wine seldom seen here, it's a Chard Farm 'Closeburn' Chardonnay 1999 from Central Otago. For those who like a wine along the French style, as we are, this is a great wine and is highly recommended. Great packaging too, I'm not sure of the price.

TGD presented a wine that was more obviously chardonnay, and a contrast from the old world style of the Chard Farm. It had true straw colour, which in a young wine is a fair giveaway for a wine with some oak. It's quite closed on the nose. The palate has great balance, great acid up front, showing significantly more oak than the Chard Farm but still a great breadth away from New World Chardonnays. Fine elegance across the palate just a slight kick at the back palate before a great long finish. It's already showing a smidge of development. TGD has got this one out of the cellar, and worthy example of a delicious 1997 Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay from Nelson. The 14% alcohol is hidden with the overall flavour profile. A wine that will develop for some years yet.

Time for a red. ToGD had arrived with crystal decanter in hand, well aware of how to play the blend tasting game, although he didn't go to the extent of wrapping the decanter in foil as TGD and I have done. Out came the big Riedels for this wine, which has a medium weight full brick red colour with just a hint of brown around the rim. Dark cherry is dominant on the nose, but has attractive nutmeg, overall has wonderful rich aromas. The palate is lovely and rich with nice acid upfront, elegant rich flavours beautiful and rich with a fantastic long finish. The 1995 Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir is a fantastic wine and a great demonstration of the direction New Zealand's Pinots can take. The current release is almost $50aud which may be a touch pricey for other premium pinots in that bracket.

I'd selected my wine with great care, and poured it with the smugness that goes with presenting something special. The 1999 Te Kairanga Reserve Pinot Noir from Martinborough has fantastic packaging with a sexy quilted label in pewter and tan gold highlights which suited it's $40 price tag. "Merlot", said ToGD, who really knows his Pinots, TGD agreed, and after smelling it, I could see where they were coming from. In the glass the wine had a medium weight full red colour. However the nose was vastly different from the Martinborough, and to me the Te Kairanga had a touch of ginger on it. The fruit profile was also far more noticeable than the previous wine. The fruit/ginger character carried through on the palate, which also showed some alcohol on the mouth. The sweet character also highlighted the use of French oak barriques for aging. To verify my thoughts I again smelt deeply, it's got a very rich nose, showing quite a bit of extraction, and ripe fruit. The overall profile is good with a rich long finish. To be frank I was a touch disappointed with this wine, especially after the Martinborough, which competes in the same premium bracket. It's a very good wine however gives the appearance of a worked wine. Overall I'd consider it only acceptable value at that price. It will develop for a while, say to about 5 years, but the Martinborough has a better aging characteristics.

A change of glasses was in order as Gail presented a sweet wine. This wine has a stunning nose of marmalade, aged citrus, with fantastic intensity without being too sticky. The mouthfeel is rich with lovely acid up front with a full flavour, seamless through to the back palate with a magnificent finish, every facet of the wine highlights nuances of fine management of botrytis. NDN raved on the wine and I joined the chorus. It's an ageless wine, could have been anyway from 2 to 10 years old and gives every indication of cellaring nicely for many more years. In fact it was a 1999 Konrad and Conrad 'Sigrun' Noble Riesling from Martinborough. Brilliant value at $20 per half bottle. It's wonderful now or will keep in the cellar for many years to come. It's hard to find in Oz but well worth seeking out.

Not content with that, Gail also unscrewed a fortified to have with our coffee, tea and a great carrot and walnut cake. The nose has a good complex character, with dark flavours of raisin and rum. It tasted like a South Australian Vintage Port, but nestled under the screw cap was a New Zealand Fortified being the Corbans 'Cellarmans' Rare Old Port which was bottled some time in the mid-80's. It's a great wine, and would compete well with the Australian fortifieds.

And so I poured my tasting companions out into the cold night and went back to check on the state of the leftovers. On reflection a great presentation of New Zealand wines, and not a Sauvignon Blanc in sight. I was surprised by how the Te Kairanga Reserve presented in the glass. It's a ripe wine and alcoholic compared to the Martinborough Vineyard at 12.5%. Does New Zealand really need to get 14% alcohol out of a wine? If this is the new wave of New Zealand Pinot I'd be a touch concerned, perhaps you in the Right Islands have a differing view, let Sue or I know.

On the other hand I'm a huge fan of sweet riesling and the Konrad and Conrad is a stunning example of the breed.

© Murray Almond
15 July 2001

Send comments to Murray at fromtheleftisland@yahoo.com.au

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