The Independent Wine Monthly

wine reviews and forthright opinion

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Neudorf : New Releases

2018 Neudorf Sauvignon Blanc, Nelson
2018 Neudorf Rosie’s Block Chardonnay, Nelson

There is no escaping the fact that most NZ Sauvignon Blanc is made, and tastes, the same way. Varying degrees of concentration maybe but for the most part it is strongly varietal, with plenty of upfront fruit, fairly high acidity and a squeaky clean character. Although it is popular to ridicule sauvignon and the people who drink it, this very sameness is its greatest strength.
So how do winemakers make sauvignon blanc more interesting? Some go down the reduction/gun flint path making wines with strong grapefruit peel notes, often with neutral barrel maturation and a touch of lees stirring. This can add interest and make wines that are impressive but sometimes have such a overt character they are quite hard to drink.

It was therefore interesting to taste the 2018 Sauvignon Blanc ($25.00), a wine that manages the straddle the line between retaining a good degree of drinkability and yet having enough interest to appease those looking for something ‘extra’. 100% wild yeast and with a percentage fermented in old oak it has a subtle graceful character. It shows the 2018 vintage nicely; a lighter, prettier style of wine with a strong wet stone. A nice degree of complexity without . The fruit is sourced from the Marama vineyard, off 13 year old vines so maybe a little bit of vine age has created that extra something?

The 2018 Rosie’s Block Chardonnay ($33.00) is very much in the same vein with subtlety and restraint to the fore. Although the name implies a single vineyard wine, the fruit was sourced from several sites and is a blend of different clones (Mendoza, 15, 85, 8021 and 548). The aromas are of just-ripe white nectarine, honeydew melon and red apple with a strong wet-stone, oyster shell note too. The wine has texture with a small amount of oak and some lees stirring adding an extra degree of complexity. An understated but very appealing style of chardonnay that has a strong ‘drink-me-now’ quality.

2018 Te Mata Alma Pinot Noir

Anyone who spent time with Peter Cowley, Te Mata’s recently retired Technical Director, would have been left in little doubt where his loyalties lay. The man who once called syrah ‘the thinking man’s pinot noir’ felt that that New Zealand, and Hawke’s Bay in particular, could make astonishing examples of fuller bodied reds from cabernet, merlot etc. but that these wines were often overlooked in favour of the country’s obsession with pinot noir. The annual Te Mata showcase tasting was always a celebration of the styles Cowley held dear.

But 2019 has seen a changing of the guard at Te Mata with Cowley’s longtime colleague Phil Brodie taking on the role of Chief Winemaker. I headed out to the tasting without really looking at the invitation, expecting that little would have changed and I’d be looking at the new Coleraine etc. So I was a little taken aback to sit down and see only two empty wine glasses in front of me. Upon closer inspection of the tasting sheet I realised I was at the launch of the brand new Hawke’s Bay Alma Pinot Noir.

For a producer so invested in the styles of Bordeaux (Coleraine and Awatea) and the Rhone (Bullnose and Zara) it came as something of a surprise to find that Te Mata started planting pinot noir back in 1999. But Nicholas Buck, introducing the wines said the production of high quality pinot noir had been a long term goal of both Te Mata and Brodie.

The company’s pinot vineyards lie on the Woodthorpe Terraces, and comprise a deep layer of sandy loam, mixed in with some volcanic material that overlays red metal soils. It is a cooler site with a longish ripening period that results in ripeness but not at the expense of perfume nor delicacy. A mixture of clones are currently planted (777, 667, Abel and UCD5) but apparently new vineyards will comprise the new Entav clones.

Brodie is self-deprecating but thoughtful and I liked his quote ‘we work hard in the vineyards so we can be hands off in the winery’. He explained the shoulders of the bunches are removed to make sure all the berries are ripe, yields kept low (about 2.5 tonnes/hectare) and the fruit hand harvested. Winemaking is quietly confident (as you’d expect) with the ferments starting off naturally before being inoculated. All French oak, the Alma spends around 11 months in barrel, 20% of which are new.

2018 Te Mata Cape Crest, Hawke’s Bay
Beautifully precise; aromas of greengage, kaffir lime and red grapefruit with the hallmark Cape Crest note of struck match and gunflint in the background. Strongly aromatic but with a good degree of restraint and subtlety nonetheless. The palate is poised with mouthwatering acidity, an appealing grapefruit pith textural note and a long sustained finish. Though no doubt this wine would continue to develop and evolve, it is absolutely delicious now.

2018 Te Mata Estate Vineyards Pinot Noir, Hawke’s Bay
Perfumed and fruit focussed with red cherry, plum and raspberry aromas, some violet. Although already approachable, a layer of tannin runs across the palate giving a savoury edge and suggests the wine will develop well over the next 1-2 years

2018 Te Mata Alma Pinot Noir, Hawke’s Bay
Slightly deeper in colour than the estate wine. The aromas are ripe and yet restrained; plum and morello cherry, a touch of damson and some violet florals. There’s a note of cinnamon spice though apparently only about 3% was whole cluster fruit. The palate doesn’t lack for concentration of fruit but it is the structure and tannin that carry the wine at present. A very graceful take on pinot. Reserved on release but looks like it has all the attributes to make an assured, complex wine with five or so years in bottle.

*The name Alma is a tribute to Dr James Thomson who tended the wounded at the Battle of Alma and who received a medal for his services.

Element Wines

2016 Gimblett Gravels Syrah, Hawke’s Bay
2016 Gimblett Gravels Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, Hawke’s Bay

Element Wines is a (relatively) new venture from Dominic and Rachelle Smith. The main focus is on red wines and the latest two releases are both interesting to drink and well-priced. A producer to keep an eye on. 2016 Syrah ($30.00) shows more than a passing nod to the wines of the Northern Rhone with its lovely aroma of raspberry, plum and red cherries interwoven with lots of ground black pepper and violets. This creates a perfumed rather than powerful character which is very attractive. The palate is medium bodied with a vibrant fruit character, some supple tannins in support and a moderately lengthy finish. With only 12.5% alcohol this is not a blockbuster style of Gravels syrah but instead a strongly appealing delicious wine; not one to cellar away but to enjoy over the next couple of years. In contrast the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot ($30.00) is a denser, meatier wine that shows blackcurrant and dark plum with red liquorice, black olive and a little graphite. French oak has given some cedar spiciness and whilst there are some tannins it is ripe and fairly subtle. Again, not a wine for the long haul but over the next 2-4 years it should provide charming drinking.

Jenny Dobson Wines

2017 Fiano, Hawke’s Bay

Jenny Dobson is one of New Zealand’s most experienced red winemakers and to date her focus has been firmly on the classic French varieties that seem to do so well in Hawke’s Bay. It is therefore interesting to see her look further afield for inspiration and explore an Italian variety.
Sourced from New Zealand’s oldest plantings of Fiano, the 2017 Jenny Dobson Fiano ($35.00) is a restrained, chalky wine with a strongly appealing lemon rind, chamomile flower and wet stone aroma. Bone dry with a mouth-watering line of acidity it has plenty of concentration and length. An unusual yet appealing wine that would suit those looking for a drier, less ‘fruity’ white wine.

Novum Wines

2016 Chardonnay, Marlborough
2016 Pinot Noir, Marlborough
2016 Syrah, Marlborough

Novum is the new venture from William Hoare (who sold his interest in Marlborough Fromm Vineyard last year), and his wife, Rachel Jackson-Hoare. Hoare has an ebullient, witty personality which belies a very serious love of wine. A very impressive set of wines. Sourced from Will’s parents’ vineyard, the 2016 Novum Wines Chardonnay ($40.00) is 100% wild ferment Mendoza fruit. Lovely, expressive nose with fruit sitting firmly in the citrus spectrum but with some delicate white peach, lemon curd and white flowers too. There is a touch of gunflinty reduction which gives a smoky edge but this doesn’t overpower, instead adding interest. Some new oak adds a lovely digestive biscuit, sizzled butter note. The palate is at once both taut and focussed (more of the citrus notes) but also has a touch of fleshiness and weight that gives rather a come hither quality, a fresh line of acid tying it all together. The 2016 Novum Wines Pinot Noir ($40.00) is sourced from four parcels in the Southern Valleys. Bucking the whole bunch trend, this is 100% destemmed, though not showing any lack of aromatics, structure or finesse for this choice. Plenty of pure red fruits, especially strawberry, on the nose and a lovely savoury, textural palate. Nice lick of spice on the finish, rich and ripe but balanced and pleasingly dry on the finish. From a mass section vineyard in the Brancott Valley, with 4% viognier and just 12.5% alcohol, the 2016 Novum Wines Syrah ($40.00) is a vibrant, expressively varietal wine with violets, crushed red berry fruit, damson plum and peppery spice. Silky texture, touch of fine oak, it’s deliciously fresh and offers great drinking now, though should look even better in a couple more years. With the current tiny production, this wine is already sold out so that’s probably a moot point now alas.

Mahi Wines : New Releases

2018 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough
2017 Chardonnay, Marlborough

Mahi’s owner and winemaker Brian Bicknell is a thoughtful producer whose wines may not be the most exuberant but rarely disappoint. The 2018 Mahi Sauvignon Blanc ($22.00) was quite shy at first with a touch of struck match reduction sitting alongside some subtle bran biscuit and flinty aromas. The wine seemed quite buttoned down but with a little time in the glass it opened up beautifully with a precise pure red capsicum and snowpea character. Unmistakeably sauvignon but with nuance and detail that made it a really interesting glass. The 2017 Mahi Chardonnay ($29.00) is lovely too; some just-ripe stone fruit, a little grapefruit, a silky texture with some sizzled butter, a touch of reduction, subtle oak and a pleasingly dry finish. This is a wine with a great deal of appeal in an unforced way.

The Doctor is In

I am happy to state that I am one of those people who grimaced and rolled eyes at the substantial investment made by the MPI and NZ Winegrowers into the ‘lighter wines’ category (even typing this brings on minor clenching of body parts). Surely it’s better to encourage people to either drink naturally low alcohol wines – after all, there’s plenty of delicious riesling looking for a home – or to drink less, but better. Apparently I’m in the minority with this view as evidently consumers are very keen on them, with NZ sales already eclipsing a target set for 2024. Also, I can’t maintain too much grump in the face of someone as lovely as Dr David Jordan, who is always very enthusiastic and interesting on the research behind the project.

I was therefore pleased to chat to Dr John Forrest at the recent Sauvignon Celebration. He explained the vineyard work behind his The Doctors’ series of wines, which is indeed a clever and encouraging system. It is based on selective leaf removal; having established which leaves are delivering the most sugar to the grapes, these are duly removed and the vine is encouraged to ripen the grapes in a balanced fashion with usual phenolic expression. The end result is lower sugar levels, and thus lower alcohol while still tasting like actual wine. The process has so far been over a decade of trial and error across different varieties. Most satisfyingly it is one leading towards a genuine product based on the vineyard, rather than winery technology such as spinning cones.

2018 Forrest Wines The Doctors’ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 9.5% $22.00
Pretty textbook nose with pineapple, fresh herbs and citrus. Light, crisp and very citrussy palate, veering a little sour lemon on the finish but they’ve done a pretty smart job of capturing a medley of methoxy and thiol elements of Marlborough sauvignon delivering a classic style in a lighter frame.

2018 Forrest Wines The Doctors’ Marlborough Rosé 9.5% $22.00
This was the least satisfying of the trio for me. Slightly herbal strawberries, with a lift of orange zest, rounded out with notes of cherry and watermelon (but not a very ripe one). Very light bodied, it’s a little flat and unfocused, lacking the zip and balance of the SB.

2018 Forrest Wines The Doctors’ Marlborough Pinot Noir 9.5% $25.00
Very obviously Pinot Noir, spiced cherry and rhubarb nose, a touch of florals, smooth, slightly sweet palate, soft and open with little tannin. Juicy and fresh, slightly creamy texture on the mid-palate and moderate length. It’s little bit odd if your mindset is ‘normal’ pinot but all in all, it’s a pretty smart effort, achieving 9.5% alcohol in what is clearly recognisable and balanced Pinot Noir. And given what a hash some producers make of full strength pinot, it’s all the more impressive.


They say one human year is equivalent to seven in a dog’s life. I am not sure how this might translate to a year in the life of the Independent Wine Monthly. It might be an inverse translation, as time at the IMW moves at its own pleasingly glacial, elongated pace. Once again, another year has sailed by with barely a ruffle in its feathers. It’s a curious thing, this much-neglected website of ours. After a recent near-disaster when it disappeared (and I thought Jane had finally actually carried out her sporadically ominous threats to knock it on its head – it was in fact a hosting glitch), I realised just how much the site means to us. I suspect it’s because it represents the freedom to writing what we actually want, and that’s a hard thing to kill off. So, armed with our usual foolish optimism, we’re determined to set forth into 2019 in a blaze of glory. Hopefully, with a bit of luck, we’ll get around to writing up all the things we’ve been doing in the last few months and be more punctual with our monthly IWM bulletin. A thrilling, if uncertain, premise, but time is on our side. Yes, it is.

North Canterbury – Day One

I’m in Waipara as a guest of North Canterbury Wine Growers who have asked me to host a Masterclass for invited international and local guests. We’ll be exploring the relationship between soil, site and vine through the lens of chardonnay and pinot noir.

Nicholas Brown (Black Estate) spent this afternoon driving me around the region so I could see at first hand the amazingly varied landscape. We started out in 33C temperatures and blazing sun but by the time we returned a few hours later, a fierce storm had dropped the temperature to 20C and winds were gusting 105km/h. Let’s hope for calmer conditions tomorrow.

Black Estate’s Damsteep Vineyard, Omihi


Owing to a behind the scenes drama our website seems to be on the blink. Full service will be resumed shortly.

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