Somewhere Exciting

By | 18/10/2011

It is said that dogs resemble their owners (as the owner of, amongst others, a whippet and a greyhound I live ever in hope) but more often I find myself wondering how much wines resemble their winemakers. Though perhaps, reflect might be a better choice of verb in this case. I wouldn’t think it drawing too long a bow to state that certainly the more interesting and thoughtful of winemakers seem to distil those attributes through their wines (as no doubt there are also matching pairs of shallow, style-over-substance wines and their makers too). As the good Dr. Andrew Hedley of Framingham evidently prefers cats (hmmm) I shan’t labour this analogy any longer but it is clear that this clever, self-effacing and slyly-humoured man’s wines more than do him justice.

Framingham’s varieties run the usual gamut for Marlborough as well as including some rather less typical suspects (e.g. montepulciano, both as a red and a rosé – the latter should be sought out by those wanting to taste a proper example of rosé rather than just fairy water) and all are dealt with in a typically assured manner. Seldom showy or obvious, at first glance you might be tempted to dismiss but that would miss the authenticity and substance, and best of all they are eminently drinkable (unfortunately an often overlooked wine attribute). However, after the sauvignon and pinot boxes are ticked at Framingham, it is abundantly clear where the heart lies…

The 2011 vintage conditions offered an encouraging state of affairs for sweet wine production and perhaps having been denied such conditions in 2010, it seems this year no stone was left unturned. Three Alsatian-esque wines were made as well as six rieslings inspired by the German Prädikat system. The latter wines provide a rather beautiful and beguiling opportunity to watch a vineyard ripening across a season (though I am sure the wheeze of following its progress through the harvest must have worn thin at times with the sheer dedication required to see the project through; certainly there were slightly pained expressions on the faces of Messers Hedley, Brown and Groffen at the recollection of the year’s work thus far). All up, eight (yes, eight) rieslings were made from this vintage. We should give thanks to the corporate masters of Framingham who are happy to allow Hedley and co to pursue such paths; presumably they recognise that quality wine should not be denied and long may that continue. And who could help but wonder what Hedley would get up to with his own label? One gets the impression of someone who likes a challenge but seemingly for the pleasure of its pursuit rather than any hubris.

The recent Sweet Wine Tour (Pretty Tasty!) showcased the 2011 offerings: a veritable treasure trove of delicious, understated and ever so faintly mad wines.

(A note on the labels: F-Series is a designation given to Framingham’s ‘boundary pushers’ which are vintage specific and generally in much smaller volumes; the other wines fall under the main Framingham label.)

First up was the trio of Alsatian-style wines. The F-Series Pinot Gris Vendange Tardive ($40, 500ml) is rich with floral, honeyed dried fruit undercut with a salty seaside tang and slight herbal undercurrent. Lovely richness and length, decadent though in a decidedly elegant manner. The F-Series Gewürztraminer Vendange Tardive ($40, 500ml) is a more spicy beast, with an enticing nose, a wonderfully layered, seamless palate – very caressing. The F-Series Gewürztraminer Sélection de Grains Nobles ($60, 375ml) is the full botrytised monty, golden and intensely spicy; hugely lush but also gentle and delicate, the wine has immense poise with masses of character but is never overwhelming. Retains good varietal character despite the depth of botrytis and has a wonderful fresh finish. All three wines had the grace and substance to stand alone (and would be all too easy to drink this way) but it also would be a shame if they never saw a platter of decent pâté and cheese or indeed an appropriate pudding. Superb.

The second flight was the six German-inspired wines: the Prädikat Series. Framingham’s riesling all comes from an estate block which includes some very old vines (30 years) and it has long been known for its quality and consistency. The six following wines evolved from hand-harvested fruit taken at the first pass of ripe bronzed berries on March 20th through to the heavily botrytised grapes that were left in mid-May. The consistency across the wines in terms of their quality, elegance, freshness, balance and intensity presumably owes as much to the meticulously-cared-for vineyard as it does the skill of the winemaking.

The F-Series Riesling Kabinett ($35, 750ml; harvested 20th March) is water pale, racy and yet almost ethereal in its delicacy. Limey, stony, mineral, it belies its 58g/L RS such is its crispness and verve. Almost ridiculous in its ease of drinking. The Framingham Select Riesling ($35, 750ml; harvested April 1st) is clearly kith & kin, retaining the Kabinett’s freshness and elegance but this is a weightier, altogether more textural wine. A delicious pithy stoniness to the finish, lemony and restrained with a fascinating red fruit quality (fresh raspberries). Very smart. The F-Series Riesling Auslese ($40, 500ml; harvested in two passes, 12th April – May 1st) is a change in tempo with more honeyed depth emerging as well as a custardy creaminess: think kaffir lime pannacotta. A step up in sweetness and intensity plus some botrytis character showing in the spicy apricots, this has a softer overall feel than the preceding wines though it retains the hallmark freshness and elegance. Nice herbal/white flowers on the finish, clean and bright. The Framingham Noble Riesling ($35, 375ml; harvested in five passes, 12th April – May 23rd) shows plenty of botrytis influence with spicy pineapple, apricot, honey and rich lemon curd. Another step up in intensity and sweetness with lovely viscosity, neither does it forsake delicacy or mineral complexity. Perfectly balanced acidity. Amazingly, there were still two wines to complete the range: the F-Series Riesling Beerenauslese ($50, 375ml; harvested May 19th – 100% botrytis-affected berries, though to varying degrees) is a marvellous wine, complex, spicy intense yet light and fresh as a daisy. Botrytis influence abundant on both the nose and palate but never obscuring the vivid character of riesling (giving an almost lemon marmalade finish) this was my favourite wine of the tasting. The F-Series Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese ($60, 375ml; harvested May 19th and 24th 100% fully botrytis-affected berries) is almost preposterously intense with spicy ginger and manuka honey, already lovely complexity and mercifully with so much sugar and intensity, a perfectly balanced palate and lovely freshness (alcohol at 7.5% no doubt helping here). Amazing length.

The German-inspired style is an increasingly popular route to take with NZ riesling, albeit with mixed results at times. The purity of New Zealand fruit seems to sit well with lower alcohol and higher residual sugar levels and done well, it is a remarkably enjoyable style to drink. I asked Hedley about his thoughts that if Germany had never existing to provide a model for Marlborough riesling, would this be where the wines would naturally fall? While concurring there is a (small) degree of manipulation required to achieve these wines outside of German climate parameters, you could see his brain whirring with all the possibilities that an answer to the question could encompass and it is a topic I am looking forward to revisiting when we next meet. In any event, with the 2011 vintage Framingham has taken the style to its zenith and in doing so raised the bar for other NZ riesling producers – of any style or provenance.

All the 2011 wines were varying degrees of plain excellent. Quantities are tiny in most cases, in part due to nature of production but also due to the swinishly philistine tastes of the wine drinking public who would seemingly prefer to spend their money on pap or lick-the-road reds than on wines of nuance and character. But that is good news for you and I as there will be enough to go around; if you have even a smidgeon of interest in any of these varieties, of sweet wines or of fine wine in general you would be pretty vacant indeed in not secure some forthwith. No dogs to be seen here.

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