Ferment, May 2009

Whilst many release notes proudly proclaim that the wine in question will
‘if carefully cellared, continue to develop and evolve’,
one of our gripes is that wineries rarely show older vintages to back up their claims. So hats off to Wither Hills for sending out a trio of wines to celebrate a decade of making Pinot Noir. The oldest, the 1997, was the debut vintage and, if truth be told, its optimum drinking window has passed. But the wine serves as a useful lesson in highlighting the ageing potential of premium NZ wines. Many column inches are devoted to how NZ wine is ready to take on the world, but surely until we have seen lots of older examples it is a bit premature to be making grand statements. An ability to develop into something more interesting is surely one of the hallmarks of a fine wine?
The Scenic Cellars tasting of Gimblett Gravels and Bordeaux is a case in point. The wines were chosen from very recent vintages and the main thrust of the tasting seemed to have been trying to deduce which wines were from NZ and which from France. Whilst the results were very close, who knows what the result would have been if the wines had been tasted at 10, 20 or 30 years old. Extreme youth can be very forgiving – could you tell from a kindergarten class which of the children has the potential to become a rocket scientist, serial killer or bank clerk ? Perhaps it is the hype and bluff that is so unappealing ?
But talking of keeping wines, I unearthed a bottle of Muddy Water Syrah last week, lurking at the back of the cellar. It was quite difficult to tell the vintage because snails had feasted on the label. The wine was delicious – in addition to black fruits it had a lovely lifted violet and old rose aroma and a savoury, rather gamey, salami and new leather character. I think it was from 2003 (the label said 13.5% alcohol) so at around 6 years of age it was absolutely at its peak. Perhaps that is where we are – NZ is a producer of wines that, at best, hit their straps at the 6-8 year mark.

Simon Kelly, from Kemp Fine Wines, overheard me extolling the virtues of gewurztraminer and said that he had a wine that I had to taste. I duly handed over the cash and went off home with a bottle from Pyramid Valley Vineyards. On her last visit, Emma spied the bottle on the bench and asked if I would open it when she was next in Auckland. Knowing better than the cross her, I duly put the bottle away, bringing it out when she arrived for our monthly tasting. I was delighted to find that she had brought two more bottles of gewurztraminer to taste blind as a comparison.
As my most favouritest grape variety I always set the bar high when judging. Having worked for a specialist importer of Alsace wines, I have tasted enough truly delicious examples from its spiritual homeland to know what I like. Whilst in the past, most Alsace wines were definitely dry, nowadays there is an increasing amount of residual sugar starting to creep in to the ‘aromatic’ varieties. I am fairly tolerant of residual sweetness providing of course, there is enough concentration and intensity of fruit to support.
So what of the wines ?
First up, the 2007 Pyramid Valley Growers Collection Orton Vineyard Gewurztraminer Hawke’s Bay (17.5). The back label states that the vineyard that supplied the grapes for this wine (a one acre block of 30 year old vines) was ripped out because new owners thought it ‘impractical’. The wine was bottled ‘unclarified and undiminished’ hence its slightly hazy appearance.
The expectations were high for this wine. When first opened, the nose was very reductive though with aeration, notes of wild ginger, cinnamon, bourbon rose and nutmeg spice started to appear, with a distinct, old fashioned ‘toilet soap’ overtone. Pungent with plenty of intensity and warmth, the richness giving some clue to the 14.5% alcohol. The palate was rich and powerful, again the alcohol definitely playing a starring role. There was some old vine character but also a distinct ‘bath salts’ flavour, a sort of minerally, salty character. There was decent length and persistence, the wine was dry and with complexity but just lacking a little something. An intellectual wine, rather than an enjoyable one.
The second wine had a much more typical aroma; lychee, old rose, orange blossom and musk. Delicate and subtle, the palate carried more residual sweetness than the Pyramid Valley and had a definite rich texture. A beautifully balanced wine with a lovely poised spicy and white flower character. Unmasked this was 2008 Dry River Estate Gewurztraminer bottle number 1677. Again, this wine blossomed with a little air.
Lastly a wine that managed to combine elements of the two previous gewurztraminers. Some musk, lychee and spice, but also some gingerbread and cinnamon. Definitely medium dry, indeed the sweetest of the three, but with only 13.0% alcohol. Very lengthy by comparison to the previous two and a more complex wine at that, though obviously this wine had the benefit of bottle age. This was 2004 Domaine Marcel Deiss Gewurztraminer Bergheim (18.5).

We sealed the wines using a Longitude and retasted the wines the next day. All had opened up to reveal much more perfume and character than the previous night but first impressions still stood. This was an interesting trio of wines. Reviews of Pyramid Valley Vineyards have been overwhelmingly positive and though we have tasted others which impressed (Earth Smoke Pinot Noir and Kerner Pinot Blanc) neither of us could find much to actually like about the wine. The Dry River confirmed that it is possible to have intensity and concentration whilst retaining delicacy and lightness of touch. FInally the Deiss which appealed on all levels. “Humm” said Emma, “Deiss certainly makes a distinctive style – all opulence and lusciousness”. For once, I couldn’t disagree. A wine that appealed to both heart and head. A treat indeed.

Wyndham Estate

2007 Shiraz Tempranillo
2006 Bin Shiraz Viognier

The Wyndham Estate Shiraz Tempranillo has a very lifted cherry, almost cola cube aroma with lots of raspberry too. Palate is sweetly fruited, not too massive with the Tempranillo adding a savoury, dried herb character. Well made and immediately appealing . The 2006 Wyndham Estate Bin 515 Shiraz Viognier is an old fahioned kind of a wine; cordial, eucalyptus, blackberry fruit and
Dettol like nose but not Brettanomyces as far as I can tell. Tastes like they have crushed eucalypt leaves into a fruit cordial. Sweet fruit, almost no tannins or acid. I suspect there might be some who would this wine but I would be buggered if I would have a glass with them.

Pegasus Bay

2007 Chardonnay waipara 18.0
2005 Chardonnay Virtuoso 18.0
2008 Semillon Sauvignon 18.5
2005 Merlot Cabernet 15.5

A brace of Chardonnays from Pegasus Bay to start. The 2007 Pegasus Bay Chardonnay has a lovely struck match, oatmeal and bran biscuit aroma with an absence of any tropical fruitiness. Buttery and bold, quite a full on style, but still with grapefruity acidity. Good length. The 2005 Pegasus Bay Virtuoso Chardonnay is a bigger, bolder (!) wine, made from 100% Mendoza clone fruit. According to the winery notes, this wine doesn’t seem to spend much longer than the regular chardonnay in barrel, the extra concentration and intensity coming from the intrinsic quality of the fruit. Deeper coloured, the nose has a lovely perfume of melting butter, butterscotch and fresh cream aroma. Though these descriptors make the wine sound overly opulent, there is a smokey, gunflint and mineral element that gives a savoury edge. On the palate the wine had density and power, the profile lifted by grapefruity mineral acidity. Nutty and complex this wine is delicious now though will probably be even better with another 12-18 months in bottle.
The nose of the 2008 Pegasus Bay Semillon Sauvignon is very fresh and tropical fruit, fresh mown grass and a subtle, almost salty tanginess. A slightly chalky note lifts the aroma and carries through to the palate which has a ripe peachiness combined with zesty lime and lemonade. A lovely silky texture built in and some nutmeg complexity. Good balance, intensity and length of length with a crisp green apple finish. The nose initially offers a faint herbal edge, backed by cedary oak.
After the delights of the white wines, the 2005 Maestro Merlot Cabernet was something of a disappointment. Whilst there is nothing wrong with this wine, it is perhaps just a little bit dull in comparison with the other delicious Pegasus Bay wines. Initially the nose has a light herbal character mixed with cedar, spice and coconut from the oak. Fruit mostly plummy but also a hint of creamy banana. Lacks intensity, and to a degree, appeal and appears a little bit unripe. Though hardly a poor wine, this is quite an underwhelming effort from a usually reliable producer.

Wither Hills

2007 Pinot Noir 17.0
2002 Pinot Noir 16.0
1997 Pinot Noir 13.5

The 2007 Wither Hills Pinot Noir seems a departure in style from previous vintages, distinctly less oak which allows a lovely lifted blueberry, damson and red cherry character to emerge. Weighing in with 14.5% alcohol, this is a lush, sweetly fruited wine with plenty of plump, soft vanilla and cherry flavour. Textbook, fruit driven appealing Marlborough Pinot Noir.
Once Pinot loses its fresh primary character one hopes it picks up the delicious gamey, forest floor elements and the 2002 Wither Hills Pinot Noir doesn’t disappoint. The nose has taken on a new leather, gamey, new leather quality whilst on the palate there is plenty of sweet, soft plummy fruit. Absolutely ready now.
Whilst we understand that Wither Hills has released this trio of wines to celebrate a decade of making pinot noir, perhaps the 1997 is a reminder that each wine does have its own particluar drinking window. The nose has lost some of its freshness taking on a beef stock and stewed pudding aroma. The palate is light, with the fruit fading leading to a shortish finish. There is a little glimpse still left of how rich the wine must have been in its youth, but unfortunately this wine would have been more delicious a good few years ago.

Neudorf

2008 Pinot Gris Maggies Block Nelson
2007 Pinot Noir Moutere $49
2006 Pinot Noir Moutere Home Vineyard $69

Pinot gris comes in for a hard time but only because many examples are made in a neutral, crowd pleasing style. The variety has lots of intrinsic qualities and just needs a careful winemaker to tease them out.
The 2008 Neudorf Pinot Gris Maggies Block has a lovely aroma of baked apple, fresh pear and custard. The flavours are broad and silky, plenty of weight and richness with a savoury oatmeal finish. The alcohol is quite noticeable but although the label states that there is 4 grammes of residual sweetness, the wine tastes much drier and more balanced that expected.
Sometimes when we taste wines for the IWM a moment of self doubt can creep in. Having vowed to score honestly, we sometimes wonder if we are a little harsh sometimes and could follow the example of some of our fellow critics and hand out glowing reviews. But then you taste wines like these and realise that whilst there may only be a small distinction in price between the good and the ordinary, the quality can be miles apart.
The 2007 Pinot Noir Moutere is such an aromatic wine; red cherry, violets, some savoury leathery complexity. The palate is sweetly fruited with intensity and length yet sacrifices nothing in terms of delicacy. Lovely silken tannins. Indeed freshness is the most delicious aspect of this pinot – it is very light on its feet.
The 2006 Pinot Noir Moutere Home Vineyard is a little more shy; the fruit spectrum is darker; blueberry, doris plum and morello cherry yet still retaining a lovely floral lift. A bigger, fuller wine with density and weight. Oak is there to support the fruit, giving a faint cinnamon and nutmeg background, but its influence is subtle. A multi layered wine, that changes and evolves in the glass.
This pair of pinots made an interesting comparison with the Felton Road and Valli wines we tasted last month. The Neudorf wines are floral and aromatic, subtle and ; the intrinsc quality is very similar but the wines are quite different in structure.

Amisfield

2008 Pinot Gris Central Otago $35.00 15.5

Having really enjoyed Amisfield’s wines to date, we have to say that this latest release was disappointing. The nose has a green stalky edge, perhaps a little bit of pear and apple underlying, but lacking much in the way of fragrance. Crisp and tight, some complexity from a small percentage of barrel fermented wine, but with pretty firm acidity swamping the fruit. Not a great example from a producer capable of (and usually delivering) a lot more.

Cape Campbell

2008 Sauvignon Blanc 16.5
2008 Chardonnay 16.0
2008 Pinot Noir 15.5

First up, congratulations to Cape Campbell for providing succinct and honest cellaring advice on the back labels. The 2008 Cape Campbell Sauvignon Blanc has a very pungent green capsicum and grass aroma, quite definite. Chalky and limey with an appealing zesty edge.
The 2008 Chardonnay is clean and direct; white peach, blossom and fresh cream. The palate is soft and ripe, subtlely oaked and nicely appealing
The Pinot Noir is very upfront, bright and fresh, packed with raspberry and fresh strawberry fruit.
Winemakers Matt Thomson and Alana McGettigan have produced a range of solid, well priced wines, attractively packaged and mercifully free of spin and hyperbole. Cheerful wines with wide appeal.

Cloudy Bay

2007 Chardonnay 17.0
2007 Pinot Noir 17.0

The nose of the 2007 Cloudy Bay Chardonnay shouts lemon meringue pie; definitely not from the peaches and cream school of chardonnay but with lots of citrus, lime and lemon. As the wine opens up in the glass, notes of cinnamon and sweet spice emerge too. The palate is rich and ripe with savoury oak and opulent character initially, but then pulls up a little shorter than expected. With time the wine unfolds in the glass and is clearly made from good fruit but ultimately, upon the label being revealed, we were surprised that it wasn’t more exciting. Were our expectations too high ? Given that this is a flagship label for the country (and has delivered some stunning examples in the past) we didn’t think we were being wholly unreasonable.
2007 Pinot Noir has a poached rhubarb and cola cubes aroma, quite lifted florals and fruits definitely in the red cherry spectrum. The palate is soft and lush, perhaps not particularly concentrated but with an appealing easy drinking character. But at $50, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect more complexity, intensity and length.

Mahi

2008 Sauvignon Blanc 17.5
2007 Mahi Rive Vineyard Pinot Noir 16.0

The nose of the Mahi Sauvignon Blanc is beguiling; there is cut grass, nettle and capsicum but also a lovely tropical lift – dare we say pineapple lumps too ? The palate has a silky texture countered by fresh, crisp acidity which is not in the least bit bitey. Lovely purity and length.
The first impression of the 2007 Mahi Rive Vineyard Pinot Noir is of amazing ripeness. The aromas are full on; dark plum, spice, almost a merlot fruitcakey character. Quite a bold, ripe wine that we didn’t find matched the class of the Sauvignon Blanc.

Camshorn

2008 Riesling Glasnevin Gravels Waipara 17.5 – 18
2008 Camshorn Sauvignon Blanc Salix Clays 17.0
2007 Camshorn Sauvignon Blanc Domett Clays Waipara 16.5

Waipara is shaping up to be a source of some rather exciting wines, especially on this showing, for aromatic whites. The 2008 Camshorn Riesling Glasnevin Gravels has a rather delicious nose of lemon sherbet and lime sorbet, crushed lime leaves and granny smith apples. Lovely underlying honey and lemon, clean with just a touch of mineral. Palate is clean, medium dry and has lovely pure fruit flavours backed up by crunchy bright acidity and some nice mineral wet stone notes. Very inviting and easy to drink. With its nose of candied tropical fruits, fresh mown grass and red capsicum the 2008 Camshorn Sauvignon Blanc Salix Clays has more stonefruit and lime blossom characters than Marlborough pungency. The palate is broader, softer though still crisp and dry and has a nice pithy and river stone finish that leaves one wanting more. Relatively delicate, subtle and light in texture. Appealing.
The restraint shown by the white wines is not echoed by the 2007 Camshorn Pinot Noir Domett Clays which has a pungent beetroot and black plum note, backed by quite noticeable charry oak. There are some underlying dark fruits, spice and black liquorice on the palate which is soft with a silky nice texture. Good balance.

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