NZ Malbec – who knew there were so many?

I was rather intrigued when a box of eight Malbecs turned up on my doorstep, as it’s a variety that seems doomed to be ever the bridesmaid in blends in this country. Encouragingly, there did seem to be a kind of kindred spirit to these wines, which was interesting given the diversity of regions, and presumably, of producer approach (though it must be said, half the wines were from one producer). Leave ideals of French or Argentine Malbec at the door as these are clearly NZ wines, and that’s good to see.

As a group, they were medium-bodied, with relatively simple dark fruits, firm tannins and in some wines, some of the earth and florals associated with the variety. Malbec’s need for sun and warmth seems to have been supplied as they all avoided the more leafy, astringency that can sometimes affect the grape at the less than ideal ripening levels. Indeed, some wines exuded a real feeling of warmth (by which I do not mean alcoholic heat). The relative simplicity of the wines (which of course is not mutually exclusive to good quality) makes them appealing now but even in the best wines didn’t suggest any great age-worthiness. Certainly they’ll be enjoyable within the first few years of vintage, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The characteristic tannin structure means food would be helpful in most cases too.

Good to see overall quality and care was high, suggesting those who grow the grape intend to make decent wines. Coopers Creek are clearly fans and it was interesting to see their wines’ varied expressions across site and vintage. They produced my two favourite wines as well.

2011 Kennedy Point Reserve Malbec, Waiheke Island               
Exudes a spicy warmth and almost Zinfandel-like fruit profile (including some VA) with a ripe sweetness and prunes-in-chocolate notes. Some lovely florals too, especially lavender. Nice richness and spiciness on the medium-bodied palate with the firm , ripe and rounded tannins, fair length with an appealing earthy dryness on the finish. A good thread of acidity holding it all together. Tastes of a warm place and has good balance. Opens up nicely in the glass and is one of the more interesting wines here though ready for drinking now.
2010 Mahurangi River Winery Malbec Merlot, Matakana               
Quite a shy nose initially, but opens up to plummy fruit with a touch of earth and herbs. Moderate fruit intensity with firm tannins, nicely balanced with dry finish. Fairly straightforward in style, medium-bodied, the Merlot seems to add a bit of plushness and rounds out the palate but there’s no doubting the structure is all Malbec.
2008 Coopers Creek Select Vineyards The Clays Malbec, Huapai                 
A distinct earthiness to the nose, presumably reflecting the extra bottle age but also perhaps some inherent Malbec character (and certainly some brettanomyces too – it is a touch horsey). Palate is firm, very dry and the fruit is a bit clipped. Probably past its best really but you can still see a well-made wine in the background.
2010 Coopers Creek Select Vineyards The Exile Malbec, Gisborne            

Fruit-forward nose with a real whiff of violets and intense damson jam. Smells warm and inviting. The palate is firm with ripe dark plum and berryfruit bound by a lattice of tight tannins. The touch of herbal notes (not at all in an unripe manner) alongside the florals adds freshness and interest. A well-made, juicy wine which retains the characteristic tannin profile to its advantage and comes together in a very enjoyable, harmonious whole and a tie for my favourite with the 2010 Saint John.
2011 Coopers Creek Select Vineyards Saint John Malbec, Hawke’s Bay   
A slightly plusher wine with more fruit depth than its Gisborne stablemate but no shortage of firm tannin here either. Fruit is in the dark spectrum and relatively simple though ripe and expressive but it’s a pretty tight and dry wine, you’d need food with this for it to be a really pleasurable experience. Again it’s smartly made and there is nice harmony between the fruit, tannins and a deft touch of oak.
2010 Coopers Creek Select Vineyards Saint John Malbec, Hawke’s Bay
Rather tight and almost slightly reductive at first, but opens up nicely to a dense, dark, savoury expression of the variety with a real floral lift. The tannins are characteristically firm, but seem riper and less drying than the 2011 and there is a bit more fruit lushness on the palate, which altogether makes for a satisfying combination. Well-balanced though not hugely complex but drinking well now and presumably should hold nicely for a couple more years. Probably best straddles the confident HB style while retaining Malbec’s attractive rusticity.
2009 Villa Maria Reserve Gimblett Gravels Malbec, Hawke’s Bay
Fairly tight nose to begin with but opens up to a spicy dark richness, quite chocolately and intense. A whiff of herbs and lavender too. Palate is smooth, richly fruited in a medium-bodied style with firm ripe fruit tannins plus some spicy oak tannin (it just veers towards being a little over-extracted). Dark fruits and earth, touch of dark chocolate, quite a slick, bold style and undoubtedly well-bred though again not really inherently complex in the way a Cabernet-based wine of this level would be.
2011 Brookfields Sun Dried Malbec, Hawke’s Bay
Dark, rather spicy nose with an attractive earthiness, the medium-bodied palate is also dark fruited with firm but ripe and quite rounded tannins. There is a dried grape character, though I think likening it to Amarone as the label suggests might be a teensy bit of a stretch. Has an earthiness to the finish and is an appealing wine with a nice freshness to the acidity that makes it rather moreish.

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