On a flight to London last month, I sat next to a lady who told me her favourite Sauvignon Blanc was from Marlborough and called Tinpot Hut. (It was a bit embarrassing to admit that I had never heard of it). Fast forward three weeks and I am back in Auckland catching up on my emails when ‘ping!’ into my inbox comes an email from Tinpot Hut.
As a great believer in spooky co-incidence, I was very keen to meet the person behind Tinpot and last Wednesday Fiona Thompson arrived on my doorstep carrying her latest three releases.
Tinpot Hut is a new venture between Fiona, Matt Thompson and Liberty Wines, a UK based importer. Fiona had spotted the potential of a new vineyard area called Blind River, which lies south east of Seddon. The site is warm, but very windy and grape growing wouldn’t be viable if not for the Blind River Irrigation Scheme which was established in 2003.
The first vintage from Tinpot Hut (the name is taken from an old mustering hut in the remote hills between the Wairau and Awatere Valleys) was 2006 and most of the production disappeared overseas but with the 2008 Fiona has decided to release some of the wines onto the NZ market.
I liked these wines very much. All were restrained and finely tuned, subtle rather than overwhelming.
2008 Tinpot Hut Sauvignon Blanc 12.8% alcohol $19.95
2/3 Awatere fruit and 1/3 Wairau. The nose has the typical Awatere ‘lift’; a combination fresh herbs; lemon grass and thyme, with touches of blackcurrant bud, citrus peel and mineral. The palate is dry, with lovely silky fruit flavours in the cool climate spectrum; capsicum, nettle, minerally, almost crystallised fruit. There is good mid palate weight, the addition of Wairau fruit giving a little flesh and richness, and a long finish. Not a showy wine but one with interest and depth.
2008 Tinpot Hut Pinot Gris $19.95
Made from grower fruit, sourced from the Southern Valleys. Lightly aromatic, with fresh pear, apple crumble and slight floral notes. Good ripe fruit flavours, just off dry but with a nice thread of chalky acidity. Plenty of flavour and length without being too serious.
2007 Tinpot Hut Hawke’s Bay Syrah $28.00
Of the three wines, this was my favourite. From fruit sourced in Hawke’s Bay’s Dartmoor Valley, the wine has a medium ruby colour with lovely lifted aromatics; black pepper and berry but also perfumed with florals and violets. On the palate there is fruit predominantly in the red spectrum; raspberry and red cherry. Medium intensity with ripe silky fruit flavours, just a touch of tannin and a smattering of oak, mostly old. A delicious, easy drinking Syrah, more in a Pinot Noir style perhaps ?
The Tinpot Hut Syrah came back to mind the following week, when I judged the 2008 Hawke’s Bay Wine Awards. I was part of the panel judging the ‘Museum’ class, which was there to highlight how well Hawke’s Bay wines can age. Whilst there were some stunning wines entered (an utterly outstanding 2004 Chardonnay) there were a number of Merlots and Cabernets with levels of tannin that could only be described as overwhelming. Someone suggested that we should invite the winemakers responsible for these wines to come over and, as a forfeit, get them to try and drink a couple of glasses of their own wine then eat a cream cracker. Whilst tannin is an important part of the structure of a red wine, surely it is there as one component, not a dominant feature ? Words such as brooding, dense and drying I now take to be euphemisms for undrinkable and tannic. I would be interested to know what was going through the winemaker’s mind when he crafted a wine that, at five- six years of age, was still disjointed and charmless, with very little sign that more time in bottle would make the wine more harmonious.
Hawke’s Bay Syrah is being touted as the next big thing but it is to be hoped that winemakers will exercise some restraint and see that bigger is not necessarily better. In a world where all are trying to create New Zealand’s answer to Cote Rotie or Hermitage perhaps it would make more sense for most to aim further down the appellation tree? The Tinpot Hut Syrah probably wouldn’t win a gold medal – it is not made in the classic wine show mold – but is a wine that I found utterly charming.