Reflecting still on my trip down under, my thoughts turned to the question of taste. It is personal of course, a wine which appeals to me may not be to your palate and vice versa. I was delighted to receive an email from Peter Gorley about his recent trip to New Zealand and specifically his tastings of Pinot Noir. Peter is someone whose wine knowledge and appreciation I have great respect for and trust in. His book on the Languedoc is a must buy based on his experience of living there for many years.
It was clear that Peter was much more enthusiastic about the Pinots he tasted than I was. There were a few we tasted in common though Peter’s tastings were far more extensive especially in the North Island and Marlborough. I honestly trust Peter’s judgements, so why was I less convinced?
The Surveyor Thomson was one we both tasted
I think it is fair to say that Jeff Coutelou has changed my taste in wine. And I am very happy that he has done so before anyone thinks that sounds like a complaint. Before I really got to know Jeff 10 years ago my taste in wine was very conventional and I rated most highly the wines which garnered praise and were ‘typical’ of their type, variety and place. After sharing so much with Jeff, his own fabulous wines and wines from many other natural producers, I know that my taste has altered.
I rate enjoyment and excitement much more highly than other factors these days. Does the wine taste good? Is it fruity, clean? Does it make me want to try another glass? Is there a vibrancy about the wine?
I taste wines, both natural and conventional, that can give me positive answers to those questions and much more besides. I taste wines, both natural and conventional, which unfortunately do not. These days it is natural wines which form the majority of wines which fall into the first category. In New Zealand I found too many Pinot wines trying to be aged Burgundy rather than a genuine expression of their place. There is a convention of how good wine tastes and many producers, not just Kiwis, seem to want to be included in that convention. I get more excitement from those who let the grapes speak and produce wine where they are not manipulated to meet a convention.
Kindeli, one of the NZ producers I enjoyed most. I have bought some since returning to the UK
That is not to criticise Peter in any way. He included Jeff in his book, has an open mind about wine and I share many of his favourites. We are different. I have spent so much time with Jeff that my palate is inevitably the one which has changed to prefer the natural style. That doesn’t make me right or wrong. We are different, taste is different. Chacun à son gout.
If I stick to wine this will be a short post. Through a mixture of bad planning and the need to do holiday activities which are not wine related there were no wine trips on North Island. The wines of Martinborough and Hawke’s Bay (with or without its apostrophe) were not untasted of course but we headed from Wellington to Rotorua and then the north coast missing out those two venerable wine regions. Another time maybe?
As I said I have tasted wines from both areas whilst here.
From Hawke’s Bay:
Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay which were both good, plenty of classic aromas and flavours with more concentration than most
Church Road Pinot Gris, pleasant though not world beating
Pask Syrah and Declaration Syrah both of which had good fruit and full flavours, the latter being more concentrated. A sign of how the area of Gimblett Gravels does add more depth
Te Mata Syrah was ok, typical of the grape though lacking the style and finesse of its elder brother Bullnose. Te Mata Coleraine was the first wine from New Zealand which convinced me that great wines could be made here when I tasted it a good 20 years ago.
The wine which stood out for me though, and I had 2015 and 2011 versions, was Stonecroft‘s Serine Syrah. This was my favourite red of the North Island by far and yet it is far from the most expensive. Good red fruits, complexity from some oak age and very persistent combined to make this a very good glassful and good value. Apparently it comes from the oldest Syrah vines in NZ and was once thought to be from Serine, a Syrah clone though this is not the case. Gimblett Gravels again and the 2011 had plenty of life even though this is not intended as a wine to age too long. I would like to find more of their wines.
Schubert Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc which were fine, good examples of each
Palliser Riesling which was nice and tangy, good and dry
Escarpment Pinot Noir had good fruit and less sign of age than many other examples I have had in NZ
Parliament, the Beehive
However, North Island has been about the magnificent natural scenery and landscapes as well as the most friendly and attractive capital city in Wellington. The harbour, botanical gardens, cable car, Mt. Victoria and its views all make Wellington a perfect city to visit, its range of architecture and friendly greetings all add to its charm. Add in a magnificent national museum Te Papa with free entry including the outstanding Gallipoli exhibition, one of the best I have ever seen.
From there to the volcanic region of Rotorua, also showing many Maori villages and culture. Geysers, mud pools, hot water springs, steaming hillsides all have a mystery which captures the imagination and awes me.
The north coast of the Coromandel, Bay of Plenty and Bay of Islands are all superb, I have never seen a beach so enticing and beautiful as Cooks Beach whilst small towns and villages such as Whitianga as well as Russell (NZ’s first capital city) and Paihia on the Bay of Islands show colonial style architecture as well as charm, as long as the cruise ships have not landed! There were even some vineyards to look at too.
Finally I must mention Cult Wines in Wellington. I finally found some natural wines and this little shop has a good selection from New Zealand, Australia and Europe. We had a very good, juicy PetNat from Black Estate (Waipara) called Netherwood and a round no SO2 Pinot Noir from Escarpment (see above). It is interesting to see more domaines experimenting with making natural wines. These two were certainly successes. NZ’s fledgling natural wineries such as Hermit Ram and Cambridge Road were represented but travelling isn’t wine buying friendly.
Kindeli Otono, Escarpment Noir, Kindeli Verano
I did buy two wines from Kindeli which is the work of Alex Craighead. He has his own vineyards and sources more grapes, all from Nelson. Verano was a delicious, juicy, fresh field blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. A deep rosé in colour it was very good. Otono is a blend of Gewurztraminer and Riesling, it is distinctly natural in style but the Gewurz violets come through and there’s a nice saline, dry lick to the finish.
I would love to have visited Hawke’s Bay but if you get the chance then New Zealand, both islands, are must visits. Wherever we have been has been spectacular in its own way.
The most famous wine region of New Zealand, Marlborough, is found in the north East corner of South Island. No less than 77% of the country’s wine originates from Marlborough, around the towns of Blenheim and Renwick in particular. Factor in the fact that 85% of Marlborough’s grapes are Sauvignon Blanc and we begin to see the importance of this variety to the reputation of wines from the region and, indeed, the rest of the country.
Certainly, the region is very different to Nelson, the focus of my last blog. There the vineyards are part of a much bigger agricultural scene, fruit orchards, hops, cattle and sheep mix with vineyards in the Nelson area to create a true pastoral landscape, e.g. in the Moutere Valley.
Journeying into Marlborough across the hills from Nelson the vines do not appear until shortly before reaching Renwick. But then vines stand, row after row, mile after mile. Wineries which put the country on the world wine scene stand side by side, Wither Hills with its many vineyards, Hunter’s, Villa Maria are all producers which played a major role in my personal learning about wine and, especially, wines from New Zealand.
The winery which first drew attention to and recognition of the potential of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc was Cloudy Bay. Named after the beautiful bay to the East of the vineyards. This winery now produces a number of different wines but it was the Sauvignon which really made its name and established New Zealand as a quality producer. Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc is also the long time favourite of my wife so a visit was obligatory.
Cloudy Bay itself
A very professional tasting room and comfortable garden allowed us to taste the celebrated Sauvignon 2017 which was classic Cloudy Bay but also the oaked version Te Koko 2014 which wears its wood ageing well. In addition we were able to taste a rare old version of the Sauvignon, from 2005. There was still plenty of acidity, the wine had become a little flabbier but had a dry finish. Not many bottles of 12 year old Cloudy Bay still exist I’d imagine, it was interesting to see that they do age quite well though I would drink any bottles younger. Pelorus NV sparkling wine and the Pelorus vintage 2010 (only available at the cellar) were both pleasant enough, the latter definitely had more weight and flavour. Chardonnay 15 was wild fermented in barrel (82% of it at least) and the oak was subtly done, a good example of the grape.
Herbicides and machine harvesting but a lovely setting
On to reds and the Pinot Noir 15 was very good, one of the best Pinots of the trip so far, fresh, fruity, juicy with good length. The Pinot Noir 2010 had already gone the way of so many older NZ Pinots, all forest floor and mushroom. It obviously appeals to Kiwis but not to this Rosbif. Neither did the Central Otago sourced Pinot Te Wahi 15, there was some rose scented fruit but this was very oaky and tannic, again not my style. There was also a very good Late Harvest Riesling, good Riesling notes, acidity balancing the sweetness.
Interestingly, Cloudy Bay has made the decision to reduce the varieties it uses. Riesling and Pinot Gris are out, they will concentrate on Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir alone. Cloudy Bay owns 50% of the vineyards it uses to make its wines and works with growers for the other 50%. This is common in the region, growers provide the grapes, the winery gives instructions on how they want the vines to be tended.
There are wineries which grow all their own grapes and I visited two, both organic producers. I had tasted Fromm wines before, notably a very nice Sauvignon Blanc La Strada 2016. On this visit we mainly concentrated on reds. Pinot Noir La Strada 16 was a little unforgiving to my taste, not much fruit showing. For once the older wine was more to my taste, the La Strada 10 being more open and balanced, red fruits and just a little earthiness. On to two single vineyard Pinot Noirs. Churton 16, more weight and concentration than the entry level, still very young and tight. Quarters 16 was different, more spicy and fruity, grown on more clay soils than the Churton. On to Syrah and I liked the La Strada 16 with its peppery, spicy notes and more friendly flavours. The Fromm Syrah 16 was more concentrated with rich pepper notes, quite tannic still, I am sure this will be very good. I must add that Syrah has been my favourite grape amongst red wines in New Zealand.
Two white wines to finish, the highlight of the tasting for me was the Riesling Spätlese 17, well named being very much in the style of a Mosel spätlese, lovely apple fruit with zingy acidity and a lick of sweetness too. Finally, a Late Harvest Gewurztraminer 15 had classic aromas of the grape, spicy and floral but the wine had very fresh acidity cutting through the sweetness. Apparently this variety suffered in 2018 but I liked this wine, very well made.
My favourite visit of the day though was undoubtedly to Hans Herzog. The domaine is next to the Wairau river on one vineyard which the Herzogs have planted with lots of different grape varieties. They have planned this carefully so that sunnier aspects get grapes such as Montepulciano and Tempranillo whilst cooler areas are planted with white grapes and Pinot Noir. The plan makes for fascinating reading.
This is a biodynamic domaine and only a small amount of SO2 is added at bottling, these would qualify as natural wines for many people though I was surprised that harvesting is mostly by machine. There is a beautiful restaurant in the gardens next to the vines, with a splendid trellis supporting lots of different grape varieties and notes to explain each one. A treat for those, like me, who love to study ampelography. The food was very good too.
The Herzogs are Swiss and Hans comes from a family of winemakers of long standing. It was a young Swiss woman, Petra, who gave us a very generous tasting. Wild Gewurztraminer 2017 is named after its open fermentation and longer period on skins. It had vibrant aromas in the glass, spicy and dry flavours, a real treat and a sign of good things to come. Pinot Gris 16, 5 days on skins, was apple and pear notes, lovely and fresh.
Very ripe Roussanne grapes
The Sauvignon Blanc 15 was made on lees which are stirred and there was a yeasty aroma to the wine which was very dry and quite textural, one of those rare wines which actually tasted of …. grapes. Very good. A sparkling rosé wine to follow, Cuvée Therese made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with red fruit notes and a dry finish. Finally Gruner Veltliner 14, yellow in colour, pear and quince aromas and lovely texture and clean finish, lovely.
On to the reds. Pinot Noir 2011 was macerated 18 days on skins, aged for two years in bottle. My favourite Pinot Noir of New Zealand so far, fresh, vibrant spicy red fruit with a balancing acidity and complexity and gentle tannins. This is how Pinot Noir should be in my opinion. Tempranillo 14 was a lovely surprise. This is not a grape I usually like that much but this example was just lovely. The light red fruity notes of a young Rioja but without any oaky notes even though it was aged in barrels for 22 months. Energetic, lively, smashable. Spirit of Marlborough 09 is a Bordeaux style wine made from Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 26 months in barrel and then more years in bottle. Again this would not be my favourite style of wine but somehow this works. Finally, and definitely worth waiting for, was the Nebbiolo 2013. Petra told us that this was the wine which is opened as a treat at the end of harvest, only one barrel was made. It is a stunning wine, easily my favourite in this New Zealand trip. Aromas of rose and fresh tropical fruits (yes in a red wine) and then, amazingly, hints of peach and apricot as well as red fruits. Light in the mouth yet with concentrated, long flavours. I loved this wine and was very impressed by the range, there is a real energy and vivacity in them. So different to a lot of the more commercial wines produced in the area and, hopefully, a sign that quality will win through.
1200 miles (1900km) in a week amongst some of the most beautiful scenery. Yes, a long way and with winding roads not a quick route but, my oh my, it was good.
We criss-crossed from Queenstown via Franz Josef to Christchurch, Hanmer Springs and then Nelson on the north coast of South Island. The Franz Josef and Fox glaciers were one of the main attractions and we did see them but we had the only day of heavy rain in a month and so could not get to them. Nonetheless the journey, through mountain ranges, rainforest and limestone valleys was spectacular.
Christchurch is a city recovering from earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 which caused 185 deaths and much damage. CCTV footage in the Quake City exhibition showed just how frightening things were. The Cathedral was the most prominent building to be damaged and it still stands looking forlorn, work will start in the next few months to take it down and then rebuild. Meanwhile an amazing ‘cardboard’ Cathedral is serving parishioners made from shipping containers, large cardboard rolls and plastic sheeting.
Hanmer Springs was a very relaxing spa village in the hills to the NW of Christchurch, we passed through part of the Waipara Valley wine region to get there. And, so, on to Nelson. A compact city with a central area containing restaurants and bars etc, I can recommend Urban for its modern, sharing tapas style but most of all The Cod & Lobster with an excellent value fish and seafood sharing plate.
Pinot Noir grapes still on vine
Nelson is a wine region but wine is not the only focus. This is a region of rich agriculture, fruit in particular, sheep and cattle too. Interestingly it is home to a rich tradition of growing hops for brewing beer and they have an excellent worldwide reputation. Wine is a relative newcomer to this farming and growing history but is making an impact already.
I have bought cases of Neudorfwine in the UK and have always rated them highly. It was therefore, a good opportunity to visit the winery in the hills to the West of Nelson. We tasted a few of the wines, it was very busy being Easter Saturday and their restaurant was doing a roaring trade in the sunshine. I must blame Jeff Coutelou for changing my taste in wines. I found the wines very precise and well made but I wasn’t excited by them even the Rieslings which I have always particularly enjoyed. The older Moutere Pinot Noir 2010 was richer and more fruity than many of the Otago Pinots of the last week. These are good wines, undoubtedly, probably not my personal style these days.
I also went to visit an organic producer, Mahana Estate, also in the Moutere hills. We tasted a good range of white and red wines as well as a Clairet style light red. The wines are unfined and unfiltered, made using biodynamic methods and only lightly sulphured at bottling. The wines had a freshness and energy which I have found lacking in many NZ wines. The estate is experimenting with techniques such as open fermentation to produce wines such as the ‘Feral’ white. The wines are made in a modern winery, complete with grassed roof and using gravity fed cuves. We ate a delicious lunch in the restaurant looking over the hills and the vines covered, as ever, by nets.
I tasted other Nelson organic wines from producers such as Greenhough and Richmond Plains which were quite pleasing but Mahana certainly hit the right notes more than the others, to my palate. Time to move on again, to the largest of New Zealand’s wine regions, Marlborough.