Category Archives: New Zealand wine

Bringing Back Memories

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I’d like to begin my first Bristol Wine Blog of 2017 by wishing you a Very Happy New Year – a new year in which I hope you will continue to enjoy your wine and (hopefully) continue to read about it in this blog!

I’m often explaining to people about the process of tasting wine – how you use your eyes, your nose and your mouth and take time to really get to know all that the wine has to offer.  But, sometimes, there’s even more involved: you open a wine and your imagination begins to work overtime as the smells and the tastes trigger something in your brain.  

That happened to both my wife and I recently.  The very first sniff of a glass of Roaring Meg Pinot Noir (Majestic, £17.99) transported us back to the view below, taken from the terrace of Mount Difficulty, the New Zealand estate where this wine comes from.central-otago-mt-difficulty-view-from-terrace

It’s almost 3 years ago now since our time in New Zealand.  For part of our stay, we based ourselves in Queenstown on the South Island to explore the Central Otago wine region.  Our wonderful guide, Lance from Queenstown Wine Trail took us around some of the best estates including a very special food and wine matching lunch at the Wild Earth winery that remains a highlight of the visit for us.  Happily, one that we can mentally re-visit regularly as Waitrose often stock the estate’s crisp, vibrant Riesling (£14.99).

But, back to the Roaring Meg, one of the last stops on our trip.  Named, according to the bottle, after a local stream – although we heard another story, perhaps less suitable for a wine label!  The wine itself is everything good Pinot Noir should be: intense and focussed with lovely savoury red and black berry flavours – a perfect foil for light red meats, poultry in sauces or cheeses.

If only New Zealand was a little closer, we’d visit regularly but, as it is, we have to make do with our imagination and open a bottle or two to bring back liquid memories.

The Latest ‘In’ Variety

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I’ve blogged before about how different grape varieties can be subject to changing fashion.  For example, Chardonnay, has switched from being all the rage a few years ago to membership of the ‘anything but’ club today.  On the other hand, Cabernet Sauvignon seems to have been ‘in’ for as long as I can remember while Riesling, despite the best efforts of winemakers and show judges, seems to be forever ‘out’.  And all for no obvious reason – it just seems to depend on public perception at the time.

So, what’s ‘in’ at the moment?  White varieties seem more prone to fashion than red.  Sauvignon Blanc, especially from New Zealand, is certainly on a high and Pinot Grigio, too – although unless the quality of much of the latter improves, I predict its fate is likely to follow that of Liebfraumilch before long.

You can usually spot grapes that are becoming fashionable by an increase in the regions in which they’re planted.  Viognier, for example, has spread rapidly in recent years from one small corner of France to California and Australia.  And now the process is being repeated with the hitherto little-known central European variety, Grüner Veltliner.  It’s a variety I’ve enjoyed for some time – its lovely rich and slightly peppery flavours go really well with full flavoured and quite spicy dishes but it wasn’t until recently that I’d seen an example from anywhere other than Austria or Hungary.

Waimea Gru V

Yet, there it was on the shelf at Majestic Wine: a Grüner Veltliner from the excellent Waimea Estate in Nelson at the top of New Zealand’s South Island (£9.95).  And it seems to have made the transition well; all the typical flavours of the grape were there: peaches, apricots and gentle spice, beautifully fresh and clean and with hints of white pepper on a long finish.  Delicious!  Is this the latest ‘in’ grape?  It surely deserves to be.

A ‘Wild’ Sauvignon

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Before I start this Bristol Wine Blog, I’d like to offer support and sympathy to the people of Nice and those affected by the terrible events of Thursday night.  Nice is a lovely city with kind, generous and hospitable people.  It is somewhere that we will certainly return to.

On a happier note, the members of the Bristol Tasting Circle are a pretty knowledgeable bunch so the wines for our ‘bring your own’ annual dinner are always interesting – how often have you tasted a sweet wine from Uzbekistan, for example?

My wife and I, rather than bringing 2 bottles, chose to take along a single wine to the same total value.  Fortunately, we share the philosophy of ‘drink less, drink better’ and a budget of £25 brought all kinds of wonderful wines into range – the sort we just wouldn’t consider for everyday drinking.  We were asked for a white to go with starter or main course, so what did we choose? 

A potentially tricky problem was solved when my wife noticed a New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc lurking on the bottom shelf at Corks of Cotham.  But, ‘you can buy a Marlborough Sauvignon for £7.99’ I hear you say, so this had to be something truly special – and it was!  Kevin Judd was formerly the winemaker at the iconic Cloudy Bay estate before he left to make wines under his own name and his Greywacke Wild Ferment Sauvignon (£25) is one of his top offerings.

Greywacke Sauv Bl

‘Wild Ferment’ means that only indigenous yeasts – those naturally occurring in the winery -are used and the juice is allowed to ferment spontaneously; this is far less predictable than using cultured or introduced yeast, but, at its best, is capable of producing wines of remarkable depth and character.  In addition, Judd uses old oak barrels for the fermentation rather than the temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks seen virtually everywhere else in Marlborough.  A little risky but Judd’s view seems to be ‘let the wine be as it will be’ and, judging by the bottle we opened, it’s a view that works exceptionally well.

Not that you’d immediately say ‘Marlborough Sauvignon’ on first taste; yes, there’s the Sauvignon crispness there but, in place of the tropical fruits you might expect, a quite subtle rich, savouriness comes through – perhaps the closest match I could suggest is a Grand Cru Chablis.  A tremendous wine, a little individual in style, but just the sort to please real enthusiasts and a great match for all kinds of dishes.

The Best Pinot Noir

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A couple of days ago, the latest edition of ‘Decanter’ dropped onto my door mat.  Only this time, the ‘thud’ was rather louder than usual as the magazine was accompanied by a bulky supplement announcing the results of the annual Decanter World Wine Awards.  Although I had plenty of other things to do, I couldn’t resist a quick flick through the list of the top prizes – the wines that had won Platinum Medals (the new combined name for the old Regional and International Trophies).

One entry caught my eye: the winner of the ‘Best Pinot Noir in Chile’ category – Cono Sur’s ‘20 Barrels’.  By chance, we’d got a bottle sitting on our wine rack, bought a few weeks previously in a Waitrose special offer – £14.99 instead of £19.99.  We were going to be eating some pan-fried duck breast with a spiced raspberry sauce that evening, so it was a great chance to open it and put it to the test.  20 Barrels P Noir

I can see why it won; it really is a delicious wine – lots of red and black fruit flavours, plenty of Pinot character, well-balanced and with a good, long finish.

But how does it compare with other Pinots?  Decanter have their view, but just a day earlier, I’d included some bottles from New Zealand in a tasting I was running for a local group.  If the 20 Barrels was worthy of Platinum in its category, then so, surely, was Martinborough Vineyards’ Te Tera (Majestic, £16.99).  Yet, on checking the New Zealand results, that wine was down among the Silver Medalists in its group – not even Gold!  Still a creditable result, but a long way short of Platinum.  So, why the difference?

Different judges, judging by different standards, perhaps?  Or is it that the New Zealand Pinot category as a whole is stronger than Chile and therefore harder to win?  It’s difficult to say, but the lesson is clear: awards or points awarded by judges, even professionals, should only ever be used as a guide.  In the end, just trust your own taste buds.

 

Pinot Noir: the Trickiest Grape

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Pinot Noir is the trickiest grape. It can make great wines or disappointingly ordinary ones. The problem is that it’s very choosy about where it grows: it generally prefers a coolish climate to show off its subtle elegance. But, too cool and it won’t ripen properly resulting in raw, green flavours. On the other hand, too warm and you get thick, jammy fruit. And don’t ask the vines to produce too many bunches or the wine will be dilute and thin. So growing – and buying – Pinot Noir wines can be a nightmare.
The grape is a native of Burgundy, but the growers there only get it right some of the time; the USA turns out some fine examples, as does New Zealand. But good bottles from any of these places are generally quite pricey (£15+) and I usually avoid cheaper – sometimes even mid-priced – examples as they rarely show much Pinot character. So I must have been in a good mood (or not thinking!) as I picked up a bottle from a Tesco shelf recently. Wairau Pinot NWairau Cove Pinot Noir (£9) is described as from New Zealand’s South Island – an interesting description as I’m more used to seeing a more precise origin such as Marlborough or Nelson or Central Otago. ‘South Island’ sounds as though it might be a blend of fruit from more than one region, although the Wairau River flows through Marlborough. A clue or just a convenient Kiwi-sounding name?
Whichever, the wine itself was a pleasant surprise: a typical earthy, ‘farmyard’ nose (some describe it more explicitly!), quite light-bodied in the mouth but plenty of fruit – stewed plums and some slightly dried fruit flavours – and a reasonable finish, too. So how do Tesco do it for the price? It appears from the label that the wine may have been shipped from New Zealand in tanker and bottled here in the UK. Not what we might expect in a £9 wine, but, in this case, it’s given us a very drinkable Pinot Noir at a fair price. Nothing tricky about that!