Take a high quality grape variety native to Galicia in North West Spain, plant it in Marlborough in New Zealand and what do you get? A delicious surprise!
Or, so I found when I tasted Stanley Estates Alboriño (Waitrose, £14.99) recently. It has a similar character to examples from its home region: quite rich and mouth-coating but with lovely freshness and aromas and flavours of pink grapefruit, apple and peach. Just a touch off-dry, this would be an excellent match for a fish dish in a creamy sauce, some pan-seared scallops or, thinking of the grape’s Spanish origins, perhaps a paella.
Until now, Alboriño wasn’t a grape I associated with New Zealand – in fact, Stanley Estates claim that they were the first to plant it there and their first vintage from it was only produced in 2012. But the location was clearly a good choice; both Galicia and Marlborough’s Awatere Valley have relatively cool climates and, with the aromatic Sauvignon Blanc thriving so well in Marlborough, then why not Alboriño? Except that no-one, apart from Stanley Estates, thought of it.
Stanley is a new name to me – although, perhaps, it shouldn’t be: after completing Horticulture degrees at Bath University, just a few miles down the road from here in Bristol, the owners, Bridget Ennals and Steve Pellett travelled the world for a few years before putting down roots – and vine roots! – in their present base in Marlborough. Within 2 years of their first bottling, they had won the award for Best International Sauvignon Blanc at the 2011 London International Wine Challenge – a variety they still produce alongside some Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Alboriño and another little-known variety that I must look out for, the northern Italian native, Lagrein.
I’m always happy to see some of the lesser-known grapes that were previously restricted to quite a small area, finding their way to new locations, especially when such high quality varieties as Alboriño land in what appears to be perfect conditions for it to thrive and show its best.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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 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!