Posts Tagged ‘New Zealand’
Saturday’s fine wine supper featured Staete Landt, the high quality Marlborough, New Zealand, estate, run by Dutch couple, Ruud Maasdam and Dorien Vermaas. The name is the one given to this land by the Dutch explorer Tasman in 1642 – though apparently he did not actually land on it and it was Dutch geographers who gave the two islands the name it currently enjoys, which was later Anglicised by the British. Stylistically, the wines of Staete Landt (pronounced State Land) also owe something to Europe too. On the whole New Zealand’s wines, whether at good or very good quality levels are marked by bright fruit and the attempt to preserve this at all costs in the wine making. This is after all the land that brought up aggressively green Sauvignon Blanc and red fruit character in Pinot Noir that some Burgundian growers would love to have. Staete Landt’s wines do not lack fruit but there is more to them than that. They aim for complex aromas and flavours which marry fruit and wood influence, especially old wood with its modest oxidative effects on wine. And, surprisingly – and on this occasion to our cost – the company seems to prefer corks to screwcaps. Two out of ten bottles in this tasting were faulty – the Pinot Noir was corked (a great shame as this is an important wine for them) and the older Pinot Gris was showing more like an over-the-hill ten year old than a four year old.
But the remaining wines showed the quality on display here. Of the whites the Pinot Gris and the Chardonnay really sang. The Pinot Gris 2010 had the characteristic contrast between an attractive but restrained nose and a rich palate of stone fruit with a nutty texture that would only develop with age. It is partly fermented and then aged in neutral oak. Sadly the 2008 was mid-gold in colour, with marked toffee notes and a flat finish – no sign of the lovely fruit which it will have had. Both vintages of Chardonnay were text book however, 2008 and 2009. Long slow fermentation in French oak, 20% of it new, holding the wine on fine lees and then 18 months maturing in barrels picks up the European theme. But the result is very impressive – a subtle combination of yeasty, oak effects complement the lemon through lime and ripe apple fruit, complex on the nose and pronounced on the palate. Superb.
Riesling Dry 2009 and ‘Annabel’ Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (the latter got the screw cap prize) were good without being quite in the same class. The Riesling was true to type – developing kerosene notes over green apple and with time, stone fruit, flavours, more than medium bodied and fine zippy acidity. The Sauvignon was quite reined in, with 20% fermented in 6-10 year old barrels: classic green notes, some peachiness and tropical fruit, minerality, high acidity of course, just a bit linear as this variety tends to be. Riesling Auslese 2009 is pleasant enough with its best feature being the way the moderate sweetness (30 grams per litre of residual sugar) marries with the acidity and green apple and lime fruit on the second half of the palate. We weren’t sure there was enough there to merit long ageing. The Viognier 2010 split opinion – some loved its warm, honeyed peach fruit and citrus zest, others found the fatness a bit much and were aware that it would only get fatter as it aged. But very worthwhile nonetheless.
And the reds? We have already mourned the demise of the Pinot, so that just left us with the Syrah 2009 which in cool Marlborough is an interesting challenge. As with the whites, they really work hard at this with a cold soak for 7 days and then a long 30-40 day post-fermentation maceration on the skins. This is pushing it and even merits an exclamation mark after the ‘30-40’ days on the website! The wine is aged for 20 months in French barriques, 40% of which are new. After all this effort, the result is a nose of intense and elegant red fruit with a soft palate with excellent fruit-acidity balance. Surprisingly little tannic structure raised a question about its longer term development. The positives here are obvious, but some will not warm to this very soft style.
All-in-all this European style of New Zealand wine making is much to be commended – though screwcaps (or better corks) would be a welcome New World feature. The Staete Landt wines are certainly classy.
Saturday night’s fine wine supper was a chance to reassess some of the best wines now coming out of New Zealand courtesy of a selection from the Wine Society. Most UK consumers associate Kiwi wine with its own super-vibrant style of Sauvignon Blanc – but there is much more to it than that.
The evening started with two sparkling wines – a ‘pre-aperitif’ in the shape of the simple but drinkable Brancott Estate Brut Cuvée and then the much more sophisticated Quartz Reef Brut Sparkling Non Vintage – the slightest hint of pink in a basically pale lemon wine, then a fine well-integrated set of aromas on the nose (red fruit, subtle yeast, brioche) and a rounded palate of creamy fruit, excellent acidity and medium length. Great value at £14.
If this were an Italian meal, the primo was two starkly contrasting white wines – full of substance as a pasta or risotto might be, but subtle and full of flavour too. In contrast to the great majority of unoaked Sauvignon Blanc we had the barrel fermented Dog Point Section 94, Marlborough, 2009. This needed 10 minutes in the glass to rid itself of pronounced sulphur smell and for the oak to not be the most dominant feature. Once past the ‘burnt rubber’ phase, there was elderflower, apple, vanilla, spice and honey, a great deal of extract and a long rich savoury finish, a wine with layers of interest which needs more time yet. Rather more conventional – and a personal favourite of mine – was Kumeu River Maté’s Vineyard Chardonnay, Auckland, 2009. This wine is barrel fermented too but doesn’t shout ‘oak alert’ at you. Subtle floral notes, ripe fruit and oak on the nose, rich apple, melon, and tropical fruit and some yeasty flavours, very long, an excellent combination of powerful fruit and refinement. On the whole I prefer the leaner style of white Burgundy but this is a text book wine in a fruitier but restrained style.
The next three wines, the secondo in Italian meal terms, were what attracted me to this case in the first place: three examples of Pinot Noir, one from each of New Zealand’s Pinot hot spots. First in a line was a very famous name, if for a very different grape variety. Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir, Marlborough, 2009, headily aromatic when I decanted it it, continued in this vein: attractive red fruit, light on the palate but so drinkable, good persistence, quite a subtle finish. Two heavier weights followed but with a real difference between them. Ata Rangi Pinot Noir, Martin-borough, 2009, is from low-yielding 30 year old vines planted on silt over gravel. The result is a wine rich in red fruit character with beautifully handled oak ageing. It had a bold palate of rich red fruit – though apparently not as full as in some, better, vintages. Finally, we tasted Prophet’s Rock Pinot Noir, Central Otago, 2009. Palest of the three in colour, this convinced with its sublime, succulent fruit and subtle tannins. Not as weighty as the Martinborough wine, but its equal in overall quality.
The last of the core six wines, hardly a dolce, was New Zealand’s new kid on the block, high quality Syrah, in this case from Hawkes Bay. This area was famous for its Cabernet, with a Bordeaux-like maritime climate, low rain fall by NZ standards and gravel, but Syrah is making serious inroads. Craggy Range Le Sol, Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay, 2009, is a big, deep ruby-red wine with purple edges. The red and black fruit palate, with a characteristic pepper note, was solid and slightly muted at the moment, but this will develop with a bit of time in the bottle with its great concentration of fruit and good length. For my money, it is a bit pricy at £38 – a premium for a fashionable wine?
The evening finished (digestivo?) with two bonus bottles, both aged for some time in the cellars of those who came to the tasting. On the right of the picture is a testament to the enduring appeal of the grape varieties of the (Italian) homeland – Montepulciano here teamed up with Merlot. Vin Alto Merlot Montepulciano, Auckland, 2005 showed civilised plum and prune notes, nice tertiary features and a soft, rounded palate. Also with an Italian name at least, La Strada, Merlot reserve, Fromm Winery, Blenheim, 1998 was on the ruby-garnet border in colour and pleased with its rich fruit-cake flavours and continuing freshness. Good length but beginning to dry out.
This tasting was a small sample of the good things coming out of New Zealand – we could have added very good Riesling, Pinot Gris and much more. New Zealand may be one of the minnows of world production in volume but it more than makes up for it in the quality of its best wines.