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.