Saturday’s fine wine supper featured Staete Landt, the high-quality Marlborough, New Zealand, estate, run by a 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 winemaking. 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 partially 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, 2008 and 2009, were textbook, however. Long slow fermentation in French oak, 20% of it new, holding the wine on fine lees and then 18 months maturing in barrels pick 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 long 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 winemaking is much to be commended – though screwcaps (or better corks) would be a welcome New World feature. The Staete Landt wines are certainly classy.
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