Some musings following the recent MW visit to New Zealand in February 2019
Not intended to be exhaustive – simply a summary of some of the highlights, key learnings, wines/producers I will be looking out for in the future…….and general reflections.
Climate change – it is more likely to be wetter in winter when vines don’t need more water and dryer in summer when they do! But it was mentioned on more than one occasion that, at present, New Zealand’s vineyards appear to be less affected by climate change than those in many other parts of the world.
SWNZ – Sustainable Wine-growing New Zealand
98% of NZ’s vineyard certified sustainable. Water use, waste management/recycling, biodiversity. An extension SWNZCI (continuous improvement) goes further and includes economic sustainability. As James Milton says “you can’t be green if you’re always in the red”.
Even if NZ wine producers want to dry farm, it is often not realistic because so many soils are so porous. During veraison a vine’s water needs double. If you green harvest you halve a vine’s water requirement, so can be useful when water is short.
Damien Yvon of Clos Henri: some vineyards in Marlborough irrigate up to 8 litres of water per vine per day. Water generally in good supply in the Wairau Valley but can be less readily available in the hills. 2.5 times the planting density of his vineyards compared to others, leading to more deeply-rooted vines which he believes lead to more balanced acidity in the wine. Also uses Riparian rootstock which is less vigorous than others used in the valley.
The challenge is to understand soils, especially with regard to water holding capacity. The safe option is to over irrigate rather than under irrigate. However, this can potentially lead to yields being higher than desired.
Central Otago is well-suited to organic and biodynamic viticulture from a canopy point of view as it is dry. However, it is less well-suited from a soil fertility point of view, as added fertiliser is needed in the vineyards with less top soil. All the same, a large number of producers seem to be organic, biodynamic or in conversion.
Yields in Central Otago are lower than in Marlborough but even 10 tonnes/ha are considered too high by Rudi Bauer of Quartz Reef . Mind you, it is hard to see how many producers could operate profitably at the 4.5 tonnes/ha that he sees as the optimum. Yields at Valli in Gibbston average around 4 tonnes/ha.
Pests – Lowburn Valley reckon that they spend about NZ€400/ha a year on rabbit control.
Rudi Bauer “shiny leaves normally indicate a healthy vine”.
It’s estimated that Clayvin vineyard, with its higher planting density, might be twice as expensive to manage each year as other vineyards.
Wines made with a higher percentage of whole bunch seem to support a higher percentage of new oak.
Kusuda – less concerned about oxidation of the must prior to fermentation which he thinks makes the wine look older for first 2 or 3 years, but ultimately ensures it is better suited to longer ageing.
As mentioned elsewhere, key changes/advances (for Pinot Noir at least) include:
Fermentation with wild/indigenous yeasts
Exploration of varying percentages of whole bunch/stems
Lower percentage of new oak
More measured use of SO2. Though Carrick’s Billet Doux was the only zero-sulphur wine tasted.
Clay and limestone mix. Bell Hill only planted in 1997, so young region, although other vines planted in 1970’s.
Favourite producers: Bell Hill, Pyramid Valley, Black Estate, The Boneline. Pegasus Bay probably the best known producer in the area, but I found the reductive element in their wines too dominant.
Extraordinary that the founder of the Pyramid Valley vineyard reckoned that he would get one outstanding vintage in ten! Certainly a very cool site at 320 metres altitude and with only 1000 degree days. Chosen because of the limestone component in the soil (as was Bell Hill), and the Chardonnays displayed a noticeable similarity to Chablis in terms of structure and flavour profile.
Includes Martinborough (first planted 1984 – Abel clone, also known as the Gumboot clone and reputedly stolen from Romanée-Conti) and Gladstone. Low yields – dream of 10 tonnes/ha whereas Marlborough routinely gets 15 plus. Frost a major problem.
Key element in Martinborough is the wind which comes in from the south and toughens the grapes, leading to more structured Pinot than elsewhere in NZ.
Big new plantings in Te Muna from Craggy Range, mainly to supply more Sauvignon Blanc; presumably an indication that Craggy Range expect regionality to play a bigger role in future because yields here will almost certainly be lower than in Marlborough.
Lowish humidity so well suited to organic viticulture.
Powdery mildew a problem but this can be treated with sulphur, so organic viticulture very much possible. It is downy mildew that must be treated with copper and is hard to manage organically. Low fertility, alluvial soils may pose more of a problem for organic producers as they require added fertiliser.
Wairau Valley very much a monoculture – as opposed to Wairarapa and Central Otago where many other fruits are grown alongside vines.
Yarrum Vineyard – supplies Dog Point, Greywacke and Fromm.
2019 – a lot of water-stressed vines, especially in the hills.
Dangerous to generalise but yields in Awatere are lower than those in Wairau. The scale of the Yealands project in Awatere is ambitious and impressive – and they are aiming for 10 to 12 tonnes/ha.
Some very good oak-fermented Sauvignons were tasted, especially from Vavasour, Marisco, Spy Valley and the consistently outstanding Greywacke (their Wild Sauvignon). But I see that, at one stage in my notes, I did write that I would still have preferred an oak-fermented Chardonnay…..
Only one rosé tasted, and a good one, from Marisco. Given the amount of Pinot Noir in Marlborough that producers acknowledge has been planted on the wrong sites, one must wonder if we will see more rosé in future?
Outstanding producers that I did not know too well before included Clos Henri, Fromm and Giesen. I was also consistently impressed by the Nautilus wines that we tasted through the trip.
A new initiative is Appellation Marlborough Wine, to which 40 producers have so far signed up. Key criteria for use of the logo are
100% Marlborough grapes
Bottling in New Zealand
Sustainable certified vineyards
Maximum yields of 15 tonnes/ha
Learning new skills in Marlborough
2000 ha and the only continental climate in NZ, with mountains to the west protecting against the prevailing weather. the regiona can even get frost at harvest time. Consolidation in recent years, with Mount Difficulty, Akarua and Peregrine all expanding.
Gibbston Valley – some of the earliest plantings, generally 20% cooler than Cromwell Basin, so grapes picked 3 weeks later. Normally last to pick.
Alexandra more continental, hotter and drier but vineyards cooled by afternoon winds.
The producers were keen to emphasise the differences in soils between the sub-regions, but I think most of the group felt that the differences in climate between locations was the bigger determinant of style and quality. For instance in Northburn on the east side of Lake Dunstan where Cloudy Bay have their vines, the highest temperature recorded was 37C and that was at 7 o’clock in the evening. Whereas at Burn Cottage on the West side, the highest recorded temperature was 28C and that at 4 o’clock, as soon after that the sun sinks behind the hills. The differences in soils probably have a bigger influence on irrigation and canopy management decisions.
As in Hawkes Bay, a noticeable shift with Pinot Noir towards earlier picking, higher natural acidity, less new oak and lower alcohols. Two Paddocks for instance, who make a particularly fresh, fragrant style, aim for 13%. Other key areas of interest/research include fermenting with wild yeast, whole bunch fermentation and no filtration.
One high quality producer, Aurum, is selling their more approachable Pinot Noir in kegs to a Queenstown restaurant: a good, sustainable initiative and, as tourism in Otago increases, it is easy to see the local producers selling a higher percentage of their production locally.
The obligatory image of Rippon and Lake Wanaka, possibly the most beautiful vineyard in the world
Gimblett Gravels – 800ha of which 35% is owned by Villa Maria’s properties (Villa Maria, Esk Valley, Vidal, Te Awa and Thornbury) – very well drained, too barren for other crops. Good for late ripening varieties as it is 4 to 6 degrees warmer than the coast. Cool nights so long growing season.
Bridge Pa – More top soil so more moisture retained in a dry year, but not considered as consistent as Gimblett Gravels. Less structured wines than GG, more rounded and more approachable when young.
Compared to 10 years ago, higher acids, earlier picking, lower percentage of new oak, more use of larger format barrels, more emphasis on fruit. Best is yet to come…..
A highly insightful sub regional Syrah masterclass threw up especially good Syrahs from Church Road, Craggy Range (Le Sol), La Collina, Trinity Hill (Homage), Alpha Domus, Smith and Sheth, Te Mata (Bullnose), Stonecroft and Te Awanga.
The strong maritime influence moderates temperatures, leading to a long growing season.
With my Bordeaux-influenced palate, I loved the vertical tasting of Stonyridge Larose, with the wines developing genuine complexity at 8 years of age plus. The Te Motu Cabernet blends were also outstanding.
The key outtake for me was the quality of the Syrahs, with stunning examples from Cable Bay, Obsidian, Stonyridge, Tantalus and Man O War.
Given Waiheke’s status as the Long Island or Martha’s Vineyard of Auckland, wines from Waiheke are in high demand locally……..and command a significant price premium.
8% of NZ vineyard, 6.5% of production. Mendoza clone very popular since 1980’s.
Problem in 90’s was that NZ’s Chardonnays were aged in oak not fermented in oak, so oak was not well integrated. Big improvement in quality and finesse now that they are fermented in oak too.
Up to now the emphasis in Central, as they like to call Otago, has been very much on Pinot Noir. But the success of Felton Road and Gibbston Valley in particular with their Chardonnay is likely to mean more producers will be giving it higher priority in future.
Other excellent examples from Ata Rangi, Fromm Clayvin Vineyard, Kumeu River and Craggy Range Les Beaux Cailloux, Martinborough Vineyard, Dog Point and Te Kairanga.
Different Chardonnay Clones in Hawkes Bay
Under 500 ha planted in NZ, probably 75% of that in Hawkes Bay.
Lovely example from Giesen’s Clayvin Vineyard in Marlborough.
Highly impressive flight in Martinborough, with Kusuda, Dry River and Cambridge Road all standing out.
Cabernet/Merlot – Coleraine vertical impressive, with 1998 showing particularly good freshness and intensity still.
Central Otago producers reckon that their premium Pinots will reach a peak at 4 to 5 years old – and then remain at that peak for a further few years. Mind you, one must bear in mind that the style of the wines has evolved demonstrably from later-picked, sometimes over-ripe wines up to 2010 or 2011 to fresher styles now that are characterised by earlier picking, fresher acidity and less emphasis on new oak.
Good fruit set at Felton Road. Could be because they have more top soil in many of their vineyards so they are more fertile; may also have escaped some of the late frosts as their vineyards are contoured rather than flat. Even so the target yield of 5.5 to 6 tonnes/ha is pretty low.
An extensive tasting in Martinborough reinforced the credentials of well-known producers such as Craggy Range, Escarpment, Ata Rangi, Kusuda, Dry River and Te Kairanga. Excellent producers I was not familiar with included Grava, Big Sky, Te Muna Valley and Cambridge Road.
In the Gladstone sub-region of Wairarapa, Paddy Borthwick, Urla and Schubert stood out.
The dramatic gold sluicings above Felton Road in Bannockburn, Central Otago
I must admit to distinctly negative preconceptions of this grape and, fortunately we did taste some excellent examples from Dry River, Astrolabe and Prophet’s Rock.
However, having seen the bounteous-looking crop on the vines, I left with the opinion that the major attractions of Pinot Gris for most producers are its high yields and its popularity at Cellar Door. I am still not convinced it is the great white hope for export markets.
Riesling featured regularly in our tastings without ever becoming a major focus of attention. There seems little doubt that the climate in many regions is well suited to Riesling; the only obstacle to its advance seems to be the lack of commercial demand (so an important one!). Lovely examples included Kusuda, Felton Road, Framingham and a very fine 2003 from Vavasour.
Strong sense of community in Central Otago, plenty of technical exchange. Also an annual exchange with Burgundy whereby 4 students from Central do a harvest in Burgundy each year and vice-versa.
Extraordinary difference between yields on Sauvignon in Marlborough, where we heard of yields as high as 30 tonnes/ha – and Central Otago where yields in the best Pinot Noir sites could be as low as 4 tonnes/ha. Seen in that context, two obvious conclusions can be drawn: firstly that there will always be inexpensive Marlborough on the market as they have a lot of wine to sell………much of which has not been too expensive to produce. And secondly that high quality Central Otago Pinot Noir will never be cheap.
Secondary markets. As the reputation of top wines from producers like Stonyridge, Felton Road and Kusuda grows internationally, it is easy to see a secondary market for these wines developing. In that context, it is refreshing to hear both Nigel Greening (Felton Road) and Stephen White (Stonyridge) say that they intend to keep pricing stable so that their wines continue to appeal to drinkers as well as investors.
Winemaker, consultant and wearer of natty shirts, Olivier Dauga, is a firm believer and advocate of sustainability and organic farming. Much of his work is based in and around Bordeaux with Univitis although his own property, Foncadaure, is further south in Roussillon and he consults for Vingerons Catalans, too. I have always been impressed with the wines in which Olivier has had a hand – http://www.bywine.co.uk/blogs/olivier-dauga-the-maker-of-wine/ A recent tasting with Olivier focussing particularly on the sustainability side of his work confirmed and vindicated my opinion.
Even when not making organic wines, Olivier uses as little sulphur as possible and concentrates on producing wines in keeping with nature and protecting the environment. It’s the way forward, he maintains, and certainly the St Emilion Wine Council seems to agree stipulating that any wine produced within 4 of their appellations will be downgraded to Bordeaux AOC if it is not certified in one of the state-approved programmes, such as organic or HVE (Haute Valeur Environmentale) by 2020. A bold move but one which has Olivier’s full support. In 2010, Olivier launched his own ‘Green Charter’ for his consultancy work to produce wines as far as possible in accordance with nature and the environment.
He says, ‘Not all winemakers can or should necessarily become organic, but every producer must work towards complete sustainability if our planet is to continue to produce wine in all its wonderful and varied ways for future generations.’
His honesty and fervour show in the wines. His affability, too. The first, a straightforward Vin de France, a blend of Ugni Blanc and Sauvignon, Paul & Sarah Mariage Blanc, was exactly what you want from an everyday white – clean, crisp and refreshing. I’m not sure how 70% Ugni Blanc gives so much character but it does. A great start. The red was an equally pleasant and appealing no-frills Merlot. Rather good wedding wines, in more ways than one.
Château Pierron rosé (La Griffe) and red are great value wines retailing for between £8 and £10, fresh and friendly and the type of wine people would easily return to time and again, and the next step up, L’Alternative de Pierron 2015 (a Merlot and Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon blend) with a little oak, was very stylish.
Foncadaure, a 100% Carignan from a 2ha vineyard in the Leucate area of southern France between Narbonne and Perpignan and only 200m from the sea, is Olivier’s own project which he set up with 3 others, all of whom share a passion for both wine and rugby. The 2017 is chocolatey and spicy, rich and peppery but fresh and lively. There’s no oak, no added sulphur. It’s impressive. The 2016 was much more about a cherry smokiness, quite different in many ways but still expressing the same lip-smacking freshness.
Always on the look-out for exciting Bordeaux wines, I was delighted to be introduced to the Wild Yeast VB20 Bordeaux Blanc 2017 – 100% Sauvignon with ‘a kiss of wood’ for only 20% of the wine, the wood in question being 500l acacia barrels. This, and the Hand Made Perfect Balance 2017, an equal blend of Cabernet and Merlot, an AOP Bordeaux, were seriously good examples of what Bordeaux and Olivier, Le Faiseur de Vin, are capable of without the need of a fancy appellation.
For a flamboyant-shirt-wearing ex-rugby-player, the wines are surprisingly understated with a deft touch. Olivier’s wife, Kathy, should be mentioned, too, because she designs the labels – like the wines, less is more. Elegant, tasteful, memorable. The Dauga stamp on a wine is an (environmentally-) friendly, stylish and gentle one.
I don’t do self-help books but when I find my will-power has sunk to an all-time low, my weight ballooned to an all-time high, and that the self-help book which landed on my doormat was written for people who like to drink alcohol (too) frequently and written by a dear friend into the bargain, it’s time to put aside my prejudices.
The friend in question is, fittingly, infuriatingly, the picture of gorgeous good health – slim, toned, bright-eyed and shiny-haired. She works as a wine guide in Bordeaux and travels the world as a wine educator. Her name is Wendy Narby and her book is The Drinking Woman’s Diet, A Liver-Friendly Lifestyle Guide.
This is a book written with women like me in mind, who work in the wine trade and are exposed to way too many dinners, daily wine tastings and who spend much of their time in between sitting at their desk. It is equally suitable for women who do that wine o’clock thing, for women who find they’ve become Prosecco junkies, for women who have developed a (regular) taste for wine, gin, whisky, beer, cocktails and sake. It’s also perfect for men.
Easy to read, there is no pious, sanctimonious preaching going on. Despite her ability to say no to a bread roll, Wendy understands that the steps to a healthy life may not be a piece of cake for all of us. She makes it feel like it is definitely doable, hand-holding the reader as she drip feeds extra useful tips with each chapter. There are some obvious hints to a healthy lifestyle which we should all know by now such as having a couple of alcohol free days a week and drinking plenty of water but there are many that are new to me and which, according to Wendy, should be easy to implement into my life.
Divided into 7 chapters, one entitled How to Drink Like a French Woman (Chapter 4 in case you want to flick straight to it), and then into bitesize chunks so you can dip in and out, each section finishes with the key principles relating to that chapter. These KISS principles are what will inspire you and keep you going as they’re easy to remember and don’t seem too onerous to achieve.
There’s a chapter on yoga as Wendy’s a firm believer in its health benefits (she’s planning on becoming a certified yogi) for both mind and body, and even one on wine tasting. Knowing her love of chocolate, I’m surprised there aren’t pages devoted to its healing powers – too much to hope for.
I know I should cut out bread and other carbs. I know I need to reduce my weekly alcohol intake. I know I should drink more water. With this book by my bedside, I might just be able to kick-start a healthier lifestyle.
This week, I’ve booked into my first yoga class and borne two alcohol free days. One step at a time, right? I’m learning to love my liver (chapter 3)……before it’s too late.
A favourite tasting this. People like to taste wines they can find easily, that they can afford, wines which represent value and they are interested to see if the cheaper prices are truly on a par with other wines they might buy. Can they justify buying wine from either discounter with their head held high? It surprises me that people seem to be embarrassed, ashamed even, if they admit to buying wine from Lidl or Aldi. I don’t have that problem and will happily tell anyone who’s interested that my everyday Champagne (because, believe me, there is such a thing) is Aldi’s. If there were an everyday Albariño it would be Aldi’s, too. I’m not sure I want ‘special’ everyday and it seems many others don’t either. As for the results of this tasting, we all found it interesting but as people seem to confuse the two stores incessantly I’m not sure it will make a blind bit of difference to the buying habits of those who attended other than they will probably buy more wine from both stores. Every single wine was thought to represent fantastic value.
Aldi won 4 of the 6 pairs and 58.7% of the total votes
Champagne Lidl – 18 Aldi – 5
I was surprised that the Lidl Champagne was as rich as it was. If I had been served the wines blind I would have thought the Lidl wine was the Aldi and vice versa. The Lidl Champagne had some bottle age as evidenced by the cork being compressed while the Aldi one didn’t. Lidl’s did indeed have richness but it had a slight bitter finish. The Aldi one was softer, lighter with a lingering freshness. Everyone liked them both but obviously there was a clear favourite.
Albariño: Lidl – 3 Aldi – 20
The score says it all. Aldi’s is lovely! They were quite different – Lidl’s is peachy and textured where Aldi’s is zesty, salty and minerally. I’m a fan of Rías Baixas Albariño, especially Aldi’s style – consequently I wholeheartedly agree with the group’s score.
Chardonnay: Lidl – 6 Aldi – 17
I was surprised that there were so many votes for the Lidl Chardonnay as for me it’s blousy with a flatness about it, rather old school Aussie Chardonnay. The Aldi one is crisp, fine and defined.
New Zealand Pinot Noir Lidl -17 Aldi – 6
Actually these were both pretty good. I’m not surprised the Lidl one came out top as the style is more on the sweet fruit spectrum and less savoury than the Aldi one. Both are great value Pinots.
Spanish Red Lidl – 7 Aldi – 16
Despite the Lidl wine being a Rioja Reserva against Aldi’s Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, it didn’t cut the mustard. It felt like it was trying a bit too hard. Aldi’s Antiguo was smooth, typically smoky, easy and would be loved by Rioja drinkers.
Malbec Lidl – 6 Aldi – 17
Lots of people found it hard to choose between these to. Not me! The Lidl Malbec seemed quite dilute by comparison to Aldi’s which had masses of fruit, flavour and spice.
Those of us who attended the Wine GB tasting at the end of April may have spotted Liz Sagues modestly selling her book. She was doing so at the expense of going round tasting from the 30 odd exhibitors, sacrificing the chance of tasting up to 200 English and Welsh wines. But she’s been there, done that, got the T-shirt and written the book.
I was unaware that she had written what turns out to be the definitive guide on wines from GB and its industry, and speaking to other winos it seems I’m not the only one. With an English tasting coming up, I thought I’d better buy a copy to ensure that my knowledge was up-to-date especially as things have been moving at an alarmingly but excitingly speedy rate.
The title suggests that this is a book, as every good wine book should be, as much suited to the enthusiastic amateur as the professional. It deals with the history and the terroir and the dodgy climate keeping the vine-growers on their toes, but most importantly it’s about the people. More than anywhere else in the world Liz Sagues’ words, ‘People make wine’ are true. She goes on to say, ‘The final liquid reflects most of all the individual personality of the person who makes it.’
Her writing is easy and informative; enthusiastic without being gushing. It’s a book you can dip in and out of, with well laid out chapters and sub-titled paragraphs. It’s a vital book for those who want to know more about this burgeoning business of English* wine and immensely useful for those of us who present tastings on the subject both of which, I suspect, are a fast-growing number. The photographs are plentiful and beautiful, and if it weren’t for the jumpers, shawls and gloves of some of the subjects, you might easily believe they were stolen from a wine book on France or Italy.
*Liz explains that this term includes Welsh wine and distinguishes English from British wine.
The RRP is £16.99 but it is a little less on Amazon.
I have always been a fan of Château Brown over the years, and it isn’t entirely down to its winemaker and part-owner, Jean-Christophe Mau. The white and rosé have particularly stood out, quite possibly because there are fewer opportunities for comparison with other Bordeaux châteaux. The region only produces a total of about 9% of these styles so the good ones can easily make a mark. That’s not to underrate them though. Château Brown Blanc continues to be among my favourite whites from anywhere in the world.
Given the chance to taste several vintages of Château Brown over dinner at Clarette recently I was keen to focus my attention on the reds. Perhaps, then, I shouldn’t have chosen fish as my main course because I found myself having to taste, re-taste, having to have just one more sip of the few vintages of white which were available. Gorgeous as ever, of course, I’m delighted to report.
Fortunately, the reds were ready for tasting before dinner, a vertical aperitif. In fact, it wasn’t a straightforward vertical as the suggested order of tasting was based on the quality and style of the vintage so the richer, plusher wines from the warmer years followed those from more classic vintages. This was an usual but inspired decision. It proved that one or two vintages might have been overlooked and underrated.
The 2012 had some lovely fruit, crispness, crunchiness and smart oak. Even better was the 2008 – juicy, complex with black fruit, violets and mint, bold but seductive, drinking beautifully now but without any urgency. An equally happy revelation was the 2014 – brambly, smooth, obviously still pretty oaky but stylish, minerally and savoury. 2007 and 2011 are both lighter than you might expect from Bordeaux but it does mean that they are drinking really well now.
Of the renowned vintages, the 2010, 2009 and 2005 stood out for their luscious fruit and velvety texture. Now with some age – more obvious on the colour and nose than on the palate, the 2005 was distinctive for its exquisite elegance and balance; the 2009 for its freshness, the 2010 for its length and richness.
I hope the wines from the Graves area of Bordeaux are not overlooked in favour of wines from the Médoc or St. Emilion because they do offer, in my opinion, a purity, freshness and refinement at reasonable prices, or at least not outrageous prices. Châteaux Brown is one such example. But then I would say that because, as I’ve already admitted, I’m a fan – a Brownie!
There is a unique hospitality opportunity that might be a perfect, fun way to thank the loyalty of your clients or staff, or indeed an occasion for you and friends to enjoy. Proceeds will go to help the charitable work of Armonico Consort in creating choirs in schools in the Coventry area.
On Thursday 24th May, Armonico Consort is premiering a new programme titled “Oz and Armonico Drink Again!” in the historic Old Grammar School in Coventry. A table of ten will cost £290 (a discounted rate), or individual tickets are £34.50 (plus booking fee). This will include all wine tasting, music and narration by writer, wine critic and broadcaster, Oz Clarke.