- Discovering the Joys of New Zealand Wine

Newsletter for January, 2005

It's January and the North finds itself once again in the fell grip of winter. This issue we continue our From the Heartland column with a review of some Pinot Noirs, share some observations about New Zealand wine in America in 2005, and conclude with a review of a new NZ Sauvignon Blanc we were able to track down. So chase away the winter blues, aka Seasonal Affected Disorder, by raising a glass of wine from Downunder where it is warm and sunny.

From the Heartland by Erin M. Myers

Our intrepid reporter in the Midwest ventured out to the West Coast last month and visited Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, California. Along with expert buyers Dan Rhodes and John Downing from the Hi-Time staff, she reviewed several NZ Pinot Noirs.

Kaituna Valley 2002 Canterbury Pinot Noir

Region: Canterbury

Pleasant nose with floral accents. Taste was upfront but the mid and hind palates were weak leaving an undirected finish. Retails for $38.

Rating: 85

Ata Rangi 2001 Pinot Noir

Region: Martinborough

Fruity and velvety nose. Fruit continued on the palate with a more refined taste than the Kaituna featuring hints of black cherry. Decent finish, though not too strong. Retails for $40.

Rating: 87

Foxes Island 2001 Pinot Noir

Region: Marlborough

Soft flavor. A subtle, well balanced wine with cherry components. Currently drinking well and showing better than at earlier points. The best pinot in this tasting. Retails for $32.

Rating: 90-91

Escarpment 2002 Pinot Noir

Region: Martinborough

Strong fruit on the nose. Fruit components on the palate were strong; featuring alcoholic, candied, and fully ripe aspects. Retails for $33.

Rating: 85

New Zealand Wine in America - 2005

2004 Vintage Report

The 2004 vintage was a strong rebound from the crippling frosts which severely lowered the 2003 vintage production. 2004 saw record production levels; 117% above the prior year. The record production was reflective of better weather and the ever-increasing size of the vineyards. Worrisome rains in late summer gave way to a long, dry harvest boosting confidence in the quality. Early releases indicate the 2004 vintage will be ranked above-average to excellent.

Media Watch

Mainstream American media coverage of New Zealand wine has been rather paradoxical of late. The Wine Spectator had a lengthy article on NZ wine in November but scarcely any coverage the rest of the year. Although the article was generally positive, there were some curiously low scores and only one NZ wine made it on the year-end Top 100 list. The current edition of Robert Parkerís book is 1,597 pages (without the index) however, the New Zealand section is only one page. Mathematically, NZ has 0.00062 of the total pages. On the up side, Mr. Parker does re-iterate his belief that NZ Pinot Noir is as structurally close to Burgundy as any in the New World.

Speaking of Pinot Noir, two major magazines, Bon Appétit and Food & Wine, had pieces relating to NZ in their January 2005 issues. Bon Appétitís monthly Wine & Spirits column began with a bizarre rant against the NZ Pinot Noir that is arriving in America. It concluded that the fields should be given back to the sheep. Food & Wine on the other hand had an article about the stunning Pinot Noir from Central Otago. Since wine experts Jancis Robinson and Steve Tanzer will be in Central Otago this week as speakers at the Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration, it appears that Bon Appétitís spiteful comments are in the minority.

Market Watch

2004 was also a mixed year for NZ wine in the marketplace. There was an uneasy upward surge in prices for a couple of reasons. First, the US dollar has been on a long slide against other currencies resulting in higher prices for imports. That trend was coupled with the shortfall of the 2003 vintage driving up the prices of NZ grapes. Sauvignon Blanc prices have typically risen by a several dollars a bottle. High quality SB below $15 a bottle is now somewhat rare on the East Coast; a bit better on the West Coast.

Top rank wines like Pinot Noir from the better producers have had prices escalate dramatically. An example is Mountford Pinot Noir from Waipara. The 2000 vintage was $20, the 2001 was $30, and the 2002 is now selling for $50. Pegasus Bay Prima Donna Pinot Noir has jumped from $50 to $80.

While the higher prices, especially on the top-end, must be reflective of strong demand in the world market; higher prices in the low and middle ranges should be a cautionary sign for the producers and distributors. In my many visits to wine stores and conversations with merchants; there is a consistent theme. NZ wines are in a struggle to maintain shelf space against a flood of good quality, low-priced wine from other areas of the world. To the extent that the bumper crop of 2004 will stabilize prices, it will be beneficial in the long run.

And in Other News

In December, the Supreme Court heard the case on state laws limiting interstate wine sales. (See background:Selling Wine in America ). The decision should be issued in late spring. If the state bans on interstate sales are overturned, it could mean easier access to wines that are not distributed around the country.

New Wine on the Scene

Dog Point Vineyard was featured in the May, 2004 newsletter as a projected future star. To re-cap: " James Healy as winemaker and Ivan Sutherland as viticulturalist. Both men were stalwarts in the team that established Cloudy Bay as an icon; Quality should be high right from the start with grapes coming from Mr. Sutherland's large, established vineyard. Dog Point has been featured for years with Goldwater Estate's Sauvignon Blanc. The wine list features Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Section 94 'Sauvignon Blanc with a difference' - select grapes with extended lees contact in older oak barrels. "

Tasting notes: 2004 Sauvignon Blanc

An elegant, classic Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Pale yellow in color with a pleasant citrus and gooseberry nose. The same crisp notes on the palate; smooth all the way through to a moderate length, clean finish. A well-crafted, flavorful wine.

Rating: 89
Price: $20

Available in the DC area at Iron Bridge Wine Company, Rt. 108, Columbia, Maryland.

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