- Discovering the Joys of New Zealand Wine

Newsletter for June, 2004

For the Northern Hemisphere, June marks the summer solstice. In addition to the sun reaching its zenith this month, the USA also saw some of the stellar winemakers from New Zealand on tour. In this newsletter, we feature those winemakers and their wines; as well as a few others we tasted recently.

Excellence on Tour

Excellence has been on tour in the USA this month. Eric Clapton has once again been thrilling audiences around the country, including a stop in DC, with his virtuosity on the guitar. The sense of taste, however, was not to be outdone by the sense of hearing. Meadowbank Estates, an Alexandria, Virginia importer, arranged for representatives from its formidable portfolio of New Zealand wineries to tour the States in a series of public and trade tastings. Here is a review of the DC event.

Clearview Estate - Tim Turvey

Clearview Estate is from the Hawke's Bay region on the North Island and was represented by co-founder and winemaker Tim Turvey. Any short list of the top Chardonnays from New Zealand will invariably include Clearview Estate. While most Hawke's Bay wineries are situated a few miles inland, Clearview is one of a small group of producers in Te Awanga, a stone's throw away from the pebble-strewn shoreline of the bay. The closeness to the water provides a longer growing season into the fall, allowing the grapes to stay on the vine longer and pick up greater intensity. The lineup includes the top-rated Reserve Chardonnay as well as Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Gewurztraminer. There are also some very good Bordeaux blend reds: Enigma is Merlot and Malbec predominant while Old Olive Block is Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon predominant.

Voss Estate - Annette Voss

Voss Estate from Martinborough on the North Island was represented by sales manager Annette Voss, who co-founded the winery in 1988 with winemaker (now husband) Gary Voss. Voss Estate, like most other Martinborough producers, features Pinot Noir with smaller amounts of Chardonnay, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc. Voss Estate is not as well known as some of its vaunted neighbors (Ata Rangi, Dry River, Martinborough Vineyard) but it scores well and wins awards in blind judgings. The Pinot Noir is nicely balanced with plum and berry notes

The Escarpment - Larry McKenna

Larry McKenna and The Escarpment were just featured in the May Newsletter. To recap briefly, Larry is a legend in New Zealand wine, most notably for Pinot Noir. In 1999, he left his acclaimed work at Martinborough Vineyard to launch his own winery in the new Te Muna Road area outside Martinborough. He follows Burgundian techniques to make wines of great structure and complexity, well beyond the basic fruit-driven approach. In addition to the mainstay Pinot Noir, Larry also produces Pinot Gris and will have a Riesling in the near future. The Pinot Gris was notable for its solid structure; barrel-fermented instead of steel, it was more austere and balanced than a fruit-forward Pinot Gris. In the vintages to come, the wines will continue to improve as the vines mature.

Foxes Island - John Belsham

John Belsham was on hand with his Foxes Island Wines from Marlborough on the South Island. John has an extensive background in winemaking beginning with an apprenticeship in Bordeaux in 1977. In 1982, he returned to New Zealand and started working for some of the larger producers and eventually settled in Marlborough. Along with his wife, John started vineyards for Foxes Island in 1988. Foxes Island is perhaps unique amongst the Marlborough wineries in that it does not produce Sauvignon Blanc. While John makes Sauvignon Blanc for contract brands and other wineries, Foxes Island focuses only on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Befitting his long experience as a winemaker and his recent stint as Chairman of the Judges for the Air New Zealand wine competition, Foxes Island wines are well-crafted with a sense of purpose and style - balanced fruit, suppleness, cellar worthy, and perfect for the dinner table. Particularly intriguing was the not-yet-released 2002 Chardonnay with an earthy tone mixed in with the fruit and buttery notes.

Fromm Winery La Strada

The representative from Fromm was unable to make the event so the tasting was ably conducted by Neil Empson, owner of EmpsonUSA importers and its Meadowbank Estates division. Neil is a native New Zealander who became a wine merchant in Europe and has come full circle with his lineup of New Zealand imports. Fromm Winery is owned by Georg Fromm, a winemaker in Switzerland. The New Zealand operation, located in Marlborough, is known as Fromm Winery La Strada to distinguish it from the original in Europe. While Fromm makes a range of wines, red and white, its primary wines are Pinot Noir and those were featured at the tasting. Three wines from the 2001 vintage were shown: the basic Pinot Noir and two single vineyard entries; Fromm Vineyard and Clayvin Vineyard. All three wines show the same basic approach with sound structure, lush varietal fruit notes, and barrel-aged. While the basic Pinot is a complete, competitive wine on its own, the two single-vineyard wines were more dense and complex as one would expect from their low-yield harvest and longer barrel aging. Prime candidates for a few more years in the cellar.

Pegasus Bay - Ed Donaldson

Pegasus Bay, in Waipara on the South Island, is a family operation founded by Ivan Donaldson, a neurologist from Christchurch. They were represented on the tour by Marketing Manager Ed Donaldson, son of the founder. Winemaking is handled by Ed's brother Matthew and Matthew's wife, Lynette Hudson. Pegasus Bay had the most wines at the tasting: wines under the Pegasus Bay label include Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon. In exceptional vintages, there are special bottlings called Prima Donna for Pinot Noir, Maestro - a Bordeaux blend, and Finale, a dessert wine from bortrytised Chardonnay. A value-priced range of wines is marketed as Main Divide. One comes away with two main impressions. First is the high level of craftsmanship in the wines and second is how that craftsmanship is applied across the entire lineup. See the February newsletter for a review of the Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir. Winemakers Matthew and Lynette have spent the last half dozen years dividing their time between Pegasus Bay for the southern crush and working in Burgundy for the northern crush. The white wines are as equally well crafted as the red with Chardonnay and Riesling as standouts. The Main Divide Pinot Noir is a bit more fruit driven than its first-string brother but it has the same rich, earthy tones and is a terrific product for a second label wine.

Peregrine Wines - Greg Hay

Peregrine, located in Central Otago, is the southernmost winery of the group and arguably the most scenic. [Note: The competition for "Most Scenic Winery" in New Zealand is every bit as fierce as "Best Sauvignon Blanc" or "Best Pinot Noir"] Greg Hay is a native of Central Otago and one its top names in winemaking; first establishing Chard Farm in the mid-80's with his brother Rob; then setting off with Peregrine in the mid-90's. As with most of the other wineries at this event, Peregrine puts emphasis on producing award-winning Pinot Noir along with several white varietals: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay. The Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir were shown at the tasting. See the May newsletter for a review of the Pinot Gris. The Pinot Noir is another topflight entry: low-yield, barrel-aged, berry, plum and spice notes, a little cellaring would be my recommendation. Look for Peregrine to soar even higher. While Greg remains busy overseeing the business and all the vineyards he has under contract, in 2003 he was joined in the winemaking duties by Michelle Richardson. Michelle had been head winemaker for Villa Maria and in 2001 won the award as "White Winemaker of the Year" from Wine Magazine at their International Wine Challenge in London.

Here are two other wines of note that we encountered recently:

Allan Scott Vineyard Select 2002 Chardonnay

We tasted this wine at a NZ wine tasting last month and thought that it was the best of show. It had a nice balance of fruit, pear and citrus, mellow and acidic; a very refreshing wine. Wine Spectator recently named it Wine of the Week with 90 points. Retails for US$12 to $15.

Framingham 2001 Pinot Noir

Framingham is a Marlborough winery with an excellent reputation for its white wines - Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot Gris. The 2001 Pinot Noir is in a lighter style; fresh fruit, supple, and ready to drink. It is not a heavyweight wine but it is a good value at US$20 for a pleasant wine to enjoy with dinner.

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