- Discovering the Joys of New Zealand Wine

Newsletter for May, 2005

It's springtime in the Northern Hemisphere. For the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic, 2005 has been a rather cool year and May continued that trend. The upside has been that it has been a glorious time for flowering trees and shrubs. Flowering cherry and pear trees, dogwood, azaleas, and rhododendrons have all had spectacular blooms this spring; preserved by the cool weather. To go with all the flowers, this month we feature wine, wine and more wine.

New Zealand Wine Fair

This spring the New Zealand Winegrowers are making a tour of North America, stopping in several cities to conduct a series of trade and public tasting events. On May 9, the tour stop was DC. There were over 100 wines from more than two dozen wineries to be sampled. Your intrepid correspondent was on hand to report the event. (It’s a tough job but somebody has to do it.) To try to make sense of it all, we will arrange the report in several vignettes.

Warm Climate Reds

The bulk of the press on New Zealand Wine is about the Sauvignon Blanc and, more recently, Pinot Noir. And, there is, of course the ubiquitous Chardonnay. We cover here a somewhat under-the-radar category for NZ wine: warm-climate reds – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, the blends thereof, and even a Zinfandel. I have, in the past, been skeptical myself, but there are some good ones being made, including a bevy of them at the fair.

Crossroads – Hawke’s Bay A small, winery near Fernhill in Hawke's Bay. New management since 2000.

2001 Merlot-Cabernet A nice Bordeaux-blend with a pleasant nose and mid to dark berry notes. Smooth finish. Rating: 84 Price: $17

Hatton Estate – Hawke’s Bay A small winery located in the Gimblett Gravels area. First vintage in 1997.

2003 Carsons Cabernet (Franc & Sauvignon) Carsons is Hatton Estate’s entry level Bordeaux blend. The wine was very dry with the tannins out-muscling the fruit at this point. Needs a bit of time to breathe. Rating 85 Price $30

2000 Tahi - 50% Cab Sauv - 33% Merlot - 17% Cab Franc. Hatton’s top Bordeaux-blend. An excellent wine. Good fruit, in balance with the overall structure. A pleasant earthy element on the nose. Rating: 90 Price:est $50

Unison – Hawke’s Bay Another small producer from the Gimblett Gravels area. First vintage in 1996. Coming back into the DC market.

2002 Unison - Merlot/Cabernet/Syrah – A excellent Bordeaux style blend. A bit of earthiness on the nose, pleasant black cherry fruits with subdued tannins. Approachable now but with potential for cellaring. Rating: 90 Price: est $25

2001 Unison Selection - 50%Merlot/30%Cabernet/20%Syrah - The big brother of the two, Selection is aged in mainly new French oak and has a bit more tannic structure. With a solid foundation of fruit, it has a long way to go yet. Somewhat dry. Rating 90 Price: est $35.

Schubert – Martinborough A new winery; first vintage in 1999 with purchased grapes, their own vineyards are now coming into full production. Winemakers trained in Germany, quality focus with lots of hands-on work.

2002 Syrah - A knock-out wine. Less than 1,400 bottles produced. Rich, full bodied spice and concentrated fruit. A dry, tannic finish that suggests a long life. Rating: 94 Price est $40

Mills Reef – Bay of Plenty A mid-size producer with an established track record.

2002 Elspeth One - 40%Merlot/30%Malbec/10% each Cab Sauv/Cab Franc/Syrah A dark and brooding wine with an “approach me if you dare” attitude. Very dense and inky. Dark fruit and spice with a bit of leather and tar. Rating: 91 Price $35

Kemblefield – Hawke’s Bay John Kemble left Ravenswood in sunny Sonoma and headed off to New Zealand where he found an ideal vineyard site inland from Hawke’s Bay. Taking some Ravenswood clippings with him, he is showing that NZ also has potential for great Zinfandel.

2002 The Distinction Merlot - 85%Merlot/15% Malbec - Very appealing starting with a musky nose reminiscent of a St. Emilion. Solid fruit and good intensity. Rating: 89 Price $17

2002 The Reserve Zinfandel - This wine took a gold medal at the 2004 International Wine Challenge The other four golds went to Turley, Ridge (2) and Ravenswood. Kemblefield has come of age. Excellent balance of spice and dark berry fruit. Intense with a smooth finish. Rating: 93 Price $25

Other Wines of Distinction

As noted there were scores of wines presented at the fair. Here are a dozen of the Whites and Pinot Noirs that caught our attention.
  • Martinborough Vineyards 2002 Pinot Noir
  • Terrace Heights Estate (THE) 2004 Sauvignon Blanc
  • The Jibe 2004 Sauvignon Blanc
  • Schubert 2003 Pinot Noir
  • Huia 2004 Sauvignon Blanc
  • Mt. Difficulty 2004 Pinot Gris
  • Grove Mill 2002 Riesling
  • Framingham 2002 Pinot Noir
  • Seifried 2003 Riesling
  • Mt. Difficulty 2003 Pinot Noir
  • Oyster Bay 2004 Chardonnay
  • Babich 2004 Riesling

Debut Winery at the Show – Waipara Hills Wine Estate

A new public-traded company which began operations in 2001 from the former Langdale Wine Estate, is now being introduced into the States in the Mid-Atlantic area. It sources its grapes from contract growers in Canterbury, Marlborough and Waipara and is rapidly growing to mid-size status with production facilities in Marlborough and Canterbury. Waipara Hills produces a wide range of wines with regional and single-vineyard designations which include: Chardonnay Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and a Pinot Rose. The most awards have come from their aromatic whites including competition trophies for the 2002 Riesling and 2003 Gewurztraminer.

2004 Sauvignon Blanc - From Marlborough, it features bright citrus and grassy notes. Tight acidity with a dry finish. Rating: 88 Price: $13

2003 Riesling - Canterbury/Marlborough - features pleasant characteristic petrol on the nose with citrus and apple notes on a modest palette with a dry finish. Rating: 87 Price: est $13

2003 Pinot Rose - A pleasant summer wine with light berry fruit, some herbal notes and a dry finish. A good starter for entertaining guests on the deck. Rating: 85 Price: est $12

Top Winery of the Show – Wither Hills

Some brands exude style, class and craftsmanship: Jaguar, Dior, Cartier. The Wither Hills wines evoke those same impressions. While some wineries offer a bewildering array of labels and varieties, winemaker Brent Marris keeps his focus by producing just three wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The craftsmanship starts in the vineyard under the guidance of Brent’s father John, a long-time Marlborough viticulturalist. From harvest to bottle, the fruit is processed and blended to produce complex wines with a lot of depth.

2004 Sauvignon Blanc In addition to the typical Marlborough notes of bright crisp fruit, this SB has a well-rounded depth to it . Some warmer notes and well integrated from attack to long gradual finish. Rating: 91 Price: $20

2003 Chardonnay - 100% barrel fermented, 50% hand-picked/50% mechanical. Lots of warm fruit with subdued creaminess and vanilla. As with the SB, it is well-rounded and seamless. Rating: 90 Price: $20

2003 Pinot Noir – An appealing earthy nose with a touch of barnyard, luscious cherry and plum fruit , warm vanilla undertones for a long, soft finish. Rating: 93 Price $35

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

White Wine of the Month

2004 Spy Valley Gewurztraminer

A lovely wine from Spy Valley who has been on a roll the past couple of years. A spice and floral nose with apple accents. A smooth palette with a hit of petrol and lightly unctuous. Serve modestly chilled as a stand-alone or serve it with food like Asian spiced grilled chicken. Will have this again over the summer and fall.
Rating: 91 Price $20

Red Wine of the Month

2002 Dry River Syrah

This cult classic in New Zealand is now available in the US. Extracted from highly concentrated fruit, it has great density in color, nose and palette. The fruit flavors are dominated by blackberry through the mid-palette when the spicy black pepper takes over through a long finish. A young wine at this time, savvy buyers will want to a lay in a supply to enjoy as it matures over the next decade.

Rating: 94 Price: $55

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