New Zealand – One of the most beautiful countries to visit, with unspoilt landscapes and whose vineyards are the source of some of the most impressive of New World Wines. This week, I had the pleasure of attending the New Vintage Release tasting in London. I tried to ignore the huge posters of the All Blacks that bedecked New Zealand House in anticipation of this weekend’s Rugby World Cup final – but when you are trying to concentrate on the finer elements of an Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc, and there is a massive poster of Dan Carter kicking in front of you – it’s all rather distracting!
However, there were 187 wines to taste – so it was a case of forget about the Rugby World Cup final for now and concentrate on the wines. A balanced approach obviously required as not all 187 wines could be tasted – so I tried to look out some new estates not tried before as well as some of the less famous grape varieties.
One of the appealing factors of the tasting was that all of the wines presented were produced sustainably. New Zealand is a great example of an industry working together to not only respect the environment but also the people and communities involved.
It may surprise some people but NZ produces less than 1% of the World’s wine production but they have a strong export focus which is good news for us wine lovers in the UK. One thing that shone out across most (though not quite all!) the wines on display was a purity of taste. Perhaps it is down in part to the fact that nowhere in New Zealand is further than 80 miles away from the sea. The minerality shows through that little bit stronger, the fruit characteristics of the wines seem crisper. The overall excellent balance of the wine seems almost a given for many of the top NZ producers.
Wines were shown by variety and below are a few of my favourite wines of the tasting – so why not search some of these out to cheer on the All Blacks this weekend (Well – with England out , we have to cheer for someone in the final!) – Do see end of article for websites and stockists where available.
New Zealand white varieties:
Riesling – a very small amount produced, just over 2% of all NZ wine but the South Island is making some great examples. Two producers stood out – Felton Road Block 1 Riesling Bannockburn 2015 from Central Otago (RRP 19.50) with a mouthful of ripe yellow pears followed by glorious honeyed finish – tasting wonderful now but will improve in the bottle for sure. The other star in this category that shown was Pegasus Bay Riesling 2013 from Canterbury (RRP £16.50) was all white flowers and apricots but with a depth of flavour that showed the presence of some grapes having been left to achieve noble rot – to add complexity to the wine. Again drinking beautiful but will only develop with time in bottle.
Pinot Gris – One of my favourite varieties from NZ as it can be so diverse in style according to the region where it grows. Some can be delicate and light, others leaning towards a rich, ripe wine with great complexity. Whichever style – they all have a tendency to be very food friendly.
Two wines that stood out were the Esk Valley 2015 from Hawkes Bay which at only (RRP £13.25), is great value for this level of wine. Made by the brilliant and unassuming Gordon Russell, this Pinot Gris was lovely fresh pear and citrus notes but the slight increase of residual sugar gives it a depth of flavour that is really appealing. (Note for anyone just getting into wine – do not worry about the residual sugar – it’s not going to be sweet – it just adds another dimension to the wine – more about this on the main website later in the year!) . The other one was a new estate to me – from Central Otago on the South Island, Rockburn Pinot Gris 2014. It has a delicious nose of peaches and pears with lovely minerality on a clear finish. (RRP £20)
Grüner Vertliner – Normally found at home in Austria, there are a handful of NZ producers experimenting with this white variety. There was a good value (RRP£12.95) example on show – Yealands Estate Single Vineyards 2015 – Not overwhelming, it has a lovely slightly spicy nose and shows what can be produced from these coastal vineyards in the Awatere Valley.
Sauvignon Blanc: THE variety that most people associate with New Zealand – unsurprisingly when it accounts of 87% of all NZ wine that is exported (but interestingly only 66% of all wine produced – so time for other varieties to be given a chance on the export market!). This was a huge category with 52 different Sauvignon Blancs from five different wine regions. Given that Marlborough produces the Lion’s share (think about 80%), I tried to avoid many of these on the hunt for something new. But I was interested on my tasting note for Esk Valley’s SB 2015 (RRP £12.15) that an unusual wasabi like warmth shone through all the expected tropical fruit notes. Lovely. Also, I was pleased to see that the Nelson Region has a lovely example from Seifried SB 2015 , a family owned winery, which had all the typical gooseberry and tropical fruit but with an elegance lacking in too many Marlborough SB’s. (RRP £12.99)
Chardonnay – Overshadowed in sheer volume by Sauvignon Blanc, there are so many styles of Chardy in NZ but sadly for my own tastes, many of the wines on show at the tasting, were unbalanced with not very good oak management, which dominated the fruit. Two exceptions to this were Stanley Estates Chardonnay 2014 from the Awatere Valley – which had good buttery notes but not too fat – lovely smoky finish – great with roast pork. (RRP £16.99). The other (well two) were from outstanding producer from Central Otago, Felton Road – Bannockburn Chardonnay 2014 was fresh, beautiful minerality, with an elegance of fruit – which at (RRP £20) slightly overshadowed it’s (still brilliant) older sister – Felton Road Block 2 Chardonnay. (RRP £24)
The “Other Whites” category was where I found not only my personal favourite white of the tasting but also showed how interesting NZ Sauvignon can be with an appropriate dollop of Semillon in it (again for any newcomers to this wine malarkey – this was the traditional blend for White Bordeaux so it has a good precedent!) . Pegasus Bay Sauvignon Semillon 2013 was delicious – tart gooseberry being balanced by sweet melon – an incredible flexible food friendly wine. (RRP £16.50).
But for me the best white wine of the tasting was the Hans Family Mistral 2013. A glorious blend of Rhone White varieties of Viognier, Marsanne and Rousanne. All the old world Rhone nuances were there in abundance – from white flowers to apricots & almonds but so well made was this wine, that it was all brilliantly interlaced. My tasting note was “sheer perfection”. Tasting heavenly now but will age well (if you can resist!) Worth every penny of it’s slightly steep RRP £36. (available www.bbr.com)
New Zealand red varieties:
Pinot Noir: As a self- confessed Pinot lover – this was always going to be a category to seduce and waylay me! Sadly only 6% of the NZ export Market is Pinot Noir so having 55 different Pinot’s on show was a great experience. There was a great variety of style from those chasing the more New World fruit to those looking more to Burgundy for Old World inspiration and converting that with NZ terroir into pure balanced wines with a delicious savouriness.
(NB – Apologies if some of the same estates names crop up again – but having tasted a range of other producers – some making lovely wines but just without that edge that makes the wine sing – there is a reason why these wines keep coming to the top of my tasting notes.)
Esk Valley Pinot Noir 2014 (RRP £17.10) had lovely cherry notes following into plums and a hint of dark chocolate. It’s a very versatile wine – but would be a great choice for rich salmon dishes when you simply don’t want white wine with fish!
Felton Road had five Pinot’s on show and it was a fascinating mini tasting in itself to do them side by side. All 2014 vintage – Ranging from the Bannockburn (RRP £28), through the Calvert (RRP £33), the Cornish Point (£33), Block 3 (RRP £42) and Block 5 (RRP £42) – all of them showed the estates trademark elegance and minerality, with varying notes of ripe plums, black chocolate with an undertone of coffee and leather on the Block wines. Interestingly, though I normally adore the seductive Block 3, on the day, the alcohol was still coming through on the nose and was a little closed so needs a little time yet in bottle. But the Cornish Point was vibrant and bouncy with drinkability! I would (and probably will) have happily bought each of the five wines – which is quite impressive for one producer.
Muddy Water Pinot 2013 from their organic vineyards in Canterbury was delightful, quite floral on the nose but a lovely spicy finish (£RRP24.50)
Craggy Range’s Aroha Te Muna Road Pinot 2013 comes with a hefty price tag (RRP £54.99) but was a delicious example of what this fickle grape variety can achieve when given the right place to grow (Te Muna means the Secret in Maori). It was not so much the aromas that impressed me but the texture of this wine – with velvet mouth feel – very much one that needs some aging,
Syrah: Perhaps a grape variety that surprises to be found in the Cool Climate of New Zealand, but although it’s only responsible for just over 1% of total production in the country, it is the buzz variety at the moment. But forget any thoughts of Block Bluster Shiraz Aussie styles – here it gives a more Old World elegance and complexity. There is one region in particular that is THE home to some great Syrah – The Gimblett Gravels . A very particular site in Hawkes Bay on the North Island and all three of the Syrah’s that I was impressed with at the tasting came from there. Craggy Range Syrah 2013 made from a Syrah clone bought over from The Rhone 150 years ago, was all black fruit and bags of pepper, with a touch of liquorice – but with great balance. (RRP £23.99) Their other wine Craggy Range Le Sol 2013 was undoubtedly very well made with great complexity, but without having a plateful of Roast Lamb to hand, I was unsure if it was perhaps too intense. To be revisited in 5 years time. (RRP£54.99).
For elegance, the Vidal Reserve Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2013 (RRP £17.10) shone through, No hint of gloop or over extraction – just very well balanced fruit, oak and tannin. A delightful wine (which would go superbly with beef or venison casserole!)
Other Reds: The Merlot / Cabernet section, I skipped in the interest of keeping my palate alive – but there was one last wine to try for sheer interest value. The Single Vineyard Lagrein 2014 Stanley Estates in Awatere Valley. This red grape variety is usually found at home in Alto Adige in the North East Corner of Italy, but has made a good addition to this family run estate. It was instantly identifiable on the nose by an abundance of ripe blackberries and the lively acidity made it a vibrant wine which would be great with food – and the perfect wine to revive ones palate after such an intense tasting.
A great tasting (along with an amazing panoramic view of London from the terrace ) – which showed off some fascinating wines and showing that New Zealand is the source of so much more than just the ubiquitous Sauvignon Blanc!
When the main www.lovewinefood.com goes live later this autumn – there will be a more in depth feature about which NZ wines to pair with proper food, but for a fun approach for the rugby – do follow the NZ team link on the home page.
There are two excellent retailers of NZ Wine in the UK – which between them cover almost all the wines listed above.
Websites of all wine estates listed:
If you have any issues finding any of these wines through the above, drop me an email firstname.lastname@example.org and I will happily provide you with the UK importer details, who will be able to help further with alternative stockists.