June is always a challenging month for arranging a wine tasting as the weather can be adverse and once we get home, often means that we can be reluctant to leave again. Last month’s tasting was like that with a really unpleasant Wellington day.
Still, 28 hearty souls made it to our tasting that night and were rewarded with an excellent presentation from Richard Macdonald. Richard’s knowledge of Giesen and their product was insightful as he led us through 3 whites, 3 reds and a Rose.
This Rose was delightful, even on a cold wintery night with good fruit and a soft lingering taste. Interestingly it was also the wine most ordered on the night. Other wines enjoyed, if the orders are anything to go by, were the 2014 Brothers Gewürztraminer and 2013 Brothers Pinot Noir. This latter wine also provided a reminder that Marlborough vineyards with a touch of age are now beginning to provide pinots that a real value for money as their quality begins to match their cousins from Martinborough and Central Otago.
Another wine to surprise on the night was the Organic Sauvignon Blanc that was used as our meet and greet wine. This had great fruit flavour without that aggressive grassy nose that many other SBs from this region often have, well to me anyway, and consequently, I very much enjoyed it as our starter for the evening.
The whites ended with the much celebrated 2014 Fuder Clayvin Chardonnay. Fuder, refers to the type of barrel used. It’s much larger than what we normally see in NZ and its purpose to evolve the texture of the wine without overpowering it with oak. It certainly did this for me and with its full body and slightly citrus notes, it was a wine that I had been really looking forward to tasting, given it had won Elite Gold at the 2016 Air NZ Wine Awards. The only disappointment was that I could not afford the $50 order form cost, despite its discounted value, as I decided to purchase the 2012 Eight Songs Shiraz instead.
Giesens are also the NZ agent for a small range of Peter Lehman reds. Richard ended our tasting with two of these, the 2014 Hills & Valley Shiraz and the 2012 Eight Songs Shiraz. The latter, if I’m not wrong, was probably the most expensive Shiraz the club has tasted, although last year’s 2013 Elderton Neil Ashmead Grand Tourer Shiraz did come close.
The 2012 Eight Songs was named after one of Peter Lehman’s favourite vocal ensemble musical works, loved for its soft harmonies. Apparently, this inspired Peter Lehman to emulate that artistry in a wine and it has resulted in a very soft stylish wine that is quite foreboding with its very black core, yet elegant with its lovely integration of mocha chocolate and dark plum characteristics. A great tasting from Richard Macdonald and one that I think many would be sad that they missed.
Fictional chardonnay swillers, Bridget Jones, and Kath and Kim have a lot to answer for when it comes to one of the world’s noblest grapes, and why, for the past 10 years or so, many of us have stopped drinking it. Not only has it become uncool to drink chardonnay but the product itself has suffered due to the deluge of cheaply produced, homogenised and heavily oak-chipped versions of this most versatile Vinifera. The 1980s and 90s were awash with over-the-top, tropically scented, fat, blousy and nearly chewable renderings of the grape that Australian winemakers went on to conquer the world with.
Back in its hometown of Chablis, France, chardonnay has been revered for more than 500 years. Depending on where and how it’s grown, the grape’s versatility is unquestionable. Great examples can swing from lean, steeled, cold stream refreshment, to sweet late harvest wines of heady line and length, stopping at all stations, good, bad, and ugly, as it goes. Nowadays, a zippy glass of sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, is more popular with your average drinker than a glass of heavy, creamy, chardonnay. In fact, sav blanc accounts for 72% of the total wine produced by New Zealanders, with Aussies being the largest export market.
You could argue that if scenes from Kath and Kim were being written today, these reflective characters would, more than likely, be pouring themselves a glass of Sauvy Bee, instead of “Kar-don-ay”. But chardonnay is timeless, and its ability to match effortlessly with food means phrases like, “ABC; Anything But Chardonnay”, is something you will rarely ever hear spoken, by those in the know.
I love New Zealand chardonnay. In the warmer, sunnier climes of the north, in places such as Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, and Nelson (top of the South Island), chardonnay is scented with fresh tropical fruits and rounded textures, similar to the rolling hills that bound along the horizon. The further south you go, the cooler it gets, and chardonnay grown in the Marlborough, Waipara, and Central Otago regions, here, express their revitalising, snow peaked landscapes, as New Zealand’s alpine country pushes further up, into the sky.
After a recent visit, here are my top picks of New Zealand chardonnay.
James and Annie Millton have been biodynamic before it was cool. Second tier, but by no means second rate, the Shotberry chardonnay is like a safe option gateway drug into the wonderful world of northern New Zealand chardy. A blend from two distinct estate owned sites, Riverpoint and Opou, this wine is like drinking Gisborne in a glass. Ripe yellow fruits and florals, cooled by ocean spray, ripple above a barely noticeable raft of oak, which seems only there for textual protection, rather than full-blown armament.
2013, Bilancia Chardonnay, Bilancia, Hawke’s Bay, 13%, $29
Winegrowers, Lorraine Leheny and Warren Gibson are all about balance. There are six letters in both of their last names, they are both Libran, and their wines taste as if Lady Justice had made them herself, hence the name; ‘”bi’lancia” (be-larn-cha), meaning balance, harmony and equilibrium in Italian. If their La Collina syrah is the rapture, then this chardonnay is like some kind of intense party beforehand. The smell of gunsmoke and soft white flowers mingle with the air inside the glass, carrying with it pear skin, white stone fruit and salted honey aromas, while flavours of crisp green apple, buttery shortbread, like baked apple pie with slices of white peach glazed on top, provide the formula for flavour in this divine example of chardonnay from Hawke’s Bay.
Andrew Greenhough is a man with a masters in art history, who gave up his ambitions of being an art gallery curator – a career which would have seen him showcasing other people’s artistic creations – and instead moved to Nelson with his wife Jenny, where they purchased a vineyard, in a place called Hope. There they set out to grow and create their very own works of art. This wine showcases the real strength of this region’s potential for making great chardy, à la the revered clays hills of the Moutere. Breathe deep, the golden sunlit liquid that possesses fleshy aromas of yellow nectarine, salted buttered popcorn, and green pineapple core. Luscious, not lean, curvaceous, never flabby. This wine is not distributed in Australia, and I have no idea why, but if you are travelling in the region it’s worth stocking up on.
2014, Chardonnay, Te Whare Ra (TWR), Marlborough, Certified Organic, 13.2%, $38
Anna and Jason Flowerday take winegrowing very seriously. After all, their livelihood depends on it. That’s why all their wines have a certain laser-guided precision about them, which is not to say that they lack soul, but rather, drinking a TWR white wine is like listening to a high-fidelity live performance of Daft Punk, circa 2007.
Last year was an outstanding year for the Flowerday’s, and it shows in this vitally brilliant single estate wine. Imagine, butter melting on hot river stones while cool glacial waters that smell like white linen flowers, citrus, crunchy nectarine and other stone fruits rush over them at pace, cleansing and cooling the stones, and leaving behind fine mineral traces of residual adrenaline and joy … well, that would be an understatement.
2014, Home Chardonnay, Black Estate, Waipara , 12.5%, $45
Located in North Canterbury, on New Zealand’s South Island, Waipara valley is home to a number of premium winegrowing estates, including Black Estate, where they grow chardonnay from 21-year-old vines that were last irrigated in 1998. Winegrower, Nick Brown’s meticulous attention to detail has resulted in a wine that is all torque, which is backed up with precise lines and sleek curves. In another life, Nick may have been an Italian carmaker.
Full secondary ferment provides a textual grip that seems to have done nothing to squash the racy acids this wine drives along on. Gunsmoked cheddar, lemon spritz and coconut shavings provide the perfect hook to open wide and drink deep all the angular richness of mango skins, lace, and green pineapple core that’s held inside the glass.
The Central Otago landscape was carved from hyperbole. The mountains, the ranges, the rivers and lakes, the snow, the dirt, and the green, then gold, then red leafed vines. From sunrise to sunset, Central Otago is proof that God is a wine drinker.
Felton Road might just be the most unimaginative name for a wine label, and yet they make some of the most captivating wines in the country. The Block 3 chardonnay is deeply golden in colour and smells like frozen tropical fruits; crisp melon, fleshy pineapple, mango skins – then, soft lime, nuts and spiced honey. Upon each element sits tiny frozen flakes of ice, providing razored tension. Like sails unfurling in the wind, this wine is supple, nimble, and graceful as it goes in a round, around your mouth, down past your heart to, at last, rest in your belly and shine sunlight on your soul.
Officials and wine growers have cut through red tape to make it easier for New Zealand organic wines to be sold in Europe. The European Commission has recognised New Zealand organic wine production methods as equivalent to its own, paving the way for exports. “The market potential in the EU is growing exponentially,” James Millton of Gisborne’s Millton Vineyards said. “The younger generation are focused on organic and even beyond into biodynamic, and a lot of conventional producers in Europe are changing to these types of growing systems.”
Jonathan Hamlet, chairman of Organic Winegrowers New Zealand, said up till now many producers had not bothered to market their wine as organic because the process was too difficult. “We used to have a lot of red tape, it involved getting an individual importing licence for an individual market, not one for the whole of the EU, but in last two years the Ministry for Primary Industries and NZ Wine have been working towards getting equivalence,” Hamlet said.
In 2013, almost 2000 hectares (5.6 per cent) of New Zealand’s 35,700ha wine-producing area were under organic certification. The total value of organic wine exported is estimated to be $44 million. The organic wine industry has a goal to reach 20 per cent of New Zealand production by 2020. Millton said it was an achievable goal because many producers already practised as organic but did not undergo the certification process. “It’s just a question whether these growers are prepared to undergo certification. If they do I’m confident we’ll get to 20 per cent by 2020.” He said his main wine varieties were chenin blanc, viognier, riesling and chardonnay.
One of New Zealand’s biggest wine producers, Villa Maria, was just under 30 per cent certified organic. Hamlet said there was a three-year conversion process from non-organic to certified organic and an annual audit which ensured a grower complied with organic standards. Organic manufacturers could use sulphites, which are natural preservatives, to stop wine oxidising, although they are used at lower concentrations in organic wines.
New Zealand has similar organic equivalence agreements with Japan, Switzerland, Taiwan and the US.
This meeting was excellent with Jonathan (Jono) Hamlet being an interesting and enthusiastic speaker concentrating on the organic viticulture rather than the wine. It was a very informative balanced presentation, leading to a good level of orders. A good follow up with the newspaper item included in the newsletter.
To recap, the wines presented included; a Gerwurtz quaffer, then two wines from the Private Bin range, two Cellar Selections and two single vineyard wines, all organic offerings. In order to show some more ‘interesting’ varieties, Jono arranged for some barrel samples of wines produced from grapes from their organic vineyards ie Chenin Blanc.
A good tasting, could be interesting to follow up at a later date to follow the development of organic wines.
Interesting that only a week after Jono Hamlet spoke at our October meeting the item included on this site ‘In the News – Oct 2014‘ appeared in the Dominion Post. Clearly organic production is getting increasing attention. See Organic Vineyards & Wineries.
Looking forward our December dinner at Strawberry Fare, and a great price has been negotiated.
Download the payment advice form for the November and December events. Either pay online or bring the form with you when you come to the November tasting.
We are anticipating the usual strong support for these events.
Venue: Johnsonville Community Centre Hall, 30 Moorefield Rd, Johnsonville, Wellington 6037 – Directions.
Cost: Members $12 Guests $16
Presenter: Jonathan (Jono) Hamlet, Manager and Viticulturist, Joseph Soler Vineyard
Details: Villa Maria Estate Viticulturist Jono Hamlet presented a range of VM’s organic range of wines including:
2011 Private Bin Organic Gewürztraminer
2013 Private Bin Organic Merlot
2013 Cellar Selection Organic Sauvignon Blanc
2013 Cellar Selection Organic Merlot
2012 Single Vineyard Ihumatao Organic Verdelho
2013 Single Vineyard Templar Sauvignon Blanc
We were also be treated to some more interesting varieties from some of the 15 varieties of ‘barrel samples’ produced across the Hawkes Bay. We won’t be tasting them all on the night but these will provide us with an interesting wine experience.
A bit about Jono
Jono plays an integral part in managing Villa Maria’s 65 hectare Joseph Soler Vineyard in the Hawkes Bay, 21 hectares of which are fully certified with BioGro. His role involves the challenge of managing the vineyards organically, while meeting the economic and quality parameters set out by the company and industry.
The Joseph Soler Vineyard currently produces 15 grape varieties and supplies to all three company wineries, Villa Maria Estate (Auckland), Vidal (Hawkes Bay), and Esk Valley (Hawkes Bay).
Over the next five to seven years, Jonathan will take the lead role in bringing the entire Joseph Soler Vineyard (44 hectares remaining) into organic production.
Seeing the opportunities in viticulture, he spent several years growing grapes on Waiheke Island before migrating south to the Hawkes Bay, to work for CJ Pask and Ngatarawa wineries. He was later employed by Villa Maria to manage the organic vineyard, Joseph Soler.
Jono is the vice president of the NZ Organic Winegrowers Association.
Jono’s roadshow show was a polished display of art, chemistry, showmanship combined with facts and superb organic wines.
What was of great interest was the breadth of Jono’s knowledge of viticulture, winemaking and the impacts and trends he is apart of at Villa Maria. This includes moving the Joseph Soler Vineyard from a traditional vineyard to organic, about 5% of total Villa Maria wine production, and the biodynamic trends Villa Maria have set in the wine industry.
Passionate about his role at Villa Maria, Jono expressed the impact that terroir has on vine growth and took his time in explaining in some detail how this has impacted on the various Villa Maria vineyards in all wine growing regions of New Zealand.
The wines selected for the night showcased a small proportion of Villa Maria’s stable of wines. The quaffer, Gewürztraminer, was fairly typical of the varietal. The two Sauvignon Blancs again typical except the Templar very refined and is a likable type for those not as passionate about Sauv’s as some. Villa Maria is one of only a few vineyards to produce Verdelho in New Zealand. Another vineyard is Esk Valley, one of Villa Maria’s other brands.
Jono then produced two barrel samples, a Chenin Blanc and a Merlot, which were both unfined and cloudy. For many members it was their first taste of barrel samples and a great way to understand the development of wine from barrel to bottle to glass to lips. A unique and a great touch to the night. The night wasn’t finished there.
From Jono’s box of tricks he produced a beautiful Chenin Blanc sticky. Superb considering where it came from. After a wet summer in 2012 left the Chenin Blanc underdeveloped Jono left the grapes on the vine until May. By this time there was not a lot left to the grapes but wow what depth of flavour. Shame it was in such a small amount.
Thanks Jono and Villa Maria.
Want to find more about Villa Maria? Have a look at the playlist.
The presenter for this Villa Maria tasting will be Jonathan (Jono) Hamlet of the Joseph Solar Vineyard (manager and viticulturist) in Hawkes Bay – he manages the organics programme for V M nationwide, and this tasting will concentrate on their organic portfolio. Amongst other achievements, Jono is the vice president of the NZ Organic Winegrowers Association. More detail next month.
On offer will be a Gewürztraminer quaffer, then two wines from the Private Bin range, two Cellar Selections and two single vineyard wines, all organic offerings. In order to show some more ‘interesting’ varieties, Villa Maria will arrange for some barrel samples of wines produced from grapes from their organic vineyards i.e. Chenin Blanc. They have over 15 varieties planted in their Hawkes Bay organic vineyard alone so this shouldn’t be a problem!