Tasting Reviews

Dashwood 2017 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

It’s always fun and educational to catch up with Stu Marfell, winemaker of Vavasour Wines, Awatere Valley, Marlborough. Over the years we’ve covered a lot of ground about the wine industry. Probably the foremost was the purchase of Vavasour and associated labels by the Foley Family Wine group in 2009, and my conclusions continue to grow in positivity as I see the quality of the Vavasour wines growing higher and the dedication of the staff to their roles. Stu attributes a considerable amount of this progress to the work of Alastair Maling MW, and indeed, the similar improvements at Grove Mill, Te Kairanga and Martinborough Vineyard are an indication of his over-arching role, but there’s no denying that as far as Vavsour and Marlborough are concerned, it’s the expertise and experience of Stu Marfell who has been with the company since 2002.

Stu Marfell - Vavasour

Stu Marfell in for a Brief Visit in Wellington
Stu Marfell called in to visit me in Wellington, to catch up on the latest news. Top of the list was the success and very high quality of the recent 2018 harvest. Stu acknowledged that strangely’ he” like me had come across people with the notion that 2018 was a very poor vintage. The opposite is the case, and for Stu and his team at Vavasour and Grove Mill in Marlborough, the wines appear to be of very high quality, being aromatic and vibrant, the Sauvignon Blancs maybe in the more approachable style. The fruit was well-ripened, in fact across most of the varieties, and around the same time, such that it "came in at a rush”. It was crucial to manage the picking around the rain events, but the experience, especially from 2017 meant this was achieved successfully.

Stu’s visit to Wellington was also to offer to me to chance to taste the brand new 2017 Dashwood Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. These wines, especially the Pinot Noir follow on from the very successful 2016 vintage, the Dashwood Pinot Noir 2016 winning a gold medal, the Champion Pinot Noir and Reserve Wine of the Show trophies at the 2017 Air New Zealand Wine Awards. This result has been contentious for many people, but that probably shows a lack of full understanding of how the wine show judging system works. Stu, who is a current senior wine show judge, and I, having judged in show competitions from 1988 to 2008 discussed the result, and it was good to get agreement of the various aspects of the awards for this wine.

Show Judging
One must understand that in show judging, one of the aspects operating is that judges are endorsing various styles of wines from the same variety or category. We have seen on many occasions, a number of ‘second label’ Pinot Noir (and other varieties of) wines, such as Martinborough Vineyards ‘Te Tera’, and Palliser Estate’s ‘Pencarrow’ wine take the top award, while the ‘premium’ label hasn’t figured as highly. This is the result of judges rewarding wines for their sweet and ripe fruit, balanced structure, elegance, accessibility and deliciousness. In the same vein, judges could highly award a fuller, more complex layered, well-structured, powerful and ageworthy wine if it ticks all the boxes including the aspect of balance. In essence, wines are judged on how they show now, and not so much for potential. Clearly, as wine enthusiasts, if we compare the accessible wine with the serious wine, seriousness usually wins out. 

Stu Marfell is fully aware of this process, and any critic of the Dashwood Pinot Noir result should be aware that Stu and Vavasour make a range of Pinot Noirs of different aspirational levels. The Dashwood is unashamedly made to be easy to drink, without any harsh edges, and showing good varietal characteristics, as well as regionality to a degree. The Vavasour Pinot Noir is a considerable step up seriousness, with riper fruit, more of it, layers of complexing inputs, and good structure to enable aging, as well as positively demonstrating region of origin. The top of the line ‘Felix’s Vineyard’ Pinot Noir is a further step up. More depth and intense fruit (usually), greater layers of complexity, the structure to age well, and the wine should be expressive of site as well as variety. Comparing all three wines at the same age will no doubt mean most drinkers will prefer the Dashwood for the present.

The separation of fruit and winemaking style imposed by Stu and his team are geared at producing these wines of different styles. As a winemaker, and as a critic, both Stu and I would rate the ‘Felix’s Vineyard’ wine superior. The winemakers’ approach and that of the critics’ are similar in that the level of aspiration for the wine is a critical criterion, and not just achieving it is enough. As far as the 2016 Dashwood Pinot Noir receiving the top awards, of course Stu and the Vavasour team must accept them gracefully.

The Dashwood 2017 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
Stu Marfell put these two wines up for tasting. It is timely to remember that 2017 was one of the most challenging in Marlborough, will cool temperatures, low heat accumulation and persistent rain. Those producers in charge of their viticulture, and with their own wineries had the resource to manage picking decisions based on the weather and its predicted behaviour. The wines don’t have the richness, ripeness and dimension of the 2016s, but there have been some notable releases. One must be aware of the ‘trickle down effect’ where fruit destined for top end labels can end up in the lower tiers. There is certainly an element of this in 2017. Here are my notes on the Dashwood Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines. They are deliciously accessible with clean and ripened fruit, subtle interest and inputs, with absolutely no harsh edges, and show good balance and style. They do all that is expected of them to do, and then some more. A job well-done. www.dashwoodwine.co.nz

Dashwood Marlborough Chardonnay 2017
Bright straw-yellow with some pale gold hues, lighter on the edge. The nose is somewhat soft and youthfully unformed at this stage with muted white and yellow stonefruits, citrus fruit and flinty lees elements and a touch of oak. This has a slight graininess and ‘textural’ feel to the aromatics. Dry and medium bodied, the palate offers sweet and luscious stonefruit and tropical fruit flavours with good richness. This is up-front and vibrant, and the flavours and mouthfeel are enlivened by refreshing acidity. The mouthfeel is sweet and smooth-flowing, with very fine phenolic textures and a creaminess from the oak work and MLF. The flavours carry to a lingering finish. Somewhat unformed on the nose, this Chardonnay is sweetly fruited with richness and vibrancy, and subtle oak and MLF creaminess making it a delicious, accessible wine. Match with most white meat dishes over the next 3+ years. Approx. 70% Wairau and 30% Awatere Valley fruit, fermented in stainless-steel with 30% in barrel to 13.0% alc., the oak component aged 10 months in barrel, a portion new, the wine undergoing batonnage and approx. 90% MLF. 17.0+/20 Jun 2018 RRP $15.99

Dashwood Marlborough Pinot Noir 2017
Lighter, even, ruby-red colour with slight purple hues, paler edged. The nose is elegantly presented, quite taut and softly fresh, with aromas of red cherry fruit and a hint of boysenberries, along with refreshing red florals, and hints of fresh herbs. The aromatics are a little restrained, but well-interwoven and integrated. Medium-full bodied, the palate possesses bright fruit flavours of red cherries and berryftuit, again with a touch of boysenberries, entwined with dark and fresh herbs. This is bright and vibrant, the fruit forming a slender, but proportioned core. The tannin extraction is light and supple, and fresh acidity enhances the sweet fruitiness. This has softness and balance. A lighter Pinot Noir to serve with antipasto, pasta and poultry over the next 3 years. A blend of approx. 60% Wairau and 40% Awatere Valley fruit, with a high proportion from 17 Valley, fermented with approx. 10% whole bunches to 13.5% alc., 40% of the wine aged in barriques, the oaked component in barrel for 10 months. 16.5+/20 June 2018 RRP $20.99
Copyright © 2011 Raymond Chan Wine Reviews
Website by DataFlex | Design by Skinny