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Featured Reviews

Dry River 2017 Spring Releases

20 September,2017
At the start of the month, Dry River held their Spring Release tasting along with a Re-corking Clinic at the winery in Martinborough. I attended the event, and saw the re-corking process and had a quick tasting of the wines (click here to see my report). Winemaker Wilco Lam sends the wines of each release to me for a more detailed look as ‘Feature Reviews’, so that I can taste the wines in more controlled conditions. My comments and scores at the Release tasting don’t differ too much to what I finally end up with as ’Feature Reviews’ but I do see more detail, and occasionally make minor adjustments, which can make a difference in understanding the wines properly.

The 2017 Spring Release was composed of only three wines, but they are significant ones. The 2016 Chardonnay is the beginning of Wilco’s intent to build in more texture and complexity in a style that has been historically lighter, more floral/aromatic and more delicate. This older style had beauty, but Wilco believes the Chardonnay consumer is looking for greater interest and layers in the wine. The more complex, but elegant Chardonnay styles that are prevalent today seem to be entwined with the return to favour of the variety.

Tempranillo is the newest variety for Dry River, the vines in the ‘Craighall’ vineyard first yielding a commercial crop in 2011. The initial bottlings have varied widely in style, reflecting the diverse growing seasons. The 2015 shows the potential, as indicated in the 2013 wine, also from a favourable year, that this variety has, in a cooler climate than its Spanish homeland.

Wilco and consultant Ant Mackenzie created a new style ‘Craighall’ Riesling with the 2014 vintage by combining a drier ferment with a sweeter, late-harvest component, making the ‘Selection Riesling’. The wine saw immediate acceptance. The 2017 comes from a more challenging vintage, with considerably more botrytis. Is it true to the style as originally created? My reviews for the three wines follow.


Dry River Martinborough Chardonnay 2016

Chardonnay from New Zealand – Wairarapa & Wellington


Bright, light golden-hued straw-yellow colour, lighter on the edge. The nose is soft and gently voluminous with layered aromas of white and yellow stonefruits harmoniously melded with layers of subtle creamy barrel-ferment with nutty lees and oak notes. The aromatics gently build in depth with aeration. Medium-full bodied, the palate is firmly concentrated flavours of white and yellow stonefruits integrated with creamy barrel-ferment, nutty lees and oak elements. The mouthfeel is rounded but balanced by fresh, lacy acidity that enlivens the flavours, providing good linearity. The wine carries to a long, lingering, nuanced finish. This is an elegantly concentrated, fresh Chardonnay with subtle richness, weight and depth, and complexing nuances of barrel-ferment, nutty lees and oak. Match with seafood, poultry and pork over the next 5+ years. Mendoza clone fruit from 20 y.o. vines in the ‘Craighall’ vineyard and 30 y.o. vines from the Dry River Estate’, indigenous yeast barrel-fermented to 13.5% alc., the aged 15 months in 15% new French oak barrels with light batonnage, avoiding MLF. 18.5+/20 Sep 2017 RRP $55.00

Wilco has signalled his intent to introduce more complexity into this wine, moving it away from the lighter, more pure and floral style, which still has a sense of beauty, into a wine of greater richness, weight and interest. I believe he is succeeding.
Even, light straw-yellow colour with some depth. The nose is refined with a firm and elegant concentration, showing lovely melded aromas of stonefruit and citrus fruit with complexing nutty lees and oak, along with creamy barrel-ferment elements. There is still some pure white florality to the aromatics. Stylishly rich on the palate, but retaining elegance, the flavours of stonefruits and nuts show complexing savoury nuances. The mouthfeel is soft and refined, and the wine flows positively with the acidity providing energy. Lovely nutty lees nuances show here. A wine that has more presence and a complete roundness. Barrel fermented to 13.5% alc., the wine spending 15 months on lees. 19.0-/20 Sep 2017 RRP $55.00

Dry River ‘Craighall’ Martinborough Tempranillo 2015

Tempranillo from New Zealand – Wairarapa & Wellington


Dark, deep, black-red colour with purple hues, near impenetrable and youthful in appearance. The nose is elegantly concentrated and tightly bound with sweet and savoury aromas of dark raspberries and black berried fruits along with nuances of dark herbs, nutty oak and a little smoke. The aromatics blossom to reveal dark-red florals with aeration. Medium-bodied, the palate has sweetly rich and vibrant fruit flavours of dark raspberries, blackberries and black cherries, along with savoury spice notes, and fragrant red florals. The mouthfeel is finely-textured with sinewy tannins, and enlivened by fresh, lacy acidity. This has good underlying power and drive, and the flavours carry to a juicy, refreshing, dark-red fruited finish. This is a vibrant and concentrated, sweet-fruited Tempranillo with flavours of dark raspberries and black fruits on a fresh, sinewy-textured palate. Match with pork, lamb and beef dishes, and Middle Eastern fare over the next 6-8 years. Fruit from the ‘Craighall’ vineyard, destemmed and indigenous yeast fermented to 13.0% alc., the wine aged 18 months in seasoned oak. 18.5+/20 Sep 2017 RRP $59.00

A wine that has reflected the wildly different growing seasons since its first commercial release with the 2011 vintage. One must remember that Martinborough is a relatively cool region to grow the variety. This 2015 is the best release to date, but it is coming before the 2014. The 2014 must be something very special.
Dark, deep ruby-red colour with slight purple hues, youthful in appearance. The nose has excellent depth and intensity, with ripe, aromatic black berried fruits with dark raspberry undertones, unfolding classical spice aromas. This has a degree of florality. A little pepper emerges followed by sweet oak elements. Medium to medium-full bodied, the palate features ripe black berried fruits with dark raspberries and spices. This is sweet and lush, the vibrancy enhanced by fresh acidity. A little herbal nuance along with the piquant acidity is proof of the cooler growing region. The tannin extraction and structure is very fine, but essentially firm, and the wine has a sinewy line leasing to a long, sustained finish. This will keep well, say 7-9 years. Fermented to 12.5% alc., the wine aged 18 months in barrel. 18.5+/20 Sep 2017 RRP $59.00

Dry River ‘Craighall’ ‘Selection’ Martinborough Riesling 2017

Sweet Wine from New Zealand – Wairarapa & Wellington

Bright straw-yellow colour with lemon-gold hues, lighter on the rim. The nose is finely concentrated with an amalgam of musk and talc botrytis, melded with honied notes, savoury marmalade, with lime and lemon fruit and exotic florals. Sweet to taste and light-bodied, the palate is slender in proportion with a tight core of musk and talc flavours, unfolding honey, tangerine and lime, and exotic floral notes. The heart of the wine is taut with good linearity, the wine carried by fine phenolic textures and fresh acidity leading to a drier finish of exotic florals and honey. This is an elegantly presented sweet Riesling with talc and musk botrytis, honied and exotic citrus and floral notes on a fine, textural palate. Serve as an aperitif, with Asian cuisine or fruit desserts over the next 4+ years. A blend of two picks, the fruit with approx. 80% botrytis and considerable shrivel, soaked on skins for 12 hours, and fermented in tank to 10.0% alc. and 95 g/L RS, pH 2.9 and TA 9.8 g/L. 18.5+/20 Sep 2017 RRP $59.00

This is a new style developed following Neil McCallum’s departure, and originally involved blending a later harvest pick with the normal pick. 2017 was a problematic growing season, with ripeness an issue and ever-threatening rain events with eventual botrytis. This shows the more slender nature of the 2017 vintage wines, but has considerable flavour.
Straw-yellow colour with slight golden hues and some depth. The nose is very elegant and tightly bound, quite slender in expression, but with a concentrated core of marmalade, musk and talc, unfolding fragrant yellow florals and a core of lime and lemon fruit. The aromatics are harmonious and the componentry just flows into each other. Very sweet and luscious, the palate has intense flavours of honey and musk, clearly botrytis expressive, with exotic florals, tangerines and lemons. The palate is tight and bound, and distinctly fresh and crisp. The sugar sweetness is noticeable, as is the balancing acid cut. The wine is guided by a fine-textured underlying phenolic line that is part and parcel with botrytised fruit work. A work of effort rather than art. High botrytis and shrivel, fermented to 10.0% alc. and c.95 g/L RS, TA 9.8 g/L and pH 2.9. 18.5+/20 Sep 2017 RRP $59.00
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