The post-judging and pre-awards dinner tasting of the gold medal winners of the Air New Zealand Wine Awards is always a fun and eye-opening event. There, one can taste all the gold medal wines in one shot, to get an impression of the wines as a whole. It is really only an impression, rather than a full, in-depth analysis, but the advantage is the bigger picture and perspective. Often, there are the winemakers responsible for the wines attending, and certainly their peers are present, and listening to their comments is instructive and fascination. The trap is to not get too involved in discussions, as one will run out of time to see all the wines. If one is brave, you can make predictions as to which wines will win each class, or if really (foolishly?) courageous, one might make a guess as to the Champion Wine of the Show. I’m not that brave, but I’ll say what I liked in this article, and they’re not to be construed as my guesses as winners, but seen as my personal preferences. The trophies will be announced tonight anyway, and we’ll see what the judges as a collective group thought. I’ll post those results soon… www.airnzwineawards.co.nz
Impressions from the Classes
There were 3 gold medals awarded, of different styles. I enjoyed the Palliser Methode Traditionnelle 2007 for its overall complexity and autolytic interest. The Lindauer ‘Classic’ Rosé NV was a particularly ‘clever’ wine, showing how character can be built into a wine, without the wine costing a lot of money…
Greater numbers of golds in the past suggested much effort by growers and makers, but this time only 2 golds, and both strong examples, my pick going to the Waimea 2012 for its richness. But the Lawsons Dry Hills 2010 up there too. Here I am, seduced by the sugar.
With 9 golds, a good showing. Always a much more difficult category to appreciate due to the less expressive fruit characters. All showing fruit interest and good weight with textures. Some showed funkier notes, making them wines with a difference. The Spy Valley 2012 had weight, soft textures and power. And sugar carrying things a little. Seduced by the sugar again?
A good showing with 7 golds. I’d like to think that divergent styles of the same variety can be recognised, and these wines showed it was done so. The purity of lime and lemon of the West Brook Marlborough 2011 was a standout, as was the more decadent, slightly honied, (botrytis affected?) style of the Maude ‘Mt Maude Vineyard – East Block’ 2012. The West Brook now just showing a little toastiness, and beautifully so. These two stood apart due to their phenolic finesse, a critical aspect with the variety for me.
You’d expect this to be the class with the most golds, due to sheer numbers of wines entered, and our industry’s expertise in handling the variety. 17 golds show Marlborough’s success in 2012. Interestingly, it’s a tussle between methoxypyrazine and thiol expression. I’m happy with both, as long as the latter has fruit to match. But the thiol-expressive wines have taken a hammering at shows of late. Unfairly so? Maybe, as this year’s winners were lighter on the pungent, passionfruity ground. However, it was satisfying to see a range awarded, from the individual, thiolly Matua Valley ‘Paretai’ 2012, the classical Rapaura Springs ‘Reserve’ 2012, and the wood-influenced Tohu ‘Mugwi Reserve’ 2011.
This would have to be the winning variety or class, with 15 golds. The older Chardonnays were showing the heavier side of the flinty complex reduction character. Too much in most cases for me, having been trained in my early days to see such things as a fault. Clearly, tolerance has set in, and the flintiness is now interpreted as complexity. I must get with it, and be more modern! Having said that, the younger 2010 and 2011 wines handled the reductive issue with great sensitivity. The Villa Maria group has done sensationally well, and their commonality was thr fruit sweetness to match the reduction, and the expression of region, with the Ihumatao (Auckland), Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough wines tasting as of their region of origin. The ‘Reserve’ Hawke’s Bay 2011 looked extremely good, as did the Vidal ‘Legacy’ 2011. As outsiders, the Saint Clair ‘Pioneer Block 10 – Twin Hills’ 2011 and Auntsfield ‘Single Vineyard’ 2011 took my fancy too with their distinctive personalities.
Only one gold, and I would have expected a couple more. You can’t argue with the Villa Maria ‘SV – Omahu Gravels’ 2010, rich in the more worked style.
What a seductively delectable group theses were. 6 golds and any of them will do me. I felt the gentle and harmonious nature of the Greyston ‘Basket Star’ Waipara Riesling 2011 and the exotically layered Villa Maria ‘Reserve’ Marlborough Noble Riesling Botrytis Selection 2011 were marginally more appealing.
21 golds and the most awarded to any one class. Amazingly diverse in style, and a little more variable in quality to me as a group. Some disappointed a little, but that’s personal preferences and expectations talking. I could see the winemaker artefact, and intriguing nuances, from site, winery and man playing their part here. The Central Otago wines far more up-front in fruitiness, and the Marlborough wines quietly sneak up, but get you in the end. It’s all about the balance of fruit sweetness, delicacy, finesse of texture and layers of interest, and Pinot Noir from either of these two regions (and others) can have it. The Ara ‘Resolute’ 2011, Saint Clair ‘Pioneer Block 14 Doctor’s Creek’ 2011 and Villa Maria ‘Cellar Selection’ 2010 were top of their game for that region. From Central Otago, the Domain Road 2011, Wooing Tree 2011 (looking considerably better than when I reviewed it last month), and Grasshopper Rock 2010 were the Central Otago stars. There’s been a lot of media talk about the Grasshopper Rock, and I can see why. It’s a complete wine.
Between the two classes, only 4 golds. All of them sensational. It makes me wonder: Are we being too hard on these styles of wines. I’m sure some of the silvers should be gold? After all, I thought some of the golden Pinot Noirs were lucky ones, but such is the nature of panels and individual judges expressing their opinions and preferences, and the results of consensus decision making. The Villa Maria ‘Reserve’ Hawke’s Bay Merlot 2010 the most understated, the Villa Maria ‘Reserve’ Hawke’s Bay Cabernet/Merlot 2010 a powerhouse of grunt, and the Esk Valley ‘Winemakers Reserve’ Merlot/Malbec/Cabernet 2009 the most complex, layered and interesting. All were from the Gimblett Gravels, which speaks volumes.
This is Pinot Noir taken up a notch in all departments then supercharged and given an extra turbo again. But underneath it all, the wines show origin and winemaker hand clearly. Fascinating to see the more opulent Villa Maria ‘Reserve’ 2009 versus the tightly packed Villa Maria ‘Reserve’ 2010. But the Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels 2011 ticked my boxes for class and purity. For exotic oaking and super-spiced flavours, the Passage Rock ‘Reserve’ Waiheke Island 2010 was the stand-out. A strong set of 8 golds.
There were 4 golds shown. The Coopers Creek ‘SV Bell-Ringer’ Gisborne Albarino 2012 has such a pleasing balance. It’s ‘fall in love’ stuff. The Waimea Gruner Veltliner 2012 the strongest yet of this variety in N.Z., a tad too hot? And the Villa Maria ‘Cellar Selection’ Hawke’s Bay Grenache 2010 has put on so much weight in six months. Looking impressive. And the perennial favourite, the Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Tempranillo 2010, as good as ever, and probably more refined. These could be a foretaste of future stars and should be taken notice of.
Thanks to New Zealand Winegrowers for putting this tasting on. It is extremely well organised and a wonderful opportunity to see some of the best wines in the country. And ‘well-done’ to Chairman of Judges, Michael Brajkovich MW and his team in doing the hard yards in finding these wines.