New Zealand wine could have no finer flag-bearer than Cloudy Bay. Under Kevin Judd’s guidance, the label has become representative of the best that New Zealand produces, and in particular Sauvignon Blanc. Changes have occurred, with the luxury goods conglomerate Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy taking ownership along with sister operation Cape Mentelle, in 2003. Since then, founding winemaker Kevin Judd has gone on to start his own venture. The wine critics’ and wine lovers’ knives came out with cutting comments that Cloudy Bay was doomed to corporate commodity production, but that has not turned out to be the case.
Credit must be given to the heads of LVMH in recognising that it isn’t wise to fix what isn’t broken. One just needs to look at how fellow stablemate Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne has fared under the ownership to realise that prosperity can continue and grow with change. Like the Champagne model, Cloudy Bay has put value on finesse. Many wine enthusiasts are surprised to find that the more expensive Champagne ‘prestige cuvees’ are actually more subtle and more refined than the regular NV bottlings. The analogy applies to Cloudy Bay’s wines – they have always shown refinement rather that loudness, and under the Moet Hennessy umbrella, this has been emphasised.
A tasting of the current Cloudy Bay range with winemaker Tim Heath certainly demonstrated the quality and refined style of the wines, making them excellent ambassadors for this country. First up were the two ‘Pelorus’ Methode Traditionnelle wines. The ‘Pelorus’ NV as usual highlighting delicacy, florals and elegance with subtle, but definite bready autolysis. Around 70% of the blend is Chardonnay, and it shows. At the other end of the spectrum is the ‘Pelorus’ Vintage 2006, 60% Pinot Noir with 36 months on lees, and a wine of wonderful depth, concentration and flavour layering, yet so fine in texture. Simply a stunner. The Sauvignon Blanc wines behaved the same way, the Sauvignon Blanc 2010 pristine and just starting to show some secondary notes, but backed by racy acidity. This will keep. The ‘Te Koko’ Sauvignon 2007 had compelling flavours of nectarines, spices, smoke. Funky for sure, but done with sensibility and style. Showing the elegance of the vintage was the Chardonnay 2008. Still warm, possessing real interest and quite restrained, but everything in proportion. Marlborough producers are allowing the citrus purity of the region’s Chardonnay shine, and this shows it well
The aromatic varietals came later into the Cloudy Bay range, but they fit in well, and allow the winemakers’ individuality to show a little more. The Riesling 2006 reminded me of the Clare Valley, toasty and very crisp, the 7 g/L rs thankfully preventing the dry austerity that many find difficult in the Aussie versions. Tim is from Australia, so he had home on the mind when he made it? The Pinot Gris 2008 was a delight, avoiding the heat, phenolics and excesses that mar many examples. And the Gewurztraminer 2007 a truly refined style without any blowsiness or bitterness. This has an understated concentration and excellent acid balance that will help it age well.
Pinot Noir must be the next passion for Cloudy Bay, but I suspect it is their primary passion in their heart of hearts. The Pinot Noir 2009 showing well-ripened dark fruits, good extract and structure and even a little alcoholic warmth. It’s as good as anything from 2009 in Marlborough. Up a notch will be the Pinot Noir 2010, a sample of finished wine, but not yet bottled. Brighter, more vibrant, deeper fruit and concentration, yet so slippery and easy to drink. This will be a star for Cloudy Bay, and I’ll be on the lookout for it. Finishing the tasting was the Late Harvest Riesling 2006, a taste of opulence that is now approaching its zenith. Honied flowers, with marmalade and beautiful botrytis, all just in harmony and seamless. Drinking well now and will do so on its plateau for another 5 years for sure.