As a reader of Cuisine from issue #1, I’ve always followed the results of all of their tastings with interest, as the judging panels are composed of top wine assessors and the results are widely disseminated to a broad readership. I find the results very sound and can be insightful, usually agreeing whole-heartedly with them, and one can deduce trends in the judging process as well as gain perceptions on the market place from the results. Occasionally, differing thoughts from what’s published in the magazine arise, but that is healthy.
However, I’ve been somewhat disappointed with the amount of content and lack of diversity of topics in the wine section of the magazine over the past few years, also finding the comprehensiveness and thus authoritative nature of Cuisine tastings diminishing. Discussing this with the Cuisine staff, I’ve come to understand the reasons behind this, based on limited space and the editorial prerequisite to publish full descriptive reviews of the top-rated wines, of which the numbers are continually growing. Cuisine has established an on-line presence at www.cuisinewine.co.nz to solve the issues, and I recommend readers to sign up for the electronic newsletters and to visit the site regularly for a better read. I suppose, this begs the questions: Why buy the magazine anymore? When will Cuisine institute a fee or subscription to view it on-line?
The Results of the Tastings
The annual results of Cuisine magazine’s tastings of Sparkling Wine and New Zealand Pinot Noir are always timely to provide advice for wine buyers for the holiday and festive season, these styles of wine being particularly popular and in demand at this time of year. In the latest issue of Cuisine, Issue 161, November 2013, the results are published for the categories of ‘Sparkling Wine’, ‘Champagne Under $100’, ‘Champagne Over $100’, plus ‘N.Z. Pinot Noir’. I find myself concurring with the findings. I summarise the results below, and recommend you visit www.cuisinewine.co.nz to see the full results.
Guest writer Ralph Kyte-Powell notes the continued advances made by New Zealand wines in this category and the quality achieved in a short time, with panel leader John Belsham mentioning the elegance seen in today’s wines, and the strength of the Marlborough region with the style. Along with Eveline Fraser and Andrew Parkinson, Belsham and Kyte-Powell found six 5-star and four 4 ½ -star wines from 85 judged. These were, in order: Deutz ‘Marlborough Cuvee’ Brut NV, Nautilus ‘Cuvee Marlborough’ Brut NV, Daniel Le Brun Rosé NV, Hunters ‘Miru Miru’ NV and Twin Islands Chardonnay/Pinot Noir ‘Cuvee Brut’.
From these, the Hunters ‘Miru Miru’ and Twin Islands were listed among the ‘Best Buys’. In the ‘Top 10’, there were the Mojo Chardonnay/Pinot Noir ‘Brut Cuvee’ NV from Australia and the Roederer Estate Anderson Valley Brut NV, to give some international flavour. The top wines have regularly featured in the results over the years.
Champagne Under $100
This was a very consistently strong class, with 21 wines being rated 4 ½ -stars and above from 34 assessed. Eveline Fraser noted their greater consistency over the New World wines, and that they had “another dimension”. The ten 5-star wines were: Charles Heidsieck ‘Brut Reserve’ NV, J. de Telmont ‘Grande Reserve’ Brut NV, Veuve Clicquot Rosé Brut NV, Piper Heidieck ‘Cuvee Brut’ NV, Ayala ‘Brut Majeur’ NV, Veuve Clicquot ‘Yellow Label’ Brut NV, Moet & Chandon ‘Rosé Imperial’ Brut NV, Pol Roger Brut Reserve NV, Laurent Perrier Brut and H. Lanvin & Fils Brut NV, the last wine in the ‘Best Buys’ category.
Champagne Over $100
The panel were extremely impressed with the 16 wines judged in this category, Kyte-Powell writing the quality was “almost indescribable”, saying these “are some of the greatest wines in the world”, and that it was a privilege to taste them. There were 12 wines judged at 5-stars. The ‘Top 10’ were, in order: Veuve Clicquot Vintage Rosé Brut 2004, Taittinger ‘Comtes de Champagne’ Blanc de Blancs Brut 2004, Moet & Chandon ‘Grand Vintage’ Rosé Brut 2002, Dom Perignon Vintage 2004, Taittinger ‘Les Folies de la Marquetterie’ Brut NV, Taittinger ‘Prelude’ Grands Crus Brut NV, Bollinger ‘Special Cuvee’ Brut NV, Ayala Rosé Majeur’ Brut NV, Bollinger Rosé Brut NV and Krug ‘Grande Cuvee’ Brut NV.
The other 5-star wines were Bollinger ‘Grande Annee’ Brut 2004 and Bollinger ‘La Grande Annee Rosé‘ Brut 2004. Notable for me is the high inclusion of rosé wines, indicating how highly this category is regarded by the Champenois. Taittinger gained three places in the ‘Top 10’ and Bollinger three places in the twelve 5-star wines.
New Zealand Pinot Noir
A very large number of wines – 263 – were judged by the Cuisine panel of John Belsham, Sophie Otton, Nadine Cross and John Saker. In assessing the wines, Belsham looked for elegant wines that showed more than just New Zealand varietal character, Cross for wines that reflected “site and place” and Otton for wines with “nuances that aren’t just about the fruit”. There were 71 wines awarded 4-star and above, with Cuisine saying 13 wines were rated 5-star, though I could only see 12 published as such.
The ‘Top 10’ were in order: Brennan Central Otago 2009, Saint Clair ‘Pioneer Block 14 – Doctor’s Creek’ 2012, Saint Clair ‘Omaka Reserve’ 2012, Lawson’s Dry Hills ‘Reserve’ 2012, Amisfield ‘RKV’ 2008, SOHO ‘McQueen’ 2012, Te Tera 2012, Dashwood 2012, The Ned 2012 and Rockburn Central Otago 2011.
The Brennan wines have been achieving consistent success in judgings recently and the label is one that is clearly aiming to join the leaders in the country. Of the ‘Top 10’, five of the wines were from Marlborough. There is still a feeling that Marlborough has yet to prove itself as a region growing Pinot Noir, and this result will add to the need for people to revise that impression. I have seem wines that rank among the country’s best, and consistently so for well over a decade. Another point to note is that five of the ‘Top 10’ and seven of the 5-star wines were included in the ‘Best Buys’, indicating the affordability and accessibility of top Pinot Noir wines.
My only reservation is to question: Is current judging rewarding balance, harmony and accessibility at the expense of wines with the firmness and reserved nature that is inherent in many wines with the potential to age well and develop real complexity? While the former traits are absolutely essential for top wine, especially for recommending to consumers, can the expression of firmness depth and drive, as well as greater inputs such as oak and whole cluster to match more concentrated fruit be appreciated more? Most Pinot Noir producers include these aspects as necessary for their wines of top aspiration. Without knowing the complete list of wines judged, this is difficult to answer.