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Dry River 30th Release Celebration Dinner

By March 17, 2015No Comments
The New Zealand wine industry is beginning to show maturity. Our early ‘modern’ wine producers are reaching the 25 year milestone, which although is downright youthful compared with the centuries of winegrowing in Europe, is significant in the New World and especially New Zealand where we count the 1970s as our real beginnings. A number of our larger wine companies at this marker have lost their original form, growing and being absorbed into multi-national corporations. A good number have changed hands, and with it a change in direction and philosophy.

The iconic Martinborough producer Dry River has experienced a relatively recent change of ownership and indeed there have been new arrivals in staff, but the original aim of making limited quantities of highest quality Martinborough wine with the capability of ageing well, with style and complexity remains. There is a close association of incumbent winemaker Wilco Lam with founder Neil McCallum and consultant Ant Mackenzie, and the strict regimes of viticulture and established pathways of winemaker are still adhered to. I certainly see Dry River as one of the few early wineries of New Zealand continuing to achieve its goals and doing so successfully. My interaction with Dry River wines and the people behind them tells me there is real thought, desire and work in progressing the brand into the next 30 years. www.dryriver.co.nz

30 Year Tastings and Dinners
For their 30 year anniversary, Dry River held celebration dinners for their loyal mail order clientele and friends in Christchurch, Auckland and Wellington in early March, in conjunction with their Autumn Release tastings. The wines at the tastings continue the inimitable style as made over the three decades before. The new 2014 ‘Selection’ ‘Craighall’ Riesling and 2013 Pinot Noir are stars (click here to see my report and initial impressions). This is no surprise to followers of the label. However, the response to the dinners in each city surprised the Dry River team, being instant sell-outs. This is clearly an indication of the loyalty the wines, the people and the philosophy making the best wines possible has engendered.

My partner Sue and I were very pleased to be able to attend the dinner in Wellington, held at Hippopotamus Restaurant in The Museum Hotel. There were 60 people in attendance, with winemaker Wilco Lam, administrator Heather Gibbs and founder Neil McCallum enjoying the occasion. Wilco discussed the pioneering nature of Dry River in New Zealand’s wine industry and role in helping educate the consumer in drinking and cellaring wine. Over 30 years, Dry River has not only farmed the land, but grown relationships and a most valued following. Wilco asserted that the Dry River name was bigger than any one person, but paid tribute to Neil and Dawn McCallum, Heather Gibbs and former winemaker Poppy Hammond.

Following is the menu and wine list. Wilco chose wines which expressed the Dry River style, over what might be the very best vintages made. 2009 was a “crowd pleaser” of a vintage, with all varieties performing extremely well. 2013 is much the same. 2003 was a hotter year, with small yields, more difficult to manage viticulturally. 2011 had a warm start, but rain threat at the end was problematical. And 2004 was a light, cool year, initially dismissed as weak. The matching of the wines with the outstanding food of Laurent Loudeac was a key factor for the dinner, and it was very pleasing to see the combination lift both wine and dish, taking the wine especially beyond the realms of vintage performance. I offer my impressions of the wines and their interaction with the paired dishes. www.hippopotamus.co.nzwww.musuemhotel.co.nz

On Arrival
Dry River Viognier 2008: Clearly varietal and with sufficiently ripe, but the fruit faded resulting in a slender, crisp and tight style, ideal to serve as an aperitif. No undue aging or secondary development at all, just some nutty elements, and the alcohol drive apparent for some diners. The Viognier was surprisingly workable in the aperitif role.

Sake and plum cured salmon, basil cream, compressed watermelon, plum chutney and berry form
Dry River Sauvignon Blanc 2006: Sauvignon Blanc was one of the original planted varieties, with some vines ungrafted. The 2006 was the last vintage made. My glass showing some light gold and a little oxidation, with subtle earth and herbal notes, the wine with good concentration. Dry and finely textured, there’s still good acidity and freshness to the mouthfeel, showing stonefruits and herbs, maybe a little toast and tertiary earth, and certainly no green been or asparagus. Other diners’ glasses without the oxidation and more luscious. The subtlety of the wine was on par with that of the salmon dish, as was the acidity and crispness.

Saku tuna Niçoise salad with pea puree, confit new potato, white anchovies, cos lettuce and lemon dressing
Dry River ‘Craighall’ Riesling 2009: Bright, pale-straw-yellow with a hint of gold. The bouquet is very tight and refined, with excellent intensity of lime fruit melded with toast and minerals, near-chalky, but with a seamless integration. Certainly into its secondary phase. Dry to taste, this combines finesse with intensity. Limes, toast and minerals expressed with sleek purity. Very refined on the palate, the depth and cut are features, yet the wine is not razor-sharp or searing. The secondary complexities and flavours are bound with much more to unfold. A wonderful foil to the tuna with the crisp, mineral dryness to counter the tuna, potatoes and anchovies, but with the citrus parallel with the dressing.

Pan-seared snapper fillet, oven roasted Cloudy Bay clams, New Zealand scampi with spätzle and Homardine sauce
Dry River Chardonnay 2009: Brilliant pale-straw colour, still very fresh and youthful in appearance. The bouquet extremely elegant and fresh with white stonefruit aromas, a thread of nutty, mealy interest, unfolding subtle layers of toasty oak complexities. On palate, a wine of excellent linearity allied to intensity and detail. Poised, refreshing acidity and lovely tension and liveliness feature. The complex detail unveils gently. The snapper, clams and scampi dish was a favourite of the night for many attendees, including myself. The wine’s cut and finesse penetrating the seafood flavours and the roasting and cooking caramelisation matching the oak toasting of the wine. This was agreed to be a superb match.

Canterbury duck leg confit, tomme potatoes, “cassoulet style” white bean puree, and cranberry jus
Dry River Pinot Noir 2013 and Dry River Pinot Noir 2003: From recent tastings, I see the Pinot Noir 2013 as one of the best from Dry River. Very dark purple-red colour, the nose is redolent of ripe dark red berry and plum fruits, lifted with spices and violet florals. There’s density and depth, but an unformed primary purity at present. On palate showing richness and fruit sweetness, refined by aromatic lift. The wine has depth and freshness, and very soft, fine tannins. This has everything going for it, but still restrained and somewhat shy. A match in flavour intensity to the duck, and the tannins and acid balancing the duck fat. But the wine still a bit too primary to take the match beyond simple matching and ‘in the ballpark’ balance. Give the wine another 5+ years…

My experience of the 2003 Pinot Noirs from the Martinborough district have been most positive. This is one of the leaders with Ata Rangi and Escarpment ‘Kupe’ for sure. Black-red colour still, and youthful. The volume of aromatics is the highlight, with waves of savoury red and black fruits, complex herb and undergrowth nuances, but harmoniously integrated. In the elegant camp, rather than big and grunty, and this being very fine-grained. The fruit is sweet, savoury and succulent, with excellent acidity. The secondary development is very positive, but this has years ahead. Much greater food matching detail in the wine. If one was critical, the food could have had a more savoury edge, rather than being sweet. Nevertheless, texturally another excellent pairing. The duck dish was another treat.

Comte cheese with sweetcorn panacotta and popcorn cream
Dry River ‘Lovat’ Syrah 2011 and Dry River ‘Lovat’ Syrah 2004: The Syrah 2011 is a dark horse for sure, from a good, not great vintage. But it delivers great beauty. The darkest red, impenetrable black-red colour. The beauty of the aromatics is startling here. Ripe enough black berried fruits, with black pepper and spices, some white pepper lift, melded with florals and oak. The range of perfumes especially inviting one to sip. Does this have Viognier? Neil says it doesn’t need its inclusion. The palate reflects the nose, and the suppleness of the fine-grained tannins and perfect acidity making this seamless, silky and smooth in flow, carrying the vibrant, aromatically-charged flavours. For me a bit too strong for the cheese.

As mentioned, the Syrah 2004 from a weaker vintage. The Martinborough Pinot Noirs from this year have come into a lovely balance however, and are now very attractive. Similarly here. Still dark red in colour, more an elegant nose with reduced volume, showing pretty, savoury red fruits with dried herbs and undergrowth. Earth and white pepper, minerals even. Decidely sweet and juicy on palate, but light weight, easy, and loose in structure now. Fading away quietly. This was much more in tune with the cheese course.

Basil cream, fresh and marinated strawberry, crisp puff pastry, lemon sorbet and strawberry gel
Dry River Late Harvest Pinot Gris 1996: First bottle pale golden in colour. The bouquet and palate expression dumbed-down by TCA cork taint. Some honied stonefruits, but subdued. Attractive unctuousness with balanced freshness and tension. The second bottle more golden coloured. Oxidation showing, but lovely honey and caramel notes, with apricots, marmalade and toffee. Much broader and with richness. Maybe a bit brassy with its nutty, caramel and marmalade flavour. This has density, depth and the opulence for sure. Other diners’ glasses much better, and this was reportedly one of the best wines at the dinners in Christchurch and Auckland. Difficult to make an informed food matching comment.

Dry River’s mantra is “fine wine takes time”, and this was confirmed by the older wines served at the dinner. The wines remain youthful for quite some time, as could be seen with the 2009 whites especially. Their development is slow compared to many others. The restraint and shy style of youth gives way to rewards with bottle development, but even with time, the wines remain elegant.

Even in lesser years, the wines can hold very well. However, there are the issues of variability via the cork, with cork taint and oxidation being manifest. Although aging on cork has its benefits, my feeling is the consistency and avoidance of taint with screwcap closure will be more appreciated by a greater proportion of consumers.

The elegant style and complex detailing of the Dry River wines makes them particularly suited to fine cuisine. This is exactly what Neil and Dawn McCallum set out to create with Dry River. The aim is being continued by the new team. And clearly the styles of the wines are being understood and enjoyed by many people, as shown by the strong, loyal turnout at the 30th Release Celebration dinners.

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