Raymond Chan Wine Reviews operates as part of ‘Wine2Trade’, my partner Sue Davies’ wine distribution business. We keep the two operations separate and to account for any conflict of interest in my assessing the wines from her portfolio (click here to see), I have a disclaimer on any review stating the connection. Of course, I believe my reviews of the wines are as objective as they can be, and it may be a case of my rating and assessment subjectively being a little harder! I trust that readers see the reviews of the Wine2Trade wines as being as credible as any of the other reviews.
The Wine2Trade wines are not eligible for my ‘Winery of the Year’ award (click here to read about Te Whare Ra as my pick for 2014), so in some way of compensation, I have my annual selection of ‘Favourites from the Wine2Trade Portfolio’. Here, it’s about which wines from each of the wineries that appealed on a personal, drinking and enjoyment level. It’s a little biased to the styles that work for me. I’m lucky in that I have the opportunity of seeing many of the wines over time so I can gauge their true character. Also, I’m privy to new releases before they are available for the market. I take advantage of these factors in my selections. (Click here to see my favourites for 2013.) Here are my ‘Favourites of 2014 from the Wine2Trade Portfolio’. They are listed by the producer’s approximate geographical location from north to south.
Spade Oak – Gisborne
The depth and breadth of the Spade oak range of wines from Steve and Eileen Voysey continues to grow. Steve, while still consulting for Indevin, has busied himself with other ventures, such as the premium Ashwood Estate label and the Sunshine Brewery, but continues to surprise with his and Eileen’s own offerings. The top tier ‘Vigneron’ Petit Manseng 2013 and ‘Heart of Gold’ Albarino 2013 put Spade Oak among the innovators with emerging varieties. The ‘Voysey Pinot Gris 2013 has been a raging commercial success, demonstrating their understanding of the market.
But the wine that has taken my fancy is the Spade Oak ‘Voysey’ Gisborne Syrah 2012, the second bottling, still a 90% Syrah and 10% Viognier blend. There’s none of the first bottling left, but to remove any doubt over which one you might have, the second bottling is 13.5% alc. on the label, not 13.0%. And that reflects the nature of the wine, a touch richer and more structured, with the ability to go some distance. The extra oaking has enriched the aromatic, spicy, peppery fruit, and it’s just that bit more complete and really satisfying drinking. www.spadeoak.co.nz
Vynfields – Martinborough
Earlier this year, John Bell and Kaye McAulay handed over their beloved Vynfields to Harry and Zinder Guo, a young Wellington-based business couple, and their syndicate of family and friends, who are enamoured with the vineyard, house and wines. Marion Deimling and Kai Schubert continue as their winemakers, and Vynfields retains its certified BioGro organic and Demeter biodynamic status. We volunteered our services at Toast Martinborough again last month and we could see Harry and Zinder’s enthusiasm, so Vynfields is in good hands.
Working at Toast Martinborough the standout wine was the Vynfields ‘Bliss’ Martinborough Sparkling Riesling 2013. My initial rating of the wine of this new vintage was slightly lower than the previous years, as I felt it was a tad drier and a little less fruity. But I’ve realised I’ve been gravely mistaken in my approach with this wine, trying to appreciate it along Champagne lines. Wrong! It’s so very much like Prosecco, with its dry, apple-like aromas and flavours. The dryness is thirst-quenching and perfect anytime. I’ll need to re-evaluate this with a new review note. www.vynfields.com
Charles Wiffen – Marlborough
There’s something absolutely steadfast and dependable about Charles and Sandi Wiffen and their wines. Maybe it’s the stoic farmers in them, being able to take different seasons in their stride, and having a long-term view. When I take a step back and look at the wines they’ve released over the years, I can see the consistent high quality. Clearly their vineyards are well-established and managed by the good hands of Jason Tripe and Melissa Sutherland, but also the winemaking by Anthony Ivicevich and James Rowan is sensitive and quality focussed.
It’s difficult to choose from such a strong range, but the Charles Wiffen Marlborough Chardonnay 2013 is a winner, quite literally, the wine now having won two gold medals and a trophy. We saw it before that success and ear-marked it as a good one early on. Not the biggest and most complex, nor the most flinty-funky, this has elegance and subtlety on its side. The fruit, freshness, body, texture and interest are all there. The more you sip on it, the more you see and taste, with the gorgeous oaking and barrel-ferment creaminess gently showing its hand. www.charleswiffenwines.co.nz
Terrace Edge – Waipara Valley
The Chapman family have taken steps to increase their Terrace Edge wines’ presence in the market-place with smart new labelling and a flash, revamped, website. For me the wine quality is enough to make them stand out. This is due to the tireless efforts of Pete Chapman in the vineyard, and the appropriate winemaking at the Muddy Water facility where Gavin Tait oversees their vinification. In March this year, Terrace Edge was accredited with BioGro organic certification, just another step in their respect for the environment. The Chapmans are truly good people with good wine.
While the cool, slow ripened 2012 Pinot Noirs from Waipara have garnered much praise, the more generous 2013s reflecting the warm and dry vintage are equally delicious an another way. The Terrace Edge Waipara Valley Pinot Noir 2013 has opened up and grown in richness and sweetness since I last tried it in July. It is clearly varietal Pinot Noir with its sumptuously smooth, satiny textures and combination of plum, cherry and violet florals. The degree of aromatic presence is sensational, the extract supple but significant. www.terraceedge.co.nz
36 Bottles – Central Otago
Douglas Brett and Jane Young are on a roll. Having introduced Riesling, Chardonnay and Rosé to the range, as well as running a second tier Pinot Noir under the ‘Winesmiths’ label, They’ve found that growth begets growth, and success builds on success. Their 2013 Rosé got second place in Cuisine and the Riesling and Chardonnay both went gold at the New World Wine Awards in the middle of the year. While Sarah-Kate and Dan Dineen (and P.J. Charteris) are the winemakers, Douglas actually flies down to Wanaka to get his hands dirty for vintage and then blending.
Last year, I picked the Rosé 2013 as my favourite, and this year I’ve gone with the 36 Bottles Central Otago Rosé 2014, as the new wine continues the star qualities seen in the previous. This is all Pinot Noir from the Pisa sub-region. A touch paler, as is the trend is nowadays, and seemingly drier, although technically the residual sugar is a tad higher, the mouth-watering strawberry and cream fruitiness and slippery acidity combines with the finest textures to give the most refreshing summer drink. www.36bottles.co.nz
Lamont – Central Otago
Expressing the Bendigo sub-region and their vineyard on Loop Road is the aim of Craig and Angela Gasson. Craig was there at the beginning when he helped the McLaughlin family plant it back in 1999. There’s a special character of a firm core and drive in the wines, whether white or red; the whites combine clarity with a suggestion of exoticism, and the reds strong structure. Managing these traits and expressing them well is the skill, and Craig has worked with Duncan Gibson and James McElrea to get there. His latest Lamont releases just get better and better.
Riesling is regarded as the premium white variety of Central Otago and it is generally seen as the equal of Pinot Noir. It just hasn’t been recognised as such yet, and as with Riesling world-wide, wine geeks see it as their secret. The Lamont Bendigo Central Otago Riesling 2012 takes a slightly softer and less driven approach than the previous years, maybe just to tame that firm core, or is it the vintage? Refined, still tightly bound, with mouthwatering limes, minerals and a hint of toast, all cut by thirst quenching acidity; it is beautifully poised. www.lamontwines.com
Desert Heart – Central Otago
I’m sure that Denny Downie and Jane Gill had heavy hearts when they sold their vineyard at the end of Felton Road in Bannockburn. One of the redeeming aspects is that it went to a good home, with Sam Neill of Two Paddocks taking it over. However, Denny and Jane remain committed to the region, having bought another property on Felton Road, and continuing with their Desert Heart brand. They still have good stocks of wines made in recent years, and they will source fruit from friends and neighbours for up-coming vintages. Go girls!
The Desert Heart ‘Renaissance’ Bannockburn Central Otago Chardonnay 2012 is an astounding wine. For years, Chardonnay struggled to be seen as workable in the region, but neighbours Felton Road and Carrick have proven the nay-sayers wrong. The Desert Heart wine emphatically shows the intense fruit depth and great clarity of Central Otago, but this wine is bolstered by significant barrel-ferment and oaking, lees work and MLF. Initially a statement wine, the last year has seen it come together beautifully and integrate with a gorgeous creaminess. www.desertheart.co.nz
The Writer’s Block – Central Otago
The wines that Brendan Seal makes at his little Packspur Wine Studio facility in Lowburn will appeal to wine nuts who love detail and funkiness. If he spots a parcel of fruit from a special vineyard, he’ll make a play for it, and make something pretty individual out of it too. He’s an advocate of minimal intervention and his wines are made as naturally as they can be, without going overboard where the wines are too natural and have characters that obscure variety and site. There will only be limited quantities made, as this is a real garigiste operation.
It’s very unlikely many people will get to see The Writer’s Block Lowburn Central Otago Pinot Gris 2013, as only 25 cases were made. In Wellington, it’s only on one wine list – at Muse on Allen. Using fruit grown adjacent to the winery, Brendan made this inspired by Andre Ostertag in Alsace, wild yeast fermented with full solids in neutral oak, full MLF and adding SO2 at the last minute and bottling without filtration. This has a full array of savoury florals and stonefruits, with richness and ideal texture; it’s complex, but not really overly, overly funky. Well done! www.thewritersblock.co.nz