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Favourites of 2016 from the Wine2Trade Portfolio

By December 15, 2016No Comments
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 Valli Vineyards as my pick for 2016), 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. A wine selected one year might be chosen again the next, as it may have developed particularly well. (You can click here to see my favourites for 2015.)

2016 has been a very challenging year for Sue and ‘Wine2Trade’. Sue has been supporting me through the year as I have been going through my cancer treatment. She hasn’t been able to devote as much time as ideal for her work. However, her clients are very loyal and they all continue their strong relationships with her. One other item of news is that Douglas Brett and Jane Young of 36 Bottles have decided to wind down their production, to enable some more quality family time. Sue will distribute their wines until stocks are exhausted. Here are my ‘Favourites of 2016 from the Wine2Trade Portfolio’. They are listed by the producer’s approximate geographical location from north to south.

Spade Oak – Gisborne
The constantly changing face of the market can be difficult for many wine producers to manage, but Steve and Eileen Voysey are able to arrange their output of styles and quantities more effectively than most. They see that of the new wave white varieties, Albarino and Petit Manseng show considerable potential, whereas in their experience, Gruner Veltliner has been difficult. On the red front, St Laurent and Tempranillo are proving to offer good points of difference. Although Viognier is going through the doldrums, they see a positive future for it.

A number of the more progressive Viognier producers are including the variety in blends, both white and red, especially to make Rhone-style expressions. Steve is doing that, but he has continued to make the more complex, varietally-focussed style, to place in the flagship ‘Vigneron’ range. The Spade Oak ‘Vigneron’ Gisborne Viognier 2014 continues a line of vintages in 2007, 2009 and 2010. It’s rich, creamy and unctuous, layered with complex flavours of ripe apricots, tropical fruits, savoury and nutty stonefruits. It is like a serious Condrieu. www.spadeoak.co.nz

Red Barrel – Hawke’s Bay
John Lockie and his wife Juliette have had a previous wine life in Hawke’s Bay with other wine brands, so when the 2.5 ha Zepelin site in Havelock North came up for sale, it appealed to them as it fitted practically all of their requirements. Purchasing in 2010, they took out the Cabernet Sauvignon, but left the Merlot and Syrah which were planted in 1997. They replaced the Cabernet Sauvignon with three clones of Chardonnay. These vines first bore fruit in 2013. The Lockies now have the three predominant and most successful Hawke’s Bay varieties.

As with their red wines, the Lockies prefer their Chardonnays to be bold and to make an impression on the drinker. Winemaker Dave McKee loves making Chardonnay this way and the Red Barrel Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2014certainly is full-flavoured and packed with inputs. The yellow stonefruit and citrus fruit is rich and ripe and matched by layers of creamy barrel-ferment, nutty and toasty oak and buttery MLF complexities. This has the power to match rich and creamy-sauced seafood, poultry and pork dishes superbly. www.redbarrel.co.nz

Vynfields – Martinborough
The profile of Vynfields is now much quieter in Martinborough and New Zealand as the syndicate of new owners headed by Harry and Zinder Guo concentrate their marketing and sales offshore in China. Much of the production has headed there, leaving a smaller amount available in New Zealand. The organic and biodynamic vineyard, and cellar door operation is under the charge of Harry’s father Jimmy, who this year organised Vynfield’s ‘Toast Martinborough’ festival participation with efficiency and a degree of panache.

When John Bell and Kaye McAulay first introduced the ‘Bliss’ Sparkling Riesling with the 2011 vintage, there were many who doubted the style would find a place in the market. However it is clear that consumers just love this relatively simple and accessible bubbly. The Vynfields ‘Bliss’ Martinborough Organic Sparkling Riesling 2015 is the best yet. It’s delightfully and delicately fruity and frothy, and the 13.7 g/L RS just enriches the lime, floral and honeysuckle flavours. This is akin to a prosecco. www.vynfields.com

Pond Paddock – Martinborough
The revitalised Pond Paddock label of Te Muna Road in Martinborough has undergone some changes of late. Daniele Alemagne, who purchased the vines around the former Barber house had Paul Mason make his first two wines, the 2014 and 2015 Pinot Noir, the latter yet to be released. Simone Amorese, the Italian winemaker tending the vines has joined forces with Baptist Sieber and Carolyn Irwin of Colombo Winegrowers, and has taken on the Pond Paddock winemaking role. There is now a 2016 Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé in the wings.

The Pond Paddock Martinborough Pinot Noir 2014 is still the only wine currently available, so it gets another mention. But it has changed in the last year to show even better. The wine shows the warmth of the 2014 vintage with its dark fruit flavours, and it has now come together with lovely harmony. The sweet fruit is now developing nuances of secondary savoury notes which are very Martinborough in character, and the flavour profile more complete. The tannins are integrating beautifully too. 2015 may be a better wine in the long run, but 2014 is for now. www.pondpaddock.nz

Charles Wiffen – Marlborough
The 14 November 7.8 magnitude earthquake was centred very near to Charles and Sandi Wiffen’s home in Parnassus, Cheviot, but being the stoic farmers they are, they’ve taken the damage in their stride. Their vineyards in the Wairau/Southern Valleys got away lightly, unlike their house, and the commercial operation continues without interruption. This is one of Sue’s superstar brands with excellent wines in all the classical Marlborough styles, all priced fairly, made without any tricks and any concession to trendiness. They are straight down the line, and the market loves them.

The first Charles Wiffen Rosé, the 2014 was delicious, and there was no argument to follow it up with another. The Charles Wiffen Marlborough Pinot Rosé 2015 is even more mouth-watering. Dry to taste but with succulent raspberries and cream with lifted red florals, the fruitiness is balanced by refreshing passionfruit and leaf notes, and the wine is so slippery that the glass is empty before you know it. While the 2014 came in a tall green Alsace flute bottle, this is in clear glass in the Bordeaux shape, so you can see its beauty before you taste it. www.charleswiffenwines.co.nz

Caythorpe – Marlborough
As significant contract grapegrowers since 1987, the Bishell family have enjoyed supplying quality fruit to some big name labels. However, the decision to create their own label has opened Simon and Scott Bishell’s eyes as to how to maximise the flavour profile of their wine. Jeremy McKenzie is the contracted winemaker and he has advised on parameters that are somewhat different to what had been required in the past. With the process of growing choosing the most flavoursome fruit for their Caythorpe label, there is bound to be a flow-on effect to the grapes sold under contract.

As should be expected, the second release of the Bishell’s wine, the Caythorpe Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 was going to be better than the inaugural 2015, all things being equal. It shows the thiol passionfruity aromas and flavours that the 2016 vintage has given, but there are also refreshing gooseberry flavours. Even better is a finer phenolic texture, showing sweeter fruit and more gentle handling of the grapes. This is classical Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and exceedingly delicious for it. www.caythorpe.nz

Terrace Edge – Waipara Valley
Experiencing a torrid time with the challenging 2014 vintage has not deterred the Chapman family in making their Terrace Edge wines. Neither has the low-yielding 2015 vintage, the Chapmans seeing the positives of greater concentration, richness and quality in such a fine year. The 2016 wines will be even better, with yields returning to normal, but with beautifully ripened fruit. New plantings of Albarino, Viognier and St Laurent are in the works, and it is clear that Terrace Edge is becoming one of the innovators of the Waipara Valley.

Pete Chapman is particularly fanatical about the Riesling and Pinot Noir he grows, and the Syrah is developing a cult status. But the Pinot Gris wines have risen in stature, with some beautiful examples being released. The Terrace Edge Waipara Valley Pinot Gris 2015 is fulsome and rich, though only15.5 g/L RS, weighty and unctuous, with exotic stonefruit flavours and complexing flintiness from the 60% barrel-fermentation. For those who think Pinot Gris is rather non-descript, this will open their eyes. www.terraceedge.co.nz

36 Bottles – Central Otago
It is with a little sadness that I report Douglas Brett and Jane Young have decided to close down the 36 Bottles operation. The demands of running a wine business as well as their real jobs and family life took too much. They can be proud of what they’ve achieved, and Sue has loved selling their excellent wines. Douglas has a great palate and blended the wines with skill and Jane had the business sense to make it run as smoothly as possible. In the meantime, there are still wines available, and they are pretty smart ones.

This is the other wine that I’ve repeated from last year. The 36 Bottles Central Otago Riesling 2014 is the second release of this varietal, and made a tad sweeter with 12 g/L RS, you’d think it’d fly out the door. Even a New World Wine Awards gold medal hasn’t seen a mad rush for it. Meanwhile Riesling aficionados can enjoy the subtly complex lime, floral, honey and toast flavours. There’s some beguiling richness. Another year of bottle-age has just added another layer sumptuousness. Pity those who don’t get the beauty of Riesling! www.36bottles.co.nz

Desert Heart – Central Otago
There has been progress for Denny Downie and Jane Gill of Desert Heart. It seems they will still be the heart and soul of the Felton Road area of Bannockburn, now they have begun work on their new property. The new cellar door will be open soon, and plans for their new home will begin next year. Already, they have Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines in the ground. In the meantime, the Desert Heart label continues, with stocks of older and bottle matured wines available, as well as new vintage releases made from fruit from neighbouring Bannockburn friends.

The top bottling of Pinot Noir for Denny and Jane, the Desert Heart ‘Mackenzies Run’ ‘Reserve’ Bannockburn Central Otago Pinot Noir 2013 is named after their beloved border collie, and the vintage celebrates 10 years of Pinot Noir. This wine won a gold medal at the 2014 Air New Zealand Wine Awards. It has evolved at a snail’s pace over the last two years. The vibrancy of fruit is the feature, and there’s still only a little savoury development. The tannins are fine and give plenty of structure, and the acidity is fresh. The last vintage from the site before it was sold. www.desertheart.co.nz
The Writer’s Block – Central Otago
Brendan Seal is an opportunist and lateral thinker. Making wines from serendipitously acquired parcels of fruit, his wines are diverse in source and style, and made with minimal intervention and sulphur, as well as wild yeasts and lees work for textures and complexity. His latest project is URBN VINO, making wine in Dunedin city, as many craft beers are made in urban environments nowadays. Suddenly he’s right in the middle of his market for Central Otago Pinot Noir. Judging from last year, the 2017 URBN VINO will be a roaring success.

There have been some very serious Pinot Noirs made under The Writer’s Block’ label, as well as some lighter, more accessible ones. Tasting The Writer’s Block ‘Novella’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2014, I get a simpler, cooler style with fine tannins and plenty of fresh acidity. On the tasting table, the acidity seems a little high, but with food, the wine takes on a different personality. The food moderates the acidity and the acidity brings the food to life. The same process happened with the ‘Heritage’ Pinot Noir 2013, which was also an on-premise hit. www.thewritersblock.co.nz

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