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Favourites of 2017 from the Wine2Trade Portfolio

By January 1, 2018No 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 Vidal Estate as my pick for 2017), 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 2016.)

The 2017 Year

2017 has been a continuation of 2016 in many ways for Sue and ‘Wine2Trade’. Sue has continued to support me in every way, as we go through the cancer treatment process. Thank goodness for her good clients who she has a strong relationship with. Working for 17 years in the market counts for something, and strong and well-established operators appreciate experience and not just deal with the ‘trendy’ distributors who may be here today and gone tomorrow.

The Wellington market remains a tight one. Many producers and distributors are surprised at the difficulty in gaining traction and market share in the city. The reality is that it is a much smaller one than impressions give. There is unparalleled expertise and discernment, and in a situation of a plethora of distributors working, wine merchants and retailers, restaurants and cafés can be very selective in what they take on board.
As mentioned last year, 36 Bottles is being wound down; but there are still stocks of the delicious Rieslings, but these are fast dwindling. However, Sue has taken on Domaine Rewa from Central Otago, and she has had instant success with this excellent brand. And just recently, Sue has begun distributing wine from Mondillo Vineyards, also in Central Otago. This is also a premium brand with an impeccable track record in shows and tastings. The ‘Wine2Trade’ portfolio is very strong in Central Otago representation, all the labels offering a point of difference.
Here are my ‘Favourites of 2017 from the Wine2Trade Portfolio’. They are listed by the producer’s approximate geographical location from north to south. For this year, I have included wines available from the cellar only to show the wide range of developments, or depth of stocks and styles.
Note: Red Barrel Syrah 2013 vintage pictured instead of 2015

Spade Oak – Gisborne

The Spade Oak brand has become well-established in a relatively short time, no mean feat in a crowded and very competitive market. Steve and Eileen Voysey have the benefit of several decades of wine industry experience behind them, and Steve as a winemaker of many successful and high quality wines as well as great value, large production offerings knows what ticks the consumers’ boxes. The flagship Spade Oak ‘Vigneron’ range wines have great style, depth and complexity. But the accessible ‘Voysey’ range has drinkability.

For a challenging vintage in 2017 when forecasted rains influenced picking decisions for many growers, Steve and Eileen have a really delicious Spade Oak ‘Voysey’ Gisborne Pinot Gris 2017. Fresh and elegant, as many 2017s are, this has all the pre-requisite aromas and flavours of stonefruits, exotic florals and hints of honeysuckle. There’s a little unctuousness to the fruit richness. But it doesn’t make out to be something more than it is. The wine is a comfortable and easy sipper that will suit any occasion. The Voyseys consider it a success. I concur. www.spadeoak.co.nz

Red Barrel – Hawke’s Bay

The Red Barrel operation is a true boutique vineyard and winery. The immaculate vineyard in Havelock North is a tiny 2.5 ha, and the winery attached to the cellar door is truly a micro-space. However the wine styles that John and Juliette Lockie prefer, and winemaker Dave McKee of Black Barn, just over the road make, are big and flavoursome. They can make a stylish statement, and have plenty of complexities, intensity and facets. The cellar door and function space, which Sue and I visited earlier this year show the Lockie’s style and taste. It’s very smart.

Following the big and bold 2013 Red Barrel Syrahs that expressed a fully-ripened vintage, it’s a return to a little more elegance with the Red Barrel Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2015, with its classical blackberry and dark raspberry fruit, pepper, spices and cedary oak nuances. It’s not just fruit, but has a slightly savoury infusion which softens the single-mindedness that varietal character lends, and it makes it all the more interesting for it. A wine that will accompany food rather than demand attention, and good for that reason. www.redbarrel.co.nz

Vynfields – Martinborough

As expected, Vynfields has become an export-focussed business since Harry and Zinder Gou and their syndicate of owners took ownership. Vynfields has reverted to natural cork closures rather than screwcap because of market expectations. The sales to China are seeing much of the production go there, but a significant portion of the fruit is being sold locally, and the wines still have a loyal following, especially influenced by the certified BioGro organic status and biodynamic regimes. We worked at Vynfields for Toast Martinborough this year. It was very busy as usual, the the smiles of the visitors said it all.

The Vynfields ‘Reserve’ Martinborough Pinot Noir 2014 is exactly what you want in a wine from the region, and it reflects the warm growing season. Dark coloured, this has sweetly ripe and rich aromas of black fruits with a touch of earth, herb and nutty oak. It has great supporting structure and considerable power, and an integrated 15.0% alc. It is all balanced and integrated. It shows the subtle hand of winemaker Marion Deimling, at Schubert, who has made the wines from the start. www.vynfields.com

Pond Paddock – Martinborough

Daniele has expanded his portfolio with a Zarathrustra Sauvignon and a Zoee Rosç to supplement the Pinot Noir, these named after son and daughter respectively. And don’t forget that Chardonnay will be coming on soon. Simone Amorese has taken over the winemaking now, after Paul Mason made the 2014 and 2015 vintage wines for Pond Paddock. It must be another couple of percent advantage (they all add up!) that Simone lives on site on Te Muna Road, and his attention to the vines quite beneficial. I believe Simone is staying on at the Colombo site, now it has been sold.

I still like the Pond Paddock Martinborough Pinot Noir 2014 immensely. It just gets better with more bottle-age. When I first saw it, the wine appeared quite primary. The richness level and presence on the palate continues to grow, the flavours are gaining in more complexity with time as well. The wine is showing the body that comes from a favourable vintage and is clearly Martinborough in character. I can only see this growing in style and interest for another few years yet. By then the 2015 a slightly more elegant wine will be coming along. www.pondpaddock.nz

Note: Terrace Edge St Laurent 2016, Desert Heaert ‘Paint in Black’ Pinot Noir 2009
and Urbn Vino Dunedin Pinot Noir 2016 not pictured

Charles Wiffen – Marlborough

This remains one of Sue’s star brands. Charles Wiffen wines fly a little under the radar, but they are classically made and always elegant. They deliver quietly, and for those who have discovered them – both resellers and consumers – they know one of the market’s better-kept secrets. Charles and Sandi Wiffen release their wines with a little bottle-age on them, so they have lost their brashness of youth, and have gained a settled expression where the components have come into harmony. They drink really well at the dinner table as they have finesse.

Although the aromatic wines are probably the Wiffen’s calling card, I think the Chardonnay may be their best wine. The Charles Wiffen Marlborough Chardonnay 2015 is the new release, and it has already won a gold medal in judging. This has gorgeously stylish stonefruit and citrus flavours, smooth and creamy barrel-ferment flow, fresh and vibrant acidity; everything in subtle balance, While I love the big and bold and funky and minerally, sometimes something that is refined and elegant is just that much more enjoyable. www.charleswiffenwines.co.nz

Caythorpe – Marlborough

The Bishell family have been Marlborough farmers for 5 generations, and are your archetype New Zealanders living on the land. They seem to have the issue of succession sorted with sons Simon and Scott well-established in running their 190 ha property next to Woodbourne aerodrome. Sustainability is a by-word for how they operate, as well as diversification. Grape-growing has turned out to be the way, and supplying under contract is their mainstay. Of course the next step was to introduce their own label – Caythorpe.

Sauvignon Blanc is the main variety for the Bishells, and their first two releases have been very creditable. However, there’s a small amount of Riesling planted – 3 ha, compared to 100 ha of Sauvignon Blanc, and winemaker Jeremy McKenzie has made the Caythorpe Marlborough Riesling 2017. This is youthfully taut with lime, exotic floral and honeysuckle flavours, plus a little fruit-extract and phenolic texture. Silver medal on showing at this early stage, but I think it could do better. Watch this space with this one! www.caythorpe.nz

Terrace Edge – Waipara Valley

The Chapman family is very progressive with their keenness to innovate in the vineyard, with Albarino, Viognier and St Laurent coming on stream. They already do the classical Waipara varieties of Riesling and Pinot Noir superbly, but the Pinot Gris and Syrah are just as good in my opinion. The first vintages of the new varieties have delivered more than is usually expected so early, and much of this can be attributed to the near-fanatical work in the vineyard by son Pete Chapman. The winemaking by Gavin Tait at the Muddy Water facility plays a big part too.

I’ve chosen as my ‘favourite’ the Terrace Edge Waipara Valley St Laurent 2016, which is so rare that Sue hasn’t got stock to sell, and is only available from the cellar door. But look out for it in the future. The very warm and dry, long hang-time growing season has yielded a super-ripe bottling, with a black colour, black and blue berry fruits, and a sweetly luscious and plush palate. It’s a crowd pleaser and the 50 dozen made will go quickly. An average season will yield a more elegant and complex-flavoured wine, no doubt. www.terraceedge.co.nz

36 Bottles – Central Otago

As mentioned above, Douglas Brett and Jane Young decided to close down 36 Bottles due to pressures of family, work and lifestyle. In retrospect, I think they’ll be pretty proud of what they’ve achieved, as their wines made excellent inroads into the market, and the wines also performed well on the show circuit. Their model of operating as a negociant, and with Douglas taking an active role in selection and blending meant high quality wines suiting the tastes of the keen consumer. Sue has had a great time working with the range.

The only stocks left now are small quantities of the 2013 and 2014 Riesling. Both won New World Wine Awards gold medals. It’s a good job that Rieslings age well, and these two are looking very good with some bottle-age. The 36 Bottles Central Otago Riesling 2013 is the drier of the two at 6.0 g/L RS. It is elegant and precise, something not all dry versions achieve. Lovely lime fruit with secondary toastiness to the honey. Still some exotic floral notes showing, and the mouthfeel remains crisp and refreshing. A true delight. It’ll run out soon. www.36bottles.co.nz

Domaine Rewa – Central Otago
This is one of Sue’s new agencies, which has proven to be an instant success. This is the winegrowing passion of Philippa Fourbet, a Kiwi married to Yannick Fourbet, a renowned French potter. The Domaine Rewa vineyard is sited in Lowburn, overlooking Lake Dunstan, and it is clearly a superior one, judging by the quality of the wines. It’s certified BioGro organic and run biodynamically, and the wines are sensitively made by Pete Bartle at VinPro. The Fourbets are due to return to New Zealand for residency in 2018. Sue and I are keen to meet up with them soon.
Domaine Rewa’s best wine is arguably the Chardonnay – only by a whisker, as the Riesling and Pinot Noir are great too. I reckon it’s because the variety isn’t that widely planted in Central Otago. The Domaine Rewa Central Otago Chardonnay 2015 is an exemplary contemporary bottling with great clarity of stonefruit and citrus flavours, lovely creamy barrel-ferment and lemon-curd MLF, allied to nutty oak, and balancing acidity. It’s about as classic as you can get, and right down the centre. It was the Champion Chardonnay at this year’s Bragato Wine Awards. www.domainerewa.com

Desert Heart – Central Otago

The Desert Heart girls Denny Downie and Jane Gill are in their happy space. They’ve developed their new site on Felton Road in Bannockburn, having planted a block of grapes, and waiting for the vines to bear fruit. They’ve also opened their cellar door, consisting of two tastefully modified containers. There, they are selling new and older vintages of their wines, and serving delicious platters. Sue and I can vouch for the tastiness of the food served, having visited late November. I can also report that they were busy. It’s already proving to be a popular place.

My ‘favourite’ from Denny and Jane is one that is only available from the cellar door, as it is very limited in production, and a wine that is special to them, especially Jane. It’s the Desert Heart ‘Paint it Black’ Bannockburn Central Otago Pinot Noir 2009. This is a tribute to Jane’s brother Bryce Gill, released as a 10th anniversary bottling to remember his passing. Bryce was a passionate All Blacks supporter. The wine is a superbly concentrated one, packed with rich dark-red fruits and impressive layers of savoury complexities and great structure. One out of the box, like Bryce. www.desertheart.co.nz

Mondillo Vineyards – Central Otago

Domenic and Ally Mondillo have a superb vineyard in the Bendigo sub-region. Trained as a viticulturist, Dom was able to select the site of the vineyard following serious study of the area and with plenty of experience in establishing other superior vineyard plantings there. I just love all the wines that are coming from this immaculately kept site. The Pinot Noirs have great accessibility and sweet fruitiness, and the Rieslings are exquisitely exotic, no matter what style they are made in. And the cellar door is equally immaculate, just as the branding, designed by Ally.

Any of the wines could qualify as a ’favourite’, but I’ve chosen the Mondillo Central Otago Rosé 2017. Made from Pinot Noir, by Dom with Matt Connell, this has thankfully more colour than the pale versions that are trendy at present. The fruit is up-front and succulent with red cherries, raspberries and cream and florals. It’s vibrant and mouthwatering. And it’s only the second rosé from Mondillo. As with the 2016, it’s a 5-stars from me. Dom and Ally are straight away right on the ball stylistically. www.mondillo.com

The Writer’s Block – Central Otago

Having Brendan Seal’s wines on board means that there is always something unique, limited production and interesting in the works. The Writer’s Block wines are appealing for those who don’t rely on constancy. So it is with Brendan, who has shifted from his base at the Packspur Wine Studio in Lowburn to make is wines – Central Otago Pinot Noir, of course – in a heritage building in Dunedin. The concept of an urban winery is being developed into something special for Brendan, Dunedin City and his clientele. Sue and I intend to visit his URBN VINO soon.

Brendan will continue his ‘The Writer’s Block’ wines, now supplemented by the URBN VINO Pinot Noirs, made from fruit transported from Central Otago, but vinified and elevaged in Dunedin. Visitors to URBN VINO can be hands-on in the process, and of course, taste barrel samples and finished wines such as the Urbn Vino Dunedin Central Otago Pinot Noir 2016. It’s uber-elegant and supple with deliciously juicy red berry fruits and florals; and it just gets better in the glass. A friendly wine for all. www.thewritersblock.co.nz  www.urbnvino.nz

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