The initial subject on John Forrest and our minds on meeting was the 2014 vintage. Having gone past the threat of cyclone Lusi and with another impending cold front on the horizon, John was very pleased that his harvest was 98% complete. This vintage will be a big one, the yields higher than what crop estimates predicted, but the health of the fruit was extremely good, so John seemed not only relieved, but already thoughtfully determined on how he was going to approach the winemaking and marketing for the year ahead.
John Forrest is a strong-willed man with strong ideas. He’s built one of Marlborough’s significant winegrowing operations with a range of classical and innovative wines that represent the Marlborough region at its most contemporary. The Forrest ‘Estate’ wines form the core of the 100,000 case output, and surprisingly, ‘The Doctors’ low alcohol expression of Sauvignon Blanc is nearly 30,000 cases of that, the world seemingly fallen in love with the modest 9% alcohol that accompanies the real Sauvignon Blanc taste. But John and his wife Bridgid have other interests, notably a partnership with the Newton family in one of the top vineyards in the Gimblett Gravels in Hawke’s Bay, plantings in Bannockburn, Central Otago, and a vineyard in the Waitaki Valley, which he has recently added to, making the Forrest holdings in this emerging vignoble one of the most important.
Over time, John has noted the performance of the different varieties in each region, leading to the development of the ‘John Forrest Collection’, a set of wines that represents the very best he can do. The first releases were the 2004s, and really are at the top of the Forrest hierarchy, with a production of only 2,000 cases. The wines are made only when the fruit quality is outstanding, and they carry John’s philosophies and style preferences. www.forrest.co.nz
John Forrest – Forrest Wines
John Forrest – Forrest Wines
Tasting the 2014 Release ‘John Forrest Collection’
A yum char luncheon at ‘Dragons’ in Tory Street was the occasion for a pre-release tasting of the latest releases of the ‘John Forrest Collection’ wines for 2014, to be put on the market from the start of May. I joined a small group of Wellington sommeliers and trade for the occasion. Here are my impressions of the wines tasted.
A pair of Chardonnays led the wines. First was the John Forrest ‘Collection’ Wairau Valley Marlborough Chardonnay 2010, very much in the classical Marlborough style John makes, which is restrained and taut, with just a pinch of everything. Stonefruits and citrus fruits, a hint of oak and complexing gunflint, and if you look hard a touch of MLF. This is clearly a wine that is still youthful for its age. It has some new oak and botonnage thrown at it. Following this, the John Forrest ‘Collection’ Waitaki Valley North Otago Chardonnay 2011, very tight, almost slight and slender, but then with a piercing intensity of minerality, and bracing acidity to go with it. The MLF coming through a little more. Lovely mouthwatering style, and real linearity. John avoids new oak, but there still plenty of inputs.
A most unusual wine is John Forrest ‘Collection’ ‘The White 2009, an eclectic mix of Viognier from the Gimblett Gravels, Pinot Gris from the Waitaki Valley, and from Marlborough there’s Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. Different people see different things in this wine and different foods bring out one variety over others. And it changes in the glass. That’s the consistent thing about it. The other unifying trait is its texture and weight, which it has plenty of. For such an unusual assemblage, there’s a lot going for it. Today I saw aged Sauvignon Blanc on nose, but toasty and honied Riesling on palate. Others saw Chenin Blanc, especially on the palate. John noted that over time, he’s reduced the Sauvignon and increased the Chenin components for its benefit.
The first red was the John Forrest ‘Collection’ Waitaki Valley North Otago Pinot Noir 2011. This speaks ‘pinosity’ with black florals, cherries, and fine tannins. It speaks ‘Waitaki Valley’ limestone with chalky acids and textures, and then says ‘minerality’. It has elegance and some complexities already. Its style may be a function of the 2011 vintage which could be a little more forward. The Waitaki vignoble is something that has captured John’s imagination and passion, and from the start, he’s seem qualities across all varieties that excites him.
Next were two reds from the ‘Cornerstone’ vineyard in the Gimblett Gravels. The wines from this site are made by Gordon Russell at the Esk Valley facility. The John Forrest ‘Collection’ Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2009 is an expression of finesse and stylishness rather than brute power or opulence, as many of the wines from 2009 are. Still very youthfully coloured, this is all about ripe black fruits with the signature ‘iron-earth’ Gimblett Gravels character. Nuances of spices and oak toast in support and mineral notes, this has acid freshness and vitality. The other Hawke’s Bay red, the John Forrest ‘Collection’ Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, is from one of the years that can also be considered outstanding in the district. It shows in the impenetrable black, inky colour and concentrated and varietally expressive flavours of pure cassis and blackcurrants, with complexing ‘iron-earth’ notes intermixed with lead pencil and cedar layers, The power, degree of extraction and the finesse of the tannins is the other feature making this a superb wine, best of the tasting, except for the next wine.
The last of the new releases had not yet been labelled, but bottled, in 750 ml format. The John Forrest ‘Collection’ Wairau Valley Marlborough Noble Riesling 2013 is light golden colour with decadent and extremely intense lifted florals, honey and marmalade aromas and flavours. The succulence and opulence is perfectly balanced by fine acidity and provide stupendous poise and precision. John has the knack of making stunning sweet wines, and this, the best since 2006, is another exceptional wine. It has 9.0% alc and 240 g/L RS, and is at Trockenbeerenauslese level.
As a finale, John served the John Forrest ‘Collection’ Waitaki Valley North Otago Pinot Noir 2004, the first release of this wine, from a cool vintage. Still with depth to the colour, light red-garnet now, this is elegant, and smaller-scale, as well as being a touch herbal, there’s sweetness of strawberryish fruit, and a palate that is smooth, lacy and seamless, along with a mineral edge and cut, the core very representative of the Waitaki terroir.