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Matawhero Wines – With a Wave of New Wave Whites

By January 15, 2014No Comments
I can still remember my first impressions of visiting Matawhero Wines in the late 1970s. Denis Irwin was then, and still is now, a cult figure, and you forgive, if not admire the idiosyncracies of such gifted people. Bits of his life from winemaking equipment to the laundry was on display, and it was a sight full of character. Matawhero Wines has been brought into the contemporary world nowadays, since Richard and Kirsten Searle purchased it in 2008. The cellar door complex is very smart, and neatly laid out for tasting and enjoying wines, with the ubiquitous vineyard platter.

Petina Baker with Maddy the labrador at Matawhero cellar door

It was a very pleasant spontaneous visit for me, meeting up with duty manager Petina Baker, who took me through the range of white wines available. Petina is an EIT student in oenology, now in her second summer of work at the cellar door at Matawhero. She explained that Matawhero draws fruit from their own 15 ha estate, and has contract fruit from Paul Tietjen, Doug Bell and Peter Briant, who I know are very highly respected growers. The wines are made at GisVin with Kim Crawford in charge of the styles, along with input from Anita Ewart-Croy. www.matawhero.co.nz

Tasting the White Wines
Gisborne, once famed as the largest growing region in New Zealand three decades ago, is now becoming recognised as the country’s garden for growing new varieties. The Riversun nursery is the source of many of the wine grapes and clones appearing, and the Gisborne growers are the keenest in trialling them. The Searles are at the cutting edge of commercialising this new wave of varieties, along with the likes of Steve and Eileen Voysey of Spade Oak, and Coopers Creek, one of the larger players. For Matawhero, these new wave varieties are bottled under their black-labelled ‘Church House’ tier, the production of each around 200-300 cases. The 2013s tasted come from a great vintage in the district, and are a good starting point for those wanting to explore these new styles. Here are my impressions.

Starting with the Pinot Gris 2013, at 13.3% alc. and 6.5 g/L RS, the fruit from the Briant vineyard, this is all pears and lifted esters, a lighter wine with a soft approachability, showing some warmth on finish. Also tasted and a trademark under the Matawhero brand, a Gewrztraminer 2013, at 13.8% lc. and 4.7 g/L RS, estate fruit fromPatutahi. This combines minerals, ginger and rose-petal florals, the aomatics very typical. On palate this is an alliance of steely freshness and lush and slippery textures, more up-front, rather than about linearity.

Then onto the innovative and new to Matawhero varieties. The ‘Church House’ Arneis 2013 is 14.0% alc. and 4 g/L RS, the fruit from the Bell vineyard. Pure white stonefruits, a suggestion of nuts, this showing lovely purity. On palate quite slender and taut, but with an intriguing richness. This is lovely, and doesn’t have the fennel-like character in earlier releases, according to Petina. Even better is the ‘Church House’ Albarino2013, at 13.2% alc. and 6 g/L RS, from the Tietjen vineyard. Concentrated limes and lemon with steely florals. On palate very racy and refreshing, with bright fruit expression and even some juiciness and warmth, but carried by the acidity. The phenolics are beautifully handled. The most consumer-friendly wine is the ‘Church House’ Gruner Veltliner 2013, at 13.4% alc. and10 g/L RS, this being the second vintage,, fruit from the Tietjen vineyard. Subtle herbal aromas and flavours, off-dry to taste with ripe apple and sweet herb flavours, the palate quite light and openly accessible, with soft, and easy textures. Then the first Chenin Blanc for the Searles, the ‘Church House’ Chenin Blanc 2013, at 13.2% alc. and 9 g/L RS, fruit from the Briant vineyard. Exotic white stonefruits and hints of tropicals and refreshing and complexing minerally elements. Good concentration and drive with a core that is beautifully balanced with lacy acidity. A very good capture of the variety indeed.

The final grouping was a trio of Chardonnays. Firstly the ‘Church House’ Chardonnay Musque 2011, at 12.2% alc. Many people see a ‘musky’ aromatic character, but for me ripe yellow stonefruits with a rich and mellow mouthfeel. Slightly low in acidity, but a lovely oiliness, revealing oxidative and nutty interest as Chardonnays should. The Chardonnay 2012 at 13.3% alc. is also a stainless-steel wine, but with 100% MLF, which tends to prevail in its butterscotch and caramel flavours. There is good underlying acidity which provides cut and a fresh, lively mouthfeel. Lastly the ‘Church House’ Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2012, at 13.6% alc. An elegant wine, with stylish balance. The white stonefruit and subtle citrus/herb amalgam elements are fresh, and moderate in depth, but with lovely tension and poise. The barrel-ferment is noticeable in the gentle creaminess. Attractive nutty notes unfold. A good example from a very difficult vintage for sure.


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