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Vintners N.Z. Showcase 2013

By September 3, 2013No Comments
It’s show time for most of the major wine distributors in the country as they put their wares up for inspection for the hospitality and wine trade. Vintners N.Z. has one of the best portfolios of any of the wine distribution companies. It’s not too large, but it is comprehensive, with an extremely strong selection of wine producers from throughout the growing regions. The standing of almost all of the wineries is blue chip, and there are some exciting up-and coming labels to keep everyone on their toes. The domestic range is supported by an excellent selection of imported wines, equally as strong in quality as the New Zealand wineries. I must mention the staff. Led by Mark Young, an industry veteran whose boyish looks belie his long time in the trade, with his wife Simone at his side, the team at Vintners has highly respected sales personnel, who themselves have plenty of experience. Vintners is a very strong player and provider in the market.

Mark and Simone Young – Vintners N.Z.

At this year’s showcase, Vintners N.Z. took a novel approach by having their wine suppliers offer their wines alongside that of artisan food producers. In Wellington, the Vintners Showcase was held at the Shed 6 venue on the waterfront. This is an excellent site, with easy access, good light and high ceilings, making it a joy to be in. The room was laid out so there was plenty of room for the exhibitors and for attendees to engage each other. If it all got a bit too much, one could easily step outside for a breath of fresh air before resuming tasting. The food from the artisan producers was complemented by Ruth Pretty Catering. It was all so easy to talk and taste, and I lost track of time. If I had focussed, I could have made it around all of the wines on offer, but I relaxed too much and missed a few! In fact I didn’t do justice to the food exhibitors at all.

With that in mind, I offer my impressions of visiting, talking and tasting with the wine exhibitors. My notes on them are generally from North to South, though they were not tasted in that order. www.vintners.co.nz

North Island Wine Producers

Kumeu River
When the Kumeu River Chardonnay made its appearance in the mid-1980s, the style was regarded as extreme, with its barrel-fermentation by indigenous yeasts and full MLF. The white burgundy styled wines of the Brajkovich family eventually became the model, and nowadays others are pushing the limits of the style. Michael sees it perfect the way it is and he’s not going too far with the complexities he’s got in his wines. Nowadays vineyard expression has become a point of difference. Starting with the Kumeu Village Chardonnay 2010, a more delicate, tight and linear style, with well-judged interest built in, and refreshing acidity. A good introduction. Then the 2011 Chardonnays from a slightly lighter year than the outstanding, small yield 2010s, the 2011s having more acid tension. The ‘Estate’ Chardonnay2011 with good richness allied to elegance, combining stonefruits and flint, and a steely finish. Then the ‘Coddington’ Chardonnay 2011, even, smooth mouthfilling with sweeter fruit, but with flint and nuttiness to match the richness, all underpinned by lacy acidity. The ‘Hunting Hill’ Chardonnay 2011 is the Puligny-Montrachet to the Coddington’s Meursault. A well-worn but apt analogy. Great intensity and concentration with considerable reductive sulphide complexity, and the longest of finishes. Superb stuff here. Then the ‘Matés’ Chardonnay 2011, a combination of the previous two, but taken up a notch with greater richness, dimension and concentration. Another wonderful wine. The last Kumeu River wine was the Pinot Gris 2011, at 12.5% alc. and 8 g/L RS, with clear-cut pear fruit definition and a balanced mouthfeel of richness and crispness. Benchmark Pinot Gris, as usual.

Michael Brajkovich MW – Kumeu River

Millton Vineyard
The other half of The Millton Vineyard, Annie Millton was pouring their biodynamic wines. Thirty years ago, organics and biodynamics were ‘way out’; nowadays it’s almost the norm! Certainly being in tune with the planet and caring for the environment is a rightful cause. 2012 was a tough year for Gisborne, but the ‘Crazy By Nature’ ‘Dry Flint’ Chenin Blanc 2012 takes advantage of the vintage with its racy, linear mouthfeel. There’s attractive yellow florals and stonefruits which evens it all up. The ‘Opou’ Chardonnay 2012 was given skin contact and 10% new oaking, and this is elegant with just the right amount of savoury, flinty, nutty interest to match the fruit. The ‘Riverpoint’ Viognier 2011 is one of Annie’s favourites and I concur, the combination of finesse and intensity is startling. Pure florals rather than fat exotics are the order of the day, and bright and brilliant detail feature. The Chenin Blanc Demi-Sec 2009 is a regular classical varietal and stylistic expression as seen in the medium Vouvrays, but not here. This has subtle exotics of tropical and stonefruit flavours with a soft sweetness and deliciously harmonious mouthfeel. It’s 13.0% alc. and carries approx. 20 g/L RS, and shows the quality of the great 2009 vintage. Finally the ‘La Cote’ Pinot Noir 2012, from the ‘Clos de Ste Anne’ site, light and looking faded, but with far more aroma and flavour than the colour suggests. Beautiful ethereal red florals, noticeable acidity and spicing. A cooler vintage has accentuated the aromatics positively in this lighter, refreshing wine.

Annie Millton – The Millton Vineyard

The winemaking of Lorraine Leheny and Warren Gibson is very thoughtful, measured and a mix of tradition and very contemporary. Lorraine showed the Pinot Gris 2011, at 14.8% alc. and 1.6 g/L RS, properly dry with textbook stonefruit and honeysuckle and steely drive, the alcohol integral. The ‘Reserve’ Pinot Gris 2008 was the last ‘Reserve’ release, the next being the 2013. The 2008 is 14.5% alc. and 8 g/L RS, and is richer, weightier and rounder, from bottle age and the slight residual sugar adding to the fruit extract. It’s more complex with flinty lees work and toasty development. Just starting to drink at its peak. Lorraine and Warren love the ‘complex sulphide’ style of Chardonnay, and they’re going there with theirs. The Chardonnay 2011 is the beginning of the new phase, but more nutty and citrussy at this stage. Very Burgundian, but not really flinty yet. The ‘flagship’ white is ‘La Collina’ Viogner 2010. 88% Viognier,6% each of Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer, the latter component oak fermented. This has the complex flintiness, but the Viognier spices and florals prevail. Great linearity and crispness, with fine textures. In 2011, no ‘La Collina’ was made, and the Bilancia Syrah 2011 is 20% that fruit with 80% Gimblett Gravels grapes. Succulent and very elegant, with spices, dark herbs and pepper, along with some bacony oak. The ‘La Collina’ Syrah 2009 is an outstanding wine. Muscular with concentrated black earthy minerals to the ripe black fruits. Magnificent structure, and more Hermitage-like than I ever seen it.

Lorraine Leheny – Bilancia

Craggy Range
Steve Smith’s right hand man Matt Stafford was pouring a Craggy Range selection. Matt is one of the very capable young winemakers who are set to seriously influence the industry in coming years. The ‘Avery’ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013 shows classically taut gooseberry and very fine passionfruity flavours. It’s stylish rather than ‘in your face’, and the acid raciness lends a chalk and mineral note. It’ll keep very well. A contrast was the ‘Te Muna’ Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012, showing some bean-like development in flavour, but much richer and broader in mouthfeel. The Craggy team took great care in making this smart wine from a challenging vintage. Matt sees the coastal ‘Kidnappers’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2011 more akin to Macon with its accessible fruit focus. It isn’t Chablis, as it doesn’t have the wet-stone and flinty minerality that is its key feature, but to me it has classic Chablis-like linearity. And it has a touch of the seaside in it too. Then the ‘Gimblett Gravels’ Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2011, still very primary, with black fruits, black pepper, and lovely elegant spiciness, with fine textures. This is always delicious and true to the Gimblett Gravels with its iron core. Lovely stuff!

Matt Stafford – Craggy Range

Escarpment Vineyard
Larry McKenna is a bit of a star, and it was difficult to get past the throng of fans that wanted to taste his wines and talk to the man. I’m fairly familiar with his wines, especially the Pinot Noirs, as I’ve been lucky to see them on more than one occasion. The 2011s have shown a beauty and fruit fragrance which appeal to me, more so than the highly rated 2010s, which are more structured and savoury. Nevertheless, in the 2011s, whole bunch is significant, and I was very pleasantly surprised how integrated this component was in the two wines I saw. The Escarpment Pinot Noir 2011 still very youthful with purple hues and a firm backbone of fruit and tannins, and lovely aromatics. The 55% whole bunch subtle and in context. The ‘Kupe’ Pinot Noir 2011 goes up another level in richness, such that it is more seamless and supple. The fruitiness is pulled back and this is very integrated and complete. A great wine.

Larry McKenna – Escarpment Vineyard

South Island Wine Producers

Andrew Greenhough is a veteran Nelson winemaker who can be regarded as one of the region’s best. Yet, he still questions the style of his wines. However, I think it’s a bit of an act, as he’s fully aware of how they are. He knows his Nelson Sauvignon Blanc 2013 is very different to Marlborough styles, and always will be. Softer, broader, less punchy, and an approachable mellow, yellow stonefruit fleshiness. Likewise his first certified organic ‘Hope’ Chardonnay 2011. Spending 17 months in seasoned oak, this is surprisingly balanced with a harmonious and richly layered palate of citrus and nuts, then oak unfolding. Even more interesting is the Noble Riesling 2012, made by heavily botrytised Apple Valley fruit fermented to 8.5% alc. and 235 g/L RS, with 9.45 TA and 2.86 pH. This has the credentials to age well, and this is clear from tasting it. Pale with an emphasis on fruit finesse and purity. This is seamless without any excesses such as VA or overt botrytis, but it is all there, and will be a keeper, say a decade or so.

Andrew Greenhough – Greenhough Wines

There’s a clear distinction in the Pinot Noirs that come from the Delta Farm in the Waihopi district of Marlborough. The flats produce more fruity and accessible wine, whereas the hills the more structured and detailed. Trish Grammer had soil samples from the two sections, the hill soil much lighter, nearly red-tinged, whereas the lower, flatter soil was black. The wines reflect this too, the Pinot Noir 2010 sweet in primary fruit with a luscious openness and lovely balance. The ‘Hatters’s Hill’ Pinot Noir 2009 is actually lighter in colour and more ethereal with intricate detail. Some whole bunch savoury complexity and fine-grained structure is evident, making it a more interesting wine. The extra year of bottle age adds to the flavour too. As Trish said described it, it showed a “bit more love” in the winemaking, as that’s that the fruit suggested it could handle.

Trish Grammer – Delta Wine Co.

Russell Hooper and Sarah Inkersell are champions of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc in a beautifully elegant and refined style as seen in the finest Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé wines. Comte Lafond and ‘Baron de L’ are unashamedly wines they enjoy. They showed four vintages of their ‘Fairbourne’ Sauvignon Blanc demonstrating the quiet progress they’ve been making. Following the initial 2007 and 2008 releases, they’ve settled on one hillside Southern Valleys site as their fruit source. The 2009 is the last machine-picked wine, and it’s still firm, tight and youthfully flavoured with herb and nettle notes on gooseberries. 2010 was hand-picked and it is very pale, more refined, tightly bound with grassy, nettle flavours, and bright acidity. In 2011, 1.4% of the wine was matured in barrel, and it is very soft and detailed, the wine flows beautifully across the palate with great finesse. The 2012 saw a little more oak, this time 202%. It is a little more fruit expressive, but just as refined. I reckon this vintage will be more forward, as the wine has a friendly accessibility. The 2013 will see Sarah and Russell introduce a portion of barrel-fermentation.

Russell Hooper & Sarah Inkersell – Fairbourne Estate

Every time I intended to head over to see Andrew Hedley of Framingham, his stand was busy with a crowd of sommelliers and hospitality people blocking the access to the wines. Andrew sure has a following! So I have no notes on any Framingham wines tasted at the Vintners Showcase. However, I can report that the latest I’ve tried are really excellent, the ‘F-Series’ wines showing the results of his innovative approach (click here to see my most recent reviews). The ‘Estate’ wines are still thoroughly conventional and top class in their style, and the introduction of complexities in these are quite subtle. Although Andrew is having fun with the more ‘funky’ ‘F-Series’, I don’t think he’ll take the natural or ‘orange’wine approach with them, even though he personally imports a number of them for interest. (Click here to see more about his ‘Oh So Pretty’ European imports.) Next time Andrew is in town, I know I’ll need to get to the front of the queue.

Andrew Hedley – Framingham Wines

Mud House
Nadine Worley is an Australian, but fully committed to Marlborough and New Zealand, having been at the Mud House winemaking reins since 2006, and raising a family here. She’s helped develop the consistent house style of the wines that have seen the ‘Estate’ and ‘Single Vineyard’ wines win more than their fair share of awards. Starting with the signature Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013, this is a sensitive expression of pungent passionfruit with a touch of finesse. I think the 2013s are a little less concentrated than the 2012s generally, but the linearity in the new wine is deemed better. This showing of the Pinot Gris 2012, a half Marlborough-half Waipara blend looked much richer than when I saw it last. But the ‘Home Block’ Waipara’ Pinot Gris 2013 is far superior. Sensational richness and concentration with perfect textures to encase the florals and spicy fruits. It has 3 g/L RS, so is truly dry. As good as the Pinot Gris is the ‘Hungry Hill’ Marlborough Chardonnay 2012, from the Ure Valley. Wonderful richness and concentration of citrussy fruits with oak spicing and a gorgeous creamy MLF aspect, this being approx. 40%. Only 8 barrels were made. Nadine then showed two Pinot Noirs, firstly the Central Otago Pinot Noir 2012. Bright crimson coloured and bright and pretty fruited, with spicy red fruits, liquorice and florals adding lift. This grew significantly in weight in the glass. Finally the ‘Claim 431’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2012. Dark, plummy, tightly concentrated with complexing herb notes. Surprisingly supple, smooth and silky, the juiciness just builds. There’s a seriousness here that impresses. This is a selection of vineyard parcels as well as a selection of barrels.

Nadine Worley – Mud House

Tinpot Hut
New to the Vintners portfolio is Tinpot Hut from the Blind River region of Marlborough. Owner Fiona Turner and general manager Jude Hobson were pouring their offerings. The ‘McKee’ Gruner Veltliner 2012 has become more expressive since I saw it last, with floral and herb aromatics more prominent, and the linearity even stronger. The new Pinot Gris 2012 a pure pear and floral wine with flinty nuance to add some detail to the aromatics. This was lovely and fresh, and the 6.4 g/L RS just adding a little richness. Fiona and Jude were keen to show the Late Harvest Riesling 2013, with 12.7% alc. and just over 80 g/L RS, made from 100% botrytised Blind River fruit. A restrained, stylish example rather than a wine of opulence. Honeysuckle and real varietal expression, the botrytis not overboard at all. Certainly rich enough, and finishing dry, to make it very versatile.

Fiona Turner & Jude Hobson – Tinpot Hut

This is the second tier of Bishops Head, the Waipara Valley winegrowing operation of Peter Saunders and Paul Hewett. The 25 ha property has 19 ha planted to vines. I whizzed through tasting these wines, as poured by Peter, as time was progressing. The Sauvignon Blanc 2012 is showing some secondary interest now, and has soft, mouthfilling textures. The Sauvignon Blanc 2013 is more Marlborough in style with the pungent passionfruit thiol aromas and flavours, and an attractive richness and lusciousness. The Pinot Gris 2012 has 5 g/L RS, and is crisp, clean with real linearity and cut to the palate. The Riesling 2012 is a wine worthy of some consideration, with its mix of lime, sherbet, honey and aromatic esters. The 21 g/L RS makes it medium, but there no cloying at all. The Pinot Noir 2012 was a much lighter offering, showing the cooler vintage in the district. Pale and simple with an intensity to the strawberryish fruit, enhanced by some spice and smoke notes.

Peter Saunders – Rockface

Quartz Reef
Looking very ‘biodynamic’ and at one with the world was Rudi Bauer of Quartz Reef. I think my eternal image of him will where he is offering a handful of fermented cow dung to us to appreciate the rich warm aromas and textures! That being said, his new Methode Traditionnelle Vintage 2009 is beautifully pure, refined and superbly soft and pristine. It’s his most accessible to date, but it’s also a keeper, with 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir, a dosage of 6 g/L, the wine spending 4 years on lees. I also like the finer textures that Rudi has taken the Pinot Noir 2012 to. It’s more translucent in appearance and flavour with fragrant cherries, yet there’s excellent concentration and richness. I believe the 2012 vintage has its say too. Even more impressive is the ‘Bendigo’ Pinot Noir 2011. Darker, with a more concentrated core, but very fine textured and a plushness. This is archetype Bendigo in expression indeed.

Rudi Bauer – Quartz Reef

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