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Western Hills Wine Society – Breaking the Rules

By April 2, 2014No Comments
It’s an important and enjoyable exercise when I’m involved in a presentation with one of the suburban wine clubs. I do this regularly in support of my partner Sue Davies when she shows a selection of wines from her distribution portfolio (click here to see the portfolio). Not only do I help her, and have another look at some of the wines she works with, but I get to engage with final consumers. It would be very easy to lose touch with what ‘the man (or woman) on the street’ sees in wine, and the styles that are enjoyed or not. It’s a duty for gatekeepers, such as sommeliers, hospitality staff, wine retailers and indeed writers and media to be aware of what the final consumer – their customers, clients and readers think and like, and that requires direct and consistent contact. I find it a pleasurable duty.

Happy members at Western Hills Wine Society

Breaking the Rules
I was the speaker recently at the Western Hills Wine Society in October last year, discussing “A Judges’ View” (click here to see my report). It was a pleasure to be back again backing Sue in her presentation of a group of wines “Breaking the Rules”. The selection consisted of wines somewhat different to the norm, showcasing new and innovative styles, or made from varieties outside the norm for that region or producer. There could be wines of an unusual age than expected, and coming from the ‘Wine2Trade’ portfolio, they would span the length of the country from Gisborne to Central Otago. All in all, the wines would be an unusual and eclectic mix, from small and boutique producers.

As a personal aside, my approach was to see how the wines looked on this night, as compared to my tasting note as published on this website. Tasting many of the ‘Wine2Trade’ wines regularly, I do see slight variations in how they come across my palate. The differences are usually minor, and do not vary significantly, but they can, and if they do, an up-dated tasting note is made. It’s difficult to pin down the causes of why wines can taste a little different each time. There are many physical reasons, such as temperature of the wine, glassware used, time of day, the place of tasting, whether food has been consumed etc. And of course there’s the less tangible, such as emotional state, and the atmosphere. Some would put the time on the biodynamic calendar in this category! But of course, shouldn’t all the wines behave in a similar fashion relative to each other in this regard?

The Wines
Here are my thoughts on the wines tasted on the night. Interestingly, the whites looked better than ever, whereas the reds looked a little less rich. Why, I don’t know! There is a brief explanation on why the wine ‘breaks the rules’. Clicking on the wine name will take you to my original published tasting note, with the date of tasting.

This was not a wine designed to be a rosé from the outset, made from grapes grown for the purpose, but rather made by the saignee method, bleeding off juice from the making of the table wine Pinot Noir. If not done properly, it can affect the balance of the resultant Pinot Noir red. This was the first rosé made by winemaker James Rowan for the Wiffen family and was worried about how it would turn out. He needn’t have worried as the wine seems to get better on each showing. The fruit depth is sensational, and the confectionary element is perfectly judged. It is as refreshing as the first day I tried it, just under a year ago, and will be good next summer too. On this showing, 18.5/20

A new and innovative variety for New Zealand, and not seen widely by any means. Steve and Eileen Voysey are keen to experiment. Having tried with Gruner Veltliner, they are finding Albarino has a lot more character and vinosity. Steve describes the variety as having “brutal acidity”, and indeed this was racy stuff on release. Just a few months down the track, the acidity has a rounded edge to the edginess, and there’s more weight and richness to the texture. Lovely stonefruit and herbal nuances are appearing. This is a drier style as in the Spanish examples, and is looking good. Here, I rated it 17.5+/20

In this day of immediacy, most wines are fresh and new. There are 2013 and 2012 vintage Rieslings that fill the shelves, and they drink well even at this young stage. However, there are a few older wines around. Many people think they are too old and haven’t sold because they’re not good. But those in the know realise wines can improve in interest with time, Riesling especially. The taste of toastiness and honey shows in older Riesling and it can be an acquired taste. The Western Hills Wine Society members appreciate this taste. For me, this is looking fresher and younger, with more lime fruit and less toastiness. Beautifully so. Along with it, a little more fruit extraction and phenolic texture. This will be great with food. My score tonight 18.5+/20

Though planted throughout the country, Chardonnay just hasn’t made it in Central Otago. There are some who say a lighter hand to make Chablis-styled wines is best. And indeed, most winemakers in the region are treading carefully. There’s an enclave of good Central Otago Chardonnay from Bannockburn thankfully, with Felton Road and Carrick. This Desert Heart figures among them, and tonight the gunflint complexities just superb. Layer upon layer of interest. The creaminess has settled down to leave a fine phenolic line, and the overt oak toast absorbed. My rating 19.0-/20

The unidentified red grape used by a few in Martinborough, having being told it was Syrah. Genetic testing hasn’t identified it, but it has a touch of the hybrid ‘foxy’ taste. Vynfields have four rows and is alone in bottling it as a varietal. From a tough year, 2012 being so cold. But there’s no hint of greenness or stalkiness. The variety isn’t herbaceous, but the acidity shows the vintage, and tonight it carries the wine. It’s a creditable effort, and still shows the spicy, jammy, and peppery fruit. There’s nothing to compare it to, really? My score tonight 16.5+/20

Another experimental variety being trialled by Steve and Eileen Voysey. It has Pinot Noir genetic heritage, and it shows in the wine, but there is other componentry, and that’s what gives interest in the wine. Judge Rock in Alexandra and John Forrest in Marlborough have St Laurent too, and there’s plants at Ohau Gravels in the Kapiti district. Tonight it looked more savoury and less sweet fruited, but there’s a very positive core and linearity. A function of bottle-age, from when I tasted and noted it over a year ago. My score 17.0+/20

You can only grow Syrah successfully in the North Island? You need the heat to be successful? Certainly Hawke’s Bay and Waiheke Island excel with Syrah. But good examples are emergent from all over, and some from Waipara in North Canterbury. It’s a little hotter there than its latitude would suggest, and the Chapman family make the most of planting some on the 45° ‘Bank Block’ to bake in the sun. The flavours are ripe enough in the black berry fruits and black pepper spectrum, and there’s plenty of aromatics lifting the game. 2012 was a cooler year, and the racy acidity peeks through. Last time I tasted it, nearly a year ago, the acids were more integral. My score 18.0-/20

As I’ve noted elsewhere, the technical figures are all wrong here. This has a very high pH 3.87 and a very low acidity at 3.8 g/L TA. This wine should be broad, flat and extra soapy, dull and lifeless. Not so, it’s deliciously decadent, with a little more than subtle unctuousness. Lovely clarity and definition of varietal aromatics, the rose-petal and exotic florals just leaping out of the glass. Just before Christmas, I felt if it got to 3 years old, it’d be a success. I can see that happening easily. Unfortunately only 50 dozen 375 ml bottles were made, and it’s running out. My score even higher at 18.5/20

A Conclusion or Two
The one observation I made was that the rosé and whites looked better than ever at this tasting, whereas the reds somewhat leaner and more acidic. I find this an unusual result, as more often than not, all the wines behave in a similar fashion! There are minor variations on the scores made when originally tasted, showing the effects of bottle development for sure, plus the effects of the night, as being less tangible.

Putting the wines to a vote to the Western Hills Wine Society members, asked to nominate their most preferred and second choice wines, the Desert Heart Chardonnay first and Terrace Edge Syrah second were clear winners. Then The Writer’s Block LH Gewurztraminer and Lamont Riesling were in the next level of preference. The third tier was Spade Oak Albarino and Charles Wiffen Rosé, and Spade Oak St Laurent and Vynfields Mad Rooster at the end. It would be interesting to repeat the tasting in winter…

Wines that ‘Break the Rules’

The Western Hills Wine Society
The Western Hills Wine Society is one of the senior suburban wine clubs in Wellington, having celebrated their 30th anniversary recently. The club meets at the Maungaraki Community Centre on the first Wednesday of every month from February to December, with an annual wine option game conducted in November and a barbecue for December. A wine cellar is held, with around 100 bottles on the books at present. The club at present has a membership of around 24, and is welcoming new members.

The annual membership fee is $40.00 per person, and the attendance fee each meeting is $10.00 per person. Michael Kuus is the current president, and to join or for more information, contact him on Tel: 04 569-2273 (after hours), or on email: [email protected]


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