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Yealands Wine Group Showcase

By March 12, 2014No Comments
It seems strange that the Yealands Wine Group, one of Marlborough and this country’s most significant winegrowers, was conducting its inaugural showcase tasting. The reality is that Yealands is one of the youngest producers, but having achieved what it may take a lifetime to do for others, Peter Yealands has done in the space of just over five years, it seems as though the company has been a permanent fixture. This shows how quick an impact that it has had on the wine scene and peoples’ minds.

As a participant in last years ‘Wine Marlborough’ event in September, I was privy to be part of a convoy that toured the Awatere region, and we drove through endless miles of the Yealands Estate vineyard. It was impressive to see vines stretch around us as far as the eye could see. The property in its entirety is immaculate and its devotion to sound environmental practices evident. There’s a bit of the tall poppy syndrome when it comes to looking at Yealands, but an objective view will conclude there is much to admire.

Peter Yealands – Proprietor, Yealands Wine Group

The Inaugural Showcase
Peter Yealands, the man himself, two of his senior winemakers, Tamra Kelly-Washington of Yealands in Marlborough and Miles Dineen of Crossroads, Hawke’s Bay, plus a contingent of sales and marketing people arrived in Wellington following a tasting event in Auckland the day before. On show was a selection of the commercial Yealands Marlborough wines, a selection of key Crossroads new releases, and single vineyard bottlings of Yealands wines. Scheduled into the time was a masterclass with a presentation of around a dozen of these to show vintage differences with the Crossroads wines and terroir variation with the Yealands expressions. For an inaugural event, it had all the makings of any long-running show. Due to time constraints, I had a quick run through the Crossroads wines and Yealand single vineyard bottlings, while talking to Miles and Tamra respectively. Here are my impressions.

Miles Dineen – Winemaker, Crossroads

Crossroads with Miles Dineen
Miles Dineen, a Hawke’s Bay man, has been with Crossroads since 2004, returning home to join Matt Mitchell’s winemaking team in the days when Crossroads was owned by Ager Sectus. Since then, Miles has become in charge, and the winery has grown to process around 1,000 tonnes of fruit. He was very pleased to show the new 2013 wines, the result of an outstanding vintage, as well as his efforts in the more challenging 2012 year.

First tasted was the ‘Milestone’ Sauvignon Blanc 2013, showing clear-cut varietal herbaceous aomas and flavours, without and unripeness as such, the wine indeed showing ripe textures and acidity, flowing smoothly in the mouth. Next the ‘Milestone’ Pinot Gris 2013, very refined on nose with steely pear fruit and florals, and surprising fruit sweetness, belying its 4 g/L RS. Youthfully tight and with much to unfold. Then the ‘Milestone’ Gewurztraminer 2013, lovely lifted perfumes of rose-petals, hints of honey and the characteristic hint of bitterness on the finish, balanced superbly by the 9-10 g/L RS. It’s easy to see why this was highly rated in the latest Cuisine magazine, this is a real star.

Crossroads has a handle on Chardonnay, as can be seen by two offerings. The ‘Milestone’ Chardonnay 2013 with 84% barrel fermentation, 10% MLF and 10-15% new oak with the trendy, funky, flinty reduction on nose and a palate displaying a lovely mix of the funk with sweetly lush citrussy fruits, the ripeness just perfect. A step up was the ‘Winemakers Collection’ Chardonnay 2012, mainly Mendoza clone with clone 95, fully barrel-fermented but no MLF. This is richness and density personified, gently rich, sweet and voluptuous, with layers of fruit and funky complexities, all in a harmonious whole. Though seen as a tough year, Chardonnay may be the best performing variety, and this is a stunner.

Onto the reds, these mainly from older vintages. Bordeaux varietals first, led by the ‘Milestone Merlot 2012, lighter in colour, softly herbaceous on bouquet, but also softly textured. Some cool, curranty flavours, and a touch dry in terms of fruit sweetness, but there’s plenty to be happy with. Next, the ‘Winemakers Collection’ Cabernet Franc 2010, an unusual wine with an idiosyncratic savoury smoke and vegetal-herbal amalgam on nose, but lovely cedary, spicy flavours and richness on palate redeeming the bouquet. I’ve seen this before and loved it, so maybe my mood today? Then the ‘Winemakers Collection’ Cabernet/Merlot 2012, approx. 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, nearly 45% Merlot and some ‘binding agent’ Syrah in the mix. Sure, it’s cooler on bouquet, but this is supple and soft with lovely red fruits and shows length.

The heavy hitters followed. The ‘Milestone’ Syrah 2012 is a typical style for Crossroads, more about elegance and fragrance, rather than a statement of ripeness and power. Lighter in colour, white florals and white pepper and a soft red-fruited core, all put together with balance and ease. Really drinkable. The ‘Winemakers Collection’ Syrah 2012 is also not a blockbuster, only deeper, a little richer and riper, slightly blacker fruits and a touch more oak to match, Harmony is its trademark, and an even better drinker! The final wine in the official line-up was the ‘Talisman’ 2011. The varietal make-up of this wine is never disclosed, and Miles is good at keeping a secret, and has fun doing so. All he’d admit is that it’s now around five varieties used instead of seven, the ‘mystery’ grapes higher than ever in proportion. The 2011 is not the sizeable wine of previous vintages, but is still packed with layers of savoury dark red and brown spices. The touch of reduction on bouquet will fade, and already the structure on palate shows how serious this is, even from the 2011 vintage. Collectors will be pleased to have this release in their cellars.

As an extra, before I shot out the door, Miles poured two extra 2013 wines, both tank samples now finished barrel maturation. A ‘Milestone’ Merlot 2013, showing elegance and sweet, ripe raspberry and near-jam like aromas, plus plummy lusciousness on the palate. This seems to be a characteristic of 2013 Merlot barrel samples I’ve seen so far. The ‘Milestone’ Syrah 2013 was a touch reductive on nose, as Syrah often is, but showed true black fruits, black pepper and black spices, on a tight, but fine-grained palate. These look really promising… www.crossroadswines.co.nz

Tamra Kelly-Washington – Chief Winemaker, Yealands

Yealands with Tamra Kelly-Washington
Tamra Kelly-Washington won’t like me describing her as ‘Glam Tam’, but she is the poster girl for the Yealands Wine Group. However, she’s accomplished and very experienced with many vintages running large wineries, and carries the responsibilities with consummate ease and flair, thoroughly deserving the title of Yealands Chief Winemaker. I found this out on my first visit to Yealands back in July 2011 (click here to see my report). In the past three years, she has guided the growth and development of the wines from new vines and a new winery plant successfully. The differentiation of the Yealands wines into tiers and the emergence of the specialised ‘Single Block’ and innovative varietals have been her projects, and she can be proud of what she has done. Tamra took me through a tasting of the new 2013 and current 2012 wines, plus some older vintages.

Sauvignon Blanc is everything at Yealands, and great focus is put on getting its varied expressions right. The introductory wine was a ‘Single Vineyard’ Sauvignon Blanc 2013. Fresh, lively, pungent, with a palate that combines soft sweetness and fine textured linearity, this is the perfect aperitif.

A run through the ‘Single Block’ wines is fascinating stuff. Firstly the ‘S1’ Sauvignon Blanc 2013, from an Awatere site furthest from the coast. Pungent passionfruit thiols, with softness and density, yet a fine line of acidity and plenty of lusciousness and sweetness. A statement of ‘sweaty’ Sauvignon Blanc in the best sense with beautiful freshness. Then as a contrast, the ‘L5’ Sauvignon Blanc 2012, from a site overlooking the sea coast in the Awatere This is really tightly bound with cut, intensity and linearity. The palate is marked by spicy fruit and acidity, the flavours now entering the secondary and complex spectrum.

Then onto the ‘M2’ Sauvignon Blanc 2013, from the Lower Wairau. Even more of a statement than the ‘S1’ in pungent passionfruit and tropical fruit flavours, this packed with great density and layers of sweat and earth. This will be over the top for many, but heaven for others. I loved it. This was followed by the ‘M2’ Sauvignon Blanc 2012, clearly related to the 2013, but now becoming diminished in outright sweatiness, becoming more integrated and a little bean-like in secondary interest. Some would say it’s more stylish.

The final two with this variety were Tamra’s foray into the use of barrel fermentation, usually around 30%, these portions going through MLF, and the use of batonnage. The amount of new oak is minimal, but positive. Firstly the ‘Reserve’ Sauvignon Blanc 2012, showing a combination of complex bottle-age bean-like aromas and flavours melded with spicy stonefruits such as nectarines and greengages. Lovely oak spicing, and still with plenty of fresh acid cut. The ‘Reserve’ Sauvignon Blanc 2013 is more restrained, tighter, fresh and with more cut and linearity. The fruit purity is the feature, but there is underlying sophisticated detail, just waiting to unfold. A little textured grip adds to the finesse.

The next pair was led by the ‘Single Vineyard’ Riesling 2011, extremely tight and refined, with intense lime fruit and subtle toasty complexities. This is a classical example of ageworthy Riesling with a long life ahead of it, the wine at 11.5% alc. and 7 g/L RS, but an very low pH. The was followed by a ‘Single Vineyard’ Gruner Veltliner 2013, at 3 g/L RS, but carrying surprising sweetness, clearly fruit sweetness. Subtle herbs, passionfruit and white pepper, but more lush than phenolic led, and deliciously so. I’d imagine this would be a Gruner Veltliner to enjoy earlier.

A couple of Pinot Gris to follow, the first being a ‘Single Vineyard Pinot Gris 2013. Tight, steely and reminiscent of Pinot Grigio, but more rounded, sweeter and more mellow on palate without any of the austerity as suggested by the bouquet. Then the ‘Single Block’ ‘R6’ Pinot Gris 2012, from an inland Awatere site, showing riper, more yellow stonefruit aromas and flavours, and now beginning to develop breadth and bottle age savoury interest. Layers of detailing are apparent here.

The final two whites were the exotics. There’s a special plot of Viognier planted by Peter Yealands, and Tamra takes only the best fruit from it for the ‘Single Vineyard Viognier 2012. It captures the opulent and unctuous mouthfeel of proper expressions of the variety, but the aromas are still a little shy and unforthcoming. Even with some time in bottle, it’s restrained, but the promise of the mouthfeel suggests there’s goodness waiting to be unlocked. And the ‘Single Vineyard’ Gewurztraminer 2011 is a respectable representation of the variety. Rose-petals and steely Awatere terroir, with savoury bottle age and ginger notes, a lively sweetness level to cover the inherent varietal bitterness on the finish.

Two Yealands reds finished my experience of the showcase. The ‘Single Vineyard’ Pinot Noir 2011 shows the lightness of the vintage. Light in colour with easy cherry and red floral fruit aromas and flavours, this has perfumes and lift, and a sweet, supple fruitiness carried by a light, herbal core. Then a rare ‘Single Vineyard’ Tempranillo 2012, also light as the Pinot Noir is, and indeed an alternative drink to that variety with flavours of red fruits, pepper and eucalypt on a supple, light palate. There ‘s a little more alcohol – closer to 14.0%, and the influence of nearby grown eucalypt trees showing, according to Tamra. It’s a work in progress, but it should yield a wine with a point of difference.

As intimated at the start of this article, it is surprising how much Yealands has achieved is such a short time. The Yealands wines already show clear tier differentiation, and the ‘Single Block’ wines express terroir. It’s only a matter of time as the vines grow older, and this is bound to add to the consistency, richness and ageworthiness of the wines. On the way, Tamra and her team will become more sophisticated in making the wines. www.yealands.co.nz

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