jamie goode's wine blog

Friday, October 30, 2009

Does Sauvignon age? Two older Seresins

Does Sauvignon Blanc age? I used to think 'no'; now I think 'usually not', but perhaps I should say 'yes, when the original wine is balanced and not too green.'

Here are two older Sauvignon Blancs from Seresin, one of Marlborough's leading producers. Both have aged well; the 2002 is very stylish indeed, the 1999 more 'interesting'.

Seresin Sauvignon Blanc 2002 Marlborough
92% Sauvignon, 8% Semillon, 7% fermented in French oak. Refined nose is minerally and citrussy with some tomato leaf and some green pepper notes. The palate has a lovely greenness that hasn't turned to tinned pea, with complex grassy, herby notes as well as some grapefruit freshness. This is still fresh and is ageing really beautifully, with chalky minerality under the fruit. 91/100

Seresin Sauvignon Blanc 1999 Marlborough
89% Sauvignon, 11% Semillon (this portion fermented in French oak). Yellow gold colour. Evolving with some toasty nutty notes and hints of oiliness. The palate is savoury with some lemony acid under the dense, subtly grassy minerally fruit. Still very much alive but perhaps past its best. 87/100

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

A lovely high-end Marlborough Sauvignon

A while back, I attended a remarkable tasting where we looked at top-flight Sauvignon Blanc. I asked the question, can it ever be serious?

Well, this is a wine that I was sent in response, from Seresin winemaker Clive Dougall. 'We aksed ourselves the same question in 2006,' says Clive, 'and in 2007 produced our first reserve Sauvignon Blanc, with the aim of creating a serious, complex and food friendly wine, which would improve with age.'

This wine was made from Seresin's oldest vines (18 years), thinned to three tonnes per hectare. The fruit is hand-picked, sorted and whole-bunch pressed, with no inoculation. Half is fermented in old oak, half in stainless steel. The wine is certified organic. I think it's pretty serious. UK availability is Armit (agent), suggested retail price £23.55.

Seresin Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2008 Marlborough, New Zealand
Amazingly full, aromatic nose with notes of grapefruit, passionfruit, herb and pear. Lots of richness, with a hint of greenness. The palate is complex and concentrated with sweet bold fruit and a subtle herbiness, as well as a nice minerality. Texturally rich but still fresh. Brilliantly poised. 92/100

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 1986

It has been a lovely day. One to cherish. It's interesting how one good day counts for at least as many as three or four bad days, cancelling out all the negative energy. We went over to my younger sister's place in Gerrard's cross, where we met with her family, my twin sister's family and my parents. It was good fun, with a BBQ, some football, some cricket, a bit of table tennis and some table football, as well as numerous young kids running riot.

I digress. I wanted to post a belated note on a remarkable wine that Oz Clarke brought along to a recent icon Sauvignon Blanc tasting as a blind ringer, which I have just written up here. It turned out to be the 1986 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc. This was just the second vintage of this iconic wine, and it was a real treat to taste this piece of Marlborough 'archeaology', which has survived remarkably well. The 2000, tasted this August, had also evolved in interesting ways.

My note, as written blind:

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 1986 Marlborough, New Zealand
Deep yellow/gold colour. Intense, herby nose with a hint of greenness, as well as toast, honey and butter notes. Bold palate is very rich with savoury, herby characters. Very unusual. A distinctive style with lots of weight and some sweetness. Quite remarkable. 92/100

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

The world's best Pinot Noirs

When I was first getting into wine, the line with Pinot Noir was that it was a tricky grape that didn't really perform outside Burgundy.

Relearn. That's just not true anymore. Aside from the top producers and the best vineyards, Pinot Noir doesn't perform all that well in Burgundy. And now other countries are getting much more consistent results.

My desert island Pinot Noirs are the famed wines of Burgundy. But I can't really afford them, and buying affordable red Burgundy is generally an unrewarding business. My rankings of the best Pinot Noir producing regions now reads more like this:

= 1. New Zealand (Waipara, Wairarapa, Central Otago, Marlborough)
=1. Oregon
3. Burgundy

Today's wine has been an incredibly elegant Kiwi Pinot Noir, and the dregs of yesterday's De Bortoli. The Kiwi Pinot is the best I've yet tried from Marlborough.

Koru Pinot Noir 2007 Marlboroughy, New Zealand
From a single 1.1 hectare vineyard, just 311 cases were made. This is special. Beautifully smooth, pure, complex, elegant nose of dark cherry and plum fruit, with some deeper spice and herb notes. The palate is concentrated and intense with lovely rich cherry fruit, but its trademark is that it is just so elegant, with a wonderful minerality and smooth, silky texture. Brilliant effort, although it is, sadly, rather expensive. 93/100 (£34 Hellion Wines)

see also: my note on the Koru Sauvignon Blanc 2007

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Two iconic Marlborough Sauvignons

So what are the two most important wines from New Zealand? Tough question, but my answer would be a pair of Sauvignon Blancs from the Marlborough region. They weren't the first wines to be made in this region, but they were the ones that established its reputation and led to its current status as the best place on the globe to grow the Sauvignon Blanc grape. I like them both, but while I'd count them as New Zealand's most important wines, they're not currently its best wines, by quite a long margin.

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2008 Marlborough, New Zealand
Thereís something magical about Cloudy Bay. An iconic wine, particularly here in the UK where it used to be almost impossible to find on shelves, and which some merchants sold for as much as £25 a bottle. People love it: the label, the name, the wine. Anyway, availability seems to have improved Ė I picked this up in Sainsburyís. Assertive, grassy nose with complex herbal flavours with some nice aromatics and a hint of tropical fruit. The palate is intense and herby with some grapefruit and citrus character, as well as high acidity. Not as rich and showy as the early Cloudy Bays, but still an attractive wine. 88/100 (£16.99 Sainsburyís, 13.5% alcohol)

Montana Sauvignon Blanc 2008 Marlborough, New Zealand
A classic: this is one of the wines that established Marlborough as a great place to grow Sauvignon Blanc. Itís also the wine that introduced me to Sauvignon Blanc back in the early 1990s. Made in reasonable quantities, itís totally reliable and a great ambassador for New Zealand wine. Fresh, lively nose with great balance between the grassy, herby aromas and the richer passion fruit characters. The palate is lively and intensely fruity with green grassy, grapefruity freshness allied with fuller tropical fruit notes. It has lots of personality. 88/100 (£7.93 Asda, 12.5% alcohol)
Read more about the origins of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and the importance of Montana's here.

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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Different faces of Pinot Noir

We had some good friends over last night for dinner, two couples and another friend, all of whom we've known for 20 years. There's something rich about this sort of history.

Among the various wines we consumed, there was a nice pair of Pinot Noirs, one from Burgundy and one from New Zealand - interestingly, both similarly priced.

The first was Drouhin's Rully 2006 (c £14 Waitrose). It's pale in colour (remember, this is often a good thing with Pinot), and quite savoury with an earthy edge to the attractive cherry fruit. Delicious, but lacks perhaps a touch of elegance.

The second is Villa Maria's Reserve Pinot Noir 2006 Marlborough (£15.99 Tesco, Noel Young, Fresh & Wild, Hailsham Cellars, nzhouseofwine). It's deep coloured, with lovely sweet dark cherry fruit and some raspberry and blackcurrant richness. While this is quite a rich wine, it's pure and elegant, too.

Which did people prefer? Some liked the Burgundy best, but I marginally preferred the New Zealand Pinot, with its richness as well as elegance. A close call, though.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A duo of Sauvignons: Aussie meets Kiwi

Two Sauvignons this evening. Quite interesting.

Nepenthe Sauvignon Blanc 2008 Adelaide Hills, Australia
Pale coloured, this is a really impressive Aussie Sauvignon. It's crisp and super-fresh, with herbs and minerals on the nose, and a palate of lemony, herby fruit with a slight tropical lift. Minerally acidity keeps this lean and refreshing, with a lovely transparency to it. 88/100 (£8.99 Majestic, reduced to £5.99 until 28/04/09 - at which price it's a bargain; 13.5% alcohol)

Ara Resolute Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Marlborough, New Zealand
This isn't your typical Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. It's a concentrated, mineralic style with less of the tropical flourishes you might expect from the region. Instead, the focus is on concentrated, tight, herby, citrussy fruit with a distinctly savoury green pepper character on the palate. Great concentration and minerality; this really needs food to show its best at the moment. 89/100 (£13.99 Majestic; 13.5% alcohol)

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dog Point: serious NZ wines

Two wines from Dog Point, a premium New Zealand winery formed by ex-Cloudy Bay viticulturalist and winemaker team Ivan Sutherland and James Healy. These wines are better than Cloudy Bay! Especially the remarkable Pinot Noir, which I really enjoyed.

Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Marlborough, New Zealand
Lively aromatic nose with a nice combination of intense, grassy herby notes with restrained passion fruit character. It falls on the side of freshness rather than richness. The palate is concentrated, rich, vibrant and intense with lovely rich fruity characters combining with grassy, minerally freshness. Fantastic grown-up Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc of real interest. 91/100 (£12.95 Berry Bros & Rudd)

Dog Point Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006 Marlborough, New Zealand
This is just fantastic. One of the very best New Zealand Pinot Noirs: complex, balanced, and every so slightly funky. The nose has a lovely subtly meaty, spicy, warm, herb tinged cherry fruit character, as well as some floral, almost northern RhŰne-like notes. The palate is textured and elegant with beautifully balanced savoury spiciness, just a touch of herbiness, and sweet berry fruits with just enough structure to keep things savoury. Beautifully poised and very easy to drink, this has seriousness, elegance and charm. 94/100 (13.5% alcohol, cork sealed) (£20.50 Berry Bros & Rudd)

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Blind River: another great New Zealand Pinot

Very keen on New Zealand Pinot Noir at the moment. Helps feed my Pinot addiction. Let's face it, while the best red Burgundies are peerless, the average quality in Burgundy is low disappointing, and there's not much to like about almost all affordable red Burgundy. But New Zealand delivers in the £10-20 range and seldom really disappoints.

Blind River Pinot Noir 2007 Marlborough, New Zealand
Lovely vibrant, fresh, sweet cherry fruit nose with some spiciness. The palate shows complex cherry and plum fruit with a subtle greenness as well as rich spicy character. It's fresh and fruity but there's more to it than just fruit: there's richness and depth, too. A brilliant effort: it's still quite primary but likely will develop well over the next five years. 92/100 (£17.99 Oddbins)

Find this wine with wine-searcher.com

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Koru Sauvignon Blanc: remarkable stuff!

Here's a really fantastic Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough. It's made by Jasper and Sarah Raats (which is the name of Jasper's family's vineyard in South Africa), who I've just found out are involved with one of my other favourite Marlborough Sauvignon producers Clos Henri. Their own wines come from a 1 hectare vineyard in the upper Wairau valley with stony loam and silt soil (Sauvignon), and a 1.1 hectare vineyard at the foot of the Wither hills on clay soil (Pinot).

You can read more about Koru on their website. Interestingly, they state:

'We also believe that the fresh herbaceous, capsicum, grassy flavours in Sauvignon Blanc, that many people love, is not the only flavour spectrum possible in NZ Sauvignon Blanc. It actually has a very complex flavour profile that develops with more time out on the vine and ripening in the sun. The flavours we are after also includes flavours of lime, lemon, grapefruit, ripe gooseberry, passion fruit, very ripe kiwifruit and, if we are lucky, some gunflint and mineral tones.'
They've certainly achieved this here:

Koru Sauvignon Blanc 2007 South Island, New Zealand
Sealed with natural cork. Made from a 1 hectare single vineyard by Jasper and Sarah Raats, this is an intense, concentrated Sauvignon Blanc with rich peach, pear and passion fruit character, together with a bit of grapefruit freshness. It's really intense and well balanced with ripeness and richness to the fore. It isn't grassy like so many Sauvignons, but tends to the more tropical end of the flavour spectrum, while still retaining freshness. This is certainly quite expensive, but it is one of the very best Kiwi Sauvignons out there. 93/100 (£22 Hellion Wines)
Find this wine with wine-searcher.com

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Montana Sauvignon Blanc: new release of an affordable iconic wine

The first release of Montana Sauvignon Blanc was in 1979, which puts it at the dawn of history in this, the largest and most well known of New Zealandís wine regions. Considering the impact that Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has had on the wine world, itís amazing to consider that this region didnít really take off until the mid-1980s.

New Zealand has a history of wine dating back to 1819, when the first grape vines were planted by a missionary named Samuel Marsden in the north of North Island (although thereís no record of him making wine Ė you have to wait another 16 years for this). But until the 1970s, the wine industry didnít develop much. Indeed, an early edition of Hugh Johnsonís famous World Atlas of Wine dating from 1970 doesnít even mention New Zealand.

Some growth occurred in the 1970s, but then there was a problem of over-production that resulted in a vine pull. The problem was that Kiwis generally preferred beer to wine.

It was in 1973 that Montana planted the first commercial vines of the modern era in Marlborough. Montana founder Frank Yukich decided read more...

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A crazy Pinotage and two from Waitrose

I can't help, when it comes to Pinotage, descending to a level of criticism that I object to when I see it from others, if you know what I mean. I become dogmatic and opinionated.

Normally, I reckon I'm an open-minded sort of guy. I embrace diversity. Live and let live; see the best in everything; every cloud has a silver lining; everyone deserves a second chance.

But Pinotage is vile. In fact, I've thought of both a new competition, and also a new way to assess wine show judges based on this variety. The new competition is for the World's Least Vile Pinotage, and perhaps I should brand this with my name to make it an excercise in ugly self-promotion (as some other, nameless, writers do with top 100s and the like). And the new way to assess wine show judges is to give them a glass of Pinotage. If they say it's OK, they're sacked. If they dislike it, they are in. If they take a sip, cuss loudly and expel the contents from their mouths rapidly, then they are senior judges.

Anyway, I think I have found a potential winner for my competition. It's the Diemersfontein Pinotage 2007 Wellington, South Africa. The back label reads:
'This is the one! The original coffee/chocolate Pinotage now in its seventh great vintage. It befriends - it converts - it seduces'

You know, Diemersfontein have sussed Pinotage. The way to make it work is to mask the flavours of the grape. This wine really does smell of coffee and chocolate, and it is seductive. There's a hint of roast bacon here, as well. The fruit is sweet, and it's actually quite delicious, in a rather strange, slightly weird way. This is available in the UK from Asda, and it's probably my favourite expression of Pinotage.

Also tasted tonight, with a barbecue after watching elder son play cricket (golden duck this time, alas, and after we'd spent ages in the nets trying to work on some sort of defensive strategy), a couple from Waitrose which go well with this balmy summer's evening. They're from the Waitrose own-label range, which are sort of hybrid 'in partnership with' wines.

The first is a beautifully balanced, rich Sauvignon from Villa Maria (Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007) that's really delicious. The second is a Barossa Shiraz 2006 Reserve from St Hallett, which is smooth and pure with nice texture and a hint of vanilla and chocolate. It's suave and stylish, if a little primary.

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Two stunning kiwis, and a note on the power of terroir

To my mind, New Zealand is the new world country that is coming closest to making high-end wines with some of the complexity and interest of the best from the old world. [Maybe this is a bit unfair on California.] I'm hesitant to say this lest it be misinterpreted; I don't want people to think I'm an old fogey who thinks that Bordeaux and Burgundy have a monopoly on fine wine. But if you're honest, and you've tasted serious high-end wines from around the world, then you'll doubtless share my view that the new world can't yet compete at the very top end.
Anyway, New Zealand continues to make strides, and here are two wines that I reckon are pretty serious. The first is the latest release of Clos St Henri, the 2006 of which I tried a couple of weeks ago in Tate Britain. The second is a delicious Merlot (don't say that often...) from the Gimblett Gravels, a fantastic terroir in New Zealand's Hawkes Bay region. I'd say this wine shows as much Gimblett character as it does Merlot character; I reckon a Gimblett Syrah is closer to this wine than a Merlot from somewhere else, if you see what I mean.
Clos Henri Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Marlborough, New Zealand
Amazing stuff, this Sauvignon made by Henri Bourgeois of Sancerre. It's beautifully textured with good balance between the sweet, ripe pear and peach notes and the green grassy herby, gooseberry character. Real intensity and complexity here, with lovely focus and just the right amount of greenness to confer savoury freshness. I love the packaging, too - this is one of the few (5%?) of New Zealand wines that is still cork sealed. 93/100 (UK agent Les Caves de Pyrene)
Villa Maria Reserve Merlot 2005 Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
This tastes so much of the Gimblett Gravels - it reminds me of the Syrahs that I've had from here, even though it's a Merlot? Is that terroir? I still think Syrah is the best variety for this patch of ground, but there's no doubting that this is a lovely Merlot. Deep coloured, it has a lovely fresh, bright peppery, gravelly edge to the well defined blackberry and raspberry fruit. The palate has lovely definition with lovely freshness, concentration and ripeness. There's some nice tannic structure. Pretty serious, especially for a Merlot. 93/100 (£15.99 Waitrose, http://www.nzhouseofwine.co.uk/)

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

A great weekend, and New Zealand's top Sauvignon Blanc?

So, Fiona and I were given a nice present by our good friends Karl and Kate. The deal was they would get to look after our lovely children and RTL for the weekend; we would get to go to a five star hotel in London at their expense. Very generous of them, especially if you've met our children and hound.

We kicked off our 30-ish hours of liberation by a long lunch at the Tate Britain. The food here is solidly good - simple and effective, with a modern-British feel. The wine list is sensational and fairly priced. The surroundings are nice, too.

I struck gold ordering the wines: a bottle of 2006 Clos Henri Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough (£29), and a half of Crozes Hermitage Vieilles Vignes 2005 from Domaine du Murinais (£12). The Clos Henri was simply the best Marlborough Sauvignon I've ever tried - big, multidimensional, rich but precise. The Murinais Crozes was all that you could ever expect from a modestly expensive Syrah - pure, sweet fruit with lovely definition and an almost Burgundian elegance. No hint of rusticity.

We wandered the gallery a bit. Turner is the dominant force here - and you can understand why, because his work is remarkable. Afterwards we headed off to the hotel (Renaissance Chancery Court, Holborn) where we slobbed out, with the help of some Pol Roger NV. Then this morning we got up late before finding a fantastic breakfast spot a short walk away from the Charing Cross Road. Now we are home, and the kids and RTL shall shortly be returning. It's been a brilliant weekend.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Sauvignon and Pinotage: confronting prejudice

You'd think after a week of tasting some 500 wines, I'd be running away from the stuff. Aversion therapy, I think they call it.

Not a bit of it. Instead, my palate is like an athelete's body, finely honed by an intensive training regime, and working with even greater precision and discriminative power. [Deliberately silly, this bit.]

Two prejudices to face head-on, tonight. First, that Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is dull and predictable. Second, that all Pinotage is vile, filthsome stuff. Both prejudices prove to be ill-founded, on this occasion at least.

Mud House Sauvignon Blanc 2007 Marlborough, New Zealand
This is deliciously concentrated and fresh, with a lively, assertive cut-grass and green pepper herbaceousness, as well as piercing lemony, grapefruit pith fruit. A wake-up call to the palate. Deliciously intense and well balanced, this is a versatile wine that would match up well with some of the strong flavours of modern fusion cuisine. 90/100 (£12, UK agent MMD Ltd)

Sizanani Pinotage 2006 Stellenbosch, South Africa
40% of this brand is owned by an employees trust (http://www.sizanani-wines.co.za/). It's a really gluggable, fruit-forward wine with soft sweet berry and dark cherry fruits countered by a bitter, plummy, tarry, slightly rubbery twist. The overall effect is of a juicy red wine with a sense of deliciousness and enough savouriness to make it work with take-away pizza or spaghetti bolognaise. It takes the slightly negative features of Pinotage and turns them into positives in the context of this wine, so I think it's worthwhile in the right context. 83/100 (£5.99 Oddbins)

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Mud House Pinot Noir

One of my favourite ways of relaxing is by doing a bit of work. This sounds nuts: it makes me out to be some crazy sort of workaholic who needs to get his head examined, his priorities sorted out and a course of sessions with a therapist booked, promptly.

So let me qualify that. The sort of work I like to do to relax is to open a few bottles of wine, and drink them. Not all of them; just a little of each. And then to write about them here, in real time, on this blog. Sometimes I'll revisit wines a day after opening to see how they are holding out. I like to look at wines the way someone who's brought a bottle to drink would look at them - I think this perspective, that of a reader, is easily lost in sniff and spit trade tastings.

Perception of wine is a funny old business. We bring to the glass as much as the glass brings to us. If you don't believe that, open a bottle of DRC with a random selection of people you meet on the street. Get the point?

Tonight's wine, which I've had open a day or two, is a really impressive Marlborough Pinot Noir.

Mud House Pinot Noir 2007 Marlborough, New Zealand
Aromatic, bright sweet cherry and berry fruit nose is quite startling in its purity and freshness, and has a herby lift I often find in Marlborough Pinot. The palate is brightly fruited and cherryish, with some sweetness, but also a savoury, spicy twist. Nicely elegant with a delicious, vivid sort of personality. This isn't meant to be Burgundy, but it has a light touch and is only 13.3% alcohol - low by New World standards. 91/100 (c. £12 retail, UK agent MMD)

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

I love NZ Pinot Noir!

Most wine nuts have a Pinot Noir epiphany. They start off wondering why peope make such a fuss about this variety - it's not a grape that makes big, heavy, intense wines (remember, size tends to impess newbies). Then, some way into their journey of exploration they suddenly 'get' Pinot Noir, and fall in love with it. But even then Pinot Noir is a bit like an unreliable lover - you suffer a lot of pain along the way, although the occasional highs make you persevere through the trouble.

The first Pinot Noir that really got me hooked on this variety was a New Zealand Pinot - I think it was from Palliser Estate. Since then, I've found New Zealand to be the most reliable source of delicious, elegant, complex Pinot Noir. Burgundy, of course, makes the greatest expressions of this grape, but it's just all to easy to spend £30 on a red Burgundy that just tastes simple, or square, or ungenerous, or inelegant.

For the last couple of days I've been drinking a fantastic Kiwi Pinot. Now I'm getting to the stage where I'm starting to get regionality in NZ Pinot Noir. Marlborough, Martinborough, Waipara and Central Otago all have distinctive regional characters to their Pinots, which are hard to explain, but which I might have a chance of getting right tasting the wines blind (or maybe not...). This Pinot is from Marlborough, and has that vibrant, slightly sappy berryish character that Marlborough Pinots share. It's a really great wine - not cheap at £17, but good value nonetheless.

Blind River Pinot Noir 2006 Marlborough, New Zealand
Hand harvested from the Awatare Valley, small batch processing with indigenous yeasts and maturation in French oak. This has a lovely perfume: aromatic cherry/berry/raspberry fruit with some dark spiciness and a bit of sappiness. There's a liqueur-like purity here. The palate is sweetly fruited with lovely purity and smoothness. A bit of plummy bitterness adds contrast. An impressive Pinot Noir of real poise. 92/100 (£17.99 Oddbins)

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

NZ (5) the Marlborough wine region

I've mentioned before how I think that visiting wine regions is important: you can taste as much as you like and read as much as you like, but it is only when you see where the wine comes from that it really clicks.

Over the last couple of days in Marlborough, this has certainly happened for me. There's so much to say, I don't really know where to start, but here's a woefully brief account.

Flying into Blenheim, you land right in the middle of the vineyards of the Wairau Valley plain: this is the heart of the wine region, and it's flat, with a sea of vines in all directions and not a lot else.

Five minutes after landed I had picked up my hire car, parked it, and was taken off by Damian Martin of Ara. Ara is an impressive new project: in a subregion of Marlborough some distance inland from Blenheim, Ara have started developing an enormous terrace of 1600 hectares. They've already put 400 hectares or so in, and they are tilting for the top. The vineyards are brilliantly run, with closer spacing than is normal for Marlborough, and a focus on Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Two wines have so far been released under the brand 'Composite', and more will follow. One to watch.

I spent the afternoon and evening with Damian - he invited me to his home (he has a French wife and three charming bilingual children) where we dined well on green lipped mussels (these are approximately four times larger than normal mussels, and are delicious) and salmon. We drank Ara wines, and finished with a beautiful Te Mata Coleraine 1998.

On Sunday morning I was up early to drive round the Wairau Valley taking pictures, before heading over to Montana's Brancott Winery. The vivid, startlingly intense sunlight was welcome after Saturday's leaden skies and biting wind. Katie Speakman, the Tour and Business Development Manager, drove me round the three main subregions of the district: the Awatare Valley, Wairau Valley and Raupaura. I learned a new word: hoon. Katie is with child, and needs her sleep, yet lives next door to some hoons who kept her awake all Friday night partying. Noise control confiscated their stereo system (again) but they just moved on next door... And I thought Blenheim was a sleepy rural town.

I lunched with Patrick Materman, who is the chief winemaker for Montana and the other brands that are made at the immense Brancott winery. We tried through quite a lot of wines, and had some fun discussions. Did you know that with 3000 tons of Pinot Noir passing through the winery here, this is perhaps the world's largest producer of this noble variety?

I left just before 4 pm, and headed out of town to Picton, some 25 kms away. This is where you catch the ferry to Wellington, and it is at the head of the Marlborough sounds. I took the Queen Charlotte Drive, a winding road through the sounds, with spectacular views all along. It was indescribably beautiful in the late afternoon sun - one of the world's great drives (am I getting carried away?).

After heading back into Blenheim, I wandered into town hoping to find something to eat. I opted for the Whalehaven restaurant, where I dined well, alone. Solitary dining can feel a little lonely, but I had a good book, a glass of Riesling and a couple of glasses of Pinot Noir, and had a thoroughly enjoyable time. I went to bed feeling immensely grateful.

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