In New Zealand, day 1: Wanaka, Central Otago - Maude and Rippon

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I’m back in Central Otago, for my fourth visit. I’m slowly beginning to understand a little about this remarkable wine region, and yesterday saw a lovely set of visits to four different producers, all of whom are doing something quite special. I’ll write the day up in two batches, beginning with a morning in Wanaka.

Sarah-Kate Dineen

Sarah-Kate Dineen

First up, Maude, with Dan and Sarah-Kate Dineen. Dan’s an Aussie, and they were working there as winemakers before returning to Sarah-Kate’s home in Central Otago in 2006.

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Just outside Wanaka, SK’s parents Dawn and Terry Wilson had planted a beautiful terraced 4 hectare vineyard that they called Mount Maude in 1994, and they returned to make the wines from this, plus added another label, simply ‘Maude’, for wines made from a wider selection of vineyards across the region.

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I was really impressed by the Rieslings from the Mount Maude vineyard. The regular Mount Maude Riesling is dry and delicate, with lovely focus. 2015 is already showing beautifully. And there’s also the East Block Riesling, first made in 2010, which is an off-dry style. We tried both the 2015 and the 2012, and they are beautifully complex and weighted.

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Chardonnay here is a real surprise. There isn’t a lot of it, but it’s superb, with 2014 and a cask sample of 2015 really impressing. And I also really liked the first, as yet unlabelled Maude traditional method fizz, which is made from base wines from 2004, 5, 8, 11 and 12, and shows richness and depth.

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Pinot is a big focus, as you’d expect, and the Mount Maude Pinots are very fine, with a nice savoury, structural dimension as well as depth of fruit. The surprise here, though, was a new wine, which will probably be bottled separately (please!) called Love Bug. In 2015 they decided to vinify some of the Mount Maude Pinot that never made it into the main wine a bit differently. So whole bunches were fermented pretty much intact for three and a half weeks before being pressed and fermentation finished in old barrels. The result? A pale coloured Pinot with beautiful aromatics and elegance. Very pure and quite natural.

Nick and Jo Mills

Nick and Jo Mills

Next visit was Rippon, in Wanaka. I’d been here back in 2010 on my first visit to the region, and it was lovely to see the progress that Nick and Jo Mills have made. They are, potentially, making the best wines in the region at the moment.

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The 2013 releases are astonishingly good, and are beginning to open up just a little. ‘These have been compressed to undrinkable in their first year in bottle,’ says Nick, who is clearly relieved that he got it right after all.

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Their biodynamically farmed, 15 hectare vineyard has some of the most famous views of any New Zealand wine estate, looking out onto the lake with the small island that provides a surprising degree of shelter from wind.

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As well as making superb Pinot, they also produce lovely Riesling (a look at the developing 2009 was a nice treat) and a serious Gewurztraminer.

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Plus the Gamay: from just 12 rows, the Rippon Gamay is a small production gem that captures the savoury stony brightness and black plum and cherry fruit of this variety quite wonderfully.

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