Some nice wines at the Southern Pinot workshop


At each of the dinners at the Southern Pinot workshop in Hanmer, participants are encouraged to bring wines to dinner. This is a fun exercise, because there is no coordination, and winemakers tend to be curious, generous folk who accumulate interesting bottles and then enjoy drinking them with other winemakers. I didn’t take any notes, but here are some of my favourites from the three evenings.


Riesling is always popular. Normal people hate it but winemakers love it! This 2004 Urz Wurz from Ernie Loosen was singing.


You may have heard of Kusuda, Martinborough start. The Pinot and Syrah have stellar reputations. This Riesling is up there with them: so delicate and pure.


Helmut Donnhoff is just so consistent, and this Trocken was lovely.


I’ve come across the wines of AJ Adam at the Sampler in London, and they are fab. This was really good.


Nice to see Alsace getting a run out. Albert Mann is one of the best producers in the region and this Pinot Gris was young but lovely.


Boxler is one of my faves. This 2006 Pinot Blanc was one of the bottles I brought. I’m pretty sure it’s from Grand Cru Brand, but it’s not allowed to say, being Pinot Gris. It was singing.


Burgundy of both kinds gets a look in. The white star was this Corton-Charlemagne, which was full of mineral and reductive tension and has massive potential, even though it was delicious young. The Fourrier below, from 2011, was lovely and already hitting its stride.


Other Pinots? The Furst Spatbrugunder was simple and juicy and quite delicious, but I was expecting a bit more from Franconia’s Pinot star. It was still a good drink though.


I’ve already blogged on this gorgeous Ata Rangi:


Don’t forget about Austria! These two were stunning.



Eben is my hero. One of my heroes at least. His Skerpioen, a blend of Palomino and Chenin from old vines, was lovely. I brought this along, as you might have guessed.


And finally, I really likes this Cote Rotie from Gerin. A modern classic.


Oregon Pinot Noir: tasting 11 top examples blind

oregon pinot noirFor the last few days I’ve been at the Southern Pinot Noir workshop at Hamner Springs. It’s an event that brings together winemakers from across New Zealand to taste and discuss each others’ wines. Everyone brings their wines, and then in groups of eight the wines are tasted blind. The discussion that follows is then shared with the rest of the room, and it’s almost always kind, but it’s also honest. People are bringing wines with issues, or trial wines, or special lots – and because of this, in order to create an open environment, no journalists are allowed. It is just winemakers. I got in as an accompanying partner, and I’ve been allowed to attend sessions where finished wines are being shown, and even then there are some things I’m not allowed to write about. But for most of the sessions, it takes place behind closed doors. It’s a really cool idea.

The first session was a really interesting tasting of Pinot Noirs from Oregon, including some of the established celebrity wineries and also some of the newcomers. These wines were all tasted blind, and I’ve kept my notes and scores exactly as they were written. For the first flight of five, we didn’t even know the wines were from Oregon: we were just told they were not New Zealand. After the first flight, we knew that the second flight was also Oregon wines.

I might change the scores a little bit if I’m tasting sighted: knowledge of the producer does change your ratings a bit, not necessarily because of bias, but because you can then understand the wine better. And some of the scores are a bit lower than if I was tasting the wines sighted. But’s that’s the nature of the exercise. So take the scores with a pinch of salt, and look at which wines fared best compared with their peers.

Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Noir 2015 Oregon
Supple, juicy and bright with sweet cherries and raspberries. Quite grippy with good acidity. Red fruits rather than black with nice freshness and focus. Grainy and savoury on the finish. It’s not an obvious wine but it is supple and has real drinkability. Understated and quite elegant. 90/100

Adelsheim Breaking Ground Pinot Noir 2015 Chehalem Mountain, Oregon
Sweetly fruited and generous with ripe, warm, sweet, ripe berry fruits. Quite warm with some spicy structure on the finish. Still Pinot but in quite a crowd-pleasing style, perhaps with slightly higher alcohol. 89/100

Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir 2015 Oregon
Ripe, clean and very fruity with nice juiciness and sweet, alluring raspberry and cherry fruit. Ripe and full with nice structure. Very pleasant but unremarkable. 88/100

Rex Hill Jacob Hart Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 Oregon
Plenty of colour and ripe fruit here. Black cherries, spice and some creamy texture and noticeable oak. Rich and ripe with a lush fruit character. Moving away from Pinot here more to an international red style, but well made nonetheless. 87/100

Bethel Heights Flat Block Pinot Noir 2015 Oregon
A hint of green on the nose here with supple, refreshing cherry and plum fruit. Nice grip and appealing fruit, but quite simple in style. 87/100

oregon pinot noir

Division Wine Company ‘Deux’ Eola Springs Pinot Noir 2016 Oregon
Supple and very juicy with nice sweet berry and cherry fruit. There’s a freshness to this wine: there’s sweet fruit but also nice stony, savoury grippiness. Shows lovely purity and focus. 93/100

A to Z Wineworks Pinot Noir 2015 Oregon
200 000 case blend. Spicy cedar and vanilla on the nose. The palate is fresh with a bit of grip and some noticeable oak. Midweight and juicy with some savoury, spicy, cedary notes on the finish. 87/100

Goodfellow Whistling Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 Oregon
Fresh, supple and spicy with a bit of grip. Sweetly fruited. Juicy and midweight with nice focus to the fruit. Cherries, raspberries and some herbs. Lighter style and very drinkable, but with a savoury woody note on the finish and a bit of volatility. 87/100

Francis Tannahill The Hermit Pinot Noir 2014 Oregon
Ripe, sweet and lush with a very soft texture and appealing sweet cherry and berry fruits. Quite silky but with some freshness, and a slight damson bitterness on the finish offsetting the sweet fruit. 89/100

Big Table Farm Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir 2015 Oregon
Warm, sweetly aromatic nose with pot pourri and sweet herbs, as well as sweet berry fruits. The palate has a green herbal/seaweed edge to it, but there’s some attractive, savoury-edged cherry and plum fruit. There’s some elegance here, and nice fine-grained structure. Intriguing. 91/100

Minimus Dijon-Free Pinot Noir 2016 Willamette Valley, Oregon
Focused and quite elegant with sweet red berry and cherry fruit. Juicy and a bit grippy with a nice grainy edge to the focused fruit. I like the freshness and focus here. Has good concentration. 92/100

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Adding appellations: developing new GIs and why conjunctive labelling is important


I’ve been involved in quite a few discussions of late about developing new appellations (technically, geographic indications [GIs]) in new world countries, particularly New Zealand.

Currently, New Zealand only has regional GIs: Marlborough, Central Otago, Hawke’s Bay and so on. Within each of these regions there are unofficial sub-regions, but these are not officially defined. So Central Otago has Gibbston, Bannockburn, Lowburn, Alexandra, Bendigo, Wanaka and Pisa, while Marlborough has Awatere, Southern Valleys, Rapaura, Wairau Valley, Upper Wairau, Lower Wairau, Brancott, Omaka, Waihopai, Fairhall and Ben Morven, plus probably others. These aren’t defined and in some cases are overlapping. And if Awatere were its own region, it would be the second largest in New Zealand.

Currently producers are free to use these additional names on labels, as long as they are telling the truth. And there are also instances where producers’ names include places in them. For example, Rapaura Springs have just bought over 100 hectares in the Awatere, so they aren’t making wines that are just from Rapaura, which would create an inconsistency if Rapaura were to become a GI.

There have been moves to create official GIs in New Zealand. In Central Otago, the first GI will be Bannockburn, but plans to get this approved have run into a slight hitch: conjunctive labelling. This hurdle also foiled attempts to get Seaview in the Awatere recognized.

Conjunctive labelling is when the name of the subappellation is accompanied by the larger regional appellation, and usually it’s a very good idea, and ideally it should be mandated. So in Bannockburn’s case, the wine should be labelled ‘Bannockburn, Central Otago.’ This is important because it helps consumers who might not already know Bannockburn, and because it maintains brand equity in Central Otago. But the EU, an important export market, doesn’t allow New Zealand producers to practise conjunctive labelling.

Now a famous producer like Felton Road could label their wine ‘Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir 2016 Bannockburn, New Zealand’ and still sell it easily because everyone who buys Felton Road knows they are from Central Otago. But for most wines, the lack of the regional name would be a problem.

In France, for example, just the appellation name is allowed. You have Chambolle-Musigny on the bottle, and consumers are expected to know this is in Burgundy. Some appellations are so well known, this isn’t a problem. And in some regions, such as Alsace, the only appellations are Alsace AOP, Cremant d’Alsace AOP and Alsace Grand Cru AOP. That’s for quite a sizeable region.

Then there’s a separate discussion: does New Zealand need subregional GIs? There are many possible answers. Regions such as Marlborough and Central Otago are relatively young (1973 and 1982, respectively), but they are now at the stage where people are beginning to unravel the subregional identity as it applies to wine. In some ways, it’s a good thing that regions take their time because if you rush into this, it can stifle the healthy evolution of a region. Identifying subregionality is part of the journey of a wine region and it can enhance the region’s prestige and help ‘premiumize’ the offering. At the non-involved consumer level, though, it is often unnecessary and confusing. Geeks like complexity, and GIs help a region tell its story, once we reach the fine wine dimension.

GIs can be polarizing, and it’s bad news if they are established for political motives. They have to mean something in terms of wine quality and character, or else they are worthless. So for Marlborough, I think a good start would be ‘Southern Clays’, referring to the bits in the southern valleys with clay-based soils, often on hillside sites, which are producing most of the region’s best Pinot Noir. I would also do something that’s rarely done in the New World but which is common in the old: restrict the GI to specific grape varieties. So for Southern Clays, the GI should just be for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, varieties that do really well here. This would be a useful GI that would really help Marlborough’s reputation with Pinot Noir, in particular. Such a GI would merely be an official sanction of what quality producers are already observing.

There are also examples of unofficial appellations, and New Zealand has a few of these. In Hawke’s Bay, there is a Gimblett Gravels association, and also a Bridge Pa Triangle group: both of these are producer clubs, effectively, where a distinct terroir is being promoted. Chile has the Vigno group (for old vine Carignan-based wines in Maule). And Germany has the Grosses Gewachs, which is a special member club for top-level wine estates. Soon Marlborough will have the ‘Pure Marlborough‘ designation, which is likely to cause some controversy.

An example of a new world wine region where some new GIs are badly needed is the Okanagan Valley in Canada’s British Columbia. This is a very diverse region, with distinct climatic differences between the northern and southern ends. The problem this creates is that it’s a region that grows a lot of different varieties, and this dilutes its marketing message. New GIs would really help, and a BC Wine Appellation Task Group has made some sensible recommendations, including mandating conjunctive labelling.

And finally, one example of a sensible new world GI that has been thoughtfully defined is Gualtallary, in Argentina’s Mendoza region. This high altitude subregion has been defined on the basis of distinctive terroir differences, following an extensive scientific survey. If GIs are created with a lot of thought on the basis of good evidence, they can be a very positive step in the evolution of a wine industry.

Ata Rangi McCrone Pinot Noir 2006

ata rangi pinot noir

Ata Rangi is rightly considered to be one of New Zealand’s top Pinot Noir producers. This is a special cuvée that they make from a small portion of the vineyard behind the winery, and the special feature of this plot is that there’s 800 mm of clay above the gravels. This is the debut vintage of this wine, now aged 11, and developing beautifully even though it was from young vines.

Ata Rangi McCrone Pinot Noir 2006 Martinborough, New Zealand
From a plot behind the winery with 800 mm of Clay above the gravels. This is the first vintage from vines planted planted in 2001. Really expressive: dense black cherry, pepper and herb notes. Some tar too. Nice structure and weight with lovely fruit. A serious, structured wine that’s developing very well. 95/100

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Interesting Marlborough: Corofin, with Mike Paterson

Mike Paterson, Corofin, in the Settlement Vineyard

Mike Paterson, Corofin, in the Settlement Vineyard

Mike Paterson used to be the winemaker at Jackson Estate, but now he’s making his own wines, along with his wife Anna, under the Corofin label. The idea behind Corofin is to make Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from privileged vineyards in the Southern Valleys of Marlborough, and to allow these sites to speak through the wines. I spent an afternoon with him visiting some of his key vineyard sites and then tasting through the wines.

Aunts field, owned by the Cowley family: this is where the Cowley Vineyard wines come from. It's hidden in the Wither Hills, right at the back of the southern valleys.

Auntsfield, owned by the Cowley family: this is where the Cowley Vineyard wines come from. It’s hidden in the Wither Hills, right at the back of the southern valleys.



First vintage was 2012, and since this start new vineyards have been added. Mike says that he’s begun picking earlier, because there’s no one who regrets picking too early, but plenty of people who revisit their wines and then wish they’d not waited so long to pick. Part of the problem is waiting for uniform ripeness, which usually means that a lot of the fruit is a bit over-ripe. ‘It is easier said than done,’ he admits. ‘We are lucky that we are only taking three or four tons, so this allows us to pick on the cusp of ripeness.’


The Marlborough story is evolving as quite a few people are now focusing on making single-site wines. ‘In Marlborough there are plenty of great vineyards,’ says Mike, ‘but for many of these sites, there’s only one person speaking about them.’ He envisions a scenario where there’s a collective realization of which sites are effectively Marlborough’s Grand Crus. This could happen if in addition to the winery vineyard owners, other people made wine of these top sites.

The Churton vineyard, source of Pinot Noir. It's a sizeable site on a ridge between the Omaka and Waihopai valleys

The Churton vineyard, source of Pinot Noir. It’s a sizeable site on a ridge between the Omaka and Waihopai valleys

Abyss block, Churton

Abyss block, Churton

Mike really likes working with Chardonnay. ‘As a winemaker you have a bit more impact with the Chardonnay,’ he says. ‘There’s always a sense of detail. With Pinot, if you pick it at the right time, then you do pretty much the same thing all the time.’ For his Chardonnay he does not battonage, and the wine is sulphured and then goes to stainless steel for the last six months. He doesn’t use sulfur until this stage, but he thinks that if you only sulfur just before bottling, then it disappears, so the wine looks good for a while, but then looks tired. It needs to be built up, hence sulphuring before the six months in tank. In 2015 he filtered the Chardonnay, but in 2016 he didn’t. All the wines are cork-sealed.

In Churton

In Churton

Corofin Folium Vineyard Chardonnay 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand
Dry grown, Brancott Valley, mix of clones. Old puncheon and a stainless barrel. Natural ferment, natural malolactic, racked and sulphured in February then goes to tank for six months. Really focused with a lovely delicate, saline personality here. It’s really elegant with nice finesse and a delicate saline, mineral character under the fruit. Very subtle smokiness. Lovely finesse here, with such well integrated acidity. Very fine. 95/100

Corofin Carter Ashmore Vineyard North Corner Chardonnay 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand
20 year old Mendoza clone at the back of Arbour restaurant. New barrel and an old puncheon. This is spicy and taut with citrus and pear fruit. The oak is nicely integrated, and the fruit has lovely presence to it, with good acidity. Refined with nice acid structure and a slight saltiness on the finish. Very fine and expressive, and probably needing a few years to show its best. 94/100

Corofin Folium Vineyard Chardonnay 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
Delicate but with lovely presence. Good acidity here with mineral, saline notes, nice ripe citrus and pear fruit, but it’s really light on its feet. There’s an amazing textural quality to this wine with fine spiciness. Really expressive and detailed with lovely precision, and just a little more presence than the palate than the 2015. Very fine. 95/100

Corofin Carter Ashmore Vineyard North Corner Chardonnay 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
This is fabulous. Really refined and mineral with lovely balance between the fresh citrus notes and the riper pear and apple characters. Good acidity, integrated well, with very subtle mealy notes and a touch of biscuit on the finish. Has great freshness and focus, with good concentration and presence. 94/100


Corofin Settlement Vineyard East Slope Pinot Noir 2012 Marlborough, New Zealand
Debut vintage, which was the third crop from this vineyard. No whole bunch, destemmed. Made at Sugarloaf winery then transferred it to Fromm. There’s a bit of development here, with a nice savoury, grainy character as well as sweet, autumnal cherry and berry fruits. Nice density and weight on the palate with sweet cherries and plums, and a fine spiciness. Textural with finely spiced tannic structure. Has some warmth and sweetness, but very well balanced, finishing with a slight twist of mint. 93/100

Corofin Settlement Vineyard East Slope Pinot Noir 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand
777 and a bit of 667. 10% whole bunch. Only on skins for 13 days. Really interesting nose with savoury spiciness: ginger, mint, pot pourri and Mediterranean herbs. The palate has incredible presence and concentration, with lovely structure and freshness. There’s a dense black cherry fruit presence here with good structure and intensity, and a real spicy, meaty core. There’s a strong mineral dimension. This isn’t just about fruit but has a lovely savoury character, too. 95/100

Corofin Cowley Vineyard Main Slopes Pinot Noir 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand
667 and 777. Very fresh with a good concentration of red and black fruits. Nice freshness with good acid and fine tannic structure. Supple and fine with nice black cherry and raspberry fruit. Really focused and bright. Still quite tightwound but with lots of potential. A serious wine, but give it time to add flesh and elegance. 94/100

Corofin Churton Vineyard Clod Block Pinot Noir 2015 Marlborough, New Zealand
This is the first vintage of this wine, which comes from an east-facing block. This is completely different again. Grippy and dense with lots of structure and focus. It has ripe black cherry and blackberry fruit but also some firm, grippy structure. The fruit has some ripeness: it’s quite silky and there’s some prettiness. But there’s also a lot of structure here that at the moment dominates a touch. Still, this wine is drinking really well now, but it has massive potential when these tannins resolve a bit. 95/100

UK agent: Flint Wines

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Interesting Marlborough: the Pioneer Block wines from Saint Clair


Back in 1978, in the early days of Marlborough, Neal and Judy Ibbotson planted grapes, and began supplying Montana. Fast forward 16 years and they decided to launch their own winery, Saint Clair, which they began in 1994. The enlisted Matt Thomson to help with winemaking, and he remained consultant winemaker until last year.

Saint Clair became famous for their highly aromatic style of Sauvignon Blanc. The aromatics come largely from a group of volatile sulfur compounds called polyfunctional thiols, and the Saint Clair wines have very high levels. This is partly due to the location of their vineyards, which are largely from the lower Wairau around Dillons Point. This area, closer to the coast, has richer soils, producing dense canopies and Sauvignon Blanc grapes with typically high levels of polyfunctional thiol precursors. Aside from the aromatic Sauvignons, the real draw is the single-site series of wines under the Pioneer Block label. These are made in relatively small quantities and display distinct site-derived characters.





These days Saint Clair put a significant volume of wine through their impressive winery in the Riverlands estate, which is where much of the Marlborough region’s wine is made. They have a fleet of presses which are filled automatically by a system of pipes once the machine harvested fruit comes in: there’s a control gantry from where operations can be supervised, and it saves an awful lot of work manually filling and emptying the presses. There’s also a separate press area for the hand picked fruit.

Production is 90% white (of which most is Sauvignon Blanc) and 10% red (mostly Pinot Noir, although there’s also a vineyard that they’ve bought in Hawke’s Bay which supplies Merlot and Malbec).

Everything is kept separate in the winery, which means a lot of work at blending time, but this is necessary so that the growers (they rely on them for half their fruit needs) can get adequately rewarded for the quality of what they supply. For example, after harvest there will be some 130 different batches of Sauvignon, which are all tasted blind. Decisions about which might end up as the high-end Pioneer Block wines are then made, and interestingly it’s pretty common for all the top wines to come from around Dillons Point, where the soils seem to be suited to making these big aromatic styles. I tried through some of the Pioneer and Reserve wines. 2017 was a tricky vintage and you can taste this in some of the Sauvignons. But the Pinots, from 2016, were quite lovely and all very different. 

Saint Clair Dawn 2013 Marlborough, New Zealand
A small-production traditional-method sparkling. 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir. Finished at No. 1. 200 cases. 6 g/l dosage. Tight and lively with nice focus to the citrus and pear fruit. Very clean and linear with good acidity. Lovely freshness to this wine with a subtle toastiness. 89/100

Saint Clair Sauvignon Blanc Pioneer Block 18 Snap Block 2017 Marlborough, New Zealand
This wine comes from the Blackmores at Dillons Point. Really aromatic on the nose with lovely passionfruit and blackcurrant intensity: this is what Saint Clair is known for. The palate is a bit lighter than the nose would suggest: it’s citrussy and linear with a bit of pithy bitterness on the finish. The 2017 vintage makes its mark, but the aromas and fruit quality are lovely. 90/100

Saint Clair Sauvignon Blanc Pioneer Block 20 Cash Block 2017 Marlborough, New Zealand
This is from the Registers in Dillon Point. It is always a bit green, and 2017 is no exception. Delicate tomato leaf greenness meshes well with green apple and citrus on the palate. Quite refined, but with a brisk acidic finish. The greenness works really well here. Stylish and pure. 91/100

Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Marlborough, New Zealand
This is the flagship blend for Saint Clair. This year it’s from two blocks in Dillons Point. This is quite vivid and intense with some green notes on the palate supporting lively citrus and pear fruit. Tight and with high acid, this is a little reserved at the moment, but the quality is there. 91/100

Saint Clair Sauvignon Blanc Barrique 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
Fermented in barrels: this project started in 2012 when they ran out of space and had to use Chardonnay barrels for some Sauvignon. This is from hand harvested fruit, mostly wild ferment, with some barrels with high solids and some low. This blend consists of 20 barrels. Refined and expressive with some toasty, slightly buttery oak in the background and nicely textured pear and apple fruit. Fresh lemony finish. This could age well. 90/100

Saint Clair Chardonnay Pioneer Block 10 Twin Hills 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
From clay-based soils in Omaka. 30% new oak. Refined and spicy with nice rounded pear and white peach fruit, complemented by some toast and vanilla oak notes. Rounded and textured with nice softness on the mid-palate, and a spicy finish. Quite a crowd-pleasing style. 89/100

Saint Clair Chardonnay Omaka Reserve 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
This is all American oak, 30% new. It’s full, spicy and a bit smoky with some cedar and vanilla notes, and a hint of bonfire and bacon in the background. There’s lovely fruit here and the American oak adds a lot of character. A marmite wine. It’s very popular, apparently, and the blend is now quite big. 87/100


Saint Clair Pinot Noir Pioneer Block 4 Sawcut 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
This is from the Ure Valley, where the Buicks have a vineyard on limestone. 115 and 667 clones. 30% new oak. Fine herbs and spices on the nose as well as some sweet red cherry fruit. There’s a nice freshness and elegance to the palate. There’s some spicy oak, but the driving force is silky, fresh, slightly chalky red fruit. Has nice poise and weight. 93/100

Saint Clair Pinot Noir Pioneer Block 14 Doctor’s Creek 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
On New Renwick Road opposite Wither Hills winery. 10% whole bunch, 30% new oak. On the border of where the clay meets the gravels. Beautifully aromatic with floral cherry fruit, showing roses and violets as well as sweet fruit. The palate is really fresh and vivid with raspberry and cherry fruit, and a nice juiciness. Lovely weight here: a striking, direct wine with nice intensity. 94/100

Saint Clair Pinot Noir Pioneer Block 15 Strip Block 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
From the mouth of the Waihopai, opposite Delegats winery. Has clay soils. All clone 115, tiny bit of whole bunch, 40% new oak. Tight, backward and quite structured, with juicy, lively black cherry and raspberry fruit with a slightly smoky, spicy edge. Vivid, bold and quite weighty with good acid and structure. Needs time to open out, but could be very good. There are subtle green hints, too. 93/100


Saint Clair Pinot Noir Pioneer Block 23 Master Block 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
From the Southern Valleys, at Ben Morven. This vineyard had Sauvignon Blanc but it didn’t do well, so it was top grafted to Pinot Noir. First vintage was 2012. Clones are Abel and 114. High proportion of whole bunch. Very aromatic cherry fruit nose with a stony edge. Has some meat and herbs, too. The palate has an open, elegant fruit and it’s sappy and stony. Real elegance here: a grown up Pinot with a lovely texture and some sappy, mineral notes in the mix. Very fine and expressive. 95/100

Saint Clair Pinot Noir Pioneer Block 17 Cabernet Merlot ‘Plateau’ 2015 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Made from grapes trucked down from Hawke’s Bay. Fresh and focused with nice sweet fruit: cherries and blackberries, together with some blackcurrants. Supple and direct with lovely freshness to the fruit and a bit of crunch on the finish. Very stylish and supple. 92/100

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The Pétrus-beating Ravanes Les Gravières du Taurou 2000, at age 17


There’s a story behind this wine, and it’s quite a fun one. I tasted it first blind, back in 2004. This was a blind tasting comparing the best of Languedoc-Roussillon with benchmark wines, and it was really interesting. I gave this a very good score then, so it was nice to revisit it at age 17, some 13 years later. It has aged pretty well, although if I had any I’d drink it before too long.

Domaine de Ravanes Les Gravières du Taurou 2000 Vin de Pays des Coteaux du Murviel, France
14.5% alcohol. Deeply coloured and concentrated, with some tar, vanilla and spice lurking behind the sweet blackcurrant and cherry fruit. There’s a creaminess to this wine, with freshness and concentration. The fruit is sleek and lush, and still quite youthful at age 17, which is remarkable. Ripe and sweet but fresh and well defined, with some green notes lurking in the background. Ageing very well. 93/100

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Pink bubbles: Cloudy Bay and Gentle Folk

pink fizz

Two bottles of pink fizz that went down well. The Cloudy Bay was a real surprise: encountered on a couple of occasions and really delicious.

Gentle Folk ‘Pink Fizz’ Pinot Noir Chardonnay Pet Nat 2016 Adelaide Hills. Australia
Powerful and funky. Cloudy pale pink with tangy apple, cherry and raspberry, and some spicy phenolic notes. There’s some sour cherry here too. Really intense and appley with a spicy finish. Tastes like a sour beer and it’s quite compelling. 89/100

cloudy bay pelorus rose

Cloudy Bay Pelorus Rosé NV Marlborough, New Zealand
Pink with a hint of orange. Lovely red cherry fruit with a twist of cranberry. Nice citrus characters, too. Really fruity and well balanced with a bit of spice on the finish. 90/100

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Are anti-cork sentiments softening in New Zealand and Australia?


One thing I’m noticing in Australia and New Zealand of late: the growing number of producers using cork for high-end bottlings.

This would have been unthinkable five years ago, such was the strength of the reaction against cork, with its problems of variability and taint. Since 2000 in Australia and 2001 in New Zealand, there has been a massive swing towards screwcaps unparalleled in the rest of the world. Estimates are that screwcap use in New Zealand was above 95% at one point, and Australia wasn’t far behind.

The screwcap, wth the pretty much hermetic tin-saran liner (allowing very little oxygen transmission at all), is a fine closure that has served some wine styles well. Lots of my favourite wines are screwcapped.

But some wines taste better under cork, where the cork is sound. Pinot Noir, Bordeaux-style reds, Syrah and Chardonnay all seem to show better younger when they are cork sealed, and I like the way they age under cork, too. [This is my opinion, and others may disagree: all I will say is that wines taste different when aged under closures with different levels of oxygen transmission, and the differences are evident quite soon.]

For a long time, the whole screwcap/cork debate was almost religious in its fervour in Australia and New Zealand. From listening to the discussion over here I’m in NZ now), you’d think that any wine sealed with cork was ruined and that anyone choosing to use cork was an idiot. For quite a while prior to the mass switch to screw caps, it seems cork taint rates here were terrible, and that cork was extremely variable. It’s understandable why people would be so cross when so many of their wines were ruined.

But things have changed. Now, the quality control in cork production is much better. Screwcaps were arguably the best thing to happen to the cork industry: they caused them to up their game. Cork quality is now a lot better, I think, and this seems to be backed up by evidence from large competitions.

I judge in the International Wine Challenge every year, and we keep a check of the faults. For the last two judging tranches I’ve been in charge of the faults table, and I can honestly say that cork taint still exists. We get through a lot of wines – 15 000 or so entries, and two rounds, so more than 20 000 bottles are entered. We have experienced panel chairs and judging teams so I don’t think many corked bottles are missed. The taint rate is, however, reassuringly low: it’s below 3% of cork-sealed bottles these days, with a big sample size. This includes all commercial levels, with lots of affordable wines where the corks will be cheap. Buy more expensive cork and the rate will likely be lower.

DIAM has been an interesting closure for a while now. It’s a microagglomerate cork where the cork granules have been cleaned by critical point carbon dioxide so that there’s no TCA present. It looks good, too, with a cork-like grain. I’ve never had a problem with a wine sealed by DIAM.

And now there are guaranteed TCA-free natural corks: Amorim have introduced the NDtech, where each cork is checked for TCA by a rapid GC-MS process. I found the first NDtech in a bottle I recently opened. It’s an expensive option, but for fine wines it’s worth the extra.

And let’s not forget: top Burgundy and Bordeaux wines are pretty much 100% cork-sealed, and there isn’t a big call for alternative closures in these regions, which are the most famous fine wine regions in the world. Demand for these wines keeps growing. If cork were a total disaster, and some are claiming, then people would be up in arms. They aren’t.

So it’s interesting to see a resurgence of cork for high-end bottlings over here. The other great advantage cork has is that it enables some pretty smart packaging choices, such as wax dipping. This may sound shallow, but when you are charging lots for your wine, then it makes a big difference if it looks special.

[Conflict of interest: None. I don’t earn money from any closure company.]

Grower Champagne: Roses de Jeanne Côte de Val Vilaine Blanc de Noirs


Cedric Bouchard is one of the new generation of star growers in Champagne. Based in the Côte des Bar in the Aube, in the south of Champagne, he only began making wine in 2000, from 1.4 hectares of vines, but has since added his father’s 1.5 hectares to this holding. Initially the wines he made from his father’s plots were labelled ‘Inflorescence’, but since 2000 they have all been under the Roses de Jeanne label.

The approach is very much a terroir-influenced one, and the plots used are indicated on a map on the back label. Farming is organic and all wines are single-site, single-variety and single-vintage (although the vintage is only indicated on the back label as V14 in this case). Just first pressings are used and the primary fermentation is with wild yeasts. This is a very beautiful wine.

Champagne Roses de Jeanne Côte de Val Vilaine Blanc de Noirs NV France
Vintage 2016, disgorged April 2016. Lovely focus here with sweet citrus fruit and great purity and delicacy – very fine with fruit purity and nice tension. Delicate and expressive showing lemon and fine herbs with a lemony finish. Bright for a Pinot, and completely lovely. 94/100

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