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The wines of Montana, New Zealand

See also: a more recent report (November 2007) on a visit to Montana in New Zealand

I still remember my first glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. It was back in the early 1990s, and the wine in question was Montana's Marlborough Sauvignon, which at the time cost less than a fiver. I was bowled over by the exuberant nose of gooseberries and elderflower, and the fresh, racy palate -- it was a remarkable wine. And although Cloudy Bay may now be the most celebrated example of this genre, it's Montana who deserve the praise for starting the ball rolling back in the 1980s. Over recent years, though, I have been underwhelmed by the quality of their lower level wines, which seemed to take a bit of a dip in quality, lacking some of the character that previous vintages showed. However, with their latest releases, they are back to top form again right through the range. I was really impressed by these wines, which offer good value at all price points. They may be New Zealand's largest producer by some distance, but Montana are proving that size and quality aren't incompatible.

The basic range is just what you'd hope for at this level: ripe, flavoursome, honest wines with real appeal. The Sauvignon and Chardonnay are the pick of the bunch, both reds (including newcomer Pinotage) are very good also. The Reserve range, for just a couple of quid more, is a real notch up in quality, with a brilliant performance once more from both the Sauvignon and the Chardonnay. The two reds aren't all that far behind, showing good concentration of ripe fruit. Moving up again, there are the two premium level labels: the Church Road wines from the MacDonald winery in Hawkes Bay, and the single vineyard series. These are uniformly of a very high standard, and are all recommended. If I was to single out just two wines to have with dinner tonight, they'd be the Church Road Reserve Chardonnay and the Fairhall Estate Cabernet, both of which get my highest rating. And I really wasn't expecting to like these wines as much as I did…

Varietal range back to top

Sauvignon Blanc 2000, Marlborough
The nose is lovely and rich, with gooseberry and blackcurrant (yes, honest guv!) notes and a rounded but intense character. The palate is ripe and forward. It's a really classy effort, with bags of flavour. Very good/excellent (£5.99 widely available)

Unoaked Chardonnay 2000, East Coast
A new product, this shows a fresh, rounded, slightly nutty nose that is a little bit shy. The palate shows an attractive spiciness: it's quite rich, but still fresh and attractive. Very good (£5.99)

Chardonnay 2000, East Coast
Using fruit from Marlborough and Gisborne, this is an impressive wine. It has a lovely, fresh, savoury, nutty/toasty nose, that leads to a deliciously rich palate with fresh fruit and subtle oaking. Good balance and intensity. Very good+ (£5.99 widely available)

Riesling 2000
Lean, citrussy nose has a bright character. There's a touch of residual sugar on the palate, which is quite spicy and forward. A nice fresh easy-drinker. Very good (£5.99)

Pinotage 2000, East Coast
I was surprised to find this new wine in the range. Pinotage is South Africa's own grape, a rather odd cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault that usually makes rather rustic, cheesy-feet and industrial paint product tainted wines, and for some reason New Zealand growers have rather taken to it. This wine is a lively purple/pink colour, with a bright nose of berry fruit, and intense, slightly spicy fruit on the palate. Youthful and clean. Very good (£6.99 Tesco)

Cabernet/Merlot 2000, East Coast
Bright purple colour with a pink rim. The nose shows sweet blackcurrant fruit with a leafy edge. The palate is rich, ripe and juicy, with good concentration. This is a lovely glugger. Very good+ (£6.99)

Reserve range  back to top

Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 'Vineyard Selection' 2000, Marlborough
The gorgeous nose of gooseberry and berry fruit shows remarkable intensity. The palate is pure, intense and fruity: a remarkable wine. Very good/excellent (£8.99)

Reserve 'Barrique Fermented' Chardonnay 2000, Gisborne
This is lean and savoury with a lovely rich barrel-ferment character on the nose. Intense, rich, nutty palate has good balancing acidity. Quite a classy effort. Very good/excellent (£8.99)

Reserve Riesling 'Vineyard Selection' 2000, Marlborough
I've been underwhelmed by most NZ Rieslings, but this is an impressive effort, although not quite as gripping as the reserve Chardonnay and Sauvignon. The attractive crisp, citrussy nose leads to a delightfully rich palate with crisp, long citrussy fruit and a spicy finish. Very good+ (£8.99)

Reserve Gewürztraminer 'Vineyard Selection' 2000, Gisborne
Some sweet floral notes on the nose with a touch of honey. The richly textured palate shows some savoury fruit with a dry finish. Not as showy as some examples of this aromatic grape. Very good (£8.99)

Reserve Pinot Noir 1999 'Barrique Fermented', Marlborough
Youthful nose of pungent, herby cherry and raspberry fruit. Good concentration on the palate, which displays ripe fruit with spicy, herby undertones. Very good+ (£9.99)

Reserve Merlot 1999 'Barrique Fermented', Marlborough
Quite pungent fruit on the nose with a bit of spiciness. The rich palate shows spicy berry fruit and good concentration: it's quite a big wine, but a tiny bit anonymous. Very good+ (£9.99)

Church Road range  back to top

Church Road Chardonnay 1998, Hawkes Bay
A rich yellow/gold colour, this is quite shy on the nose, with nutty barrel-ferment character. It's concentrated, intense and nutty on the palate, with really rich fruit and well integrated oak. A classy effort. Very good/excellent

Church Road Reserve Chardonnay 1998, Hawkes Bay
The rich, savoury nose shows ripe fruity elements and toasty barrel-ferment character. On the palate, there's nutty complexity with rich fruit and substantial (but well integrated) new oak. Showing great concentration and class, this is a delicious savoury wine. Excellent

Church Road Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1998, Hawkes Bay
The nose shows nice, intense sweet berry fruit, leading to a firm, full, oaky palate displaying bright fruit and a spicy finish. It's currently a bit too oaky for my tastes, but may harmonise with a bit more time. Good concentration. Very good

Church Road Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1996, Hawkes Bay
The intense nose shows ripe blackcurrant fruit with a mineral core and some chocolatey richness. It is evolving nicely: the tannic but expressive palate has spicy oak underpinning nicely balanced fruit. A big wine. Very good/excellent

Single Vineyard range  back to top

Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc 1999, Marlborough
A single vineyard Sauvignon, some of which is fermented and aged in oak to add complexity. The nose is intense and refined with restrained herby, gooseberry notes. The palate is crisp and classy, with spicy, savoury fruit. This isn't an in-yer-face style of Sauvignon; instead it oozes a taut, restrained, classy aura. Very good/excellent

Ormond Estate Chardonnay 1999, Gisborne
Fermented in 85% new French oak. Quite pale in colour, the youthful nose is a little bit shy at present, showing some toasty notes. The rich palate exhibits well judged spicy oak and some lovely lean fruit. There's some prominent toasty and nutty elements on the finish. I'd give this a couple of years more in the bottle to open out a bit. Very good/excellent

Patutahi Estate Gewürztraminer 2000, Gisborne
This sees no oak. The rich spicy, floral nose is open and attractive and leads to a lovely rich palate with good spiciness (a touch of botrytis here) and floral notes. It finishes bone dry: a rich, savoury wine of real appeal. Very good/excellent

1997 Fairhall Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Marlborough
A stunning effort. The rich, classy, complex nose shows sweet blackcurrant and red berry fruit. On the palate a lovely mineral character underlies the rich, spicy berry fruit. Full-on but still well balanced. Excellent

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