Archive | March, 2011

New Zealand Wine Review

30 Mar

As i travel through the Southern hemisphere it has become apparent there is an all too familiar trend throughout the countries I visit. A familiar trend not in the wines themselves, far from it, but in wine regions being in some stage of either recovery or decline from over-production. In decline, it leads to a devaluing of bulk juice, generally leading to poor quality wine flooding the market and a devaluing of an entire region even an entire countries reputation which, depending on the longevity of the over production can take years, even decades to recover.

This could just be conceived as a classic example of the capitalist production model working towards it inevitable conclusion. Why should wine be any different? Perhaps it is this question that has brought me to bring this up now…New Zealands model HAS been different, at least it HAD been different, up until now.

Largely down to it’s (in wine terms) meteoric rise to fame, a very distinct and wide appeal of it’s Sauvignon Blanc and a marketing team that has excelled in it’s promotion, New Zealand had managed to sell it’s wine at the highest average price per bottle than any other country in the world. It is pretty much unheard of for a country not to produce a range of wines across the spectrum of price points yet NZ does not come close to producing a house wine.

However, after more and more vines have been planted on top of a bumper crop in 2008 suddenly there was a glut and it wasn’t long before there were victims. Over the last three years NZ has perhaps started to, some would say, “normalize”, others would say “devalue” it’s product and with another bumper  crop this vintage, they have to face that dilemma all again. 

There are quality producers out there determined to sell there wines at sustainable prices but so are there wineries / grape growers who have become desperate for cash and sold to make ends meet. These are all explainable and understandable motives but what it outlines most is that NZ now (rightly or wrongly) seems to be falling into line with the rest of the world and no longer will all wines from NZ come with a certain degree of quality. Individual producers will now have to promote their wine as individual brands and not the brand that is “New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc”.

While New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc steals the mainstream lime light it is its other wines that are really starting to impress. The Bordeaux and Rhone style reds from Hawkes Bay and Wahkiki Island while in the premium price point offer a unique twist of fully developed fruit while retaining it’s cool climate acidity and European restraint, quite different to their Australian neighbors in flavor components and structure.

Let’s also not forget their Pinot Noir. While I do feel Martinborough Pinots are largely over rated (see a some what scathing report below), there are some good examples there and in both Central Otago and Marlborough I had some truly outstanding Pinots. Also I tasted great Rieslings from Waipara and Marlborough that have their unique twist on the grape. Yet to be convinced by the colloquially trendy Pinot Gris which in my opinion vastly sways in quality and style, making it impossible to judge as a whole but left me generally underwhelmed (oh I think i just did!) But like it’s Sauvignon Blanc and like the rest of the worlds wine, it is the specific, the particular, it is the producer rather than the region, it is the micro rather than the macro and that has never been more important in NZ than now. 

Martinborough wine review – I need to get something off my chest!

30 Mar

I am not one to over emphasize the negative but I can’t help but feel slightly dissapointed with the promise of Martinborough wines and it’s marketing. The story goes that four independent potential wine makers with a scientific background discovered that the fields around the sleepy town of Martinborough had the same soil structure and climate as Burgundy and concluded that Pinot Noir could be grown to the same potential.

This story is told in every winery visited, it is the spiel that lubes the cogs of the Martinborough marketing campaign and got me rather excited about my visit. 

After a brief tour of the wineries while there were some pretty good Pinot Noirs on show, more often than not they were average at best and none at the sort of level of what I was expecting. That is not to say there are no bad wines in Burgundy, there are tons! However does this mean Martinborough advertises itself as an area that can make average Pinot Noir akin to average Burgundy?

The assimilation with Burgundy the more I thought about it seemed to make less and less sense. To start with the typography of Burgundy is all on sloping hills whereas Martinborough is entirely flat. The average age of vines here is about ten years the oldest being twenty five as opposed to the sixty/ seventy year old vines in Burgundy. Also wineries in Martinborough have started grubbing up vines after ten years due to disease and lack of productivity. Then thinking back to the fault lines that cris cross Burgundy, it is this ‘terroir’ that makes it unique, is this somehow miraculously mirrored in Martinborough. I just dont buy it! If it is simply a similar climate it does not make this place particularly special and this seems to prove itself in it’s wine.

Tasmania Wine Review!

12 Mar

Travelling around the entire island and tasting at wineries throughout the different regions of Tasmania it becomes apparent that it is microclimate even mesoclimate (influence of particular vineyard sites) that have the biggest impact on wine quality (I think this is actually the case around the world). 

In Tasmania, the south gets more rain and less sun, yet certain vineyards are producing the most difficult to ripen grape varieties to a good standard (particularly some fresh Cabernet Sauvignon) while in the west and north west, where it is much drier and gets more sun there are some outstanding examples of Pinot Noir and traditional method sparkling wine. 

Tasmania is certainly a cool climate growing region and potentially Australia’s finest string to it’s bow in terms of cool climate wine. There are outstanding sparkling wines, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Sauvignon Blancs being produced here from the Tamar Valley in the north to the Derwent Valley in the south. New wineries are popping up all over the place and with the potential quality, the reletively cheap land and global warming who can blame them.

Despite the importance of mesoclimate I do feel that on the west side of the Tamar Valley while blessed with Tassie’s  natural acidity often the acidity was just too much and erred on the searing. The east side of the Tamar Valley was definitely where i tasted my favourite Pinot Noir and Sparkling wines. I will keep you posted if and when I can get some available in the UK.