wines available in Ontario from Vintages releases for May 13 and 27, 2017
In early May, 2017, the New Zealand Winegrowers brought their Tiki Wine Tour to Canada, stopping in Toronto on May 10 and 11. As they say in their invitation, a tiki tour is “a trip where you take the scenic route, sidetrack a little, linger and experience new things” — and a Tiki tour may or may not have a clearly determined final destination. That’s a perfect description of how I like to deal with large walk-around wine tastings, and I took an enjoyable (and perhaps somewhat aimless) tiki tour of their extensive tasting on Wednesday afternoon. But for me, the serious tasting happens when I’m seated and writing notes, and I was fortunate to be able to attend two seminars to get a little deeper into the wines.
I am a devotee of New Zealand wines for many reasons. Most obviously, and I guess at the root of things, is the fact that they produce a great deal of excellent wine. Interestingly, the average price per bottle of New Zealand wine is said to be among the highest in the world. But that (relatively) high average price isn’t because they make huge amounts of extremely expensive wine, but rather because they don’t make very much cheap, poor quality plonk. So the quality is generally very high, and from my point of view, the price/quality ratio is very attractive as well.
But I am also fascinated by the winemaking culture of New Zealand. While I think of New Zealand winemakers as fiercely independent and individualistic, as a group they have become perhaps the world leader in producing focused, industry-wide efforts in all aspects of winemaking and sales. For example, most wine lovers are aware of the success of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, where they have established a globally recognized benchmark style. And now, many years into that process, we are finding exciting and nuanced differences in style and approach within that broader category. More recently we have seen a concerted effort to develop awareness of New Zealand Pinot Noir. Again this effort has met with great success, and now I certainly view New Zealand Pinot Noir as a (or perhaps “the”) benchmark style for new world Pinot. How many times have you heard or read sentences like “the wines from region X have a style part way between New Zealand and Burgundy”? And while I’m certainly aware of many other varieties produced by the country, particularly Chardonnay and Riesling, I’m wondering if those brilliant Syrahs I’ve tasted from time to time will become their next major success story.
This year, the New Zealand Winegrowers used their tour to introduce their Sustainable Winegrowing initiative. This is a comprehensive program that was launched in the 1990s, and has grown so that as of 2016, 98% of New Zealand’s vineyard area has been certified by Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand. Organic or biodynamic certifications are encompassed by the sustainability program, and the industry expects that by 2020, 20% of vineyards will have earned one of these more specific designations.
Winemaker, vigneron and researcher Dr. John Forrest led us through a brief summary of the program, at a seminar that presented the wines from the May Vintages releases. The program is holistic in conception, encompassing seven areas of focus: biodiversity; soil, water and air; energy; chemicals; byproducts; people; and business practices. It is research-based and incremental in nature, providing frameworks for reporting, analysis, strategy development and then the implementation of improved practices. Notable successes in vineyard management include the fact that since 2001, use of insecticide has fallen by over 50%, with 99% of vineyards using non-chemical controls as part of their strategy.
I love the approach — it’s voluntary, but it has teeth that are self-imposed by the umbrella industry association: “inclusion in New Zealand Winegrowers’ national and international marketing, promotional and awards events, requires that wines from vintage 2010 on must have been produced under one of the recognized, independently audited, sustainability programmes.”(see link: Towards 100% sustainability)
Let me give one final example of what I see as industry-wide focus and awareness. In the past, I had noticed and been very concerned that alcohol levels were dramatically rising to uncomfortably high levels in both Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, well into the 14% to 14.5% range, and sometimes higher. But in the last two vintages, I have seen a subtle and unheralded change for the better. For example, in the wines from the current releases reviewed below, all but one wine (the Pinot Gris) showed less than 14% on the label. I asked Dr. Forrest about this, and he viewed it as the consequence of people talking and sharing ideas, seeing the problem and changing vineyard practices to solve the problem. To me, the fact of the change is apparent, and the explanation is fascinating and compelling.
And the wines themselves? They are compelling too. Here are twelve very good wines that you can try for yourselves, and that show the quality and the interesting diversity of today’s New Zealand: five Sauvignon Blancs, a Chardonnay, a Riesling and a Pinot Gris, then three Pinot Noirs and a Cabernet Sauvignon blend.
CLOS HENRI SAUVIGNON BLANC 2015, Marlborough, South Island
Vintages #675629 • $28.95 • 750ml. • WD Score 91/100This is a complex and compelling Sauvignon Blanc from Clos Henri. It is bright pale straw in colour. The nose is slightly smoky, with aromas of grapefruit, red apple, melon and white peach, lightly grassy, with a hint of green herbs. Dry, with high acidity and balanced alcohol, the wine is medium-bodied with some weight and depth from lees stirring. The fruit on the palate seems slightly riper, staying in the grapefruit and peach spectrum, but more firm than fruity, with a drying, mineral finish. A very accomplished Sauvignon Blanc.
Tasted May 12, 2017 • CHARTON HOBBS INC (Agent) • Find it at your nearest LCBO • Share Review
GREYWACKE SAUVIGNON BLANC 2015, Marlborough, South Island
Vintages #164228 • $25.95 • 750ml. • WD Score 90/100This is another fine Sauvignon Blanc from Greywacke. The wine is very pale straw in colour, lightly herbal on the nose, with hints of sweat, earth and hay, and a core of grapefruit and white peach. It is dry, with high acidity, balanced alcohol and a medium-full body. The rich, creamy texture suggests some lees stirring, but the vivid acids cut through and keep the palate bright and focused, while the grapefruit and stone fruit build and then linger on the stony-mineral finish. Excellent wine, and a very good value.
Tasted May 9, 2017 • CONNEXION OENOPHILIA (Agent) • Find it at your nearest LCBO • Share Review
SAINT CLAIR PIONEER BLOCK 20 CASH BLOCK SAUVIGNON BLANC 2015, Single vineyard, Wairau Valley, Marlborough, South Island
Vintages #483065 • $32.95 • 750ml. • WD Score 89/100This wine comes from a single vineyard in the lower Wairau Valley. It is watery white with glints of straw. Obviously Marlborough in nature, the nose suggests aromas of green pepper, green herbs, cut grass and sweat, over a core of grapefruit juice and bitter pith. The wine is dry with bright acidity that focuses the grapefruit elements, nudges the vegetal and herbal elements into the background, and drives into the grapefruit and salty-stony finish. Simple, direct and very Marlborough.
Tasted May 9, 2017 • PMA CANADA LTD. (Agent) • Find it at your nearest LCBO • Share Review
OLD COACH ROAD SAUVIGNON BLANC 2015, Nelson, South Island
Vintages #483495 • $19.95 • 750ml. • WD Score 89/100This Sauvignon Blanc is from the region of Nelson. It is medium-depth straw-yellow, slightly herbal and sweaty on the nose, with aromas of lemon and white grapefruit, and dry grass underneath. The wine is bone-dry, with crisp acidity, and a pleasant contrasting breadth that shows as slightly softer and riper fruit on the palate, before the acidity cleans up the palate and brightens the stony-grapefruit finish. A very good value.
Tasted May 9, 2017 • AZUREAU WINE AGENCY (Agent) • Find it at your nearest LCBO • Share Review
VILLA MARIA CELLAR SELECTION SAUVIGNON BLANC 2016, Marlborough, South Island
Vintages #974527 • $17.95 • 750ml. • WD Score 88.5/100This is a dependable, mainstream Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Bright pale straw in colour, the nose shows typical aromas of cut grass, white grapefruit, melon and green apple. The wine is dry, with elevated acidity and medium alcohol and body. On the palate, the herbal-grassy notes are subsumed by flavours of grapefruit juice and melon, with a lengthy, crisp, citrus finish. Balanced, approachable, and well-priced.
Tasted May 12, 2017 • PHILIPPE DANDURAND WINES LTD. (Agent) • Find it at your nearest LCBO • Share Review
NAUTILUS CHARDONNAY 2015, Marlborough, South Island
Vintages #331652 • $27.95 • 750ml. • WD Score 90/100Chardonnay is the second white grape of New Zealand by production, and we are slowly starting to see more of these wines here in Ontario. Great news! The 2013 Nautilus Chardonnay was previously released in early 2016, and I reviewed it highly — but I think that the 2015 is even a notch better. It is medium straw-yellow in colour. A lightly smoky note with toasty and cedary undertones leads to aromas of yellow apples and lemons. The wine is dry, much fresher on the palate, where the fruit emerges strongly, driven by the vivid acidity. There is a lightly creamy texture that suggests lees stirring, and the fruit and acidity focus into a lingering, stony finish. A terrific Chardonnay, full of life and vigor.
Tasted May 9, 2017 • B AND W WINES (Agent) • Find it at your nearest LCBO • Share Review
WAIMEA CLASSIC RIESLING 2016, Nelson, South Island
Vintages #408666 • $18.95 • 750ml. • WD Score 90/100New Zealand is making some wonderful Rieslings, but unfortunately we don't get to see many of them here in Ontario. The wine is bright, pale straw in colour, with aromas of lime, green apple, honeyed ripe peach and a hint of orange blossom. The wine is off-dry, with vivid acidity, that contrasts with a pleasant richness that enhances the melon, peach and apricot character on the palate. It is nicely textured, with a lingering, crisp and mineral finish — delicate, elegant and a fine value.
Tasted May 12, 2017 • CHURCHILL CELLARS LTD. (Agent) • Find it at your nearest LCBO • Share Review
MARISCO THE KING'S THORN PINOT GRIS 2016, Marlborough, South Island
Vintages #490300 • $19.95 • 750ml. • WD Score 88/100Pinot Gris is actually the third white grape of New Zealand, after Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, and is generally viewed as "Gris" rather than "Grigio" in style. The wine is very pale straw in colour, with bright reflections. Bright red apple, white peach and lemon aromas are complemented by a note of white flowers and a suggestion of spice underneath. The wine is dry, softened by a hint of residual sugar, with balanced acidity and alcohol, a little warmth on the mid-palate, and a firm, weighty richness. Very pleasant indeed.
Tasted • AUTHENTIC WINE & SPIRITS MERCHANTS (Agent) • Find it at your nearest LCBO • Share Review
JULES TAYLOR PINOT NOIR 2014, Marlborough, South Island
Vintages #329805 • $25.95 • 750ml. • WD Score 90/100The wine is medium-depth, bright cherry red in colour. Aromas of ripe raspberry, blackberry, black cherry and plum are complemented by a floral edge and peppery spices. Dry, with bright acidity, balanced alcohol and slightly gritty tannins. Add a suggestion of smoke, resin and spice to the fruit on the palate. Well-structured with good weight and complexity.
Tasted May 12, 2017 • VINEXX (Agent) • Find it at your nearest LCBO • Share Review
SUMMERHOUSE PINOT NOIR 2014, Marlborough, South Island
Vintages #492728 • $29.95 • 750ml. • WD Score 90/100The wine is medium-depth ruby-red. Aromas of bright, ripe but fresh cherry, raspberry and blackberry fruit with a hint of vanilla and spice. Fully dry, with crisp acidity and fine tannins, the palate is full of fruit, with a pleasant, earthy Pinot character. Very attractive, elegant and easy to drink.
Tasted May 9, 2017 • VINEXX (Agent) • Find it at your nearest LCBO • Share Review
PENCARROW PINOT NOIR 2015, Martinborough, North Island
Vintages #692301 • $25.95 • 750ml. • WD Score 89/100The wine is medium-depth ruby-red in colour. An earthy undertone with dried herbs and spice frames aromas of ripe cherry, raspberry and blackberry fruit. Dry, with crisp acidity, slightly elevated alcohol and fine tannins that build. On the palate, the fruit moves a little into the over-ripe spectrum, dark and concentrated, but still retains some freshness. Well-structured and good value.
Tasted May 9, 2017 • FAMILY WINE MERCHANTS INC. (Agent) • Find it at your nearest LCBO • Share Review
PASK GIMBLETT GRAVELS CABERNET - MERLOT - MALBEC 2013, Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay, North Island
Vintages #279869 • $19.95 • 750ml. • WD Score 89/100This is a Cabernet Sauvignon blend (with 14% Merlot and 10% Malbec) from the Gimblett Gravels winegrowing district in the Hawkes Bay region of the North Island. The wine is a deeper ruby-red, with just a hint of garnet on the narrow red rim. Ripe blackberry, black currant and plum fruit aromas are accompanied by subtle notes of dry herbs, forest floor and a cedary resin. It is dry, with firm acidity, balanced alcohol, a medium-full body and chalky, slightly gritty tannins. The palate is mostly about the ripe fruit and the tannins that persist into the cedary finish. Nice complexity and balance, and a fine value.
Tasted May 9, 2017 • DIONYSUS WINES & SPIRITS LTD. (Agent) • Find it at your nearest LCBO • Share Review