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Wine of the Week for week ending 13 January 2001
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Winetaster's Dozen
The WineoftheWeek.com "Wines of the Year 2001"

New Zealand

Apart from screwcaps being embraced by savvy Kiwi winemakers, the highlight of 2001 has been my renewed love affair with Sauvignon Blanc. When I started drinking wine seriously this is the wine that converted me. I fell out of love during the nineties as, quite frankly, the wine became boring. But now the styles are so varied and exciting, from one wine to the next there will be differences, however subtle. The vintage of 2001 has produced some beauties.Saint Clair label

The one that knocked me for six, however, was the Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2001. I've tasted it several times since - I mean its only 17 bucks a bottle at full price, so it hardly breaks the bank. So it's no surprise that this, my favourite Sauvignon Blanc of the Year, is also my Wine of the Year. Smoky, fresh cut grass aromas and rich, powerful flavours with gooseberry, passionfruit, melon, peach, citrus, herbs and capsicum, a classical Marlborough sauvignon blanc, with a rich, slightly oily texture, a whiff of smoke, a touch of basil and that unique musky character. (Wine of the Week September 23, 2001).

Gewurztraminer was another vinous highlight in the year 2001. The popularity of this variety seemed to decline in the mid-nineties, but perhaps two good vintages in a row allowed winemakers to harvest excellent fruit and make better-defined wines. I've tasted some exciting gewurz's this year and it was difficult to choose my favourite, but in the end the other serious contender, the Stonecroft Hawkes Bay Gewurztraminer 2000, was pipped at my post by a wine from Martinborough.

Many critics rate Dry River as the best gewurztraminer producer in New Zealand although winemaker Neil McCallum seemed a little surprised at my enthusiasm toward this particular wine on release. I am sure I am not alone in my glowing appraisal of the Dry River Arapoff Gewurztraminer 2001. This is a gorgeously lusciously sweet gewurz with delicate orange blossom, spice, musk, Turkish delight and rose petal. It is very much in the Alsace mould with its luscious factor, rich texture and palate weight - almost nectar-like yet only 12 grams of residual sugar.

For value for money and every day drinkability I've picked the Lawson's Dry Hills Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2001 - the first gewurz I tasted from the vintage and one which seduced me from the outset. It is totally different in style to the Dry River and its screwcap closure means that the days of TCA-itis fear are gone. Since first tasting, the wine seems to have gone from strength to strength as it starts to develop. It has the most gorgeous aroma with delicate rose petal, orange blossom and soap-like floral scents. In the palate it's ripe and luscious with a yeasty nuttiness, spice, honey, orange, roses and some lychees. Rich but not overpowering. (Wine of the Week September 9, 2001).

Kim Crawford Dry Marlborough Riesling 2001 was a definite 'Wow' experience. Bottled in a screwcap, it went on to win a gold medal and trophy at the Liquorland Top 100 but has not performed as well in subsequent shows. But my selection is made on the wine in my own glass and at the beginning of December, when I enjoyed a couple of glasses over dinner, 'Wow' factor got to me again. It's developing nicely, getting some colour and the juicy ripe citrus fruit is balanced perfectly to the acidity. The honey complexities give a lovely palate weight. Check out my Wine of the Week of August 19, 2001.

The medium sweet Pegasus Bay Waipara Riesling 2000 is so different in style to the Kim Crawford. With its lowish alcohol this wine is almost reminiscent of a Spatlese from the Moselle. Wonderful aromas of honeysuckle and flavours of lemons and limes with a touch of grapefruit fill the mouth to give a honeyed apple and stone fruit richness which cling to the cheeks to intensify and linger with a zingy spicy tang, long after the wine is swallowed. Superbly concentrated and balanced, the acidic structure will allow the wine to gracefully age for many a year to come. (Wine of the Week May 27, 2001).

There's been many delicious chardonnays around this year, the 2000 vintage producing some wonderfully classic wines, but I feel nothing can really compare to the Villa Maria Reserve Marlborough Chardonnay 2000. I just love the warm fuzzies that the wine gives me. It's a lovely rich and perfectly balanced wine, warm and leesy in the mouth with a viscous honey texture, spice, melon, citrus, some stone fruit and a smoky, slightly meaty nuance. Very classy oak, a spicy layer and rich concentration of fruit with some apricot emerging on the finish. More please!

With the Pinot Noir 2001 conference held at the beginning of the year, the opportunity to taste so many delicious pinots from around the country was never easier. But it did make it seemingly difficult to pick out the best. But there was one that stood head and shoulders above the others - the Martinborough Reserve Pinot Noir 1998 which was rightfully chosen by the conference organisers to represent New Zealand in the international tasting. There's all sorts going on in this wine. I found a floral, violet-like, savoury, earthy aroma with florals persisting in the mouth along with hints of cinnamon spice and earthy notes then jammy, strawberry, raspberry, cherry and citrus fruits. A complex, well structured wine with soft tannins, hints of licorice and some tarry, gamey, funky character on the finish. It has years of potential ahead of it.

Pegasus Bay Prima Donna and glass The year 2000 produced some magnificent pinot noirs as well - I feel the Martinborough pinots from 2000 show the greatest potential across the board. And what a pity that some of the 2000 pinot from further north were not released in time for the pinot conference - wines like Crossroads Reserve from Hawkes Bay, for example.

However I choose the charming Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir 1999 from Waipara as one of the most pleasurable tasted this year. Tasted pre-release as part of the New Zealand tasting at the Pinot Conference in January then again at the end of the year with my mate Ray who described it as only an Aussie could. "It's a ripsnorter", he declared. It's a heady wine, silky and elegant in the mouth, mellow, earthy and savoury in the palate with waves of flavour - cherries, wild berries, stewed plums, tamarillo spiciness, sweet wild mushrooms , wild flowers, and chocolate nuances. See my Wine of the Week for December 16, 2001.

Matua Valley Matheson Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2000 from Hawkes Bay is my pick for Best Value Red Wine of the Year. I tipped this wine in September in my local rag's wine column and it was the Wine of the Week for October 21, 2001. The judges at the Air New Zealand must have heard me for they went on to award the wine with a gold medal and the trophy for Best Commercial Red Wine at the Air New Zealand wine awards in November. It's an impressive full-bodied creamy-textured wine, deep crimson red in colour with cedary vanillin oak, juicy blackcurrant and plum fruit, hints of chocolate, sweet fruit leather and a ripe, spiced berry finish that lingers for ages.

Also impressive is the Unison Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah 2000 from Hawkes Bay. Purple in colour, smoky oak combines with ripe blackcurrant and plum, while vinously fine tannins and creamy licorice provide a wonderful texture and flavour. There's some meaty richness, a touch of black pepper and a sultry savouriness that lingers on the lifted finish. (Wine of the Week November 2, 2001

It great that big companies like Montana can hang on to a wine and release it three years after vintage. This is what happened with the Church Road Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 and we, the consumers, reap the benefits. It's a deep black-red wine with aromas of spiced berry, pencil shavings and cedar on the fragrant nose. In the mouth it a big minty leathery wine with sweet ripe blackcurrant and blackberry fruit, ripe rich tannins, spicy oak and excellent concentration of lovely sweet fruit. A touch of mocha lingers with the oak and fruit on the finish. Very classy indeed and at under $30 you wonder why other companies charge more for some of their over-hyped, over-priced reds.

Hawkes Bay lives up to its reputation as producing the country's best reds from the classical Bordeaux grapes.

Villa Maria Noble Riesling 2001 And last but not least, the Villa Maria Reserve Noble Riesling Botrytis Selection 2001, in my opinion the best sweet wine in Australasia, and perhaps in the world. It doesn't matter what the vintage, it never fails to please. This year I've had 'Villa Nobles' from 1991, 1994, 1999, 2000 and 2001. They are so unique. How do they do it year after year? The 2001 is a viscous nectar of liquid honey with hints of beeswax and plenty of rich and concentrated fruit apricots, orange peel and dried pineapple. Yet it is lifted clean and refreshing. This label is also my pick for Wine of the Decade (1991-2001). At NZ$49.95 a 375ml bottle, it is still a relative bargain.

In summary, the winetaster's dozen (in order of variety) consists of -

Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2001 - Marlborough
Dry River Arapoff Gewurztraminer 2001 - Martinborough
Lawson's Dry Hills Gewurztraminer 2001 - Marlborough
Kim Crawford Dry Riesling 2001 - Marlborough
Pegasus Bay Riesling 2000 - Waipara
Villa Maria Reserve Marlborough Chardonnay 2000 - Marlborough
Martinborough Vineyards Reserve Pinot Noir 1998 - Martinborough
Pegasus Bay Prima Donna Pinot Noir 1999 - Waipara
Matua Valley Matheson Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2000 - Hawkes Bay
Unison Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah 2000 - Hawkes Bay
Church Road Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 - Hawkes Bay
Villa Maria Reserve Noble Botrytis Riesling 2001 - Marlborough

May 2002 bring just as many vinous delights.


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