edited by Sue Courtney
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Bay of Islands, Northland, New Zealand
I'm always on the lookout for something new to tantalise my taste buds so when I came across the Marsden Estate Chambourcin from Northland, New Zealand at last year's Air New Zealand Wine Awards tasting, I simply had to find out more. For I was taken by its deep dark colour, its juicy wild fruit and its meaty savoury flavours. But having tasted it at the end of a marathon day my notes were as scant as that.
Basically I forgot about the wine until my family at large said they were 'going up north' for a few days holiday. "If you are going to Kerikeri would you please call into Marsden Estate and pick up a bottle of the Marsden Chambourcin 2000 for me, if it is still available", I asked.
And they did, paying $34 at the cellar door for the privilege of doing so.
"It really is a pretty vineyard to visit", they said. "You walk in the door and you are basically in the restaurant with a tasting facility and wine sales to one side. There are picturesque views over the overlooking the garden and the small lake and beyond that, the vines which envelop the property."
This week we opened the wine and I was not disappointed at all.
The colour was as deep as I remembered - a deep purple red with lots of purple hues. It's savoury first and foremost on the nose with cured and game meats, tar and musky berries. In the mouth there's juicy ripe berries mixing with savoury and spice. There's a good depth of flavour, good acidity and a smoky/earthy gamey finish. It's an interesting medium to full-bodied wine, kind of sweet and bitter all rolled up in one, soft and easy to drink yet with a 'gutsy' structural complexity. There's even something in there that reminds me of pinot - it is the savouriness I think. The finish is long and spicy and full of sweet yet savoury fruit and a nuance of winter herbs like lavender and thyme. Oak does not intrude.
The grapes for the Marsden Estate Chambourcin 2000 came from the first crop off Geoff and Shelley de Young's vineyard about a kilometre up the road from Rod and Cindy McIvor's Marsden Estate.
I asked the de Youngs why they had decided to plant this relative unknown. It was the enthusiasm of the then Okahu Estate winemaker, Michael Benditt, they said, who convinced them to try it out. Benditt had worked with Chambourcin in the Hunter Valley before coming to work in Northland. Over on the west island the popularity of Chambourcin was catching on like a NSW bushfire and had spread into Queensland as well, where at one time demand outweighed supply. It was the self-sufficiency of the heavy cropping disease resistant hybrid that the growers liked so much. It turned out that the consumers loved it too.
The grape had already been planted at Okahu Estate and was doing extremely well, although Okahu Estate only used the resultant wine for blending.
2000 was the first vintage from the 376 vines in the de Young's vineyard and were picked at a whopping 24.5 brix. Rod McIvor made the wine and popped it into 2 and 3-year-old French and American oak barrels for maturation. The first thought was that it was going to be used for blending, but Geoff de Young had an idea. He and Shelley made a trip to the Hunter Valley and brought back about 20 bottles of both straight Chambourcin and blends. They had a blind tasting of these wines and a blended barrel sample of the Marsden wine was included. It tasted so good that the decision was made - this was going to be 100 per cent straight varietal Chambourcin. The wine was bottled and entered in the Air New Zealand wine awards at the end of last year. It won a silver medal.
Just 60 cases of the Marsden Estate Chambourcin 2000 were made. It is available by mail order, from the cellar door in Wiroa Road, Kerikeri, Northland and from just two wine shops - Scenic Cellars in Taupo and Weta Wines in Ponsonby.
E-mail Marsden Estate at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on availability.
Chambourcin will continue to be made as a straight varietal for the time being although Rod McIvor was particularly take by a Chambourcin/Shiraz blend at the de Young's tasting. Now the McIvors have their own Chambourcin vines planted amongst the 4.5 hectares on their home property and there are now several other growers in the area too. In all they harvested 14 tonne of perfect grapes from the 2002 vintage.
"I like it", said Rod, who named his vineyard after Samuel Marsden who planted NZ's first grapevines in the Bay of Islands. "It's easy to grow, attains high sugar levels and doesn't need much work". It is also an organic vineyard owner's dream as the vine is virtually resistant to downy and powdery mildew so it doesn't need spraying. As a hybrid it is resistant to the grapevine pest, phylloxera, therefore does not need to be grafted onto rootstock".
I think when people 'discover' this wine, its easy care and its almost irresistible flavour it will become quite popular. The 'snob' factor will have to be overcome, however.
Vines of Chambourcin are established now in Auckland and in Hawkes Bay and cuttings have gone to an organic grower in the Wairarapa. Who knows where it will pop up next?
Chambourcin was developed in France in the late 1800's by French Scientist Joannes Seyve, who gave it the hybrid number JS 26-205. The first 'commercial' wine from this grape, according to Jancis Robinson, was as late as 1963. It was/is common in the Muscadet region of the Loire and is now popular in the mid-east USA also. The popularity has spread to Australia and vines have even been planted in Vietnam.
Check out this link for a pic.
© Sue Courtney
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