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Wine of the Week for week ending 4th January 2004
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Winetaster's Dozen 2003
The "Best of the Year"

As I recap the highlights of 2003 it’s hard to go past the fantastic Sauvignon Blanc that dominated the first few months of the year. It's the Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2002, the top wine in the New Zealand vs. South Africa tasting, repeating its performance at a mid year redux of the tasting. It’s a wine that has also had outstanding success on the local and international show circuit, including winning the Silverado trophy for the best Sauvignon Blanc at the London International Wine and Spirit Competition, and furthermore critics that everyone loves to quote endorse it most heartily. This silken textured sauvignon blanc is truly the leader of the pack.
My notes: Youthful and vibrant, this is just a little riper on the nose with a touch of stonefruit and plenty of that character people call 'armpit' and can't think of a better name for. Wonderfully ripe and incredibly silky textured in the mouth the powerful flavours of passionfruit, stonefruit, apples and musk are incredibly persistent and linger with grass, summer herbs and that awesome Sauvignon Blanc pungency. An absolutely sensational Sauvignon Blanc. One of the world's best. 12Feb2003.

The 2003 Sauvignon Blancs have been so exciting, a flurry of beauts from the time the season's wines started to appear around the middle of the year, and they keep on coming as some producers hold wine back to develop a little in the bottle. The 'top 10' are listed on my Sauvignon Blanc tasting page and summarised below but the one I'm picking as my favourite is the Matua Valley Paretai Sauvignon Blanc 2003 (Wine of the Week ending 30 Nov 2003).
My notes: It emits a magnificently powerful nose. It's zesty and spicy with some prickly melon, nettles, and herbs with terrific texture, good length and a lovely lift to the finish where there's a touch of grapefruit zest too. The mouth fills with fruit - apples, gooseberry, melons, grapefruit and a touch of the tropics, it's multi-layered, rich, bright and punchy with an awesome lingering finish. Everything you'd expect from a good sauvignon blanc. A terrific debut wine for this label. 9Oct2003.

Gewurztraminer is one of my all-time favourite varieties to drink. I love it straight from the fridge in the summer because not even chilling can subdue the gregarious flavours that excite my palate and I love it in the winter because it's a wake up call on a dull dreary day. However, there are only a few gewurz's that stand waist, shoulders and head above the rest of a somewhat dull boring pack. And right at the top is the Johanneshof Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2003 (Wine of the Week ending 23 Nov 2003). I judged the gewurz class at the Liquorland Top 100 and this is the one the pressed my button in so many places. When I found out what the wine was, about 3 weeks later, I was not surprised, for although Johanneshof is not a name that is commonly heard on the wine show scene, the Johanneshof winemaker, Warwick Foley, is no stranger to Champion Gewurztraminer. He made the Te Whare Ra Gewurztraminers that took the Air New Zealand trophy several years in a row.
My notes: Very pale in colour. Unmistakable to the variety with its perfumed rose petal bouquet and wonderful concentration of flavour with attar of rose, lychee and Turkish Delight to the fore. It's slightly sweetish, rich and textural with fabulous mouthfeel, terrific balance and immense concentration. Pink smoker lollies and exotic spices with just a hint of anise linger with nectarine on the luscious finish. A fantastic wine - gewurztraminer made just the way I like it. 8Oct2003.

New Zealand is internationally renowned for its quality sparkling wines thanks to Lindauer a $10 sparkler that consistently performs in international competitions, often beating the French at their own game. It has attracted Champagne producers to check out New Zealand and form alliances with New Zealand companies to produce their New Zealand cuvées that carry their Champagne House name. One of the smallest relationships would be that between Rudi Bauer of Quartz Reef and Clothilde Chauvet from the House of Marc Chauvet.
The Quartz Reef Chauvet Vintage 1998 (Wine of the Week ending 16 Nov 2003) is the first 'vintage' disgorgement by this sparkling partnership. It is Central Otago wine although Clothilde is also responsible for the Champagnes that bear her family's name.
My notes: It's a rich creamy wine, a wine of finesse and balance. Lemon gold in colour, the fine bubbly mousse bursts in the mouth and coats every nook and cranny with its creamy texture and deliciously rich, nutty, leesy, earthy citrus flavours. It's soft and sophisticated and lingers with the sweetness of nougat and the yeastiness of brioche with just a hint of spice. A wine of exquisite balance that's wickedly heady and so totally moreish, it's possibly the best bubbly ever to come out of NZ. I'm obviously impressed! 9Nov2003.

When I choose a Riesling and say 'Pegasus Bay', this will not be a surprise to perpetual readers of 'Pegasus Bay' and 'Riesling' go together like 'love and marriage' and 'horse and carriage' although there is nothing yesteryear about the wine. It would be so easy to choose the perennial favourite, the Pegasus Bay 'Aria' Riesling 2002 (Wine of the Week ending 2 Nov 2003) but the 2002 Aria is just that little bit sweeter this vintage. Instead I'm choosing the mainstream Pegasus Bay Riesling 2002. I bought a few on its November 2002 release and have tasted it every 2 or 3 months since. It was wonderful to start with but it just keeps getting better and better. It tastes so deliciously fruity it could even accompany breakfast.
My notes: The scintillating grapefruit and marmalade aroma carries through to palate to be joined by a myriad of peach, lime and tropical fruit topped with honeysuckle nectar and a smattering of talc. Toasty, sweet and juicy with terrific balance of acidity to fruit, this is simply a delicious Riesling with a great length of flavour that goes on and on. One of the best this country produces and shows the deliciously fruity style that New Zealand does so well. 2Apr2003

Kim Crawford 'Reka' Botrytised Riesling 2002 (Wine of the Week ending 10 Aug 2003) is my pick for a botrytised wine. Tipped here on long before its show stopping results that collected a raft of gold medals and the odd trophy, this is simply a fantastic sweetie.
My notes: If you want to know what sweet wine is about, then this is it. It's golden in colour, beautifully balanced, not too cloying and laden with honey, marmalade, passionfruit and butterscotch. Wonderfully mouthfilling with a luscious texture, the nectar-like liquid covers every nook and cranny in the mouth. Then when its all been swallowed the waxiness of comb honey atones to the citrus backbone. 26Nov2003.

Chardonnay, for me, has to be just right. Just right for my palate. There are so many beaut Chardonnay's about that consistently perform but when I was asked last year to choose my favourite New Zealand chardonnay, it was relatively easy to say 'Kumeu River'. Apart from the fact it is fantastic wine made by master Chardonnay craftsman, Michael Brajkovich, it is also because this is one producer's wine that I have tasted every year since the 1989 vintage. It's because of my proximity to the winery, being able to take a short drive to the cellar door, to taste the wines on release, to buy them and nurture them, to pull them out and taste them with age. They always impress.
Kumeu River Chardonnay is a blend of chardonnay from vineyards around Kumeu while Kumeu River Maté's Vineyard is a single vineyard wine from the yellow rose headed vines across the road from the winery. These two wines sway my affections from year to year. This year I have chosen Kumeu River Maté's Vineyard 2002 (Wine of the Week ending 11 May 2003) as one of my Wines of the Year.
My notes: Clear and brilliant in the glass, this lemony-coloured wine has lots of leesy, yeasty, malo and grapefruit skin characters on the nose. In the palate there's pears, melons, lemons, hints of grapefruit, brioche and nuts. A multi-layered wine with a smooth creamy texture and an elegance that flows. Spicy oak lingers. 9Jul2003.

What a year for Syrah! It's the year the variety came out of the closet.
In February I was fortunate to be on the Syrah class at the judging of the Royal Easter Wine Show. The Syrahs were mostly from the 2001 vintage and there was simply one stunning Syrah after another, all trying to outperform each other.
The quality of the 2002's had been unveiled the year before at the Hawkes Bay vintage review, a tasting of the regions wines at six months of age, which meant that the Syrahs were barrel samples. Then as the wines started to be released, they did not disappoint.
I'd previously noted the Selaks Founders Hawkes Bay Syrah 2002 (Wine of the Week ending 21 Sep 2003), made from grapes sourced from a new wine region at Wairoa on the northern edge of the greater Hawkes Bay, halfway between Napier and Gisborne, as 'one to watch out for'. I'm glad I did.
My notes: Dense and inky in its brightly hued black-red colour, there's lots of pepper on the nose together with raspberries, blackberries and vanillin oak. It's rather exciting to the taste with a solid oak backbone, peppery spice, earth, leather, blackberry and bitter chocolate then spice, plum, blackberry and creamy vanillin oak lingering on the firm, dry finish. It's just another fantastic NZ Syrah and I highly recommend it. 17Sep2003.

Craggy Range Block 14 Syrah 2001 (Wine of the Week ending 9 Nov 2003) was the other wine that absolutely besotted me in the NZ Syrah category. This gobsmackingly gorgeous wine was the runner-up in the Aussie-hosted Tri-Nations Challenge – and runner up to another NZ wine would you believe! Their quality was endorsed by the Australian and South African judges as well as the NZ judge, and the NZ wines beat the best those two other competing countries could put forward. Out of 30 Syrahs, 10 from each country, NZ took the top two spots and another two placed in the Top 10. You would wonder why, after our team got it wrong when it was poured as Wine 7 in the First Glass Wine Options, that I'd put this wine in my Top 10, but I was so impressed I went out and bought all I could lay my hands on.
My notes: Inky purple-crimson with terrific peppery aromatics of mixed colour peppercorns and the leather of pressed red grape skins on the nose, wonderful fruit weight in the palate - plums, definitely plums with leather and spices - pepper and nutmeg and heaven knows what else - perhaps some dried rosemary. It's a little hot and zesty on the front of the tongue (14% alc), lovely tannin structure, creamy savoury oak backbone and harmonious in its flow from entry to ending with a lingering flavour of liqueur cherries with a hint of red liquorice mingling in with those savoury notes. Persistent and long. 31Oct2003.

When it comes to Pinot Noir there are so many wines to choose from. You would think that 2002, the year that has escalated some pinot noirs to greatness, would figure strongly and indeed they do, but I must not forget the awesome Peregrine Central Otago Pinot Noir 2001 (Wine of the Week ending 6 Apr 2003) that blew the socks off some very highly lauded names at a tasting I did earlier in the year. Crafted by Rudi Bauer, its beauty unfolds like a butterfly awakening from a chrysalis.
My notes: Well-coloured pinot showing a little development on the rims. Creamy oak and lots of pinot nuances on nose, cherries, herbs, etc. Ripe and creamy in the mouth with bright fruit, rosemary-like herbs, spices, forest floor, mushrooms, anise. It's savoury, a little meaty, some tar and firm velvety tannins with a tart smoky character on finish. Very flavoursome and complex with good richness and balance. Persists in its flavour and lingers with funky, savoury, smoky notes. Top wine of the tasting. 22Mar2003.

I would be remiss to omit the Neudorf Moutere 'Home Block' Pinot Noir 2001 (Wine of the Week ending 9 Mar 2003) from Nelson. While my first memory of this dates back to a tasting at the vineyard with Tim and Judy Finn, a bottled consumed at home on my husband's birthday last March lived up to all my expectations, bringing back many fantastic memories while making even more.
My notes: Dark ruby coloured liquid, compelling to the senses. Warm cedary vanillin oak, black cherry and savoury meaty musky winey scents, crisp, rich and full in the mouth, spicy and lifted with lots of flavour. A savoury, earthy, gamey style with delightful herbal influences amongst the smoky honeyed bacon-like oak that sits so well with the sweet fruit, cherry chocolate nuances and well-controlled velvety tannins. It's powerful, concentrated and finely structured and the finish is sweet and long. It sits in the mouth and you can savour the flavours for ages. It has pinosity-plus. 2Mar2003.

There have been many gorgeous Pinot Noirs from the 2002 vintage and for a moment I thought that Rudi Bauer was going to feature a third time in my wines of the Year. The Quartz Reef Central Otago Pinot Noir 2002 would be my top 2002 Central Otago Pinot Noir to date, but sorry Rudi, at the last minute you were edged out of the first place by the Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir 2002. This silken textured wine delivers everything that Martinborough promises and more. It was too late to be reviewed as a Wine of the Week, although it carries the day here.
My notes: What can I say? Wow! This is perhaps the best 2002 pinot I have tasted all year. Deep ruby red with a gemmy glow. Totally enthralling and inviting aromas of smoky spiced berries and cherries with a slightly herbal savoury edge. Fruity to the taste with divine roast cherry and cracked berry flavours, a little earth, a touch of herb and creamy smoky oak binding it together with a gorgeous silky smooth texture that flows across the palate to culminate in a slightly tart finish warmed by the alcohol. Compared to something like a Shiraz, this is a medium weight wine that was just perfect for the food (turkey with roasted red cherries, and lamb) and the time of day. 25Dec2003.

Last but not least, I reserve a place for a bottle of Merlot in the winetaster's dozen. I was on the Merlot judging panel at the Liquorland Top 100 and the delicious Villa Maria Reserve Hawkes Bay Merlot 2001 (Wine of the Week ending 12 Oct 2003), was my top pointed wine in the initial round of judging and was also my choice for Wine of the Show. Tasted several times throughout the year, where it's not all sniff, swirl, sniff, sip, spit, move on the next one, it also performed out of sight. It's been in the bottle a while now and is settling nicely, fantastic with food, which is how this wine has been designed to drink.
My notes: Blackish red, dense, dark, rich, opaque. Chocolate, plums, leather and plush creamy oak on the nose. Utterly concentrated in its awesome black cherry, plum and smoky berry flavour with tar, leather, sweet vanillin oak and firm grainy tannins. It's big, rich and succulent with fantastic balance, a silky textured finish and lingering brambly fruit. A wine with pedigree carrying on the success of past vintages - this is NZ Merlot as good as it gets!! Screwcap. 8Oct2003.

In summary, the winetaster's dozen for 2003 is -

    Quartz Reef Chauvet 1998 – WOTW Nov 2003
    Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2002 – Winner SA/NZ Challenge
    Matua Valley Paretai Sauvignon Blanc 2003 – WOTW Nov 2003
    Johanneshof Gewurztraminer 2003 – WOTW Nov 2003
    Kumeu River Maté's Chardonnay 2002 – WOTW May 2003
    Pegasus Bay Riesling 2002 – all year round favourite
    Kim Crawford Reka Riesling 2002 – WOTW August 2003
    Selaks Founders Reserve Hawkes Bay Syrah 2001 – WOTW Sep 2003
    Craggy Range Block 14 Syrah 2001 – WOTW Nov 2003
    Peregrine Central Otago Pinot Noir 2001 - WOTW Apr 2003
    Neudorf Moutere 'Home Block' Pinot Noir 2001 - WOTW Mar 2003
    Ata Rangi Martinborough Pint Noir 2002 – not reviewed as WOTW but definitely one of the wines of the year
    Villa Maria Reserve Merlot 2001 – WOTW Oct 2003
You will think I can't count, but it is obviously a 'Baker's Dozen'.

There are a couple of additional accolades too.

Best Producer
Amisfield Vineyards. The name doesn’t feature in the Top 12. Maybe it should, but this producer is my rising star. With the fastidious Jeff Sinnot running the operation, just watch and you'll see "Amisfield" being rated by all the critics that matter as well as little old me. So far I've tasting outstanding 5-star Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Rose, and the Pinot Gris is not far behind. The Rosé certainly is the wine of the summer so far – the first Wine of the Week for 2004.

Most surprising wine tasted during the year
Went out with friends for dinner. Stopped at their place first for a glass of bubbles. "What are we drinking?", he asked as he perused the wine collection. "The Chifney 1994 Cabernet", she said quite determinedly. "That'll be interesting", I said rather cheekily. What a surprise, the Chifney 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon, a Martinborough wine, the passion of Stan Chifney who stuck with Bordeaux varieties while two other Martinborough pioneers – Ata Rangi and Martinborough Vineyards - tried Pinot Noir (and we all know how that turned out) and the fourth of the pioneers, Dry River, played around with the Alsace varieties. Stan's now passed on but his legacy remains. Chifney Vineyards Martinborough Cabernet sauvignon 1994 – perhaps one of the most magnificent 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wines ever to be produced in NZ.

Outstanding Tasting of the Year
The Coleraine Vertical – ten vintages of Te Mata Coleraine, the incredible 1991 the most outstanding wine of the tasting with the delicious 2000 vintage destined for similar greatness. I can't wait for a follow-up tasting in ten years time.

Piling On
How quickly the case gets full. If I could have another case here's what would go in it

Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2003 - Marlborough
Vavasour Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2002 - Marlborough
Pegasus Bay Aria Riesling 2002 - Waipara
Peregrine Rastasburn Riesling 2003 – Central Otago
Framingham Pinot Gris 2002 - Marlborough
Felton Road Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2002 - Central Otago
Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay 2002 - Nelson
Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay 2002 - Martinborough
Quartz Reef Pinot Noir 2002 – Central Otago
Kawarau Reserve Pinot Noir 2001 – Central Otago
Martinborough Vineyards Pinot Noir 2001 - Martinborough
Obsidian Cabernet Merlot 2000 – Waiheke Island

© Sue Courtney
January 2004

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