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Wine of the Week for week ending 9 May 2004
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Cloudy Bay Te Koko Sauvignon Blanc 2000
Marlborough, New Zealand

Cloudy Bay Te Koko Sauvignon Blanc has always been an intriguing wine. Hard to describe, the official blurb says "an individual expression of the Sauvignon Blanc grape, a complex and savoury wine that is both deliciously aromatic and richly textured. Released as a matured wine, Te Koko is a full-bodied alternative style of Sauvignon Blanc".

"Te Koko was developed as the result of a winemaking curiosity", continues the blurb.

What on earth does that mean, I thought, so went to my trusty filing cabinet and found all the back copies of that excellent winery newsletter they call "Mentelle Notes". I found the answer in the April 2000 edition.

"Ever wonder what winemakers talk about over morning tea?", begins the article announcing the first release of Te Koko. Well no I hadn't actually. I assumed they'd be like anyone else, talking about their work, the weekend sports, the gossip and so forth. Well, in a winery they do talk about their work and in this particular instance a passing suggestion started fermenting away until it became reality.

It was back in 1991 when that historic conversation took place. Newly appointed Cloudy Bay oenologist James Healy (who has now left Cloudy Bay to concentrate on his own label) asked Kevin Judd if he thought it would be a good idea to ferment some Chardonnay with indigenous yeast. Well Kevin hadn’t and after recovering from the question, pondered over it for a few days then agreed to a trial. What James was suggesting was non-interventionist winemaking, letting nature take its own course. The wine also underwent malolactic fermentation (whether this was spontaneous, I don’t know) and the result, according to the newsletter was "a savoury, complex, mealy wine with great intensity and voluptuous mouthfeel".

The following year James suggested they try it with Sauvignon Blanc and Kevin volunteered the grapes from his own 'Greywacke' vineyard. Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 1992 – Greywacke Vineyard, was sold from the cellar door.

Another experiment, with grapes from the Motukawa Vineyard, followed in 1994 and then in 1996, Cloudy Bay Te Koko was born. The name is derived from 'Te Koko o Kupe', the original Maori name for the bay that Captain Cook later named Cloudy Bay.

This past week I was fortunate to partake in a vertical tasting of the last five vintages of Cloudy Bay Te Koko, from the 1997 vintage throught to the newly released 2001. All wines are sealed with a cork and carry 13.5% alcohol by volume. They are released at least three years after vintage.

The wines were mostly all good, but the 2000 vintage Te Koko was truly exceptional. Here are my notes.

Cloudy Bay Te Koko 1997
A moderately warm low yielding harvest that produced excellent fruit.
Deep yellow gold and quite rich in colour compared to the straw gold of the 2001. Smoky with slight toffee on the nose. Broad and mellow in the palate with spicy oak, stone fruit, passionfruit and that developed peasy Sauvignon Blanc character with a caramel overtone and a toasty leesy influence. Wasn't sure if this wine was heading over the hill but the next day the wine had not fallen over – of anything it was better - and the finish was heading into canned peach territory. A wonderfully ripe, mouthfilling wine.

Cloudy Bay Te Koko 1998
A hot dry vintage producing very ripe fruit of excellent quality.
Quite closed on the nose at first, becoming smoky with subtle peachy hints. Citrussy backbone to the palate and a butter caramel finish with a touch of lime. It's a dry, yeast-lees influenced wine and does not have the concentration of any of the others. It was just a little disappointing in the line-up. It wasn't noticeably corked but I would say it was a little 'flat'. It did not improve the second day.

Cloudy Bay Te Koko 1999
An ideal Marlborough vintage that produced intense, well-balanced wines.
Bright gold and showing a little spritz in the glass, this has a pungent aromas with a developed Sauvignon Blanc peasy character and citrus peel trying to push through the haze of smoky oak. Citrus oil dominates the palate both in flavour and texture, it's an unusual taste, a little like oily semillon in a way. It's packed with flavours that remind me of green – gooseberry, lime, sweet pea, green passionfruit, grass and herbs with a Euro-like lanolin overtone. Bright on the finish and very long in the palate. Think hot bread and butterscotch too. A very interesting wine with an excellent rating.

Cloudy Bay Te Koko 2000
A cool, low yielding season producing intense flavours.
Bright gold, crystalline-like citrine in its colour. The creamy toasty nose smells ripe, rich and inviting – I get waves of caramel, vanilla, freshly mown hay, citrus peel and loquat blossom on the nose. There a good varietal Sauvignon Blanc influence in the palate with a smoky oak dominance and a sound citrus backbone. As I taste it I think white flowers – citrus blossom and the loquat flowers that are filling my garden with exotics scents this very month of May. It appears very youthful, very much alive with lots going on, a vibrant and exciting wine that is ripe, round and deliciously rich, full of ripe citrus flavours on a spicy, creamy oak finish. There's a good yeast lees influence and it shows off this 'alternative' style of Sauvignon Blanc very well. The flavours in here are intriguing. It makes drinking it and enjoying it a special experience. I rate it outstanding – it's without doubt my Wine of the Week.

Cloudy Bay Te Koko 2001
An exceptionally dry season producing average to low yields with excellent concentration.
Straw gold, bright and clear. A little more closed than the voluptuous 2000 with hints of ripe citrus, passionfruit, grapefruit peel and a strong caramel influence. It's bright and lively in the plate with all the characters that the nose detected together with roasted nuts and a toasty richness on the finish. It seems more like Chardonnay at this stage of its life with the warm, barrel ferment leesy character leading into a citrus-dominant flavour with a caramel butterscotch influence. Think of it as an alternative to Chardonnay with the liveliness of Sauvignon Blanc. I rate it very good with a movement towards excellent when the acidity softens just a little. A couple of days later the wine has developed a definite passionfruit and grassy herbaceous character with a suggestion of sweet pea, that is exactly what I expect from Marlbrough Sauvignon Blanc.

Always of interest to me is to match wine to food and here would be an exercise where five wines made in the same style but of differing ages would be matched to the same food.

The first night the meal consisted of Pan Fried Crispy Skinned Salmon Fillet with a Feta Cheese Sauce served with a carrot and persimmon vegetable dish, peas, beans and potatoes.

The Salmon with the Feta Cheese Sauce went well with the 1999, 2000 and 2001 but clashed with the 1997 and 1998.
The Baked Grated Carrot and Persimmon, however, matched to the 1997 and 1998 but did not match at all to the other vintages.
The Peas and Beans matched to the older three wines, but not to the 2000 or 2001. The potato went with everything.

The second night the meal was Baked Chicken Breast stuffed with Feta, Capsicum and Spring Onions and wrapped in Bacon, served with Spinach. Best match was the 2001, especially with the Spinach.

The third night the wines were matched to Pork Hocks braised in ginger ale. This was the most incredible match to the 1999. It would have gone well with the 2000 too, but by now this fabulous wine had only enough left for the smallest of tastes.

Check out my Food Files for the recipes.

Cloudy Bay sends Te Koko to Australia, UK and minuscule amounts to Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong. They will probably launch it in the US next year with the release of the 2002. Now that's a vintage I hope will emulate the exquisite 2000 – and with such a productive vintage, there should be more of it to spread around.

Unfortunately the Cloudy Bay Te Koko 2000 is sold out at the winery but if you have it in your cellar, or if you spot it in a restaurant, (and if the wine has a pristine cork) you have the opportunity to partake of this unique taste experience. 2001 is the current release, virtually sold out in NZ already I hear. It has a recommended retail of NZ$35.

© Sue Courtney
2 May 2004

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