Instead of a Wine of the Week, it's time to reflect on the year just past. 2005 was a great year for New Zealand wine and for drinkers of New Zealand wine. It wasn't the biggest harvest on record but it was possibly one of the best years for sauvignon blanc with lower yields allowing the exquisite fruit flavours to shine. There were also gorgeous wines from the 2004 vintage being released and for grapes like chardonnay and syrah, this was a vintage to remember.
I've selected some of my favourite wines that I've tasted during the year. In each of the categories list below there's a wine I've awarded 'Wine of the Year' status to as well as the others in the running that made the final choice so difficult. One of the problems was the wines in each category were mostly tasted at different times and couldnít be compared to each other in a taste-off together. So the wines I've picked as Wine of the Year had other factors considered, like whether I had them with food or simply the memories they evoke.
How do you think they stack up?
This is our flagship white wine variety and initially I thought the choice for Sauvignon Blanc of the Year was going to be so easy, but it turned out to be a little tougher than I expected. The easy part was that it had to be a sauvignon blanc made by Saint Clair, now New Zealand's most highly successful sauvignon blanc producer.
The difficult part was that Saint Clair now produces seven sauvignon blancs in their estate livery. There's the Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, NZ's most decorated sauvignon blanc with hundreds of accolades since its first vintage in 2000 including a trophy for the 2005 vintage at the New Zealand International Wine Show. Then there's the Pioneer Block wines, introduced for the first time in 2005. There are four of them - Pioneer Block 1, Pioneer Block 2, Pioneer Block 3 and Pioneer Block 4 - and they are all good.
And lastly there's the everyday Saint Clair Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and the well-priced Saint Clair Vicar's Choice Sauvignon Blanc.
The Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2005 won yet another trophy for the cabinet in 2005 with more to come in 2006, surely and the Pioneer Blocks certainly impressed with their concentration and flavour.
After much deliberation, I've chosen the double gold medal winning Saint Clair Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2005, the wine that wine writing colleague John Saker calls the "Saint Clair Ordinaire", as my Sauvignon Blanc of the Year. It delivers a taste sensation for its sharp price. It's simply delicious Marlborough sauvignon blanc.
What a wonderful year for chardonnay drinkers with many exceptional wines from the 2004 vintage coming onto the market. There were so many wines that displayed superb fruit focus, beautifully balanced winemaking characters of oak and lees-aging, and no overt use of malo-lactic. There are almost too many wines to pick.
The show results firmly place the delicious Gunn Estate Skeetfield Chardonnay 2004 from Hawkes Bay as the country's top chardonnay and indeed, this was the top wine in one of my own tasting sessions back in July. It's deliciously approachable with lots of flavour. But my Chardonnay of the Year goes to the Clearview Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2004 also from Hawkes Bay, despite picking it incorrectly at the Auckland regional wine options. This doesnít have a good show record picking up only one gold, but it has mouthfeel, richness and length. Everyone I know who has tasted it in a food situation agrees with me that it is simply fabulous - and it has the capacity to age. Click here for the WOTW review.
One of the highlights this year was writing an article on low alcohol Rieslings for FoodService magazine. Why was this a highlight? Because I love low alcohol Rieslings that follow the German model. The tasting came at a time when some critics were complaining about too much alcohol in wine. Had they forgotten about this superb wine style? So not surprisingly my Riesling of the Year comes from this tasting and is awarded to Felton Road Block 1 Riesling 2005 from Central Otago. In my Wine of the Week review, I summed it up as a wine with power and concentration and although low in alcohol, it is definitely heady. Click here for the WOTW review.
Viognier is the new trend it seems with more and more producers planting these revered vines. Not surprisingly, then, my pick for Viognier of the Year is a brand new wine - one that completely turned my head on its debut. Gladstone Wairarapa Viognier 2005, made from first crop fruit, has everything I expect from this variety, the gorgeous aromatics with hallmark apricot scents, the full-bodied palate and the slightly musky lingering aftertaste. Click here for the WOTW review.
It is hard to go past the multi-trophy winning Villa Maria Marlborough Pinot Noir 2004 with Champion trophies from the New Zealand International Wine Show, the Air New Zealand Wine Awards and Royal Hobart International Wine Show in 2005. Villa Maria Marlborough Pinot Noir 2004 deserves all the accolades it gets despite being pushed very hard by two sibling wines, the Villa Maria Single Vineyard Rutherford Pinot Noir 2004 and the Villa Maria Single Vineyard Taylors Pass Pinot Noir 2004 also from Marlborough. Villa Maria has raised the bar in wine competitions, taking New Zealand pinot noir to a new level of excellence.
However there is one other pinot noir that was released last year that shows with every mouthful what supreme excellence is and just gets the nod for my Pinot Noir of the Year. It is Kupe by Escarpment Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2003, grown and made by pinot noir guru, Larry McKenna, the winemaker behind the stunning Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noirs for 14 years (1986-1999 inclusive). He knows the region, he knows the terroir and knows how to make great pinot noir. Click here for the WOTW review.
There are more and more examples of stunning New Zealand syrah every year and the Unison Vineyard Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2004 from Hawkes Bay quite rightly took the trophy for Champion Syrah at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards. This is almost black in colour, gorgeously fragrant and sumptuously flavoured with lots of peppery spice.
Another top syrah tasted this year is Te Mata Estate Bullnose Syrah 2004, also from Hawkes Bay. When tasted at a vertical tasting in Auckland in October, it showed all the stellar qualities that the 1998 did in youth, and the 1998 showed superbly in the vertical tasting with its deep garnet colour, rich flavours and spicy, long lasting finish. Te Mata Bullnose Syrah 2004 is inky blackberry coloured with floral peppery aromas, a finely structured palate and concentrated fruit with gorgeous mouthfeel and fantastic length.
But Syrah of the Year goes to the seductive Bilancia La Collina Syrah 2002 from Hawkes Bay tasted in December 2004 and again in February 2005. It's a densely coloured, velvety textured, mouthfilling wine that is seamless in its delivery with delectable shiraz flavours and an incredibly long finish. Click here for the WOTW review.
My Bordeaux-styled Red of the Year has escalated itself to one of New Zealand's cult wines and now sells from the winery on an en primeur basis to be bought by collectors who know what a collectable wine is. It has pedigree and class and is made to last. It is the Esk Valley The Terraces 2002, which would have been on of my wines of the year in 2004 if I had bothered to make selections, but fortunately for me I was privileged to taste it again in 2005 as part of a Terraces 'vertical' (Click here for notes on the vertical).
Esk Valley The Terraces 2002 from Hawkes Bay is opaque as can be with seductive aromatics, a myriad of spices, concentrated fruit and rich oak. Judging by the 1991 Terraces, a ripe 14-years old when tasted at the vertical and still showing that it has life ahead of it, the 2002 Terraces is easily a 20-year wine, perhaps longer as its sports a screwcap closure.
Also in the running was Peacock Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec / Merlot / Cabernet Franc 2002 from Waiheke Island, a wine that made the superlatives hard to suppress. Click here for the WOTW review.
Pegasus Bay in the Waipara Valley, just north of Christchurch in the South Island, is renowned for its ravishing rieslings but 2005 saw the release of their first fully-botrytised wine made from riesling grapes. Pegasus Bay Encore Riesling 2004, with its grapefruit citrus profile, is hallmark Pegasus Bay with the addition of nectar-like botrytis and exquisite sweetness to acid balance. Click here for the review.
Just to prove I am not totally New Zealand-biased when it comes to drinking wines, there are two wines from across the waters that just have to be mentioned.
Getting my pick for Overseas White Wine of the Year is William Fevre Chablis 'Les Clos' Grand Cru 2002 from France. This 100% Chardonnay was part of one of my best wine and food matching experiences ever. It was at a dinner with friends at St Tropez Restaurant in Auckland's Parnell, a darn fine restaurant that allows BYO wine. The wine has subtle toasty oak and delicate creamed nut flavours with lemon, lime and a caramel butterscotch influence from the full malolactic and a mealiness from the barrel ferment. Matched to a ravioli of prawn mousseline swimming in a bowl of butter cream sauce infused with garlic, saffron and parmesan, it took the wine and food experience to orgasmic level.
Overseas Red Wine of the Year is awarded to Brown Brothers Partricia Shiraz 2002 from Victoria in Australia with grapes grown in the King Valley and Heathcote. with a shining red-black colour, spicy aromas and full-bodied opulent flavours reminiscent of mulberry and plum with exotic spices, cedary oak and firm youthful tannins that are succulent and savoury. Sumptuous, succulent, sexy, spicy shiraz that stunned the palate on its own and melded beautifully with a rare fillet of beef served with a confit of mushroom and a garnish of rosemary.
Highlights of the Year
As far as tasting goes, its hard to top tasting all the gold medal wines from the New Zealand International Wine Show and the Air New Zealand Wine Awards and being paid for it. My tasting notes were used for the New Zealand International Wine Show Supplement and the Air New Zealand Wine Awards tasting note booklet, both distributed with newspapers throughout the country.
There was also the Esk Valley The Terraces vertical tasting and 25 Years of Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir - tastings that proved NZ red wine can age.
Disappointments of the Year
Reading about the tastings that other wine writing colleagues were invited too and I wasn't. I donít really care as Iíd rather taste the wines at home in a blind tasting situation - to assess the wines on their merits rather than having the marketeers telling me what to expect to taste - then tasting them again with food. But reading about the launch party for the Deutz Marlborough Cuvťe Rosť really left a taste of sour grapes. You see, everyone who went evidently got a piece of pink rock - artificial pink sapphire I believe. And for those that think that all sapphires are blue - you are wrong. Sapphire is the gem name for the mineral corundum - Al2O3 - the second hardest mineral after diamond. Red gem-quality corundum is called ruby and blue gem-quality corundum is sapphire, but most other coloured gem-quality corundum is called sapphire too.
I did get to taste the wine, however, and it has to be the best Rosť fizz I've tasted from New Zealand, which is why I wrote it up as Wine of the Week (Click here for the review). And I didnít even know about the pink sapphire give-away when I made my own comparisons to delicate pink-coloured minerals. That's probably because it seem a more delicate pink colour than my own pink sapphire ring.
New Year resolutions
With the highs and lows and plenty of wines under the belt, I'm looking forward to another year of it. Thus my resolutions are:
- to write my WineoftheWeek newsletter more often
- to give my website a makeover.
© Sue Courtney