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Wine of the Week for week ending 24 September 2006
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Dry River Amaranth Chardonnay 2005
Martinborough, New Zealand

When I read the latest scholarly essay by Dr Neil McCallum in the Dry River Wines' Spring Release 2006 newsletter, I came across a word in the title that had me reaching for the dictionary. The word was phenomenology. But first I tried to imagine what it could mean. Perhaps it had something to do with the study of phenols (especially as the Dry River website version of the essay states the word as 'phenolomenology') , and phenols in wine is something I know holds some fascination for Dr McCallum. But words are never so easy .

Phenomenolgy, in this context of the essay, refers to the philosophical tradition that started with Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) whose approach to philosophy takes the intuitive experience of phenomena (what presents itself to us in phenomenological reflexion) as its starting point and tries to extract from it the essential features of experiences and the essence of what we experience. Phew!

Neil McCallum describes it with an example of the unique relationship between a wine taster and the wine that person is tasting which sums up the experience. "We owe it to ourselves to approach the pleasurable experience of beautiful wine with wonder and anticipation, without too much knowledge and definitely without prejudice, " he says.

"The results of wine show and reviews by wine writers set the fashion, and the danger in following other's views is that of ignoring, repressing or even denigrating one's own good taste and discernment as predetermined by our own culture and physiology," he says.

I guess this is one reason why Neil McCallum and winemaker Katy Hammond take their wines to their customers, twice a year, for the Spring or Autumn release tastings. Their customers can try the wines and follow their own palate preferences in deciding what to buy.

But is it that easy with Dry River wines? When presented with a bottle of Dry River wine, whatever the varietal may be, the anticipation will always be high because over the years Dry River Wines has cemented itself as the most iconic producer in New Zealand. Whatever the varietal, the magic touch is always there. Just one look at the label sets a Dry River wine on a pedestal.

I like to taste wines blind for unbiased wonder and anticipation although some people will argue that seeing the label does make the taste far more pleasurable. I also like to taste wines with food for the ongoing pleasure, the ongoing wonder and the changes that occur in the wine over time when food is added to the equation. I also like to see how the wine changes in the glass and the bottle over the course of an evening - or even over a few days.

Dry River Chardonnay 2005, photo by Sue Courtney

When I first tasted the Dry River Amaranth Chardonnay 2005 at the Spring Release tasting, the wine was not tasted blind. It was a newly opened bottle of wine and the oaky flavours were quite dominant, which was a surprise to me and I have never thought of Dry River Chardonnay as being 'oaky' before. I wrote, "a rich, buttery oaky wine, very stylish and Burgundian in style?" But how could a wine be oaky when it has only 25% new oak and those oak barrels were bigger than normal, being 300 litres in size? And how could it be buttery when it has had no malolactic fermentation, the lactic acid that results from this process being what adds the buttery component to the wine. It was obviously such a contrast from the previous tasted wines, the 2006 Dry River Craighall Riesling and the 2006 Dry River Sauvignon Blanc - both very pure with no whisper of oak, that made the oak in the Chardonnay stand out.

The only thing to do was to try the wine later, and this time it was tasted blind, in that it was poured into a suitably-sized glass and presented to me without me knowing what it was.

I found a nutty, lees-influenced wine, clear and bright in colour with a straw gold hue and a beautifully fragrant but delicate honeysuckle aroma intermingling with lemon and grapefruit pith and mellow Burgundian oak. Totally dry to the taste, the sweetness of fleshy melon and tropical fruit pushes through with nutmeg spice and sates the palate with its full-bodied, rich warmth. There's an underpinning of citrus and then a hint of salinity (which some people would call minerality) that adds interest to the fine, focused finish where the creamed nut characters of the mellow oak re-emerge for an encore before gently fading away. A beautiful wine, begging to be sipped and savoured.

This is a wine that I would rate in the super-league of New Zealand's chardonnays, right up there with the sensational Kumeu River releases from 2005.

I was not surprised when this wine was revealed to the Dry River Amaranth Chardonnay 2005 because although delicious to drink right away, it had the tightness and grip to the texture that was an invitation for cellaring. So we put the cork in the bottle and enjoyed a glass each over the next couple of nights.

As for the food match, well nothing spectacular as the food was planned before the wine. However I can recommend Dry River Amaranth Chardonnay 2005 with leftover breaded chicken and finely sliced mushrooms in a tomato and white wine sauce served over fresh, angel hair pasta.

Dry River Amaranth Chardonnay 2005 carries 13% alcohol by volume and was released to mail order customers at $41.50 a bottle plus freight. While pretty limited in retail and to the restaurant trade, it can be found with some endeavoured searching. Otherwise dial up the Dry River website and join the Dry River mail order list.

According to the Dry River newsletter, the term 'Amaranth ' is used to denote a wine which appears to be of particular interest for cellaring and is not intended to be a quality comment.

* * * * * * * * * *

Here are my other tasting notes of Dry River's Spring Release wines

Dry River Craighall Riesling 2006
Dry, crisp, lean and steely with scents of lime sherbert that impart a spritzy tingle to the tongue, there's a purity to the flavour with acidity that evolves through lemonade to lime to more weighty juicy green apple and the finish is clean, crisp and refreshing. A wine that tastes very dry, although it's technically off dry with 8 grams of residual sugar. It is the low pH of 2.7 that gives itís that "sucking on a river stone" minerality and will no doubt contribute to a very long life. 12.5% alc. Release price $36.

Dry River Sauvignon Blanc 2006
A little restrained on the nose but exuberantly pungent and distinctly sauvignon blanc in its flavour. There's an initial spicy, tingly, grapefruit zest spritziness that gives way to a silky texture with a fine, steely undercurrent and fruit that encompasses the apple, lime and passionfruit spectrum before melon and stonefruit flesh out the finish while underlying gooseberry keeps it focused. Bone dry, crisp and refreshing. 13% alc. Release price $31.

Dry River Lovat Syrah 2004
In the glass the wine is a deep pool of purple-red and the aroma it emits is incredibly seductive, aromatic and floral with the peppery scent of carnation, the musky scent of rose, the berry scents of the grape and the spicy scent of oak. It smells warm and savoury with a coating of creamy chocoate that carries through to the palate to add lushness to the spicy flavoured taste. Rich, plush and velvety, full of red fruit with a beautiful array of spices and hints of rose pepper, the oak plays a supporting role in the background and the tannins are firm. An outstanding wine of depth, flavour, balance and length. Highly recommended with venison fillet cooked with a herb and bread crust and accompanied with a red wine and cranberry sauce. 12.5% alc. Release price $58.

© Sue Courtney
17 September 2006

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