It's that time of year when you reflect on the 365 days of the year just past - the
good, the bad, the ugly and all that jazz.
So I've a few accolades to hand out
Best New Producer - Crater Rim
A search of my archives shows that I tasted no Crater Rim wines prior to 2007, yet I had
the opportunity to taste some of the wines several times in the latter part of the year.
This was because Crater Rim's Rieslings and Pinot Noirs were highly rewarded by the judges
at various shows and so the wines kept recurring at tasting events.
Crater Rim makes two scintillating Rieslings. The Crater Rim Waipara Riesling 2006
was my personal favourite from the New Zealand International Wine Show - but the Crater
Rim Marlborough/Akaroa Riesling 2005, which I tasted alongside the Waipara Riesling at
a Riesling tasting at the end of the year, I consider even better.
They also make two outstanding Pinot Noirs. One is the Crater Rim Central Otago Pinot
Noir 2006 but it is the Crater Rim Omihi Rise Waipara Pinot Noir 2006 which I
consider drop dead gorgeous. Big, rich and gutsy - following the mould of the Pegasus bay
Waipara style - the Crater Rim Omihi Rise Waipara Pinot Noir 2006 has to be in the
running for my Pinot Noir of the Year.
The Crater Rim website says -" Our wines are produced from contracted sites carefully
selected for their particular mix of varietal, topography, soil and microclimate
creating high quality, site-specific wines of individual character and drinkability. We
work closely with each grower to ensure that vines are cropped low and managed
sustainably, guaranteeing the best quality fruit possible from each vineyard site. These
are exceptional wines from exceptional regions."
Crater Rim also produces Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris - but I've not seen those wines.
But the wines I mention above are exceptional.
South Island Winemaker of the Year - Mike Just
Taste the Clayridge Wines and you will know why Mike gets the nod. His wines have texture,
depth, concentration - and ageability. Every wine he makes for his Clayridge
label - his sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, pinot blanc and pinot noir - I just love.
But it is not just his own label's wines. Another close contender for Pinot Noir of the
Year is Auntsfield Heritage Pinot Noir 2005 - not yet released but
tasted at the Marlborough Wine Weekend in October and again at Auntsfield Estate. OMG -
this is one sensuous Pinot Noir. It will be a rarity when released, but if you are a Pinot
Noir aficionado and collector, you will want to procure a bottle of this.
Mike also had a hand in the other current Auntsfield releases - including two other
favourites of mine, the Auntsfield Pretty Horses Rosť 2007 and the Auntsfield
Cob Cottage Chardonnay 2006.
But that's not all. One wine we really enjoyed on Christmas Day was Lawson's Dry
Hills Riesling 2004 - made by Mike when he worked for Lawson's.
If you haven't tasted the Clayridge wines - I suggest you make an effort. For that extra
dimension, go for the top end 'Excalibur'.
What is the secret of Mike's success? "Altitude and Attitude" says Mike's
website. That and careful vine selection, close planting, low yields & hands-on
viticulture based around environmentally friendly practices all contribute to achieving
the premium quality his sites can offer.
North Island Winemaker of the Year - Strat Canning
Have the Margrain wines been lofted several notches with the latest releases? I definitely
think so. Is it a result of a decent vintage for the region, or the concentration that
they've eked out of the tiny crops in the tiny vintage seasons that the weather gods
The Pinot Noirs are concentrated and savoury and the Chardonnay is full-bodied
and powerful, but it is the aromatics that I find most exciting. Margrain
Proprietor's Selection Riesling 2006 is one of the most fascinating complex Rieslings
to come out of New Zealand and it's made in one of the closest to an 'Alsace' style that
you will find from New Zealand. I also love their Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and of course
the Chenin Blanc - the 2007 which will be super ageworthy even though it is delicous to drink right now.
Even the 2007 Rose and the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc pushed my buttons this year.
Strat also has his own small label - Stratford (www.stratford.co.nz).
I've not seen the wines recently, however. Small vintages in Martinborough
may have put the wines on hold.
Another 'Best of' goes to Strat Canning - he gets the nod for Best Producer's Wine Descriptions. Take a look at
tasting notes' page - scroll down and get into reading. I'm sure you'll agree.
Most exciting Variety of the Year - Pinot Gris
Pinot Gris seemed to come of age in 2007. Gone has the blandness and the
one-dimensionality that far too many wines presented in the past. 2007 was a Pinot Gris
vintage of flavour, rich wines with texture.
There are far too many favourites to list - but both of the Johanneshof Pinot Gris
2007's are outstanding. Like it dry or with a moderate touch of sweetness, it's your
choice with Johanneshof as you can choose a Trocken/Dry style and or a Medium style to
suit your fancy.
I've talked about the excellence of the vintage's Pinot Gris several times on my blog
since tasting the first of the new releases at Wine New Zealand held in early September
2007. And New Zealand wine drinkers love it. But it appears that the Brits, in
particular, don't understand New Zealand Pinot Gris, which is disappointing for those who
export. It appears that British wine drinkers expect a wine labelled Pinot
Grigio to taste like an Italian wine, and a wine labelled Pinot Gris
to taste like Alsace wine from France, so they 'don't get' and are often disappointed in
what they taste from New Zealand. I hope the 2007's will change their minds and the
'influential' people who buy the wines or guide consumers in what to drink, will realise
there is a distinct New Zealand style. After all, it happened with Sauvignon Blanc -
but you have to realise the French haven't historically labelled their Sauvignon Blanc
wines with the grape name, they labelled it with the name of the village it came from, for
example Sancerre. So for the average Joe Drinker, they didn't know there was
something to compare.
Wine Highlights of the Year
Of my very top-rated wines I always find it difficult to say this wine is better than that wine, especially when 'this' wine may have been tasted in March and 'that' wine may have been tasted in September. Which one actually was best? It's so subjective. I guess it all comes down to time and place, who you were with, what you were eating or not eating and what it was that made the wine so memorable. So here goes.
Chardonnays of the Year
It's hard to past Kumeu River this year with a trio of exceptional 'Single Vineyard' wines from the 2006 vintage - as if one wasn't enough - and there is the Kumeu River 'Estate' as well. Four brilliant wines.
I tasted these wines in July / August and back then my favourite was the Hunting Hill designated single vineyard wine. The grapes for this come from the vineyard across the road from the Kumeu River winery, from the slopes above the famous Mate's Vineyard.
However I did describe the Mate's as "magnificent" because even though malolactic was a little obvious back then, the potential was patently clear. History also shows that the Mate's is a particularly age-worthy wine.
Other Chardonnay favourites tasted in 2007 include Sacred Hill Rifleman's 2005
(tasted Feb 2006), Clearview Reserve 2006, Marsden Black Rocks 2006 and Seifried Barrique Reserve 2006. Yes, I like oak!
In this category I consider wines made with traditional Bordeaux grapes - Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carmenere. I also consider Hawkes Bay blends from the same list of grapes but perhaps with a splash of Syrah.
Two wines really showed excellence above all others -
the Puriri Hills Reserve 2004, grown in Clevedon just south of Auckland City and made from a blend of Carmenere, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec - and Craggy Range Sophia 2005 - a Hawkes Bay wine made from predominantly Merlot with Cabernet Franc and just a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon.
I would love to taste these two wines together - sometime. I give the Puriri Hills the nod because I had the opportunity to taste it with food and drink the leftovers of the bottle over a couple of days. An outstanding New Zealand red.
Also way up there is another from the Craggy Range stable, - the rich, concentrated Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Merlot 2005, and at $26 a bottle, it is outstanding value. It has to be the Red Wine Buy of the Year.
Special mention also to Church Road Reserve Hawkes Bay Merlot Cabernet 2005 and a whole cluster of Mills Reef reds as well.
Oh, almost forgot - the Hans Herzog Spirit of Marlborough 2001 made from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. When I tasted this in October, I was blown away by the power and complexity of this aged 'Bordeaux style' from Marlborough. Who would have thought?
Best Riesling: Fromm Riesling
I wrote about other contenders in the last Wine of the Week entry for last year, when the sister to this wine,
the Fromm Riesling Spatlese 2006 was the Wine of the Week.
Also inPart 1 of the Best of Year two days ago, the stunning Rieslings of Crater
Rim and Margrain were mentioned. I'd also
like to say I really enjoyed the Foxes Island Marlborough Riesling 2006,
the Air New Zealand Trophy winner this year. I thought it thoroughly deserved that Trophy.
Best Gewurztraminer: I drank as
much Gewurztraminer as I could in 2007, as I love the variety and like Pinot Gris, I don't
care whether its dry or medium - although the sweeter (i.e. medium) styles do seem
immediately more seductive. And it was a sweeter style that seduced me. Best
Gewurztraminer goes to Johanneshof Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2006.
I like the way it has developed since first tasted in September 2006. It didn't make my
'Top Three' last year, but tasted again in March 2007 and as recently as last month, this
wine has really blossomed with that extra year of age.
Best Sauvignon Blanc: This is really in
the 'too hard' category for picking just one. Love the Saint Clair Pioneer Blocks, but of
all the Blocks, the Saint Clair Pioneer Block 3 '43 Degrees' Marlborough Sauvignon
Blanc 2007 gets the nod this year. After judging at the New Zealand International
Wine Show and tasting all the gold medal wines to write the 'official descriptions', this
and the eventual Trophy winning Blackenbrook Nelson Sauvignon Blanc 2007
were my joint favourites. I declare these two 'joint best'.
Best Pinot Noir: This is a tricky
category too. I've mentioned several in Part 1 of the Best of Year with Crater
Rim Omihi Rise Waipara Pinot Noir 2006 and Auntsfield Heritage
Marlborough Pinot Noir 2005 the top contenders. Clayridge
Excalibur Pinot Noir 2004, tasted back in March, is up there too. Also loved the Foxes
Island Marlborough Pinot Noir 2005 and the Valli Waitaki Vineyard Pinot
Noir 2006 - it's so good to taste the wines with food and taste the wines
again after letting them evolve in the bottle for a couple of days.
And special mention to the Pinot Noirs of Martinborough and Wairarapa -
good to see the region back on form in 2006 with some delicious wines being released. Julicher
Martinborough Pinot Noir 2006 did heaps for the region when it received the
Champion Wine of the Show Trophy at the New Zealand International Wine Show.
Best Sweet Wine: Vinoptima
Ormond Noble Late Harvest Gewurztraminer 2004 - simply gorgeous. Special mention
to Ngatarawa 'Alwyn' Winemaker's Reserve Noble Late Harvest 2006 and Forrest
Estate Botrytised Marlborough Riesling 2006 too.
Best Syrah: The judges at the Air
New Zealand Wine Awards got this right - Trinity Hill Homage Syrah 2006
from Hawkes Bay.
Best Wine Trip
The inaugural Marlborough Wine Weekend, held in Marlborough in October. At last a 'consumer' wine event with the focus on the wine, rather than wine being the adjunct to the entertainment, as seems to be the case with most wine festivals these days. Sophistciated and informative. I hope they hold this event again.
Best Wine and Food Matching Event: Simon Gault at Pasha for the
fantastic and exciting menu he created for the launch of the Montana Terroir Series Pinot
Noirs. I can still sense that organic yoghurt & gorgonzola honey egg exploding in my
It was great to meet Peter May, whom I've been corresponding with by email for almost 10 years. When I started my Internet presence in May 1998 with a website on the 'Geocities' community it didn't take long to find Peter May's Pinotage Club website, which had no mention of New Zealand pinotage wines until I sent him some details. Later Peter even wrote some columns for wineoftheweek.com. Peter is also the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape.
It was a pleasure to at last meet Peter in person and drive him around 'my patch' - see this blog entry.
It was also a great excuse to accumulate as many local pinotages as possible and put them in front of Peter to taste.
We believe there is a future for Pinotage in New Zealand. But I have to wonder why some of the producers keep producing if they don't actually care.
© Sue Courtney
7 Jan 2008