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Wine of the Week for week ending 13 January 2008
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A wrap up of the 2007 year
Wines from all regions of New Zealand

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 bestowed?
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 (   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 the Margrain 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!

Bordeaux-styled Reds
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 Auslese 2006
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 WineVinoptima 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 mouth. 

Other Highlights
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 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

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