A long, long time ago …. sounds like the start of a Don McLean song but it was indeed a long, long time ago …. in New Zealand …. when Muller Thurgau, or Muller T, which sounds a bit funkier for this day and age, was the grape white hope. That was, of course, before Sauvignon Blanc had been 'discovered'.
Yes, Muller T was once the most productive, New Zealand grown, white grape variety, it's popularity intensifying from the mid-1970's to reaching a peak production of almost 26,000 tonnes in 1990. The light fruity white with floral aromatics and light but fresh acidity stayed on top until 1995. The following year, Chardonnay out-produced Muller T to take over the No. 1 spot, scraping in by just 32 tonnes. But Chardonnay had only a short reign at No. 1 as it was superseded by Sauvignon Blanc in 1999 and again in 2001. Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are firmly cemented in the No. 1 and No. 2 spots respectively and Sauvignon Blanc shows no sign of being toppled off the top spot for a very long time as planting of the scintillating, fruity variety keeps increasing to meet export demand.
Meanwhile, back in the late 1990's, Muller T trickled down the white grape production popularity ladder to No.3 position in 1997 and No. 4 position in 2001 (behind Riesling). It trailed Semillon in 2003, blipped a resurgence to its No. 4 place in 2004, then back to No. 5 in 2005. Pinot Gris made its big jump up the popularity ladder in 2006 overtaking both Semillon and Muller T, and in 2007 both Gewurztraminer and Muscat varieties climbed up the ladder. Muller T is currently in No. 8 spot as plantings continue to decrease.
We don't really hear much of Muller T these days, so what happens to all the juice that is still produced from the 100-odd hectares of the grape plantings that are still in the ground? It's probably used as a blending varietal and a lot would go into casks.
But there are still some wines labelled Muller Thurgau being produced. The light and medium sweet white table wines generally loiter on supermarket shelves to tempt the under $10 buyers. Mind you one or two producers do make a reasonably more serious style, such as Opihi in South Canterbury.
But perhaps for those producers want to produce a ultra-serious Muller Thurgau, maybe they should place their focus on a sweet wine style.
I remember one gold medal winning sweet Muller Thurgau, although not labelled as Muller Thurgau because of public perception at the time. But it was definitely the grape behind the success of Robard and Butler's "As Good As Gold" from the 1990 vintage. It had a special label designed by artist Billy Apple and you had to look through the bottle to read the label. It was a rich, concentrated sweet wine and no-one really thought a wine made from Muller Thurgau could be that good. But it was.
Schubert Wines in Martinborough also make a delicious, sweet Muller Thurgau wine. They call it Dolce.
Now I've come across another delicious little sweetie that could be a trail blazer for the style.
It's Canterbury Vineyards Botrytised Muller Thurgau 2007, made from Canterbury grown grapes. A bright, clear, 24 carat gold, this shows lovely concentration on the nose with botrytis, honey and honeysuckle florals. It has a mouth-coating nectar-like a texture and bright piercing orange and juicy lime acidity to balance the luscious sweet flavours of candied tropical fruits with a hint of toffee and a luscious, apricot-rich lingering honeyed finish.
This is a gorgeous expression of a delicious tasty sweet wine, which has an amazing 254 grams per litre of residual sugar according to the label but just 8% alcohol by volume.
Just yum with a slice of Golden Queen peach straight off the tree - and delicious with a slice of piquant creamy blue. Even more of a taste sensation with the wine, the fruit and the cheese together.
It comes in a 375 ml bottle and costs $27.90 at the cellar door - the only outlet for the wine at this time.
Canterbury Vineyards in is Old School Road in Burnham in South Canterbury. People who know the region well will know this as the winery that Giesen established and worked from for 25 years until moving all their operations to Marlborough after selling the winery to the current owner in December 2006. The winery was rebranded Canterbury Vineyards at that time.
There is no website, just an email address email@example.com and according to the Selwyn District Council website, the winery opens daily for sales of their own wine as well as the Geisen and Gecko labels.
So well done Canterbury Vineyards - your 2007 Botrytised Muller T is just yum.
© Sue Courtney
25 Feb 2008