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Wine of the Week for week ending 15 Nov 2009
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Urlar Pinot Gris 2008
Gladstone, New Zealand

"Urlar! What kind of name is that? " I thought, when I received some wine samples with that brand name. But all was revealed when I read the back label.

Urlar: A Gaelic word that means 'the earth'.

Ah! Clever.

This is a new brand / new producer from Gladstone in the Wairarapa, a producer that follows organic and biodynamic practices as well. "It's about restoring balance to the earth and nature," states owner Angus Thomson in the beautifully presented blurb that accompanied the wines.

Angus and Davina Thomson are Scottish immigrants, Angus a fifth generation farmer and a descendant of whiskey distillers, a lover of a good drop as well as the land. He fell in love with New Zealand when he travelled here in 1990, returning with Davina in 2002. They sold their Scottish farm and completed the planting of 94,000 vines at Urlar Estate in 2004. Their Scottish heritage is reflected by the thistle on the label.

But what of the wines? Would they live up to the fabulous presentation? There are four in the range - three whites and a Pinot Noir. The whites were opened and placed on the table in front of me.

Urlar Sauvignon Blanc 2008 - Gladstone, New Zealand ($22)
When first opened this is pale straw gold coloured wine is quite shy and I thought it could be the Pinot Gris from the hint of oak and pear-like nuances on the scent, so definitely not a leap-out-of-the-glass style. But after a while the distinctive grassy traits of Sauvignon come through on the nose to join baked apple and citrus. It has a soft oily texture in the mouth and builds in power with its richness and concentration with the apple joined by a seam of mandarin with tasty tarragon and Thai basil herbs adding piquancy. Oak adds complexity to the texture without impacting on the delicious juiciness of the wine. My rating: 4.5 stars.
Majority of grapes fermented in stainless steel at low temperature with balanced fermented in old oak barrels for complexity & mid palate weight. 13.8% alc.

Urlar Riesling 2008 - Gladstone, New Zealand ($22)
This light lemon gold coloured wine is packed with fresh apple acidity to the point of being astringent when first opened, counteracted somewhat with creamy food, so I put the top back on the bottle and tasted again the next day. Now we're talking, baby. There's a hint of tropical and lime coming through on the scent and a slight oily texture with lemony cutting through the fat and floral / honeysuckle nuances on the finish. Quite dry but with enough fruit intensity to be on the cusp of off dry. But with that searing lime curd acidity, it's a wine that will develop well, I'd say. Try it with a fillet of terakihi with a beurre blanc sauce. My rating: 3.5 stars.
Hand picked and whole bunch pressed to allow gentle extraction of flavour with some time on lees to add mid palate weight. 13% alc.

Urlar Pinot Gris 2008 - Gladstone, New Zealand ($28)
Light lemon gold colour and intensely redolent of ripe pear. Is there oak? Yes there is. With soft acidity and hints of oak and now fresh peach scents joining the array, it's a little Chardonnay-like. The Chardonnay feel carries through to the palate and I wonder if it is a barrel-fermented because a light creme brulee character comes through and the peach flavours are delicate and juicy fruit-sweet with nuances of spiced apples and pears on the finish. With its hint of smoky, spicy oak, this is a Pinot Gris for Chardonnay lovers and has great all round appeal. We tasted this over several days and it just gets better and better with the oak giving way to the fruit.
Free run juice & the lightest of pressings were 100% barrel fermented with a prolonged time in barrel (12 months) and hand stirring (of lees). 14% alc.

Twice tasted with food - first night was pork medallions with a mustard cream sauce - a very good match. Second night - roast chicken with stuffing - the savoury herb and earthiness of the stuffing quite a remarkable match with this wine. I thought this Pinot Gris simply excellent, a delight to drink and a great food accompaniment. My rating: 5 stars.

All in all an excellent debut from this producer.

Guy McMaster, formerly assistant winemaker with Larry McKenna at Escarpment, is the winemaker. Ah, this makes sense as to the stylistic direction of the Pinot Gris.

So where can you buy? I've no idea. So go to the website to find out more. This will tell you the wine is distributed in New Zealand by Negociants and is also available in Ireland, Germany, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong, Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles and the UK.

© Sue Courtney
9 Nov 2009

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