Not just one wine this week, but twelve. There have been some superb wines tasted this year and selecting my winetaster's dozen has not been an easy task. I've chosen only wines that have been commercially released and reds from 1998 figure prominently, as one would expect from one of New Zealand's greatest red-ever wine vintages. And in retrospect it wasn't too bad for some of the whites either, as a couple from 1998 make my dozen, including the Wine of the Year. So without further ado, here are the wines
Pegasus Bay Aria Late Harvest Riesling 1998 - Wine of the Year
From the moment you smell this wine you know it is something special with its aromatics of passionfruit and honeysuckle flowers, the spritz of freshly squeezed citrus and the lusciousness of freshly made lemon honey. In the palate, citrus predominates with a melody of lemons and oranges, grapefruit and limes, their acidity superbly balanced by the 80 grams of residual sugar. The texture is delicious and thick, it's stuff enough to wrap the tongue around, yet it glides over effortlessly. Warm and toasty with leesy characters and a touch of flinty smoke, the wine is full of delicious discoveries as the wine is savoured. Lime citrus intensifies while tropical fruit abounds and the aftertaste carries the richness of dried apricots. This glorious riesling is modelled on the clean pure 'spatlese' and 'auslese' styles of the Moselle. With just 11% of alcohol, at least two healthy glasses can be consumed without fear of topping the drink driving limit.
To reaffirm the quality of this wine, I treated my family to a bottle on Christmas Day. It was delicious!
( Reviewed as Wine of the Week, July 2000 about NZ$24)
Giesen Canterbury Riesling 2000 - Best Value White Wine of the Year
I said to a friend "This wine is perhaps not for the perfectionist, but I have seen cases of this stuff walk out of stores and into car boots after tastings I've been at that feature this wine". Everyone loves this wine with its crisp, sweet, freshness. Flavours of granny-smith apples mingle with zingy lemons and limes topped with a honeyed richness. It's weighty with a little viscosity and as it fills out in the palate there are fleshier fruits - juicy white peaches and even passionfruit come to mind.
And the price makes it so attractive (about NZ$12.95). It's one to keep in the fridge over the summer to offer to that unexpected guest, or just to enjoy as a thirst quencher after work after driving home in a car that has been sitting in the hot sun all day.
( Reviewed as Wine of the Week, Sep 2000 about NZ$12.95)
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2000
Bright and clear with a greenish tinge, this has all the hallmark gooseberry and grassy aromas of great New Zealand sauvignon blanc, unmistakably Marlborough. In the mouth it is soft and dry with an ethereal nutty character with apples, then gooseberries, a touch of stone fruit, tropical nuances of passionfruit and pineapple and a subtle undercurrent of catty basil. There's a decent amount of acidity characterised by a duet of juicy lemons and limes with a sprinkling of sherbet and a smattering of zingy spice.
A toasty richness adds to the palate weight, while the intensifying pungency and power and the full dry finish ensures the flavours tease the tastebuds for a long time after the wine is swallowed. Very long, vibrant, full and luscious. This is benchmark Sauvignon Blanc.
( Reviewed as Wine of the Week, Nov 2000 about NZ$22)
Seresin Estate Reserve Chardonnay1998
This has everything I love in a chardonnay. It is a fine, complete wine with layers of flavour. The aromas grab you with their delicious, appealing scents and in the palate it's toasty with integrated oak, figs, melons and stonefruit. Ripe and delicious with a very long length, it is very dry, very Burgundian in style and undoubtedly one of the best New Zealand chardonnays I've tried in a long time.
( Reviewed in the Marlborough trip Report, Nov 2000 about NZ$30)
Pegasus Bay Prima Donna Pinot Noir 1998 - Red Wine of the year
This is New Zealand pinot noir at its best - in fact it is one of the most superb I've ever tasted from this country - just think of every superlative and then add more. The aromas are subdued with countryside berry scents, a whiff of smoke and a little black cherry but put it in your mouth and, oh my god, it seems to have everything.
It's earthy, truffley, mushroomy and yeasty with black cherry, plum, blood peaches, stewed tamarillo and savoury characters of honey bacon and subtle spices like orange with cloves and cardamon along with a touch of leather, a whiff of feral smokiness and the richness of chocolatey oak. And all the while the overriding sweet fruit and the silky tannins combine in a softly feminine and seductive harmony. It's totally gorgeous and a wine that will continue to blossom for the next couple of years then offer delicious drinking for many years to come.
( Reviewed in the Treatise on Pinot Noir, August 2000 about $49).
Selaks Drylands Winemakers Reserve Pinot Noir 1999 - Best Value Red Wine of the year
Vibrant purple tinges in the cherry red colour with inviting 'pinot' scents of cherry, fruit cake and spice. A very young wine with a spicy oak influence. Hints of bacon, hints of tamarillo and heaps of spice and flavour. Herbs abound. A wine that gives 'warm fuzzies' and makes you wonder why others are twice the price. This has been delicious drinking throughout the year. Alas, it's all but gone. This ones a oncer, I'm told. The fruit from this vineyard was available so the wine was made and those who took advantage of the wine when it was on sale were in luck, for wines of this quality rarely come at the giveaway price of this wine - I bought all my bottles for $NZ15.95.
( Reviewed as Wine of the Week, Feb 2000)
Dry River Amaranth Pinot Noir 1999
Wildly aromatic - wild flowers, wild grasses, wild fruits of the forest and the mossy earth they grow in. Lashings of varnishy oak are totally in harmony with black cherries, raspberries and richly concentrated flavours of violets, truffles and yeasty biscuits. There's terrific fruit tannins, fruit structure and awesome fruit concentration, a sweet tartness, a fusion of savoury things, while spicy oak plays in the background with the lively acid tingling a chime or two.
This is just the most excellent wine with the most incredible length, which has cherries and truffles lingering on the finish. While deliciously approachable at this early stage of its life, cellaring for 2 or 3 years or more will reward, I'm sure.
( Reviewed as Wine of the Week, Sep 2000 - about NZ$55.)
Mt Difficulty Pinot Noir 1999
Vibrant and rich and deep and dense in colour with crimson hues abounding while the aromas are full of cherries, smoky oak and savoury things.
In the palate it's ripe, round and weighty, with a touch of caramel toffee appearing at first. Spicy berry fruits, hints of tamarillo and a touch of acidity balance out with sweet fruits of the forest and a lashing of savoury and spice. The smoky oak and soft velvet-like tannins are sensual and smooth. As the wine lingers, a chocolate complexity develops and macerated cherry flavours dominate the finish. This wine is just so gorgeous and enjoyable - the mouth begs for more.
( Reviewed as Wine of the Week, August 2000 about NZ$34)
Te Awa Farm Pinotage 1998
Te Mata Estate Awatea Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1998
This is the best Pinotage I have ever tasted from Hawkes Bay and one of the best I have ever tried from New Zealand. Medium dense in its colour of warm red hues, it is a brooding wine with plummy fruit and nutty, earthy, dusty characters, flashes of smoke, tar, sweet leather and olive and a touch of faint orange-citrus sweetness emerging after the wine is swallowed. Ripe and round, with a thick, almost chewy texture and soft tannins, the classy French oak gives a Bordeaux-like impression at the end, while earthy, cherry, berry flavours linger.
( Reviewed as Wine of the Week, June 2000 about NZ$21)
This is just the most concentrated, beautifully built wine made from a blend of 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 12% Cabernet Franc. It is an intense deep red-purple, bright crimson colour and its rich blackcurrant aromas are enhanced by creamy oak. In the palate the blackcurrant is joined by raspberry and plum with hints of dark chocolate, coffee and spicy brambly fruit. It is just so rich and smooth with a dreamy creamy texture and chewy ripe tannins, an intense length and a long berry fruit finish. And in the aftertaste is a dusty, cedary almost licorice note. Is this the best Awatea that has ever been made? I certainly think so.
( Reviewed as Wine of the Week, Mar 2000 about NZ$32)
Esk Valley Reserve Merlot Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon 1998
Alpha Domus AD The Aviator 1998
This big, concentrated blend of 48% merlot, 28% malbec, 16% cabernet sauvignon and 8% cabernet franc exudes a wonderful vinosity on the nose. Deep and densely coloured red, it's rich and creamy with toasty oak, plums, blackcurrants and spicy fruitcake flavours, hints of chocolate and liquorice, and plenty of smooth and fine ripe fruit tannins. Powerful and mouthfilling with excellent length, there's a gorgeous lingering aftertaste of lifted blackcurrant fruit. The delicious wine has easily years of life ahead of it.
( Reviewed as Wine of the Week, Nov 2000 about NZ$38)
Rich and densely coloured, I found this blend of 38% cabernet sauvignon, 34% merlot, 14% malbec and 14% cabernet franc to have deliciously smelling concentrated berry fruit while a touch of mint, lifted blackcurrant-like fruit and a suggestion of a floral, violet-like character came out in the flavour. This, accompanied by layers of juicy berries, cream, spice and cedar, a superbly velvety texture, fine and ripe although very dry tannins and a cigar-box finish make this a wine of great elegance and class. It's a hugely rich and voluptuous wine and I just love it. Tasted several times throughout the year, it always rates at the top.
( Reviewed as Wine of the Week, April 2000 about NZ$45)
Winery of the Year
Without doubt, the Pegasus Bay Winery in Waipara. Winemakers Lynette Hudson and Matthew Donaldson make the country's best Rieslings and best Pinot Noir in my opinion. And every year they just seem to get better.