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Petaluma comes to Auckland
© Sue Courtney
tasted on July 8 2002

When I hear the name Petaluma I think of the most wonderful Australian Riesling I have ever tasted - the Petaluma Riesling 1990. Even typing this note I think of those delicious riesling characters enhanced by a tickle of botrytis to give the wine a rich honeyed citrus and apricot flavour in its age. Granted it has been two and a half years since I last tasted the wine, but I believe it still has some life ahead of it.

So the chance to taste the new releases of Petaluma, could not be passed up. Some of the wines I had tasted in March when I visited the cellar door at Bridgewater Mill, less than half an hours drive from Adelaide - see those notes here. It is a visit I recommend to everyone who goes to South Australia to taste wine. It is just a half-hours drive out of the city. But this night, Petaluma and Brian Croser came to Auckland. The venue, the stunning Hilton Hotel on Princes Wharf - the hotel that is almost in the sea.

There is no better way to start an evening than with a glass of bubbles and the Petaluma 'Croser' was just the perfect wine for the occasion.

Petaluma Croser 1999 (NZ$40)
Pale straw in colour with a full on yeasty biscuity nose. Lemon yeasty flavours fill the mouth with the acidity enhanced by the effervescence of the fine bubbles. I like the flavour and the earthy depth and the lemon mousse flavours that linger. This is a very classy sparkling wine, a very fine and focussed blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I highly recommend it.

Petaluma Riesling 2001 (NZ$25)
A pale coloured wine with lime scents on the nose. There's a touch of earthiness reminiscent of the smell of kaolin clay along with white flower, citrus and a very subtle hint of honey. A powerful dry Riesling with a delicate flavour, showing beautifully in my glass tonight. "It is developing quite quickly" said Brian Croser, suggesting it will have a 5 to 8 year life span. There is no botrytis in this wine.

Petaluma Chardonnay 2000 (NZ$45)
Spicy melon and cedary oak aromas at first but later the oak is quite honeyed and a leesy mealiness comes through on the nose as well. The spicy oak has clove flavours emerging after the wine had been sitting in the glass for a while. Rich and full-bodied with a toasty melon pie backbone and yeasty biscuit flavours, this is dry and a little grainy in texture - in fact when tasted again after the 'Tiers' this chardonnay seemed quite chunky. Full and rich on the length, this is a wine that needs time. Food, however, did this youthful wine justice - it was crayfish with beurre blanc, which I thought was a good combination.

Petaluma Tiers Chardonnay 1999 (NZ$150)
The Tiers vineyard was the first site that Brian Croser chose in the Picadilly Valley. In fact it is now his front garden. This flagship chardonnay is matured in the bottle for a year before release. It's a golden hued wine with glints of lime but very closed on the nose showing only delicate lemon scents. In the mouth the delicate lemon is joined by honeyed oak and leesy flavours. However this is a wine that fools you, for the initial delicacy has a powerful undercurrent and opens up with butterscotch, straw, citrus and apricot stone flavours emerging. It's warm and yeasty dry wine with a touch of lanolin, and very tight at this stage of its life. With dinner, the oak becomes more apparent and a mealy richness evolves.

The reds are very dry styles that need food.

Petaluma Coonawarra 1999 (NZ$65)
A blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot. 1999 was a small harvest in Coonawarra. The wine spent 20 months in new French oak with the first four months on full lees without being racked. Deep red in colour, the aromas are quite smoky with cedar, leather, plum and a fine cassis character. It is quite lifted in the palate with good acidity and spice. A very dry wine with well integrated firm tannins and oak that overpowers the fruit at this stage. It has a lovely vinosity, however. Later the wine became quite savoury with a chocolate creaminess. I would love to try this with lamb or beef.

Petaluma Merlot 1997 (NZ$73)
1997 was cool and cloudy in Coonawarra. The Merlot ripened but the Cabernet did not. So to the wine - it's quite developed in colour with brick red hues. The aromas are quite appealing with smoky oak, leather, cigar and plum but unfortunately I could not get as enthused about the taste. Although there are the classic plum and leather flavours of Merlot, the tannins are drying and I detect a slightly green character. It is a little sour in fact, perhaps it is a hint of VA that enhanced the vinous aroma but detracts a little in the palate. The finish is savoury and cedary. This might be OK with the right food, but it did not go at all well with the duck I had chosen from the menu.

This was for me a night of the white wines. I particularly enjoyed the bubbles, the star wine of the line-up for me.

***

The Tiers Chardonnay is the most expensive Southern Hemisphere chardonnay I have tasted but I was very fortunate as I was able to try this wine over several days.

So the following day I was able to observe the wine in natural light rather than in a darkened restaurant. It is in fact a straw gold colour with glints of 9-carat gold that flashes in the sunlight. The nose is warm, leesy and lanolin-like with lemon varnished oak. Today it is so much more flavoursome, so deliciously rich - it is amazing what a little aeration will do. It has hints of nuts, hints of grilled pineapple and hints of poached peaches. The fruit is ripe and sweet. I even detect some cape gooseberry flavour. It is still very very tight though. The finish is just so long and lifted with the lovely fruit and the honeyed oak in harmony. The after-flavour lasts seemingly forever.

The next day the wine is still opening up, indicating it will be a long-lived wine. It is warm and mealy with nutty varnishy oak but now the alcohol seems overpowering. The ripe fruit flavours come through and the sweet chardonnay flavours go on and on.

We try these great wines so young. They are new releases and the producers are proud to show them to us, but they need time to aerate and develop for maximum enjoyment. Wines like the Tiers Chardonnay definitely do. The wine in its youth is so tight but there is so much potential ahead for those who are prepared to wait. I find it hard, however, to understand the price of this wine. At NZ$150 a bottle it is a wine I am so privileged to try but in reality, unlikely to buy.

© Sue Courtney. July 2002

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