Just Huia do you think you are? From extinction to distinction

Having spent a few hours in the local Wine/Food bar in downtown Blenheim last night I was very distracted by the addition to the wine list. There was a 2011 Didier Dagueneau Pouilly Fume Silex on offer by the glass. Priced at $21 for a small glass I must confess I thought twice. I know Didier departed our world in 2008 after a gliding accident so I assumed his family must have carried on production but had they carried on his legacy?

I have drunk many of the local Savvy’s and feel my palate is more inclined to those that are either organic, bio dynamic or both. I like to know the provenience of the offering, who makes it, when and how it was made. It all adds to the mystery of the moment. These smaller producers tend to be accessible and chatty, the good folk at Clos Henri, Seresin, Te Whare Ra  and Mahi are but a small few of these eclectic, honest and pioneering producers wearing their wine hearts on their sleeves so to speak.

So, onto the small and lets face it expensive glass of Loire Sav. It was subtle, lacy with elegant fruit with gentle acidity and a customary Franco citrus, typical of the Loire style but just a lot more elegant. I savoured it small mouthful by small mouthful but, as is always the case in these situations on a Saturday evening it was not enough. I couldn’t and wouldn’t afford the exorbitant price of over $200 for a bottle sadly.

Thereafter onward we went to another new incarnation of a wine bar in the small regional town, recently opened, called Mio. On offer amongst the long list of dazzling choice like the previous Scotch Bar was a Mahi 2014 Sauvignon Blanc for a value driven $9 for a similar sized glass.

Brian Bicknall’s incantation in a glass bore the characteristics which both my partner, Toni, and I are so found of from a high end Marlborough Sav. Those teasing blackcurrant leaf notes and a gentle slap of intense fruit and acidity  are so endearing in this, I feel, under priced example of how a Kiwi Sav should reveal itself to both the expected and unexpected alike. We are going to get a dozen for Christmas and New Year.

As we felt it couldn’t be matched by the remainder left on the wine list we thought there might be one in the Argosy Place cupboard cellar, throw it in the freezer and wait a short while to complete the evening with a Aussie Masterchef episode with another Enfant Terrible, Marco Pierre White.Having hauled out a bottle I discovered it was a 2013 from Huia. It was gathering dust and as the Mahi was still sealed in a box it thought nothing of chilling this instead. It was a wise move.

Claire and Mike arrived in Marlborough in 1990 and started Huia in 1996. This bottle stunned me. I initially thought I was back at The Scotch Bar sipping the Fume when reality struck and the similarity ended as the richer fruit and creamier flavour of this cleverly crafted doppelganger hit home. Bare in mind to, as with many of the bioneers of wine in Marlborough, Huia aren’t scared to hold back the commercial exposure of their vintages until they feel all the conditions are perfectly right to do so. So to drink a 13 at the end of 15 isn’t so normal as some may think, especially here.

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So, unlike the Huia bird, a now extinct indigenous and very pretty bird only seen encased in the various natural history museums around the country, I am hoping for the likes of Huia and beyond this won’t be so much of the extinct but more of the distinct. I say this as I observe from a layman’s position the comings, and far too often, the goings of those pioneers and brave souls that keep the eclectic and distinctive alive and kicking. To you all, and those who have departed, I and many, many more toast you all.

 

 

 

 

Clark Estate Awatere Valley – Sauvignon Blanc 2013 – Promises of Blackcurrant Bud and Tomato (re)Leaf ?

                                                                  Upper Awatere Sauvignon Blanc 2013
“This intensely powerful wine has lifted passionfruit, tomato stalk and black currant bud aromas. On the palate there is plenty of zest with herbaceous crushed herb and nettle characters combining wonderfully with layers of fresh lime and stone fruits. This is a classic Upper Awatere wine, displaying racy acidity that helps give this wine extraordinary length and class.” Clark Estate
picright 3When I first saw this bottle of heroically labelled Sav I chuckled (at the label design) then choked at the price! $25. I was instantly curious as I am fast becoming an Awetere wine fan, especially its expressive and historically powerful Sauvignon Blanc. I am an incurable wine romantic, the very name has a resonance in my library of first wine memories. These hark back to a time in London, at Earl’s Court in fact, in 1996 when I took friends and colleagues to an International Wine Festival. Wines from Dashwood, Vavasour and Jackson dominated my early experiences and the rest, as they say, is history, as are, sadly,  those wines of that innocent pioneering Kiwi classic wine era. They are now bigger fish playing in a vast international pond and, in my opinion, have been “generalised” into a specific style that delivers a global and somewhat predictably bland and stereo typical mass market, voluminous appeal. What happened to the glorious and heady days of gooseberry, nettle, cat’s piss, asparagus and capsicum?
I now feel my 2015 mission is to see if there are still vestiges of that historic style. Here’s hoping that Clark can deliver. It’s delivered to the noble folk of the Air New Zealand Wine Awards winning Pure Gold in 2013 and a lusty silver at the International Wine Challenge.
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Enter the bottle. There is an initial confusion, where was the promised tomato and blackcurrant bud expression? I sensed subtle Semillon in the distance on the palate and still remain curious about its possible unmarked inclusion. Then on the second examination it struck me squarely that Awatere can be subtle and expansive too. I got the stone fruit and lime, the passionfruit and acidic balance but still I want the less subtle notes and memories of the past. I might be missing the point about sales and a bigger market audience but spare a thought for those who desire the best of the past and the boldness of the future.
Back to Clark Estate in the Awatere Valley. I would love to burn that label, make it look less French and in a subtle more featured way showcase the local terroir and its majestic vistas. However, misdirected as I am, I have been known to be of course, there is a deeper family story there to be told that hugs a huge slice of Blighty as Brit towns like Boreham Wood and Watford appear to feature strongly within it. This is definitely worthy of further investigation and discovery so to Clark I hope to go very soon, I’ll keep you posted.

Cloudy Bay Pelorus Blanc De Blanc – Keep Your Cote On For This Chilled Sparkler!

If you want to look beyond the plaudits of the cult that is Cloudy Bay you must delve deeper into the realms of their Methode Traditionalle offerings. We recently visited their “Domaine” cellar door to be met by their ex Wither Hills independent wine grower front of house. She was a gem, very knowledgeable and engaging as she guided us smartly and professionally through the “range”. She was also very discerning and, because it was a quiet Sunday morning, offered us just a little bit more with a Riesling on top of the tastings, wise lady indeed. We have a penchant for the unusual and the non vintage Blanc De Blanc grabbed our eager eyes. We have tried the vintage Pelorus before and were attracted to the 2006 we tasted, an important year in our family life indeed, but the allure of this doppelgänger Kiwi Cote De Blanc was too much, thoroughly chilled it was and Friday evening saw its grand unveiling. Would it reflect the Old World or be unique and true to itself or try to mirror said characteristics and virtues of the afore-mentioned?

pelorusBubbly and vivacious, yes, Brioche and biscuity laden, indeed, far from being as restrained as a Blanc from France but this is where the Marlborough expression boldly intercedes giving it its own individuality and nuisances. If you can find it in the shops of your locale enjoy its understated irreverence to its forbearer. It behaves unlike the enfant terrible but more like the yearning or need for something fresh, friendly and inviting Samaritan. Don’t forget ideas borrowed and methods copied don’t necessary mean a cheap knock off or an arrogant pretender but it does I feel afford recognition to its lauded ancestry, but not too much. 8/10

My Journey Thus Far

I drank my first glass of wine as a boy growing up in Suburban Surrey. My Mother and Father were both drinkers but in great moderation. My Mother preferred Cinzano and Vermouth for she loved the Sun and the Mediterranean that both these spirits matched, perfectly. My Father, however, was more of a wine man. Neither touched Vodka, Whiskey nor Beer although Port and Sherry occasionally appeared at the appropriate time and Season and in restraint. Only once did I hear of them both cutting loose, at their pajama party in the mid seventies. They were all the rage at the time apparently, why I don’t know. The outcome was the death of both of my poor goldfish, killed by alcohol poisoning so I later learned.

My Father had a phase of ginger beer and wine making, the demijohns and explosive bottles of over fermented brew run deep in my memory as does the occasion exploratory indulgence on my part. Romantic names such as Saltern, Riesling mixed with the simpler more understandable fruity Peach and Apricot wines that all came in canned kits from Boots fulfilled a need for him to try to create, with help of course, similar and cheaper wines for our table and consumption. He went to great lengths to educate us on the wines he liked too. We drank at the Sunday dinner table the likes of Hock ( Black Tower) and Leibfraumilch ( Blue Nun) and I assumed as all lads do of that age that these was the bees knees, the premier wine experience of that time. I don’t ever remember him drinking red however, why I will never know.

My graduation finally arrived when I moved away from home and an early curiosity for Port and Sherry and shots of Pernod and Black eventually giving way to the vine. My new wife Toni, who had also experienced German wine having been privileged to live there for a time, also began the journey into wine with us both discovering the blue bottles of Nahe wines from the Rhine, to the sadly dull Spatleses’ and Ausleses’. We then moved to West Berlin and onto Cyprus but none of their wines rocked our world. Perhaps we had other things on our minds being newly married and young parents?

The biggest event that I can remember fondly was the 1997 International Wine Festival I attended with RAF Colleagues at Earls Court in London. Names such as Vavsour, Jackson Estate and Cloudy Bay, still pertinent today, electrified my vine life. Greater expressions of fruit, acidity, minerality and their geography and locality expanded my yearning to venture further into the realm of wine. This journey I continue to travel with the adage “The more I learn the less I know”  foremost in my mind, I hope that I can describe, research, revere, critique and extol the virtues of the wines I love from France, New Zealand and the occasional stray or migrant from the USA, South Africa and Chile the people who make them and the expression of the land within them.

Galileo Galilei — ‘Wine is sunlight, held together by water.’

I now live in Blenheim, New Zealand nearby are the Southern Hills, The Awatere and Wairau Valleys where Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir predominate with lesser but just as worthy varietals like Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewurztraminer in attendance. I too adore the Loire Valley and hope at times to return there to press the flesh of my lips to their great wines and continue my old world, new world sojourn.

Wine in, truth out – Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby

 

Johner Estate Gladstone Sauvignon 2012 – Drawing A Global Blanc Expression?

I found this interesting offering in a Bin End sale in Moore Wilson in Wellington yesterday for around $16. What drew my attention to it was not only the price but its provenance, a small town in the Wiararapa near to the much vaunted Martinborough, called Gladstone. There is something very colonial about the area yet very European in its vinous expression, in particular French. Martinborough has something of the Loire about it that’s true, subtly mixed with the Lychee and Capsicum “ness” of the classic New Zealand style of Sauvignon Blanc complementing the balanced minerality, citrus overtones and lengthy notes of such wines from the Touraine, Sancerre and Pouilly sur Loire. The Johners are German, pioneering and it appears very humble too. They believe their wines don’t pack the punch of others in New Zealand but are quietly characteristic and addictive.

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This was indeed a bottle of retrospective memories, of fresh days in the villages on the banks, both left and right, of the mighty Loire, of unpretentious vineyards, respect to tradition and its quality, of happy moments with honest  and authentic people. It brought back floods of favour memories too, some gently understated but nevertheless meaningfully sentimental and others boldly New Zealand, bringing both the old and the new world qualities together in a glass of nostalgic delight.

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You won’t get a classic Kiwi Sav here at the Johners Estate, that’s not what they are about so it seems. However, you will get a glass of cultural diversity, a journey in tradition, of aspiration in the making, in endeavour and in the intent that this bottle of wine will represent both in equal measure.  8/10

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Alex 2013 Central Otago Pinot Noir – Are They Barking Mad?

Don’t always assume that a cheap Pinot Noir from Central Otago is a dodgy one. peut-être une petite pricing error n’pas? Non! Alternatively it’s a bin end yeh? Nope! Of ill reputed? Outrageous!

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This bottle of 2013 Ridgeback Alex Central Otago Pinot Noir has a very simple red label with a doggy tail to tell on its reverse, a story about a cherished family pet. It was “discovered” in Island Bay New World astonishingly and at a very reasonable price too! $15! For the price this wine is amazing, it won’t be guzzled ireverently irrespective of the relatively little laid out for its purchase, and, consequently will be gently sipped and relished like any other good Otago Pinot should. I will also revisit said super market tomorrow and head for the shelf in hope that this deal of the week hasn’t been snapped up or an astounding mistake corrected. What would happen if other southern Pinot’s were priced similarly I wonder?

 

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The makers appear to be as unpretentious as the bottle, normal people like you and me. Patrick and Judy Medlicott established their 4.2 ha vineyard in Letts Gully Road in 2002 after leaving their professions as an orthopaedic surgeon and school dean respectively. They have embraced Pinot Noir and Alexandra with a passion, hands on in tending the vines. Taste the wine and breathe its provenance and you will feel satisfied, grateful and speculative about whether you could do the same in ten or so years’ time. 8/10 http://www.greylandsridge.co.nz/

Do my eyes deceive me? A Screw Cap Pouilly Fume? Majestic £10.99

Ever noticed someone or something that shouldn’t really be there? A stray fledgling that gets seperated from the rest of the flock by the unpredictable prevailing winds and eventually becomes something they weren’t designed or born to be sticking out like a sore thumb to boot? Here is the Loire example of that – welcome to a Pouilly Fume, honest, pure and simple and sporting an artistically inspired and  very, very French label.  Let me introduce you to Les Cascadelles from Pouilly sure Loire from Majestic@http://www.majestic.co.uk/find/product-is-05361

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Was Bob Dylan right when he once predicted that the truth is “blowing in the wind” and “the times are a changing my friend?” Is it time for this once exclusive, sacred and vaunted steely dry white Sauvignon Blanc too? The screw cap reeks of New World revolution and insubordination – a two-fingered salute to the traditions and conventions of the  classic wine industry. Is this just a one-off rarity flown into Pouilly sur Loire to serve a commercial purpose of making less corked wine or an export gig that went sadly wrong and has now unfortunately found itself relegated to the shelves of Majestic for the reduced price of £10.99? One thing for sure it won’t be corked and secondly it is seductively priced too. Vive La France Nouveaux.

As it happens it’s a great glug, a classic and characterful Fume with a charm and charisma unachieved in other climbs be they old or new. Lets hope it is the first of many Stelvin enclosed bottles of reasonably priced joy to be blown off course to us.

A Mellot Moment – Joseph’s Technicolour Sancerre – La Chatellenie 2011

Wait a minute! Morrison’s Sancerre  at a modest £14? No this is not a high end Vacheron or Bourgeois but Joseph Mellot, a wise and established artisan and steely player in this classic village set on the south side of the Loire. He makes all the local variations of Sauvignon Blanc and if you ever get the opportunity to visit the area you would be welcomed to taste and purchase them all no doubt. They are known, as the French would have it, after the village from which they originate. This promiscuous grape has no sensibility you know,  shamelessly flirting and tempting us on menus and shelves alike long after extracting its very essence from the surrounding”Terrior” (specific natural characteristics I guess). Quincy and Reuilly are followed eastward by Menetou Salon, less perfumed and powerful, but relatively cheaper and well worth a visit in both place and taste. Understated and unpretentious are these humbler wines but to get a real cross-section of the most if not all  expressions from one producer is intriguing if not compelling.

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Ah, La Chatellenie, what can I say without sounding too biased? This is a deeper coloured wine than you’d find in other parts of the Sauvignon world, silky and dry, crispness with no hint of chemical adultery, well-rounded, long and creamy with typical fruit characteristics both subtle and seductive. It is a wine definitely not to quaff, unless you feel that way inclined in the “moment” but perhaps one to savour with a Loire goats cheese, salad, blue sky and sunshine. Me? Call me easily led if you must, I would’nt dispute it for a moment – another glass please mon cher?

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Morrison’s “The Best” Pinot Noir – Casablanca 2011 – Playing it like Sam

http://www.morrisons.co.uk/food-and-drink/Our-suppliers/Find-a-supplier/W/William-Cole/

I am a relative novice when it comes to Burgundian upstarts, in fact I have to say I am even worse with Burgundy itself but like the way the Old World dominance of said Pinot Noir is being challenged on price and what’s more quality. I have always had a soft spot for Chile, ever since buying a Casablanca Chardonnay at Heathrow prior to a trip to Moscow many moons ago. To say I was blown away was an understatement as the rich, creamy fruit of the wine was quite memorable and still haunts me to this day. Many a varietal and bottle have passed my Chilean inspired lips since those heady days and in some respects it has always represented value for money and easy drinking but with this wine think again. I am. I looked and surprisingly found a reasonably priced Pinot, not easy as you can imagine nowadays, and found this treasure at £7.99 in Morrison’s. At this point link to the above website and get an expert opinion, probably slightly biased but what I like is that you can get, affordably, all the classic varietals of Chile from Mr William Cole, who employs a Kiwi Wine Advisor. I know where I am going to find the present wine of my time, yup, here at Vin du Morrison’s for the next few bottles at least.

I am a big fan of Central Otago Pinot Noir, particularly when it has Sam Neill as its mastermind ( of The Omen fame ) on its label. I love his expression of Pinot Noir and view its viticulture prowess a bench mark for medium to top end the best I have tasted yet. He maybe lucky being from that part of the wine world but think again, Casablanca is more or less in the same latitude in the Southern Hemisphere. The wine is friendly, unpretentious, generous, fruits of cherry and raspberry driven as a Pinot should be, but more so at the less than £8 asked for it. It finishes on a subtle spicy note too. Having just drunk with friends a Petite Clos Henri from Marlborough, a tad more expensive at just over £10 and less accessible, this is a mean contender. I like it, very much.

The Ned Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – The Mugging behind the Glugging

IMG_2031Having just quaffed a bottle of the Ned 2012 Sauvignon Blanc at the Christmas Dinner Table it might just be a good moment to look at the “journey” of  it’s maverick creator, a certain and Brent Marris.  The very word “Journey” is wearing thin on me now, not because of the Glee inspired recent re rise of the Stadium Rock group with the same name but its gross over usage of late in all things including, sadly, education. I am now beginning to prefer an alternative phrase “Chapter of my book”.
If this was the case the first chapter would be that Marris founded Wither Hills with his father in 1994. By 2001 they were producing about 10,000 cases a year. Soon that escalated to as many as 200,000 cases – or nearly one million litres of wine. Wither Hills became the most popular Sauvignon Blanc and Marris one of  the countries most decorated wine makers. He sold Wither Hills 8 years later for NZ$52m before establishing the Ned in 2005. However, as in life itself, especially money and business, controversy followed and for the aforesaid Brent Marris it was geological in its shock wave for himself and the wine industry of New Zealand.
Brent Marris blames his fall from grace on some 'precious coveters' jealous of his success. Picture / Chris Skelton

However, in 2003 a group of “anonymous”Marlborough wine growers accused the company of making special small batches of wines, entering them into competitions, then passing off big-volume runs as medal-winning wines.

In 2006  it was discovered he had submitted Sauvignon Blanc samples to competitions that were different to the wines on sale to the public. His crime? Entering into the Cuisine wine awards a slightly different wine than the one available on most shop shelves. He calls it a technical mistake. Others call it fraud.

The wines were sent to Government scientists to test, who found they were chemically different.

Marris’ continued assertion that it is impossible for wine producers to get consistency across large runs. But that’s a bit of a red herring. Wither Hill’s sin was not that he bottled the same 2006 Sauvignon Blanc in different bottling runs. It was that he picked grapes earlier than those used in the main production bunch, pressed and blended them separately, and then put that wine in to be judged as the same thing available in supermarkets.

But who is the man who took the mugging, dusted himself off and successfully fought back? Lucy Shaw recently asked the “Proust” questions of Marris.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Fishing with my wife and four daughters – normally at least one is available.

What is your greatest fear?

That I may not live to see all my dreams come to fruition.

Which living person do you most admire?

Sir Graham Henry. Under huge personal pressure he coached the New Zealand All Blacks to victory in the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Building my dream winery during a recession.

What is your current state of mind?

Energised, excited, buoyant and upbeat – the worth of my extravagance is finally proving itself.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

The latest one going.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

My wife, Rosemary.

When and where were you happiest?

Anytime I’m at my river hut on our vineyard sharing wine with friends and family.

Which talent would you most like to have?

I’d like to be the best clay pigeon shooter in the world.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I’m starting to notice the consequences of the pace of my life. Lord give me more energy!

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Creating two international wine companies and wineries from scratch.

Where would you most like to live?

At our recently finished beach house on Waiheke Island, spending my day’s fishing, relaxing and entertaining.

What is your most treasured possession?

My Maserati Quattroporte, which I had custom-made in the colours of The Ned brand – black with red stitching.

What is your most marked characteristic?

My passion, enthusiasm and attention to detail.

Who are your favourite writers?

Ken Follet, in particular his book Pillars Of The Earth – an epic and inspirational story.

Who is your hero of fiction?

Bart Simpson – he often gets into trouble and always manages to talk or act his way out of it.

What is it that you most dislike?

Raw celery – why did God make this vegetable?

What is your greatest regret?

Not taking my family to France after I sold Wither Hills.

What is your motto?

Celebrate success.

Who would be your ideal dinner party guests and what wines would you serve them? 

In 1988 I travelled to France for four weeks as a young winemaker. I had memorable meals with the wine makers of Joseph Drouhin, Château Coutet, Hugel, Guigal, Chapoutier and Château Margaux. I’d like to dine with those wine makers again, sharing the wines that inspired me alongside the wines I’m making now.

So, what of today and its current chapter? Brent Marris recently stated on the subject of New Zealand’s growing reputation for Pinot Noir, that some people in Marlborough are over cropping or planting the variety in the wrong place. By doing so Marris continues his value driven, crisp direct style and contribution to his countries wine debate in the same style and directness as a bottle of Ned Sauvignon Blanc.