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Issue: April 2011
Trend-Spotting in New Zealand

by: Deborah Parker Wong
New Zealand


“THE LAND OF THE LONG WHITE CLOUD” MOVES BEYOND SAUVIGNON BLANC

 

 
Vineyards in Bendigo.
PHOTO: DEOBRAH PARKER WONG


While New Zealand is globally recognized as a go-to region for signature Sauvignon Blanc and racy Pinot Noir, producers in the world's youngest winegrowing region aren't resting on their laurels.

Marlborough, on northern tip of New Zealand's South Island, is the place to look for trends in Sauvignon Blanc. Domestic consumption within New Zealand and exports to nearby Australia are driving the growth of aromatic white varieties other than Sauv Blanc, as well as new Sauvignon Blanc-dominated blends that appeal to consumers who eschew the style we so closely associate with the region. During a blind tasting of 2010 releases conducted at Drylands, a Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc/Pinot Gris blend was quick to capture our attention among a lineup of mono-varietal wines.

Winemaker Darryl Woolley, who oversees all winemaking for Constellation New Zealand, says, "There's a synergy between Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris that is appealing across the board. In addition to ours, there are six blends on the domestic market, and all of them are [performing]. Consumers enjoy the hint of richness that Pinot Gris brings to the blend."

Sauvignon Blanc-dominated blends are just one of the many styles emerging as a result of the variety's expanding popularity. "Oak is starting to creep in, and we're seeing more Sancerre-style wines being made for aging. Winemakers are looking to Hawkes Bay on the North Island for fruit with alternative flavor profiles and lower alcohol," noted Woolley.

Old-vine, dry-farmed sites like Drylands lend themselves to more complex styles with wines that express grapefruit, minerality, mint and even black pepper rather than overt tropical fruit and pungent grassiness.

Flavor-Mapping


The winemaking team at Constellation New Zealand has worked to identify specific flavor markers from their sites in each sub-region which they use to build complexity in blended Sauvignon Blancs such as that produced by winemaker Anthony Walkenhorst at Kim Crawford. Walkenhorst relies on fruit from Wairau and Awatere Valleys to create a blend that showcases the passion fruit, citrus, ripe stone fruit and herbaceousness attributed to these areas.

The winery’s newest releases—Kim Crawford SP Spitfire Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and Rise-and-Shine Creek Cental Otago Pinot Noir—are based on small parcels selected from the region’s top sites. “These wines differ from our blended wines in that they are vintage-driven and designed to age,” says Walkenhorst. 
Anthony Walkenhorst at Kim Crawford.
PHOTO COURTESY OF CONSTELLATION


In the Awatere, the focus shifts to richer, riper styles of Sauvignon Blanc and to Pinot Noir. At the mouth of Awatere, in sight of Cloudy Bay, is the stunning Castle Cliffs vineyard, the source for Nobilo's mineral-driven Icon wines made by head winemaker Dave Edmonds. "These rich, complex wines are achieved in a large part by limiting vigor," says Edmonds. "We've made a shift from cane to spur pruning that reduces yields and increases complexity in the wines."

In Search of Pinotosity

 
PHOTO: DEBORAH PARKER WONG
 The majority of New Zealand’s Pinot Noir, about 70 percent, is grown in sub-regions of Marlborough and Central Otago. In Wairau, at Huia Vineyards, winemaker Claire Allen grows organic Pinot Noir on diverse alluvial and clay loam soils. “It has taken us ten years to get finesse from the [Pinot Noir] vines and to produce wines that express minerality and have weight tannins without being over-extracted.”


At Nobilo, Edmonds sources Pinot Noir from warm, up-valley Awatere sites and fruit from Castle Cliffs' South Bank sites makes a complex Drylands Pinot Noir that shows dried herbs, black cherry and rich notes of cocoa and dark chocolate.

 

Just as Marlborough is synonymous with Sauvignon Blanc, Central Otago, the extreme wine-growing region at the southern end of the island, is where Pinot Noir reaches iconic status. Higher altitude sites, mica- and schist-based soils combined with a continental climate and short growing season result in Chardonnay and Pinot Gris with intense purity and fragrant, spicy Pinot Noir.

 

Dave Edmonds of Nobilo.
PHOTO COURTESY OF CONSTELLATION


Gibbston Valley is the coolest and wettest sub-region of Central Otago. Blending is key for Greg Hay at organic Peregrine Winery which, in addition to their extensive portfolio, makes tiny quantities of the icon-status Pinnacle ($175 SRP) from Cromwell Basin and Gibbston sites.
“Production costs for Central Otago producers have doubled since the power industry here was privatized,” says Hay.

 
Nigel Greening examines the soil at biodynamic producer Felton Road.
PHOTO: DEBORAH PARKER WONG

Other producers, such as Nigel Greening at biodynamic Felton Road in Bannockburn, forgo blending and emphasize single-vineyard wines: “We’re not working for consistency here; no human blending decisions go in to the program.” Instead, Greening routinely blind-tastes lots to establish quality benchmarks for each vintage.

Wine styles in Central Otago are being expanded by the development of newer, warmer regions like Bendigo, where vines are not yet ten years old, and Alexandra, where vines are still maturing. Bendigo the region’s warmest, earliest and most consistent site, is the source for Kim Crawford’s Rise-and-Shine Creek Pinot Noir, where Walkenhorst conducted extensive trials with French oak to determine the right cooperage and toast to complement the rich, fruit-forward style of this warm region.


New Zealand Tasting Notes


Marlborough is acknowledged the world over for its uniquely pungent Sauvignon Blancs but these early-drinking, pyrazine-driven wines can have a propensity to turn the corner and develop less appealing vegetal characteristics after more than a year in bottle. Many producers are intent on developing a broader range of wine styles and making more Sancerre- and Bordeaux-style wines and blends that have both striking aromatics and the ability to age.


MARLBOROUGH

Monkey Bay 2011 Sauvignon Blanc

Nectarine, stone fruit, cut grass, yuzu citrus, mineral and peppery notes on bright finish.
CONSTELLATION WINES U.S.

Nobilio
2011 Sauvignon Blanc 2011
Pungent pineapple, pink grapefruit aromas, very focused mid palate flavors with broad finish.
CONSTELLATION WINES U.S.

Kim Crawford 2011
Sauvignon Blanc/Pinot Gris (not yet available in the U.S.)
Tasty 80/20 blend with tomato leaf, herbs and ripe pear flavors.
CONSTELLATION WINES U.S.

Kim Crawford 2011Sauvignon Blanc

High-toned floral and passion fruit aromas, complex bitter citrus zest and vanilla flavors.
CONSTELLATION WINES U.S.

Drylands 2011 Sauvignon Blanc

Mint, grapefruit, white flower, black pepper aromas and flavors with a clean, mineral finish.
CONSTELLATION WINES U.S.

Kim Crawford 2011Sauvignon Blanc, Spitfire Small Parcel

Pear and passion fruit, weightier mid-palate with mineral finish.
CONSTELLATION WINES U.S.

Drylands 2009 Pinot Noir, Castle Cliffs

Dried herb and ripe black cherry aromas, sheer color with a touch of mint on a medium-weight mid palate, cherry skins on a generous finish.
CONSTELLATION WINES U.S.

Drylands 2010
Pinot Noir, Castle Cliffs (not yet released)
Deep color, generous aromas and mid-palate fruit expression seasoned with dark chocolate and cocoa-like tannins.
CONSTELLATION WINES U.S.

Kim Crawford 2010 Pinot Noir

Dark fruit-driven aromas, sweet, dark cherry mid palate with medium-weight expression and finish.
CONSTELLATION WINES U.S.

Nobilo 2010 Pinot Noir, Icon

Red cherry and citrus aromas, plenty of structure and minerality mid palate and drier wood tannins on the finish.
CONSTELLATION WINES U.S.

Huia 2010 Sauvignon Blanc

Passion fruit, gooseberries, mint, guava pineapple, ruby grapefruit, waxy elderflower and lime on finish.
ADVENTURES IN WINE

Huia 2009 Pinot Gris

Notes of petrol and stone fruit, earthy minerality and weight on the mid palate, complex, phenolic finish.
ADVENTURES IN WINE

Huia 2010 Pinot Gris

Distinct notes of quince and white peach with creamy, leesy flavors and medium plus length.
ADVENTURES IN WINE

Huia 2009 Pinot Noir

Complex notes of black pepper, star anise, earthy, black fruit mid palate and complex, animal notes on finish.
ADVENTURES IN WINE

Huia 2010 Pinot Noir

Pretty violet hues, intense black fruit and thyme on mid palate, weighty without being over extracted, mineral-driven finish.
ADVENTURES IN WINE

Peregrine 2010 Sauvignon Blanc

Pungent to overt fresh herb aromas, distinct tarragon notes on lean, medium plus finish.
VINEYARD BRANDS

Kim Crawford 2007 Late Harvest Riesling

Viscous and spicy with honeyed petrol flavors and tension.
CONSTELLATION WINES U.S.

Drylands 2009 Semillon

Savory, spicy notes of jalepeno and ginger, viscous and long.
CONSTELLATION WINES U.S.


CENTRAL OTAGO

Kim Crawford 2007 Pinot Noir, Small Parcel, Central Otago

Dark berry aromas and flavors with opaque black core. Caramel and coffee flavors enrich bright fruit and sweeter tannins on the finish.
CONSTELLATION WINES U.S.

 
PHOTO: DEBORAH PARKER WONG
Chard Farm 2009 Pinot Noir, Tiger
Aromatic, savory red fruit, quite herbal on a deep mid palate with structure that carries through the finish.
DREYFUS, ASHBY & CO.

Chard Farm 2009 Pinot Noir, Viper

Sweet fruit aromas, deep, intense mid palate with complex earth, brown spice and star anise on a firm finish.
DREYFUS, ASHBY & CO.

Chard Farm 2010 Pinot Noir, Viper

Leaner aromas with fruit purity and intensity on a juicy mid palate, drier tannins and lean, herbal finish.
DREYFUS, ASHBY & CO.

Amisfield 2011 Sauvignon Blanc

Barrel-fermented style that shows green herbs and minerality, closer to Sancerre in style.
VINE STREET IMPORTS

Amisfield 2007 Pinot Noir

Fresh, lively sweet fruit aromas with date, mocha and roasted nut flavors mid palate and a silky medium-long finish.
VINE STREET IMPORTS

Amisfield 2006 Pinot Noir, Rocky Knoll

Complex aromas of umami and tart cherry with richer cherry flavors and dusty tannins through a long finish.
VINE STREET IMPORTS

Peregrine 2010 Mohua Pinot Gris
Overt, intense varietal aromas, rich mid palate with sweeter fruit on the finish.
VINEYARD BRANDS

Peregrine 2009 Mohua Riesling

Fleshy citrus aromas with Meyer lemon and mineral flavors that finish brightly.
VINEYARD BRANDS

Peregrine 2010 Chardonnay

Expressive nutmeg and toast aromas with tarragon and apple flavors mid palate and well integrated oak on a long finish.
VINEYARD BRANDS

Peregrine 2009 Pinot Noir

Notes of black tea and sour cherry with grip on the mid palate and bright citrus on the finish.
VINEYARD BRANDS

Felton Road 2010 Chardonnay
Apple, citrus aromas, toasty pineapple mid palate and quite long.
WILSON DANIELS LTD.

Felton Road 2010 Chardonnay, Block 2

Mineral and citrus aromas, riper stone fruit mid palate with long, bright lemon finish.
WILSON DANIELS LTD.

Felton Road 2010 Pinot Noir, Calvert

Focused aromas of brown spice and savory red fruit, dense core of spicy tannins that grip through the finish.
WILSON DANIELS LTD.

Felton Road 2010 Pinot Noir, Cornish Point

Very fleshy aromas, notes of orange and savory fruit with rich, spicy tannins on a elegant finish.
WILSON DANIELS LTD.

Felton Road 2005 Pinot Noir Block 3

Strawberry jam and cola aromas deepen to dried herb and savory mushroom flavors with cool tannins and forest floor finish.
WILSON DANIELS LTD.

 


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