The second part of our introductory tastings after the summer break, and after our hugely successful Old World tasting, is of course wines from the New World! This week we’ll be trying some interesting wines from South Africa, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and Australia, which are some of the best I’ve tried over the summer of 2017.
Alana Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2015
Whilst a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand is hardly the most ground-breaking of discoveries, I was really impressed with this expression from a region I know far better for Pinot Noir. Martinborough is a small region on the southern tip of the northern island of New Zealand, with some of the most acclaimed wine-makers setting up shop there, generally focusing on the production of spicy, earthy Pinot Noir. However, there are significant plantings of Sauvignon Blanc and along with Palliser Estate, Alana Estate is leading the way with some top quality, slightly riper expressions of the grape than Marlborough across the water.
Alana Estate is a relative newcomer to the area, having been founded in 1993; this would make them quite established in many other regions in New Zealand, but pioneers such as Ata Rangi and Dry River have been making top quality wine since the 70’s. A modern project with a no-expense-spared approach to wine-making, including a team of wine-makers from around the world, the focus is, like their neighbours, mainly on Pinot Noir. However, their Sauvignon Blanc is a superb expression that I have confused with Sancerre, not once but twice, in blind tastings before, due to its mineral edge. Their aim is to develop an understanding of the terroir of Martinborough, so each plot is vinified separately using native yeasts and vinified in their state-of-the-art winery.
Another Monvinic Store purchase, whose wines are featuring heavily in my tastings at the moment! The Alana Estate Sauvignon Blanc is one of their better value wines at a little over 20 euros a bottle and a wonderful expression of this riper, yet subtler, style of Sauvignon Blanc. I say subtle but the aromas are still very pronounced, with the characteristic lime and grapefruit aromas, green apples, peach and just a touch of gooseberry. Enormously refreshing on the palate with lots of zesty acidity and very clean, precise flavours. A long, clean finish with a chalky, mineral sensation; certainly a few steps above the generic Sauvignon Blanc that so often comes out of New Zealand.
Mullineux Old Vine White Blend 2013
Considering we’ve showcased Eben Sadie and A.A Badenhorst a few times, it made sense to finally get around the to third pioneer of the Swartland in South Africa; Mullineux. The Swartland is a small but very fashionable wine region just north of Cape Town, and home to some of South Africas oldest vines and now, some of its youngest wine-makers. The gnarly old bush vines, mostly Chenin Blanc and Rhone varietals, have made their home here in the dry, granitic soils and yields are characteristically low. Combined with the more minimal intervention style of wine-making and the results are often quite wild, showcasing the raw material available in this hot, dry part of the country.
Mullineux are a very new addition to the region, set up in 2007 by Chris and Andrea Mullineux, backed by wine-lover Keith Prothero. As with many wineries in the area, the wines are made from dry-farmed (unirrigated) old vines with the intention to showcase the rugged nature of the Swartland. Mullineux are particularly famous for their Syrah grown on differing soil types, which have become increasingly acclaimed and expensive as a result.
My favourite wines from Mullineux, however, are undoubtedly the Old Vine blends, where a selection of old vines from different parcels are blended together. Their white blend is mainly Chenin Blanc, with around 20% made up of Clairette and Viognier to add some extra lift and perfume. However, the raw power of the old vine Chenin Blanc defines this wine, with lemon curd, golden apple, peach and melon aromas as well as the typical lanolin, betraying the grape variety. At only 4 years old, the acidity is roaring with the same ripe orchard fruit character, with a little almond nuttiness as well. Powerful, ripe and very typical of the Swartland. A great wine!
Veramonte Ritual Pinot Noir 2015
Chile has a bright future ahead of it in the wine world. Best known for their exportations of consumer friendly, easy to drink wines from large producers, the focus is changing to higher quality expressions from individual regions and smaller projects. The climate for making wine in Chile is just about perfect, with a varied Mediterranean climate moving down the country and different regions naturally leaning towards certain grape varieties and styles. Outside of their typical industry, I’ve also very much enjoyed discovering the Chilean style of Carignan, most famous in the Maule where VIGNO help encourage growers to maintain their old vine plants, as well as some top quality Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and even some aromatic varieties. It’s to these cooler climates that we head this week, to the Casablanca Valley and a project by the name of Ritual.
Veramonte wines is a relatively large company, but instead of centralising in one large winery they have instead ventured out and invested in several smaller estates, each with their own identity and style. Ritual is one of the their largest and sits on 100 hectares of vineyards in the Casablanca Valley, one of the coolest regions in Chile. Consultant wine-makers such as Paul Hobbs have a say in the style of the wines, which tends to be clean, fruity and made for short-to-mid term consumption. Having tried the Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and also some wines from their other estates, it was the Ritual Pinot Noir that stood out the most. I would love to get hold of a bottle of their Chardonnay, if I can find it!
Pinot Noir is my favourite grape so it comes as no surprise to learn that I’m curious to see how it grows around the world. In the Casablanca valley, cool morning fogs caused by the Humboldt Current wash over the region, slowing down the ripening of the grapes and stretching the growing season considerably. As a result, the slow but very intense accumulation of flavour leads to a very likeable, very ‘New World style’ of Pinot Noir. Bright cherry and strawberry flavours are prominent, with a little earthy savouriness in the background and a touch of toast and black pepper from the oak treatment. Lovely and soft on the palate with a refreshing acidity and accessible, delicious fruit flavours; this is affordable Pinot Noir done excellently. By far the humblest wine of the tasting at 15 euros a bottle but I suspect it may be a dark horse for Wine of the Night! (Spoiler: It did indeed wine Wine of the Night with 5/10 votes!)
Loveblock Pinot Noir 2014
We’ll be sticking with Pinot Noir for the moment but this time heading across the ocean to New Zealand, a country that whilst almost synonymous with Sauvignon Blanc is also staking its claim as the New World producer of Pinot Noir. I find myself in agreement, having tasted so many world class Pinot Noirs throughout the country, particularly from Martinborough in the north and Central Otago in the south. However, one of the most famous names in the New Zealand wine industry is rightfully turning heads with his new project in Marlborough, better known for its Sauvignon Blanc, and this was my best discovery from New Zealand during the summer months.
Loveblock is the new project of one of the most famous couples of the wine world; Kim and Erica Crawford. Having been so successful with their own branded wine, they sold the rights to Constellation and built a much smaller project in the higher reaches of Marlborough, in the Awatere Valley. Here they produce top quality Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewurztraminer but the addition of some land in Central Otago in 2008 allowed a top quality Pinot Noir to be added to the portfolio.
As mentioned previously, I love Pinot Noir and what a Pinot Noir this is! The land in Central Otago they’ve acquired is from the slightly warmer area to the north of the region, and it shows in the robust character of this wine. The ripe, bright red fruits that are so characteristic of New Zealand are showcased first and foremost, with a little brambly character as well. The wine was only partly aged in oak but there are definite characters of toast and black pepper, as well as emerging notes of tomato leaf, earth and a touch of tobacco. Already so complex and yet still so vibrant, this is delicious stuff. I will definitely be squirreling a bottle or two away for a bit of future development.
El Enemigo Cabernet Franc 2012
Still in the southern hemisphere, but now over to Mendoza in Argentina, one of the first regions to capture my imagination and palate when I first started to appreciate wine. Malbec is King in Argentina, with Bonarda and Cabernet Sauvignon distant 2nd and 3rd plantings, whilst Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc make up the majority of white grapes planted. However, as the wine industry starts to mature here, wine-makers are starting to see the potential in other grape varieties not commonly associated with Argentinian productions, including Tempranillo, Carignan and most importantly, Cabernet Franc.
El Enemigo is one of my favourite wineries in Mendoza, led by the head wine-maker of Catena, Alejandro Vigil. The investment came from Adrianna Catena, one of the daughters of Nicolas Catena, who fell in love with French varieties from an early age, and who shares a love for Cabernet Franc in particular, along with Alejandro. The variety ripens fully in the warm, continental climate of Mendoza yet the high altitidues of the vineyards in Gualtarry allow for the rich red fruits, herbal flavours and finely grained tannins to stay intact, unlike many warmer climate expressions of the grape.
The wine itself is a blend of 85% Cabernet Franc and 15% Malbec, with the structure and herbal flavours coming from the Cabernet Franc, whilst the darker fruits and rich, chocolatey sensation on the mid-palate is undoubtedly the impact of the Malbec. Rich, ripe cherries and plums, green bell pepper, dark chocolate and coffee dominate the nose, whilst the old, Alsatian oak used to age the wine for 16 months contributes a little vanilla and cinnamon sweetness, without obscuring the delicate violet aromas. Juicy and herbal on the palate, this is a beautifully soft and enjoyable wine; very Argentinian yet with a little bit of Old World restraint. At 5 years of age this is really showing well and is about in its perfect drinking window.
Jasper Hill Nebbiolo 2012
After Pinot Noir, I’ve probably drank more Nebbiolo this summer than any other grape variety, all from its spiritual home in Piedmont, northern Italy. I was aware that Nebbiolo was grown in small quantities in both America and Australia, with the latter gaining most of the plaudits. This is surprising, as all reports coming out of Australia suggest that, despite the requisite heat to ripen Nebbiolo, it’s a notoriously difficult grape to cultivate, owing to the exact balance of sunlight and warmth needed before the resulting wines edge stewed fruit and excessive alcohol levels. This quote from James Halliday, famous Australian wine critic, more or less sums it up; “Nebbiolo has been grown in the King Valley, McLaren Vale, Adelaide Hills, Mornington Peninsula, Heathcote, Mudgee and Murray Darling, and in none of these regions has it yet produced wines of unambiguous class. It may be that the combination of better clonal selection and greater vine age will produce worthwhile results in 10 or 20 years’ time, but it will take a brave and financially secure vigneron to prove the point.”
If there’s a winery equal to the task, it would be Jasper Hill. Based in the cooler region of Heathcote, in Victoria, Jasper Hill have become a leading light for the area, with international investment recently flooding in, particularly from vignerons in the Northern Rhone of France. Founded in 1975, Ron Laughton and his wife were some of the first wine-makers in the country to realise that Australia was capable of making serious wine, and focusing on understanding their land, the soil and which grapes suit each plot. This has led to not only excellent Shiraz and dry Riesling, but some acclaimed Grenache as well as this delicious Nebbiolo. Their wines are produced in small quantities and are sought after, both within Australia and abroad.
Even within Piedmont, Nebbiolo comes in a few different styles, roughly split between traditional and modern. Traditional wines tend to undergo longer macerations and fermentations, as well as being aged for several years in large oak vessels, sometimes needing more than a decade before they’re approachable. By comparison the modern style is fermented more quickly and aged in newer, smaller barriques allowing for the tannins to soften more quickly and become approachable at a younger age. This wine is not really in either camp. A lovely garnet, Nebbiolo colour and hugely aromatic, with ripe dark cherries, damsons and blackberries dominating, as well as the tell-tale, beautiful aroma of crushed rose petals. Tar, earth, wet leaves and a touch of black pepper add a savoury aspect, all of which is communicated through to the palate. Still a very young wine, the acidity is understandably full-on, and the tannins still very grippy. Having said that, I think this wine has the potential to be absolutely outstanding after another 5 years and still offers a great deal of pleasure now. As these vines age, they’re barely 20 years old at present, I would expect to see the wine come into its own and become a benchmark example of Australian Nebbiolo.
That’s it for our New World tasting, and what a lovely evening it was! 6 excellent wines with the underdog proving to be the most popular of the evening, and a trip around some of the most famous New World producing regions. Keep an eye out on Sunday 1st October for the newsletter and information about our next upcoming Maestrazgo Wine Club events. Until then; salud!