Posted on 31.01.20 #126

The fruits of the Kiwis: my top wines at the NZ tasting

The UK is New Zealand’s most important export market for wine and, judging by the crowds around the tables and some of the empty bottles on the feature tables at the ‘New Zealand in glass’ annual tasting, it’s a glass that remains metaphorically half full.

Never an event to rest on its laurels, this year’s venue switched to London’s OXO2, with just enough room for the 30-odd tasting tables, a masterclass area, and – to my delight – top notch, complimentary Kiwi coffee.

Lovers of the Flat White kicked off the day with a business briefing from Rabobank analyst Maria Castroviejo, revealing an export market that’s in relatively rude health, thanks to its coveted premium positioning. 

Although the mighty Sauvignon Blanc continues to dominate, it is alternative varieties that are now making the pace in terms of growth, she reported, albeit from a much lower base. The tasting reflected this, with the perception of a far greater range of varieties on show from what is still an astonishingly youthful part of the ‘New World’, when it comes to wine.

Appropriately enough ‘coming of age’ was the theme for the first of the masterclasses from Rebecca Gibb MW, dedicated to that hoary old British obsession with  ‘age-ability’. The second (which I attended) was given over to Pinot Noir, ‘from valley floor to mountain slope’. Saying she wanted to “really focus on the regions”, this session assessed the merits of Pinot Noir from the (mostly alluvial) valley bases, versus those from the hills, with the former generally offering lighter, brighter fruit, and the latter bringing us richer, riper styles of wine.

A measure of the keen interest in the ‘unexpected New Zealand’ feature table, a selection of mostly empty bottles, later in the day at least, with curious tasters having lapped up the Albariño, Chenin Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, Tempranillo and even Lagrein on show.

… an evolution in style…

Sauvignon Blanc might still account for almost 9 in 10 bottles of New Zealand wine in the UK, but the event amply underlined New Zealand’s enormous potential for growth, as consumers are encouraged to try something familiar, but different. That said, the very winemakers who put Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc on the world wine map in the first place were also out to prove that their bubble isn’t going to burst anytime soon, with some outstanding examples of both innovation and an evolution in style.

My Top 10:

Greywacke Wild Sauvignon, Marlborough 2017 (RRP £27.99), from the one time King of Cloudy Bay, Kevin Judd, an alternative style, from indigenous yeasts, spending 8 months on lees, this was a little too ‘wild’ for some, but I loved it. A textural feast, bags of herbaceous charm rounded off with a flinty finish, if this isn’t a ‘coming of age’ wine for Marlborough, I don’t know what is.

Framingham F-Series Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough 2017 (£22.99), with 90% aged in old oak barriques and 9 months on lees, this seductive wine unfolds like a map, with a complex array of bright citrus, stone fruit and a delicious savoury twist. Elegant, yet strong, and very long.

Stanley Estates “Wild” Sauvignon Blanc, Awatere, Marlborough 2018 (RRP £22), good luck getting hold of a case of this, as Seckford were limited to just 60 bottles! Fermented in the vineyard, with the naturally-occurring yeasts that exist there, this is delicate and divine, with pure, perfumed gooseberry and squidgy peach.

The Hunting Lodge Homeblock Waimuku Sauvignon Blanc, Auckland 2018 (Not yet in UK stores, watch this space!), from a family estate just half an hour from Auckland’s CBD, this strikingly packaged wine is a new entry to the UK, looking for distribution.  It shouldn’t take long… Another wild-fermented wonder, with a fresh flinty nose, elegant stone fruit, ripe greengage and some nuttiness in the finish, this was one of my favourite wines across the tasting.

Loveblock ORANGE Sauvignon Blanc, Awatere Valley, Marlborough 2019 (RRP £22.20), an orange wine that isn’t really very orange, this is a great find for Graft. Using green tea powder instead of sulphur to transit the grapes, the resulting wine offers a sexy smorgasbord of cola cubes, saffron, celery leaf and yes, perhaps some green tea. Unusual, but in a good way… 

Akarua Rosé Brut Central Otago NV (RRP £23.99), New Zealand’s sparklers can  sometimes feel like a hard sell, especially in our Champagne-obsessed market, but they deliver such brilliant bang for your buck. This is a great example, with a nose like a strawberry smoothie, bursting with pure, bright red fruit character and a lovely millefeuille finish.

Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Les Beaux Cailloux Chardonnay, Hawkes Bay 2017 (RRP £82), floral, elegant, structured and sumptuous Chardonnay that’s more than a match for the best Burgundy, with an ethereal charm around its defined mineral core.

Escarpment ‘Noir’, Martinborough 2018 (RRP £17.95), a new wine from Larry  ‘McPinot’ McKenna, ‘Abel Clone’ Pinot Noir, naturally fermented in clay amphora and left on skins for 270 days, with no added sulphur dioxide. With crunchy red cherry, juicy tannins and just a hint of earthiness, it’s vegan, but hides its hipster influence.

Akiti A1 Pinot Noir, Central Otago 2017 (RRP £42), one of my favourites from Otago, this striking-looking wine offers such thrilling fruit quality, bursting with juicy black cherry and plum, a touch of garrigue, warm cinnamon spice and velvety tannins.

Stanley Estates Lagrein, Marlborough 2016 (RRP £17.35), a hand sell, for sure, but a lovely bright, juicy expression of the grape, with plush black fruit, liquorice and notes of soft leather.  The tannins are firmly under control, teaming up with the vibrant acidity to make a perfect partner for fatty meats.

Many of the above wines are available at Specialist Cellar – in Brixton, or online (this used to be called New Zealand Cellar but has branched out a little, hence the new name I guess!)

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