Wine Tastings & Tours

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Monday, 28 December 2015

Gimblett Gravel and Bridge Pa Triangle

On his onward travels around New Zealand the Wine Anarchist stopped in the Hawke's Bay region, still on the east coast of the North Island, but about 150 km south of Gisborne around the towns of Napier and Hastings.  He soon realised that this was a much more intensely planted wine region, over a much greater area and could easily be sub-divided into several smaller regions.  Hence we're dealing with this region in 2 separate posts.

First the Wine Anarchist headed into the heart of Gimblett Gravel region, the most famous sub-region of Hawke's Bay.  The area comprises of 800 ha of gravelly soil which was laid bare when the Ngaruroro River changed it's course after a flooding event back in 1860.  This has now become a protected appellation like those in Europe and anyone who has a bit of land here is very fortunate indeed.  Not only is the soil exceptionally well drained, but the reflective heat off the large pebbles makes for a unique warm micro-climate, which particularly favours the production of red wines such as Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The first winery to see the potential of the region and plant vines was Pask Winery back in 1981.  Their winery isn't actually within the Gimblett Gravels, but in a commercial estate just outside Hastings.

Winemaker Kate Radburnd is a busy woman.  Not only has she been making wine at Pask for 30 years, she is also a director of New Zealand Winegrowers, she has been a driving force behind the Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand program as well as occupying a number of other roles.  Now, the Wine Anarchist is all for sustainable viticulture, however after speaking to a number of people about the 'sustainable' label in NZ it turns out that it is a pretty watered down version.  The members of the sustainable movement could only agree on the lowest common denominator, which means herbicides are allowed, fungicides are allowed, irrigation is allowed and almost universally applied.  So at best it's a halfway house towards organic viticulture, at worst it's plain conventional.  So if you find this on your bottle of wine:
it doesn't necessarily mean much.  In the view of the WA, sustainable should be more than just organic, not less.  

The lady at the cellar door at Pask was quite proudly proclaiming the fact that they took the water for irrigation from an underground aquifer and trickling back down again to replenish it as sustainable.  Seems a waste of pump power to the WA.  The vineyards of the Médoc also have well-drained gravelly soil and probably less rain than Hawke's Bay and the vine roots happily find their way down to the underground aquifers.  Anyway, enough of the rant.  

The Wine Anarchist didn't get to see the winery or the vineyards, but he did get to taste some of the wines.  Pask produce 5 different ranges of wine: Declaration, which is only produced in outstanding years, Gimblett Road, a range of wines exclusively grown in the Gravels, Kate Radburnd, a range of commercial aromatic wines from all over New Zealand, Roy's Hill, everyday drinking, fruit driven wines, as well as a self-explanatory 'small-batch' range.  Here are some of the wines the WA got to taste:

  • Kate Radburnd Berry Blush 2015: A rosé made from 100% Merlot, the colour is of pink lipstick, the nose displaying simple fresh cherry fruit, the palate is off-dry with good balancing acidity and pleasant lively fruit.
  • Gimblett Road Viognier 2012: barrel ageing giving a fleshy texture with apricot stones and minerals on both nose and palate, quite fruit driven with a minerally, almost metallic finish of reasonable length.
  • Small Batch Range Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2014: Fermented with indigenous yeast and barrel aged, this is a complex, weighty wine with aromas of freshly baked bread and brioche as well as warm pear notes; the palate is soft and creamy with some cutting acidity coming through, finishing long with hints of spiced apples.
  • Gimblett Road Syrah 2013: Deeply coloured with black pepper and blackberry on the nose extending onto the palate, with some sweet eucalyptus notes.  In the opinion of the WA, the sweetness of the fruit was a bit out of balance with the tannins feeling a bit underripe, which is strange for such a warm vintage.
  • Gimblett Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2013: Cassis, cedar and tobacco make for a classic Cabernet nose; the sweet fruit on the palate is perfectly balanced by a firm backbone, finishing long and satisfying.  Good now, but will get better.
  • Declaration Cabernet Merlot Malbec 2010: Medium garnet colour; a bouquet of red and blackcurrants, leather and vanilla as well as herbal hints of taragon and wormwood, the palate is elegant and well balanced, but perhaps lacking a bit in concentration.
  • Declaration Cabernet Merlot Malbec 2007: This older version is more perfumed with hints of lilac and mature cassis and herb notes; medium-bodied and silky-textured with a touch of spice, well integrated fruit and altogether better balanced and longer than 2010.  However on re-tasting the wine the following day the fruit had completely dried out, suggesting that the wine is already past its peak and should be drunk now.
All in all the wines were a bit of mixed bag and the Declaration wines at NZ$50 a pop don't represent great value.

Next the Wine Anarchist headed to Trinity Hill, who have their winery in the heart of the Gimblett Gravel.   

Trinity Hill has only been making wine for just shy of 20 years, but have built an enviable reputation for producing a range of first class wines, both red and white.  The photo at the top of this post is of Trinity's Pinot Gris vineyard, just outside the winery.  Founder John Hancock believed from the outset, that the Gimblett Gravel was capable of producing outstanding wines, including from grape varieties considered to be warm climate lovers, such as Syrah, Montepulciano and Tempranillo.

The Wine Anarchist was very warmly welcomed into the cellars by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable member of staff and got straight into tasting some of the goodies on offer.  

  • Gimblett Gravels Masanne/Viognier 2014: The split is 55/45, the Marsanne lending a nice bit of weight and herbal characters complemented by the exotic fruit aromas of apricot and honeysuckle of the Viognier.  The palate is full and firm, with plenty more stone fruit notes and a long spicy finish.
  • Gimblett Gravels Chardonnay 2014: Fermented with indigenous yeasts and aged in 500 litre French oak puncheons this wine has lovely delicate citrus fruit flavours on the nose combined with smoky, flinty notes followed by a very elegant palate of juicy grapefruit and roast hazelnut notes finishing long,  Well balanced and delicious!
  • Gimblett Gravels Montepulciano 2014: In its native Italy Montepulciano is a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde variety (nothing to do incidentally with the town of Montepulciano in Tuscany, where they make wines from the Sangiovese grapes, just to confuse you).  It makes anything from cheap and cheerful to some of the best Italy has to offer.  The secret is to keep yields low and this is what Trinity have tried with their version.  The colour is typically deep purple; the nose displaying dark cherry fruit as well as vanilla and cinnamon spice; the palate is defined by a marked acidity lifted by some lively bramble fruit and finishing with floral notes of violets.  Very pleasant indeed.
  • Gimblett Gravels Tempranillo 2014: This Spanish variety traditionally marries well with American oak, which is also used here for its ageing.  The result is a red with warm spice and vanilla notes which is still tight and youthful, but some splendid bramble and wild strawberry coming through promising a bright future.
  • Gimblett Gravels 'The Gimblett' 2013: A Bordeaux blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Franc, and a splash of Petit Verdot.  This is still very youthful and broody with cassis and herbs on the nose; firm structured, but with plenty of underlying juicy fruit and more herbal notes.  Very long and promising much.
  • Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2013: Aged for 14 months in French oak, resulting in a medium to deep ruby in colour, the nose is rich and deep with notes of sweet basil and black pepper combining with aromatic floral notes; the palate is full and long with some lovely ripe plum fruit.  A very appealing wine.
  • Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2012: Deep purple in colour with pepper and dark cherries on the nose; the palate is well structured and less immediately appealing than the 2013, but would do well with steak.
  • Homage 2013:  Trinity's flagship wine, made from Syrah with just a dash of Viognier, is only released in exceptional vintages. 85% of the fruit is sourced from the Gimblett Gravels with the rest from hillside vineyards on sandstone/limestone soils adjacent to the winery and yields are kept low.  The must is then left on the skins for a long time and aged in French barriques for 2 years.  The result is an intensely rich wine with plenty of black pepper spice; The palate is firm and spicy with oodles of ripe underlying fruit and a huge chocolatey finish.  A classic!
In conclusion the wines throughout the range are of great quality!

The soils of the Bridge Pa Triangle have also been formed by the Ngaruroro River, albeit 10,000 years ago.  So the gravel lies deeper in the soil and is covered by a layer of  sandy loam.  This makes for good drainage, but the gravel lies to deep to reflect heat back up.  However Hawke's Bay generally is one of the warmest regions in NZ and rainfalls are relatively low.  During the Wine Anarchists visit in early summer, the mercury rose to 31 Celsius some days.  The first winery in this region he visited was Ngatarawa:

Ngatarawa was one of the early pioneers of wine making in New Zealand started by the Corban and Glazebrook families back in 1981, when most of New Zealand was all about sheep and cattle and there were only 96 winemakers in all of New Zealand and only 4 in Hawke's Bay.  The Corban brand went on to become one of New Zealand's best selling wines and was taken over by multi-nationals, but Ngatarawa remains privately owned by the Corban family and is very much a boutique winery with most of their Farmgate label sold just there, through the farm gate.  The cellars are located at the end of a pretty tree-lined alleyway.

Here are some of the tasting notes from the Wine Anarchist:

  • Glazebrook Pinot Gris 2014: Nice fresh green apple fruit, a touch of spice and a medium length with some minerally notes
  • Farmgate Chenin Blanc 2009: This highly unusual style of wine is very much Vouvray-like.  A greenish golden colour, the nose is really honeyed with classic Chenin Blanc characters of baked apple, hay and fresh herbs; the palate is dry, with more mature honey notes and some lovely fruit, finishing long.  A great example how this variety can age gracefully.
  • Glazebrook Pinot Noir 2014: Light garnet in colour; slightly earthy aromas combining with sweet strawberries; very light style with more sweet strawberry fruit and a touch of vanilla with a pleasant spicy finish.
  • Ngatarawa Merlot Cabernet 2013: Medium ruby with a pale rim, herbaceous, a bit tart with hints of liquorice on the finish.  Lacking character and intensity
  • Riesling Botrytis 2014: Marked honey and botrytis on the nose combining with honeysuckle, lemon and peach; the palate is a good balance of sweetness and acidity with some lovely lemon sherbet fruit and a decent finish.
The Chenin Blanc was definitely the highlight of this tasting.

Also in The Bridge Pa Triangle the Wine Anarchist paid a visit to Abbey Cellars, which is a 13ha family owned estate which not only makes wine on what they call locally, the red metal soils, but they also brew beer (much to the delight to the Wine Anarchist... it was a hot day, it was lunch time and he was getting thirsty...).

The Wine Anarchist was getting a little jaded by the time he got here and the wines were not that impressive, hence the tasting notes a quite brief:

  • Riesling 2014: Lime and minerals dominate the nose; the palate is medium dry, lean and minerally, but just a bit hollow.
  • Rosé Malbec/Merlot 2014: Light salmon colour with delicate strawberry and raspberry fruit on the nose; the palate is dry with pleasant summery fruit flavours and a decent finish.  Nice summer picnic wine.
  • Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2013: Lovely creamy texture and elegant with a nice slightly spicy finish
  • 'Bishop' Merlot 2013: 88% Merlot with some Cabernet France, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, this is a smoky, quite rich style with nice hints of chocolate and spice
  • 'Eden' Syrah 2013: Blackberry and distinct black pepper on the nose; ripe, sweet fruit on the palate with lashings of spice on a good finish.
  • Prophet 2013: A blend of 50% Cabernet with Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Franc this displays classic cassis fruit and Mediterranean herbs.
The wines are good value for what they are, but the beers are definitely worth a visit.  At the end of a tiring day tasting the relaxed on the terrace tasting his way through the beers with some home-made pizza.

Nothing like a bit of relaxation after a hard day tasting in the New Zealand sunshine...

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Biodynamic in Gisborne

 On his travels through New Zealand the Wine Anarchist stopped in the Gisborne region, where he concentrated on two biodynamic producers.  Gisborne is located in the far east of the North Island and has the unique distinction of the first vineyards to see the sunlight each day, as it is close to the International Date Line.  The climate is Mediterranean, warm enough to ripen oranges, with moderate rainfall (around 1,000 mm per annum).  Soils are mainly fertile loams and grape vines share arable land with citrus orchards and cattle and sheep grazing areas.

The Wine Anarchist made a special appointment to see Millton Vineyards, a pioneer of organic and biodynamic viticulture, not only in New Zealand, but in the world and famous for their consistent high quality wines.  The WA was welcomed to the winery by sales & marketing director Simon Gardiner and they proceeded to taste some of the wines in the mellow morning sun on a lazy Monday in November.

Unfortunately James Millton was away on business at the time, but soon they were joined by Annie Millton, who was more than happy to show the WA around the vineyards and answer some of his more technical questions.

James and Annie started the winery in 1984 and now produce wine from 4 different vineyard sites in the area on a total of 30 hectares.  They were the first winery in New Zealand to attain organic status in 1989 and since 2009 they are also demeter registered biodynamic producers.  Their vineyard sites are Te Arai, which is immediately adjacent to the winery itself,

Riverpoint Vineyard, which gives more aromatic wines,

Opou Vineyard, featuring heavier clay soils, and , last but by no means least, the highly acclaimed hillside vineyard Naboth's Vineyard, used to make the highly acclaimed premium wines of Clos St. Anne, in honour of Annie Millton herself.

The vineyard team was flat out the morning the Wine Anarchist arrived.  After some unseasonally late rain had finally cleared to give ideal conditions for spraying and under vine cultivation, the latter getting quite urgent as can be seen on the above photo.  Obviously no herbicides are being used, instead a special machine, a Braun undervine cultivator from Germany, is employed to weed between the vines.  

As for sprays, the usual biodynamic preparations are used, most notably 500 and 501 (horn manure and powdered quartz), as well as a variety of compost teas, which get brewed in this area:

Compost teas include brews made from nettles, horsetail, seaweed, chamomile and yarrow.  Biodiversity in the vineyard is improved not only by allowing weeds between rows, but also by inter-planting flowering hedges, which help attract beneficial insects and protect from high winds.

Everything within the system is recycled and composted, the prunings, weed cuttings as well as the grape skins and stalks from the winery and the appropriate biodynamic compost preparations are added to aid decomposition.

And the result of all that meticulous care?  Wines of world class!  Here are some of the Wine Anarchists tasting notes:

Crazy By Nature Shotberry Chardonnay 2014: The Crazy by Nature range has been introduced as an entry level, good value wine aimed at the retail trade.  They are more fruit driven wines, that can happily be drunk by themselves.  The Shotberry Chardonnay is actually blended with some 14% of Marsanne and Viognier added (mostly Marsanne).  The fresh aromatic nose displays some lovely fresh apricot and baked apple fruit; the palate shows some creamy textured fruit with a juicy long finish and a nice spicy touch.  Really pleasant first thing on a Monday morning in the Gisborne sunshine.

Opou Vineyard Chardonnay 2013: Fermented and aged in French barrique, this is a far more serious wine with slightly smoky, creamy vanilla notes on the nose, and weighty rich fruit underpinned by well-integrated oak flavours finishing long.

Riverpoint Vineyard Viognier 2014: 1/2 of this wine was fermented in 300l French hogshead barrels using ambient yeasts resulting in a wine of well defined minerally, honeydew melon and peach aromas, followed by lovely fruit flavours supported by some really interesting savoury, almost Marmite-like characters and a pinch of spice on the very long finish.

Opou Riesling 2013: At 9.5% AbV and a residual sugar of 40g/l, this is very much in the Spatlese style of the Rheingau.  The nose shows some classic mineral and petrol notes combining with honey and citrus blossom; the palate is medium sweet, delicate and floral with decent balancing acidity.

Clos St. Anne Naboth's Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013: Light garnet in clolour; the bouquet is rich with smoky wild berries and autumn leaves; it is medium bodied with classic complex Pinot Noir characters of juicy wild berries and herbs balanced by a firm structure and a finishing long and satisfying.  Very much a Cote de Beaune style.  Very nice indeed.

Crazy By Nature Cosmo Red 2013: A blend of Malbec, Syrah and a splash of Viognier, this is a lively little number displaying vibrant cherry fruit and some eucalyptus notes, with the palate being well defined by tannins and acidity, but making lovely drinking with it's attractive sweet and juicy blackcurrant fruit.

The Wine Anarchist was pleased to learn that another winery in the region was using biodynamic methods, so he went to check out Wrights Vineyard and Winery only a few kilometres down the road from Milton.

The WA didn't have an appointment and he arrived at a busy time.  Wrights do run a cellar door café as well and they were just expecting a trainload of tourists to arrive.  However Geoffrey Wright did find some time to Talk to the WA, as did Geoffrey's young son Noah.  (Mind you the main topic of the discussion with young Noah was mostly about the finer technical points of paper airplane construction...).

The Wrights Vineyards were planted in 2000 on 3 different locations totalling about 17ha. 

 Geoffrey has descended from a long line of winemakers and his approach is staunchly non-conformist not always to the benefit of wine quality it has to be said.  The Wine Anarchist was staying with some local farmers and the consent was that, whilst local people would love to support natural farming methods, the wines were not so much liked.   So the WA was wondering if his styles were just so unusual and therefore not commercial enough, or were they really not as good as they could be.  It turned out to be a bit of both.  

The methods in the vineyard were very similar to what Milton were doing with the main spray being a seaweed ferment.  Here's a video of Geoffrey to show how he does that.

For under vine weed control he uses a $12,000 Italian machine as demonstrated in this video:

Here are some of the tasting notes of the Wine Anarchist on Wright's wines:

Mister Right Sparklin Moscato: A lightly sparkling, fresh wine with a delicate lemon blossom aroma, decent acidity, balancing a slight sweetness, with a lovely foamy texture and a  good finish.  Pleasant summer-time drinking.

Pinot Gris 2015: Baked apple notes on the nose are followed by a soft, quite full palate and unpleasant bitter almond notes on the finish

Chardonnay 2014: The nose again promised with apricot, roast hazelnut and almond notes, but the palate finishing unpleasant and bitter again...

Fumé Blanc (Orange Wine): This wine has been made by the traditional orange wine method, where grape skins even for white wines are left for extended periods on the must.  In this case the grapes in question were Sauvignon Blanc grapes, and the must was left in contact with the grape skins for 30 days, after which the wine was left a further 9 months in oak barrels.  The resulting wine has a deep golden orange colour; the nose displaying complex orange peel, Turkish delight, honeysuckle, vanilla and almond characters; the acidity is balanced, but tannins are marked, the finish is long with spicy oak characters.  A highly unusual and interesting style.  Definitely the Wine Anarchist's favourite of the bunch, although hardly something that could be described as commercial.

Pinot Noir 2015: Classic wild berry and earthy notes on the nose followed by nice wild strawberry fruit and a good savoury finish.  A good effort.

Reserve Syrah : Opaque colour with deep purple rim; the nose is full of brooding liquorice, coffee, dark chocolate, herb, prune, lilac and herby eucalyptus notes, the palate is rich, ripe and spicy with marked tannins and an earthy finish.  This will want to sit for a few years. 

In conclusion the Wine Anarchist believes that Wrights will have to do some work to convince him that he can produce consistent quality white wine.  The Orange wine is very good indeed and attempts to produce more unusual wines should be applauded.  This particular wine might benefit from the addition of some conventionally made Sauvignon to liven up the acidity, but well done nevertheless.  The reds produced at this vineyard seem to be doing better and the Reseve Syrah in particular is noteworthy.

Contact details:
Milton Vineyards
66 Manutuke
Gisborne 4053

Wrights Vineyard and Winery
1093 Wharerata Road
Gisborne 4072