WanderCurtis Wine

Wine tastings, corporate events, reviews and recommendations


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Vassaltis Winery, Vourvoulos Santorini

Vassaltis Vineyards

When my good friend Richard, founder of Wanderlust wines knew I was off to Santorini he insisted I go to Vassaltis. ‘Best wines on the Island’ he told me. Started by Yannis Valambous a former financier in London. It is Santorini’s newest winery, outside the village of Vourvoulus. The winery is sleek modern light and spacious with excellent views over his vineyards to the sea.The first wines from Vassaltis were released in 2015. We were lucky enough to meet their two highly talented winemakers, Elias Roussakis and Yiannis Papaeconomou.

Richard was bang on.

The wines are fabulous. The restaurant menu excellent too and the vibe atmosphere and service of the staff lived up to all expectations. Definitely a highlight of our vinous tour of Santorini

Tasting notes below courtesy of Kiran

Aidani 2020

Aged for up to 2 – 3 years

The label design is shape of a volcanic stone.

Nice floral nose.

Fresh with peachy and citrus notes some jasmine florality and medium body with high acidity but less than Assyrtiko A lovely aperitif style wine. 

Nassitis 2020

A blend of 3 whites Aidani, about 30% Assyrtiko and Athiri.

Lemon sorbet and wet stone on the nose.

More lemon zest, mineral and lovely salty tangy phenolic bitter finish.  A great food wine. 

Santorini 2020

100% Assyrtiko  a blend of grapes from different vineyards all over Santorini 24 eur. 

12 months on lees then bottled.

Immediate hit of dried herbs, rosemary thyme etc. then some lemon zest.  Then emerging hyacinth quite floral. 

Quite full bodied tannins felt on gums  high cripsp acid  nice long salty finish.

Gramina 2019

Gramina means field so this is a single vineyard wine from Vourvoulos the village nearby. 100% Assyrtiko grapes are handpicked early morning and the wine spends 12 months on lees and 12 months in bottle. 

On the nose an attractive petrolic whiff with an undertow of herbs and wet stones

Full bodied, smooth texture with dried green herbs, fresh acidity and a long lingering salty stony finish. Excellent. 

Santorini 2016

Darker richer in colour than the 2020.

A much more complex nose: petrol, honey, baked lemon, over ripe honey dew melon then salted almonds, really interesting. 

Lovely silky texture, very complex ripe with some sweetness and nuttiness the saltiness is still there but less aggressive softened out by the other flavours and age. A superb wine showing how well Assyrtiko can age. 

Santorini barrel aged. 2019

Smokey lemon and lime sorbet hint of petrol faint tarragon

Taught and almost austere structured wine herbs minerals and sea salt. Long. 

Santorini barrel aged 2017

On the nose smoke a bit of vanilla and over ripe mango AKA petrol.

The nuts honey, increasingly complex.

Lovely full body with a silky elastic texture, sweet notes, complex softening out the austerity found in the 2019 Gramina. Very long and persistent. Another fantastic wine.

Laterals would be an aged Riesling or a grand cru Chablis with a few years. In other words, premium wines of complexity and character. 

Open to debate but generally the non oaked versions seem to retain more of a unique assertyko character although the oaked versions are extraordinarily well made wines. 

Plethora 2018

The outstanding Plethora from Vassaltis- a truly remarkable wine

Late harvest Assyrtiko 6 months on lees then 8 months in old vinsanto barrels which are 60 years old then 2 years in bottle. A gap is left on top and sometimes flor grows. 

This closest to Nykteri approach that Vassaltis has.

Nose is reminiscent of a vinsanto, roasted nuts, smoke, hint of caramel, touch of balsamic. Very complex, a hint of Christmas.

Rich mouth feel, spices, orange peel and a characteristic sea salt and wet stone tang. Very very long. An outstanding wine, extraordinary.


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Domaine Sigalas – Santorini, Oia region

The view of the vines from Sigalas outdoor tasting area (harvest was August the earliest in Europe explaining the vines appearance)

Domaine Sigalas is the closest winery to our base in Oia, the Northernmost point of Santorini. It is a very pleasant walk via the village of Finikia with its excellent restaurant Meze Meze.

Sigalas was founded in 1991 by Paris Sigalas a maths teacher.It has been sold recently.

They predominantly make Assyrtiko and other indigenous whites like Athiri and Aidani. Red varietals include Mavrotragano and Mandilaria. More recently they have been exploring the subtle terroir variations of seven individual villages of Santorini.

Paris is seen as  a visionary and established the first vertically trained vineyards on the Island, almost heretical at the time.

They have almost 40 hectares of vineyard and produce nearly 200,000 bottles.

Santorini 2020

The wine spends six months on lees in stainless steel barrels.

2020 is apparently great year previous years from 2017 to 2019 suffered heat waves.

A nose of lemon rind and sea salt.

Medium body high acidity, great balance. Lively fresh pithy flavours with a tangy salty nice lingering finish.

Epta (7) Villages

One of a series of seven single vineyard wines exploring the terroir of different regions of the island.  Made in stainless steel barrels but aged on lees through to next harvest. 

Floral blossom notes some citrus underneath.

Some tinned peach at first followed by ripe lemon pith and characteristic herbal salty finish like rosemary salted fries! Again medium body high acid. Great length. Lovely!

Santorini Barrel 2020

Aged6 months in French oak barrels on lees. One in six are new oak and the rest second and third year.

Subtle vanilla and toast on the nose tiny hint of nice petrol. 

In the mouth nice blend of oak and lemon peel, lovely full silky mouth feel, full bodied but with lift and long. 

Nychteri. 2019

A truly massive white wine, more like a red, a real heavy weight with a price to match!

Kiran-

Traditionally late harvest, 18 months in oak. 6 grams residual sugar l so only just dry. 

Nose of perfume spicy, sweet, nutty and of course vanilla – Coco Channel like!

Round and full bodied a definite sweetness.

Rich spicy fruit, medium plus sweetness, and endless length. Extremely complex. 

Adam –
From select grapes picked during the night

Aged for longer on lees

Rich highly textured deeper colour

Honeyed feels like a hint of residual sugar

Really smooth and complex, length++

Delicious +++++

Spyros Recommends aging 6-7 years. Salty mineral character keeps building and fruit falls away. 

Reds

Mavrotragano 2019 

Kiran -Mavrotragano was traditionally grown in the same way as Assyrtiko trained into low but struggled to ripen evenly. Sigalas and Hatzidakis began to train the vines in low linear runs and to irrigate to help ripen the grapes fully and demonstrate the potential of this indigenous grape.

On the nose lots of berries, blueberry and a little smoke then also some red berries and perhaps a bit of cheesecake. 

Very appealing and tasty, medium plus body, medium acidity, medium soft tannin experienced upper lip.  Ripe Fruity flavours with lashings of toast and vanilla but not overwhelming.  Drinking beautifully. 

Adam- Sigalas red 18 months in oak Mavrotragano 3 percent vineyard area

First vertical vineyards on island,

Plums, berries spice complexity

Lots of fresh red fruit and blueberries

Good Length a hint of spice, cumin.

Mavrotragano – Mandilaria 2019

Mandilaria blend with Mavrotragano.

18 months in oak Mandilara has high acidity but high tannin so good for a blend. 

Nice chewy mix of strawberries and cream with a savoury herby bite. 

The food from the restaurant at Sigalas is a fine match with their excellent wines.

We highly recommend the seafood risotto which you must call in advance and reserve as limited amounts made. It was also interesting to taste the caper leaves and stems which were slight aromatic and more delicious than capers themselves.

Santorini is not just about white wine. This red Mavrotragano was fruit packed and delicious


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Santorini, Megalochori- Gavalas and Venetsanos Wineries

The passionate Vagelis Gavalas stands proudly with his father George

Gavalas winery

Gavalas was established in 1895 making it one of the oldest in the Cyclades. It is still family run with the fifth generation Vagelis taking on the realms. It is situated in the very beautiful hilltop village of Megalochori.
Our Toyota Aygo almost ended up wedged into a tiny narrow street.
We would recommend parking up and exploring the delights of Megalochori prior to tasting.
We were fortunate to be hosted by Vagelis Gavalas who if he’d had his way would have kept us there all day! They have a broad range of styles and have some lesser known varieties such as Katsano

Wines tasted with Vagelis Gavalas

Aidani 2019

In the past vineyards used to be mostly assyrtiko but other grape varieties mingled in including Aidani. So many wines labelled Assyrtiko were effectively field bends. However, although the PDO still allows a percentage of other varietals all the serious wine makers now select to bottle 100% assyrtiko wines.  At least as far as possible.

So as a result there is a fair amount of old vine Aidani and a 100% bottling appears on a number of wine makers lists.  Its not made for aging and is best at around 2-3 years

The winemaking includes a cold soak, fermentation in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks and 3- 4 months on lees with batonage , typical for aromatic type grapes.

Indeed, the wine is more aromatic and less acidic  than assyrtiko.  There is an aroma of rolling tobacco and ripe honey dew melon.

It has medium body, medium acidity, flavours of stone fruit, mineral, citrusy with a bitter lemon pip finish. 

Vagelis Gavalas the wine maker explains that Aidani does have a bitter characteristic which the lees aging softens out. 

Katsano 2020

This wine is a blend of two rare local grape varieties Katsano 85% and Gaidoura 15%. Made in a similar way to the Aidani and at 12% alcohol a lighter wine.

A floral nose, hyacinth with a green tinge of dried herbs, potpourri quite delicate

Lighter body, higher acidity, floral, green and refreshing.  Similar profile to a gavi di gavi

Santorini 2020

100% assyrtiko in a distinctive blue bottle.

Blend of different parcels from across the island all vinified separately 

Classically austere in style. Lemon sorbet, a green florality, wet stone and citrus pith.

This is my type of wine, fresh and clean with crisp acidity. More lemon, lemon pith and with a phenolic, herbal tingling finish on upper gums. Great balance the freshness masks the 14% alcohol. Really lovely!

Santorini Natural Ferment. 2020 14%

Made from old vines of 50 plus years and with wild yeasts. Slightly riper grapes with a bit more residual sugar. Some of the harvest matured in old oak barrels then a proportion blended back in. 

A wine with a richer flavour and more texture from the longer lees aging.  Lime, lemon pith, wet stones, fresh green herbs. A lovely characteristic salty tang on the finish. Excellent!

Nykteri 202014.5%

This is a barrel aged Assyrtiko using the best late harvest grapes using first run juice from grapes treaded into the night. 

Vagelis explains that the old style Nykteri were heavy and oxidative wines made from the last batches of grapes, made in often partially filled barrels and intended for the wine makers own consumption.   But now better more controlled wine making techniques are used to prevent over oxidation.

A smoky, volcanic nose with a hint of vanilla.

Ripe stone fruit, mineral salty and intense, full bodied but nicely balanced. 

Enalia Santorini 2018

Even older vines at 120 years plus 18 months lees aging.

A pleasant whiff of petrol on the nose, more dried herbs.

A very intense palate, concentrated baked lemon, with a focused sweetness followed salty wet stones, goes on for ever wow!

Full body well balanced by high acidity which masks the alcohol level of 14.5%.

Vinsanto 2013

280 grams residual sugar.

Vinsanto is aging a minimum of 6 years, this one actually 7 years. 

A real Corker!

Figs and dates with a hint of crème caramel on the nose.

Luscious velvety mouth feel with more soft dried figs and medjoule dates with faint toffee notes. Obviously sweet but with great lift and balance. Surprisingly low alcohol at 11%.

This lasts and lasts. Complex and delicious!

We could easily have stayed all afternoon, such was the quality of the Gavalas wines and the passion of Vagelis but we were already an hour late for our booking at the highly recommended Metaxi Mas restaurant .

Venetsanos Winery

Venetsanos winery perched spectacularly on the edge of the Megalochori Caldera

Venetsanos is one of the oldest wineries in Santorini founded by George Venetsanos in 1947. The winery was excavated vertically inside the volcanic rock. They used gravity for the wine making process. The wine flowing down pipes more than 300m down, to be loaded in the ships in the port of Athinios. The wine was exported to France, Russia and Egypt.The tasting was held on on a rocky terrace with the stunning caldera below and overlooking the port
All wines are single vineyard with low production and high quality.


Santorini

Assyrtiko 100%,Crisp acid lemon grapefruit lingering bitterness and salinity

Nykteri

Vanilla whisky creamy texture Rich wine, Nykteri harvest at night, late harvest with oak ageing

Anagallis

Rose wine deep pink colour ferment with 2 white grapes and mandilaria red.

Delightful perfumed red fruit candied strawberry and red cherry nose

Hint of residual sugar. A crowd pleaser more American in style
Mandilaria

Red grapes not overly complex drying tannins all over mouth reminders of an Italian wine possibly Barbera

Vin Santo

Assyrtiko10 to 15 days drying grape, Luscious very sweet some oxidation nuttiness, fig, date, prune and vanilla

View from Venetsanos restaurant overlooking the port of Athinios


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Sensational Santorini

I first tried Assyrtiko at Pete Barry’s home in the Clare Valley, Australia. It was early November 2016. That day he launched Australia’s first Assyrtiko from vines he brought back from Santorini many years before.
I was struck by its vibrant, crisp, fresh, citric qualities, superbly made wine as you would expect from the Jim Barry wines.
Pete talked sentimentally about Santorini and it has been on my list of places to visit since.
It has taken a few years, with other priorities and of course Covid! Five years later I have made the trip and will review some of the best wines and wineries one the Island. Those who appreciate all things vinous also seek the best cuisine. So I have included restaurant tips and a few other general recommendations.

Firstly a bit of factual background –
Santorini is the southernmost Island out of the 33 Cyclades islands in the South Aegean Sea.
The vineyards are over 3,500 years old, among the most ancient viticultural regions in the world.
The volcanic soils have protected the vineyards from the phylloxera, so the vines survived the epidemic of the late 19th century.
Historically Santorini was renowned for its sweet dessert wine “Vinsanto”.
More recently, with modern winemaking techniques and preferences, Santorini is known for producing highly-regarded, complex quality wines. It is most famous for its dominant variety Assyrtiko– which which along with Athiri, Aidani , constitutes 80% of the vineyard area. The remaining 20% are red varieties Mandilaria and Mavrotragano

We arrived early October. On the drive from the airport to the Northern most tip Oia we passed through a harsh dry unforgiving landscape.
Harvest had well passed, being of the earliest in Europe. The vines appeared sad dry and dejected.
I wondered how anything could grow here given to dry arid heat and hard stony volcanic soils. This harsh environment creates a low yield, highly prized harvest which reflect the terroir.
They have developed a innovative pruning system the Kouloura. This is a basket-weaved shape close to the ground to minimise wind damage during flowering and to protect against sunburn. It also helps collect any moisture from the rocks on the ground.

Another method used is Kladeftiko (small ring). This method is slightly higher off the ground allowing more aeration.

What to expect from the Assyrtiko variety?

Previous wines I have tried displayed the characteristic citric, high acid, mineral salty notes with a distinct phenolic bitterness of the finish. Other elements were of a herbal smoky nose. Only one way to find out…

By chance, Kiran had chosen to visit the same week, on the same Island, in the same town! We chose five wineries to visit from recommendations and personal contacts. Tasting notes are a mixture of mine and Kiran’s.

Estate Argyros

Wines tasted

Wine production at Arygyros dates back to 1903. I had been drinking their introductory Atlantis range red from Mavrotragano .Served slightly chilled as an aperitif. It was a lovely way to watch the sunset on our terrace at Oia Mare villas.
I was particularly looking forward to the Vinsanto, the longest aged in Santorini and one of the best sweet wines in Greece. Argyros have a stunning new modern winery. Very spacious clean and bright near the village of Pyrgos. They own some of the Island’s oldest vines two hundred or more years old The fourth generation of the family produces three Assyrtikos, an Aidani, a full-bodied red from the Mavrotragano grape. We were lucky enough to be hosted by the delightful and informed Elisavet Loukaki.

Estate Aidani 2020
Spends 3 months on lees in stainless steel from 40 year old vines. Retails at 25 eurFloral nose, peach and herbs, lovely.On the palate, stone fruit, lemon rind, medium body, medium plus acidity. Nice length.A nice aperitif wine to sit in the autumnal sunLess acidic and more aromatic than Assyrtiko .
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Estate Assyrtiko 2020

A blend of vineyards with 100 year old vines, spends 3-4 months on lees.Stone fruit, sea air and an undertone of herb, tarragon or cut grass.Ripe stone fruit, cooked lemon with a salty tingling long finish in the mouth.Fuller body and high acidity.This wine is made for food especially Greek dips, fetta and grilled fish.
Estate Cuvee Monsignori 2018
From 200 year old vines and spends 11 months in stainless steel vats on lees with batonage. 14% alcohol retails at 30 eurA pleasant whiff of petrol, apricots and ground hazel nuts honeyAgain ripe fruit, concentrated, full bodied but balanced by high acid. Nice tension from a green note underneath, very long. Delicious. A lateral would be a minerally full bodied Austrian Smaragd from the Wachau.


Estate Cuvee Evdemon 2017
From two parcels 150 year old vines near Pyrgos biodynamically cultivated. Fermented in 25% in French oak barrels then blended and aged for 30 months in stainless steel vats on lees. 45 eurToasty smoky notes with apricot jam, baked fruits and a note of cream. Intense.Very concentrated with full body, high alcohol but balanced by high acidity. Again a salty finish Very long. Again a ripe Gruner Veltliner comes to mind as a lateral such as the oaked Brundelmayer Ried Lamm
Vin Santo 2013 13.5 %
Mostly Assyrtiko but some other grapes in the blend. Assyrtiko 80 Aida I 10 athiri 10Grapes are sun dried grapes for10 days. The wine spends 3 years in cement vats and 4 years in barrels.The nose is complex a mix of figs, nuts & dates and spices.Great balance sweet 220g/l but with great freshness.
Vin Santo late release 2001
For this wine the grapes are sun dried for 14 days. It spends 3 years cement vats but then 16 years in used barrels. Topped up in a kind of solera system Brown tinges are clearly visible showing the wines 20 years.The nose is rich with raisins, dates,hazel nuts and dried ginger. 
The palate is complex with figs dates and nuts and a spicy gingery tang. The sweetness is perfectly balanced with the fresh acid zing and it is very long and delicious. Outstanding

This was an impressive introduction to the wines of Santorini. The Vin Santo 2001 clearly something very special. Wines available in the UK via Clark Foyster. We were keenly anticipating the rest of the week


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New Zealand Wine Tour February 2020, Part 4, Waiheke Island

Back in 1995 I tried one of the early 1990 vintages of Goldwater Estates Cabernet blends. It was clear then that Waiheke Island had great potential as a wine producing region.
A quarter of a century later wine is a thriving industry with around 30 boutique wineries bringing many tourists over from the mainland for tastings, dinners and weddings.
The hilly terrain, with a warm maritime climate and generally poor well drained soils provide many perfect sites for viticulture. It is possibly slightly warmer then the mainland with less rainfall as there is some sheltering from the Auckland isthmus.
Cabernet Merlot blends are still shining however there is some excellent Syrah.
I was fortunate to have arranged a house swap for a week and based myself in the lovely beach area of Sandy Bay, Enclosure Bay and Palm Beach.
With so many excellent wines to try options the most difficult decision was where to start tasting.
Stonyridge was a must, being one of the earliest pioneers and producer of one of the world’s top Bordeaux blends.

Stonyridge Estate

Stephen White Founder and owner of Stonyridge Vineyard

Stephen White, founder of Stonyridge is quite a character. He was sporting a T shirt with Mick Jagger and Bob Marley and appeared to be in very chill mood. He was preparing his speech for his son’s wedding the following day but still made time to come and meet me. I asked him what he was going to crack open on the big day, ‘A 3 litre bottle of one of our earlier vintages of Larose, and it’ll be staying on my table!’

He is into yoga and has previously sailed around the world. His life experience and passion has led to   some great Mantras displayed on the walls of the property, such as ‘We are very serious about what we do….but what we do is not very serious’

‘The time to be happy is NOW, the place to be happy is HERE, the way to be happy is to make someone else HAPPY’

Stonyridge is the second vineyard on Waiheke, starting in 1982 after Goldwater Estate (now Goldies) They are renowned for their Larose a Bordeaux blend which is only sold en primeur through members. It is a sheltered site protected from winds by Stonyridge. Stephen had great vision to buy the land for a tiny fraction of today’s price, and identify ideal sites for Bordeaux blends.

I tasted their 1 barrel production of Chardonnay 2018 which was oak influenced. I was only the 10th person to try the 2019 which had more elegance, stone fruit and subtle oak. The Larose 2018 was fruity, appealing and had soft tannins. I was then ushered into the wine cellar which was full of purple hydrangeas ready for the wedding day to try a barrel sample of the 2019. This was big, brooding, intense with excellent structure and length and was clearly a magnificent vintage.

Stephen said he’d like to keep 50 cases of the 300 to himself for this one!

I was so impressed that I joined the VIP club and ordered a case en primeur. Roll on November when it will arrive in the UK and I’ll have to try and keep my hands off it for a decade or so!

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New Zealand Wine Tour January 2020, Part 3, Hawkes Bay, Gimblett Gravels

 

Vidal wines

I was looking forward to seeing Hugh Crichton again. We had done a dinner together in London a few years ago and his wines really impressed. He trained as a winemaker at Plumpton College, then gained experience in St Emilion, Central Otago, Gisborne and Italy and has been Vidal’s winemaker since 2006. They are renowned for their powerful Legacy Chardonnay. Vidal wines are some of the oldest in New Zealand, started by Spaniard Anthony Joseph Vidal who bought an acre of land in 1905.  They were bought by Villa Maria in 1976. Vidal’s winemaking facility has just been moved to the Te Awa Estate in Gimblett Gravels, bringing new challenges however Hugh also sees advantages of having several winemakers under the same roof.

The wines are  tiered from  Estate, Reserve, Soler to Legacy

 

Wines tasted-

Vidal Sauvignon Blanc 2019

From fruit in Awatere Valley more grassy herbaceous cool than warmer Wairau Valley fruit which can give  more tropical flavours Gently pressed and cool fermented lees ageing, Lovely texture, passion fruit, acidity,  classic Marlborough style

Vidal Estate Chardonnay 2018

Citrus stone fruit and vibrant acid

Vidal réserve Chardonnay 2018

From premium Hawkes bay sites, Keltern, Kokako and Lyons. Flinty smoky buttery partial Malo, partial wild yeast lees, aged lovely soft texture.

Vidal Soler Chardonnay 2018

Fruit from Ohiti valley low crop 10 months on lees with regular stirring, reduced nose, Full bodied Chardonnay, oak toast brioche smoke minerality butter 100% wild yeast great length full body + lovely Chardonnay

Vidal Reserve Syrah 2018

Gimblett Gravels 800 hectares Omaha And Twyford alluvial gravel with silt and sand free draining low vigour low yields natural and green harvesting keeps warmth in the night. Floral red fruit nose loganberry perfumed (2% Viognier co ferment)

Vidal legacy Syrah 2014 from decanter

Black pepper, blackberry spice, perfume soft dry tannins, fresh natural acid good balance delicious wine

 

 


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New Zealand Wine Tour January 2020, Part 3, Hawke’s Bay, Esk Valley

Gordon Russell winemaker at Esk Valley for 25 years

We were hosted by the winemaker of over 25 years Gordon Russell. Esk Valley like Vidal are under the umbrella of Sir George Fistonich’s Villa Maria brand. They have recently moved their wine production  to Te Awa in Gimblett gravels. Esk valley vineyards are some of original plantings 10 km North of Napier and amongst the first to plant Verdelho and Malbec and Merlot. They maintain Gordons philosophy, a specific concrete vat was made for the new winery at Te Awa.

Wines tasted

Esk Valley Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2019

Marlbourough fruit, sites from 69% Wairau Valley, mix of gravel and clay warmer than Awatere ValleyPlenty of texture here from lees ageing and richness is obvious, Aromatic gooseberry fresh wine good balance and length

Esk Valley Verdelho 2018 ( only 7 hectares nationwide)

Planted in 1998 and 2002 first Verdelho vines in New Zealands history, 1 hectare in Gimblett gravels low cropped, on stony soils,oak barrel fermented, wild yeast lees stirring, Citrus slight, orange full bodied  fresh acidity.

Esk Valley Pinot Gris 2019

Slight rose tint, tank and old barrels ferment lees ageing and stirring, Pear citrus lovely texture and finish

Esk Valley Chardonnay 2018

Tropical fruit subtle oak butter vanilla 27% Malolactic 75% barrel fermented, minimal intervention

Esk Valley winemakers réserve 2016

lovely smooth fresh ripe tannins blackberry plum, Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Malbec one of First New Zealand Merlot producers, oak aged 17 months 40% new

 

Esk Valley the terraces Malbec Merlot Cabernet 2016

Co-fermented together 40/33/27 one hectare site above Esk Valley winery originally planted in 1940.

Concrete vat ferment hand plunging 50% new oak 17 months unfined, unfiltered, Velvety tannins fragrant black fruit

Interestingly for a New Zealand wine this is sold en primeur.

Esk Valley wines appear to be excellent value for money especially the entry level range. They reflect  Gordon’s   wine making talent and experience.

 


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New Zealand Wine Tour, Hawke’s Bay, January 2020

The Hawke’s Bay is perfectly placed as New Zealand’s second largest wine region.  Known for being one of the hottest and driest regions of New Zealand, it is the fruit basket bay on the East coast of the North island – producing tonnes of delicious fruit, especially apples for international export on a small flat coastal plan and surrounding hill terraces.

The region might not yet be as world renowned as its NZ Southern wine neighbours and their international successes (Sauvignon Blanc in Marlborough, Pinot Noir in Central Otago), but it is New Zealand’s oldest wine region and steeped a rich wine growing history from the late 1800s.  Each of the vineyards we visited had current links to early New Zealand wine pioneers (Marist religious brothers, Anthony Vidal (1905), Tom Macdonald) and late 19th  century established plantings (Esk valley terraces, Te Mata estate).  After a period of settling and experimentation, the region has now focused on what it grows and produces well – Chardonnay, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blends.

There are now over 200 vineyards planted over  about 5,000 hectares mainly on the Heretuanga plains which includes the famed Gimblett gravels and Bridge pa triangle which are essentially terraces left behind by Ngaruroro River. The Gimblett gravels pure gravel beds arise from the changed course of the river in 1867. The ground is ideal for top quality viticulture, good drainage and the vine roots have to struggle through the gravels for nutrients.

 

 

 

Mission estate

Mission Estate is steeped in history being New Zealand’s oldest winery dating back to 1851, the first commercial sales began in 1870.

It was set up by Missionaries, Marist priests left who France in1836 landing in 1838. It is still owned by the order of St Mary Church. Their current winemaker is Paul Mooney, the first non priest to have this role. Fruit is acquired from lots growers in Hawke’s Bay including Marlborough and Central Otago.

Categories of wines go from Estate, entry level volume: Vineyard selection cellar door only, Reserve wines low crop fruit thinning, more concentrated wine more in barrel more new oak. Jewelstone top wine only in most exceptional parcels in great years

My friend Aaron remembers when he was brought here on a school residential in 1987. They offered him the opportunity to train to be a priest which he politely declined.

 

Wine tasting hosted by Phillip Van Der Walt

Mission Estate fête Hawkes Bay

Pinot Gris 94% Chardonnay 6% charmat method pear nutty almond

Mission Estate Old vine 40 years semilon small block

Likes heat too cool generally in nz Hawkes bay warm enough to produce tropical pineapple characters

Citrus moderate acid, I didn’t find classic semillon characteristics

Mission Estate Jewelstone Rose  2019

First ever jewelstone Rose 2019 only 3 barrels made Gimblett Gravels 80 Merlot 20 can sav plenty fresh red fruit, really good rose

Mission Estate Jewelstone Pinot noir 2018

Red cherry straight fire nice balance from Central Otago

Mission Estate 2018 Syrah Gimblet gravels

Spice pepper mod tannins lighter style Ground black and green peppercorns

Mission Estate Late harvest Riesling 2018

Sometimes botyrtis tiny amount blended with Viognier and arneis 106 g l,Juicy ripe apricot

Mission Estate Barrel sample Huchet Chardonnay

2018 sl nutty a bit oxidised almond hazelnut nice texture Dry texture barrel older barrels


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New Zealand Wine Tour January 2020, Part 3, Hawke’s Bay, Te Awanga Coastal Region

Tim Turvey owner of Clearview demonstrating his new wiring system

Te Awanga is on the coast, south of Napier and benefits  from the moderating effects of the Pacific ocean. It is ideally situated for white, cooler climate varietals. We visited Elephant Hill and Clearview Estate.

Clearview Estate

 

From the moment of meeting the owner of Clearview, Tim Turvey, it was obvious that he knows how to grow stuff (pineapples, pine trees, avocado, juniper berries, olives basically everything you can think of) He has the determination and stamina to both work hard and play hard to make his success.   Tim purchased a small plot of bare land in the mid 1980 with a view to doing what he knows best, and it wasn’t long before he used his skills to grow grapes and producing wine from this bare patch. Looking around the olive and avocado shaded restaurant, the name “Clearview” no longer suits the heavily planted property. Tim has literally dug every post hole and strained every new wire. He discovered a small plaque whilst digging which revealed that this was the second site of the original Vidal vineyard.

Tim’s enthusiasm and commitment to his endeavour was obvious. He was quick to show us his recently innovations including a new steel post system to replace hours of back breaking hole digging. His best recent story was the accidental discovery that sheep let loose in the vines, leaf strip to the perfect height without eating the berries (and saving the cost and boredom of employing humans to do this)

He now has a small product of typical styles of the region and other more experimental follies. We enjoyed lunch in the shaded gardens while Tim brought out pairs of wine for us to try. I was too focused on the delicious the 28 day aged ribeye to make formal tasting notes.

 

Wines tasted

Tim makes six Chardonnays we tried 3 of these and the highly rated top of the range endeavour chardonnay made with extremely low yields, they were fruit driven wines with lovely balance. The Rose had good colour and lovely red fruits, more traditional style rather than the newer vogue for more subtle barely coloured Rose. Interestingly it is made with Chambourcin an unusual hybrid grape with red flesh.The Endeavour red 2016 is only made in exceptional years revealed the quality of fruit here.We finished with Sea Red – a lightly fortified red wine made from cane cut grapes to increase the sugar content. None of the wine is cellared and mostly sells to the NZ market or at the cellar door, at reasonable prices given the high quality of wine.

Tim was too generous and passionate to leave it there. We were taken went to his authentic winery to taste a selection of barrel samples. I noticed an unusual brown cladding to some of his fermentation tanks which is a material derived from his surf board making days. Tim said it’s the best insulator he’s found. We finished with a sample from a tiny barrel of botrytized Chardonnay painstakingly made from very small quantities of noble rotted fruit. It was phenomenal and a fitting end to one of the best wine experiences I’ve had over the years.

Elephant Hill

The magnificent no expense spared winery at Elephant Hill

Elephant Hill is a new comer to the region with high tech new facilities officially opened in 2008. The focus is on low yield from top quality sites. It was originally set up by the late founder Roger Weiss  and is now led by his son Andreas.The winery is stunning, designed by architect John Blair. It is Bauhaus, clean lined  covered with beautiful turquoise coloured copper which during a  four and a half year process it was oxidized in Germany to give this effect. It blends in seamlessly with the colours of the sea off Cape Kidnappers.

They have 62 hectares  including holdings in the Bridge Pa triangle and Gimblett Gravels and Te Awanga on the coast, and are one of the top 5 Syrah producers in New Zealand. Categories of wines go from Estate to Reserve to Limited edition and Ultimately Icons

 

Wines Tasted

 

Elephant Hill Estate Chardonnay 2016

pickled lemon, citrus, fresh, some smoke barrel influence texture

Elephant Hill Reserve Chardonnay 2017

More smoke flintiness wood vanilla possible salinity r(ight by the Pacific and sometimes the sea washes up to vineyard) No or minimal malo, hazelnut almond on the palate not overtly buttery Very nice length

Elephant Hill Icon Salome 2017 after Maria Salome family history dating to 1700’s

Rich well seasoned barrel, First year T5 Malo 35% pineapple, mango,, nuttiness saltiness long long on plate and sides mouth

Elephant Hill Stone 2016 Syrah

Black fruit lovely soft ripe tannins flinty stony good acid ,1% Viognier

Elephant Hill Airavata Syrah 2015

70 Gimblett gravels 30% Te awanga, fruit, soft silky tannins, floral soft fruit tone cherry and spice black pepper

Elephant Hill Hieronymus 2015

Full bodied delicious black fruit tannin and chocolate 41 cs 22 merlot 17 cab franc Malbec 8 Tempranillo, smoky leathery Structured tannins. Needs a few more years

 

Special thanks to Aaron O’Connell for his help writing this post and his companionship during many days of hard work in Hawke’s Bay

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New Zealand Wine Tour January 2020, Part 3, Hawke’s Bay, Taradale

Church Road

 

 

We reached Church Road winery via a lovely, easy, flat, dedicated bike trail from Napier which hugs the coast, initially going past the harbour full of commercial logs ready for export to China. It then goes via the wetlands created when the ground rose by over 6 feet during the devastating earthquake of 1931, it was initially the harbour. Church Road has a long history dating back to 1897 when a former member of the Mission founded Taradale Vineyards on a 2 hectare site. Tom McDonald who worked since age 14 on the vines and in charge of property aged only 19. It later became McDonald wines. Tom pioneered some of New Zealand’s earliest wines receiving an OBE in 1976. Now owned by Pernod Ricard the range is diverse including unusual varietals such as Marzemino and Sauvugnon Gris. The Grand Reserve and flagship TOM are only made in the best years.

 

Church Road Pinot Gris Gwen 2019

Smooth textured sl tropical fruit guava

Church Road 1 Chardonnay 2018

Smoky flinty Chardonnay Juliette said smells of twiglets I think reflecting the lees ageing smoky savoury texture

Church Road Gwen Rose 2019

Merlot 92% Tempranillo 7% Malbec 1% more subtle Provence style Rose

Church Road Rose 2019

Californian style, red cherry raspberry fruit forward

Church Road Marzemino 2018 (grape from Trento Alto Adige, Italy)

Nice soft tannin dry good acid back bone

Church Road Tempranillo 2017

3 other growers of Tempranillo in Hawkes bay, blue fruits hint mocha

Church Road Grand réserve Syrah 2017

Lighter elegant style Syrah floral red fruit, as a few people have commented this is our Hawke’s Bay pinot.

Church Road Tom Syrah 2015

Flagship Syrah named after  Tom McDonald.  black fruits but tasted Slightly Porty ?oxidised

Church Road TOM Cabernet Sauvignon  Merlot 2015

Grand Reserve Cabernet from Bridge Pa site 66%  Merlot 23% from Gimblett Gravels TOM +++ best wine yet of Hawke’s Bay tastings but $220 per bottle! Only at cellar door or duty free.

Brilliant…Just after telling Aaron these super premium wines are wines not worth it I took a swirl of this in my mout and told him I take back everything I just said!. Amazingly concentrated long complex plum black cherry violet cedar vanilla with beautifully integrated fine grained ripe tannins fruit oak and intensity, long long on palate one to age for a long time