WanderCurtis Wine

Wine tastings, corporate events, reviews and recommendations


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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, 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, 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


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

Craggy Range

My visit to Craggy Range was well overdue. Their wines have long been one of my favourites. My first experience of them was a Craggy Range Le Sol back in 2004 at a wine society tasting in London with my French brother in law Seb. We were instantly struck by the concentration and intensity of this wine. So good was the Le Sol, we acquired a bottle that same evening and took as a BYO to the nearest Steakhouse. Kiran and I have long been fans of their excellent Bordeaux blend, Sophia, and have enjoyed many vintages over the years. The overall commitment to excellence shines through in their wines which we know well having hosted wine dinners over the years with Steve Smith MW. Steve has now left and set up his own business with American Brian Sheth (Smith and Sheth)
Craggy Range is owned by The Peabody family who have put it in a 1,000 year trust so it can never be sold, with the intention of creating a true legacy. The winery is a no expense spared tome to wine, set in magnificent gardens at the foot Te Mata peak.
The modern beautifully designed  winery is purely for Sophia. The other wines are made in a different site. We had the wine tasting in the garden enjoying the Hawke’s Bay summer.

Wines Tasted

Craggy Range Chardonnay 2019 kidnappers bay
Lemon citrus good acid fresh minerality
Craggy Range Les Beaux Cailloux 2017
This has not been made for a few years due to lead roll virus destroying the vineyards which have since been replanted.
Mineral soft textured smoky with beautiful balance. Pete the head somm rubbed together the stones found in the vineyard. The resulting aroma reflected some of the smoky minerals flinty nature of the wine. I couldn’t help myself in licking the stones which had a salty smoky taste, surprisingly delicious!
Craggy Range Te muna Road 2016 Pinot Noir
From Vineyards in Martinborough, Lovely ripe fruit cherry plum soft tannins
Craggy Range Te muna Aroha 2017 Pinot Noir
Sources from Vineyards in Martinborough Rich ++ complex perfume gamey wild berries could splash it on soft silky tannins ++ fantastic quality Pinot Noir displaying why this grape is so intoxicating.Aroha means love a very fitting name for this wine.
Abel clone gumboot clone ? origin from DRC clones smuggled back to NZ and confiscated.
Craggy Range Le sol 2016
100% Syrah20% whole bunch rich smooth blueberry long lovely tannins
Unidimensional at this stage, needs time to develop
Craggy Range Sophia 2011 and 2016
2016
Merlot dominant cab sav cab franc
Tannins beautiful acid lovely fruit beautiful wine+  mocha
2011 more complex but hint of oxidation
As expected the wines were fantastic reflecting the philosophy and investment here. Peter explained that after years of research based on blind tastings of screw caps, Diam and cork that everything from now will be bottled with screw cap. A trend that is understandably becoming more universal.


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New Zealand Wine Tour January 2020, Part 2- Northland – Doubtless Bay

 

Dancing Petrel Wines

Whilst sitting enjoying coffee at Waterfront bar in Mangonui, I spotted some beautiful vineyards on the slopes at the far side of the harbour. These are the vines of the newly founded Dancing Petrel Wines named after the Storm Petrel, which pirouettes across the waves. I was hosted by the very welcoming owner, Kim Gilkinson who has lived here since 2012 and bought the vineyards in 2018. She says the vines were not in the best condition. However she has put a lot of work in since. The plantings include a small planting of Tannat and recently Gewürztraminer. The wines are made at Marsden winery.

Wines Tasted

Dancing Petrel Viognier 2018

Carbonated, fresh apple apricot floral nice balance easy drinking

Dancing Petrel Viognier 2018

not overtly floral, apricot in the finish, dried apricot chews nice balance length sl saltiness

Dancing Petrel Viognier 2018 (Oaked) slight nutty on the nose

Dancing Petrel Pinot Gris

some fruit pear subtle

Dancing Petrel Rose

Syrah and Cabernet Franc hints of red fruits

 

This is not the easiest place are to produce grapes given the high rainfall and predominantly clay soils. However, given the amount of warmth and the North facing slopes, there is some potential. The stunning location on Paewhenua Island with 360 degree panoramic views over Mangonui harbour and the tourism should aid a new wine business.


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New Zealand Wine Tour January 2020, Part 2- Northland – Marsden Estate

Marsden Estate, Kerikeri, Bay of Islands, Northland, New Zealand

 

 

Rod Macivor founder of Marsden was preparing for his earliest harvest on record. So early that he was having trouble acquiring the yeast supply. Never in the 27 years since commencing Marsden has the harvest been this early. It had been a particularly dry few months. How much may be down to global warming is unknown, but this felt like an ominous sign. I had travelled to Marsden in Kerikeri near The Bay of Islands having heard about Marsden’s quality and the award winning Black Rocks Chardonnay. I was lucky enough to be hosted by Rod despite him being immersed in work. They had one of their grape growers field day/workshops today. Marsden works a bit like a Co-op with Rod making wine for over 40 individual growers. This reflects the scattered nature of Northlands wine growing areas over a large distance, the remoteness and low volumes produced. It’s not the easiest place to grow grapes with the high rainfall and humidity increasing risks such as fungal disease.

I was lucky enough to meet Mark Nobilo who with his many years of knowledge and wisdom advises local growers and winemakers in his own time. I also met Ben Byrne, winemaker at the expansive and heavily invested property; The Landing, which is making quite a name for itself.

 

Wines Tasted

Marsden Pinot Gris 2019

Floral pear textured slight spicy finish

Marsden Black Rocks Chardonnay 2018 +

Lovely buttery malo nose vanilla toasty peach. lees contact, smooth toasty oak long vanilla finish 30 % new oak lees few months

Marsden Viognier 2019

apricot tinned peach, bitterness good acidity

Marsden Tempranillo 2015

Red berry, chocolate yoghurt oak soft tannins 12 months oak cellar savoury

Marsden Chambourcin 2015

 American French hybrid recently commercial, salami nose peppery

Cured meats spice smooth good acidity

Marsden Syrah Vigot 2015 +

Mixture ripe blackberries spices turmeric pepper, lovely wine. I had to buy a bottle as well as the Chardonnay and Pinot Gris!

Barrel sample tannat

Blueberry and good tannin excellent development and approachability despite being a barrel sample.

 

The wines are made very well. I particularly enjoyed the Syrah and it was good to try a wine with 5 years of age.

It was interesting to try the Chambourcin, something more unusual which is adapted for the climate up here.

I enjoyed meeting Rod who exudes generosity, passion and ability which is reflected in his excellent wines.

 

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New Zealand Wine Tour January 2020 – Part 1 Auckland Region, Mangere

Villa Maria Estate was founded by George Fistonich, now Sir George, in the 1960’s and is still family run. They have extensive holdings in Auckland, Marlborough and Hawkes Bay. The 40 hectare site sits on an extinct volcano, the crater creating a natural amphitheatre. They hold summer concerts, past performers include Simply Red, Radiohead, Rona Keating, Simple Minds, Tom Jones. In March Aha and Rik Astley are booked, a great excuse to prolong my stay!

We were guided through their wines by winemaker David Roper in their aged cellar. Categories of wine start with Private Bin, then Cellar selection, Platinum (recently introduced) and their best wines are the Reserve selection.

Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2019
Nice texture not in your face Sauvignon, David explained this was a warm year thus the added roundness to the fruit.
More subtle gooseberry, passion fruit, classic Marlborough, flagship seller (1 million cases)
Villa Maria Reserve Clifford Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2019
Sl smokiness really smooth texture
More texture, passion fruit stone fruit herbaceous about 6 months lees ageing real  smoothness excellent wine ++
Quantity only 6000 to 10000 cases
Villa Maria Private Pinot Gris 2019
 Pear drop, blend of fruit north and south Island, ripe pears guava
Nice texture too 5 g residual. A nice example of NZ Pinot Gris
Villa Maria Private Bin Chardonnay 2018
Blend of both islands more fruit from North Hawkes Bay and Gisbourne
toast, smoke, some Malo oak from addition can be staves/chips/dust
17,000 cases
Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Noir 2018
Simple red cherryfruit Pinot not much length or finish neutral barrels
Villa Maria Cellar sélection Pinot Noir 2018
More smoke earthiness savouriness oak
Villa Maria Private Bin Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
Lots of fruit black and red and plums and smokiness soft mellow tannins food friendly Merlot dominated
85% rule re labelling
Villa Maria Reserve Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
Perfumed violets floral ripe black fruit concentrated black fruit
Really ripe and lovely texture

 

I was really impressed by Villa Maria’s quality and consistency and price range. The 2019’s have only recently been bottled but were drinking beautifully.

We had a lovely lunch in their restaurant outside, overlooking the vines and tried a few more wines, including their excellent Albarino which had a distinctive saltiness. Then a walk in the Albarino vines with David Roper who had managed to put up with our company for 3 hours.


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New Zealand Wine Tour January 2020 – Part 1 Auckland Region – Kumeu

 

A Seat at the Table?

This is the title of the excellent, recently released film poses the question –  Has New Zealand earned a seat at the table  as a maker of the worlds best wines?

I think so, but I am biased. I’ve loved everything about New Zealand since I worked as a Junior Doctor here, at the Wairau Hospital in Marlborough a quarter of a century ago. It was then a fledgling region with most of the land in the Wairau and Awatere valley bare and full of sheep. How I wish I’d bought a few acres! A lot has changed since then with New Zealand showing itself as a world class producer of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay not just a mass producer of its most widely planted grape Sauvignon Blanc.

I had decided to take a sabbatical from work and what better place to be than in  New Zealand for Summer. My tour will span major regions in North Island, starting in Auckland, then to Northland, Hawkes Bay and ending up in Waiheke Island. I plan to review my favourite wines and give an up to date picture of the latest trends in the New Zealand wine industry.

Kumeu River Wines

 

The quality of Kumeu River Chardonnay is well know and I’ve been buying it for years from the wine society. The blind tasting in 2015  arranged by Stephen Browett of Farr Vintners in London confirmed their excellence when they scored higher than famed Burgundies.
This was one of the visits I was most looking forward to in New Zealand. The estate is close to Auckland city which is causing problems.
Paul Brajkovich our host for the afternoon explained that many local vineyards which used to supply fruit have been sold for property development from the encroaching city.
He talked us through the family history and how his grandfather escaping conscription into the army (Croatia was part of the Austro Hungarian empire) arrived in New Zealand in the early 1900s and starting planting grapes on this site.
We were lucky enough to be joined at the tasting by Paul’s brother Michael Brajkovich MW,New Zealand’s first Master of Wine and briefly met Melba the late Matés wife.
We tried the whole range of 2018 wines and a few treats to follow.
I was too busy speaking to Paul and Michael to make  tasting notes on all the wines. They were all of excellent quality, as Suzi demonstrated, they were too good to spit!
Kumeu River Estate Pinot Gris 2018
I really liked the texture here lovely textured mouthfeel with aromatics, florality and stone fruit.
Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay 2018
Well balanced citrus, stone fruit silky texture, consistently good and very good value
Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay 2018
More complexity with hint of florality citrus and stone fruit lovely texture and length too
 
Kumeu Village Pinot Noir 2019
This is the first vintage from Rays Road Hawkes Bay fruit
Lovely bright red cherry aromas red fruit on the palate nicely balanced
A very good value Pinot
Kumeu River Hunting Hill Pinot noir 2017
Classic Pinot nose with earth and gaminess but still some red fruits good length and mouthfeel
 
Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay 2103
This showed ageing potential of these wines after 7 years still plenty of citrus and freshness with added complexity and hazelnuts
The attention to detail and low intervention with techniques such as  hand harvesting, whole bunch pressing, barrel fermentation use of wild yeast, gentle racking and oak ageing really shines through and there is no doubt these wines are every bit as good as top Burgundy.


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Wines of Vidal, New Zealand with Hugh Crichton. Friday October 7th 7.30pm

Vidal wines, bottle and design details

Vidal Wines of Hawkes Bay was founded over 100 years ago .

They produce pure varietal wines which New Zealand is famed for.We tasted

Vidal Estate Chardonnay 2014

Reserve Chardonnay 2015

Legacy Chardonnay 2014

Estate Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Reserve Syrah 2013

Legacy Syrah 2011

Menu
Wild mushroom risotto
Sirloin steak, Padron peppers, hand cut chips, peppercorn sauce
Selection of cheese from The Cheese Plate (with quince jelly)

Hugh Crichton , (Vidal’s head winemaker since 2006 who has previously worked at Chateau Soutard Grand Cru Classe in St Emillion and Donnafugata in Italy) had us all totally captivated , his passion clear for all to see . The quality of the wines shone through.

Wine of the night

Legacy Chardonnay 2014 -This is right up there with top Premier Cru Burgundy and has the awards to show for it.

Complex , toasty, smoky, beautiful crisp acidity with a long finish and lush mouthfeel .