Chance of wine

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - TASTE -

Leav­ing just enough buds (about eight, on av­er­age) on each vine en­sures there isn’t too much com­pe­ti­tion among the vines when they start shoot­ing up­wards, and that there is the op­ti­mal amount of fruit, not too much or too lit­tle, re­quired to make their wines. It also en­sures that the vines get enough sun­light ex­po­sure, which is im­por­tant for the de­vel­op­ment of the fruit’s flavour.

So there I was, mak­ing my own lit­tle mark on a Cloudy Bay grapevine, and con­tribut­ing a tiny bit to­wards the mak­ing of ar­guably the best-known wines from New Zealand. It may have been just a sim­ple ex­er­cise, but it was a fas­ci­nat­ing look at how ev­ery bot­tle of wine starts from a sim­ple lit­tle task like cut­ting a few branches off an old vine.

Es­tab­lished in 1985 by David Hohnen, the founder of Aus­tralian win­ery Cape Men­telle from the Mar­garet River re­gion, Cloudy Bay Vine­yards is lo­cated in the Wairau Val­ley in Marl­bor­ough at the north­ern end of New Zealand’s South Is­land, just a stone’s throw away from the town of Blen­heim.

The win­ery takes its name from the bay at the east­ern end of the Wairau Val­ley, named by Cap­tain Cook on his voy­age to New Zealand in 1770, and is known as one of the pioneers of New Zealand wines and for es­tab­lish­ing Marl­bor­ough as a renowned wine-grow­ing re­gion. Though they are prob­a­bly most fa­mous for their Sau­vi­gnon Blanc, Cloudy Bay’s other main va­ri­eties in­clude Chardon­nay and Pinot Noir, as well as lesser quan­ti­ties of Gewurz­traminer, Ries­ling, and Pinot Gris.

Cloudy Bay wines are ex­ported to over 30 mar­kets world­wide, the prin­ci­pal ones be­ing Aus­tralia, Bri­tian, Europe, Ja­pan and the United States. It is dis­trib­uted in Malaysia by Moët Hen­nessy Di­a­geo Malaysia.

Get­ting to know Pinot

Ev­ery year around Septem­ber, Cloudy Bay hosts the an­nual Pinot At Cloudy Bay event, where wine-lovers and crit­ics con­gre­gate at the win­ery’s cel­lar door to do a blind tast­ing of 18 dif­fer­ent Pinot Noir wines from all over the world, care­fully se­lected by the cu­ra­tors from Cloudy Bay, and to fur­ther ap­pre­ci­ate the won­ders of Pinot Noir.

This was more than a tast­ing for me. It was an ed­u­ca­tion of sorts. I’ll be the first to ad­mit I’m not ex­actly a wine ex­pert, and that this was prob­a­bly the first time I was par­tic­i­pat­ing in a blind tast­ing of that scale. How­ever, as the first six wines were poured (the wines were di­vided into three “brack­ets” of six, pre­sum­ably to al­low the palate to rest in be­tween wines), I was drawn, sip by sip, into a world of wine I never knew ex­isted, and given a les­son on the finer points of Pinot Noir wines, on how dif­fer­ent re­gions can pro­duce dif­fer­ent pinots, how Old World and New World wines can be so sim­i­lar yet so dif­fer­ent, and how even though each wine comes from the same va­ri­ety of grapes, each wine would have its own unique­ness. Any­way, this was not a com­pe­ti­tion. We were not out to de­cide which Pinot Noir was bet­ter than the other. This was more of an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of what good Pinot Noir is, and to see how New Zealand’s own Pinot Noir stands up to the rest of the world.

“This is Cloudy Bay’s per­spec­tive of what we think are in­ter­est­ing Pinot Noir wines, and you’re see­ing the world of Pinot Noir from the lens of the Cloudy Bay team,” said Cloudy Bay es­tate di­rec­tor Ian Mor­den dur­ing an in­ter­view af­ter the tast­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to him, Pinot At Cloudy Bay was con­ceived 14 years ago as a fo­rum to ex­pose lo­cal New Zealand wine­mak­ers to the best Pinot Noir wines from all over the world.

“To make great wine, one needs to taste great wine,” he said “Since the event started, New Zealand Pinot Noir has evolved and de­vel­oped and has be­come much more so­phis­ti­cated than it was 14 years ago.

“One of the pur­poses of this event is to show an in­ter­est­ing and rep­re­sen­ta­tive ex­am­ple of the great Pinot Noirs of the world to the au­di­ence here, and to chal­lenge our­selves, to see how our own wines com­pare.

“We also want en­cour­age de­bate and dis­cus­sion about how a great Pinot Noir should be, so that we can keep im­prov­ing. We’re re­ally only at the be­gin­ning of the jour­ney with Pinot Noir in New Zealand.”

For this year’s Pinot event, Cloudy Bay wine­maker Nick Lane worked with Aus­tralian writer, judge and in­de­pen­dent wine con­sul­tant So­phie Ot­ton in cu­rat­ing the wine se­lec­tion.

“The wines I chose were the ones I know in the Aus­tralian mar­ket and had quite a rep­u­ta­tion too. Our main cri­te­ria were based on rep­u­ta­tion, con­sis­tency,” said Ot­ton. “Vine age was very im­por­tant to us, be­cause it’s re­ally hard to get that depth and com­plex­ity and wow fac­tor if you haven’t got some strong vine ma­te­rial.”

Two of Cloudy Bay’s wines were also in­cluded in the line-up, namely the Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir 2010, and the Te Wahi Pinot Noir 2010, the win­ery’s first Pinot Noir away from Marl­bor­ough, made with grapes from its Cen­tral Otago vine­yards.

“We put our own wines in there as a chal­lenge to our­selves, and it’s al­ways nervewrack­ing to see how peo­ple re­spond to our wines with­out the la­bel!” Mor­den said with a laugh. “But it’s a re­ally good chal­lenge to do this ev­ery year and make sure our wines stay rel­e­vant and stand up there with the rest.”

White, who was also at the event, reck­oned that the Cloudy Bay wines man­age to hold their own, though he stressed that that was not the point of the ex­er­cise.

“In this sort of tast­ing, there’s al­ways a temp­ta­tion to try and pick your own wines, but I try to avoid that and keep an open mind and just ex­am­ine the wines purely and try not to guess which are mine!” he said. “Blind tast­ings are in­ter­est­ing be­cause once you take the la­bels away, you’re only judg­ing the wine purely on qual­ity.”

Ac­cord­ing to him, what he found sur­pris­ing about this year’s Pinot At Cloudy Bay was that some of the high­est rat­ing wines in the lineup turned out to be some of the cheap­est.

“It shows that there are some great value wines out there. Pinots tend to gen­er­ally be on the more ex­pen­sive end of things in the world of red wines, and that’s re­flec­tive of the work that goes into the vine­yard and where they are grown. But this proves that there are some de­li­cious wines for not a huge amount of money.”

So, what ex­actly is a good Pinot Noir, then? “With a Pinot, you’re look­ing for that pure ex­pres­sion of Pinot Noir fruits, so we’re in that red fruit and dark red fruit spec­trums, you want flo­ral notes, and flow­ing through on the palate, you want a wine that’s got good struc­ture, with a gen­er­ous juici­ness of fruit, in­ter­played with some savoury spice char­ac­ters and earth­i­ness,” said White. “It should have good char­ac­ter, good acid­ity on the palate, and some good length – ul­ti­mately, that’s what we’re look­ing for in a good Pinot Noir.”

For fur­ther in­for­ma­tion about Cloudy Bay, visit www.cloudy­ or www.mhdm.

es­tab­lished in 1985, cloudy bay Vine­yards is lo­cated in the Wairau Val­ley in marl­bor­ough at the north­ern end of New Zealand’s South Is­land, just a stone’s throw away from the town of blen­heim.

cloudy bay wine­maker and viti­cul­tur­ist Jim White ex­plain­ing the viti­cul­tural prac­tices at cloudy bay Vine­yards.

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