The wines chal­leng­ing an icon of Kiwi viti­cul­ture

The China Post - - ARTS -

Sauvi­gnon Blanc ac­counts for 72 per­cent of New Zealand wine pro­duc­tion and an even more stag­ger­ing 86 per­cent of wine ex­ports. Kiwi Sauvi­gnon Blanc is one of those global suc­cess sto­ries al­most with­out peer. The highly mem­o­rable Cloudy Bay la­bel show­ing early morn­ing mists ris­ing off gen­tle slopes helped to make Sauvi­gnon Blanc as iconic an im­age of New Zealand as a flock of sheep.

Woe be­tide that it should have a peer which might threaten its ap­pear­ance to­day on ev­ery bar counter, ev­ery wine list, and ev­ery wine shelf. If it were to be­come yesterday’s wine, what would hap­pen to the New Zealand wine in­dus­try?

Pinot Noir is the most im­por­tant red grape in New Zealand but ac­counts for just 8 per­cent of pro­duc­tion (and 6 per­cent of ex­ports). Wine lovers have long sought some iconic la­bels — Mart­in­bor­ough Vine­yard in Mart­in­bor­ough, Neu­dorf in Nel­son on South Is­land, and Mount Dif­fi­culty and Fel­ton Road in Cen­tral Otago’s classy Ban­nock­burn sub­re­gion. But over­all, New Zealand reds do not have much of a strong rep­u­ta­tion out­side the coun­try, or be­yond elite Pinot Noir con­fer­ences.

While some Pinot lovers may find the wines of Cen­tral Otago a bit too alco- holic and pow­er­ful, or a bit too rich and fruity, the more struc­tured and sa­vory wines of Mart­in­bor­ough are well worth a look. Julicher Pinot Noir 2011 is just be­gin­ning to de­velop some funky notes as­so­ci­ated with bot­tle age but is still a pow­er­ful wine very much in the New World camp. Also pro­duced from grapes from the Te Muna sin­gle vine­yard on Te Muna Road is Craggy Range Pinot Noir 2013, show­ing the el­e­gance of a fresher vintage, though a sense of re­straint seems to come through on all this pro­ducer’s wines.

Yet some­thing of a red revo­lu­tion is hap­pen­ing. Grow­ers have been slowly iden­ti­fy­ing the best plots for spe­cific red va­ri­eties, and con­sol­i­dat­ing their of­fer­ings. Craggy Range, for ex­am­ple, was mak­ing four dif­fer­ent Pinot Noirs and grow­ing grapes ev­ery­where. Its new fo­cus is on Hawkes Bay and Mart­in­bor­ough and to a lesser ex­tent Marl­bor­ough. Note that Cen­tral Otago, which has tended to have an ex­cel­lent rep­u­ta­tion for Pinot Noir, is not on the list.

One of the more Old World style pro­duc­ers in New Zealand, Craggy Range, is also work­ing to­wards hold­ing back some vin­tages, to bet­ter il­lus­trate the po­ten­tial of reds for ag­ing. The pre­mium Craggy Range Sophia 2011, as an ex­am­ple, is closed and chunky at this stage.

The “dis­cov­ery” of Gim­blett Grav­els on the North Is­land for red pro­duc­tion is up­ping New Zealand’s ante (though there’s some white there, too). The Grav­els has al­lowed the coun­try to turn out some highly el­e­gant, fully ripened Syrahs and Mer­lots in par­tic­u­lar, with ex­cel­lent ag­ing po­ten­tial.

The dis­trict has an ex­tremely short viti­cul­tural history. Un­til the late 1980s it was re­garded as the poor­est, least pro­duc­tive tract of land in Hawke’s Bay — ap­par­ently re­quir­ing 3 acres of land to sup­port a sin­gle sheep! Vines, as we know, have no prob­lem with the poor­est, grav­elly soils.

The first red pro­duced there was a 1985 Bordeaux blend from CJ Pask. Af- ter win­ning at wine shows and tast­ings all over the coun­try, this wine en­cour­aged other pro­duc­ers to set up shop in the Grav­els. The area has gone from strength to strength, even be­com­ing bold enough to take on Bordeaux head to head in blind tast­ings.

Craggy Range Syrah 2011 is highly aro­matic of spicy plums and though it is rea­son­ably fruit-for­ward it is quite clas­si­cal, too, and would ben­e­fit from time. Awarded Sauvi­gnon Blanc pro­duc­ers Saint Clair is do­ing great things with red, too. With grapes mainly from the Gim­blett Grav­els re­gion, they’ve crafted the Saint Clair Fam­ily Es­tate Mer­lot 2013 — a very well-made wine that man­ages to con­tain any Mer­lot ex­u­ber­ance and fin­ishes smoothly el­e­gant. Ele­phant Hill Syrah 2013, from grapes mostly sourced from the Grav­els and var­i­ous coastal vine­yards, is sim­i­larly el­e­gant with lovely vi­o­let petal aro­mat­ics.

Pinot Noir is also get­ting a look in here, in ad­di­tion to the “big­ger” red va­ri­eties. Selini Cel­lar Se­lec­tion Pinot Noir 2014 re­fuses to fit any molds: it is pale pink in color, light in style and cer­tainly a wine to chill. It is great to see wines be­ing made here out­side the for­mu­las too of­ten ap­plied to New Zealand’s Sauvi­gnon Blanc. Stephen Quinn writes about wine for a va­ri­ety of publi­ca­tions in the re­gion. From 1975 he was a jour­nal­ist for two decades with the Bangkok Post; the BBC, The Guardian, ITN, the UK Press As­so­ci­a­tion; TVNZ; the Mid­dle East Broad­cast­ing Cen­ter in Dubai and a range of re­gional news­pa­pers in Aus­tralia. Dr. Quinn be­came a jour­nal­ism ed­u­ca­tor in 1996, but re­turned to jour­nal­ism full time in 2011. He is based in Hong Kong and is the au­thor of 17 books. Annabel Jack­son has worked in the wine in­dus­try for more than 20 years, and has writ­ten 8 books about wine and food. She is an Ad­vanced Am­bas­sador of the Academy of Wines of Por­tu­gal, and teaches wine mar­ket­ing at the Univer­sity of Brighton in the United King­dom.

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