Craggy Range Single Vineyard, Te Kahu, Hawkes Bay, Gimblett Gravels, New Zealand, 2010, 13.5% abv.

Gimblett Gravels – try saying that 10 times over after a few glasses of wine. The area is renowned for its Bordeaux blends.

Located in Hawkes Bay on the eastern side of New Zealand’s North Island, Gimblett Gravels is a rarity in the New World. Its 800 ha are demarcated completely in accordance with the deep gravelly ‘greywacke’ soils that lie there. It’s rare to find a New World viticultural region so utterly dependent upon terroir.

Almost unbelievably, the area was not planted until 1981 when the first 20 ha went in. There are some limestone hills in the region that no one has yet planted but the Gimblett Gravels is located at about 30m and the 800 ha are devoted to mostly Bordeaux varieties, some Syrah and 10% whites.

The area is located no more than about 15 km away from the ocean which affects the weather in the region and keeps it slightly cooler than other parts of Hawkes Bay.

The Te Kahu is a single vineyard product and a blend of 80% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Malbec. It is clear and bright, medium purple and has legs.

The nose is clean and developing with medium plus intensity and aromas of ripe fruit including blueberry, black cherry and strawberry, clove, vanilla and cedar frond.

The palate is dry with medium plus acidity, medium alcohol, medium ripe grainy tannins and medium plus body with medium plus intensity and flavours of more plush blueberry, deeply ripe strawberry, black cherry and damson plum with baking spice including vanilla. The finish is medium plus.

This wine is WSET ‘Very Good’; velvety tannins are balanced with the acidity and alcohol and the medium plus intense fruit is complex with the promise of further development. Drink now and is suitable for short ageing.

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Pic Credit, Mike Woods Photography

Emotivo, Prosecco DOC, Veneto, Italia, 11% abv

When it burst onto the international scene post WW2, Prosecco was called the ‘poor man’s champagne’. There’s nothing poor about this Prosecco.

Produced from Glera grapes, the Emotivo is clear and bright, pale lemon with a delicate and long lasting mousse. The nose is clean and youthful with light intensity and aromas of lemon zest, white grapefruit, pomelo and yellow apple.

The palate is ever so slightly off dry with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium minus alcohol and medium intensity with flavours of lemon drop, lime rind, pomelo and hazelnut. The finish is medium plus.

This is WSET ‘Very Good’; delicate fruit composition and mousse with a solid finish and refreshing acidity. Drink now; not suitable for ageing. Enjoy as we did with hors d’oeuvres.

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Pic credit, Mike Woods Photography

Brown Estate, Mickey’s Block Zinfandel, Napa Valley, 2011, 15.2% abv

Oh Mickey, you’re so fine. You’re so fine, you … you know the rest.

Meet Mickey. We’ve held onto this Zinfandel wine for a year now to see what a little time in the bottle would do to it. It’s hard to see how it could become any better.

Zinfandel is the same grape as Primitivo (from Puglia, Italy) and Crljenak Kastelanski (from Croatia). The name Primitivo is said to have happened because a monk noticed these particular vines ripened before the others – hence the moniker meaning, ‘first to ripen’.

This version of Zinfandel hails from the Chiles Valley in Napa, California. Zin didn’t start off with the best of reputations in California where it was formerly produced as ‘white zin’, essentially a jug wine (aka plonk), sweet and light pink and made for easy drinking.

This version has nothing to do with the white zins of yore. No, this is seriously complex and concentrated red wine.

The Mickey’s Block is clear and bright, medium ruby with legs. On the nose it’s clean and developed with medium plus intensity and aromas of deep plum and black cherry, light tar, tobacco, nutmeg, clove and cedar.

The palate is dry with medium plus acidity, medium plus intensity, high alcohol and body with ripe and velvety tannins and flavours of black cherry, cigar box, tobacco leaf, nutmeg, clove, light black licorice and a long finish.

This is WSET ‘Outstanding’; beautifully concentrated fruit well balanced with the alcohol (surprisingly as it’s over 15%) and fully developed complexity. Drink now; not necessary to age further – the tannins are velvety smooth and the acidity is still strong, but it’s unlikely to improve with further time in the bottle. This wine is as rare as hen’s teeth. I was only able to get it by visiting the winery in Napa. If you can find it, hoard it, eventually drink and enjoy it.

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Pic credit, Mike Woods Photography

Villa Teresa Prosecco DOC, Vino Frizzante, Vino Biologico, Friuli, Veneto, Italia 11% abv, C$17

The Italian sparkling wine Prosecco is so popular these days in North America and throughout Europe it has risen to the number one market share spot for sparkling wines in many markets and bumped out Champagne. In 2010 alone, sales of the lightly off dry bubbly skyrocketed 266% in Canada.

Whereas we used to be inundated with Pinot Grigio, now we deal with seas of Prosecco. Even the Beastie Boys have sung about it (‘Sip on Prosecco, dressed up in tuxedo’).

That said, it’s not all negative – there are some affordable and lovely bubblies available and with spring and summer approaching, we tried a few this Easter. Just so we could be prepared… you know.

The Villa Teresa is produced with Glera grapes and is clear and bright, medium lemon with legs and a lightly aggressive mousse. The nose is clean and youthful with light aromas of lemon, lime zest and green apple.

The palate is off dry with medium acidity, medium minus body, medium minus alcohol and medium minus intensity with fruity flavours of yellow apple, grapefruit, lemon and lime. The finish is medium.

WSET ‘Good’ – the light aromas and flavours are delicate and refreshing but not complex and the finish is average. A light and refreshing accompaniment to appetizers. Drink now; not suitable for ageing.

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Pic credit, Mike Woods Photography

Alexana, Shea Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, 2010, 13% abv.

Pinot Noir is a red grape renowned for it’s picky nature. Difficult to grow even under the most ideal conditions, it nevertheless is one of those varieties most winemakers yearn to produce a wine from at some point in their careers.

Its homeland is in Burgundy, but in the New World, it has been successfully grown and produced in several places including Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Located just south of Portland on the west coast of the US, the Willamette Valley is famous for it Jory loam soils and its Pinot Noir.

This finicky grape demands a perfect climate and growing conditions. It has lower pigments and tannins than other red grapes and origins that date back over 2000 years. The Willamette offers a continental climate with maritime influence from the Pacific Ocean. The diurnal shift here is significant and allows the grapes to retain high acidity as a result of cool evenings and cool maritime breezes during the warm days. There is plenty of rain but at the right times of the year and the summers are long and very warm.

Especially prone to spontaneous mutations in the vineyard, Pinot Noir has many different clones for growers to chose from. Most vines grown in the Willamette these days are Dijon clones.

Pinot Noir buds early and as such is susceptible to spring frost and coulure. Its skins are quite thin making it prone to mildew and rot and it’s also prone to viruses such as fanleaf and leafroll. I know – you’re thinking, ‘Wow – what a catch! Why bother?’

Well, truth be told, when grown in the right conditions, with the right yields and vinified appropriately, it is capable of producing some of the most interesting and elegant wines of the world.

There are only about 7,600 ha growing in Oregon (compared to 26,300 in France and 24,000 in California), but those hectares are attracting some serious interest amongst buyers. The area was initially established by growers including David Lett from Eyrie and Dick Erath (Erath Winery) and eventually others moved in. The Drouhins from Burgundy were the first from the Old World to agree regarding the area’s potential. Large companies have moved in recently from California and things are likely to change significantly in the Willamette as a result of this interest.

Alexana is located in the Red Hills and the grapes are grown at about 200m. This wine is clear and bright, medium ruby with legs. On the nose it’s clean and developing, medium plus intensity, aromas of cherry, cedar frond, raspberry, tobacco leaf and leather as it opened.

The palate is dry with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium ripe, velvety tannins, medium plus intensity, flavours of red cherry, crunchy pomegranate, raspberry, cedar, clove, earth and minerality and leather. The finish is medium plus.

This wine made by Lynn Penner-Ash is WSET ‘Very Good’. Fruit forward, crunchy and fresh, as it opened up it showed increasing leather and complexity. Drinking now and with the tannins and strong acidity is suitable for ageing.
Credit Mike Woods Photography

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Domaine Vincent Delaporte, Maxime, Vielles Vignes sur Silex, Sancerre AC, France, 2012, 13% abv.

France’s Loire Valley boasts four main regions – the Nantais located on the eastern Atlantic coast, Anjou-Saumur inland, the Touraine where the maritime meets a continental climate and the furthest inland region, the Central Vineyards.

Sancerre is located in the Central Vineyards on the Loire River and is the homeland of racy, pungent Sauvignon Blanc wines. It’s blessed with excellent topography and drainage as a result of its Kimmeridgian soils – limestone-based, most similar to those of Chablis and the result of marine fossils from a late Jurassic Era inland sea. The Sancerre Hills have plantings at 200-400m and are mostly south and southeast facing.

This region has a purely continental climate and often experiences spring frosts. The vines are cordon or guyot trained and growers must work hard at keeping yields low, debudding and deleafing so that their Sauvignon Blanc wines don’t become overly herbaceous.

This wine is clear and bright, medium lemon and has legs. On the nose, it is clean and youthful with medium plus intensity and aromas of gooseberry, leaf, grapefruit, pomelo and wet rocks.

The palate is dry with high acidity, medium body, medium alcohol and medium plus intensity flavours of green grass and leaf, more gooseberry, green apple, citrus and minerality. The finish is medium plus.

This wine is WSET ‘Very Good’; strong acidity is balanced by a concentrated yet delicate fruit profile. I didn’t detect much evidence of the silex referred to in it’s name which detracted somewhat from the ranking. Drink now; not necessary to age.

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Muga, White, Rioja DOC, Spain, 2012, 13% abv.

Spain recently cracked the code – its wine production numbers surged last year to make it the world’s largest wine producer. It has officially surpassed second place Italy and (gasp) the French came in at paltry number three.

More than half of that wine was produced in central Castilla-La Mancha which boasts the most extreme climate of Spain with long, cold winters and extremely hot summers. It’s said to have nine months of winter and three months of ‘hell’.

This wine, on the other hand, hails from the north central region of Rioja, Spain’s leading and most renowned wine region. Named after the River (Rio) Oja that runs through the area, they’ve been making wine here since the time of the Romans and Moors. It’s well protected by the Cantabrian Mountains and there are three main zones – Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja – the first two boasting the best chalky limestone-clay soils.

There are 7 grapes generally allowed – for reds, Tempranillo, Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano and for whites, Viura (known as Macabeo or Macabeu everywhere else), Malvasia and Verdejo. Only 10% of Riojan wines are white and this one is a blend of 90% Viura with 10% Malvasia.

The Muga is ‘joven’ or unaged and is clear and bright, medium lemon with legs. On the nose it’s clean and developing with medium intensity and aromas of creme brûlée, lemon drop, hazelnut and almond with a light Sherry overtone.

The palate is dry with medium plus acidity, medium body, medium alcohol and medium plus flavours of lemon zest and white grapefruit, white peach, more hazelnut and almond, light toast and a medium plus finish.

This wine is WSET ‘Very Good’; the fruit concentration is well balanced with strong acidity and not overwhelmed by the oak barrica treatment that offers a nutty hint and aroma of Sherry to the wine. Drink now or it is also suitable for ageing.
Photo credit, Mike Woods Photography

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