Sunday, January 14, 2007

Nelson Interlude

The Nelson wine region, located on the western side of the northern end of the South Island of New Zealand, is home to some twenty-three boutique wineries which occupy two major geographical regions. The Waimea plains are made up of alluvial loams; Waimea means “river gardens” in Maori. The plains are bounded by rolling valleys and hills so that a V-shape is formed as the plains broaden toward the ocean. To the west of Nelson, the Moutere Hills are more clay and gravel in composition.

This is a cool climate wine region, protected from rain by mountains to the west. Rich in horticulture, seafood and artists, the region was first home to winemaking when German winemakers arrived in 1843. By 1845 they had left for the more appealing hills of South Australia. It was not until the 1970s that vineyards again began to make their presence felt.

We arrived into the region by car from Blenheim, the heart of Marlborough wine country, after a short flight from Auckland. It did seem a little like a retreat to be driving away from the flat vineyards of Marlborough through Renwick to Havelock, the Green Shell Mussel Capital of the World, and then through the Rai Valley and on into Nelson. But we were on a mission. We had planned to meet up with Max Marroitt, an expatriate Aussie, who was working over the summer at Neudorf. Max planned to meet us at Greenhough Vineyard at midday to taste through some of their wines before moving on to Neudorf to sample their wares.

Greenhough (green-hoff) Vineyard and Winery
Both vineyard and winery are located on an elevated south-easterly corner of the Waimea Plains, a broad plateau known as Burke's Bank. When we arrived at Greenhough Max was already inside talking with Andrew Greenhough. A Master’s degree in Art History seems an unlikely start to viticulture but that is how Andrew began his wine adventure. Quietly spoken, he let’s the wines do all the talking.

Sauvignon Blanc 2006 (screwcap) (13.5% alcohol)
Light straw in color with muted notes of citrus and tropical fruits. A riper style, lacking herbaceousness. Very crisp acidity is the center piece of this well balanced, very well made wine. Should drink well till 2008. 2, 2, 3.8, 9.8 = 17.6/20, 88/100.

Hope Vineyard Chardonnay 2004 (screwcap) (14.0% alcohol)
A wine made using French oak (13% new) and malolactic fermentation it has an excellent nutty character with just a hint of oak. Medium weight on the palate, this is a vibrant wine with excellent mouthfeel and carry of flavors and a lengthy finish. Drink 2006-10 2, 2, 4.0, 10.0 = 18.0/20, 90/100.

Hope Vineyard Chardonnay 2005 (screwcap) (13.5% alcohol)
Made with more new oak (25%) this wine shows its youth and is revealing very little at present, just some citrus, and lime flavors. Tightly wound, it will need time to open, but the balance and structure are there, and the acidity adds appealing crispness. Drink 2006-12. 2, 2, 3.8, 9.8 = 17.6/20, 88/100.

Hope Vineyard Pinot Noir 2004 (screwcap) (14.0% alcohol)
Matured in 35% new French oak this wine is light cherry in color, and with very typical spicy notes of Pinot Noir together with flavors of red fruits and ripe lychees. There is almost a touch of sweetness on the palate, and the flavors carry extremely well providing great length to this delightfully balanced wine. Drink 2006-2010. 2, 2, 4.1, 10.3 = 18.4/20, 92/100.

Hope Vineyard Pinot Noir 2005 (screwcap) (14.0% alcohol)
The yields were considerably lower, and the flavors more concentrated in 2005 and it shows in this wine. It lacks the overt spicy notes of the 2004. Instead there are deeply seated fruit and savory flavors with a touch of pepper rising just above the surface of this densely packaged, classy wine. The mouthfeel is soft and silky with prominent, vibrant acidity that carries across the palate and will need time to integrate. But thus is an excellently structured wine that will reward patience. Drink 2008-2015. 2, 2, 4.3, 10.4 = 18.7/20, 94/100.

As we were leaving we purchased a bottle of the Gew├╝rztraminer that Miranda and I had with dinner at the Plaza Indian in Blenhiem later in the week.

Gew├╝rztraminer 2006 (screwcap) (13.5% alcohol)
Light straw yellow in color this is a wine that is full of flavor with muted spices flooded by aromas of apricot, nectarine and white peach. The flavors carry well onto a rich palate and are enhanced by crisp acidity. There is a little lingering sweetness to the finish, but it is not cloying. A very well balanced and palate pleasing wine. Drink 2006-2010. 2, 2, 3.9, 10.0 = 17.9/20, 89/100.

The Neudorf Vineyards are among the oldest in the Nelson region with planting having begun in 1978. The vineyards constitute either those on the north-facing slope overlooking a branch of the Moutere Valley, or on the Waimea plains south of Nelson.

Nelson Chardonnay 2005 (screwcap) (14.0% alcohol)
Light straw in color with aromas of smoky oak, citrus and peach, barrel fermented (25% new oak) with indigenous yeasts this Chardonnay is less complex than the Greenhough, but still nicely structured. It needs a little time for the oak to settle but it has the acidity to carry aging. Drink 2008-2014. 2, 2, 3.7, 9.8 = 17.5/20, 87/100.

Moutere Pinot Noir 2004 (screwcap) (14.5% alcohol)
Indigenous yeast fermented and matured in French Oak barrels (40% new) for eleven months, this is a richly aromatic, riper style of Pinot Noir with a stalky character. Soft and silky in texture with a beautiful carry of flavors onto the palate, nice balance and good supporting acidity. Drink 2006-2011. 2, 2, 3.9, 9.7 = 17.6/20, 88/100.

Nelson Pinot Noir 2004 (screwcap) (13.5% alcohol)
Also fermented with indigenous yeasts and then matured for eight months in French barriques (25% new), this is an unusually scented wine, giving little spiciness but instead the smell of yeasty dough. More mouthfilling that the Moutere, it opens on the palate to reveal spice flavors more typical of Pinot Noir. However the acidity is a little harsh and not well integrated at present. Needs time. Drink 2008-2011. 2, 2, 3.3, 9.4 = 16.7/20, 84/100.

Later in the evening, courtesy of the excellent hospitality of Max, we sampled even more wines including a few more New Zealanders. One, the 2004 Felton Road Pinot Noir left the examples tasted earlier in the day in its wake. But we would taste even better Pinot in the days to come.

The next evening we opened a bottle of Neudorf Moutere Riesling. It was a wine some liked and others were less enamored by. The fact that the bottle remained unfinished after two days seemed to indicate the verdict of the jury.

Moutere Riesling 2005 (screwcap) (11.0% alcohol) $28NZD)
Light straw yellow in color the initial aromas were of sweet, ripe grapes, followed by honey, with a hint of apricot and peach, and a touch of petrichor (minerality). Mouthfilling, the initial sweetness was cut short by pronounced green apple acidity that overwhelmed the palate, and did not allow the fruit flavors to show off their highlights. Otherwise a well made wine with excellent persistence to its finish. Drink 2007-2013. 2, 2, 3.7, 9.5 = 17.2/20, 86/100.

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