Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – May 14, 2016
New Zealand Sauvignon, A Volcanic Duo & More
Text and photos by John Szabo MS
David led last week with the team’s Buyers Guide to Customer Favourites, which was the main feature of the May 14th release. So I’ll get straight to my top picks. The selection is laudable, featuring a smart range of “next generation” Marlborough sauvignon blanc, which is to say distinctive, characterful, and original wines that step outside of the standard industrial mould.
The rest of the release also has some hidden gems, including a pair of terrific value volcanic wines from Italy, an outstanding Croatian white, classic Saar Riesling and a local pinot that’s currently singing.
May is New Zealand wine fair month and our WineAlign coverage reflects it – see Treve Ring and Steve Thurlow’s thorough report from their recent travels and read the bonus feature from Sara d’Amato on her speed dating experience at the NZ trade event.
New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
If you were under the impression that all Marlborough sauvignon comes out of the same massive vat, then try these three distinctive examples.
The Auntsfield Single Vineyard 2015 Sauvignon Blanc from the unofficial Southern Valleys sub-region of Marlborough ($22.95), is a perfect bridge between past and future, still recognizably Marlborough in style though far riper, denser and better composed than the mean. David Herd planted the region’s first grapes here in 1873 – Marlborough’s pioneer winemaker – and vine material from those original plantings still grows on he same site. The 2015 splits the line nicely between tight citrus, riper tropical and lightly pungent-vegetal notes, with superior flavour depth and length.
The founders of Dog Point Vineyards clearly get it: Ivan Sutherland and James Healy were behind the wine – Cloudy Bay – that put Marlborough sauvignon on the map in the 1990s. Dog Point takes a more radical tack however, and I happen to love their distinctive, flinty style born from wild ferments and no nonsense winemaking. The 2015 Sauvignon Blanc ($24.95) is perhaps little less edgy than previous vintages, and with more fruit than usual (I suppose that’s not a bad thing), but it’s is nonetheless still an original expression with terrific length and depth and quivering acids.
It’s heartening to see one of the region’s largest and oldest players, Villa Maria (est. 1961) pushing the quality envelope in their top tier. The 2014 Southern Clays Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($29.95), from the Maxwell Vineyard nestled in the gentle north facing foothills of the Ben Morven Valley, plays on this slightly warmer and more clay rich corner of Marlborough, also associated with the region’s most serious pinot noirs. This wine shows that a bit of bottle age can bring out an entirely new dimension in the genre, here delivering intriguing honeyed/bees wax aromatics, subdued relative to the typical Marlborough style, but all the more interesting and subtly complex for it. And I really love the texture: taught and tightly spun but smooth and seamless, with exceptional depth and length. It’s well worth the premium price, and is also capable of ageing another half dozen years no doubt.
Fans of Mosel riesling will find extreme happiness in the arch-classic Bischofliche Weingüter Trier 2013 Ayler Kupp Riesling Kabinett, Mosel ($23.95). It’s an exceptional example from one of the Saar’s top vineyards that hits all of the right notes. I love the impossible balance of fully ripe stone fruit framed by electric acids, the perfectly pitched pinch of balancing residual sugar and the excellent length. Drink or hold a decade+.
Further afield in less trodden territory, I’d urge you to take a punt on the Ilocki Podrumi 2013 Traminac, Croatia ($14.95). Ilocki Podrumi has one of Croatia’s oldest cellars next to one of the most modern in the northeastern corner of the country. Traminac (aka gewürztraminer) is rendered here with a distinctively green-gold colour and an amazing perfume of marmalade and rosewater, delivering superb complexity at the price. The rich and creamy palate offers more honey and ripe/dried stone fruit flavours inflected with ginger and star anise – a terrific tour de force of flavour all in all. Try with lightly spiced south East Asian foods.
Duo of Italian Volcanic Reds
Is there something distinctive about volcanic wines? You bet. They can best be summed up by the word savoury – don’t come to the volcano looking for plush fruit. You can read all the details in my book publishing this September, but in the meantime enjoy these two superb value entry points into volcanic reds from two of Italy’s most celebrated volcanoes: d’Angelo’s 2013 Sacravite, IGT Basilicata, Italy ($15.95) is a pure aglianico from the slopes of the extinct Vulture volcano in Basilicata, made from younger vines and aged for a shorter period than the estate’s DOCG version. It’s crafted nonetheless in the traditional style, which is to say marvellously floral and full of pot pourri and dried fruit, succulent and firm with bright acids and fine, dusty-grippy tannins. Oh, and you could forget this is in the cellar for a half dozen years and fear little.
Sicily’s alarmingly active Mount Etna is the origin of Antichi Vinai’s 2013 ‘Il Mascalese’ Nerello Mascalese, IGT Terre Siciliane ($16.95). Etna has written one of Italy’s runaway success wine stories over the last decade, captivating drinkers with the wild strawberry, smoke and porcini dust flavours of indigenous nerello mascalese. Antichi Vinai, founded in 1877, preserves the variety’s character with just a short ageing period in stainless steel. Tannins are relatively soft and yielding, while acids remain bright and fresh. This is the sort of wine I’d love to sip with a nice chill alongside strips of simply grilled beef or lamb skewers with a generous squeeze of lime and dusting of resinous herbs.
And lastly, much is made of the right ‘drinking window’ for wines. Woe unto him who cracks a bottle too early or too late, and misses out on its maximum expression. The trouble is there’s no formula for figuring it out, aside from experience and a little guessing mixed with luck. I was delighted thus to find Thomas Bachelder’s Domaine Queylus 2012 Tradition Pinot Noir, Niagara Peninsula ($29.95) singing this week, clearly in a happy place. It has reached a fine stage of evolution with its silky texture, taught and fine-grained tannins, and expansive range of flavours in the delicately spicy, red fruit and earth spectrum. So grab it while it’s on; next week it may stop singing.
That’s all for this week. See you over the next bottle.
John Szabo MS
From VINTAGES May 14, 2016
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