Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – May 13, 2017

Red Envy in New Zealand and Buyers’ Guide Picks
By Sara d’Amato

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

This week’s VINTAGES Release puts the focus on New Zealand with modest but solid selections from the regions of Marlborough, Martinborough, sunny Nelson and the Hawke’s Bay Gimblett Gravels. Unfortunately, the release lacks any selections from the country’s most promising pinot noir state, Central Otago. In addition to our top Kiwi finds, we offer an eclectic group of recommendations from both the new world and old. John Szabo and David Lawrason will be back next week with a preview of the May 27th release while Michael Godel and I will be off exploring Napa Valley’s historic To Kalon vineyard.

A New Benchmark

We have to really acknowledge that great pinot noir does not just come from Burgundy. For those of you who have become infatuated by the grape variety, it is a necessity now to look outside of the classic benchmark style of Burgundy, to the expression of pinot noir that can be brought about by younger regions. It is remarkable what has been accomplished in just about 10 years in New Zealand when pinot noir was first planted in any commercial quantities. Since that time, pinot wines have experienced impressive success locally and in export markets alike.

I recently wrote about Oregon’s wild and spirited pinot noirs as a result of an array of unique landscapes and a commitment to this terroir by the people who farm it. It is in such places as Oregon and New Zealand that pinot noir tends to shine. Disparate regions but they have two very important things in common: a fringe climate and a group of producers who have a deep connectedness to the land. It is a unique sense of place and an understanding of that place that defines the idea of terroir. It doesn’t take centuries of caretaking the land to appreciate one’s terroir, what you need is a keen and sensitive understanding of that land and a commitment to preserving its integrity.

Tūrangawaewae is a word I first learned several months ago when I attended the Pinot Noir conference in Wellington, a now bi-annual convention that brings together trade and consumer pinot lovers from across the globe. It is also a time of cross-country wine events showcasing the bounty and diversity of individual sub-regions. Tūrangawaewae is a formidable Māori concept and literally translates to ‘a place to stand’. Tūrangawaewae are places where we feel both liberated and connected. They are innately familiar, our home and our unique place in the world. Think of it as a more broad or holistic interpretation of terroir, one which is uniquely Kiwi. You can imagine that being as isolated and sparsely populated as New Zealand is, it is important to appreciate the place on which you stand.

NZ Pinot Noir Safari Marlborough - 1

New Zealand Pinot Noir Safari

This concept of connectedness with the land drives all sorts of cultural and agricultural practices throughout New Zealand and an understanding of this concept aids in your appreciation of the unrestrained pinot noirs produced from north to south. Sustainability is a given with almost all wineries voluntarily monitoring their energy and water use for best environmental practices. By the end of my two and a half week experience, I can understand why so many Kiwis walk barefooted wherever they go.

Both major grape types that have chosen New Zealand as home, sauvignon blanc and pinot noir, are in their nature, explicitly representative of their environments. In recent times, New Zealand’s idiosyncratic and very successful sauvignon blanc style has often trumped the expression of its terroir and its regional diversity has been lost in homogeneity. As this has become sorely apparent to producers and to the world, diversification is rapidly underway and we are afforded more individualistic styles such as oak aged, wild yeast fermented and riper styles of sauvignon blanc better suited to site specific expression.

Unlike sauvignon blanc, New Zealand pinot noir has defied being fit into a mold or a generic style. Its youthful incarnations have not yet the cannon to allow us to greatly appreciate regional distinctiveness yet. However, the multitude of producers with their feet firmly planted on the ground have begun to eagerly seek out plots of land where pinot noir thrives. Discovering those locales was a thrilling adventure and one which is viscerally expressed in many wines that can now be found here at home.

Defining Greatness and what we can learn from emerging regions.

Master of Wine, Ken Ohashi, gave a fascinating lecture on the Japanese concept of silence and his interpretation of great pinot noir at Pinot Noir 2017 in Wellington earlier this year. He began the discussion by claiming that great pinot noir had the best qualities of premium water: that it never asserts itself too strongly (silent and understated), that it offers smoothness of texture and the minerality of harder water. This somewhat divergent appreciation of pinot noir gave new perspective to our collective interpretation of New Zealand pinot noir. The idea of harmony, silence and simplicity allows for a heightened sense of place to be expressed, like a white canvas on which terroir could be represented. It was an apt description of much of the pinot noir that is emerging from New Zealand.


An opposing but perhaps complimentary view on greatness from Mark Bennie, critic for Gourmet Traveller Wine Magazine, a provocative commentator, pressed that he looks for unbalance in great pinot noir, a beauty that makes us feel alive. Nostalgia, reputation and balance are all false markers, he suggested, and it is emotional impact, the ability to create memory, drinkability, cultural intent that defined greatness. That tumultuous beauty can also certainly be appreciated in many of these pinot noirs of developing regions and it is important to pay attention to these stylistic expression when evaluating such pinot noir. Perhaps it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Great wine can often be polarizing and thought-provoking and this early phase in the history of pinot noir in New Zealand makes for a unique opportunity to explore these concepts.

NZ Marlborough Arid - 1

Arid Marlborough

Sometimes it takes a reflection of one’s own Turgunawaewae through the lens of a foreigner to truly appreciate its complexities. Like a great work of art, it speaks uniquely to you, stirs up past experiences and makes you feel. The search for authenticity.

Let’s Get Regional!

What to look for in pinot noir from Central Otago:

The world’s most southerly wine region is an inland, continental climate that is extremely arid, with high sunshine hours and free-draining soils. Although cool, it is sheltered and varied – a land of extremes. Gibbston Valley and Wanaka sub regions tend to deliver more sweet red fruit and high acidity while the regions of Bannockburn, Lowburn, Bendigo tend to offer more warmth, higher alcohol and richness.

What to look for in pinot noir from Marlborough:

By far, Marlborough is the largest pinot noir producing region in New Zealand. It has a maritime climate with regional variations between the sub-regions of the warmer, earlier ripening pinot of the Wairau and the highly aromatic incarnations of the Awatere Valleys.

What to look for in pinot noir from Martinborough:

Very similar soil types and temperatures of that of Malborough, a little wetter and in a south facing basin. The wines tend to have very fine tannins and tend towards the elegant. Some of the oldest pinot noir plantings come from this region.

What to look for in pinot noir from Canterbury and Waipara Valley:

An eclectic group of mostly smaller producers who have an especially innate sense of interconnectedness. Most pinot noir is planted in the more sheltered inland region that is dry and can be quite warm. Great structural components are most often noted in these pinot noirs which tend to exhibit dark and spicy flavours.

New Zealand in Toronto

There is a great deal of buzz about New Zealand in Toronto as of late. Today is the final day of the The Great New Zealand Wine Tiki Tour which concludes in Toronto after having hit Vancouver and Calgary earlier this month. Winegrowers from across New Zealand held several trade and consumer events promoting wines from various sub-regions. Yesterday, several of the WineAlign team attended the “speed-dating” tasting which involved a series of rapid-fire one-on-one conversations and tastings with producers. Following the event was the Pinot Noir Masterclass which I was fortunate to be able to moderate alongside a panel of producers that included Dr. John Forrest (Waitaki region pioneer and engineer of “low alcohol” wines), te Pā Chief Vintner Liam McElhinney, and soils expert and Red Winemaker of Saint Clair, Kyle Thompson. We explored regional differences from the sunny, beachy region of Nelson, Marlborough, Martinborough, Waitaki and Central Otago.

NZ Pinot Masterclass Toronto - 1

NZ Pinot Masterclass Toronto

A new “Destination” LCBO store has just been unveiled at Avenue and Lawrence (1838 Avenue Road) specializing in New Zealand wines. The collection is considerable and offers consumers an opportunity to discover wines from the LCBO’s consignment program which are normally exclusive to restaurants and to those willing to purchase a minimum of a case. LCBO has been quite vocal about the success of these stores and plans to open several more this year.

Here’s hoping that the wines of the “Land of the Long White Cloud” speak to you as much as they do to me. You will find our top picks from this recent VINTAGES release below.

New Zealand Picks:

Greywacke 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ($24.95)

Sara d’Amato – Greywacke is a high-end venture headed by former Cloudy Bay winemaker Kevin Judd. A zesty, flavourful but serious sauvignon blanc with authentic character offering a distinctive sense of place. Savory and salty with both restraint and personality, here is a classy find that can rival greats from Sancerre.
David Lawrason – Greywacke is the very successful venture by former Cloudy Bay winemaker and accomplished photographer Kevin Judd. This gets to the top wrung of NZ sauvignon. If you consider it too expensive for NZ sauvignon it’s because we have been price trained to $20 or less. This is so good I would pay $30 or more.
Michael Godel – From the town of bedrock, Kevin Judd’s Greywacke is a modern, stone-age Sauvignon Blanc. Grown out of vineyards in the Central Wairau and Southern Valleys in Marlborough, Judd’s exploratory to trailblazing SB announces its aromatic arrival like a pick struck on granite. Though the vintage is rounder, juicier and fleshier it stills breathes and broadens the citrus environment with stone fruit and soft, seeping alloy.

Nautilus Chardonnay 2015, Marlborough, South Island ($27.95) 

Michael Godel – Quite the smoky and flinty chardonnay by Marlborough standards and clearly aimed at fresh appeal from out of a reductive environment. Turns creamy and leesy on the palate in a wine led by winemaking but not without the ideal derived out of vintage necessity. Great ride and worth the fare.

Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2015Nautilus Chardonnay 2015Summerhouse Pinot Noir 2014Pencarrow Pinot Noir 2015

Summerhouse 2014 Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand ($29.95)

Sara d’Amato – Still tight, this rich and compelling pinot noir has yet to reveal itself fully. Lightly smoky, quite complex and undeniably impactful. A pinot that is build to age and deserves another three years in cellar.

Pencarrow 2015 Pinot Noir, Martinborough, New Zealand ($24.95)

Sara d’Amato – An impressively peppery, aromatic style of pinot noir from Martinborough’s cooler, wetter climate.  Pencarrow is Palliser’s entry tier label and a tremendous value. Brimming with sensual notes of sandalwood, violets and local garrigue. Powerful but not heavy, this will evolve beautifully and best paired now with food.

The Best of the Rest

Duval Leroy Prestige Premier Cru Brut Rosé Champagne, France ($70.95)

Sara d’Amato – A rich, elegant and powerful rosé with both verve and substance. Dry and firm but not austere with lovely autolytic character and notable complexity. Excellent value. Sure to move quickly.

Jardin 2015 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay, Stellenbosch, South Africa ($21.95)

Sara d’Amato – An impressively rich and zesty chardonnay with impactful presence and a beautifully balanced oaky character. Ripe but poised with an intriguing pickled, sour citrus element that adds a compelling kick. A widely appealing style perfect for spring sipping.
David Lawrason – Jordan Winery is an impressive estate with varying aspects and soils in the hills south of Stellenbosch. This is a big, full on chardonnay – very complex and quite intense, all nicely buoyed a fine, almost zesty seam of acidity. Very good complexity and structure for the price.

Duval Leroy Prestige Premier Cru Brut Rosé ChampagneJardin Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2015Marchand Tawse Meursault 2014Quinta da Rede Grande Reserva Branco 2014

Marchand Tawse 2014 Meursault, Burgundy ($65.95)

Michael Godel – Pascal Marchand has delivered here a Meursault with hidden charm, gainful predilection and the structure to carry it through time. The back half is all dollops of tart lemon curd perched upon the cool metal relief etched flats of a dime.

Quinta da Rede 2014 Grande Reserva Branco, Douro, Portugal ($21.95)

Michael Godel – A mix of arinto and rabigato are the formula for this striking Douro white, a category under-valued and under-appreciated in this Portuguese red saturated and hyper-focused market. Is it creamy and nutty, sure, but this is a top quality production from a top tier producer. Talk about and of the town I’d say.

Palacios Remondo La Vendimia 2015, DOCa Rioja, Spain ($16.95)

Michael Godel – Always so floral and indicative of the aromatic beauty beheld when you combine Rioja, tempranillo and Palacios. The amenable vintage approach, generosity of spirit and fancy fruit comes as no surprise, with notes leading down a cherry to plum path by way of crushed stone. For the price there are few old world sentiments with new world personality that can top this Vendimia. A wine of the vintage for pleasure in the very present here and now.

Fabre Montmayou 2014 Reserva Cabernet Franc, Mendoza, Argentina ($17.95)

David Lawrason – Cabernet franc is ascending in Argentina as a single varietal and blending component to inject more finesse into sometimes stodgy malbec, with good follow through. Certainly riper than we have become accustomed to with Niagara cf, but still fairly well balanced.

Palacios Remondo La Vendimia 2015Fabre Montmayou Reserva Cabernet Franc 2014Cune Gran Reserva 2010Domaine Jaume Vinsobres Altitude 420 2014

Cune 2010 Gran Reserva, Doca Rioja ($38.95)

Michael Godel – This is a very young Gran Reserva and so early in its evolution those French and American oak years are fully in aromatic charge and so the tempranillo hides in its shell. But it’s beautifully rendered, perfumed and seamless, the fruit carried onto the palate by waves of gentle spice. The impression is so Rioja but clean, pure and modern. If tempranilo could surf it would do so in Cvne waters.

Domaine Jaume 2014 Vinsobres Altitude 420, Vinsobres, Rhone, France ($16.95)

Sara d’Amato – Vinsobres’ relatively high altitude plantings give syrah a lovey peppery, floral aromatic quality in the hot southern Rhône. A top value in this category this release. Buy up for everyday drinking.

Château Fontenelles 2013 Cuvée Renaissance Corbières, Languedoc, France ($19.95)

David Lawrason – This nifty, drinkable Corbières gathers all the usual southern French varietals with syrah in the lead at 55%. Thus the deep dark colour and peppery notes on the nose, along with violets, black pepper and blackberry fruit. This is delicious and just structured enough to propel it to 90.

Château Fontenelles Cuvée Renaissance Corbières 2013Errazuriz Aconcagua Costa Pinot Noir 2015Masi Brolo Campofiorin Oro 2012

Errazuriz 2015 Aconcagua Costa Pinot Noir, Aconcagua Valley, Chile ($24.95)

David Lawrason – Chile has been trying to find the handle with pinot for several years, moving away from its tasty but overly fruity/ripe almost grapey profile. This moves into more classic styling with New World fruit with cooler climate cranberry/raspberry fruit and nicely placed oak vanilla, toast, mint/evergreen and even a touch iron/oxide meatiness.

Masi 2012 Brolo Campofiorin Oro, Veneto, Italy ($26.95)

Sara d’Amato – Once again, a superb value, the 2012 is aged for optimum drinkability. Accessible, harmonious and offering a wealth of regional character.


Sara d’Amato

Use these quick links for access to all of our Top Picks in the New Release. Non-Premium members can select from all release dates 30 days prior.

Sara’s Sommelier Selections
Lawrason’s Take
Michael’s Mix
Szabo’s Smart Buys

New Release and VINTAGES Preview


Castello Di Gabbiano Riserva Chianti Classico 2013