VINTAGES Preview – May 12th, 2018

New Zealand Pinot Noir’s Moment in Ontario
By David Lawrason with notes from Sara d’Amato, Michael Godel and John Szabo, MS

David Lawrason

David Lawrason

Every year in early May New Zealand wines touch down in Toronto with an annual wine fair – coming Thursday, May 10. And the event is supported by a New Zealand feature at VINTAGES at the same time.

As I tasted the offerings for the May 12 release my attention was drawn to a small clutch of excellent pinot noirs. To declare a bias, I am a huge fan of NZ pinot. Not all are great to be sure, and some are merely good. But from a global perspective NZ is a sweet spot for this capricious variety. And pinot is the number one red variety in NZ by a long shot. No other entire county can claim pinot as its dominant red variety.

I like NZ pinots because most are very bright, pure-fruited and engaging, which is a hallmark of NZ wines in general. Specifically, most pinots show fairly ripe moderate climate berry-cherry, usually subtle oak layering and a mid-weight suppleness and generosity that sits somewhere between Burgundy and Oregon.

Three years ago after spending almost a month in New Zealand tasting pinot, I published a way-too-long article. You can read it here if you have nothing better to do, but the gist of the article is that there are great pinots being made in several different regions of the two-island nations. Indeed, I propose that there could be over twenty different pinot appellations, should New Zealand ever get around to officially creating them.

New Zealand Wine Regions

Here in Ontario, this month, we have our best opportunity to date to explore NZ pinot in some sort of depth. There will undoubtedly be many featured at the New Zealand Wine Fair, and if you haven’t purchased a ticket thinking you might not want to sail the great sauvignon sea, perhaps you will think again and go pinot gathering.

If you don’t go to the fair, you can explore at VINTAGES. A search of New Zealand reds at revealed that there are 34 NZ pinots in the system. There are nine listed as On-Line Exclusives, that can be ordered to your home, office or nearest LCBO store. Of the nine, I would recommend Carrick Bannockburn 2014 Pinot Noir ($51.00) as classic example from a pioneer of the Bannockburn sub-app of Central Otago. Thornbury 2016 Pinot Noir ($29.00) should be a typical, fruit-driven easy drinking Marlborough example.  While those really into top drops might want to explore the Cloudy Bay 2014 Te Wahi Pinot Noir 2014 ($123.00), a rare Otago bottling from the famed Marlborough based-winery.

There are 25 NZ pinots listed as in-store only, although a handful are in such small quantity in far flung places that a search will be fruitless. The one place to focus your LCBO store search would be the LCBO at 1838 Avenue Road north of Lawrence Ave W, which is the LCBO’s New Zealand so-called “destination store”, or Products of the World store.

Among the more expensive and intriguing pinots still on shelf look for Greywacke 2014 Pinot Noir ($50.00) from famed winemaker/photographer Kevin Judd. Also very much worth looking up is Cloudy Bay 2015 Pinot Noir ($46.95), a classic Marlborough example now in its 27th vintage. There are about a dozen bottles left of Clos Henri 2015 Pinot Noir ($28.75), a very Euro, estate-grown pinot from an upper-Marlborough winery owned by Henri Bourgeois of France’s Loire Valley. Archangel 2013 Pinot Noir ($42.00) is from an ambition Otago start up on benchlands in the Upper Clutha Valley that lies between the Pisa and Wanaka sub-regions.

And here a few of less expensive favourites still available in varying quantities. Astrolabe 2014 Voyage Pinot Noir ($27.95) is a delicious, ripe Marlborough example (Michael Godel loves it too).  Invivo Central Otago Pinot Noir 2016 ($24,95) is equally delicious with a bit more Otago roundness and polish. For something a bit funkier yet fascinating check out the organically grown Momo 2015 Pinot Noir (19.95), the second label of leading biodynamic producer called Seresin.  For a more tart-edged, juicy yet oaked style try Wither Hills 2014 Pinot Noir ($29.95).

And now on to the NZ picks May 12 Release, with a reminder that many stores seem to be putting their stocks out two or three days earlier.


New Zealand Wine Festival

Buyers Guide to VINTAGES May 12th:

New Zealand Reds

Mt. Beautiful 2015 Pinot Noir, North Canterbury, South Island ($37.95)
David Lawrason – The under-the-radar Canterbury and Waipara regions north of Christchurch on the east coast of the South Island are making some very fine pinots. Mount Beautiful is the northernmost, an idyllic, isolated farm with said Mount Beautiful as its backdrop.  This is a very fine, quite delicate yet balanced and smooth pinot with lifted aromas of red roses, cherry-raspberry fruit, subtle herbs and very well integrated oak spice and vanilla. It’s gentle, refined and quite delicious. Flagship stores only.
Michael Godel – From David and Leigh Teece this beautiful one is quite spiced pinot noir with plenty of regional and varietal character. Nothing is held back, taken for granted or left on the table. Reminds itself to stay humble and drift into elegance but it’s a big expression to be sure with the bones to back it up.

Mt. Beautiful Pinot Noir 2015Grasshopper Rock Earnscleugh Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015

Grasshopper Rock 2015 Earnscleugh Vineyard Pinot Noir, Central Otago ($44.95)
David Lawrason – This is from a small winery in the Alexandra sub-region of Otago, the southernmost of six, and one of the most southerly sites in the Southern Hemisphere. The 7.8 ha Earncleugh site is exclusively pinot noir.  This has a gorgeous nose of ripe cherry interlaced with florals, fine spice, herbs and vanillin. Very modern, very engaging. It is medium weight and despite the ripeness of the fruit it is a very fine, taut and mineral palate. Flagship Stores only.
Michael Godel – From a single vineyard the ideals of far south pinot noir fruit are coalesced with warmth, ripe virtuosity and the truth spoken in aromatic finesse. A peppery plum note really piques interest. Here is some pretty authentic pinot noir for lovers of the global game.
Sara d’Amato – An unregrettable (I am coining the term) investment for pinot noir lovers. It is currently tight and restrained but with a fullness that will be amplified by time. This southern site selection of the small hill at Alexandra was inspired by Grand Cru Burgundy and certainly lives up to its potential.
John Szabo – Here’s a fine, high-toned, floral, violet-tinged, lightly leafy, black licorice, fennel-seedinflected pinot here of considerable interest and depth, a very dainty and fine-grained, but intensely flavoured wine all in all. Tannins offer the merest resistance, while acids are perky and firm. Good to very good length.

Hunter’s 2014 Pinot Noir, Marlborough, ($24.95)
David Lawrason – From a Marlborough pinot pioneer, this is a leaner, cooler clime take with quite piquant, sour red cran-cherry fruit, mint/herbal, smoke and vague earth/forest scented. It is mid-weight, firm, even slightly tart-edged with easy tannin.
Sara d’Amato – A sensual, riveting, cool climate pinot noir that may just take all of your troubles away. Pure, peppery and floral but substantial and lengthy. For those who aren’t satisfied with romantic details alone: 15% whole bunch fermentation, neutral yeast used and aged in mostly 1-4 year old French oak for 10 months.

Hunter's Pinot Noir 2014Trinity Hill The Trinity Red Blend 2014Elephant Hill Le Phant 2013

Trinity Hill 2014 The Trinity Red Blend, Hawke’s Bay, North Island, New Zealand ($22.95)
Michael Godel – I like the meatiness, roasted char on the skins of nightshade vegetables and the crusted Barque on meats in this functional and hard-working blend.

Elephant Hill 2013 Le Phant, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand  ($22.95)
Sara d’Amato – Hawke’s Bay truly shines here showcasing fruit from Gimblett Gravels, Te Awanga and Triangle Vineyards. A brambly blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah that offers and smoky and peppery profile, an abundance of fruit and nicely meshed oak spice. Wholly satisfying and too complex to qualify as easy-drinking.

New Zealand Whites

Greywacke Wild Sauvignon 2014, Marlborough, South Island, New Zealand ($39.95)
John Szabo – A highly intriguing, complex, smoky-mineral, wild indeed sauvignon here from Kevin Judd, a Marlborough pioneer who has gone well beyond the mainstream standard with this effort. The palate is thick and dense but not heavy, with a marvellously oily texture framed up by sharp acids. Wood plays its supporting role, while the finish lingers impressively. Drinking beautifully now, but I wouldn’t be afraid to forget this in the cellar for another 2-4 years or more, a rarity for the genre.
Michael Godel – Kevin Judd gets serious with wild ferments and his lees affected, bedrock raised sauvignon blanc goes from lemon preserve to great tannic intensity. The shivers sent down the fruit’s spine are nothing short of wild. This will morph into something wilder perhaps, but for now it’s like Chablis in the guise of Pouilly-Fumé. Flagship Stores Only
David Lawrason – Simply outstanding!

Nautilus Chardonnay 2016 Marlborough, South Island ($27.95)
John Szabo – Here’s a smoky, leesy, firm and citrusy chardonnay from Nautilus of solid depth and complexity, and genuine cool climate fruit profile. Wood is noted but integrated and length is good to very good. Solid stuff.

Greywacke Wild Sauvignon 2014Nautilus Chardonnay 2016Momo Pinot Gris 2017Wither Hills Rarangi Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016

Momo 2017 Organic Pinot Gris, Marlborough ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Many NZ pinot gris are overtly fruity, sweetish and bordering on flabby, this one from an organic producer is just firm enough and nicely refined. Expect lovely complex gentle nose of peach pie, fennel, elderflower and honeycomb.

John Szabo – I am admittedly a fan of Momo’s organic wines, and this pinot gris I find particularly exciting. The nose is all wildflowers and honey, wet stone and nectarine, with a vibrancy and vitality that few others in Marlborough posess. The palate is fleshy and broad, and yes, there’s some bruised fruit and oxidation creeping in, but the range of flavours and the succulent acids, the brininess and the concentration are admirable. Drink now.

Wither Hills Rarangi Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Single Vineyard, Marlborough, ($22.95)

Sara d’Amato – The Rarangi vineyard was planted 16 years ago below the coastal foothills of the Richmond Ranges. The cool easterly wind meets the warmth of the site created by the surrounding native wetlands and spectacular topography. The resulting wine is one which is much more chalky, mineral than tropical or fruity. It has the pungency of New Zealand sauvignon blanc but the savoury, dry, nerviness of the Loire. In all this highly compelling wine is demonstrative of one of the many new styles of sauvignon emerging in New Zealand.
Michael Godel – This is serious enough to make a blind mix of Sancerre and Marlborough add up to one confounding flight. Not that it tastes like a ringer of the Loire but its extract, stone-driven focus and lean intensity is zingy, exciting and vital. There is grit, power and balance from genesis to finish. Terrific wine.

That’s a wrap for this week. Sorry to miss you at the NZ fair next week, but tune in here next week when John takes you through the Bordeaux feature on this massive release. There is also a rose theme, and many other interesting wines.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine

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.

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

New Release and VINTAGES Preview