Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES May 2, 2020

New Zealand Still Shines in a Dimmed Spotlight

By David Lawrason, with notes from Sara d’Amato, John Szabo and Michael Godel

For years in the lives of wine lovers in Ontario the first days of May meant an exuberant focus on the lively wines of New Zealand. Wines of New Zealand staged some of the most upbeat, educational and fun wine fairs on the annual wine calendar. I do miss them! But here in 2020, we are left with no fair and a VINTAGES themed release that is dimmed to only 50 stores, the largest stores in various communities around the province.

To help fill the gap I point you to an in-depth article and links to two seminars by John Szabo who travelled extensively in New Zealand in 2019. The article is “Life Beyond Sauvignon: New Zealand’s Insider Secrets. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the other 45th Parallel.” And on that same theme John hosted a webinar on NZ sauvignon blanc on April 29th. Part two on NZ chardonnay and pinot noir is coming up May 27th.

In the absence of VINTAGES media tastings, Wines of New Zealand stepped up to finance the WineAlign purchase of all the New Zealand wines on the May 2 release. (A reminder that without media preview tastings WineAlign cannot publish newsletters until a few days after the release). That meant me going to the Kingsway LCBO in Etobicoke on Saturday morning, loading up a cart and taking too much time – to the disapproval of the silent, masked shoppers lined up outside.

Wolf Blass Grey Label Shiraz 2013 

The selection of nine wines (why only nine wines in a feature?) is very representative of where New Zealand sits commercially in the world’s minds eye, but VINTAGES has applied a fairly keen eye and found some interesting wines.

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc remains NZ’s centrepiece but only one of the four sauvignons (Babich Black Label) is from Marlborough this time. The Tohu is from next door Awatere Valley (although still technically Marlborough), and the Craggy Range and Borthwick are from the Wairarapa Valley (which includes Martinborough) across Cook Strait on the southern tip of the North Island. From our far distant global perspective that distinction may seem irrelevant, but they are a little less fruit-obvious, drier and leaner. Which I like.

The mid-priced Matahiwi pinot gris also leans to restraint within a category that is all over the map, and again often too sweet. The Coopers Creek Plainsman Chardonnay is unfortunately not particularly noteworthy of itself, but NZ can make great cool climate chardonnay with the best of them.

The three reds are each notable. The Satellite Pinot Noir displays basic, good NZ acid structure in lighter and affordable style and the Mohua Pinot from Otago lays out the exuberance of that regional style. From Hawkes Bay the Elephant Hill LePhant blend perfectly captures the midweight, energy of the region. Our critics picks from the NZ collection are below, with full reviews on WineAlign.

The rest of the release is, as always, is all over the global map. With VINTAGES no longer making wines available to preview we are left to make our own decisions as to which wines we would like to review, then seek importers consent to fund the purchases. And I must say I like this method, even though the work is increased. And yes, ideally if we were making pots of money we would just buy all the wines. We are not there yet.

VINTAGES Buyers’ Guide May 2nd:

The New Zealand Wines

Craggy Range 2018 Te Muna Sauvignon Blanc, Martinborough, North Island ($27.95)
David Lawrason – Te Muna is a slightly cooler sub-zone of Martinborough with vineyards planted on deeply gravelled benches above the Huangarua River. So there is some herbal/vegetal spike to the nose here, with capers, celery leaf and gooseberry, plus wet stone minerality. It is medium weight, firm and just ever so slightly off-dry, with excellent flavour intensity.
John Szabo – Craggy’s sauvignon fits stylistically in a category somewhere between Bordeaux whites (the region also features gravelly riverbed soils), Friulian or Styrian sauvignon, and well, Martinborough. It delivers an impressive mix of ripe citrus aromatics but also textural interest, abetted by a small percentage of wood ageing. Premium wine.…

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And that is all for this week. Wishing all families a wonderful weekend together as you look after and pay tribute to Mom.

David Lawrason
VP of Wine


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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.

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

New Release and VINTAGES Preview