Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.

Introduction – and the need for New Zealand wine people to taste widely:
Close study of the 2000, 2005 and in due course the 2009 Bordeaux vintages is essential for all New Zealand wine-makers seeking to make fine cabernet / merlot winestyles.  These are definitive vintages for becoming familiar with the absolute international standards for the style.   Some say they are the greatest run of vintages since the 1945,  1947 and 1949 sequence.  As our inclinations go more and more to export,  to diversify on the strong base that sauvignon blanc has built,  only one standard is now acceptable for our cabernet / merlots – the international one.  Since we pride ourselves on our cool-temperate viticultural climate,  that means the Bordeaux standard.  The days of being blissfully unaware of the quality of New Zealand red wine,  or of making excuses for it,  are over – thankfully.

And yet,  for the cabernet / merlot class,  there are still many New Zealand winemakers who are either so blinkered,  or so reluctant to pay for outside wine,  that they do not seize the opportunities which arise to taste fine examples of these increasingly rare-in-New Zealand Bordeaux wines.  Yet these people presume to charge us sometimes outrageous prices for wines which may be less good than the best cru bourgeois wines,  all-too-often unaware that the latter can in some cases be bought more cheaply,  with just a little knowledge about Bordeaux (i.e. buying en primeur).  In the New Zealand context,  fine cabernet / merlots worth emulating almost always means  Bordeaux,  the bizarre markings of Australian wine jingoists notwithstanding.  More specifically,  the qualifying wines are all the currently-acknowledged classed growths,  and their St Emilion and Pomerol equivalents left out of the 1855 classification,  plus certain top cru bourgeois.

Likewise,  there are still many local wine judges and winewriters who presume to lay down the law about what constitutes good New Zealand wine,  but again,  distressingly many of these people simply will not make the effort or pay the tasting fees needed to participate in tastings of reference-standard wines,  and educate their palates to discriminating international standards.   Wine quality is an ever-moving target,  and continual education and refreshing of the palate is essential,   if meaningful assessment of the wines of Bordeaux,  Burgundy and the Northern Rhone Valley – those red winestyles most relevant to the future of New Zealand red wine practice – is to be achieved.  We ignore these wines at our individual and collective peril.  And the same principle applies to all the other wine styles which deserve to be part of New Zealand's wine future.

How then do we explain the phenomenon of my offering a well-advertised tasting of 1966 classed-growth Bordeaux,  including arguably the top wine of the vintage,  plus the most important post-war red wine in New Zealand,  1965 (NZ) McWilliams Cabernet Sauvignon (and the 1966 too),  in the Hawkes Bay heart of New Zealand cabernet / merlot wine-making country,  and not being able to fill it.  Simply unbelievable – and this was a couple of years ago,  before the current gloom set in.  The notion that one cannot learn from old wine simply bespeaks lack of thought at best,  and ignorance at worst.  The wines opened superbly,  to reinforce that point.  

Similarly,  in July this year every winewriter in New Zealand – some 35 of them – was invited to a tasting of 14 international syrahs in Auckland,  to celebrate the launch of Obsidian Vineyard's first Obsidian Syrah (as opposed to their 'second wine',  Weeping Sands Syrah).  Only two winewriters participated,  one travelling from Wellington for the purpose.  Could it be relevant that a modest entry fee,  to cover the trade price of the wines,  was charged ?  And again in August,  the subject of this article,  a simply must-attend tasting of 12 classed growths from the critical 2000 and 2005 Bordeaux vintages in Auckland attracted only two winemakers,  two winewriters,  and fewer keen wine-tasters than was hoped.  Few wines could be of such critical importance to the continuing development of our red wine industry,  and understanding them is essential.  Whence this appalling complacency ?

One can't help thinking that quite a number in the New Zealand wine industry would do well to make less lament to the public about their difficulties,  and instead invest a little more money and time,  and rather more attitude,  into learning just what is needed to be even more competitive in the modern fine wine world.  In the North Island,  one can count almost on the fingers of one hand the number of winemakers who are in fact sufficiently passionate about their subject to regularly travel beyond their parish boundaries to relevant but chargeable fine wine tastings.  There is a world of difference between being passionate about a subject, and being merely competent in it.  When it comes to winemakers,  the exciting wines come from the former.  Admittedly little of this applies to volume-controlled  brands where market share is achieved more by continual advertising,  or lowest-common-denominator super-marketing,  than intrinsic wine interest and quality.  The key issue is,  New Zealand's international wine reputation does not lie with those wines.  

Why then are so many winemakers and winewriters apparently so blissfully unconcerned about learning about international wine standards ?  Has the one-trick success of New Zealand sauvignon blanc made too many in the industry complacent ?  If so,  that is a woefully premature sentiment.  It seems to me that both the wine industry and its people would benefit from becoming more personally familiar with international standards of wine quality,  as a result of personal commitment to tasting widely,  rather than continuing to place such slavish credence in the views of transient overseas supposed "experts",  as is so common now.

This latest tasting was offered by Auckland wine-men Ken Moon and Graeme Cavanagh.  It was presented double-blind.  The wines (listed below) included exactly the kinds of classed growth our industry should be modelling their efforts on,  and aspiring to match.  In essence that means:  forget the seven or so first growths,  which notwithstanding their virtues,  may not offer value,  and also reflect all the worst things about wine (particularly wine snobbery),  and concentrate on the more attainable top 90 or so other chateaux of Bordeaux.  As above,  that means all the other classed growths (pretty well),  and all those chateaux which should be classed in any re-ranking,  including St Emilion and Pomerol (since New Zealand is without doubt one of the very few countries on earth that can make fine merlot).  The more ambitious of these winemakers are using exactly the same skills and technology as the elite first growths,  but one can more realistically monitor them.

Conclusions from the Tasting
The key message that came through this tasting to me,  still at the blind stage,  was simply one of:  Wow !  Here are 12 Bordeaux,  and not one of them is technically faulty.  That is a dramatic turnaround from the latter part of last century,  when even at classed-growth level too many wines  showed basic faults such as oxidation,  reduction,  or brett,  either singly,  or sometimes together.  Until very recently,  the British wine press (in whom we invest so much uncritical belief) took little notice of such faults (MWs notwithstanding),  and therefore we didn't hear much about these issues.  This situation is changing rapidly in the wineries,  more slowly in the press.  We must therefore take heed of this tremendous progress in their wineries,  this flow-back of New World technology and standards into the centuries-old traditions of France.  Their leading winemakers are now able to achieve the best of both worlds,  namely wines with soul,  and technically correct too.  In contrast in New Zealand,  given this disinclination of so many winemakers to familiarise themselves with the wine styles that have sprung from long European experience,  we still make insular New World mistakes.  Amongst these,  over-oaking,  imperfect ripeness,  and lack of dry extract (the latter two both often tied-in with over-cropping) are frequent,  and we are still bedevilled by far too many reductive wines.

National wine judging in the top two wine shows is the place to tackle these deficiencies,  specifically and intensively.  Particularly for reductive wines,  as has been commented previously on this site,  currently too many tending-reductive red wines are winning high medals,  and judging results are therefore skewed.  Consequently,  the industry as a whole suffers,  since winemakers view the judging results and get the idea such wine styles are OK.  For many sulphide-sensitive consumers out there,  these wines simply are not OK.  The potential beauty of the wine is for ever impaired.  France,  traditionally lax in this area,  is now almost setting the pace.  We must take note.

The finest of the wines in the tasting showed a perfection of ripeness without aggressive alcohol which was enchanting.  2000 and 2005 Bordeaux still include many wines which can be described as 'classical' in their ripeness profiles,  and 'classical' in their elevage.  This is an enormous comfort to us in New Zealand,  where our temperate-climate in Waiheke Island and Hawkes Bay is perfectly suited to matching the 'classical' attributes of claret,  or cabernet / merlot and related wine-styles.  In contrast,  in the last 30 years,  the wine world at large and the consumer in particular has been subjected to a barrage of wine comment from authors habituated to the wines of warmer climates – which are generally bigger,  riper and more alcoholic.  For these people,  'classical',  crisp,  refreshing cabernet / merlots are "austere":  they want not only an ample lushness of ripeness,  but also a much more indulgent style of elevage where winemaker-induced artefact impacts on the essential varietal character of the wine much more.  

Accordingly,  we have latter-day winewriters and their acolytes praising qualities such as prune,  chocolate and even mocha smells and flavours in cabernet / merlot wines – tastes unthinkable in claret a little more than a generation ago.  And the concomitant to this desire for big and over-ripe wines has been a distressing normalisation of Californian or Australian levels of alcohol at around 14 – 14.5%,  compared with the 12.5 – 13.5% of two generations ago.  This can only be harmful to society.  It is the last thing we need in New Zealand wines.  Put simply,  why sabotage our greatest potential viticultural and wine-making advantage – our ability to achieve full physiological maturity and true varietal quality in so many temperate-climate varieties at attractively modest alcohol levels ?  Exceptions are few in New Zealand:  viognier might be one.

In this context therefore,  one cloud on the horizon may be the 2009 Bordeaux,  for which the reports are extraordinarily favourable.  But,  reading between the lines of those able to taste and report on them in the recent en primeur campaign,  it seems likely that both ripeness and alcohol levels will be somewhat higher than 2000 or 2005.  This raises the danger of market-led winemakers,  as opposed to more independent or philosophically-minded winemakers,  striving to make the likely 2009 alcohol levels the new goal.  The result would be,  in the simplest terms,  an increasing Americanisation of taste,  even in fine European winestyles.  I do not like this prospect,  either philosophically,  or in the sense it diminishes our ability to exploit the great marketing attribute of New Zealand's wines – their cool-climate delicacy – relative to Australian wine.

In the following notes reflecting a rigorously-blind tasting,  it turned out that I marked wines of more aromatic and classical ripeness and elevage (such as Montrose) more highly than softer,  more modern wine styles such as Lynch-Bages,  where more toasty oak and thoughts of chocolate are creeping in (though cepage can be relevant,  too).  

Acknowledgements:  details of cepage and elevage etc come from the constant companion (nowadays) for  Bordeaux tastings:  Parker,  Robert,  2003:  Bordeaux  Simon & Schuster,  1244 p.,  modified in some cases by later information on his website.  JR = Jancis Robinson,  www.jancisrobinson.com;  RP = Robert Parker,  www.erobertparker.com;  WS = Wine Spectator,  www.winespectator.com;  subscriptions needed for details.  


2005  Ch Branaire-Ducru
2000  Ch Branaire-Ducru
2000  Ch Cos d'Estournel
2000  Ch Grand-Puy-Lacoste
2005  Ch Langoa-Barton
2005  Ch Leoville-Barton
  2000  Ch Les Forts de Latour
2005  Ch Lynch-Bages
2005  Ch Montrose
2000  Ch Montrose
2000  Ch Pichon-Longueville Baron
2005  Ch Prieure-Lichine

2000  Ch Montrose   19 +  ()
St Estephe Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  12.5%;  $129   [ cork;  price en primeur landed;  CS 63%,  Me 31,  CF 4,  PV 2 = cepage in 2000 (Parker),  planted to 9000 vines / ha,  average vine age 40,  usually cropped @ c.42 hl / ha (2.2 t/ac);  3 – 4 week cuvaison,  temperature-controlled;  MLF in tank;  18 months in French oak 50 – 70% new;  JR: 18;  RP 95+;  WS: 96;  www.chateau-montrose.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  more colour development than the Cos 2000,  in the middle for depth.  Bouquet is quiet on initial opening,  totally pure,  supremely classical,  no suggestions of chocolate or toast or contemporary trendyness.  The wine gradually opens to slightly roses-floral deep cassis grading to dark plum and light new oak,  with just a hint of cedar to come.  Palate immediately amplifies the cassis,  great concentration,  a complex dark plum component more omega than black doris,  a vivid impression of skin tannin more than oak,  and a potentially velvety texture.  This is particularly fine and classical claret,  elegant,  harmonious and balanced throughout,  lingering long in mouth.  Cellar 5 – 25 years.  GK 08/10

2000  Ch Cos d'Estournel   19  ()
St Estephe Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  12.5%;  $209   [ cork;  price en primeur landed;  CS 60%,  Me 38,  CF 2 = cepage in 2000 (Parker);   average vine age 32 years,  80% new French oak barriques for 22 months;  JR: 17.5+;  RP 91;  WS: 96;  www.cosestournel.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  the second deepest wine,  fresher than the 2000 Montrose,  but not comparing with the 2005s.  On bouquet the Cos immediately presents as taking a first growth approach,  with great richness of fragrant fruit but also much new oak and some toast.  Happily the days of Cos being dogged by reduction seem past – the purity is excellent.  In mouth in one sense,  the wine still seems almost primary,  a great concentration of cassis and darkest plum,  the higher merlot of the cepage more evident now in its rounder texture and softness.  It is not as aromatic as the 2000 Montrose,  but it is richer,  with the oak more evident.  I've been unlucky with Cos over the years,  so this is the finest bottle I have seen.  Cellar 10 – 35 years.  GK 08/10

2005  Ch Montrose   19  ()
St Estephe Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  12.5%;  $197   [ cork;  price en primeur landed;  CS 65%,  Me 31,  CF 3,  PV 1 = cepage in 2005 (Parker),  planted to 9000 vines / ha,  average vine age 45,  cropped at appreciably less than the average of 42 hl / ha (2.2 t/ac);  3 – 4 week cuvaison,  temperature-controlled;  MLF in tank;  18 months in French oak 50 – 70% new;  JR: 15 & 18.5;  RP 95;  WS: 94;  www.chateau-montrose.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the deepest of the 12 wines,  a great colour.  If the 2000 Montrose is quiet,  the 2005 is in one sense near-silent on bouquet,  yet one is immediately impressed by the purity,  the (even on bouquet) concentration,  the classical emphasis on berry dominant over oak,  and again the lack of trendy tricks.  Palate seems even more concentrated than the 2000 (which fits in with the reduced crop in 2005),  a magical depth of cassisy berry apparent on the tongue,  potentially velvety skin tannins,  beautiful classical oak shaping but not dominating,  an aftertaste of great purity,  length and beauty.  This will I think eclipse the 2000 in its maturity,  but for now it is reserved in comparison.  Magnificent cabernet / merlot,  to cellar 10 – 35 years.  GK 08/10

2005  Ch Leoville-Barton   18 ½ +  ()
St Julien Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $147   [ cork;  price en primeur landed;  CS 72%,  Me 20,  CF 8,  planted to 9000 vines / ha,  average vine age 27 years;  2 – 3 weeks cuvaison in wood;  20 months in French oak 50% new;  JR: 18;  RP 95+;  WS: 96;  website is derisory;  www.leoville-barton.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the third deepest colour.  Bouquet on the Barton is much more forward than the Montrose 2005.  It shows a mouth-watering combination of cassis,  dark plum,  rich brown mushrooms and faintly toasty oak.  The depth and complexity of the wine is enchanting,  yet it seems free of the light brett which has characterised the chateau for decades.  Palate is firm,  deep,  rich,  a magical spread of flavours,  not quite the crystalline classical purity of the 2005 Montrose,  just a hint of dark chocolate.  Cellar 5 – 25 years.  GK 08/10

2005  Ch Lynch-Bages   18 ½  ()
Pauillac Fifth Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $147   [ cork;  price en primeur landed;  cepage typically CS 73%,  Me 15,  CF 10,  PV 2;  planted to 9,000 vines / ha,  average age 32 years;  typically 15 – 17 days cuvaison,  15 months in French oak 60% new;   JR: 17;  RP:  91;  WS: 93;  www.lynchbages.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  just above midway in depth.  Bouquet is reserved initially,  but opens to fine cassis and dark plum dominant over oak,  the fragrance growing and the wine seeming very promising indeed.  Palate is only slightly less as yet,  still firm through youth,  but showing perfect ripeness,  with even a suggestion of blackberry to the cassis.  Oak and acid firm the wine,  with just a little modern toast on the oak adding richness to the flavour,  and a suggestion of dark chocolate.  This is going to be a lovely bottle in years to come,  in a more modern Pauillac style.  Cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 08/10

2005  Ch Prieure-Lichine   18 ½  ()
Margaux Fourth Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $83   [ cork;  price en primeur landed;  CS 56%,  Me 34,  PV & CF 10,  planted to 8000 vines / ha,  average vine age 32 years;  3 – 4 week cuvaison in wood;  18 months in French oak 60% new;  JR: 16.5;  RP 92;  WS: 92;  no website found ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  above midway in depth.  Initially poured this was quiet and pure.  It gradually opened to reveal the most floral bouquet of the top wines,  a midnight-deep dark rose and violets aroma,  on cassis and rich pure berry,  the oak very much in the background.  Palate is both leaner and silkier than the more highly rated wines,  yet still wonderfully concentrated with another black cherry-like berry in the cassis adding magic to the flavour.  New oak becomes apparent in mouth,  and the richness grows and grows.  Deceptive wine,  potentially as long-lived and beautiful as the 1966 Prieure-Lichine still is today,  back when the chateau was more highly regarded than later in the last century.  Cellar 10 – 30 years.  GK 08/10

2005  Ch Langoa-Barton   18 +  ()
St Julien Third Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  12.5%;  $130   [ cork;  price en primeur landed;  cepage typically CS 70%,  Me 20,  CF 10,  planted to 9,000 vines / ha,  average age 32 years;  typically 15 – 21 days cuvaison,  20 months in French oak 50% new;   JR: 17.5;  RP: 90;  WS: 92;  website allegedly also covers Langoa,  but is derisory;  www.leoville-barton.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet is much more modern on this wine,  dark plum as much as cassis,  toasty oak with a thought of chocolate,  all much more fragrant than some of the 2005s.  There is an intriguing red rose floral threaded through the bouquet too.  Palate is quite different,  just a suggestion of the darker cherries of Black Forest gateau,  yet lingering beautifully on red fruits,  with lovely ripeness,  finesse and length on gentle oak.  Distinctive and attractive claret,  fractionally richer than the Grand-Puy.  Cellar 5 – 25 years.  GK 08/10

2000  Ch Grand-Puy-Lacoste   18  ()
Pauillac Fifth Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $106   [ cork;  price en primeur landed;  CS 78%,  Me 20,  CF 2 = cepage in 2000 (Parker);  planted to 10,000 vines / ha,  average age 32 years;  typically 17 – 20 day cuvaison,  18 – 22 months in French oak 50% new;   JR: 17.5+;  RP:  94;  WS: 92;  no website found ]
Ruby and velvet,  a touch of garnet,  the oldest of the 12,  and marginally the lightest.  On bouquet,  Grand-Puy-Lacoste has been very true to itself over the years,  a lovely wine to display the concept of cigar-box complexity,  in cassis,  vinosity and fragrant oak.  As the colour would suggest,  palate is forward relative to the Montrose,  not as rich as the top wines,  but not as soft as expected.  It still tastes youthful despite the colour,  with cigar-box and cedar overtones on the red plums,  and more oak than most.  As always,  classical Pauillac,  to cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 08/10

2000  Ch Pichon-Longueville Baron   18  ()
Pauillac Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $155   [ cork;  price en primeur landed;  vineyard cepage CS 60%,  Me 35,  CF 4,  PV 1,  average age 30 – 35 years,  planted @ 9 000 vines / ha,  and cropped @ c. 2.3 t/ac;   typically 15 – 17 days cuvaison,  15 – 18 months in French oak 70% new;   JR: 18;  RP:  97;  WS: 93;  www.chateaupichonlongueville.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  midway in depth.  Bouquet is immediately forthcoming on this wine,  both fragrant and nearly floral – a sweet floral suggestion reminiscent of cherry ripe.  Below is a fruit aroma like sweetened bottled plums,  and the thought of a higher-merlot wine arises at the blind stage.  Even on palate,  there are reminders of a St Emilion like Figeac,  in a modern styling with some toasty / chocolate oak.  Very hard to pin down the distinctive flavours on this wine,  for there is a delicate leafy / tobacco suggestion too,  even though nett ripeness is good.  Texture is beautiful,  even though it is not as rich as some.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 08/10

2000  Ch Branaire-Ducru   17 ½ +  ()
St Julien Fourth Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  12.5%;  $64   [ cork;  price en primeur landed;  cepage typically CS 70%,  Me 22,  CF 4,  PV 4;  planted to 10,000 vines / ha,  average age 32 years;  typically 21 days cuvaison,  18 – 22 months in French oak 50% new;  JR: 16.5 & 17;  RP:  94;  WS: 92;  www.branaire.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  just below midway in depth of colour,  between Montrose and Grand-Puy in age.  This was the first of the wines in the line-up to not reflect perfect ripeness.  Bouquet is more the concept claret than immediately cassis or cigar-box,  but it is beautifully pure and lightly fragrant.  The wine communicates more in mouth,  medium weight like the Grand-Puy,  the cassis apparent now but older-tasting,  in fact the whole wine more developed than a number.  Total acid is up a little,  and flavour is tending short,  a hint of stalk,  but there is an attractive suggestion of savoury complexity too.  Still a pretty pleasing classed Bordeaux,  to cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 08/10

2005  Ch Branaire-Ducru   17 ½  ()
St Julien Fourth Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  12.5%;  $106   [ cork;  price en primeur landed;  cepage typically CS 70%,  Me 22,  CF 4,  PV 4;  planted to 10,000 vines / ha,  average age 37 years;  typically 21 days cuvaison,  18 – 22 months in French oak 50% new;   JR: 17.5;  RP:  95;  WS: 92;  www.branaire.com ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  below midway in depth.  In the company,  this fragrant wine seemed much more reminiscent of Hawkes Bay or Waiheke Island,  with just a hint of garden mint in floral components so subtle as to be fleeting.  Berry includes cassis,  with a suggestion of cedar.  Palate is a little less,  not the fruit / oak integration,  and tending austere on a stalky streak,  indicating imperfect uniformity of ripeness.  A cool but still fragrant and attractive claret style,  with reminders of some Ngatarawa Triangle and Te Mata Cabernet / Merlot recent wines.  I am puzzled by Parker's enthusiasm for this wine,  since the characters I find are normally ones he is down on.  His notes read as if for a very different wine,  whereas Robinson has captured the 2005 exactly.  Cellar 5 – 25 years,  in its style.  GK 08/10

2000  Ch Les Forts de Latour   17 +  ()
Second wine of Pauillac First Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $161   [ cork;  cepage typically CS 75%,  Me 20,  CF 4,  PV 1,  in 2000 CS 60,  Me 40 (Parker);  planted to 10,000 vines / ha,  average age less than the 37 years of the grand vin;  typically 21 days cuvaison,  17 months in French oak presumably older than the 85 – 100% new of the grand vin;  JR: 18;  RP:  92;  WS: 93;  www.chateau-latour.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  the second to lightest,  fresher than the Grand-Puy.  In the company,  at the blind stage this was clearly the least of the wines,  though still clearly claret.  The key attribute is the imperfect ripeness,  with leafy / stalky notes on bouquet,  in clear cassis / high-cabernet red,  very Medoc (in a slightly negative sense).  Palate has good fruit,  high cassis,  a lot of new oak,  but the austerity of some stalk is sustained throughout.  In one sense,  one can say the stalky notes show the winemakers did their task well,  culling these fractions from the grand vin.  The leafy notes will go tobacco-y as the wine matures,  but I cannot share the much greater enthusiasm for this wine evident in all three authors cited.  You can't help feeling that sometimes the label does creep in to the evaluation.  Cellar 5 – 20 years,  maybe longer,  and again,  in its style.  GK 08/10