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

Geoff Kelly  MSc (Hons)

Last year I reported on a lecture and tasting to the Level Three Oenology and Viticulture class at Lincoln University.  In one year we talk about syrah and viognier as the key grapes of the Northern Rhone,  which are producing winestyles showing so much promise in New Zealand.  The Southern Rhone red wines are largely irrelevant to us,  in terms of practical New Zealand viticulture.  In the alternate year,  this year,  the subject is Bordeaux / Hawkes Bay blends.  

The scope of the presentation,  and my approach to it,  was outlined in last year's article:  
Seminar for Lincoln University – Northern Rhone Valley grapes re New Zealand.  For this year,  24 September,  we discuss only red grapes,  cabernet / merlot blends.  In years gone by,  I used to occasionally read about British wine enthusiasts being shown the component varieties of Bordeaux blends,  and think how great that would be.  Such tastings happened only rarely,  when enlightened proprietors visited Britain,  or more likely,  well-connected MWs were presenting tastings or seminars on the region.  Now our own viticulture and winemaking is reaching such a wonderful level,  we can seek to emulate that approach here.

Securing single-variety wines which do in fact illustrate the varieties well is more difficult than one might suppose.  In the new world we do not yet sufficiently respect the grape.  Often the variety is bludgeoned via oak into complying with the winemaker's notion of what a bordeaux / Hawkes Bay blend should be.  While this may be OK to a degree for the tannic cabernet sauvignon,  it is less OK for the more supple merlot,  and even less OK for the beautiful and subtle cabernet franc.  This year I thought we achieved the best display of the main varieties,  cabernet sauvignon,  merlot,  cabernet franc,  and malbec,  that I have found so far.  Good petite verdot remains elusive however.  Admittedly it is a minor part of the winestyle both in Bordeaux and here,  but it is more important than malbec,  by far,  and likely to become more  important still.  Achieving a good demonstration example remains the goal.  

The layout for the tasting was:  clear-cut cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc wines,  then two versions of merlot differing in their oaking (partly to illustrate the point above),  then a malbec.  The sixth 'wine' is an actual (and beautiful) cassis,  to illustrate in fact what this oft-used but little-tasted descriptor is all about.  Then follow two faulty wines,  to both focus the students on tasting more critically,  and also increase interaction between presenter and audience.  The final two samples in the line-up are complete wines,  hopefully to illustrate the notion that an artful blend is more than the sum of the parts.  In this approach,  I attach importance to having all ten wines out at once,  so that we can constantly refer back to this or that aspect of a previous sample.  This facilitates learning more than any other tasting practice I know.  

In last year's report,  I alternated my commentary and goals with the reviews.  This year the explanatory material is more within each review,  below.


2009  Y Amirault Bourgueil Le Grand Clos
   nv  E. Briottet Creme de Cassis de Dijon
2007  Church Road Malbec Cuve Series Limited Release
2011  Church Road Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Grande Reserve
2011  Church Road Merlot McDonald Series
  2009  Guigal Crozes-Hermitage
2009  Vidal Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot Legacy Series
2012  Villa Maria Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot Reserve
2013  Villa Maria Merlot Organic Cellar Selection
2010  Yalumba Cabernet Sauvignon Coonawarra The Menzies

The wines were presented in the following sequence:

2010  Yalumba Cabernet Sauvignon Coonawarra The Menzies   18  ()
Coonawarra,  South Australia,  Australia:  14%;  $51   [ cork 44mm;  CS 100% from terra rossa soils,  18 months in a variety of oak,  48% French new both barriques and hogsheads (300-litre),  1% US new hogsheads,  balance older American French and Hungarian oak,  both sizes;  to illustrate the dark-fruits,  aromatic,  firm cassis character of CS;  www.yalumba.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  some carmine,  a lovely colour.  It is the bouquet on this wine which is so exciting,  and achieves for it that rare quality (for Australian reds) of being totally of international standard.  The purity of the cassis-led berry in the bouquet is eloquent,  and totally free of euc'y taints.  And both alcohol and oak are relatively subtle.  In mouth at this early stage it is tending dry and severe,  partly youth,  partly the hole-in-the-palate straight cabernet is prone to.  But it is the length of varietal flavour,  combining both fresh blackcurrant aromas and flavours with the more complex characters of the same fruit bottled,  which is a delight.  It is simply infanticide to drink it now.  This will be a rewarding wine to cellar.  As it mellows,  it may merit a higher score,  for it is a beautifully detailed wine.  Why would Yalumba use such a short cork,  for such a good wine ?  If it is worth making a statement about screwcap,  at least do it properly.  Cellar 10 – 30 years.  GK 09/14

2009  Y Amirault Bourgueil Le Grand Clos   18  ()
Bourgueil,  Loire Valley,  France:  13%;  $42   [ cork 49mm;  CF 100%,  hand-picked @ c.3.4 t/ha = 1.4 t/ac from vines averaging 40 years old;  grapes re-sorted;  all de-stemmed,  28 days cuvaison,  c.24 months in oak but in tonneau (900-litre),  no mention of new;  not filtered;  to illustrate the fragrant and delicate red-fruits beauty of CF when not over-oaked;  www.yannickamirault.com ]
Good ruby,  markedly lighter than the Menzies.  Securing expressive cabernet franc which reveals the variety is difficult.  Southern Hemisphere winemakers tend not to respect the fragrant red fruits nature of the variety,  and therefore overload it with oak to make it 'more like a proper cabernet',  or alternatively make it in too light a style,  ending up with a wine more like pinot noir in weight.  Wider tasting experience would reveal neither approach is appropriate.  So it was a delight to find this wine,  which is beautifully winey and concentrated,  highly varietal,  and still delicately aromatic.  The contrast between this more artisan red-fruits wine and the more clinically-correct black-fruits Menzies was dramatic,  yet close examination of the palates reveals each has length in its own terms.  One just has to taste the Bourgueil more carefully,  pay more attention.  There is a whisper of brett complexity at its most casserole-savoury and beguiling,  but it is not going to affect the wine's evolution.  Only a brett-nazi could object to this wine.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 09/14

2013  Villa Maria Merlot Organic Cellar Selection   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels mostly,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $16   [ screwcap;  Me 100% cropped at 8 t/ha (3.2 t/ac);  all machine-harvested and de-stemmed,  various parcels up to 28 days cuvaison;  30% of the wine in barrel for 12 months,  25% of oak new Hungarian,  balance to s/s with some staves;  then blended,  RS < 1g/L;  fined and filtered;  to illustrate the soft round plummy nature of ripe merlot when lightly oaked;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  bright and intense.  Bouquet on this wine is much better after 24 hours breathing,  and better again after 48,  just because it is so young and pure.  But all the way it shows the ample ripe fresh black plum and soft bottled black plum character of merlot,  in beautiful contrast to the two cabernets.  Oaking is light on this wine,  one reason it was chosen to clearly illustrate the softer plumper less aromatic nature of merlot.  Though concentration is good,  palate at this stage is a little narrow,  as is often the case with wines with a significant stainless steel component,  but that (like the Menzies but for a different reason) will mellow.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 09/14

2011  Church Road Merlot McDonald Series   18 ½  ()
Tukituki Valley 67%,  Gimblett Gravels 31% & Bridge Pa Triangle 2%,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $34   [ screwcap;  Me 100%;  all de-stemmed,  up to 5 weeks  cuvaison;  18 – 20 months in French oak 33% new;  RS < 2 g/L,  all unfermentable;  coarse-filtered only;  to illustrate merlot with more oak,  but still contrasting with the aromatic and tannic CS shown in the first wine (Menzies);  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  some carmine.  After the Villa Merlot this initially smelt oaky,  but there is lovely fruit below.  Merlot too is often abused by Southern Hemisphere winemakers,  and 'firmed up' with oak into the oaky-aromatic style so many winemakers sadly think is needed for the class as a whole.  In cabernet / merlot blends,  adding aromatics (and heavyness) from oak is not the same as having great cabernet perfectly ripe which optimises the wine's intrinsic aromatic complexity.  So to round out the merlot component of the presentation,  an oaked merlot yet still with great varietal berry and fruit was needed.  This McDonald wine is near-perfect for the job,  since the plummy fruit behind the oak retains its own vibrancy in this less-warm year.  These two merlots hold hands perfectly,  and convey a great picture of the variety's role in the Hawkes Bay blend,  namely to provide palate weight and smooth-over the hole in the cabernet palate.  Cellar 8 – 20 years.  GK 09/14

2007  Church Road Malbec Cuve Series Limited Release   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $34   [ cork 45mm;  Ma 100%;  35 days cuvaison;  MLF and 21 months in French oak 46% new;  RS < 1 g/L;  cuve refers to the oak fermenters (imported from France) in the winery,  a premium Bordeaux approach;  malbec now scarcely used in the Medoc,  a little on the East Bank,  but it is the dominant  grape of Cahors ('the black wines' of Cahors … !);  included to highlight the robust flavours and rustic tannins of malbec,  when compared with the more highly-regarded mainstream varieties of Bordeaux;  Cuve Series now re-named McDonald Series because cuve not understood,  and Limited in the sense malbec of this quality can be made in only occasional vintages in New Zealand;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  incredibly dense.  And then it was on to malbec,  and a discussion of why the variety is scarcely grown in the Medoc now,  and is rare east of the river.  This malbec has the distinction of being (like Esk Valley The Terraces,  though a blend) one of the few properly ripe malbecs ever commercialised in New Zealand.  Not that you are allowed to say that,  of course.  Discussion centred on the darkly omega-plummy quality of the bouquet,  then the big rich drying palate with its furry more rustic tannins.  This was not quite so easy to illustrate or grasp,  against the Menzies where that wine's varietal and new oak tannins are high in youth,  but the display was convincing against the cabernet franc and both the merlots.  Cellar 8 – 20 years.  GK 09/14

nv  E. Briottet Creme de Cassis de Dijon   18 ½  ()
Dijon area,  Burgundy,  France:  20%;  $38   [ flanged cork 20mm,  plastic-coated;  the blackcurrant variety Black Burgundy is soaked in 20% neutral eau-de-vie for 10 weeks,  then sweetened with cane sugar to 300 or more g/L.  Cassis quality is a function of fruit quality,  the eau-de-vie quality,  and the ratio of berries to solution.  This is a good one.  Cassis is the key descriptor for perfectly ripe cabernet sauvignon,  implying vibrant freshness,  in contrast to the duller prune / raisin  qualities typically found in hot-climate cabernet.  New Zealand particularly from Hawkes Bay north at best matches Bordeaux in the perfection of its climate for perfectly ripe but not over-ripe bordeaux blends;  www.briottet.com ]
A rich older ruby and velvet.  After the first five table wines,  this 'wine' at wine-liqueur strength is a dramatic change.  The quality of the bottled blackcurrants = cassis bouquet is breathtaking,  and then the saturation of flavour,  both the pure berry component and character,  and the strength of the fruit / alcohol / sugar syrup palate,  is wonderful.  As in previous years,  very few students had smelt or tasted cassis,  so including this pivotal 'wine' provides a yardstick for life.  The Briottet is awfully good.  I asked the class having tasted this 'wine' to then go back and rinse out the mouth with wine 1,  The Menzies Cabernet Sauvignon,  and the complementarity of flavours was all one could ask.  Not really a cellar wine,  but it keeps for some time.  GK 09/14

2012  Villa Maria Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot Reserve   17  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $50   [ screwcap;  CS 88%,  Me 12,  hand-harvested @ yields not exceeding 5.5 t/ha (2.2 t/ac) and often less;  vinified @ Mangere,  100% de-stemmed;  s/s fermentation,  6 weeks cuvaison for the CS,  up to 4 weeks for the Me;  MLF and 18 months in 100% French oak 3-years air-dried and 48% new;  RS < 1 g/l;  lightly fined and filtered;  included to show sub-optimal ripeness in the cabernet / merlot class,  a characteristic still quite widespread in New Zealand Bordeaux blends;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Intense ruby,  carmine and velvet.  At this point in the presentation a couple of wines are included to throw the initiative back to the students,  rather than the more orchestrated 'demonstration' role of the first six wines.  After the briefest review of the main wine faults,  four of them are put up on the board.  Is this wine:  volatile,  reductive,  under-ripe,  over-ripe.  This serves to focus attention.  When you smell this wine,  you are struck by its intensity and purity,  but in the cassis (again) there is an intriguing spearmint note.  In mouth that translates into an aromatic wine but despite the intense fruit there is an underlying element of stalk and an impression of elevated total acid.  It is hard to imagine a better teaching wine,  and this year the group (54 students) zeroed in on the under-ripe answer like hawks.  A great result.  It will cellar in its style 5 – 20 years,  since it has the concentration to justify its Reserve classification,  even if not quite the optimal flavour,  ripeness,  balance and harmony.  GK 09/14

2009  Guigal Crozes-Hermitage   14  ()
Crozes-Hermitage,  Northern Rhone Valley,  New Zealand:  13%;  $40   [ cork 50mm;  Sy 100%;  average vine age 37 years;  typically cropped c. 5 t/ha (2 t/ac);  3 weeks cuvaison;  18 months in older French oak;  included to illustrate an unarguably reductive wine;  www.guigal.com ]
Ruby and velvet.  Bouquet is dull,  and the palate is leaden,  though the wine is quite rich and clearly ripe.  It is astonishing that firstly the house of Guigal released a wine so textbook faulty / reductive,  and secondly that not one northern hemisphere winewriter has correctly characterised this wine in their reviews.  Surely a winemaker of the standing of Guigal would assemble his wine resources into one batch before bottling,  in 2009 ?  And once again,  the class was onto the defect in a most convincing result.  So this is a great teaching wine too,  though scarcely the end use envisaged by the Guigals,  I imagine.  Not worth cellaring,  except for those blind to sulphide issues.  GK 09/14

2011  Church Road Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Grande Reserve   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels 92% & Bridge Pa Triangle 8,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $49   [ cork 50mm;  Me 77%,  CS 23,  mostly hand-picked the cabernet c.3 weeks later than the merlot (just before the rain);  cuvaison mostly in oak cuves extended to 35 days for some components;  c.20 months in all-French oak c.60% new,  balance 1-year,  with no BF or lees stirring,  just racking;  not fined or filtered;  RS < 2 g/L all unfermentable;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a great colour.  At this point in the two-hour tutorial,  with eight component wines done,  it is time to both examine and enjoy a couple of complete blends,  wines which illustrate the great potential Hawkes Bay (and Waiheke Island mentioned too,  not forgotten) has for world-class temperate-climate (i.e. complex) bordeaux blends.  For this Church Road example,  freshly poured the vanillin component from new oak was stronger than my earlier review suggested,  but the fruit richness on bouquet is powerful too.  Flavour shows a young wine of great fruit interest and complexity,  still young and yet to meld.  The oak makes it a little more aromatic than ideal at this stage,  but the plummy merlot-led berryfruit is convincing.  Lovely young wine to cellar 8 – 20 years.  GK 09/14

2009  Vidal Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot Legacy Series   19  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $60   [ screwcap;  CS 76,  Me 24,  hand-picked @ 6.8 t/ha (2.7 t/ac),  all de-stemmed;  cuvaison varies up to 30 days;  20 months in French oak 50% new;  RS <1 g/L;  minimal fining and filtration;  350 cases;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  still some carmine.  And then the last wine in the tasting / presentation,  and what a success it looked in the line-up.  There is just a hint of secondary characters and complexity appearing,  and at the same time the berry richness is expanding relative to the oak.  In mouth there is a gentleness and roundness to the wine which is totally captivating.  This is a Hawkes Bay cabernet / merlot of total Bordeaux style,  perhaps St Julien the closest –  one of the Barton family ... or Branaire-Ducru.  It is a wine to cellar by the case,  as well as a wine to draw the students' attention to the international calibre of our best Bordeaux / Hawkes Bay blends.  Maybe it is not as rich as Australian or American palates would prefer,  but it has that all-important fine wine quality,  charm and beauty.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 09/14