New Zealand Wines New Release Tasting San Francisco

I have been looking forward to this event for weeks. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has been my lifetime companion (in fact, some days I think we are married). However, I have frequently struggled with the quality of other varieties crafted by the very same wineries that produce outstanding Sauvignon Blanc.

 

It was an interesting tasting that offered a “pour your own wine” format, where we all got to walk around a perimeter of tables laden with an amazing array of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Riesling and other varieties (even a few dessert wines).

 

Of note were four “walk-through seminars.” Kudos to the event coordinator David Strada, a sheer stroke of genius. The first one involved a Riesling challenge when 12 winemakers were given the same grapes from the same block and asked to make their versions of Mud House vineyard.  It was quite a palate workout and a highlight indeed. The offerings were judged back in NZ to determine which winemaker created the most balanced effort. I am pleased to share that the winner, Mt Difficulty winemaker Matt Dicey, was my second favorite. Tasting wines in that type of panel is truly a priceless experience and made me wish for more opportunities like this. Then there were Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir Regional Tour and of course Hot Reds, encompassing other noteworthy red varieties.
Some observations

 

1. Some outstanding local offerings never make it overseas (true for any country)
2. Some would be surprised at the quality of Syrah/Blends (that, in most cases, has a way to go but are farther along the continuum than I had anticipated)
3. Same producers stand out year in and year out (subject to vintage only)
4. Sauvignon Blanc is New Zealand national treasure (true for NZ)

 

On that note if you call yourself a Sauvignon Blanc lover, or even a wannabe lover, these wines are NOT to be missed. Call and bug your local Liquor Mart and make him/her order you some. This segment could have been titled “Everything St Clair” as I discovered that even with $18 -$24 price points it is well worth the price of admission.

 

1.    St. Clair Pioneer’s Block18 Snap Block 2010
2.    St Clair Vicar’s Choice 2010
3.    Bird Old Schoolhouse Vineyard 2010
4.    St. Clair 2010
5.    Brancott Letter Series “B” 2010
6.    Matua Paretai 2009 (not to be confused with regular Matua bottling)
7.    Last but not least the QPR goes to the ubiquitous Kim Crawford, (2010) after tasting 3 dozen Sauvignon Blancs in 4 hours (and going back to re-taste a dozen, some were tasted 3 times) I can absolutely say – for $12.99 (Costco price) it can’t be beat. Overall, the 2010 vintage showed MUCH better than 2009, so given the choice I would head that way.

 

My two favorite Pinot Noirs were fashioned by Felton Road (2009) and Spy Valley Envoy “Outpost” (2008) both in high $50s, I was genuinely impressed with both.  I first tasted Felton Road at IPNC 6 years ago when I was on a mission to educate myself about Oregon Pinot Noir.  Instead, I spent some quality time with Felton Road’s winemaker who knocked my socks off with his silky, robust, fruit-driven and texturally marvelous wines.  Then there was Stonyridge Waiheke Island. When I first poured myself some of this inky elixir I thought for a moment that I was at the wrong event. Was it a Bordeaux tasting after all? The wine smelled of huge tightly wound fruit along with some earthy notes, intense and pure, with lots of delineation and prominent yet well framed tannins.

 

Miss Universe of Wine… sort of

 

Apparently famous for its Bordeaux Blends and a team with many talents; including a  great sense of humor, Stonyridge Larose, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (predominantly), Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot stumped my palate big time. I loved the surprise and the sheer raw power of the wine and obvious wealth of complexity.  And, for $150, you can taste this great surprise as well! $150 sounds like a lot. However, to put it in perspective, this wine was deemed in the top three along with Chateau Latour (clearly in a different price range) by French judges determining the best wines of the world (that is like being in top 3 in Miss Universe pageant), and is NZ first Cult wine. Affluent consumers will snap up this cult “bargain” (by US and European standards for pricing of “cult” wines, when have you last seen one for under $400?)

 

As I have discovered, the press is gaga about this wine with “Arcigola Slow Food” Italy (the world’s largest wine publication) referring to it as “One of the Top 100 Wines in the World” and it did get noticed by Robert Parker who gave it 93-95 pts in 2009 “The 2008 Larose shows great purity on the nose: blackberry, wild hedgerow and a touch of dried herbs. It has quite understated, but very good, definition. There is a lovely chocolate scent off-stage that should evolve with time (think Pomerol.) The palate is very smooth, nice definition, dominated by the new oak at the moment but there is certainly sufficient fruit to support it. It offers very fine tannins on the finish that exudes so much precision and poise. It is superb.”  Sourced from, by all accounts, magical vineyard that boasts perfect ripeness, the low-yielding, handpicked grapes Larose is a force to be reckoned with and a fine addition to any cellar.

 

TGIF…SB…from NZ

 

To paraphrase TGIF, I look forward to SB on Fridays. That’s my thing. I open an SB every Friday at 5, my official Happy Hour. Okay I do it on Thursdays as well…and a random gloomy Monday here and there.

 

I have said for years that there simply no other region worldwide that comes close to producing the sort of quality of Sauvignon Blanc as New Zealand does in its sleep. I realize that it is a bold statement.   However I have earned the right to make it.  Without exaggeration, I have drunk a LOT of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (if I had a punch card for every bottle I consumed… I would have earned enough to drink free well into my retirement) and really tried to get into other countries with, thus far, with little to no success. I often say that I would take an average to mediocre NZ Sauvignon Blanc over an above average/highly touted (and often strongly priced) from anywhere else in the world. My simple truth is that if one can afford to drink the Sauvignon Blancs from Araujo, Rochioli, Spottswoode, etc. I would stay on domestic land a lot more often. However at $40+ they are a luxury. However educating your palate at a mere $12-$14 (an average cost at a large retailer offering discounts) is far easier on the wallet and taste delicious. I have picked up random New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs on random shelves and save an occasional disappointment the varietal purity and consistency is nothing short of mind-boggling. Every time I got talked into a substitute (by way of Chile, Argentina, etc.) it never paid off.  Needless to say that now when I am filling my basket at BevMo, trying to ignore all Wilfred Wongs wine wisdoms, and see a fresh-faced sales associate heading my way with some fresh Chilean sage advice I politely swerve and hide in beer isle.   Alternatively if he fishes me out, I say as politely as I can: ”Back off my palate, sir. I know what I am doing!”

Ilona Thompson

Ilona Thompson is Editor-in-Chief at PalateXposure, a destination site for oenophiles, gourmands and luxury travelers. She also recently launched #Wine, a site dedicated to wines and spirits reviews, and #Photography, a site devoted to high-quality wine, food, and travel related photography.

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