Tag Archives: New Zealand

Tasting with Friends: Unexpected Pinot Noirs

It had been way too long since we conducted one of our fairly regular wine tastings with friends. The rules are always the same: The host sets a topic (we did “European Reds“, “Strange Fruit“, “French and Argentinian Malbecs“, “Michigan vs. Mosel” and others in the past; you can find links to all of them here), and then guests bring a wine bottle each. The wines are usually accompanied by cheeses and meats, and as of late we try to taste them blindly.

Two of our friends had to move out of town for work, so we had been missing them dearly. When one of them came to town for a visit, we made sure to have a tasting. Since I was hosting, I had the honor of setting the rules. I called the tasting “Unexpected Pinot Noirs” and explained that I would like to try Pinot not from France or the U.S. usual suspects Oregon and California (but guests were free to ignore that rule). I am a huge fan of Pinot Noir and was looking for a chance to expand my palate.

We paired the wines with cheeses and meats from my local go to sausage maker Biercamp. These guys just know what they are doing: I got several bacons thinly sliced, including duck and lamb bacon, a wonderful garlic and herbs de Provence sausage with a nice kick, as well as smoke sticks from them. Delicious pairing options for sure.

Blind tasting has its own trappings, and I am always a bit weary of it because it is the most humbling experience you can imagine. You try to whittle down where the wine is from, and while doing that more often than not I convince myself that it is a particular style or region or vintage and then look for arguments to support that, thus closing off my mind. Nina tends to be way better than me at picking up nuances and determining characteristics about wine. She definitely owns me in blind tastings, and so it was with this one:

A Pinot from the Ruwer valley

A Pinot from the Ruwer valley

The first wine we tried was a German Pinot Noir (called Spätburgunder, literally “late Burgundy”), a 2010 Heinrich Mertes Waldracher Meisenberg Cuveé Lara. My friend Mansoo had sent me this bottle a while back (as well as the other bottle we entered into the race), and I was eager to try it. Heinrich Mertes winery is located in the Ruwer valley, a small tributary to the Mosel river. The wine showed a medium-light red color. The nose was perfumy with currants and some heat. It wasn’t exciting at all. The heat was actually quite disturbing. On the palate, though, this wine shone: raspberry, red currant and tobacco aromas, and an awesome kick of acidity. The puzzling and intriguing thing about this wine was that the fruit tasted very ripe, yet the acidity kept it wonderfully fresh. This was a strong beginning. The nose not so much, but the flavor profile was awesome. For me, the acidity gave it away: Because I knew there was a 2010 from Germany in the race, a year with quite high acidity in general, I took my chances and guessed right (so did Nina).

Quite the label, huh?

Quite the label, huh?

Next up, a 2007 Arno Kruft Veldenzer Grafschafter Sonnenberg from the Mosel (our second entry). The color was in stark contrast to the first wine: dark, purplish red. The nose showed wet dirt, some rotting branches and what others described as compost aromas. Not very pleasant. I think the compost descriptor came from hyper-ripe fruit aromas, but I couldn’t nail down which fruit. On the palate, the first noticeable thing was that it was way chewier than the first wine. It also was somewhat smoky, with cherries and cranberry aromas as well as a bit of vanilla. In my mind, this was totally a new world Pinot with a lot of the characteristics I have encountered in some California Pinot Noir: too potent, too strong, no restraint. But I want my Pinot Noir less potent, less strong and with more restraint. I did not like this wine. I guessed it was from somewhere pretty warm, and definitely new world. Boy was I wrong.

Michigan high end winery with South African winemaker

Michigan high end winery with South African winemaker

The third wine of the evening was a 2012 Brys Estate Old Mission Peninsula Pinot Noir from Michigan. Apparently, Michigan winemakers consider 2012 one of the best Pinot Noir vintages yet, so this should be exciting. The color on this one was gorgeous: a red currant red, darker than wine 1, much lighter than wine 2. The nose was flowery, with some strawberry, rather intense smoke, but seemed quite closed at this point. On the palate, the wine felt creamy and heavy, which gave it a wonderful mouthfeel. But it is a mouthfeel I don’t expect or particularly cherish in a Pinot Noir, which I want more light footed and delicate. Still a solid showing. Nina guessed Michigan correctly, I had no clue.

Another established Michigan winery

Another established Michigan winery

Up next, a 2011 Black Star Farms Arcturos  Pinot Noir, also from Michigan. Again, the color was spectacular, a bright and shiny red currant. The nose was full of roses, almonds and cedar wood, with hints of red berries. I thought the nose was gorgeous. The palate also started off nicely, with spice and pepper aromas, and a light footed feel to it. But then the palate turned out to be a bit harsh: There were bitter aromas kicking in that were rather striking. It also felt like the wine had a bit too much alcohol (which was not the case, we checked later and it clocked in at only 12% ABV, but felt more like 14), and that really turned me off. I couldn’t get over the harshness in the wine. My guess was, because of the perceived high alcohol, a warm climate wine, maybe Southern Italy.

A New Zealand surprise and an Oregon Pinot

A New Zealand surprise and an Oregon Pinot

Second to last came a 2011 Oya Pointe Pinot Noir from New Zealand’s Marlborough Valley. New Zealand has definitely gained some serious street cred for its Pinot production. The color was similar to the previous wine, and the nose was awesome: strawberry jam with rosemary and sage aromas. It was crazy, but good crazy! I loved it. The palate was very herbal as well, thyme, rosemary and sage aromas, with strong acidity with some iron aromas, great lightness to it and some red berries. This was very unique and therefore impressive wine. I hadn’t come across such an herbal Pinot before. This was an exciting wine. Because of the iron aroma that I had come across before in an Oregon Pinot Noir, I decided to guess Oregon…

The final wine was a 2012 Grochau Cellars Commuter Cuveé Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The color was more purplish, maybe black currant. The nose was chalky, intensely perfumy, with cocoa aromas. On the palate, the wine seemed rather bland: some cherries, some strawberries, plum, not very expressive though. Straight-out fruit forward style, but all a bit thin. I would not have recognized it as a Pinot Noir if I hadn’t know it had to be one, maybe more of a Grenache or so. I just didn’t find much that excited me about this wine. Not bad, but quite standard. My guess, because it was a bit heavy, was California.

So, recap: My guesses were mostly off. My ranking of the wines from best to least favorite, is 1 (2010 German), 5 (2011 New Zealand), 4 (2011 Michigan), 3 (2012 Michigan) and 2 (2007 Germany) and 6 (Oregon) – the last two share the spot, I couldn’t decide.

Combined with the others rankings (6 points for favorite down to 1 point for least favorite), this is the likability ranking:

First place: 2010 Heinrich Mertes Cuveé Lara – 23 points (ranked first by three people out of four)

Second place: 2011 Oya Pointe Pinot Noir (New Zealand) – 17 points (ranked second twice)

Third place: 2012 Brys Pinot Noir and 2011 Black Star Farms Arcturos Pinot Noir – 16 points each (with the Arcturos being ranked first once)

Fifth place: 2012 Grochau Cellars Commuter Cuveée Pinot Noir – 6 points

Sixth place: 2007 Arno Kruft Veldenzer Grafschafter Sonnenberg – 5 points (ranked last by three out of four)

The tasting was fun, and it was kind of interesting to have a German Pinot Noir ranked first and last. The Heinrich Mertes was just such a great expression of the grape, to me it was a rather easy winner. The New Zealand Pinot Noir was unique in a good way, expressing some aromas that were unfamiliar, yet seemed befitting to the grape.

The pretty clear winner

The pretty clear winner

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Stefano Crosio: Cloudy Bay, Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2012

Somewhere, beyond the Sea

Somewhere, beyond the Sea

This is the sixth installment in my guest blogger series “Somewhere, Beyond the Sea”. For this post, I asked the photograph, certified sommelier, jack of all trades and good friend Stefano Crosio to contribute. Stefano started a blog with his wife Francesca at Flora’s Table, a gorgeous Italian food blog, to which he supplied photos and wine recommendations. A while ago, he spun off his own photography and wine blog at Clicks and Corks. Stefano keeps blowing me away with his skill in photography and his informative posts about wines. He takes a structured approach to tasting which has enriched my own tasting experience. But most of all, he provides the right mix of information and fun which I enjoy. I am extremely proud to be featuring him in this series. Thank you, Stefano!

Wine Review: Cloudy Bay, Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2012

Cloudy Bay (Photo credit: www.cloudybay.co.nz)

Photo credit: cloudybay.co.nz

Ever since Oliver was kind enough to ask me to contribute a guest post to his excellent blog, I have been really excited about the idea. Since the theme was “Somewhere Beyond the Sea” and the post was going to be published in the summertime, I thought reviewing one of my favorite New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs would just be the way to go: definitely “somewhere beyond the sea” pretty much from anywhere you look at it (unless of course you are a Kiwi!) and a refreshing Summer wine. So there we go.

About the Grape

A few interesting notions about the origins of Sauvignon Blanc: recent DNA analysis has identified a parent-offspring relationship between Savagnin (an old white-berried variety that is common in the Jura region of France) and Sauvignon Blanc and, there being much earlier documents mentioning Savagnin than Sauvignon Blanc, the former is believed to be the parent of the latter. DNA results also support the thesis that, contrary to common belief, Sauvignon Blanc did not originate from the Bordeaux area, but rather from the Loire Valley in France, where documental evidence dates back to 1534 (compared to 1710 in Bordeaux). However, it is interesting to note that, when Sauvignon Blanc was grown in the Bordeaux area, it spontaneously crossed with Cabernet Franc to create Cabernet Sauvignon.

In New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc was first planted in the 1970s and soon became the most widely grown variety in the country, especially in the Marlborough region.

(Information on the grape variety taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012)

About the Estate

Cloudy Bay‘s vineyards are located in different subzones of the premium wine region of Marlborough at the northern end of New Zealand’s South Island, alongside the Wairau River. Cloudy Bay also sources part of the grapes used for making their wines from a few independent Wairau Valley growers with whom they have established a long-term business relationship.

Our Review

Let’s now get to the actual review of Cloudy Bay, Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2012, which in the US retails for about $30.

The wine has 13.5% ABV and was made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes sourced from estate and grower vineyards located in the Rapaura, Fairhall, Renwick and Brancott subzones of the Wairau Valley. Fermentation was primarily carried out in stainless steel, except for a small percentage that was fermented in old French oak barriques.

As usual, for my review I will use a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post on my blog: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher.

In the glass, the wine poured crystal clear, a beautiful straw yellow in color, and thick with narrow arches and slow dripping tears.

On the nose, its bouquet was intense, complex and fine, with pleasant, Summer-y aromas of lime, grapefruit, citrus, green apple and herbs (nettle, mint).

In the mouth, it was dry, quite warm, quite smooth; fresh, quite tasty. The wine was medium-bodied and balanced, despite its freshness (i.e., acidity) being the dominating component – but that is in most cases a desirable feature in a dry white wine and in our case it also helped make the quite muscular ABV of the wine not so evident in the mouth, which is a good thing, so it did not change our assessment that the wine was balanced. Its mouth flavors were intense and fine, with pleasant, refreshing notes of lime, grapefruit, citrus and herbs. The wine’s finish was quite long and its evolutionary state was mature, meaning ready to be enjoyed now, with additional cellaring not likely to benefit the wine.

Overall, a very pleasant Sauvignon Blanc in the “Down Under” style: intense, concentrated fruit and herb aromas, lively acidity and citrus-centric flavors. So very refreshing and summery that I would keep drinking it all Summer long… if budget permitted!  ;-)

Rating: Very Good and recommended.

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A Tale of France and Argentina: A Malbec Tasting

The line up for the Malbec tasting with wines from France and Argentina...and a New Zealander

The line up for the Malbec tasting with wines from France and Argentina…and a New Zealander

Two weeks ago, Nina organized a Malbec tasting with friends of ours. Malbecs are some of Nina’s favorite red wines, with their strong and edgy character. It is just what she is looking for in red wines. The tasting had been a long time in the making. Given our usual shoestring budget, she had acquired different, everyday Malbecs that you can find all over the place. To make things interesting, she decided not only to try Argentina Malbecs but also two from France. And in the end, she decided to throw in a Merlot/Malbec blend from New Zealand for the fun of it.

Now, as some of you may know, I am usually not a big fan of “bold” (aka strong) reds. I prefer old world style Pinot Noirs and a more balanced approach to grapes. I also am struggling with understanding red wines in the way I feel I intuitively understand white wines. But I was curious about this tasting, too. Nina’s hope in this endeavor was to figure out what exactly draws her to Malbecs. And, let’s not forget, it’s also tons of fun to have friends over and do a tasting together (for my thoughts on tastings at home, go here). This was the first time we used the tasting sheets provided by De Long Wine Discoveries which I found super helpful (check them out here). With these caveats ahead, please take my reviews with a grain of salt from the perspective of someone who generally prefers milder wines. Also, as I indicated, the wines tasted are on the lower level of of prices and retail between $8 and $17. Each wine was decanted for roughly 30-45 minutes.

We started with the two French Malbecs. I had read prior that Malbecs from the core French Malbec region Cahors tend to be quite tannic so we decided to get them out of the way before we moved to the Argentina Malbecs, which are said to be more fruity.

2010 Vigouroux Pigmentum and 2009 Chateau de Port Cuvée Prestige

2010 Vigouroux Pigmentum and 2009 Chateau de Port Cuvée Prestige

First up was the 2010 Georges Vigouroux Pigmentum. The wine has 13.5% ABV. It was of dark, clear ruby color. In the nose it was moderately aromatic with alcohol, plum, herbs and hints of tobacco. It was dry, medium bodied, with crisp acidity and quite flavorful. I tasted strong tannins, some red berries and a mineralic note. It was fruitier than I would have expected with a long finish. I thought this was a pretty good start. The wine was less tannic than I thought and fruitier. It also paired well with the soft cheeses we tried. (When retasted two days later, it was still good: more cherry aromas in the nose, with almonds, and great raspberry and blackberry on the palate).

Next up was 2009 Chateau du Port Cuvée Prestige, also from Cahors. This wine has 14% ABV. Of deep, purplish red color, it was aromatic in the nose and showed some age. I got cherries, strawberries, mint and violets and thought the nose was awesome. On the palate, I got a dry, medium bodied and smooth wine with medium tannins. The flavor profile was a bit of a let down, though: I got vegetal notes, but mostly bitter aromas and alcohol notes. It almost tasted a bit green. The nose just promised more than I got in my mouth, which disappointed me. (After two days, this was virtually dead. Bitter aromas had increased, and it smelled musty.)

We then moved on to the Argentina Malbecs. All were from Mendoza.

2011 Catena Alamos and 2011 Gascón Malbec

2011 Catena Alamos and 2011 Gascón Malbec

First up was the ubiquitous 2011 Catena Alamos Malbec with 13.7% ABV. Of medium ruby red color, the wine showed moderate aromas of vanilla, branches and almonds on the nose. I hardly got any fruit (which I found surprising) – others at the table disagreed and got a lot of fruit (stone fruit and red fruit). On the palate, it was dry, medium-bodied and quite smooth acidity-wise. But the tannins were strong and hard and I felt the wine was quite unbalanced. It was very peppery and tasted a bit green. The finish was short and disappointing. It felt quite closed at that point. (When I retried it two days later it was quite the revelation: the nose showed raspberry and currants and was very appealing. On the palate it also showed freshness and black currant aromas that I liked a lot! So, let this one breathe for quite a bit!)

Next up was the 2011 Don Miguel Gascón Malbec with 13.9% ABV. Dark and purplish in the glass, its aroma profile was good and youthful, with raspberries and other red fruit. I wrote down “pleasant nose”. On the palate, it was dry and medium bodied with a crisp acidity. The tannins seemed low and it was fairly balanced to me. Initially, I thought the taste was pleasant but then it got a bitter. It definitely showed more fruit than the two previous wines, but also had some pepper notes. What disturbed me most was its heat. There was just something about it that was too alcoholic for me. (Two days later, this wine showed a great nose of gooseberry, tart raspberries and jasmine. Very pleasant. On the palate, it had lost its bitterness and showed jasmine and green tea aromas and was very herbal. Again, I enjoyed this much more two days later, so: decant or aerate a lot!)

2010 Terrazas de los Andes Altos del Plata and 2010 Trapiche Oak Cask

2010 Terrazas de los Andes Altos del Plata and 2010 Trapiche Oak Cask

Next came the 2010 Terrazas de los Andes Altos del Plata Malbec with 14% ABV. Again, deep ruby colors with moderate aromas of oak, mountain flowers and almonds. I found the wine surprisingly sweet with smooth acidity and medium tannins. It showed aromas of pepper, red fruit, mint and some slight bitter notes. It was nicely spicy, but also showed too much heat for me. With a rather short finish. I wrote down “best of Argentinians so far”. (Two days later, this wine was dead.)

We then tried the 2010 Trapiche Oak Cask Malbec with 14% ABV. Deep ruby red color and a quite unpleasant nose of greenness, acidity, crude oil and butter. Not pleasant at all for me. On the dry side, with a light to medium body and crisp acidity, it showed high tannins and felt quite unbalanced regarding alcohol and tannins. It had a lot of heat, was watery and showed no signs of oak. Some red fruit and pepper. I did not like this wine at all. (Two days later, it showed strawberry and blackberry in the nose. It tasted sour with some spice and felt a tad better than initially assessed. Still would not buy this again.)

2009 Norton Reserva and 2007 Mills Reef Reserve

2009 Norton Reserva and 2007 Mills Reef Reserve

The final single variety Malbec was the 2009 Norton Malbec Reserva with 14.5% ABV. Deep and ruby colored, it showed powerful aromas in the nose. I got toffee, salt, soda, coffee and some cabbage notes. It was dry and medium to full bodied with medium to high tannins. It was nicely balanced, I thought, and flavorful: I got sour cherries, raspberry, lemon curd. Some said they got pie crust as an aroma. The finish was medium to long. All in all, I thought this was an alright wine. Maybe too citric and not as smooth as others felt, but still enjoyable. (Two days later it still tasted fine. The flavor profile showed some vanilla that I did not get initially)

We finished the red tasting with the 2007 Mills Reef Hawkes Bay Merlot Malbec Reserve from New Zealand. A 51% Merlot, 49% Malbec blend that has 14% ABV. Of medium red to garnet color, it was aromatic with some age and showed raspberry, herbal aromas, mint and strawberry. It was dry and medium bodied with fresh acidity, low tannins and was decently balanced. I thought it was quite enjoyable with some wood and slight vanilla aromas. It was a tad sweeter than the previous wines and not very fruity. Again, I thought this was an alright wine but it did not impress me. (Two days later, it had contracted to a thin, sweet wine that reminded me of bad port wine.)

So, who was the winner? I guess from the initial tasting I would go with the first one (Pigmentum from France) and the last wine (the New Zealans blend). However, after enough air got to them, the Alamos and the Gascón were actually quite enjoyable and pretty good value at around $10.

What I preferred: 2010 Kurt Hain Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Kabinett

What I preferred: 2010 Kurt Hain Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Kabinett

We finished the evening with a German Riesling, what else? We had planned for an aged Riesling (a 1991) but when I saw the cork and how wet it was, I decided against opening it. I want to talk to the seller first. So, I threw a 2010 Kurt Hain Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Kabinett in the freezer. Opened it, and loved it. Notes will follow when I actually am taking notes. It was a wonderful refreshing Riesling from a producer I like a lot. And a great way to end an awesome night with friends, wine and cheese.

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