When I attend a tasting there might be many wines I like and could recommend, but friends who like to cut to the chase often ask me ‘but what did you buy?’. Yes, even wine writers buy wines and through this occasional feature you can find out which wines I have backed with my own money.
After several abortive attempts to uncover a good, ready-drinking Burgundy at a reasonable price, I attended the New Zealand New Release Tasting on 30th October determined to find a Kiwi substitute, but there were 162 new wines to taste and that was not all I came away with.
I almost always taste reds first, so I headed straight for the Pinot Noir. There were 24, but three stood out: Villa Maria Cellar Selection 2000 Marlborough (£12.99), Isabel Estate 2000 Marlborough (£14.50) and Alpha Domus Pinot Noir 2000 Hawkes Bay (£14.99). I considered split cases, but the attractive strawberry Pinot fruit in the Alpha Domus was of a such a superior calibre that there was nothing to be gained from saving 49p or £2. This wine has superb acidity, giving it a depth, length and potential longevity unmatched by any of the other 23 Pinot Noir wines. I ordered a case of 12 Alpha Domus. Contact McKinley Vintners (Tel: 020 7928 7300).
Continuing with the reds, I was not impressed by the Pinotage or Syrah, but hit on a lovely Merlot from Thornbury. The Thornbury Wines Merlot 2000 Hawkes Bay (£9.99) had lovely, juicy-tomato Merlot fruit supported by smooth tannins to give a long, dry finish. This will develop nicely over the next few years and is so cheap for its quality that I snapped it up. Although generally available via the on-trade only, it can be ordered direct from the shippers, Heritage Wine (08707 408 040), although the minimum quantity is 12 bottles.
I enjoyed quite a few Cabernet Sauvignons, both pure and blended, but I was so blown away by Goldwater Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1999 Waiheke Island (£24.49) that I had to restrict myself to just one other and that was Firstland Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 1999 Gimblett Road, Hawkes Bay (£15.99), even though I found some excellent wines at just £7.99. Goldwater is by general acclamation one of New Zealand’s very finest red wine producers. To my mind it is New Zealand’s First Growth. Its 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot is a dream wine: full, long and lush without being heavy, and so soft and succulent that I won’t be able to keep my hands off it when it arrives, yet it has the ripe tannin structure to age gracefully. Available from Avery’s (Tel: 01275 811100), but not due to be stocked until April 2002. My order’s in! The Firstland was a revelation, with its brilliantly vivid fruit, complexity and finesse. Another eminently drinkable wine that will age beautifully. This wine is available from many local independent specialists (I ordered mine from The Oxford Wine Company), but there are far too many to list, so contact Francis Stickney Agencies (Tel: 020 8961 6600) for your nearest stockist.
Moving on to the whites, I found the Pinot Gris uniformly disappointing, but was absolutely knocked for six by two Gewürztraminers. I’m an Alsace freak and have never purchased any Gewürztraminer outside of that region, except for the occasional German rendering, but I have to take my hat off to Montana Reserve Gewürztraminer 2001 Gisborne (£7.99) and Kemblefield Gewürztraminer 2001 Hawkes Bay (£7.50). The Montana has some residual sugar, but it’s a lot drier than most Alsace Gewürztraminer these days, while the Kemblefield is truly dry, but what amazes me about both these wines is that they have real varietal spice, not just the flimsy rose-petal excuses the New World generally dishes out. The 2001 vintage of Montana Reserve Gewürztraminer will not be in distribution until April 2002, when it should be available at Bottoms Up, Threshers, Victoria Wine, Wine Rack from about April next year (I twisted Montana’s arm for an advance shipment!), while the Kemblefield is due in early 2002, when you should contact Heyman Barwell Jones (Tel: 01473 232322) for your nearest stockist.
In the Rieslings, Montana Marlborough 2001 represented astonishing value at a throw-away £4.99, but it had a noticeable residual sweetness and I tend to drink dry Riesling. However, it was another Riesling with residual sweetness, albeit much less, that tempted me to get out my cheque book. The Allan Scott Riesling 2001 Marlborough (£8.99) had a complexity totally absent from all the other Rieslings and I would not be surprised to discover that it contained a few per cent of botrytised fruit. Scotty planted the very first vines in Marlborough, when he was working for Montana, but has had his own vineyard and winery since 1990. He is a tall, placid guy. One of the nicest people on this earth. I shall enjoy drinking his wine. Available from Lay & Wheeler ( 01206 764446).
I really was not looking for Chardonnay (for god’s sake, I only came for a Pinot Noir!), but another one of Scotty’s wines beguiled me. In fact, I’m drinking it as I type this in a desperate bid to clear my desk before shooting off to Australia for 10 days. The fruit in the Allan Scott Chardonnay 2000 Marlborough (£8.99) just leapt out of the glass. The back label will tell you that there is malolactic and oak, but you don’t get a hint of it until the aftertaste and then you have to know what to look for. If you want fruit, this is it. If you like pineapple, this it. If you want a quality of Chardonnay that you would have to pay three times the price for from Burgundy, this it. Available from Lay & Wheeler ( 01206 764446). I don’t believe it. I really don’t. I bought two Chardonnays! The second being Kim Crawford Unoaked Chardonnay 2001 Marlborough (£8.99). Not quite as good as Scotty’s wine, but it was just so fresh and delicious that I just could not resist it! Available from Unwins and numerous independent retailers from early December.
And then there was Sauvignon Blanc. For 20 years I have gone on and off this variety at regular intervals. It is such an obvious grape that it does not benefit from any hands-on winemaking techniques, let alone oak, which merely obscures the varietal character. It is a wine that really must hit between the eyes and should not pretend to be anything more complex. Pat, my wife, loves the stuff, particularly in the summer (and not only does she have a sophisticated palate, but is also spoilt for choice), so I thought I would zoom down the seemingly endless line of Sauvignons.
Actually there were only 50 and lo and behold, there were two I just had to buy. What I look for is pure fruit, preferably gooseberry and never the slightest hint that the wine is, or might turn into, anything remotely asparagus or tinned peas. There were quite a number of this ilk that I would happily drink, but the two that really stood out were Saint Clair Sauvignon Blanc 2001 Marlborough (£7.49) available from Avery’s (Tel: 01275 811100) and Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc 2001 Marlborough (£8.99) available from Unwins and numerous independent retailers from early December.