Brief impressions of 20 New Zealand white wines

The New Zealand Wine Institute is a marketing organisation for many of New Zealand’s best wineries. They brought their “roadshow” to Scotland with around 30 different producers and agencies showing around 200 wines. Unfortunately due to other committments I had an extremely limited time to attend and got round only a fraction of the stands and tasted a fraction of the wines. The notes are very brief and exclusively for white wines which is a shame, as the Pinots Noirs and certain producers’ Bordeaux varietals are some of the most interesting wines on the New Zealand scene.

Many commentators (myself included) noted early on in 1999 that the first batch of ’98 Sauvignons Blancs to hit these shores from New Zealand (the Marlborough region in particular) where missing their usual trademark pungency and herbaceous aromatics. That was explained by the uncharacteristic vintage season, where excess sun and heat had ripened the grapes so that this aspect had been diminished in favour of a more tropically-fruited, less leafy style. The wines were still excellent, but not quite so distinctive. Although the 1999s on show here recaptured a little of the former style, I noted most were in a kind of half-way house, still leaning towards a less “obvious” herbaceous fruit character. Is this a deliberate movement by the producers to adopt a less contentious and “safer” style I wonder?

Chancellor Wines, Waipara
Mount Cass Riesling (Waipara) 1999 – £6.00-£7.50
Lovely lemon and lime fruit. Very sherbetty. Crisp with tropical fruit, light to medium body and good acidity.

Mount Cass Sauvignon Blanc (Waipara) 1999 – £7.50-£9.00
Nose is muted. There is a light, slightly gassy aroma. Palate has pear and melon fruit and crisp acidity.

Nor’wester Chardonnay (Marlborough) 1999 – £6.00-£7.50
Very gently oaked if at all. Buttery, rich malolactic fruit. Flavours of apple and honeysuckle and decent acidity.

Chardonnay (Waipara) 1999 – price not known
A more serious wine with toasty French oak obvious on the nose and buttery citrus fruit. The palate has a distinctive orange flavour, quite weighty, and crisp apple acidity in the finish. Good.

Cloudy Bay, Marlborough
Pelorus Sparkling Wine Vintage 1995 – £14.00-£15.00
Nutty, nettly nose with a great depth of fruit. Palate has a lovely, fine and persistent mousse and plenty of rich, buttery fruit yet a streak of acidity that keeps it fresh. Lovely though, and might be better given a year or two.

Sauvignon Blanc 1999 – £11.00-£12.00
This has good, quite typical herbaceous pungency. Explosive ripeness as always, with gooseberry, nettle and lime. The fruit on the palate is quite spicy, very pure and has a sweet tropical intensity. Long, very good.

Chardonnay 1998 – £12.00-£13.00
This has a really savoury quality on the nose. There is sharp citrus fruit, but a buttery, toasty aspect too. On the palate a sense of roundness and depth, with lip-smacking acidity and more toastiness in the long finish. Very good.

Nautilus Estate, Marlborough
Twin Islands Sauvignon Blanc (Hawkes Bay/Marlborough) 1999 – £6.99
Theres a great ripeness of fruit, it is easy-drinking and fresh with tropical flavours and balanced acidity.

Twin Islands Chardonnay (Marlborough) 1998 – £6.99
Subdued, creamy nose with a touch of oak and crunchy, fresh fruit. Palate is clean with flavours of peach and apricot. Nice stuff.

Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) 1999 – £9.99
This has a real edge. The fruit is zingy and very concentrated with a definte herbal edge. This seems to have more density of fruit than the Cloudy Bay, terrific richness that persists well into the clean, quite long finish. Very good.

Chardonnay (Marlborough) 1999 – £9.99
Really pungent aromas, this his scents of tree-bark, nettle, herbs and toasty oak. On the palate there’s a spicy edge with lots of weighty, savoury ripe fruit. Real concentration. The acidity keeps the whole picture quite taut. Very good.

Villa Maria Estate
Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) 1999 – £6.99
A fine sense of purity with clean, fresh grapefruit and gooseberry aromas. Palate has good fruit too, still zippy and fresh with some herbal chacter and a racy, pure finish. Good.

Clifford Bay Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) 1999 – £9.99
Massive nose, powerfully herbaceous and green with nettles and leafy, aromatic fruit. Punchy, ripe and powerful on the palate with a sinewy, rich and intense character. Deeply flavoured, concentrated stuff.

Esk Valley Estate Black Label Chardonnay (Hawkes Bay) 1998 – £7.99
Crisp apple and pear fruit on the nose. Nicely savoury palate with good acidity, orchard fruit and a richly toasty element showing up in the finish.

Neudorf Vineyards, Nelson

Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) 1999 – £9.99
This is another ripe, tropically fruity and very intense Sauvignon Blanc with good fruit on the palate and plenty of balancing acidity.

Chardonnay (Nelson) 1999 – £12.00
There’s a herbal quality to the fruit here, but also a nutty, buttery finesse. On the palate it is balanced, chewy and rounded, though not lacking in acidity. Good.

Moutere Chardonnay (Nelson) 1998 – £22.00
What a wonderfully nutty complexity on the nose. Rich, charry oak but full of spice, apple, peach and lime fruit, a streak of something mineral. Great fruit on the palate and very long indeed. Excellent.

Dry River Vineyard, Martinborough
Sauvignon Blanc (Martinborough) 1999 – £11.95
Herby, fresh and grassy with lots of dazzling lime and grapefruit. Palate is quite tight and focused – not nearly so flamboyant as some, with green asparagus flavours as well as concentrated ripe fruit and palate-cleansing acidity. Distinctive and very good.