Having tasted and reviewed around 2,000 wines in my first year of operating Raymond Chan Wine Reviews, it is only fitting to recognise the best performers in the New Zealand wine industry who have come my way. I have introduced the ‘Winery of the Year' award to be presented to the producer who has submitted the best selection of wines in the year to the end of November for ‘Feature Reviews'. (I exclude wineries that are distributed by ‘Wine2Trade', the company that Raymond Chan Wine Reviews operates under.) The award winner will be announced early December each year, and a commemorative engraved plaque sent to the nominated wine producer. Wines submitted in December will qualify for the award in the following year.
The criteria for the award are based on the qualities and significance of the wines in terms of excellence as seen in my descriptions and ratings, as well has how the wines have appealed to me on a subjective and hedonistic level as a wine enthusiast and consumer. In addition, the award takes into account innovation and style, and the progress the producer has made in making fine New Zealand wine, as well as the setting of standards for this country's industry. Taking these factors into account, I presume that readers who follow Raymond Chan Wine Reviews will find great enjoyment in the wines made by the ‘Winery of the Year' too.
Winery of the Year 2011 – Kidnapper Cliffs
The inaugural ‘Winery of the Year' is awarded to Kidnapper Cliffs, based in the Gimblett Gravels in Hawke's Bay. The 2009 Bordeaux-varietal wines released in March are sensational, so good that I rated them all 5 stars, the Cabernet Sauvignon 20.0/20, the ‘Ariki' 19.5-/20, the Malbec 19.0/20 and the Cabernet Franc 18.5+/20. It was the combination of superbly ripened fruit, the exceptionally fine extraction, surprisingly based on minimal skin maceration, and wonderful balance that made them all startling and beautiful wines. The wines are a testament to the work of the highly experienced Ant Mackenzie and Cam McInnes building on the work of Neil McCallum and Poppy Hammond from the sister Dry River winery. The 2009s are the first vintage made on-site at Te Awa, and with full viticultural and winemaking supervision by Ant and his team. Kidnapper Cliffs and Hawke's Bay benefitted from an exceptional vintage in 2009, and this has added to the breadth and depth of quality of these wines, and those from many other producers in the region. (Click here
to read my review of the Kidnapper Cliff wines in March.)
The standards reached by Kidnapper Cliffs continue with the wines from the 2010 vintage, a more difficult one where the accumulation of heat units was retarded, but came with a rush in the autumn. Such slow-ripening growing seasons can result in beautifully aromatic, supple and elegant wines, and Ant Mackenzie's wines show these characteristics. Kidnapper Cliffs and Dry River face some challenges in the near future with Cam McInnes and Poppy Hammond departing. However the companies' infrastructures and resource of superb and mature vineyards remains the backbone of the quality and standard of the wines, and Ant Mackenzie will no doubt ensure the best possible wines will always be made.
Other Candidates for Winery of the Year 2011
The choice for ‘Winery of the Year' was made with incredible difficulty, as Craggy Range also put in a superlative effort, and the ‘Prestige Release' of 2009 vintage wines was the best I have ever seen from this high-profile winery. I awarded the ‘Sophia' 20.0/20, the ‘Le Sol' Syrah 19.5+/20, ‘The Quarry' 19.5/20, ‘Les Beaux Cailloux' Chardonnay 18.5+/20 and the ‘Aroha' Martinborough Pinot Noir 19.0/20. These outstanding wines were supported by the winery's range of 2009 ‘Gimblett Gravels' and ‘Te Muna' vineyard wines that offer real value with quality and complexity only marginally less impressive than the ‘Prestige' wines. The Craggy Range wines possessed great structure and presence, but I was seduced and enraptured by the finesse of the Kidnapper Cliffs wines in the final analysis. Craggy Range, Steve Smith and his team are truly unlucky not to win the award.
Several other producers were in contention for ‘Winery of the Year' and I list them according to region. Based in Auckland, but sourcing fruit from different regions, Villa Maria submitted wines that were all 5 star. Kumeu River released three stunning single-vineyard 2009 Chardonnays. From Martinborough, Larry' McKenna's Escarpment ‘Insight' single vineyard 2009 Pinot Noirs were among the most highly rated for that variety for the year. The flagship 2009 ‘Craighall' Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Ata Rangi also impressed to a similar degree. Neudorf was the clear standout from the Nelson region, every wine a winner. And Marlborough is extremely exciting with many producers submitting top quality wines. This year, the decadent Greywacke wines of Kevin Judd, the astoundingly broad ranged and excellent wines from Saint Clair, the wonderfully precise aromatic whites from Spy Valley, and the Pinot Noirs from TerraVin stood out for me. The aromatic and pure whites from Greystone in the Waipara Valley were something special to behold. From Otago, the terroir-expressive Valli wines of Grant Taylor and the clearly defined three single-vineyard Bannockburn Pinot Noirs from Matt Dicey of Mt Difficulty made their producers strong contenders for the title.
If I were to make an award based on consistency of the complete range, Babich Wines, Waimea Estates and the ‘Incognito' bottlings from the Fine Wine Delivery Co. would be in the running. And recognising ‘new entrants', the wines from Doctor's Flat, the label for Steve Davies in Central Otago, Glasnevin Wine Estates in the Waipara Valley, and William Murdoch in the Gimblett Gravels, are all very impressive and deserve following for future developments.
The Outstanding Wines of 2011
Here are the outstanding New Zealand wines tasted from around 2,000 reviewed for the year of 2011 by Raymond Chan Wine Reviews. The following wines are presented according to variety or style. Not every possible varietal or wine style is represented: