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General Blog




Raymond Chan Wine Reviews ‘Winery of the Year’ 2017 – Vidal Estate


04-Dec-2017
The ‘Winery of the Year’ award is my way of recognising the best performing wine producer who has submitted wines to Raymond Chan Wine Reviews for independent assessment in ‘Feature Reviews’ over the year from the start of December the previous year to the end of November in the current 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 as how the wines have appealed to me on a subjective and hedonistic level as a wine enthusiast and consumer. In addition, the award can take 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. The nominated wine producer is sent a commemorative engraved brass plaque.


Winery of the Year – Vidal Estate
For 2017, the Raymond Chan Wine Reviews ‘Winery of the Year’ is awarded to Vidal Estate in Hastings, Hawke’s Bay. The wines from this winery are leaders in the contemporary expressions of Chardonnay, the Bordeaux varieties and Syrah in New Zealand. The bottlings of these wines under the flagship ‘Legacy’ tier are stunning, and they are supported by very strong and high quality in the premium ‘Reserve’ wines as well as the very respectable ‘Estate’ wines which offer great value. Few wine producers match the quality and consistency of these varieties across the three ranges as seen at Vidal Estate.

Vidal Estate is part of the Villa Maria Estate wine group, acquired by Sir George Fistonich in 1976, continuing a history that began with the arrival of founder Anthony Joseph Vidal in New Zealand from Spain in 1888. The vineyard and winery, run by Vidal descendants had a strong reputation until a period of overseas shareholding by Seppelt in 1972. But under the Villa Maria it has gradually progressed and flourished, now being one of the major contributors to the Villa Maria group’s success and dominance on the wine judging circuit.

Interestingly, each of the wineries under the Villa Maria group has retained its own identity. The differentiation of style and character of the Villa Maria, Vidal Estate, Esk Valley and Te Awa wines has been crucial to the success of the umbrella company. The unique character and culture behind each of these brands is recognised and appreciated by the knowledgeable consumer, and there are many ways this has been retained and enhanced by the winemaking and marketing. Arguably, most important is the independence and autonomy in the viticultural and winemaking decisions of each winery team. The final judgements on picking and selection of fruit are made by each producer. Each of the labels has dedicated blocks and vineyards. Vinification options are chosen independently of the other winemakers, and indeed, Villa Maria, Vidal Estate, Esk Valley and Te Awa have their own wineries.

However, all parties are closely connected, with an enormous amount of sharing of experiences and information. The winery teams from each of these wineries (and other Villa Maria group brands) come together regularly for tasting and blending sessions. The overseeing of all the winemaking activities is by group chief winemaker Nick Picone, and this is mirrored by Oliver Powrie who leads the viticultural teams working in all of the Villa Maria group’s vineyards. The sharing of resources is a very strong asset for all involved. The independence as well as the close co-operation will continue when all of the winemaking will be conducted at one ‘super winery site’ at the Te Awa location, due for completion in time for vintage next year. Villa Maria, Vidal Estate, Esk Valley and Te Awa will all have their separate processing facilities, personalised to make wines in their individual styles.

The Vidal Estate Wines
The quality of the Vidal Estate wines has never been better, and much can be attributed to the passion and determination of winemaker Hugh Crichton, with the company since 2004, and as winemaker since 2006. Hugh changed his profession from merchant banker to winemaker with experience at Chateau Soutard in St Emilion and Donnafugata in Italy, as well as at Chard Farm in Central Otago and Millton Vineyard in Gisborne. These wine stages, along with tasting many of the world’s great wines has led to his position and winemaking philosophy now. Hugh has as his assistant, Oliver Styles, originally a writer for Decanter magazine in the U.K. coming to New Zealand in 2009. Between the two of them, they direct the style of the Vidal Estate wines.

Hugh Crichton has guided the style development of the Vidal Estate wines for over a decade. He would be the first to acknowledge the quality and character of the wines stem from the vineyards. For the ‘Legacy’ Chardonnay wines, the fruit comes from the ‘Keltern’, ‘Lyons’ and ‘Davies’ Ohiti vineyards. The ‘Legacy’ Bordeaux-varietal and Syrah wines come from the Villa Maria group Gimblett Gravels and ‘Terra Vitae’ vineyards, these being the ‘Ngakirikiri’, ‘Omahu Gravels’, ‘Twyford Gravels’ and ‘Vidal’ sites. The ‘Omahu Gravels’ vineyard plays a significant role with the Syrah. The Vidal Estate wines consistently use the same blocks within these vineyards, and this contributes to their continued expression, style and quality apparent over successive vintages.

The ‘Legacy’ Chardonnay wines are highly regarded for their complex reductive style which possesses texture and concentration. The expression of the gunflint character varies with the season. Balance is the key. My ‘Feature Reviews’ of the Chardonnay wines from Vidal over the last year have revealed sensational wines. The ‘Super-Legacy’ Anthony Joseph Vidal 1888 Chardonnay earned a perfect 20.0/20 from me. My score for the ‘Legacy’ Chardonnay 2016 was 19.5-/20. This was supported by scores of 18.0/020 for the 2016 ‘Reserve’ Chardonnay, and 18.0-/20 for the ‘Reserve’ Chardonnay 2015. Tasted, but not as ‘Feature Reviews’ were the ‘Legacy’ Chardonnay 2015 and 2014, both at 19.5/20.

The Vidal ‘Legacy’ Bordeaux-varietal wines are noted for their elegance, fruit purity and balanced oak complexities when compared with the other Villa Maria group top reds. I certainly find the oaking a feature and distinctive, and the concentration immaculate. They possess the classic Gimblett Gravels ‘iron-earth’ character to me. I rated as ‘Feature Reviews’ the ‘Legacy’ Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2013 at 19.5/20. This was backed by the ‘Reserve’ Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 at 18.5/20.

For ‘Feature Reviews’ this year, I tasted the ‘Reserve’ Syrah at 18.5/20. Tasted this year, but not as ‘Feature Reviews’, were the ‘Legacy’ Syrah 2014, scored at 19.5+/20, and the ‘Legacy’ Syrah 2013 at 19.5/20. The Vidal Syrah wines are picked relatively early for the Villa Maria group, aiming for freshness. I find them perfectly ripened, without any trace of over-ripeness, and they express exemplary varietal character melded with the Gimblett Gravels personality.

Going forward, I get the impression that Vidal Estate will continue to develop Chardonnay to even higher levels. Hugh Crichton is unreservedly a fan of white burgundy wines, and these are no doubt as huge inspiration for him. And I also believe that the momentum gained with the Bordeaux-variety and Syrah wines will also continue. Vidal Estate is certainly among the top rank for these styles now, and it will be essential for wine lovers to consider every new release. www.vidal.co.nz

The previous winners of ‘Winery of the Year’ can be accessed by clicking here.

Contenders for ‘Winery of the Year 2017’ and Runner-Up
The selection process for ‘Winery of the Year’ is one of the more difficult decisions I make for Raymond Chan Wine Reviews, but it is also one of the most enjoyable. The task of looking back at the best wines I have tasted over the year just gone is highly rewarding for me. It shows the ever-growing number of producers making superb wines, which reflects the maturity and confidence of the industry. We have been blessed with a run of excellent vintages recently, and the wines from them are still available. 2017 was a far more challenging season, with cooler weather during growth, and rains during harvest. Yet, I have seen many wines that are, or will be outstanding. This is surely a sign of the extremely high standards our winegrowers work to.

Here, I highlight contenders for the 2016 ‘Winery of the Year’ title. Keep in mind only producers who submit their wines for ‘Feature Review’ are eligible. I run through the contenders from north to south, and conclude with my runner-up to Vidal Estate.

From the Auckland and Northland regions, Obsidian Vineyard on Waiheke Island had wonderful ‘Reserve Syrahs from 2015 and 2014, plus ‘The Mayor’ and ‘The Obsidian’ Bordeaux-varieties from 2013. These are consistently and thoughtfully made.

Millton Vineyards is the perennial over-achiever in Gisborne. The 2015 ‘Clos de Ste Anne’ releases were more even and consistent than ever, though Chenin Blanc did not make the grade. These flagship wines were well-supported by the 2016 ‘Opou’ Chardonnay and 2015 ‘Riverpoint’ Gewurztraminer and Viognier.

Hawke’s Bay wineries excelled this year. Up for consideration was Clearview Estate with its stunning, over-the-top 2015 ‘Endeavour’ Chardonnay, supported by the 2016 and 2015 ‘Reserve’ Chardonnays and Syrahs, plus a wonderful array of 2015 ‘Reserve’ reds comprising Malbec, Cabernet Franc, ‘Old Olive Block’ and ‘Enigma’. Craggy Range with the 2015 ‘Prestige Collection’ ‘Aroha’ Te Muna Pinot Noir, ’Sophia’ Merlot-based wine and ‘Le Sol’ Syrah make their mark too. Mission Estate joined the top ranks with their ‘Jewelstone’ Chardonnay 2016, Pinot Noir 2015 and ‘Antoine’ 2014. The 2014 ‘Reserve’ Merlot and Cabernet/Merlot are also 5-star level. As always, the Sacred Hill ‘Special Selection’ wines are impressive. The 2016 ‘Wine Thief’ and ‘Riflemans’ Chardonnays are complemented by the 2015 ‘Deerstalkers’ Syrah, ‘Brokenstone’ Merlot-based and ‘Helmsman’ Cabernet –based blends. Squawking Magpie must be included as a contender for the brilliant, ageworthy 2013 ‘Platinum’ Merlot, Cabernets and Syrah. Tony Bish Wines is one of the country’s Chardonnay specialists, and the 2016s are gorgeous, providing a remarkable range comprising ‘Fat & Sassy’, ‘Heartwood’, ‘Golden Egg’ and ‘Skeetfield’. Trinity Hill is also a strong contender, especially with the sensational 2015 ‘Homage’ Syrah along with the ‘Black Label’ Gimblett Gravels 2016 Chardonnay, Tempranillo and Syrah, plus 2015 ‘The Gimblett’ and Syrah. Although Auckland-based, Villa Maria offered their ‘Library Release’ reds: the Merlot/Cabernet 2010, Cabernet Merlot 2009 and superb Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, made from Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay fruit, so this company is listed here.

Martinborough is another region with a wealth of top and iconic producers. Ata Rangi submits only outstanding wines, this year being the 2016 ‘Craighall’ Chardonnay, and 2015 ‘Crimson’ and Martinborough Pinot Noirs, the latter wine being one of my top 3 Pinot Noirs reviewed. Dry River is forging ahead, tweaking their styles to show even greater elegance and finesse, as can be seen in the 2017 ‘Craighall Selection’ Riesling, 2016 ‘Lovat’ Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay, and 2015 ‘Craighall’ Tempranillo. Yet again, Larry McKenna at Escarpment Vineyard had great wines, in his 2015 Martinborough, ‘Kiwa’, ‘Te Rehua’ and ‘Kupe’ Pinot Noirs. These bottlings are seriously complex. Under Foley Family ownership, Martinborough Vineyard is flourishing. I rated the ‘Te Tera’ Pinot Noirs 2016 and 2015, the ‘Home Block’ Chardonnay 2015, ‘Home Block’ Pinot Noir 2014 and ‘Marie Zelie’ Pinot Noir all at 5-stars. And likewise for the ever-consistent Palliser Estate, as can be seen in the Methode Traditionnelle 2014, Rosé and Riesling from 2017, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, ‘Pencarrow’ Pinot Noir and Noble Riesling from 2016.

In Nelson, Neudorf Vineyards is the superstar; I loved their ‘Rosie’s Block’ Chardonnay 2015, Moutere Chardonnays 2016 and 2015, and ‘Tom’s Block’ Pinot Noir 2015.

Our largest winegrowing region, Marlborough, has its share of top winegrowers. The Dog Point wines make superb wines at the forefront of complexity, as can be tasted in the 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, and 2015 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Fromm Winery is exerting its prominence again. The ‘La Strada’ Chardonnay 2016 and ‘Fromm Vineyard’ Syrah 2015 are very smart, but their 2015 Pinot Noir releases, the ‘Cuvee H’ and single vineyard ‘Churton’, ‘Quarters’, ‘Clayvin’ and ‘Fromm’ bottlings are deeply thought-provoking. Jules Taylor has burst on the scene with her 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, sensational ‘OTQ’ Rosé 2017, this my best-ever rosé reviewed, and the ‘OTQ’ 2016 Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Spy Valley is also a producer than cannot be ignored. The regular ‘estate’ 2016 Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris are 5-stars for me. But the ‘Envoy’ wines go up another level, the 2016 Dry Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer, 2015 Sauvignon Blanc and ‘Outpost’ Pinot Noir 2014 just inspirational for their interest. For sheer finesse and elegance, one cannot go past Te Whare Ra, with their 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, ‘SV5182’ Dry Riesling and Pinot Gris, and 2015 Pinot Noir. Simply stunningly beautiful.

From North Canterbury, Greystone is one of the strongest contenders for‘Winery of the Year’. The roll-call of top wines is astounding: 2017 Riesling and Pinot Gris, 2016 Barrel-Fermented Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and ‘Sand Dollar’ Pinot Gris, ‘Sea Star’ Riesling and the stupendous 2015 ‘Erin’s’ Chardonnay and ‘The Brothers’ Pinot Noir. These are matched by the offerings from Pegasus Bay, masters of meeting the market with the 2016 Gewurztraminer and ‘Encore’ Noble Riesling, 2015 ‘Bel Canto’ Riesling, Sauvignon/Semillon, Riesling and Chardonnay, Pinot Noirs 2014 and 2013, and ‘Aged Release’ Riesling and Pinot Noir from 2007.

And from the spectacular region of Central Otago, Gibbston Valley put their hand up with their 2016 Pinot Noirs, the ‘GV Collection’, ‘China Terrace’ and ‘School House’ single vineyard wines from Bendigo, and the ‘Glenlee’ and ‘Le Maitre’ from Gibbston. These bottlings have stature. Keep an eye on Two Paddocks. Their three sub-regional 2015 Pinot Noirs, the ‘First Paddock’ Gibbston, ‘Last Chance’ Earnscleugh’ and ‘Fusilier’ Bannockburn are delicious, but are a portent of what’s to come. And from the team of Grant Taylor and Jen Parr at Valli Vineyards has come the 2017 Waitaki Riesling and 2015 Waitaki Late Harvest Riesling, 2016 Pinot Gris, and superlative 2016 sub-regional Pinot Noirs from Gibbston, Bannockburn, Waitaki and Bendigo. These are great and fantastic wines indeed from my 2016 ‘Winery of the Year’.

As can be seen, the list of contenders for this year’s ‘Winery of the Year’ is long with great producers and many sensational wines. Hawke’s Bay as a region stood out with the sheer number of top offerings. My runner-up to Vidal Estate as 2017 ‘Winery of the Year’ is Clearview Estate in Te Awanga. Proprietors Tim Turvey and Helma van den Berg, and winemakers Matt Kirby and Rob Bregman have recently shown a significant step-up in vitality and enthusiasm, with a corresponding lift in style and quality of the wines. The wines were already excellent, with an enviable track record, but it is the new energy in the business and the sharper and more detailed winemaking edge that is making a wonderful difference.

Other Outstanding Producers of Note
Many other winegrowers and producers have made their mark on me through the past year. I must mention the followeing, as they are making noteworthy wines. Again I bring them to your attention, going geographically from north to south, and in alphabetical order.

The SOHO wines from Waiheke Island must be the jewel in the crown for Rachael Carter.

From Hawke’s Bay, there have been credible releases from Ant Mackenzie Wines, Ant now going out on his own, the ‘Theory & Practice’ and ‘Craft Farm’ wines special. Elephant Hill, with Steve Skinner is making archetype, contemporary Hawke’s Bay wines, the Chardonnays and Syrahs the stand-outs for me. Kidnapper Cliffs, the flagship tier of Te Awa, under the Villa Maria group, Paritua with intentions to grow in the New Zealand market, the ever-reliable Pask Winery with the top ‘Declaration’ wines made under the careful eye of Kate Radburnd (who is about to release her own label) are top level wines. Rod McDonald Wines is one of Hawke’s Bay’s most prolific and regionally-supportive winemakers, the ‘One Off’ and ‘Quarter Acre’ wines particularly noteworthy.

Completing the North Island with Wairarapa producers, I have Alexander Vineyard, a Pinot Noir specialist (what else, in Martinborough), the up-and coming Devotus Vineyard, only with Pinot Noir from an immaculate vineyard on the Martinborough Terrace, and Schubert with vineyards in Gladstone, and the wines tirelessly promoted globally by Kai Schubert.

Starting with the Nelson vignoble for the South Island, I have had a number of excellent wines from Brightwater Vineyards.

Marlborough features Auntsfield from the Cowley family, especially noted for the Pinot Noirs. The wines from Babich, headquartered in Auckland, but with extensive vineyards and a modern winery in the Riverlands. The venerable Hunter’s label continues to excel, especially with the aromatic whites. I’m impressed with the Rapaura Springs and Summerhouse wines from Spring Creek Vintners. Expert advice has seen positive changes here. A wine label that is making it in the big-time is Two Rivers, from Dave Clouston. And Vavasour under Foley Family wines is very conspicuous now for top quality.

North Canterbury is enhanced with the Black Estate wines, under the Naish family, with the determined Nicholas Brown at the winemaking helm. On the up is Mount Brown from Catherine Keith, their wines made by Frank Manifold. Great value wines.

And finally from Central Otago are Misha’s Vineyard, driven by the indomitable Misha and Andy Wilkinson, marketeers extraordinaire, the wines sensitively made by Olly Masters. The Mount Edward wines are promoted with flair by Duncan Forsyth, and immaculately made by Anna Riederer. Central Otago Pioneer Rudi Bauer is the biodynamic guru of Bendigo, with his fabulous Quartz Reef wines, especially in methode traditionnelle and Pinot Noir. And I’m loving the precise Rockburn wines from Malcolm Francis-Rees, the Twitter social media fanatic.

The Top Wines of 2017
Here are the outstanding New Zealand wines I have tasted as ‘Feature Reviews’ during the period of start of December 2016 to end of November 2017. The following wines are presented according to variety or style. On occasion where there are ties in the scoring, I have listed more than one in that particular category. Not every varietal or wine style merited listing. The wines celebrate diversity and excellence throughout the country.

No. 1 Family Estate ‘Cuvee Virginie’ Marlborough Methode Traditionelle 2009 19.0/20
Saint Clair ‘Wairau Reserve’ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 19.5/20
Spy Valley ‘Envoy’ ‘Johnson Vineyard’ Waihopai Valley Marlborough Pinot Gris 2016 19.0+/20
Dry River ‘Lovat’ Martinborough Gewurztraminer 2016 19.0+/20
Spy Valley ‘Envoy’ ‘Johnson Vineyard’ Waihopai Valley Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2016 19.0+/20
Greystone ‘Sea Star’ Waipara Valley Riesling 2016 19.0+/20
Clos de Ste Anne ‘Les Arbres’ Gisborne Viognier 2015 19.0/20
Anthony Joseph Vidal 1888 ‘Lyons Vineyard’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2014 20.0/20
Jules Taylor ‘OTQ’ ‘Limited Release’ ‘Single Vineyard’ Marlborough Pinot Noir Rosé 2017 19.0/20
Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir 2015 19.5+/20
Escarpment ‘Te Rehua’ Martinborough Pinot Noir 2015 19.5+/20
Valli ‘Gibbston Vineyard’ Central Otago Pinot Noir 2016 19.5+/20
Clearview ‘Reserve’ Hawke’s Bay Cabernet Franc 2015 19.0-/20
Clearview ‘Two Pinnacles’ ‘Reserve’ Hawke’s Bay Malbec 2015 18.5+/20
Dry River 'Craighall' Martinborough Tempranillo 2015 18.5+/20
Squawking Magpie ‘Platinum’ Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Merlot 2013 19.5/20 Oct
Squawking Magpie ‘Platinum’ Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Cabernets 2013 19.5+/20
Villa Maria ‘Library Release’ Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 19.5+/20
SOHO ‘Blue Blood Reserve’ ‘Zabeel’ Waiheke Island 2015 19.5-/20
Trinity Hill ‘Homage’ Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2015 19.5+/20
Pegasus Bay ‘Encore’ Waipara Valley Noble Riesling 2016 19.0+/20

Favourites of the Year from the Wine2Trade Portfolio
Wineries that are distributed by ‘Wine2Trade’, the company that Raymond Chan Wine Reviews’ operates under, are not eligible for the ‘Winery of the Year’ award. (Click here to see these wineries.) In way of compensation, I will list separately my ‘Favourites of the Year from the Wine2Trade Portfolio’ in a follow-up article next week. Click here to see my favourites from 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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