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Raymond Chan Wine Reviews ‘Winery of the Year’ 2018 – Greystone Wines


05-Dec-2018
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 – Greystone Wines
For 2018, the Raymond Chan Wine Reviews ‘Winery of the Year’ is awarded to Greystone Wines in Omihi, North Canterbury. Greystone Wines has always figured among the contenders for this award from the very start in when I instituted it in 2011, due to the exceptional nature of the wines across their whole range, and this has continued every year with increasing quality and sophistication. But this year, their innovative approach to vineyard work and winemaking has brought them to the fore, thus making them my choice.

Greystone Wines is owned by the Thomas family, with brothers Peter and Bruce heading the company. Peter is resident in Melbourne, Australia, and Bruce in Nelson, but they spend considerable time in the Waipara Valley keeping up with the operation and developments at Greystone. The Thomas family actually made their foray into winegrowing with the establishment of a pilot project, an 8 ha vineyard on Mackenzies Road with gravel soils in the western Waipara Valley in the late 1990s which yielded the first Greystone Wines. But Peter, the avid Burgundy lover realised that limestone influenced soils and hillsides were essential for the making of top Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Searching various vignobles in different countries, they ironically set up not far from their original vineyard, on the Omihi Hills in Waipara in 2004, yielding their first crop in 2007 and first commercial vintage in 2008. It is remarkable that in just a decade, Greystone Wines has become one of the best wine producers in the country.

Greystone Wines is part of a 150 ha property, with around 32 ha of vines planted. Pinot Noir is the predominant variety with 16.34 ha (51% of the plantings), followed by Pinot Gris with 4.68 ha (15%), then Sauvignon Blanc, an important export variety that required more fruit than was originally planted, at 4.33 ha (13%), followed by 3.99 ha of Chardonnay (making 12% of the plantings), then Riesling with 2.33 ha (7%) and a small amount of Gewurztraminer, at 0.53 ha (2%). There will be a small increase in plantings next year with a further 2.5 ha planned, but there is not much more suitable land for vines.

On a day-to-day basis, Nick Gill, the founding viticulturist, is the general manager. Nick was previously with Penfolds in the Barossa Valley, but persuaded to come to New Zealand by his wife Angela Clifford, who is well known for her wine industry marketing and media work. Nick established the Omihi site from the beginning in 2004, and great care was taken in matching rootstocks and varieties to the different soils of the various blocks. The viticulturist role has now been taken over by Mike Saunders who joined Greystone Wines a year ago, coming from Neudorf Vineyards in Nelson. Nik Mavromatis is the commercial manager, looking after the marketing and sales. Nik comes from a chef and food background, but a wine buyer role became incorporated in his work. Nik joined Greystone Wines in 2014 following a stint at Pyramid Valley Wines. Dom Maxwell is the winemaker, having work experience overseas, and starting at Greystone Wines as a vineyard hand in 2004, but becoming the winemaker for the first vintage. Dom has been recognised for his winemaking work at Greystone Wines many times, last year being named Gourmet Traveller WINE magazine’s inaugural New Zealand Winemaker of the Year. It is worth pointing out that the team at Greystone Wines is small, and all of the people work very closely together.

Greystone Wines
The Greystone Wines are made at the Muddy Water winery facility, which Greystone has owned since the end of March 2011. The winemaking capacity is 600+ tonnes, and accommodates making the Greystone Wines, the sister Muddy Water wines and a number of other contract labels, including Terrace Edge. The facility is also contracted for use by some of their close winemaking contacts such as Tongue in Groove. Interestingly, the Muddy Water wines’ separate identity to that of Greystone has been maintained, the Muddy Water wines reflecting the different soils on the flatter land, and their certified AsureQuality organic status. The pricing for both the Greystone and Muddy Water wines have parity. Gavin Tait is Dom Maxwell’s right hand winemaking man.

From the very first vintage, Greystone Wines made its mark with the aromatic white varieties of Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer, these wines often named after the varied expressions of the limestone soil the vines were planted in. Whether dry, medium or sweet, these wines were and remain of wonderful quality, consistently in the 5-star quality level. However, the Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines have grown in stature, equalling the aromatic whites, and some might say surpassing them! The Sauvignon Blanc is sensitively made in the sophisticated oak-influenced style. My rating for the 2017 bottling was 18.5/20. Chardonnay is also a top performer, the 2016 vintage also rating 18.5/20. (A gorgeous Rose 2018 was reviewed recently, another 18.5/20 for me.)

However it is the top tier wines that show what Greystone is capable of. The ‘Erin’s Reserve’ Chardonnay 2015 which I reviewed last year scored a 19.5/20. There was no 2016 made. The ‘Thomas Brothers’ Pinot Noir 2016 which I reviewed in September this year earned 19.5/20, and is one of my four highest rated Pinot Noir wines of the year. Both the ‘Erin’s’ Chardonnay and ‘Thomas Brothers’ Pinot Noir come from vines on steep-sloped, limestone-influenced sites with the highest elevation on the Greystone property.

Greystone Wines sent less wines for review over the last 12 months due to less being made, with declassification of a number of wines as a result of the challenging 2017 vintage, thus protecting the Greystone brand. However, the past history shows the top quality regularly achieved. But it is to the future I look with Greystone Wines.

The defining point for my choice of Greystone Wines as my ‘Winery of the Year’ has been the adventurous vineyard and winemaking approach in making the wines with a view to greater interest, complexity and texture. Fermentation on skins with the aromatic whites, whole bunch fermentation with Chardonnay, and indigenous yeast fermentation in situ among the vines for Pinot Noir are ways Greystone are pushing the boundaries.

The vineyard fermentation of the Pinot Noir is particularly fascinating. Once harvested, the grapes have been brought to the winery for sorting, then returned to a fermenter among the vines from where the grapes were picked, for fermentation by the naturally occurring yeasts there. With the fermentation outside the winery, there is a greater variation of temperatures, and the duration of fermentation and maceration is longer. There is no doubt the wine captures more of the nature or terroir of the site. This vineyard ferment was originally introduced for the ‘Thomas Brothers’ block, but has been used in other premium blocks. The Greystone team have designed equipment to allow picking, sorting and fermenting in the vineyard without the need to take the fruit to the winery first, as has been the situation to date. What do these vineyard fermented wines taste like? It was instructive to compare the ‘regular’ 2016 Pinot Noir which was sweeter and bolder in fruit expression with the 2016 ‘Vineyard Ferment’ Pinot Noir which was more delicately detailed with a greater array of savoury aromatic and flavour complexities. Texturally, both wines were very fine-grained; no doubt the vineyard ferment carefully monitored in this respect. It is very clear that the vineyard ferment wine has incorporated the expression of the site, whereas the ‘regular’ wine is more fruit-expressive. Both wines were rated by me at 5-star level.

Dom Maxwell conducted a presentation on indigenous yeast vineyard fermentation at the 2017 Pinot Noir conference in Wellington. The audience were spell-bound by the work Greystone had conducted with this, and the results to date. I suspect a number of other top-quality Pinot Noir producers around the country will be thinking of the process, if indeed they have not already begun trials. Greystone Wines intends to increase the proportion of the wine made this way. www.greystonewines.co.nz

Greystone Wines joins a list of wine producers which I consider among the best in New Zealand. The previous winners of ‘Winery of the Year’ can be accessed by clicking here.

Contenders for ‘Winery of the Year 2018’ 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 should note that 2017 and 2018 were challenging growing seasons in many of this country’s regions which saw less outstanding wines being made overall. But one must remember that there will always be excellence, but the quantity of great wine will invariably lower. Here, I highlight contenders for the 2018 ‘Winery of the Year’ title. Keep in mind only producers who submit their wines for ‘Feature Review’ are eligible. I run through the strongest contenders for ‘Winery of the Year’ in 2018, from north to south (and alphabetically within each region), and conclude with my runner-up to Greystone Wines.

From the Auckland and Northland regions, Patrick Newton at Mudbrick Vineyard on Waiheke Island put up a superb set of wines including a ‘Reserve’ Viognier and two Chardonnays with the ‘Francesca’ as a flagship white, from the 2017 vintage.

James and Annie Millton at Millton Vineyards in Gisborne continue to excel, with Chenin Blanc, Viognier and Chardonnay, the ‘Clos Samuel’ ‘Special Berry Selection Viognier 2015 an incredible sweet wine. The Milltons continue to be the country’s model for organic and biodynamic winegrowing.

The Hawke’s Bay region just goes from strength to strength with its depth of quality from many producers. Last year’s Runner-Up Winery of the Year, Clearview Estate had a diverse range of 2017 Chardonnays and 5-star range of 2016 vintage reds that wowed me. Tim Turvey, Helma van den Berg and Matt Kirby are on a roll. And for the first time in a number of years, Craggy Range was able to put up their full set of ‘Prestige Collection’ wines from the 2016 vintage comprising ‘Les Beaux Cailloux’, ‘Aroha’ (one of my top four Pinot Noirs this year), ‘Le Sol’, ‘Sophia’ and ‘The Quarry’. Elephant Hill’s icon 2014 ‘Hieronymous’ Blended Red scored a perfect 20.0/20, and this was followed very closely by the 2014 ‘Airavata’ Syrah and 2016 ‘Salome’ Chardonnay. The new ‘Earth’, ‘Stones’ and ‘Sea’ range sitting above the already outstanding ‘Reserve’ wines just adds further depth to Elephant Hill’s portfolio.

I make no bones that Martinborough holds a special place in my heart. This year, Ata Rangi has impressed with a mind-boggling, outstanding range of diverse varietals, the Pinot Noir 2016 setting the standard for the country, and one of my best of that variety for the year. For one of the most difficult vintages yet for winemaker Helen Masters, she has managed to actually raise the level of sophistication as seen in her 2018 wines. And of course Larry McKenna at Escarpment Vineyard released his very complex and individual ‘Single Vineyard Pinot Noirs from the 2016 vintage, the ‘Kupe’ sitting among my top four Pinot Noirs this year. These were well supported by the ‘Artisan’ range with which Larry is introducing innovative winemaking, including the use of amphora fermentation.

Regular as clockwork, Neudorf Vineyards in the Upper Moutere produces some of this country’s best wines. The Nelson region has experienced difficult vintages of late, but the mature vines and culmination of Tim an Judy Finn and their team’s expertise at Neudorf has seen continued releases of note, especially in the ‘Rosie’s’ and Moutere Chardonnays from 2017.

Our largest winegrowing region, Marlborough has many superstars. Ivan Sutherland and James Healy at Dog Point Vineyard make some of the most complex Marlborough wines, and are not afraid of incorporation edgy complexity, as can be tasted in the 2016 ‘Section 94’ Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay wines. Dr Andrew Hedley of Framingham Wines is arguably this country’s best Riesling winemaker, his range of dry to sweet unmatched. However, Andrew has lifted the game with the funky ‘F-Series’ wines, so that they offer great interest as well as top quality. And Fromm Winery continues to explore single vineyard and stylistic differences with Pinot Noir, the 2016 ‘Churton’, ‘Quarters’, ‘Clayvin’ and ‘Fromm’ sites showing the style consistency as seen in the 2015s, the year before. The blended flagship ‘Cuvee H’, a tribute to founding winemaker Hatsch Kalberer is exceptional, as is his work with Chardonnay, Syrah and Malbec. And the sparkling success is Daniel and Adele Le Brun’s No. 1 Family Estate, methode traditionnelle pioneers. The ‘Cuvee No. 1’ range is as good as it has ever been, and the 2013 ‘Cuvee Adele’ one of the most beautifully presented wines I have ever come across. And the incredibly detailed organic Te Whare Ra wines from some of the region’s oldest vines, of Anna and Jason Flowerday always impress and serve as a model of finesse and precision for our industry.

As good as Greystone Wines in North Canterbury is, the venerable Pegasus Bay winery, the former ‘Winery of the Year’ winner in 2013 is a match. It’s all about house-style, and the Donaldson family have an uncanny understanding of the tastes of the consumer, their wines meeting the highest aspirations.

Central Otago has an ever-growing number of top producers. Stepping up into the ‘Contenders’ this year is Misha’s Vineyard. Andy and Misha Wilkinson will be very pleased with the growing maturity of the vines, now over a decade in age. Winemaker Olly Masters makes beautifully elegant whites, rosé and a sweet Gewurztraminer, and the Pinot Noirs are becoming more refined and complex. The method traditionnelle wines of Rudi Bauer are enough to qualify Quartz Reef in this illustrious group, the new Blanc de Blanc Vintage 2013 my best sparkling wine of the year, but this is supported by the other sparklings in the portfolio, plus great Pinot Noir. And Grant Taylor and Jen Parr at Valli Vineyards have their brilliant sub-region Otago Pinot Noirs that show such distinctive character. The 2017s are yet another fascinating set of wines.

As can be seen, the list of contenders for this year’s ‘Winery of the Year’ is strong 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 Greystone Wines as 2018 ‘Winery of the Year’ is Elephant Hill based in Te Awanga. Elephant Hill, owned by the Weiss family, is an all-round and complete Hawke’s Bay producer with vineyards in the Bridge Pa Triangle and the Gimblett Gravels as well as the home site at Te Awanga. This is the core of Elephant Hill’s quality. 

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

Firstly producers with wines from multi-regions, Villa Maria is one of this country’s most successful exhibitors at wine shows, enjoying top ranking for four decades. The icon ‘Ngakirikiri’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 (rated 20.0/20) is one to look out for. Rachael Carter’s SOHO Wine Co. is also making excellent wines from Waiheke Island, Marlborough and Central Otago.

Obsidian Vineyard on Waiheke Island has the top-flight ‘Obsidian’ 2014 and ‘Mayor’ 2016 Blended Reds as superstar wines. The Kumeu River 2016 Chardonnays were also a highlight for me this year.

From Hawke’s Bay, a host of wine producers showed well. Ant Mackenzie’s ‘Craft Farm’ and ‘Theory & Practice’ brands are extremely good wines. One of the most reliable Hawke’s Bay producers is Mills Reef, who made a statement with their new icon ‘Arthur Edmund’ wines, priced at $350.00 a bottle, and worth it. Very impressive are the latest releases from Paritua, the flagship ‘21.12’ Blended Red from the 2014 vintage a particularly bold, noteworthy wine. Rod McDonald’s Te Awanga Estate brands also flirt with greatness, the 2015 Trademark Syrah an ideal wine to purchase and cellar. My top Syrah of the year went to Trinity Hill with their 2016 ‘Homage’, which I rated a perfect 20.0/20 for its unmatched harmony and finesse. And of course Vidal Estate, my ‘Winery of the Year’ in 2017, picking up where they left off last year with refined ‘Legacy’ Syrah and Cabernet/Merlot from the 2016 vintage.

In Martinborough, Palliser Estate has taken a step up in the quality stakes, understated in its usual way, but the rise is definitely noticeable, with vineyard work leading to increased richness. The tribute wine to the late Richard Riddiford, ‘The Great Riddler’ Chardonnay 2016 was not a ‘Feature Review’ but still earned its perfect 20.0/20 rating.

The Greenhough ‘Hope Vineyard’ wines show the benefits of mature vines. Andrew Greenhough and Jenny Wheeler with Cameron Trott are operating at the top level and are arguably Nelson’s next best quality winegrower after Neudorf Vineyards for many enthusiasts.

The list of noteworthy producers in Marlborough coming my way is very long, but they are more than worthy of mention. The Cowley family of Auntsfield grows superlative fruit, which shows in their wines. Forrest Estate is one of the established producers, and the ‘John Forrest Collection’ range is their flagship range. Jules Taylor has really become visible, her ‘OTQ’ reserve-style wines exceptionally good. Rapaura Springs is constantly featuring among my top Marlborough wines, and still offer incredible value. Saint Clair produce a myriad of wines, but the ‘Reserve’ Sauvignon Blanc is the epitome of what the Ibbotson family do, the 2017 my top-rated Sauvignon Blanc this year. Possibly the greatest advance in Marlborough may be that of Two Rivers, Dave Clouston’s brand. Dave has acquired the ‘Brookby’ vineyard and set up his new ‘Wine Portfolio’ winery in time for the 2018 vintage. Some special wines are emanating from there.

Keep an eye on Black Estate in North Canterbury. The Naish family with Nicholas Brown as winemaker are releasing some fascinating wines from innovative varieties for the region, and pushing the limits with more natural winemaking.

And Central Otago is flourishing, with the number of special Pinot Noir producers making their mark. Akarua is one of the largest vineyard owners in Central Otago, and their Pinot Noir is consistently top-class. Burn Cottage has continued to make top-flight wine since its inaugural 2009 vintage, and a newly acquired vineyard in Bannockburn will provide potential for greater things. Under the guidance of Francis Hutt, Carrick Wines is showing what can be done with a natural and organic approach to winegrowing. Very sharp wines here. And the Dicey family’s Ceres Wines are now realising their potential. They espouse the quality of the Bannockburn sub-region, ‘The Artists Collection’ Pinot Noirs the flagships. Paul Pujol at Prophets Rock is becoming a bit of a rock star. His ‘Cuvee Aux Antipodes’ venture with Francois Millet of Comte de Vogue is making headlines, but the Alsace-inspired whites and the ‘Home’ Pinot Noir are excellent too. Rockburn is another incredibly consistent Pinot Noir maker. The ‘estate’ Pinot Noir is classical, but Malcolm Francis-Rees has the latitude play with the ‘Barrel’ and ‘The Art’ bottlings.

The Top Wines of 2018
Here are the outstanding New Zealand wines I have tasted as ‘Feature Reviews’ during the period of start of December 2017 to end of November 2018. 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 (alphabetically) in that particular category. Not every varietal or wine style merited listing. 5 of the 25 wines listed earned perfect 20.0/20 scores – I clearly had a good year! The wines celebrate diversity and excellence throughout the country.

Quartz Reef Central Otago Methode Traditionnelle Blanc de Blancs Vintage 2013 19.5-/20
Dog Point ‘Section 94’ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 19.0+/20
Saint Clair ‘Wairau Reserve’ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2017 19.0+/20
Framingham ‘F-Series’ Marlborough Pinot Gris 2017 19.0/20
Nautilus Marlborough Pinot Gris 2017 19.0/20
Framingham ‘F-Series’ Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2018 19.0/20
Ata Rangi ‘Craighall’ Martinborough Riesling 2013 19.0/20
Framingham Marlborough ‘Select’ Riesling 2017 19.0/20
Escarpment ‘Blanc’ Martinborough Pinot Blanc 2016 18.5/20
Black Estate ‘Home’ North Canterbury Chenin Blanc 2017 18.5+/20
Blank Canvas Marlborough Gruner Veltliner 2013 18.5+/20
Mudbrick ‘Reserve’ Waiheke Island Viognier 2017 19.0/20
Elephant Hill ‘Salome’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2016 19.5+/20
Pyramid Valley ‘Growers Collection – Hutchison’ Marlborough Pinot Gris/Pinot Blanc 2016 18.5/20
Misha’s Vineyard ‘The Soloist’ Central Otago Pinot Rosé 2018 19.0-/20
Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir 2016 19.5/20
Craggy Range ‘Aroha’ Te Muna Martinborough Pinot Noir 2016 19.5/20
Escarpment ‘Kupe’ ‘Single Vineyard’ Martinborough Pinot Noir 2016 19.5/20
Greystone ‘Thomas Brothers’ Waipara Valley North Canterbury Pinot Noir 2016 19.5/20
Saint Clair ‘Pioneer Block 17 – Plateau’ Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Merlot 2016 19.0-/20
Elephant Hill ‘Hieronymus’ Hawke’s Bay 2014 20.0/20
Mills Reef ‘Arthur Edmund’ Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Cabernet/Merlot 2013 20.0/20
Villa Maria ‘Ngakirikiri’ ‘The Gravels’ Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 20.0/20
Trinity Hill ‘Homage’ Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2016 20.0/20
Framingham ‘F-Series’ Marlborough Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese 2017 20.0/20

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 2017.
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