In a number of ways the wines in my partner Sue Davie’s ‘Wine2Trade’ distribution portfolio are in an unenviable position. (Click here to go to the Wine2Trade portfolio.) While they get some excellent placements on wine lists and in wine shops backed by passionate support, Raymond Chan Wine Reviews must treat them as items of ‘conflict of interest’, as I cannot be seen to be completely objective in my assessments of them. Having stated that, I trust that readers understand this and see my reviews as still being credible. It seems I may even be harder and more critical on the ‘Wine2Trade’ wines to counter this potential bias.
However, I do get to see the ‘Wine2Trade’ wines regularly, more so than any of the other wines I review, and to follow how they progress and change over the year is a fascinating exercise. I’ve certainly become more familiar with these wines than most others, getting to taste them regularly, and seeing how other people react to them, many times over. My greater contact with the people behind the wines and increased awareness of the background and culture behind them affords a lot more detail and ‘feeling’ about the wines, and this is something that cannot be underestimated in knowing about and truly understanding any wine.
None of the ‘Wine2Trade’ wines are eligible for my ‘Winery of the Year’ award (click here to view), so in way of compensation, I highlight a wine from each of the wineries in Sue’s portfolio as taking my fancy through the year, whether from sheer quality or enjoyment, the wines being favourites and providing real interest. They are not necessarily the highest rated wine in their respective ranges. The wines are listed by the producer’s geographical position from north to south.
Spade Oak and Heart of Gold – Gisborne
I doff my hat to Steve and Eileen Voysey for their sheer determination and wonderful innovation. Growing grapes in Gisborne can be more risky than other regions with the higher possibility of inclement autumn weather. Yet a amazing array of new varieties is beginning to trickle out of their 16 ha vineyard. ‘Heart of Gold’ is the proving-ground tier of Spade Oak, and the Heart of Gold Gruner Veltliner 2010 one of the inaugural wines. There’s a lot of New Zealand grown Gruner Veltliner appearing on the market now, most being decent, clean, up-front, but linear. On release, the Voyseys’ wine was exactly that. But after nearly a year, this has transformed into another animal altogether. The mild herb and white pepper characters have intensified and the wine has become far more textural and satisfying. It seems good Gruner Veltliner has the ability to develop and age, and the Heart of Gold wine is one of them.
Instinct – Hawke’s Bay and Beyond
This is a bit of a price-fighter range for ‘Wine2Trade’, but that’s all relative to what else is in the portfolio Sue carries. You won’t see them discounted or placed in the ‘stack ‘em high and watch them fly’ scenario, but rather as classic function wines where quality and value are both respected. Generally the wines are textbook without anything unexpected, which is what Kate Radburnd at CJ Pask had in mind when crafting them. The new Instinct Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2010 is the best yet, after a little nudging from Sue to build in a little more complexity. It’s got weight and depth, a touch more ripeness and alcohol, and a healthy seasoning of oak, plus all the funky detail you get from sulphide reduction – in the nicest possible way. In a world of squeaky clean and simple when it comes to value Chardonnay, this breaks the rules, but not enough to get into trouble.
Vynfields – Martinborough
Kaye McAulay and John Bell hang their hats on being organic and biodynamic, and being Pinot Noir specialists with a vineyard in the heart of the Martinborough Terrace. They’ve made a success of it. The Riesling grape is another hat, and their excellent Dry and Classic Rieslings have been joined by the Vynfields ‘Bliss’ Sparkling Riesling 2011. It’s off-dry, only moderate in alcohol and naughtily easy to drink. Even for those who say they are dry Champagne drinkers in name. It almost has the same sense of quality and being artisan-made over commercial N.Z. sparklings as Mosacto d’Asti has over the factory-produced Asti Spumante. I worked at Toast Martinborough this year pouring this wine and it outsold everything else by far. It’s a new and populist take on Riesling for sure, but extremely good for it.
Charles Wiffen – Marlborough
You couldn’t find anybody more unassuming than Charles and Sandi Wiffen, the farmers from Cheviot, who just happen to have a significant vineyard near the Wither Hills. Their range of wines is wide, and they’ve won more gold medals and trophies than you can shake a stick at. It was a coup when Sue picked up Charles Wiffen in the middle of the year as one of her agencies. With so many award winning wines offered, she couldn’t go wrong. The Charles Wiffen Gewurztraminer 2009 is absolutely stunning, with a beautiful and hedonistic bouquet and taste of exotic florals and Turkish Delight, a slight sweetness and touch of honey adding richness, yet the wine retains impeccable style. There’s no coarseness, flabbiness or bitterness that detract in many other examples of this variety. Marlborough Gewurztraminer has classy perfumes and is growing in stature, and the Wiffens are at the forefront.
Starborough – Marlborough
With Marlborough being this country’s largest grape growing region by far, the ‘Wine2Trade’ portfolio can easily handle two producers from there. The Jones family have a vineyard in O’Dwyer’s Road in the heart of the Rapaura, but it is their ‘Starborough Terrace’ site in the Awatere Valley that is becoming very prominent for them. James Jones works closely with winemaker Dave Clouston and Pinot Gris, rather than Sauvignon Blanc is quickly becoming the focus, even though the latter variety is really just as good for them in any way you would want to measure it. The Starborough Marlborough Pinot Gris 2011 is up-front and in-your-face with ripe spiced pear fruit, bordering exotic, with a weighty palate that is in no way overbearing. There is a succulence always enticing one for another sip. Yes, it’s a star for Starborough.
Terrace Edge – Waipara
My image of Terrace Edge is green and tiny. The Chapman family are committed to ‘The Greening of Waipara’ through biodiversity in their vineyard and olive grove. The output of the vineyard under their own ‘Terrace Edge’ label is indeed small, with much of the fruit going to some big hitters. Sue loves the wines, made originally by Belinda Gould, and from now by Dom Maxwell. Syrah is a most unlikely variety down South, but the Chapmans have two sites which do it well. The Terrace Edge Syrah 2009 is the best yet, with classic black pepper, floral notes and good spicing, perfectly backed up by sensitive oaking. The proportions are perfect for elegant drinking and give it a sense of accessibility. Many people have enjoyed this label’s inky note of reduction as an added complexity in previous releases, but I think the more pure expression is even better.
Mount Edward – Central Otago
Central Otago is all about Pinot Noir, and the world in enamoured by the way the variety is so boldly expressed. Mount Edward was set up to make classic and classy Pinot Noir hands-on. While Duncan Forsyth just can’t help getting distracted with the likes of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay, it’s his Pinot Noirs that are superb. Love his single-vineyard expressions; they are out there. The main Mount Edward label captures the essence of the Central Otago region for me. The Wanaka Road wine is great value, but the Earth’s End Pinot Noir 2009 is even better value. Served blind, I saw it at a COPNL tasting of around 60 new release Central Otago Pinot Noirs where it stood out like a beacon for its beautiful florality and suppleness. And most of the other tasters saw it that way too. It’s easy to go for the big names or the prestigious labels, but sometimes there’s excellent wine in lesser packaging and this is a great example.