Raymond Chan Wine Reviews operates as part of ‘Wine2Trade’, my partner Sue Davies’ wine distribution business. We keep the two operations separate and to account for any conflict of interest in my assessing the wines from her portfolio (click here to see), I have a disclaimer on any review stating the connection. Of course, I believe my reviews of the wines are as objective as they can be, and it may be a case of my rating and assessment subjectively being a little harder! I trust that readers see the reviews of the Wine2Trade wines as being as credible as any of the other reviews.
The Wine2Trade wines are not eligible for my ‘Winery of the Year’ award (click here to read about the Escarpment Vineyard as my pick for 2015), so in some way of compensation, I have my annual selection of ‘Favourites from the Wine2Trade Portfolio’. Here, it’s about which wines from each of the wineries that appealed on a personal, drinking and enjoyment level. It’s a little biased to the styles that work for me. I’m lucky in that I have the opportunity of seeing many of the wines over time so I can gauge their true character. Also, I’m privy to new releases before they are available for the market. I take advantage of these factors in my selections. (You can click here to see my favourites for 2014.)
2015 has been a very interesting year for Sue and ‘Wine2Trade’. Just over the last couple of months, she has added to her portfolio, making it much more rounded and complete. Here are my ‘Favourites of 2015 from the Wine2Trade Portfolio’. They are listed by the producer’s approximate geographical location from north to south.
Spade Oak – Gisborne
It has been a year of growth for Steve and Eileen Voysey as they build the volumes of their wines. Steve can’t help himself but tinker and blend away as only the most experienced winemakers do. The range of wines hasn’t increased – heaven forbid – it’s already wide and deep in scope with the super-premium ‘Vigneron’, innovative ‘Heart of Gold’ and value ‘Voysey’ tiers, but each of the wines is more intricate and sophisticated in its make-up. Steve has the ideal taste profile in mind for each wine, and then he builds it. It’s an art as well as a skill.
A wine that shows how Steve designs and crafts a bottling can be seen in the Spade Oak ‘Heart of Gold’ Gisborne Syrah/Tempranillo 2013. It’s a bit of a France meets Spain or East meets West wine with classical and readily identifiable aromas and flavours put alongside exotic and spicy notes. There’s blackberry and black pepper fruit balanced by sweetness and spices. Like the best 2013s, it has retained acidity and freshness, and should be destined for a long life of elegance like the 2009 vintage. The wine is 50% Syrah and 5% Viognier, blended with 45% Tempranillo. www.spadeoak.co.nz
Red Barrel – Hawke’s Bay
This is a new addition to the ‘Wine2Trade’ portfolio that was a year in the making. Sue met John Lockie, a Havelock North sharebroker this time last year. John and his wife Juliette have had plenty of experience with winegrowing in the past, and their purchase of the former 2.5 ha Zepelin site gave them a fresh start. Everything was a good fit, with the right varieties and Dave McKee of Black Barn contracted as the winemaker. The only problem was there wasn’t any wine remaining to sell at the time. The new releases have meant that business has proceeded.
It seems the Lockies’ philosophy is to have very high quality wine in a bold style that tasters and drinkers will not forget. The Red Barrel ‘Reserve’ Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2013 is the epitome of what they want. A barrel selection of the wine from the fruit from the ‘House Block’, this is powerful, concentrated, ripe and opulent, packed with exotic Asian spices, liquorice and toasty oak. The wine spent 18 months in 50% new French oak. You can drink it now and be bowled over by its lusciousness, but it’s structured enough to age very well too. www.redbarrel.co.nz
Vynfields – Martinborough
It is with sadness that I report that founder and former owner of Vynfields, John Bell passed away in July this year. Harry and Zinder Guo, a young Wellington-based business couple, and their syndicate of family and friends purchased Vynfields early in 2014, and one can see that while much has remained the same, there are changes being made. The wines from the certified organic and biodynamic vineyard continue to be made by Marion Deimling at Schubert, but a large proportion of the output is now sold in China. The Vynfields wines are now a little rarer to find here.
The Vynfields wine that has stood out to me this year is the Vynfields ‘Mad Rooster’ Martinborough 2014 made from the mystery grape I’m sure it’s expression is vintage dependant, but I felt it was being toned down to make it more stylish than it could really be. This vintage is back to its fulsome, fully-ripe, bold and rustic style, packed with funky blueberry and plum jam flavours. There’s earth, dried herbs and game too, and a whopping 15.2% alcohol. This doesn’t intrude too much, and lends warmth, body and mouthfilling vinosity. And that’s good! www.vynfields.com
Pond Paddock – Martinborough
Te Muna Road is a special part of Martinborough, sharing the same soils as the Martinborough Terrace, but it is a touch higher and cooler, and the resultant wines have bright aromatics and acidity. That’s why Escarpment and Craggy Range are there. Daniele Alemagne, an Italian who grew up in Swiss winegrowing country returned to his vinous roots by purchasing the rest of the Pond Paddock vineyard and house on Te Muna Road in 2013. He has Paul Mason as his contracted winemaker, and his first wine is a 2014 Pinot Noir. This is the latest addition to ‘Wine2Trade’.
The Pond Paddock Martinborough Pinot Noir 2014 is a sizeable wine. One’s initial impressions are of its accessibility and sweet fruit. But with a little air time, the range of complex and savoury aromatics and flavours unique to Martinborough that go beyond dark berries, plums and liquorice emerge. And the structure of the wine becomes more apparent. It’s the stronger, more textural side of Pinot Noir that comes out on top. Don’t worry, it’s still Pinot Noir through and through with its underlying violet and dark red florals and fresh acidity. Or is that Te Muna Road? www.pondpaddock.nz
Charles Wiffen – Marlborough
There’s a timeless elegance in all of the Charles Wiffen wines. Classical proportions and stylishness will never go out of fashion. This applies to the whole range, from crisp and dry to medium aromatic whites, and the reds, whether from Pinot Noir or Merlot. Is it the lower Wairau/Southern Valleys growing region of the vineyards, or the growing and picking decisions of viticulturists Jason Tripe and Melissa Sutherland, or indeed the stylistic interpretation and direction of winemakers Anthony Ivicevich and James Rowan?
At present, the standout wine for me is the Charles Wiffen Marlborough Riesling 2011. It’s the current release of a long line of successful bottlings of this varietal, and already the next vintage, the 2012 has won a number of gold medals. Medium-dry and finely constructed, the 2011 carries 11.6% alc. and 14 g/L RS. The high acidity of 9.4 g/L and very low pH of 2.82 tells the story. It comes across drier than it is; it is fine and firmly bound, and will live a long life. It’s just beginning to show some toasty complexities. It’s gorgeously taut and what Riesling can be all about. www.charleswiffenwines.co.nz
Caythorpe – Marlborough
The Bishell family’s ‘Caythorpe’ wine label has just joined the ‘Wine2Trade’ portfolio and is a brand that is brand new on the market. Yet the family has a long history of sheep farming and cropping on Middle Renwick Road, the ‘Caythorpe’ name being used since 1876. The Bishells have been contract grapegrowers since 1987 and have 110 ha of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Chardonnay planted. 2015 marks their first own wine vintage release, a Sauvignon Blanc, made by the very experienced Jeremy McKenzie.
I have no choice, but to list this as my Caythorpe favourite, as there are no other wines yet! Good job I like the Caythorpe Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 very much. This is textbook Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc with harmonious and accessible, up-front aromas and flavours of passionfruit, citrus fruits and tropical fruits. The acidity is mouthwatering and refreshing, and there’s just enough texture and structure to allow it to match a wide range of food. This is the Marlborough style that the world loves. www.caythorpe.nz
Terrace Edge – Waipara Valley
The variation of growing conditions and vintages in the Waipara Valley have fluctuated widely in recent years, with 2012 a cool, long, hang-time season, whereas 2013 was very warm and dry. 2014 was the tough one with rain events ruining the latter part of harvest. Growers picked early, with ripeness not quite achieved, or if the fruit got ruined, not at all. Riesling with its thicker skins and its beneficial association with botrytis came through well, if carefully tended. I’m seeing an increasing number of late-harvested Waipara Valley wines from 2014 that are looking good…
Pete Chapman is fanatical about the viticulture of his family’s ‘Terrace Edge’ vineyard. When the other varieties seemed destined for a less than ideal fate, the Riesling always looked good, and the making of a delicious Terrace Edge ‘Liquid Geography’ Waipara Valley Riesling 2014 was on the cards. Organic viticulture must be a factor. This has lovely lime fruits juxtaposed with talc and musk botrytis. It’s a beautifully decadent, but not over-the-top medium Riesling at 12.5% alc. and 35 g/L RS. I’d dink it sooner than later, but that won’t be a problem. www.terraceedge.co.nz
36 Bottles – Central Otago
Contract winemakers report that some owners of labels aren’t too bothered about the technicalities of the making of their wines, as long as they are marketable. Then there’s Douglas Brett of ‘36 Bottles’ who flies down from his home in Wellington to travel to Maude Winery at Wanaka in Central Otago for the important vintage and blending sessions of his wines. That’s why he’s on the label with Sarah-Kate and Dan Dineen, and P.J. Charteris as the winemakers. And that’s why the wines are strong in style, quality and individuality.
The 36 Bottles Central Otago Riesling 2014 is the second release of this varietal for Douglas Brett and Jane Young. The 2013 went gold at the New World Wine Awards last year, and the 2014 followed suit again this year. Except I think the 2014 is a better wine. It’s a little sweeter at 12 g/L RS, and is medium-dry, whereas the 2013 is 6 g/L RS and off-dry. The extra sweetness just lends a little more roundness, richness and body, in the most subtle way, and adds a little more exoticism to the aromas and flavours. This is wonderfully delicious. www.36bottles.co.nz
Desert Heart – Central Otago
The Desert Heart label continues, with Denny Downie and Jane Gill still possessing stocks of wine made from their original vineyard at the end of Felton Road. In the meantime, they’ve sourced fruit from neighbours and friends to ensure their range is balanced. The winemaking will continue at Carrick with Francis Hutt looking after them. With a new property purchased on Felton Road, it looks as though the girls will be a permanent fixture in Bannockburn, and they will now doubt be enjoying their freedom and independence in their inimitable style.
As with a number of their labels, Denny and Jane have significant names on them. This is the case with the Desert Heart ‘Freedom’ Bannockburn Central Otago Pinot Noir 2011. The ‘freedom’ refers to their return to being in charge of their financial situation, and the wine is a special one. It’s particularly complex with layers of ethereal florals and fruits, undergrowth, truffles and Asian spices that unveil in the glass. It’s sweet-fruited, fine-textured and vibrant. After the normal year in barrel, they gave it a further 6 months oaking. There were only 50 cases made. www.desertheart.co.nz
The Writer’s Block – Central Otago
The wines from Brendan Seal will always be different. Stylistically, each wine he makes is unique as they are made from one-off and once-only parcels of fruit. And being inspired by his time in Europe, he applies his philosophy of minimal intervention, no or low sulphur, time on lees, and indigenous fermentations to build in interest and textures. Yet Brendan keeps in touch with the natural fruit expression of Central Otago, and tries to capture the character of the site and culture from where he obtains his fruit. They are really interesting, limited production wines!
The latest release from the Packspur Wine Studio is The Writer’s Block’Last Chance’ Northburn Station Central Otago Chardonnay 2014, made from the last commercial harvest of Northburn Station before it was acquired by LVMH. Showing rich and luscious citrussy fruit, it’s the harmonious and fully integrated creamy textures that are the highlight for me. This is the ferment in puncheon rather than barrique. Although it’s full MLF, there’s no overt butterscotch, but just another layer of creamy, nuttiness. This will show more in time too. www.thewritersblock.co.nz