The most well-established and often the best wine producers never cease marketing and selling their wines. By doing so, directly to their customer base at ‘mail order’ tastings and the like, they keep in touch with the consumer at large and can gauge opinions and obtain feedback on whether they are doing it well, or even correctly. The personal touch has proven to be extremely effective, and that’s why the likes of Ata Rangi, Dry River and Te Mata Estate run such events. And possibly, that’s why they may have the most loyal followers in New Zealand.
I love the Pegasus Bay mail order tastings especially, as I can catch up with the news on the Donaldson family and the Waipara Valley or Canterbury wine scene from marketing manager Edward. He is usually accompanied by his charming wife Belinda, who is in charge of the Pegasus Bay restaurant. Besides the currently available wines shown ae some new releases. Also, the Donaldsons usually put on for tasting older vintages and wines in large format bottlings. I attended the Wellington tasting held in the Tamburini Room at the Museum Hotel. Here are my impressions. The scores are based on how I saw the wines in this less formal sampling situation, so have not been added to update my database tasting notes. www.pegasusbay.com
Belinda and Edward Donaldson
Family ambassadors for Pegasus Bay
Belinda and Edward Donaldson
Family ambassadors for Pegasus Bay
The White Wines
The dry whites are the scene setters. The Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon 2011 (18.5+/20) is a more complex and layered expression of Sauvignon Blanc with subtle flinty notes and a positive texture. The oak input is extremely sensitive. The 2011 is one of the best to date.
This was followed by one of the top wines on show for me, the ‘Bel Canto’ Dry Riesling 2011 (19.0+/20), possessing rich and honied aromas from the botrytis influence. It’s actually more off-dry than dry, but the feature is the layers of flavour that unfold from the weighty, unctuous and seriously constructed palate. The wine is in no way overbearing. A great comparison is the Riesling 2010 (18.5-/20), a more stylish interpretation of the variety, but still carrying a suggestion of decadence and exoticism, with limes, florals, minerals and bath salt perfumes, and a palate that juxtaposes lusciousness with steeliness. There’s some secondary toastiness appearing now.
A relatively new variety under the Pegasus Bay label, the Gewurztraminer 2011 (18.0+/20) has some very old vine material in it. The wine is in the Alsace style with solids ferment flint and savouriness to give a savoury side to the lifted rose-petal florals and spicy, ginger flavours. While it’s silky smooth and is luscious, I work hard to appreciate it properly, but know that others jusy love this wine.
Chardonnay may be bigger at Pegasus Bay, though Riesling may be better recognised in the Waipara Valley region. The Chardonnay 2010 (18.0+/20) is tight but complex with a full array of steely, minerally and complex reductive aromas and flavours with nutty and creamy barrel-ferment textures. The crispness of mouthfeel and acidity reflects to cooler 2010 vintage. The ‘Virtuoso’ Chardonnay 2010 (19.0-/20) takes finesse and power in Chardonnay up another level and significantly so. This has all there is in the ‘regular’ Chardonnay, but with more dimension, shine and sheen. The wine flows with a magical slipperiness.
Treats for attendees were the larger-format wines. Firstly the Chardonnay 2008 1.5 Litre magnum (19.0-/20), with the flinty-waxy amalgam found in classical white burgundy. Behind it all is beautifully elegant richness and sweetness and great completeness. I wasn’t quite as bowled over by the ‘Virtuoso’ Chardonnay 2008 1.5 Litre magnum (18.0+/20), very full and detailed in nutty complexities, and a wine of volume, but not quite the density, but rather a slight hollowness. Maybe standing next to the ‘regular’ Chardonnay magnum did it an injustice?
The Red Wines
Is Pinot Noir the best-handled variety at Pegasus Bay? I like to think that Riesling, Chardonnay and the dessert wines are as good; so that makes the Pinot Noirs ‘superb’ too. The Pinot Noir 2010 (18.5-/20) shows the freshness and vibrancy of fruit from a somewhat cooler vintage. This is elegant, juicy and succulent, showing a lightness of foot, but aromatic lift and detail. As can be expected, the ‘Prima Donna’ Pinot Noir 2010 (19.0-/20) is up a level in firmness, intensity and concentration. This has fruit sweetness and richness to the fore, with excellent underlining refined tannins and fresh mouthfeel full of vitality. The ‘Prima Donna’ Pinot Noir 2006 1.5 Litre magnum (18.5+/20) has density and depth, now showing savoury bottle development aromas and flavours, with black earth and leather complexities, but the palate is sweet and rich with a harmonious flow, the tannins beginning to show resolution.
I find the Bordeaux-style reds a little wider in variation, but they always are successful. The Merlot/Cabernet 2010 (17.5/20) is a lighter, medium-weighted wine, elegant and balanced, with slim-line plummy fruit laced with redcurrant notes. Lovely soft textures and an easy wine without any hard edges. More ripeness, richness and size is apparent in the Merlot/Cabernet 2009 1.5 Litre magnum (18.0/20). Along with the sweet plum fruit, there is a little game-like interest from the start of bottle-age nuances. The wine is open, accessible and fleshy, with a strong core. The ‘Maestro’ Merlot/Malbec 2009 (18.5+/20) is even more concentrated and intense, with greater dimension. Plush and succulent rich black fruits along with spice layers and a warming meaty-earthy aspect that appeals to the hedonistic side of one’s palate.
The Sweet White Wines
The ‘Aria’ Late Picked Riesling 2012 (18.0+/20) is a refined and pure wine of finesse, focussed on lime and minerally fruit, exotic florals and honeysuckle. The acidity carries the mouthfeel rather than the residual sugar. There’s beauty here, with the 100 g/L RS backing it up rather than being the feature. However, it’s a role-reversal with the ‘Aria’ Late Picked Riesling 2008 1.5 Litre magnum (19.5-/20), the sweetness, richness and honied marmalade flavours to the fore. Fulsome, open and broad, this has some secondary toastiness to go with the honey. The Riesling varietal flavours of jasmine florals and fine-edged acidity provide the cut and intensity. One of the stand-out wines of the night, and it went down quickly, even in magnum format.
The ‘Encore’ Noble Riesling 2010 in 375 ml half-bottle (19.5+/20) was the star of the night for me on this occasion. Huge botrytis, exotic and decadent. The lusciousness is complete and the detail of flavours sensational. And there’s perfect acidity and great drive and linearity to prevent any indication of broadness, the 10.5% alc. showing the wine’s finesse. Nectar is the appropriate descriptor. The final wine was the ‘Finale’ Noble Semillon Barrique Matured 2011 in 375 ml half-bottle (19.0-/20). Much more golden coloured indicating the level of botrytis and use of oak, this is nearly OTT, packed with near fiery marmalade and toffee notes, the nose and palate lifted by complexing VA, along with oak input. The palate has a luscious oiliness and is decadent with real power and drive. It sits at 14.5% alc., and it knows it, making a statement!