I taste a lot of wines day in and day out. Recently, I seem to have lots of New Zealand wine in my glass. Here is a round-up of some standouts that I highly recommend. Cheers!
This wine has a spicy and vegetal note on the nose that carries through on the palate. I get a tomato leaf and olive note. Quite lovely, and unique for a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc!
In the style of a white Bordeaux, specifically Pessac-Leognan. On the nose, a savory petrol note; flint. Exquisite. This is, hands down, one of my favorite whites from New Zealand. I have tried it many times and am never disappointed.
Aromas of tree fruit, cream, and butter/dairy. Less malo notes on the palate. Really clean, pure fruit with a slight savory note that makes it really interesting.
A bowl ‘o red fruit on the nose. On the palate: wow, complex with a medium + lingering finish. Super savory. A heady wine that makes you think.
This wine has juicy red fruit on the nose, plus a nice spiciness. A true, classic Pinot that is more structured than one would expect. Layered….more interesting as you get into it.
Aromas of red & black fruit, black pepper, baking spices, and black licorice. Plus a woody note. The varietal character on the palate: deep fruit + meatiness. Feels very honest, true….simple.
The first vines on this property were planted in the 1900s. This wine gives classic Syrah markers including red fruit, pepper, and a faint animal aroma. Quite lovely.
There is a lot more to New Zealand wine than Sauvignon Blanc. Nothing wrong with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, there is just a lot of it! The style can be homogenous, but there is some good juice coming out of New Zealand. I attended a fascinating luncheon and wine tasting in which Cameron Douglas, MS guided us through quite a flight of wines, paired expertly with a menu courtesy of Napa Valley Grille. This luncheon and tasting reminded me of the wide range of wines from New Zealand. Yes, there is plenty of basic and uninteresting Sauvignon Blanc, but there is also a wide selection of honest, regional wines available at many different price points.
Below is my journey through the wines of New Zealand as expertly paired with a delectable meal.
A lovely sparkling made by 12th generation Champenois, Daniel Le Brun. This 100% Chardonnay sparkler from all Marlborough vines gives all the lees and toast a girl could want! A fine starter.
And we have firmly landed in Marlborough; specifically, the Wairau Valley. This wine delivers great acid and jumps out of the glass with its “Marlborough Lift”. Approximately 10% of the blend is barrel fermented with wild natural yeast to give texture and body.
Humboldt Fog, Roasted Almonds, Dragon Apples, Balsamic Drizzle. Strawberry Shooter (Cucumber, Serrano, Mint, Micro Peppercress)
This deep salmon color is darker than many rosés. A beautiful Pinot Noir rosé with a floral nose with red berries. On the palate, this wine has heft. Not all rosés have to be light and fluffy…..this one is not. Spicy, zesty, fresh, and fruity that really holds up to the shooter.
This Pinot Gris is from Central Otago, which is the southernmost wine region in the world. A faint aromatic intensity with green fruit (pear, green apple), tropical fruit, stone fruit (apricot), and white pepper on the palate. A textured wine with slight RS (residual sugar).
“Farrotto”, Frisee and Mizuna Salad, White Wine Beurre Blanc
A California style Chardonnay with texture and body. It almost has a chewiness to it. Lovely notes of toast, cream, and oak, as the wine is fermented and aged partially in new French oak. This wine has great structure which will aid in its ageability.
A Burgundian style Chardonnay. With oak (vanilla, toast), butter/cream, and smokiness on the nose. The palate is crisp and clean with citrus (lemon) and tart little green apples. This wine worked well with the salmon dish with the creaminess of the wine matching the fattiness of the fish. 2016 produced a beautiful Chardonnay here. The cooler than normal start to the season delayed ripening, which allowed the slow accumulation of flavor and retention of natural acidity in what was a relatively warm year. Vidal Estate is owned by Villa Maria Group.
Strozzapreti Pasta, Port Jus, Mirepoix, Baby Kale, Pecorino Romano
This is definitely a Pinot Noir with classic bright red fruit (strawberry) on the nose plus forest floor, earth, and pepper. Lots and lots of pepper! Good acid on the palate, plus red fruit (Bing cherry, plum) and DIRT. I love me a dirt-y wine.
A much more floral (rose) nose than the Big Sky. Plus dried herbs/thyme, which I am told is a Central Otago hallmark. A juicy and fruity palate with ripe red berry fruit (raspberry, plum, and cherry). Also, spice and mineral notes. Fine tannins and moderate acid on this wine. Youthful. I dig it.
Braised Colorado Lamb (thyme and apricots) and New Zealand Lamb Rack (with Peppercorn Jus)
A lovely fruit basket of red plus black fruit, including: blackberry, boysenberry, and bramble. Continuing on with black pepper and black licorice. A deeply concentrated, intense, and warming wine. Barrel aged in 46% new French oak for 17 months. Great structure and suitable for cellaring.
Hello Cab Sauv! Pyrazines up the yin yang! All Gimblett Gravels fruit made up of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc. A complex wine showing: blueberry plus black fruit, black peppercorns, cedar, cigar box, and dried herbs.
Frangipane, Honey Yogurt, Orange Tuile, Berry Coulis
The requisite Riesling petrol nose plus citrus and floral notes. The palate serves: citrus, petrol, plus a briny saltiness. These vines are on alluvial greywacke soil in Central Otago.
New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is as ubiquitous as Napa Cab. You can find it at any store and on any wine list. Now I love New Zealand Sauv Blanc as much as the next girl, but the style does get a bit homogenous. That “Marlborough Lift” (which I speak about HERE) gives you big aromatics, big green flavors, and big acid. Hey, in the summer, give me a bottle of it with a straw…I’m good! But I usually like something a bit more interesting and not as predictable. Though I discover that New Zealand does have much more than a sea of indistinguishable Sauvignon Blanc.
Last October I had the pleasure of attending a tasting and Masterclass “New Zealand in a Glass: Los Angeles” at The Wine House. The tasting brought together 64 wines from 12 wineries, exploring seven varietals/styles across five regions. In the Masterclass, we tasted anything but “run of the mill” New Zealand Sauv Blanc. We tried interesting whites, including Sauvignon Blancs as well as a smattering of Pinot Noir.
The main theme of the day was: sustainability. 94% of New Zealand vineyard area operates under independently audited sustainability programs. All the wines showcased were produced in accordance with Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand.
Masterclass Wines Tasted:
Te Mata Cape Crest 2014, Hawke’s Bay Sauvignon Blanc ($20)
I described this as a “richer” Sauvignon Blanc in my notes. This wine is barrel fermented with some Semillon blended in to add texture. It’s not as herbaceous, nor does it have as much acidity as a typical Sauvignon Blanc. I enjoyed the stone and tropical fruit plus lime zest notes.
Greywacke Wild Sauvignon 2013, Marlborough ($24)
This wine is a winner. Super funky, which means it’s not for everyone, but wine geeks will love it. Greywacke is the fundamental bedrock of New Zealand. The wine is fermented in barrel (70% of which is new) with indigenous yeasts for a full year (it’s dormant in winter). ⅔ of the wine goes through malo, which adds weight and texture. Medium acid, medium + body, medium + flavor intensity, and medium + finish. A strong wine. The predominant note is green/vegetal, including asparagus, pea, and tomato leaf.
Astrolabe Taiho 2015, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($23)
100% old barrel fermentation with wild yeasts. This wine is slightly perfumed with citrus notes, plus tropical fruit (lychee), and a green/vegetal note of tomato leaf.
Nautilus The Paper 2016, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($23)
This is a fun one; unusual. It is fermented with a non-wine yeast. A creamy texture yet a strong acid backbone. It has a very unassuming nose, yet the palate is full of bright citrus (grapefruit), plus stone fruit (apricot/nectarine).
Dog Point Chardonnay 2014, Marlborough ($25)
An incredibly interesting nose with a spice character. This wine spent 18 months in barrel with 100% wild yeast fermentation and went through 100% malo. This wine has green fruit (pear plus tart green apples), tropical fruit (pineapple), plus a cream/yogurt note.
Jules Taylor Pinot Gris 2016, Marlborough ($20)
Pinot Gris is a mere 6% of New Zealand wine production. This is a lovely wine that is on the ripe Alsatian spectrum. It’s a bit steely up front. I get citrus (orange peel) that moves into tropical fruit (sweet melon) with a bit of RS (residual sugar) on the finish.
Framingham Old Vine Riesling 2015, Marlborough ($25)
This wine is why people who know about wine LOVE Riesling. Off-dry, incredible purity of fruit, good texture and body. The requisite petrol/smoke note. This is a 100% wild yeast skin fermentation. The vines are 30 years old, which is an anomaly in Marlborough since most all vines were lost in 1990 due to phylloxera.
Felton Road Bannockburn Riesling 2016, Central Otago ($25)
This Riesling is from Central Otago’s vines in a continental climate, which is New Zealand’s only inland wine region. It’s got 63 g/L of residual sugar that is masked quite well with its acidity. A very well-balanced wine.
Martinborough Vineyard Home Block 2014, Marlborough Pinot Noir ($40)
Lovely nose; feminine yet assertive. So many descriptors: floral/potpourri on the nose, including red fruit, pepper, forest floor/wet leaf, and leather both on the nose and palate. Light, yet elegant tannins. A very understandable Pinot Noir. Would be good in a BTG (by the glass) program.
Mahana “Woolleys Corner & Cornelia’s Nine”, 2014 Nelson Pinot Noir ($65)
An earthier and funkier Pinot Noir than the previous one. Old World style fruit plus a chewy texture.
Villa Maria Reserve 2009, Marlborough Pinot Noir ($36)
Sweeter, New World fruit. This is a Pinot to please the people.
Mount Edward 2011, Central Otago Pinot Noir*
An unexpected herbaceousness on the nose: eucalyptus? Red fruit, spice, and earthiness/forest floor.
*I am not listing a price here, as there are multiple Pinot Noir’s in their range and I am not 100% sure which one we sampled that day.
Early in 2017 I had the opportunity to attend an intimate lunch with Erica Crawford of Loveblock Wine at Wolf Restaurant in Los Angeles. There were 10 attendees in total, and it was one of the most well-executed wine lunches I have attended thus far.
Most everyone has heard of Kim Crawford wines, specifically of their ubiquitous Sauvignon Blanc. Who, then, is Erica Crawford?
Kim and Erica Crawford started Kim Crawford Wines in 1996. They brought in grapes, rented winemaking facilities, and produced Sauvignon Blanc, a grape that can be sold in less than a year from harvest. It proved to be a good decision. Fast forward, in 2003 they sold their label first to a Canadian company and then negotiated with Constellation Brands in 2009. When all was said and done, the couple netted close to $50 million. Not bad for Kim who grew up on a rural farm in New Zealand.
What Erica found funny after the Constellation deal in 2009 is how they were referred to as an "overnight success". Yeah, sure. Overnight...to the tune of 13 years. With the sale of Kim Crawford, they had to sit on their hands for a bit, due to a non-compete clause.
Kim Crawford Wines was Kim Crawford Wines. Exactly what you'd expect out of a mass-produced New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Zippy acidity and forward green aromas and flavors. THIS, says Erica (speaking of Loveblock), was their "love" block. Their passion project.
Erica shared with us that in New Zealand there is an oversupply of winemaking students and not enough viticultural students. You heard it here first....move to New Zealand and study viticulture! New Zealand is know for being a pioneer in organic and sustainable vineyard practices. What an opportunity for young agricultural students to come to New Zealand and express themselves through grapes!
Loveblock has one of the highest vineyards in Marlborough. The first vineyard was bought in 2002. The soils are withered and depleted and give wines with more minerality. Loveblock has a shared winery with their neighbors. The vineyards are certified organic with cattle onsite to eat grass and to reduce fire risk. Their manure is also composted. Those are the details on paper, but I can attest to the non-tangibles, the warm and fuzzies. It is evident in Erica's carriage, demeanor, and the amount that she smiles, that she is happy. That this is truly a labor of love. Truly, a Love-Block.
To Start: Warm Olives (Harissa, Preserved Lemon, Orange Peel, Chile de Arbol, Rosemary)
Holy moly. These are #slapyomama good!
Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc 2016 $23.99
Paired with: Hamachi Crudo
Nuoc Cham, Radish, Herbs, Puffed Rice
The classic Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has the "Marlborough Lift" of big aromatics, big green flavors, and big acid. This is not that. This wine is more restrained on the nose and focuses on texture rather than big aromatics. Citrus peel (orange, lemon, lime), grapefruit, wet stone/salinity, stone fruit and a slight tropical note (passion fruit). It married lovely with the hamachi. A good combination of fat, acid, and punchiness.
Loveblock Pinot Gris 2013 $25.99
Paired with: Mushroom Risotto
Pine Nut, Sorrel, Peas, Pancetta
A beautifully delicate wine with notes of stone fruit (white peach), delicate citrus, minerality, and a slight smokiness characteristic of the Pinot Gris grape. Medium + body, medium + flavor intensity, along with dairy malo notes (the malo happens spontaneously with this wine). This wine is creamy and velvety, just like the risotto it is paired with. Fun fact, our chef, Marcel, foraged for the mushrooms in this dish.
Loveblock Pinot Noir 2013 $37
Paired with: Braised Beef Cheek
Jerusalem Artichoke, Endive, Turmeric Peppercorn Sauce
Classic Pinot Noir notes of: red fruit (sour cherry, raspberry, and plum), dried violets, and a pervasive earthiness. This wine has medium acid, medium + body, and medium flavor intensity. With food, this wine really warmed up and showed notes of cedar, cigar box, coffee, and chocolate. Also, spice box (cloves and cinnamon).
Dessert: Blueberry Soufflè with Quince Sorbet
A bit about Wolf Restaurant, our venue. This is a superb restaurant in Los Angeles serving "Seasonal Modern California Cuisine". I have since been back twice and cannot wait to return. Marcel Vigneron is chef/owner, and in my opinion, doing a fantastic job. In regards to wines, they have a "tight and right" list, as I say. Close to 30 wines with minimal variety duplication, making each choice thoughtful and stand alone. Another fun thing I learned was Wolf's "zero waste policy". They really believe in nose to tail dining, sustainability, and have a composting program. There even is a neighborhood pig!! I didn't get the full details on that, but how cool? There is a lovely food synergy, and as Marcel says, more nutrient absorption when you consume the whole product. Wolf is a treat. If you find yourself in LA, I highly recommend a visit.
A special thank you to Will Rogers and the team at Donna White Communications for putting this fabulous luncheon together.