If I were playing a word association game and New Zealand popped up, I would immediately blurt out Sauvignon Blanc. It’s the primary New Zealand wine varietal consumed in the US, and the varietal that put New Zealand on the map. But, as this young wine region continues to develop, it is also getting good at producing Pinot Noir. New Zealand’s cooler climate appellations are perfect for growing Pinot Noir grapes, and it has become the second most planted grape in the country. The Pinot Noirs that come out of this region are distinctive. The styles vary as widely as that of US Pinot Noirs –some are easy drinking, others are big and juicy, and still others are elegantly structured. With few exceptions, New Zealand Pinot Noirs are very much New World in that they are fruit-driven wines.
I had the pleasure of joining several New Zealand winemakers for a masterclass in Chicago where we tasted through 16 New Zealand wines of varying varietals and styles. The opportunity to taste through this many New Zealand wines in a single sitting is so rare that I’ll share a brief note on each wine that I tasted. First, we tasted and discussed the Aromatics–as the Kiwi’s refer to their white wines. Then, we tasted the Pinot Noirs and a couple of Bordeaux style blends.
Mud House Home Block Pinot Gris 2011, Canterbury/Waipara
Overripe stone fruit, baking spices, and slightly floral. I love how this wine was described as having “bright crunchiness of fruit rather than acid.”
Highfield Sauvignon Blanc 2007, Marlborough
Rich, tropical style of Sauvignon Blanc. Lots of lychee, tropical fruit, and greens—fresh green beans and bell pepper.
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2000, Marlborough
Very cool to taste an NZ Sav Blanc this old. Oxidation added toasted, caramelized notes. Cantaloupe notes were prominent; lychee and lime notes kept it bright and zesty.
Spy Valley Chardonnay 2004, Marlborough
Fresh style of Chardonnay. Oak flavors well balanced by chalky minerality and lemon citrus.
Kumeu River Chardonnay 2008, Auckland
Impressive complexity. Well-oaked but balanced by ripe, tropical and expressive fruit notes. There was some noble rot in the grapes, but the acid gives it a nice structure.
Te Kairanga John Martin Pinot Noir 2011, Martinborough
Bright red fruit followed by forest floor tannins.
Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2009, Martinborough
The fruit is so bright and expressive in this wine. Oak spice and mossy notes add depth.
Vavsour Felix Pinot Noir 2010, Marlborough
This wine would pair perfectly with mushroom pizza. It has a lovely balance of red fruits, spices and fungus.
Nautilus Pinot Noir 2007, Marlborough
Bold and smoky.
Seresin Tatou Pinot Noir 2005, Marlborough
Well structured and elegant. The soil character (boulders, silt and small gravel) is prominent with notes of pine needles, forest floor, fungus and cherry.
Amisfield RKV Pinot Noir 2007, Central Otago
Full bodied Pinot Noir with bold oak spices.
Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir 2005, Central Otago
My favorite wine of the bunch! It was a difficult growing season with the coolest temperatures that the vineyard has seen. But, the wine is beautiful with lovely structure and complexity. Bright red fruit, dried herbs, mushrooms and cloves. Its acid backbone allows it to glide effortlessly across the palate.
Mt Difficulty Pipeclay Terrace Pinot Noir 2002, Central Otago
Not as complex because the vines are very young. Easy drinking with sweet red fruit and tartness for balance.
Quartz Reef Bendigo Estate Pinot Noir 2001, Central Otago
An older vintage with lots of raisin and jammy notes. It is beyond its peak.
Craggy Range Sophia Cabernet Merlot 2004, Hawkes Bay
From the Gimmlet Gravels appellation, this wine is 90% Merlot. It has noticable alcohol heat but is very approachable.
Villa Maria Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2002, Hawkes Bay
This wine is dense and meaty with notes of sweet fruit and herbs.
One thing is for sure, the Kiwi’s don’t take themselves too seriously. They have an infectious passion for wine and are incredibly excited about the future of New Zealand wine. I challenge you to take a closer look at New Zealand wine varietals beyond Sauvignon Blanc.
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Codorníu Raventós is the oldest family business in Spain, dating back to 1551. It has a footprint across three continents with several wineries including Bodegas Bilbainas, Scala Dei, Legaris, Codorniu, Raimat, Septima, and Artesa. The wineries and winemakers are brought together under Oenology Manger Arthur O’Connor. As a team, the philosophy of the group is to make world class wines that express terroir with a nod to tradition and the use of sustainable winemaking practices.
At a recent seminar in Chicago, we tasted a few of the higher end and more innovative wines in the portfolio. Cordoniu’s winemaker, Bruno Colomer, showed us two sparkling wines made from 100% Xarel.lo, Chardonnay that I really enjoyed. I have always been a big fan of Scala Dei’s wines. The 100% Garnacha that winemaker Richard Roffes presented was delicious. There were three other standouts for me:
Raimat Xarel.lo Chardonnay, Costers del Segre 2013
Xarel.lo ages very well but is austere when young. Apparently, it’s expensive as a single varietal, but this wine retails for $12-15. It is a beautiful wine for the season—light, versatile and complex. It has expressive fruit character and long acid. I picked up notes of peach fuzz, vanilla, stone minerality, white flowers and almonds.
Bodegas Bilbainas Vina Pomal Alto de la Caseta, Rioja Alta 2010
This Tempranillo is a powerful wine that I expect will age very well. It was aged in French oak and has notes of black fruit, beef jerky, violets, pepper, and oak spices. A nicely balanced, ageworthy Tempranillo.
Septima Muestra “S”, Lujan de Cuyo 2009
Muestra S is one of the more interesting Malbecs I have ever tasted. It’s a wine of contradiction—at once easy drinking and intense. Its body is full and round, but its acid backbone adds freshness. There are tasty notes of sweet spices, jammy red fruit, dark chocolate and dried fruit.
Codorníu Raventós has a fun portfolio of wines for sipping and pairing with food. I plan to explore these wines a bit more, and I encourage you to do the same. Cheers!
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Okay so maybe the Grgich Hills wine dinner hosted by 720 South Restaurant wasn’t the best meal I’ve ever had, but it was certainly one of the tastiest, innovative, well presented, and perfectly paired dinners I’ve had in awhile. Grgich wines are so well made and delicious that I have greatly enjoyed drinking them alone. But, with well-matched food, these wines showed on a whole nother level (HNL!).
Mike Grgich is famous for his Chardonnay–you know the one that won the Paris Tasting of 1976? Well, 40 years later, he is still producing excellent Napa Valley Chardonnay. As we awaited the start of dinner, we sipped on the current vintage of Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay which paired deliciously with smoked salmon.
Grgich Hills Fume Blanc Napa Valley Estate 2012
Made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc, this wine is perfect for Spring/Summer salads. It is herbaceous and floral with a touch of minerality. It paired perfectly with a beautiful shaved asparagus salad made with ingredients picked fresh from the rooftop garden.
Shaved Asparagus Salad: crispy farm egg, chevre mousse, pickled ramps, mizuna, broken beet vinagrette
Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Estate 2010
Always one of my favorite Napa Cabernets, Grgich Hill’s 2010 vintage does not disappoint. The grapes were grown on 54 year old vines. It has some Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot blended in and shows great balance with notes of red and blue fruit, unburned firewood, figs, almonds, and cassis. It made a delicious pairing with perfectly prepared squab & morels.
Squab & Morels: escargot, parsley root puree, fava beans, spring carrots, pea stem salad, pan juices
Grgich Hills Zinfandel Napa Valley Estate 2012
Another great wine for the season, Zinfandel pairs great with bbq and grilled meats. Grgich Hill’s Zinfandel is no exception. It is smoky and perfumey with expressive red fruit and a nice acid backbone reminiscent of a sea breeze. Chef Mark Brand played the third course off the smoky notes in the Zinfandel by presenting Colorado lamb under a smoke filled glass dome plate cover. It was a cool presentation, and it worked very well. The Zin also paired well with our dessert.
Colorado Lamb Loin: blistered heirloom tomatoes, charred sishitos, fiddlehead ferns, kale pesto balsamic jus
Cheese & Chocolate: marcona almonds, wildflower honey, fleur de sel, California olive oil, thin dough
It was an incredible meal fit for Grgich Hill’s incredible wines!
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VENEGAZZU MONTELVINI ASOLO PROSECCO SUPERIORE DOCG*
Venegazzu Montelvini Asolo Prosecco Superiore Millesimato DOCG makes the perfect aperitif for your Spring dinner parties and Summer garden parties. This extra dry sparkler is perfectly crisp with fresh notes of white flowers, pear, golden apples and chalky minerality. It has an elegance and subtlety that is matched by its floral and fruit expression. It would pair well with crudo or shellfish. Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG is the most prestigious appellation for Prosecco known for rich, calcerous soils. Venegazzu Montelvini Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG is a beautiful sparkling wine for the price.
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COPPOLA DIAMOND COLLECTION CLARET CA 2011
Produced by the Francis Ford Coppola estate, Coppola Diamond Collection Claret California 2011* is a Bordeaux-style blend of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Petite Verdot, 3% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc. With the dramatic flair of old Hollywood, the bottle comes wrapped in gold netting. At $17, Coppola Claret is a more interesting wine than the price tag would have you believe. It’s a fun wine with notes of juicy black cherry, cassis, blueberry, violets, anise, cocoa and baking spices. Most importantly, Coppola Claret makes a perfect pairing with chocolate. Coppola Claret will make a great Oscar viewing party wine. You and your guests will enjoy it paired with anything chocolate.