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New Zealand London Trade Tasting 2024

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The New Zealand London Trade Tasting on 6 February 2024 included of a walkaround tasting and a masterclass ‘New Zealand Road Trip’ by Oz Clarke.

At this tasting I mainly tried Sauvignon Blanc but I also tasted a few Chardonnay, Albariño, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Syrah wine and even a red blend. Please see my article Understanding New Zealand Wines for an introduction.

I must admit, I do like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Whenever I look at a restaurant wine list, I intentionally skip over any Sauvignon Blancs that aren’t from New Zealand, knowing that others usually leave me feeling let down.

However, not all New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs manage to recapture the distinctive qualities I remember of their early 1990s examples, such as Montana, before the era of mass production began. I like a Sauvignon Blanc that presents a crisp and distinct flavour profile, with notes of gooseberry, passion fruit, lemongrass and a touch of citrus, as opposed to the French style, which tends towards a leaner, more mineral taste. Occasionally, I find that some New Zealand examples can be overly complicated, musky (nose) and have blurred flavour, detracting from their appeal for me, though I do know some people appreciate these qualities.

With that in mind, here are the wines I particularly found interesting:

Note that the following prices are representative and will vary.

Whites:

Babich Black Label Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2023 £20. Citrus and floral aroma. Apple/passionfruit taste but less intense start taste than most, but good length.

Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2023 £11. Passionfruit and tropical flavours. Tasted among others, it came across as one of the best balanced from start aroma to finish.

Esk Valley Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2023 £14.90. Excellent, deep flavour and length. One of the best I tasted.

Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc 2023 £13.30. Seemed very slightly sweeter to start than most. Excellent. Previously reviewed.

Villa Maria Villa Maria Reserve Clifford Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2023 £18.10. Similar to previous but more mid-taste acidity.

Villa Maria Sparkling Cuvee Brut NV £16.15. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Citrus, refreshing, good acidity.

Lake Chalice Skye Sauvignon Blanc 2021 £15.25. Low 9.5% alcohol yet successfully retains the essence of Sauvignon Blanc. Less acidity, replaced with more sweetness. Excellent for a low alcohol Sauvignon Blanc.

Saint Clair Origin Sauvignon Blanc 2023 £16.49. Excellent. Deep passionfruit aroma and taste that carries all the way through.

Saint Clair Pioneer Block 1 Foundation Sauvignon Blanc 2022 £22.25. More intense graefruit/apple than previous but not better or worse, just different.

Blank Canvas Holdaway Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2023 £21.99. More citrus start than most.

Kim Crawford Spitfire Small Parcels Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2022 £22.99. Very slight more acidity towards the end.

Tinpot Hut Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2023 £17.99. Very aromatic ripe fruit notes and mineral maybe herbal taste.

Seifried family Nelson Sauvignon Blanc 2023 £21.49. The only one in the show from Nelson. Usual passionfruit flavour but perhaps with a bit more acidity.

Yealands Babydoll Sauvignon Blanc 2023 £11.50. Passionfruit and citrus. Babydoll is separate brand from Yealands. Slightly more intense than my pick of standard Yealands Sauvignon Blanc. Not yet available in the UK.

Yealands Single Block L5 Sauvignon Blanc 2022 £17. Only 3000 cases a year. Much more intense. Mineral and herbal from the coolest, most extreme exposed site.

Yealands Albarino 2023 £15. Only the 2nd year it has been produced. Concentrated fruit flavours. Good acidity and minerality.

Invivo X, SJP Sauvignon Blanc 2022 £14. Sarah Jessica Parker inspired. Interesting because of particularly intense passionfruit notes to start.

Graham Norton Sauvignon Blanc 2023 £9. Inexpensive and nothing unusual or different which means it will sell well.

SPOKE ‘Brink’ Sauvignon Blanc 2021 £20. The usual passionfruit notes and taste but seemed slightly more acidic mid-taste.

Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc Te Muna 2023 £17.99. Excellent. Peach, nectarine and citrus taste.

Stoneleigh Classic Sauvignon Blanc 2022 £10.50. Nice, a bit like the Graham Norton – mass consumer friendly, not going to surprise apart from it’s vegan.

The Doctor’s Sauvignon Blanc 2023 £9.50. Low 9.5% alcohol, slightly sweeter than normal. Widely available. More comments later.

Reds

Coal Pit Tiwha Pinot Noir 2021 £45. Oaky, smoke notes. Dark fruit taste. More full bodied than a typical Pinot Noir from other countries.

Coal Pit Tiwha Pinot Noir 2019 £45. IWC award winning. older, mellowed and hence more balanced, less tannin, version than the 2021. 2021 was a better growing year so has potential to be even better with age.

Esk Valley River Gravel Merlot Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 £28.85. Woody aroma. Excellent dark fruit start.

Burn Cottage Vineyard Pinot Noir 2020 £53.99. Fruity start, well balanced, good length.

Winemakers in New Zealand, like many around the world, find themselves at a pivotal moment regarding the alcoholic strength of wines exported to the UK. The growing preference for wines with lower alcohol content, alongside duty tariffs that favour such wines, is prompting some winemakers to try to preserve the depth of their wine’s flavour while reducing alcohol levels. Examples such as The Lake Chalice Skye and The Doctor’s illustrate this trend. These wines manage to maintain a robust aroma and flavour profile but are smoother, slightly sweeter and less acidic compared to traditional offerings.

The Doctor’s, produced by Forrest, stands out as a pioneering lower-alcohol Sauvignon Blanc, introduced even before the trend gained its current popularity. Inquiring into their method revealed innovative vineyard practices: vines are pruned higher off the ground to minimise the warming effect of the soil, thus altering the ripening process. Additionally, the vine’s top canopy is trimmed more than usual to yield fewer grapes with more concentrated flavours. Harvesting the grapes a bit earlier means they are less ripe, containing less sugar that would otherwise convert into alcohol during fermentation. This results in The Doctor’s having a slightly higher residual sugar content (5.0 RS) than traditional Sauvignon Blancs (3.8 RS), yet it is not as sweet as The Lake Chalice Skye (10.8 RS).


The masterclass drew inspiration from Oz Clarke’s trip to New Zealand in November 2023. He shared insights by weaving tales of people and places, much like the narratives found in the latest version of his book.

We tasted:

Tohu Rewa Blanc De Blancs Méthode Traditionnelle 2016 £30

This wine has spent 4.5 years aging on lees. The palate is greeted with the taste of ripe fruit and green apple, complemented by notes of minerality, brioche and a toasty yeast flavour. The winery is operated by Māori tribes, adding a unique cultural dimension to its production. Its flavour profile is distinct from Champagne or English sparkling wines, providing an intensity that I can only liken to Champagne on steroids. It’s a different and worthwhile purchase, particularly impressive given its price point.

Forrest Albariño, Marlborough 2023 £14.99

Oz explained the rise of Albariño as the new mass market darling, following in the footsteps of Sauvignon Blanc. Regarding the Tohu Rewa Blanc De Blancs, which I previously described as Champagne on steroids, this Albariño could be considered Albariño on steroids. It boasts a pronounced saline quality, yellow fruit flavours, robust acidity and notable minerality. This version has a fuller body compared to Albariños from Portugal or Spain, even though the vineyard sources vine clones from both these countries.

Blind River Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough 2023 £13.99

I considered this particular Sauvignon Blanc overly complex and musky, representing the style I least enjoy, though it finds favour with others, including Oz. Oz explained how this winery, among many, employs inoculated yeast to enhance aroma and flavour. These yeasts are sourced from other vineyards rather than being laboratory-produced.

Esk Valley Seabed Chardonnay, Hawke’s Bay 2021 £15

This has no connection to wines aged at sea; it’s purely about the name of the vineyard. It had a woody aroma, with an intense profile that’s saline and savoury, yet devoid of any sulphur notes and carries a nutty characteristic. While Chardonnay is not my preferred choice, I can imagine this wine would pair well with chicken or smoked fish. Oz highlighted that New Zealand Chardonnays are best not served overly chilled but at a cool room temperature, akin to how one would enjoy a fine Burgundy.

Kumeu River Rays Road Chardonnay 2022 £29.75

Once more, the wine presented a woody character, albeit with a slightly subdued aromatic profile, drawing a saline quality from its limestone terroir, one of the few New Zealand regions blessed with limestone. This vintage marks the first time four consecutive vintages have excelled in quality. Oz discussed how numerous old world wine regions find themselves constrained, or as he put it, ‘corsetted’ by their own traditions, which often hampers innovation. Such restrictions, he noted, are not found in New Zealand’s wine industry.

Giesen Organic Pinot Noir, Marlborough 2021 £24.99

This Pinot Noir was lighter than others I sampled during the walkaround tasting, aligning more closely with my expectations. Oz mentioned that it used to be even softer, but climate change has gradually given it a fuller body. He also noted the wide variety of Pinot Noir flavours from New Zealand. He also mentioned that this grape is capable of withstanding the increasingly extreme weather conditions brought on by climate change, such as intense heat and heavy rainfall. According to Oz, it’s only a matter of time before Syrah becomes reliably ripe in New Zealand. Oz further discussed how New Zealand freed Pinot Noir from the constraints of old-world elitism and its associated high prices, paving the way for its acceptance and production in various other countries.

Waipara West Cabernet Franc 2018 £19.75

Also referred to as ‘Boneline’, this wine is harvested very late in the season, emulating a Bordeaux style. It features bitter dark fruits and liquorice notes.

Man O’ War Dreadnought Syrah 2019 £32.99

Displaying a ruby hue, this wine has a rich aroma and flavour profile of black fruit, spice and leather. This is perhaps a glimpse of what’s coming from New Zealand in the future.