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Friday, 30 July 2010

Mount Brown tasting at Cambridge Wine Merchants

Earlier this week, I went to hear Catherine Keith, Sales and  Marketing Director of Mount Brown, a small, recently established family winery based in the up-and coming Waipara Valley on the South Island of New Zealand, present her own wines alongside some from other producers at the Mill Road branch of Cambridge Wine Merchants. There was probably an element of pragmatism in her decision to show not just her own wines, since the Mount Brown range is currently quite narrow with just four wines at present.

According to their website, Mount Brown is owned and managed by the Rutherfurd family. Tony Rutherfurd heads the commercial side of the business, his son Mike runs the vineyard operations and Catherine is responsible for sales and marketing. Tony apparently has been involved in horticulture since 1990 and viticulture since the late 1990s. Mike is the vineyard manager and Catherine who has lived in the UK since 1998 sells the wines directly to independent wine merchants throughout the south-east of England.

So, along with the Mount Brown Sauvignon, Riesling and Pinot Noir, were a sparkling rosé, plus a Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Cab/Merlot blend from CWM's stocks.

I had tried the Sauvignon and Pinot a few weeks ago at an in-store tasting and Mill Road manager Matt Boucher invited me to come along to the event.

The sparkling rosé was something of a revelation for me - sparkling wines I can generally take or leave, whilst rosés I usually prefer to leave, but this one from Lindauer was yeasty, well-structured and reasonably complex with a good finish.

The first of Catherine's wines was a Sauvignon - it was highly aromatic and herbaceous on the nose with refreshing acidity and a good, clean finish. It hails from the Waipara Valley, further south than the more well-known Marlborough with a more restrained and leaner style as a result.

This was followed by a Chardonnay from Mahi which, for a wine aged in oak barriques remained surprisingly crisp and steely, but with some butterscotch on the finish. Catherine explained that the malolactic fermentation had been minimised, leaving crisper malic acid in place instead of it being turned into the more buttery lactic acid. I rather like buttery Chardies, so for me, this was a case of less is less.

We then tried a Pinot Gris from The Edge in Martinborough; with white stone fruit on the nose, refreshing acidity and good balance on the palate followed by a slightly off-dry finish, it seemed to be halfway between the lean and steely style of Pinot Grigio and the lush, perfumed tropical style of an Alsace Pinot Gris.

I am an unfashionably big fan of Riesling in either the Austrian style - ripe and full-bodied yet also minerally and completely dry - or the similar but slightly-less-bracing Alsace style. Catherine's Riesling was more in the German style which I am less familiar with - lighter and with some residual sugar, but still crisp and well-structured and as Matt Boucher pointed out, a great match for smoked salmon.

The star of the evening was the Pinot Noir - I had tried it at CWM a few weeks earlier and was impressed again by the hedonistic nose of truffles, woody mushrooms and forest floor. Garnet in colour, it is quite light on the palate with aromas of cherries and smooth, well-integrated tannins from some oak aging.

As Catherine pointed out, this wine comes from vines that are only 6 years old - mere infants, really - and yet it has won a Decanter Bronze. Expect subsequent vintages to keep improving as the vines age and produce more concentrated flavours - the same is probably true of all the Mount Brown wines as the Pinot vines are actually the oldest, being the first ones planted.

We finished off with a Bordeaux blend from Main Divide in Marlborough. Primarily Merlot-based, there were plums, dark forest fruit and vanilla on the nose from oak aging, a smooth rich palate of plums and a finish of well-integrated tannins.

All the wines were well-made, characterful, appealing and complex; some seemed to deliver rather more on the nose than on the palate, but this may well have been due to the specific local climatic conditions - it was a hot, close evening that night in Cambridge, resulting in the wines being perhaps a degree or two warmer than ideal serving temperature and therefore showing better on the nose than on the palate.

The event was very well attended with a range of people and some interesting comments and questions posed. One person tasting the Riesling said he was getting raw tuna on the nose (which I could sort of see) but also asked if there was any Merlot in the Chardonnay (there very obviously wasn't). Another, who explained it was her first wine-tasting, asked if tannin was a good thing and what did it taste like (the answers being yes if it's balanced and stewed tea respectively).


Cambridge Wine Merchants - http://www.cambridgewine.com/

Mount Brown - http://www.mountbrown.co.nz/

Lindauer (website) - http://www.lindauer.co.nz/

Lindauer (rosé tasting note) - http://www.pernod-ricard-pacific.com/TransferData/tastingNotes/pages/ICP-Communication/Communication_PRNZ/Tasting_Notes_PRNZ/Lindauer_Rose_NV.pdf

Monday, 26 July 2010

Warburn Estate Premium Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Barossa 2008 - Laithwaites

The New World generally, and Australia in particular, doesn't traditionally do terroir - wines there are considered to be expressions of their varietal characteristics, rather than of the soil types, aspect and climatic conditions where the grapes are grown. This is certainly true at the lower end of the price spectrum where most wines are labelled simply "South Eastern Australia" and can come from pretty much anywhere in the country.

Further up the quality scale, there are distinct areas of Australia which are better for grape growing than others - and Barossa is just about the best of these. So when you see the words Estate (with its connotations of specific, and therefore superior, growing areas), Barossa and Premium Reserve, you are expecting something a little more sophisticated. Throw in some oak-aging and it should be quite special.

This wine from Warburn Estate has a rich nose of cassis, vanilla and eucalyptus, the palate is full, rich and complex, well-rounded from aging in oak with lots of juicy, slightly jammy, blackcurrant up-front, but with more eucalyptus and spice, well-balanced with smooth tannins and good, long finish.

This wine is rather like a super-model who happens to be a member of Mensa - lots of up-front appeal, but actually rather sophisticated behind it. Certainly an enjoyable bottle, but for me, I would rather lose some of the alcohol level and gain a bit more subtlety. Pairing with food is a little tricky, however - the texture and complexity make this a food wine, but the jamminess risks overpowering most obvious matches, like plain roasted red meat - maybe a slow-roasted joint with a fruit sauce would do the trick, such as shoulder of lamb with redcurrant jelly.

£7.99 per bottle (plus delivery), available from Laithwaites.


Warburn Estate - http://www.warburnestate.com.au/

Laithwaites - http://www.laithwaites.co.uk/

Friday, 16 July 2010

Babich Family Reserve Pinot Noir, 2007 - from Laithwaites

One of the pricier wines in my Laithwaites mystery case (£10.99 list price), I had reasonably high hopes for this NZ Pinot Noir from the multi-award-winning Babich.

New Zealand, with its cool climate and high-tech approach, is rapidly garnering a reputation as a source of classy, well-made reds as well as whites often in a full-but-restrained style - in addition to its signature ripe, tropical, up-front Sauvignon Blanc.

Pinot Noir's spiritual home is Burgundy in France and whilst few other places can lay any kind of claim to growing it successfully, New Zealand is certainly among those getting close.

Babich is a family-run winery with vineyards in the warmer North Island, particularly Marlborough and according to their website "Many of New Zealand’s most fragrant and flavoursome wines originate in Marlborough’s pebbly, flat plains. Abundant sunshine and a dry autumn climate allow ... Pinot Noir to benefit from a long, slow ripening period that intensifies flavours."

According to the Laithwaites website, the wine has "spicy complexity evoking fine red Burgundy, and is full and smooth, plump yet supple … as fresh as a Spring day and a delight with New Zealand lamb". For me, it was pale red in the glass, with typical Pinot aromas of cherries, a truffley earthiness and some vanilla from oak aging. On the palate, it is softly textured, with strawberry-ish fruit, more vegetal hints of forest floor and mushrooms with a long, smooth, but slightly elusive finish backed up by well-integrated tannins.

Overall, this is a Pinot in the "light-and-fragrant" style - well-made, pleasant and surprisingly more-ish if, as noted, a little elusive. It's certainly light enough to sip in the garden on a hot day or should match well with something light but gamey, such as plain roast partridge or quail.

Footnote - July 17

I have just popped into Cambridge Wine Merchants and sampled a very similar NZ Pinot Noir from Mount Brown - again, it was pale red in colour with a classic Pinot palate of mushrooms and truffles and a soft, smooth but long and well-balanced finish. Slightly more expensive than the Babich wine, it is £12.99 and has a Decanter Bronze award.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Black Stump Verdelho - Chardonnay - Pinot Grigio from Laithwaites

Black Stump contribute several wines wines to Laithwaites' list including a Reserve Shiraz Viognier (reviewed here earlier). To those not familiar with Aussie slang, a black stump is an imaginary marker beyond which civilisation as we know it ceases; beyond the black stump, then, is equivalent to "the back of beyond" or "out in the sticks".

The wine hails from the catch-all area of South Eastern Australia (New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria, and parts of Queensland and South Australia), so there's not much sense of place to be gained here.

Given all this, it's easy to imagine this wine as a throw-it-all-in-and-see sort of thing, but actually it's very focused and there's nothing coarse or uncivilised at all.

On the nose, the Pinot Grigio dominates with mineral, flint and white pepper. The palate is crisp and well-structured with white peach and lime, nicely balanced with a good complex finish. It's hard to tell exactly what the other two varieties are adding but presumably the Chardonnay here rounds out the Pinot Grigio, and the Verdelho adds a touch more richness and a hint of spice.

In any case, it's a well-made wine which has impressed a number of judges - it has three awards:

- Vinalies Internationales Paris 2008, France

- International Wine Challenge 2008, United Kingdom

- Decanter World Wine Awards 2008, United Kingdom

 At £6.99, it's also reasonable value.


Laithwaites - http://www.laithwaites.co.uk/

International Wine Challenge - http://www.internationalwinechallenge.com/

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Spinyback by Waimea, 2008, Nelson Pinot Gris‏

Expectations for this latest NZ wine from Cambridge Wine Merchants were reasonably high in the CWB household; I am generally a fan of NZ whites as they often seem to be the closest thing the southern hemisphere has to match Austria; well-structured, aromatic and full-bodied yet crisp, lean and minerally with the kind of restraint that next-door Australia seems never to have heard of.

In general, I am also a fan of Pinot Gris - related to Pinot Noir it is highly versatile, producing rich, fat aromatic yet dry and wines as Pinot Gris in Alsace, but also sharp, crisp, steely, minerally wines as Pinot Grigio in Alto Adige in northern Italy, and elsewhere.

Cambridge Wine Merchants had this on special offer at £6:99 with an in-store tasting, whilst the promotional poster noted it as having been awarded "best single varietal white under £10" by Decanter, so this was a bargain I could not resist.

Tasting stocks had run out by the time I got to the Mill Road branch, but the assistant helpfully explained a bit about the wine - most usefully pointing out the residual sugar on the finish. This being so, I decided to limit myself to just a couple of bottles with the intention of coming back for a case if it was as good as I'd hoped.

The wine hails from Nelson, at the northern tip of South Island next door to the more well-known Marlborough, but separated by a range of mountains; the terroir here is varied with hills, valleys and various mesoclimates. The back label refers "Classic varietal aromas of pear and quince ... notes of lime and spice ... palate lingering and softly textured".

We drank the bottle over the course of three days, firstly with salmon in a creamy sauce, then on a picnic on one of those gloriously hot days we had recently on Castle Mound overlooking the city before finally finishing it off with a starter of mozzarella dressed with olive oil.

For me, it was a really well-made Pinot Gris - a strong, minerally nose that belies the off-dry finish (a bit like hearing Kiera Knightly's voice come out of Angelina Jolie). On the palate, it is ripe, fleshy, with good fruit and nicely-balanced acidity, well-structured and a long finish - I can see why the judges gave it a nod.

Off-dry, however, it needs something really rich and slightly sweet to go with, so for the second bottle, we tried it with a traditional Alsatian tarte flambee (a pizza-like dish, but with sour cream, onions and lardons over a pastry base).

Tarte Flambee recipe - using puff pastry

Pack of puff pastry (allow around 50g per person for a starter)
A little oil
1 medium onion, chopped
Crème fraîche (around 50ml per person for a starter)
Salt and pepper to taste
A few gratings of nutmeg
Bacon (around 1 rasher per person), cut into strips

Roll out the puff pastry and place on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper.

Make the sauce by frying the onions in the oil, then adding the creme fraiche, salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Spread the sauce on top of the pastry, add on the bacon strips.

Cook in a medium oven (180C) for 10-15 minutes


Waimea - http://waimeabrands.com/

Cambridge Wine Merchants - http://www.cambridgewine.com/index.asp