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Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Yealands Estate Tasting and Dinner‏ with Tamra Washington

A Yealands Estate tasting at The Union Club in Soho reminded me of how I first got excited by New Zealand's wines many years ago; winemaker Tamra Washington gave a tutored tasting of mainly single-block wines from the Seaview Vineyard followed by dinner.

Overview: New Zealand

To me, New Zealand is the southern hemisphere's answer to Austria - a small, mountainous, young / modern, cool-climate region producing technically precise and well-structured wines.

Both are popularly associated with a signature aromatic white variety, but in this country at least, the key difference is that whereas you won't find many Austrian wines under a tenner, the £6-£8 range is the heartland of commercial, blended NZ Sauvignon.

Austria, it seems then, is slightly ahead in playing the terroir, quality and pricing game.

Like Austria, however, New Zealand has many varied terroirs and is perhaps only just starting to realise its potential to produce interesting and unique wines.

Winemaker: Tamra Washington

Tamra Washington, winemaker at Yealands Estate, is originally from the Marlborough region, but was working in Italy with no thought of returning to her homeland when she got the call to go and work for Peter Yealands.

Peter, also originally from the area, had lived and worked in Marlborough for years before finally buying the land that now makes up the estate in 1999 and planting it in 2002.

Early vintages were sold in bulk for blending, but since Tamra's arrival, the wine has been bottled under its own name.

With an eye on future potential, there are 200-odd blocks of vines, 90 of which are Sauvignon and can be vinified completely separately.

Terroirs: Awatere Valley, Seaview Vineyard

Yealands Estate is based in Marlborough's Awatere Valley - Tamra described it as a "sub-region of a sub-region"; the land here is undulating, rather than hilly or mountainous, with minerally soils and vineyards ranging from overlooking the sea to a couple of miles inland.

We started with a range of Sauvignons, before moving onto other white varieties and then reds - most were from single blocks in the Seaview Vineyard.

All the wines were pure, focused and precise with good linear acidity, reminding me of how I first got excited by New Zealand wines.

Glasses: Baccarat

During the tasting, I was able to re-acquaint myself with Baccarat's Crystal tasting glasses.

With young, cool-climate wines sealed under screwcap, these wide-bottomed glasses acted like little personal decanters and allowed the wines to open up more quickly than if we had used more conventional glasses.

Vintage: 2012

Tamra characterised the 2012 vintage as almost perfect - cool and dry with the grapes harvested very late.

We had started with the Peter Yealands Sauvignon Blanc 2012 which Tamra had described as a "commercial" Sauvignon, available in supermarkets, before moving onto wines intended more for restaurants and independents.

The Sauvignons

Yealands Estate Single Block S1 SB 2012 aromas of gooseberries, cut grass and blackcurrant leaf; precise mineral purity and acidity

Yealands Estate Single Block M2 SB 2012 the only wine from outside the region, this was from the warmer Waira area, yet felt much more cool-climate: mineral and lime zest on the nose; pure, focused, precise acidity with a persistent finish. Intense and low in aromatics. Good.

Yealands Estate Single Block L5 Sauvignon Blanc 2012 dried green herbs on the nose; more aromatic herbs, lime zest, weighty and long. Mouthfilling and well-structured with precise acidity - persistent finish and more green herbs.

Yealands Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2012 a blend of blocks, this was less distinctive; mineral and sliced green bell pepper on the nose. Celery, puy lentils and minerality.

Yealands Estate Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2011 one-third fermented in old oak, then 6m on the lees. Less fruit on the nose, but long, precise and weighty on the palate with herbs and pure acidity. A big with plenty of stuffing. Very Good.

Other White Varieties

Yealands Estate Riesling 2012 both the Riesling and the GV were a little shy and possibly suffering from bottle-shock, but started to open up with plenty of vigorous swirling.

Apple fruit, wet stones and citrus initially, very pure and precise, very persistent mineral finish.

With further aeration, a peachiness starts to emerge.

Yealands Estate Gruener Veltliner 2012 a blend of early-picked and late-packed grapes; rounded minerality, pure linear acidity, mouthfilling. Low on varietal aromatics of celery, lentils and white pepper; definitely not Austrian.

Yealands Estate Viognier 2012 single-block wine, late-harvested by hand, 40% fermented in old oak. Blossomy nose, ripe white peach and apricot fruit, lime zest, linear acidity and savouriness. Peachy texture and long - oaking becomes more prominent with air.

As one who rather struggles with Rhone Viognier, I liked this a lot. Good.

Yealands Estate Single Block R6 Pinot Gris 2012 Weighty, ripe and spicy on the nose: rich and spicy, honeyed beeswax, and ripe white-pear fruit and yeasty, thick-skinned savouriness; as full-and-sensuous-yet-tightly-structured as Barbara Windsor squeezed into a starchy nurse's uniform.

The Pinots

I have historically struggled to fall in love with Pinot - capable of occasional utter brilliance, all too often they don't quite deliver. Or if they do, it's in a slightly dull-but-worthy way.

The two young ladies we have here are both pretty, sophisticated and elegant - but also with a bit of personality, a touch of acerbic feistiness that, like a Good Life-era Felicity Kendal, brings just the required frisson of excitement to the relationship.

Yealands Estate Pinot Noir 2011 smokey, toasty, red-fruit nose; red-berry fruit on the palate - soft gentle texture, firm, well-structured, precise and long.

Yealands Estate Reserve Central Otago Pinot Noir smokey, red berries, spice and herbs; ripe red-cherry fruit, savouriness, pretty with a soft texture yet mouthfilling, well-structured and long. Good.

The dinner

Roast Salmon, salsify and cress salad with salsa verde
Braised lamb shank, cavalo nero, faro and oven jus
Neal's Yard cheeses with home-made crackers

Over dinner, we also sampled the Gewurztraminer and a Pinot Noir rose.

The Gewurz had a distinct family resemblance and rather like the other Alsation variety, the Pinot Gris, found its sensuous nature held firmly in check by a tight acidic structure.

The Pinot rose was perfectly good, but when the straight Pinots are so good, I can only wonder why they did not allow such a tricky and low-yielding grape to show what it is capable of - a bit like sending your youngest daughter to secretarial college instead of finishing school.

Recommended Wines

Top Sauvignon was the oaked Reserve Sauvignon Blanc.
Top "other white variety" was the Viognier.
Top red was the Reserve Central Otago Pinot Noir.

Other related articles
Hallowed Ground Tasting
Villa Maria 50 Years Tasting and Dinner
Two New Zealand Pinots
Yealands Pinot Grigio (labelled as The Co-op)
Pure Noir
Review by Paola Tich - Relight My Sauvignon Fire
Chateau Baccarat Crystal glasses - reviews #1, #2 and #3
New Zealand reviews - entire archive

Yealands Wines are available in Cambridge from Noel Young Wines.

Twitter hashtag -
Yealands Estate - website, twitter
Baccarat - website, twitter
Enotria (importers) - website, twitter
The Union Club - website, twitter

Image credits:
- Barbara Windsor http://www.carryon.org.uk/regulars_frm_barbarawindsor.htm
- Tamra Washington http://images.icnetwork.co.uk/upl/nejournal/jan2011/8/0/tamra-washington-gave-a-tutored-tasting-of-her-new-zealand-wines-74155207.jpg

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