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Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
independent
analytical
non-commercial
Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.
RECENT RELEASES,  MEMORABLE CHARDONNAYS,  PINOTS AND SAUVIGNONS,  GOOD-VALUE HAWKES BAY BLENDS


To expand on the title,  where space constrains,  the wines reviewed include gold-medal rankings for:  pinot noir,  cabernet / merlot,  chardonnay,  riesling,  pinot gris,  sauvignon blanc,  and a now not-current bubbly.  

For the bubblies,  as previously,  I believe some of the more pretentious / tiresome examples of wine-writing to be found are associated with descriptions of the gas component.  These notes assume the wines have bubbles,  etc,  and note only any deficiencies.  






LAYOUT AND THE WINES REVIEWED:

White
Sparkling
2004  Cloudy Bay Pelorus
2002  Cloudy Bay Pelorus
   nv  Cloudy Bay Pelorus
2002  Huia Marlborough Brut
2006  Hunters Wines MiruMiru
2004  Hunters Wines MiruMiru
   nv  Lindauer Special Reserve Blanc de Blancs
   nv  Montana Chardonnay / Pinot Noir Methode Traditionelle Rosé Reserve
2002  Morton Estate Methode Traditionelle Black Label
   nv  Morton Estate Methode Traditionelle Premium Brut
Chardonnay
2006  Church Road Chardonnay Cuve Series
2007  Jackson Estate Chardonnay Shelterbelt
2007  Kumeu River Chardonnay Coddington Vineyard
2007  Kumeu River Chardonnay Estate
2007  Kumeu River Chardonnay Hunting Hill Vineyard
2007  Kumeu River Chardonnay Maté's Vineyard
2007  Kumeu River Chardonnay Village
2007  Morton Estate Chardonnay Hawkes Bay White Label
2006  Morton Estate Chardonnay Hawkes Bay White Label
2007  Mount Difficulty Chardonnay
2006  Pask Chardonnay Declaration
2007  Sacred Hill Chardonnay Riflemans
2006  Sacred Hill Chardonnay Riflemans
2004  Sacred Hill Chardonnay Riflemans
Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and related blends
2008  Amisfield Sauvignon Blanc
2008  Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc Voyage
2008  Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc
2005  Cloudy Bay [ Sauvignon Blanc ] Te Koko
2008  Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc Avery Single Vineyard
2008  Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc Old Renwick Single Vineyard
2008  Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc Te Muna
2006  Dog Point Vineyard [ Sauvignon Blanc ] Section 94
2008  Forrest Sauvignon Blanc
2007  Jacobs Creek Semillon / Sauvignon Blanc / Viognier Three Vines Series
2008  Morton Estate Sauvignon Blanc Hawkes Bay White Label
2008  Morton Estate Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough White Label
2008  Mt Difficulty Sauvignon Blanc
2006  Sacred Hill Sauvignon Blanc Sauvage
2005  Sacred Hill Sauvignon Blanc Sauvage
Riesling
2008  Craggy Range Riesling Fletcher Family Vineyard
2008  Craggy Range Riesling Glasnevin Gravels Single Vineyard
2008  Craggy Range Riesling Te Muna Road
2008  Johner Riesling
2008  Misha's Vineyard Riesling Limelight
2008  Mt Difficulty Riesling Dry
2008  Mt Difficulty Riesling Long Gully Single Vineyard
  2008  Mt Difficulty Riesling Target Gully
2007  Sherwood Estate Riesling Waipara
Pinot Gris
2007  Church Road Pinot Gris Cuve Series
2008  Misha's Vineyard Pinot Gris Dress Circle
2008  Mt Difficulty Pinot Gris
2007  Mt Difficulty Pinot Gris Manson's Farm Single Vineyard
Gewurztraminer
2008  Forrest Gewurztraminer The Valleys
2008  Misha's Vineyard Gewurztraminer The Gallery
Viognier
Sweet / Sticky
All other white wines, blends, etc.
2008  Mills Reef Viognier Reserve
2007  Mills Reef Viognier Reserve
Red
Rosé
Cabernet, Merlot, and related blends
2006  Alluviale Merlot / Cabernet Franc
2005  Church Road Cabernet Sauvignon Cuve Series
2005  Church Road Merlot Cuve Series
2005  Mills Reef Cabernet Franc Elspeth
2006  Mills Reef Cabernet / Merlot Elspeth
2007  Mills Reef Cabernet / Merlot Reserve
2006  Mills Reef  Cabernet Sauvignon Elspeth
2005  Mills Reef Elspeth One
2005  Mills Reef Malbec Elspeth
2006  Mills Reef Merlot Elspeth
2007  Mills Reef Merlot / Malbec Reserve
2005  Morton Estate Merlot / Malbec Mercure White Label
2005  Pask Malbec Declaration
2005  Pask Merlot Declaration
Cabernet / Shiraz
Pinot Noir
2007  Hunter's Pinot Noir
2007  Jackson Estate Pinot Noir Vintage Widow
2007  Kumeu River Pinot Noir Estate
2007  Misha's Vineyard Pinot Noir
2007  Mt Difficulty Pinot Noir
2007  Mt Difficulty Pinot Noir Long Gully Single Vineyard
2007  Mt Difficulty Pinot Noir Pipeclay Terrace Single Vineyard
Syrah = Shiraz
2006  Mills Reef Syrah Elspeth
2007  Mills Reef Syrah Reserve
2007  Te Mata Syrah Bullnose
2006  Villa Maria Syrah Cellar Selection
Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre & related blends
All other red wines, blends etc
2007  Jacobs Creek Shiraz / Cabernet / Tempranillo Three Vines Series
From the Cellar. Older wines.
 

White
Sparkling
2002  Cloudy Bay Pelorus   18 ½  ()
Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13%;  $42   [ cork;  PN 60%,  Ch 40;  in addition to s/s,  part of base wine either fermented in oak cuves,  or BF in oak;  full MLF,  9 months LA after primary ferment,  then after assembling,  3 years en tirage;  RS / dosage c. 7g/L;  www.cloudybay.co.nz ]
Straw.  Bouquet is in a big rich Bollinger style,  implying pinot noir as much as chardonnay,  and a little barrel fermentation and oak maturation in the first fermentation.  There is exemplary baguette crust autolysis on quite rich fruit.  Palate matches bouquet,  mouth-filling with good body,  and both baguette crust and wine biscuit near-mealyness from extended yeast maturation,  all lingering long in mouth and wonderful with savoury foods.  This is the living proof of why one should cellar (good) bubbly.  Cellar 3 8  years.  GK 11/08

2006  Hunters Wines MiruMiru   18  ()
Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13%;  $28   [ cork;  Ch 55%,  PN 41,  PM 4;  100% MLF;  32 months en tirage;  dosage @ 8.2 g/L;  www.hunters.co.nz ]
Pale straw,  but the wine a little over-pressure with excess very white foam,  as Lindauer used to be.  The first impression is of a lot of bouquet,  clear-cut pinot noir adding zing,  good cracked yeast autolysis character,  all clearly in the 'champagne' class,  though naturally younger and fruitier than the 2002 Pelorus.  Palate is crisp,  with elegant pinot noir-dominant fruit and good autolysis,  not as weighty in mouth as the 2002 Pelorus,  and a little sweeter,  but all comparable with minor-marque champagne.  The baguette crust on the aftertaste is delightful.  Cellar 2 8 years.  GK 11/08

2004  Hunters Wines MiruMiru   17 ½  ()
Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13%;  $35   [ cork;  PN 63%,  Ch 29,  PM 8;  100% MLF;  only trace oak in some reserve wines;  nearly 3 years en tirage;  dosage @ 8.5 g/L;  www.hunters.co.nz ]
Colour is straw,  deeper than the 2002 Pelorus.  Bouquet is fragrant and attractive,  with clear baguette crust autolysis on pinot and chardonnay fruit.  Palate is dry,  aromatic,  quite mealy,  drier than the much paler 2006 MiruMiru.  The forward development of the wine is a worry,  with subliminal VA adding to the almost hazelnutty complexity already evident.  This makes the 'fragrant' bouquet just a little spurious,  and doubtful for long-term cellaring,  so 2 5 years only might be best for this vintage.  GK 11/08

2002  Huia Marlborough Brut   17 ½  ()
Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $39   [ supercritical cork;  PN 55%,  Ch 45 all hand-picked;  BF,  100% MLF and extended 7-months lees autolysis in old French barrels;  5 years en tirage,  then hand-riddled;  dosage @ 7.5 g/L;  www.huia.net.nz ]
Straw,  marginally the deepest colour in the bubblies.  Huia is another New Zealand bubbly inspired by Bollinger,  but this vintage is not quite as subtle as the nearby competition from Cloudy Bay.  The combination of oak elevage and the MLF component in primary fermentation has already produced a hazelnutty as well as baguette crust complexity in the rich and forwardly mature fruit on bouquet.  The oak can clearly be tasted on the rich palate,  which would be OK if the wine were still gawky and young, but it is quite developed.  The 2000 vintage of this wine appealed to me enormously,  so each year now,  I eagerly await the opportunity to taste and see if Claire and Mike Allan have surpassed that achievement.  Not this year a little more subtlety is needed I think,  particularly in the oak component of the first fermentation.  But then,  I have that view about Krug,  too.  Shorter-term cellaring,  I suspect,  1 5 years.  GK 11/08

nv  Morton Estate Methode Traditionelle Premium Brut   17 +  ()
Marlborough & Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12%;  $20   [ cork;  Ch,  PN & PM;  100% MLF,  no oak;  18 months en tirage;  www.mortonestatewines.co.nz ]
Pale straw.  This wine has better autolysis character on bouquet than the non-vintage Pelorus,  but less weight on palate,  giving an attractively balanced bubbly with clear cashew and pinot suggestions.  It matches some 'buyers own brand' champagnes,  and therefore offers very good value.  It seems drier than the Lindauer range.  This estate has been making serious bubbly a long time now,  since John Hancock pioneered a chenin blanc-dominated wine back in the early 80s.  What an innovator that man has been !  Cellar this nv Morton 2 5 years.  GK 11/08

nv  Cloudy Bay Pelorus   17 +  ()
Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $33   [ cork;  Ch > PN typically harvested @ 3.6 t/ac;  part of base wine either fermented in oak cuves,  or BF in oak;  full MLF,  up to 8 months LA after primary ferment in a range of vessels;  after assembling,  at least 2 years en tirage;  RS / dosage c. 8 g/L;  www.cloudybay.co.nz ]
Lemon.  Bouquet is paler than the more highly-ranked wines,  chardonnay seeming dominant,  some yeast autolysis more baguette crumb than crust,  a hint of button mushrooms.  Palate shows richer body than the 2006 MiruMiru,  but less focused baguette flavours.  There is just the subtlest hint of marzipan,  a character I normally consider negative in wine,  but here its subtlety is acceptable.  Be good to see what this wine looks like with another year in bottle.  Cellar 3 8 years.  GK 11/08

nv  Lindauer Special Reserve Blanc de Blancs   17  ()
Gisborne mostly & Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12%;  $18   [ cork;  clone 6 chardonnay perhaps 100%,  pre-fermentation juice oxidation to reduce phenolics;  MLF and lees contact in tank at least 3 months;  a reserve wine component blended-in pre-tirage;  c. 24 months bottle fermentation;  12 g/L dosage;  www.pernod-ricard-pacific.com/tastingnotes.php ]
Pale lemonstraw.  I am currently using Lindauer Blanc de Blancs as a consistent reference point in bubbly blind tastings,  simply because it is so good at the price (and particularly last New Year,  at $10 **).  Its higher chardonnay nature is augmented by fair crumb more than crust of baguette autolysis,  smelling and tasting well.  The quality of the wine merits a lower dosage,  as previously discussed  at the moment both the Lindauer Reserves are a little too sweet,  or rather,  not dry enough.  10 g/L would make them startlingly more international wines,  and  a little lower would be a worthwhile longer-term goal,  to better differentiate them from mainstream Lindauer and make the term Reserve more meaningful.  The other great improvement needed around all Lindauer variants is:  surely Lindauer,  as one of the great success stories of the New Zealand wine industry,  deserves its own website.  Locating technical info for the wines is now a nightmare (thanks to site 'improvements'),  until one finally reaches the right page (above,  scroll down),  but once there,  the info is excellent.  [ ** Stop-Press:  8 Dec. '08,  Countdown / Foodtown are offering both the Reserve variants for $10 again.  Both tasted,  both good,  the Blanc de Blancs the best yet.  No better-quality wine exists at $10 in New Zealand,  and the complementary pairing of the pinot noir-dominant standard Reserve with the chardonnay-dominant Blanc de Blancs Reserve is exemplary. ]  Cellar 3 8 years.  GK 11/08

nv  Montana Chardonnay / Pinot Noir Methode Traditionelle Rosé Reserve   16 ½ +  ()
Gisborne mostly,  some Marlborough,  New Zealand:  12%;  $16   [ cork;  c. 70% clone 6 chardonnay and 30% 10/5 pinot noir;  MLF and lees contact in tank at least 3 months;  a reserve wine component blended-in pre-tirage;  c. 15 months bottle fermentation;  dosage 12 g/L;  www.pernod-ricard-pacific.com/tastingnotes.php ]
Colour is lightly flushed rosé,  lighter than some batches of standard Lindauer Reserve.  Bouquet is clean,  clearly pinot noir influenced,  strawberry and summer pudding notes,  lightly yeasty.  Palate is fresh,  similarly flavoured with a hint of tannin in juicy fruit,  light autolysis less than the Blanc de Blancs,  all very clean indeed.  This wine tastes a little drier than standard Lindauer,  but the website numbers say no,  nor does pH or acid explain.  Like all Pernod-Ricard bubblies,  attractive quaffing wine,  to cellar 3 8 years.  GK 11/08

2004  Cloudy Bay Pelorus   16 +  ()
Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13%;  $44   [ cork;  PN 60%,  Ch 40,  most of the fruit hand-harvested @ c. 4.4 t/ac;  in addition to s/s,  parts of base wine fermented in oak cuves or BF with wild yeast;  full MLF,  9 months LA after primary ferment;  after assembling,  3 years en tirage;  RS / dosage c. 7g/L;  www.cloudybay.co.nz ]
Lemon,  hard to tell from the current nv Pelorus.  This year's vintage Pelorus misses the boat somewhat,  compared with the best years.  There is just a little European clog plaining it down.  Purity and elegance of components is so critical to successful implementation of the 'champagne' style,  which climatically we are exceptionally well placed to mimic in New Zealand.  Palate has all the richness expected of vintage Pelorus,  on low dosage,  but again is let down by slightly cardboardy undertones,  robbing it of magic.  Not quite worth cellaring this batch,  ideally,  though it will improve over three years or so,  and cellar to 8.  GK 11/08

2002  Morton Estate Methode Traditionelle Black Label   15  ()
Hawkes Bay mostly & Marlborough,  New Zealand:  12%;  $35   [ cork;  PM 62%,  PN 33,  Ch 5;  100% MLF;  5.5 years en tirage;  www.mortonestatewines.co.nz ]
Lightish straw.  As noted for the 2004 Pelorus,  purity and quality of bouquet is so important to the bubbly style,  and sadly this one misses out on similar reasoning to the 2004 Pelorus,  but moreso.  The reduced sulphur complexity here is introducing slightly rubbery notes into the plain breadcrumb / even doughy yeast autolysis,  so the wine is simply not refreshing.  Palate matches,  the autolysis obvious,  but the flavours dulled,  all a little sour and impure.  Finish is sweeter than 2004 Pelorus.  This is unlikely to improve with cellaring,  so not worth it.  GK 11/08

Chardonnay
2004  Sacred Hill Chardonnay Riflemans   19  ()
Dartmoor Valley,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $52   [ screwcap;  hand-picked clone mendoza,  whole-bunch pressed to barrel;  wild-yeast ferments temperature-controlled to max. c. 17 degrees in the barrel;  partial MLF and 12 months LA and some batonnage in French oak new and 1-year;  RS in 2004 < 2 g/L;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Lemonstraw.  In its youth,  this was arguably the finest Riflemans to date,  and it is still superb.  Fruit aromas and flavours have deepened to yellow stonefruits,  but the baguette-crust autolysis complexity is still sensational.  Palate is at a first peak of purity,  wonderfully mouth-filling and textured,  the butter still delicate but not as pale as the 2007.  A joy to drink.  If you prefer younger chardonnay,  time to be finishing this up.  Will hold another five years at least, for those who like mature wines.  GK 11/08

2007  Sacred Hill Chardonnay Riflemans   19  ()
Dartmoor Valley,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $52   [ screwcap;  hand-picked clone mendoza,  whole-bunch pressed to barrel;  wild-yeast ferments temperature-controlled to max. c. 17 degrees in the barrel;  100% MLF and 12 months LA and some batonnage in French oak new and 1-year;  RS in 2007 2.3 g/L;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Lemongreen,  a remarkable colour.  Bouquet is sensationally pure and subtle,  a very understated presentation of mendoza chardonnay,  with magical lees-autolysis mealyness and barrel-ferment complexities enriching it.  Palate has great texture,  white stonefruit more than yellow,  baguette-crust buttered with palest European butter flavours,  succulent,  long,  yet refreshing.  It is closer to Puligny-Montrachet or Montrachet than Meursault,  but there are occasional other new world chardonnays it reminds me of  a Kistler from Sonoma comes to mind.  This is great New Zealand chardonnay,  one of the finest ever made here.  Since there will be no 2008 Riflemans as such,  all the fruit having been declassified,  the need now is to buy twice as much 2007 as usual.  It will cellar 3 10 years.  GK 11/08

2006  Sacred Hill Chardonnay Riflemans   18 ½ +  ()
Dartmoor Valley,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $50   [ screwcap;  hand-picked clone mendoza,  whole-bunch pressed to barrel;  wild-yeast ferments temperature-controlled to max. c. 17 degrees in the barrel;  partial MLF and 12 months LA and some batonnage in French oak new and 1-year;  RS c. 2 g/L;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Lemon,  plus a little flush of straw,  not quite as bright as the 2004 though it is lighter.  If there weren't several exceptional wines in this batch of chardonnays,  this would be marvellous.  Today it just has to be relegated to gold medal level.  The integration of pale stonefruit with lees-autolysis is very harmonious,  in this wine smelling and tasting a little different,  more wine biscuit than baguette crust.  Fruit flavour and balance is classic Hawkes Bay chardonnay,  and the gentle acid balance of all three Riflemans is enchanting.  They are not soft wines,  but there is no acid edge as so many New Zealand whites show.  On balance,  Sacred Hills Riflemans is New Zealand's top chardonnay currently.  Others have been excellent in some years,  but there is a story and consistency building up in the Riflemans wine which is great to read about,  and sheer hedonistic delight to taste.  Cellar 1 5 years.  GK 11/08

2006  Pask Chardonnay Declaration   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.8%;  $40   [ screwcap;  BF in new French oak;  11 months LA and weekly batonnage;  www.cjpaskwinery.co.nz ]
Lemon,  youthful.  A change of gear here.  Alongside the other top wines,  this Pask Declaration is a little more mainstream good New Zealand chardonnay,  without quite the homage to Burgundy.  Bouquet is explicit golden queen peach suggesting a lot of clone mendoza,  with quite marked barrel-ferment and lees-autolysis building up big mealy complexities.  In mouth the texture is nearly oily rich on the peachy fruit and lees-autolysis,  yet I wonder if there is complete MLF [ winemaker,  later:  < 5% ] there is a little more acid through the palate than some wines here,  making the wine very fresh against the richness.  This is an ideal cellaring wine for lovers of traditional big New Zealand chardonnay,  for it has years in front of it.  The aftertaste is particularly long and persistent.  Cellar 3 8 years,  maybe longer.  GK 11/08

2007  Kumeu River Chardonnay Maté's Vineyard   18 ½  ()
Kumeu,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $50   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested from vines planted in 1990;  whole-bunch pressed;  wild-yeast fermentation entirely in French oak;  100% MLF;  11 months in barrel with LA;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
Lovely lemon,  only a little deeper than the 2007 Riflemans.  Initially opened,  this wine isn't giving much away,  appearing gawky and oaky with fresh hessian edges.  It is far too young to be opening a better idea is to put every bottle aside for 18 months.  When next opened,  it will then show perfect chardonnay fruit which is both white-flowers floral,  and pale stonefruits,  with a depth on bouquet which will be remarkable.  Palate will be intense yellow-green stonefruits,  slightly mineral,  the oak quite absorbed.  I think this is going to be a topnotch Maté's of great purity,  but it is hard to retrieve those qualities right now.  Cellar 3 8 years.  GK 11/08

2007  Mount Difficulty Chardonnay   18 ½  ()
Bannockburn,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14%;  $33   [ screwcap;  low cropping rate due to season;  pre-ferment oxidation,  100% BF and temperature-controlled to max 25 degrees in barrel;  lees stirring,  75% MLF;  c. 10 months in French oak 15% new;  lightly fined and filtered;  www.mtdifficulty.co.nz ]
Lemonstraw.  This wine needs decanting / some air,  to reveal itself and soften a little.  I have written before about the linden blossom / subtlest acacia blossom florals that great chardonnay can sometimes show in grand cru chablis,  and occasionally elsewhere.  Once breathed,  this 2007 Mt Difficulty offers the definitive illustration of the style,  the bouquet showing enticing florals on pale stonefruits and lees autolysis.  In mouth,  the wine is certainly crisper than the Riflemans,  naturally enough,  and the analogy with grand cru chablis is more accurate.  The actual richness hiding below the acid could in fact remind the taster of leaner vintages of Corton-Charlemagne.  I feel like saying,  you've got to taste this wine,  but the acid is high and the style tending austerely European,  so not everyone will like it,  therefore.  It is great wine,  all the same,  to cellar 3 12 years,  maybe longer.  GK 11/08

2007  Kumeu River Chardonnay Estate   18  ()
Kumeu,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $35   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested from 6 vineyards;  whole-bunch pressed;  wild-yeast fermentation entirely in French oak;  100% MLF;  11 months in barrel with LA;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
Lemonstraw,  more forward than the Matés.  This is the kind of understated chardonnay you would put first in a blind tasting of the variety.  It defines the fruit style of the variety first and foremost,  with all the winemaking secondary.  Bouquet is faintly floral,  clean stonefruits,  slightly mealy,  a hint of oak.  In mouth it is pleasantly but not dramatically rich,  markedly less rich than the Matés,  and shows chardonnay character,  balance and food-friendliness to perfection.  Cellar 2 6 years.  GK 11/08

2006  Church Road Chardonnay Cuve Series   18  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $25   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested clone 15,  whole-bunch pressed to barrel,  with wild-yeast fermentation;  LA but no MLF in French oak 27% new for 14 months;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Lemonstraw.  This wine is much more developed than some in the bracket,  and accordingly smells richer and older.  It shows tropical fruit salad with a slightly smoky oak note in the rich fruit.  Palate is nearly oily-rich but oaky too,  showing golden queen peach,  papaya,  and even a subtle hint of banana against mealy autolysis and MLF complexities.  Acid balance is a little on the soft side,  there is a suggestion of vanilla custard,  and development to date is more rapid than the others,  so this is more a rich accessible wine to drink now,  cellaring a year or two only.  Like the Pask,  it will appeal to lovers of traditional big New Zealand chardonnays,  but it is broader and will not keep as long.  GK 11/08

2007  Kumeu River Chardonnay Coddington Vineyard   17 ½ +  ()
Kumeu,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $45   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested;  whole-bunch pressed;  wild-yeast fermentation entirely in French oak;  100% MLF;  11 months in barrel with LA;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
Lemon,  nearly as pale as Maté's.  This is much more understated than the Maté's wine,  with a subtle note of French winemaking complexity  a euphemism for slight reduction yet to marry in and let the bouquet develop.  Because of this,  the palate seems harder and shorter than the top wines,  with flavours some describe as mineral,  where the real cause has not been identified.  Like Maté's but more so,  this needs two years out of sight to get its act together.  Richness is no greater than the Estate wine,  though.  Cellar 2 8 years.  GK 11/08

2007  Kumeu River Chardonnay Hunting Hill Vineyard   17 ½  ()
Kumeu,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $45   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested;  whole-bunch pressed;  wild-yeast fermentation entirely in French oak;  100% MLF;  11 months in barrel with LA;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
Lemongreen,  clearly the palest of the Kumeu River chardonnays.  And the bouquet is the 'palest' too,  all hidden by a little reduction at this stage.  Palate is fresh and seems a little sharp,  without the appreciable fruit weight of the Maté's,  yet one suspects it too is reasonably well fruited.  Give this wine time,  perhaps three years against the Coddington's two,  and it will have a different story to tell.  The score is a bit of a gamble,  therefore,  predicting something not at all apparent right now.  Cellar 3 8 years.  GK 11/08

2007  Morton Estate Chardonnay Hawkes Bay White Label   16 ½ +  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $17   [ screwcap;  some of the wine BF,  a third of the oak new;  35% MLF;  some of the wine 11 months LA in barrel;  www.mortonestatewines.co.nz ]
Lemon.  Another jump here,  to a simpler kind of chardonnay where much of the fruit (I imagine) has known only stainless steel.  Pale stonefruits and unfocussed white grapes predominate on bouquet.  In mouth,  some chardonnay weight of fruit and texture is apparent,  a percentage of barrel-fermented components adding complexity including a little coconut (hinting at some American oak),  the finish at a popular level of 'dry',  rather than bone-dry.  But we mustn't get too sniffy about that,  for even Riflemans may have a couple of grams residual sugar in some years.  This one might be twice that.  Cellar 2 4 years.  GK 11/08

2006  Morton Estate Chardonnay Hawkes Bay White Label   16  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $18   [ screwcap;  some of the wine BF,  a third of the oak new;  30% MLF;  some of the wine 11 months LA in barrel;  www.mortonestatewines.co.nz ]
Lemonstraw,  more the colour of the 2004 Riflemans.  Bouquet however couldn't be more different from that wine,  being in an old-fashioned style that used to win plaudits.  There is pineappley fruit with a whisper of VA,  and quite a lot of oak.  Palate is soft,  fruit-salad fruity with some ersatz mango flavours,  a hint of lanolin (as in semillon),  fully mature.  More flavoursome full-bodied mature QDW,  not bone-dry,  not cellar wine.  GK 11/08

2007  Kumeu River Chardonnay Village   15  ()
Kumeu,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  13%;  $19   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested;  whole-bunch pressed;  wild-yeast fermentation;  100% MLF;  33% BF and some oak maturation,  balance s/s,  some with LA;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
Pale lemonstraw.  Bouquet is lesser on this wine,  a more overt reductive character tied up with light cardboardy aromas as in simple European chardonnay.  Palate has reasonable fruit and is more clearly varietal,  some texture in mouth,  but just a hint of armpit odour tied in with the sulphur on bouquet.  Not quite pure enough to be rewarding,  or worth cellaring.  GK 11/08

2007  Jackson Estate Chardonnay Shelterbelt   14  ()
Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $22   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested clones 95 & mendoza;  wild yeast BF in French oak 25%;  MLF in spring following;  c. 11 months LA;  RS 1 g/L;  www.jacksonestate.co.nz ]
Lemonstraw.  One fault to another.  Bouquet here is lifted by rather too much VA,  on simple melony fruit which is tending Australian commercial in style.  Palate is pro rata,  the VA tasteable and hollowing out the flavour,  with a poor finish.  QDW,  not worth cellaring.  GK 11/08

Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and related blends
2005  Cloudy Bay [ Sauvignon Blanc ] Te Koko   19  ()
Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $42   [ screwcap;  SB cropped at c. 4 t/ac;  some whole-bunch fermentation,  wild-yeast BF in mostly older French oak,  followed by full LA (but only partial MLF) for c. 18 months;  RS 3 g/L;  www.cloudybay.co.nz ]
Lemonstraw.  Bouquet is extraordinary,  clearly related to sauvignon with plentiful white elder blossom and black passionfruit fruitiness,  plus more obscure red capsicum and sweet basil savoury complexities.  These are all enriched by baguette-quality barrel-ferment and prolonged lees autolysis and subtle partial MLF,  to produce chardonnay-like aromas too.  Palate brings up the MLF fatness more,  but the whole wine is elegant and restrained in its full-flavoured style.  The texture is magical.  This is much the most compelling Te Koko yet,  and I attribute this fairly and squarely to the incomplete MLF (about 30%) in this vintage.  Sauvignon blanc and the MLF fermentation have a difficult relationship,  in which the MLF creaminess can easily become either lactic or cheesy and clumsy with sauvignon.  Some previous Te Kokos have been simply too bold.  This one is beautiful,  with complex flavours running out to the corners of one's mouth,  and persisting a very long time.  In its clearly winemaker-influenced style,  it could be rated the greatest sauvignon thus far made in New Zealand.  That said,  it is only fair to further comment,  that many would find the wine too strong,  and too complex.  For them there is the near-perfect 2008 Astrolabe pure varietal sauvignon also in this batch.  Cellar 2 8 years.  GK 11/08

2008  Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc Voyage   19  ()
Awatere 60% & Wairau Valleys,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $22   [ screwcap;  all s/s;  RS < 4 g/L,  slightly less than earlier years;  www.astrolabewines.co.nz ]
Pale lemongreen.  Yet another year of perfect Marlborough sauvignon from winemaker Simon Waghorn,  who also in effect oversees the viticulture.  This probably explains Astrolabe's now consistently achieving such a perfect expression of varietal ripeness at which to harvest,  and the contrasting ripenesses needed to achieve optimal varietal complexity.  The wine is entirely a stainless steel presentation of sauvignon blanc,  yet in this deceptive simplicity of approach it achieves extraordinary beauty and complexity.  Bouquet is sweet honeysuckle florals and black passionfruit almost as if there were a little riesling in the wine,  but made piquant and savoury from sweet basil-like fresh herbes,  and some sautéed ripest red capsicums.  Palate delivers on bouquet wonderfully,  the cropping rate and associated fruit ripeness so perfect the residual sweetness seems slightly higher than the district average,  whereas it is lower.  The wine is still 'dry',  the entire mouthful richly flavoured,  juicy,  long flavoured and sustained in mouth.  For several years now,  this standard Astrolabe blend,  and the straight Awatere version in the Discovery range,  have been in the top few straight sauvignons in New Zealand if not the best.  This year's wine is simply delicious.  Cellar 2 10 years,  for interesting but different flavours.  GK 11/08

2005  Sacred Hill Sauvignon Blanc Sauvage   18 ½ +  ()
Dartmoor Valley,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $32   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested;  whole-bunch pressed to 100% BF in French oak new and one-year;  wild-yeast fermentation,  no MLF,  LA in barrel;  RS c. 1 g/L;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Lemonstraw,  quite deep,  but still clearly lemon-infused.  Bouquet is related to the Dog Point,  but lacks the musky complexity,  instead showing complex riper fruits all through.  This is sauvignon taken beyond red capsicums and even much piquant black passionfruit into pale stonefruit territory,  yet somehow still with a refreshing aromatic edge.  On palate the whole wine jumps into focus,  more clearly oak-handled sauvignon now,  but with a palate enrichment and texture which is chardonnay-like,  gentler than the Dog Point even though it is appreciably drier.  For many it will therefore demonstrably be the superior wine,  for both Dog Point and Te Koko are extreme sauvignon statements.  To judge from all three,  year three would seem to be the perfect point to first sample these complex full-bodied oak-fermented sauvignons.  Where available,  the 2006 is distinctly angular.  Like the Dog Point,  Sauvage displays sauvignon complexed by extended lees-autolysis,  but not contradicted shall we say,  by MLF.  Cellar 2 10 years.  GK 11/08

2006  Dog Point Vineyard [ Sauvignon Blanc ] Section 94   18 ½ +  ()
Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $37   [ cork;  BF and 18 months LA in older French oak,  RS 5.9 g/L;  www.dogpoint.co.nz ]
Lemon.  First sniff of the bouquet here,  and one is reminded of fresh hypoid gear oil (if one services one's own vehicles).  It is more aromatic and tangy than Te Koko,  musky even,  but inclined in the same winemaker-elaborated direction.  It too has had complex barrel-ferment and extended lees-autolysis,  but differs in no MLF fermentation.  This keeps the wine fresher,  more acid,  and more aromatic.  In mouth therefore it does not have quite the total integration and magic of the Te Koko,  the grape is more recognisable,  the acid and oak firmer.  The winestyle is therefore closer to Sacred Hill's Sauvage interpretation of sauvignon blanc,  but starts with the more piquant Marlborough fruit,  and is less dry.  Cellar 2 10 years,  though the older wine will appeal more to tasters with experience of comparable European wines (such as the Graves district and white Bordeaux generally) in maturity.  GK 11/08

2008  Forrest Sauvignon Blanc   18 +  ()
Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13%;  $20   [ screwcap;  SB 100% cropped at 3 4 t/ac;  no winemaking detail on website;  RS < 2 g/L;  www.forrest.co.nz ]
Pale lemongreen.  This is straight sauvignon again,  close to the Astrolabe achievement but not quite so magical or sweetly complex on bouquet.  It is however free of the spurious odours so regrettably marked up in a recent mistaken phase of New Zealand sauvignon judging.  Palate is black passionfruit,  red capsicum and some sweet basil,  clean,  long flavoured and drier than many Marlborough examples of the grape.  This attractive wine will cellar up to 10 years,  if older sauvignons are enjoyed.  GK 11/08

2006  Sacred Hill Sauvignon Blanc Sauvage   18  ()
Dartmoor Valley,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $32   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested;  whole-bunch pressed to 100% BF in French oak new and one-year;  wild-yeast fermentation,  no MLF,  LA in barrel;  RS <  1 g/L;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Light lemonstraw.  This complex sauvignon does not have quite the magic of the 2005,  partly because of its youth,  but also it seems intrinsically a leaner and slightly more angular wine.  Part of the fruit seems a notch riper,  but in a hollow pepino or honeydew-melon slightly Australian white way,  even though the black passionfruit and autolysis complexity is still all there,  plus oak.  Trace VA impairs the harmony too.  Needs another year to marry up.  Cellar 2 5 years.  GK 11/08

2008  Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc   17 ½ +  ()
Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $33   [ screwcap;  SB 100% machine picked at night or early morning,  cropped at a little more than 4 t/ac;  all s/s fermentation,  c. 2 months on lees;  RS 3.5 g/L;  www.cloudybay.co.nz ]
Pale lemongreen.  The tide has come in around Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc,  so that while it is still reference class Marlborough sauvignon in its purity and style,  it is no longer the best.  Bouquet is much the same fruit profile as the Forrest,  but only hints at that extra dimension of sweet yet savoury herbes complexity so dramatically shown by the Astrolabe.  Palate is purity personified,  a nod to Sancerre as well as Marlborough,  richer than the Morton,  seemingly drier than the Astrolabe,  a wine tailored to the British market,  methinks.  Like several others,  it will have much more to say in 12 months,  and will cellar 3 8 years.  GK 11/08

2008  Morton Estate Sauvignon Blanc Hawkes Bay White Label   17 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $19   [ screwcap;  all s/s,  no oak;  www.mortonestatewines.co.nz ]
Pale lemongreen.  This is even more clearly a stainless steel sauvignon than the Forrest.  It shows similar essential black passionfruit and red capsicum qualities,  plus some ripe gooseberry fruit,  not quite as rich as,  and all a little narrower and harder on palate than the Forrest,  with slightly more acid.  Last year's Hawkes Bay wine was lower pH than the Marlborough version,  but this year's is not on the website yet.  Whatever,  it is remarkably Marlborough-like for a Hawkes Bay wine,  and should mellow up attractively in the next 12 months.  Cellar several years,  to taste.  GK 11/08

2008  Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc Avery Single Vineyard   17 ½  ()
Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13%;  $25   [ screwcap;  machine-harvested @ c. 4.2 t/ac;  100% de-stemmed and fermented with cultured yeast in s/s;  RS 2.4 g/L;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Pale lemonstraw.  The comments made re premature release for the Old Renwick Sauvignon apply to a degree here,  too.  For the first 24 hours it is pretty well mute,  just faint green gooseberry notes.  Yet it is pure,  with good fruit and long texture,  the finish drier than most.  Craggy have to think this through,  and either compromise the winemaking to suit early release,  or,  even for the cash crop of sauvignon blanc,  resolve to be the premium winery they are elsewhere,  and release the wines a full 12 months after vintage.  Some of their rieslings and chardonnays have shown the same dilemma,  though the holding time may be longer there.  Total style for this Avery Sauvignon is close to the Cloudy Bay,  or will be in 12 months.  It seems not quite as 'dry' as the Old Renwick.  Cellar 2 10 years.  GK 11/08

2008  Morton Estate Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough White Label   17 +  ()
Awatere Valley mostly,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $17   [ screwcap; all s/s,  no oak etc;  www.mortonestatewines.co.nz ]
Palest lemongreen.  If the Morton Hawkes Bay is Marlborough-like,  how do we describe the Morton Marlborough wine.  It is leaner and harder,  the bottling SO2 showing more as if it is a lower pH wine,  the fruit characters tiptoeing towards English gooseberry and nettles.  Total acid is higher than those scored more highly,  yet the residual sugar seems higher than some too.  There is an intriguing sweet vernal note introducing a thought of riesling,  which is a plausible augmenting variety for sauvignon.  So while the wine inclines to Sancerre on bouquet,  it is less clearly so on palate.  Last year's Marlborough Sauvignon was in fact higher pH than the Hawkes Bay,  so care is needed in interpretation.  Needs a year to marry up,  into an interestingly different wine,  the gooseberry persisting.  Will cellar 3 8 years.  GK 11/08

2008  Mt Difficulty Sauvignon Blanc   17  ()
Bannockburn,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  13%;  $25   [ screwcap;  the quality of the 2008 season in Central Otago can be gleaned from the harvest date for this sauvignon @ 26 March;  hand-harvested;  s/s ferment followed by two months autolysis on gross lees,  with stirring to aerate and improve palate and texture;  RS < 1 g/L;  www.mtdifficulty.co.nz ]
Pale lemongreen.  This is interesting wine.  It epitomises cool-climate sauvignon blanc,  with English gooseberry smells and flavours,  yet virtually no methoxypyrazine / green capsicum notes.  So it is physiologically mature,  in a totally different climatic zone.  Sancerre immediately makes more sense.  Palate is crisp and dry,  the total acid quite high,  yet the flavours are clean and refreshing,  like a freshly-cut cooking apple.  If you've ever wondered what the term 'mineral' might mean,  since currently it is a buzzword which many people use in a broad-brush / non-focussed way to cover amongst other things reduced sulphur,  taste this wine.  This is mineral the smell of freshly-cracked greywacke.  Cellar 2 8 years,  maybe longer.  GK 11/08

2008  Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc Old Renwick Single Vineyard   17  ()
Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13%;  $25   [ screwcap;  machine-harvested @ c. 4.5 t/ac;  100% de-stemmed and fermented with cultured yeast in s/s;  RS 2.1 g/L;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Palest lemongreen.  Craggy are doing themselves a great disservice by releasing their stainless steel wines so prematurely.  The winemaking style tends austere and conservative,  and the wines demand a year to show an outline of their substance.  Craggy Range more than most has the resources to defer release,  to achieve this.  At this stage this wine shows a somewhat bottling-shocked bouquet,  which is palely varietal,  on a firm dry palate.  Flavours so far are hard and narrow,  but richly textured with the body to open out with time.  It  needs to be left for six months at least.  Cellar 3 8 years,  or longer if desired.  GK 11/08

2008  Amisfield Sauvignon Blanc   16 ½  ()
Central Otago,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $30   [ screwcap;  SB 100% Central Otago-grown @ Lowburn,  harvested in three tranches 20% early-picked and cold-fermented in s/s,  70 picked at standard ripeness and s/s;  10% picked very ripe,  wild-yeast BF and LA in French oak as for chardonnay;  www.amisfield.co.nz ]
Pale lemongreen.  The 2006 of this label was magical,  but this vintage shows higher total sulphur at this stage,  on baseline fruit in a cooler style than Marlborough,  gooseberry more than black passionfruit.  Palate implies a significant lees-autolysis component to enrich it [ confirmed ],  but perhaps because the pH is lower,  the SO2 is obtrusive.  Otherwise,  it is very pure,  and there are components in here to like.  As discussed for the Craggy Range wines,  this needs to be released at least a year after vintage.  It is richer than the Mount Difficulty Sauvignon Blanc,  and should rate higher 12 months from now.  For the moment,  it is another Sancerre-like wine (except for the oak).  This could be exciting in three or so years.  Cellar 2 10 years.  GK 11/08

2007  Jacobs Creek Semillon / Sauvignon Blanc / Viognier Three Vines Series   16 +  ()
Australia:  13%;  $16   [ screwcap;  no oak or MLF;  www.threevines.com ]
Lemongreen.  I ran this blind with as many related New Zealand wines as I could,  but its offshore origins couldn't be hidden.  Bouquet has the distinctive honeydew melon and sweet vernal character of many Australian semillons and stainless chardonnays,  very clean but blander than the New Zealand wines.  Palate is neatly stainless steel-styled along the same lines,  but has an acid-adjusted harshness to the finish which even the most acid New Zealand examples lack.  So it tastes a little coarse in comparison.  It is sound QDW with semillon styling,  'dry',  which will cellar for several years.  I haven't seen this new addition to the Jacobs Creek range of variants at $8 on special yet.  GK 11/08

2008  Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc Te Muna   15 ½ +  ()
Martinborough,  New Zealand:  13%;  $25   [ screwcap;  72% machine-harvested,  balance hand @ c. 3.5 t/ac;  72% de-stemmed,  balance whole-bunch;  some wild-yeast fermentations,  88% s/s,  balance French oak 6% new,  3 months on lees;  RS 1.3 g/L;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Pale lemon.  Last year's Te Muna Sauvignon was a magic wine,  but that description eludes it this year.  There is a suggestion of armpit complexity on bouquet,  on a fruit character closer to over-ripe pepino than optimally ripe black passionfruit sauvignon.  Palate is quite rich,  but there is a shadow of something less than positive also,  reminiscent of the ignoble rot in their Glasnevin Riesling.  Give it six months for the positive flavours to develop,  and the wine to marry up,  but it might be wise to use it within a couple of years of vintage,  I think.  GK 11/08

Riesling
2008  Mt Difficulty Riesling Dry   18 ½ +  ()
Bannockburn,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $25   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested;  s/s cool ferment;  some stirring on gross lees to build palate,  5 g/L RS by back-blending;  160 cases;  www.mtdifficulty.co.nz ]
Pale lemongreen.  Needs a little time yet to marry up,  but bouquet is already extraordinary,  showing exquisite lightly aromatic linden or pale acacia blossom florals with a hint of lime and potential nectar,  as complex as fine Mosel Kabinett.  And on palate,  the beauty continues in exactly the same style,  but drier than the German model and hence the acid shows more.  It would be hard to find a Mosel riesling trocken as beautifully varietal as this.  It must be one of the best 'dry' rieslings ever made in New Zealand.  Those interested will probably have to ask your wineshop to get this in,  for dry New Zealand rieslings do not sell themselves,  unfortunately,  even though we have had the example of numerous excellent Australian examples over the years.  This Mt Difficulty makes a fascinating comparison with them,  though it is not as dry as for example Grosset's famous Polish Hill dry riesling.  Cellar 5 15 years.  GK 11/08

2008  Johner Riesling   18 ½  ()
Gladstone,  Wairarapa,  New Zealand:  11.5%;  $14   [ screwcap;  made in a German style,  in s/s,  with 12 g/L RS;  www.johner-estate.com ]
Pale lemongreen.  This is a sweeter wine than the Mt Difficulty,  with 'white' flowers just a little less aromatic and more freesia-like on bouquet,  plus delicate pale fruit.  Palate is beautifully pure,  again Mosel / cut dessert apple in style,  a dryish kabinett level of sweetness,  fine-grained acid,  lingering delightfully.  Though sweeter than the Mt Difficulty,  it is not quite as rich,  and therefore may not cellar quite so long.  Both these wines have a delicacy and finesse rarely achievable in Australia,  and sometimes not in Alsace either,  so they are pretty exciting.  Cellar 3 10 years.  VALUE  GK 11/08

2008  Misha's Vineyard Riesling Limelight   18  ()
Bendigo,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  11.4%;  $27   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested;  part of the wine BF in 5-years + French oak;  29 g/L RS;  irritating website;  www.mishasvineyard.com ]
Palest lemongreen.  This is a new Otago vineyard which is aiming for the top,  by retaining Olly Masters of Ata Rangi as consulting winemaker,  and Robin Dicey as viticulturist.  This riesling is prematurely released,  with a little bottling SO2 to marry up yet,  but it looks to be the best of their maiden 2008 releases.  It is sweeter and paler than the Mt Difficulty and Johner examples,  though in spirit closer to the Johner.  The difference is the spatlese level of sweetness,  with a touch of lime below,  clearly Mosel.  Cellar 5 12 years.  GK 11/08

2008  Mt Difficulty Riesling Long Gully Single Vineyard   17 ½ +  ()
Bannockburn,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  10.5%;  $34   [ screwcap;  vines planted 1992,  ideal season for leaving fruit to hang,  a little positive botrytis;  stop-fermented @ 75 g/L as auslese style;  lightly fined and filtered;  pH @ 2.75 should ensure longevity;  67 cases;  www.mtdifficulty.co.nz ]
Pale lemon.  This wine immediately smells sweeter and richer than the top wines,  but somehow less fine,  even though there are freesia florals and cut-apple notes.  Palate is fully sweet,  but with good fruit concentration as well,  so it will cellar well.  It is really much too early to be assessing this wine.  It may blossom in bottle,  and be totally transformed,  so the scoring is conservative.  Cellar 5 15 years,  maybe to surprise.  GK 11/08

2008  Craggy Range Riesling Fletcher Family Vineyard   17 ½  ()
Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  11.5%;  $25   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested at slightly > 3 t/ac;  whole-bunch fermented in s/s with cultured yeast;  4 months LA in s/s;  RS 13.5 g/L;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Pale lemongreen.  Craggy's riesling range this year doesn't quite match the high points of last year's,  at least at this premature-release stage.  As with all these rieslings,  they argue eloquently for the folly of releasing riesling in its year of vintage.  This one stands out a little in the tasting as being Eden Valley in style,  at least on bouquet,  with suggestions of fragrant hoppy terpenes not quite as finely floral as the top examples from elsewhere in New Zealand.  Palate adds a touch of lime-zest,  and more sweetness than top Eden or Clare Valley examples would show,  but it is still no more than medium-dry.  Cellar 5 10 years,  maybe to blossom.  GK 11/08

2008  Craggy Range Riesling Te Muna Road   17  ()
Martinborough,  New Zealand:  11.7%;  $25   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested at c. 2.5 t/ac;  whole-bunch fermented in s/s with cultured yeast;  4 months LA in s/s;  RS 7.5 g/L;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Pale lemongreen.  Bouquet at this stage is a little bottling-shocked,  there being a flat-spot reminiscent of ullaged character.  Premature release,  again.  It all comes together in a pleasing appley way on palate,  fractionally the driest of the range this year.  This is another which could surprise in cellar,  and demand re-rating,  but I have to score it today.  Cellar 5 10 years.  GK 11/08

2008  Mt Difficulty Riesling Target Gully   17  ()
Bannockburn,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  11%;  $34   [ screwcap;  vines planted 1994;  stop-fermented @ 44 g/L,  as a spatlese style;  800 cases;  www.mtdifficulty.co.nz ]
Palest lemongreen.  Premature release is more evident here,  there being some sulphur to marry away.  Below is a more sweet vernal version of riesling,  again Germanic with potential florals and a little lime-zest,  the latter more apparent on the palate.  At this stage,  one could never tell there is 44 g/L residual sugar here,  but in cellar it will evolve into a good spatlese-level wine.  This Target Gully wine is another which may well demand re-rating in five years.  Cellar 5 15 years.  GK 11/08

2007  Sherwood Estate Riesling Waipara   16 ½  ()
Waipara,  North Canterbury,  New Zealand:  12%;  $25   [ screwcap;  3 months LA;  RS 15 g/L;  www.sherwood.co.nz ]
Pale lemongreen.  Riesling is such a subtle beauty,  it is easily thrown off-course.  This wine is clearly white-flowers varietal,  but at this moment there is a strange aromatic on bouquet I can't place,  needing more time to marry up.  Palate is flavoursome and dryish with a lime component,  seemingly drier than the Johner or the number suggests,  but not as dry as the Mt Difficulty Dry.  Should look better in a year or so,  and cellar for 3 10 years.  GK 11/08

2008  Craggy Range Riesling Glasnevin Gravels Single Vineyard   14  ()
Waipara,  North Canterbury,  New Zealand:  10%;  $25   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested at slightly > 2.5 t/ac;  whole-bunch fermented in s/s with cultured yeast;  4 months LA in s/s;  RS 32 g/L;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Palest lemongreen.  Craggy Range have I think made a mistake,  in bottling this wine under their Single Vineyard label.  It is light and withdrawn on pale fruit at this stage,  but on bouquet to a degree and palate more clearly,  there is pungent ignoble rot betraying insufficiently careful triage.  It may develop bouquet and flavour around this negative streak,  helped by the medium sweetness.  My experience however has been that this character when detectable,  persists,  and thus the wine is compromised.  To check in a couple of years,  but personally,  I would not cellar it.  GK 11/08

Pinot Gris
2008  Mt Difficulty Pinot Gris   18 ½  ()
Bannockburn,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14%;  $25   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested;  cool-fermented;  3 months lees autolysis and weekly stirring;  no oak;  4 g/L RS;  www.mtdifficulty.co.nz ]
Pale lemonstraw.  Bouquet is clear-cut pinot family,  attractive rosepetal and white pearflesh,  some white nectarine,  plus some lees-autolysis enhancement evident.  Palate continues these winning qualities,  pure pinot gris fruit,  surprisingly dry yet the phenolics so well handled they merely give the wine structure.  This is a lovely example of the variety.  It will be a good food wine,  as well as cellaring well 2 6 years.  GK 11/08

2008  Misha's Vineyard Pinot Gris Dress Circle   17 +  ()
Bendigo,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $26   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested;  part of the wine BF in 5-years-plus French oak;  12 g/L RS;  www.mishasvineyard.com ]
Pale lemongreen.  Bouquet on this wine is also clearly varietal,  particularly once breathed it is still very new.  There are clear pale stonefruit aromas and an enhanced lees-autolysis bread crumb complexity,  relative to the Mt Difficulty.  Palate however is sweeter and coarser than that wine,  there being an acid edge to the phenolics making it just a little sour now.  Another year in bottle may sort that out.  Cellar 2 6 years.  GK 11/08

2007  Mt Difficulty Pinot Gris Manson's Farm Single Vineyard   16 ½  ()
Bannockburn,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14%;  $34   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested 24 May for a late-harvest style;  cool- and stop-fermented @ 25 g/L RS;  www.mtdifficulty.co.nz ]
Straw.  This wine is a qualified success too,  like the Church Road Cuve.  Bouquet is clearly rosepetal pinot gris,  but in the aroma is a shadow of oxidation character.  The nett result in this late-harvest style is the flavour of dried peaches rather than fresh ones,  still in a juicy full-bodied way,  not unattractive,  but a little clumsy for its age.  It is much sweeter than the Church Road.  With the right food,  it would be interesting,  making technicalities irrelevant.  Cellar short-term only,  1 3 years.  GK 11/08

2007  Church Road Pinot Gris Cuve Series   16 ½  ()
Ngaruroro Valley,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $25   [ screwcap;  cool-fermented in s/s,  then held and stirred on lees for up to 10 months;  RS 7 g/L;  the Matapiro Vineyard is at 300m altitude in the Ngaruroro Valley,  with markedly greater diurnal range than lowland Hawkes Bay;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Pale straw.  This is a white pinot of a very different stripe from the two Otago examples,  being both a year older,  and made in a much more extravagant way.  Bouquet is full,  soft and broad,  peaches and cream with loud French vanilla ice cream too.  Palate highlights why,  there being quite a lactic component,  and a noticeable skins phenolics load,  as well as some oak [not so].  The high alcohol makes it hard to assess the residual sweetness,  but it is dryish and a big mouthful of flavour.  I can imagine it accompanying some rich Alsatian foods well.  It is dubious for cellar though  those phenolics could become ugly quite soon.  Thinking back to the lovely subtle yet floral Mission Tokay d'Alsace versions of this grape from Hawkes Bay in the early 1980s,  I would like to see Church Road take a subtler approach to pinot gris.  It is almost true to say for pinot gris,  being so subtle in its beauty,  that if you can taste the MLF or oak,  then it is too much.  [ Later correspondence with winemaker Chris Scott reveals how easily one can make mistakes in sensory evaluation.  There is no oak at all,  just extended lees maturation and stirring,  their goal being to give the impression of barrel ferment ! ]  Cellar 1 3 years only.  GK 11/08

Gewurztraminer
2008  Misha's Vineyard Gewurztraminer The Gallery   17  ()
Bendigo,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14.4%;  $26   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested;  part of the wine BF in 5-years plus French oak;  14 g/L RS;  www.mishasvineyard.com ]
Palest lemongreen.  On bouquet,  this wine is excessively youthful and nearly raw on the alcohol,  with potential citrus,  apricot and citronella notes pointing to the variety,  in a stalky cool-climate way.  Palate is medium-dryish,  with fair fruit,  but at this prematurely-released stage the phenolics are noticeable on the slightly hoppy finish.  As with the other wines in this maiden release,  it needs time to harmonise.  The suggestion of lees-enhancement / breadcrumb flavours means this wine should develop rewardingly in cellar,  3 8 years.  GK 11/08

2008  Forrest Gewurztraminer The Valleys   16 ½  ()
Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  14%;  $24   [ screwcap;  cropped at c. 3 t/ac;  RS 12 g/L;  www.forrest.co.nz ]
Pale lemon.  Like the Misha Gewurztraminer,  this is so youthful and raw as to be nearly unattractive at this stage.  There is still post-fermentation amyl acetate to marry away,  as commonly encountered with this variety.  In mouth,  the flavours are more muscatty than gewurztraminer ideally is,  a similar popular medium-dryish sweetness like the Otago wine,  which masks the phenolics,  but often makes the wine seem straightforward at the same time.  It is so hard to achieve beautifully intense gewurztraminer,  but New Zealand with Alsace has one of the best climates in the world to achieve that.  These wines skirt that goal,  so they are scored from a more international viewpoint than local rankings sometimes achieve.  Cellar 3 8 years.  GK 11/08

All other white wines, blends, etc.
2007  Mills Reef Viognier Reserve   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $21   [ screwcap;  BF in 2 and 4-year French oak;  followed by c. 3 months LA in oak;   3 g/L RS;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Lemon.  Bouquet shows some of the yellow floral and wild ginger aromas the variety needs on bouquet,  in stonefruit including apricots.  Palate is ripe,  flavoursome,  with an intriguing suggestion of mandarin zest,  but tending hollow on the elevated spirit.  This is a much better expression of varietal character than the 2008,  but robust.  The truth lies in between the two vintages,  but perhaps cropped at a lower tonnage to further enhance both palate weight and physiological ripening relative to brix,  in addition to the admirable part-MLF undertaken in 2008.  A work in progress,  therefore,  to follow with interest.  Cellar a year or two.  GK 11/08

2008  Mills Reef Viognier Reserve   16 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $21   [ screwcap;  BF in 4-year French oak,  25% including MLF;  17 weeks in older French oak;  c 2 g/L RS;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Light lemon.  What a problem viognier poses to winemakers.  The best examples combine wonderful tropical florality including wild ginger and frangipani with succulent fruit,  the texture being important.  This 2008 Mills Reef sets out to enhance the palate (relative to the 2007) via the addition of an admirably subtle and clean partial MLF fermentation component,  as the French do.  However,  in an attempt to reduce the alcohol,  the fruit was picked a little too soon.  Viognier is demanding in that peak aroma and flavour arrives late in the sugar accumulation curve,  so achieving flavoursome yet elegant wines is a real search for an elusive holy grail.  This one is too under-ripe to achieve that,  with some leafyness / stalkyness,  reminiscent of the misguided Marlborough and Nelson examples.  But it is only the second try for Mills Reef,  and the two wines thus far provide useful stepping stones.  Will cellar a year or three,  in its modest style.  GK 11/08

Red
Cabernet, Merlot, and related blends
2005  Church Road Merlot Cuve Series   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $25   [ screwcap;  Me 100%;  up to 4 weeks cuvaison;  MLF in barrel;  20 months in French oak mostly new;  RS < 1 g/L;  cuve refers to the oak fermenters in the winery,  a premium approach from Bordeaux;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  a lovely colour.  Given a glass of this,  one can only wonder at and admire what Church Road is achieving currently,  under chief winemaker Chris Scott's leadership.  This wine is sublimely varietal,  showing clear violets and bottled black doris plums,  and potential dark tobacco and cedary oak.  Palate is equally good,  beautiful ripeness coupled with admirable alcohol at 13.5%,  no hard edges,  subtle oak,  the whole wine epitomising St Emilion / east bank claret styling.  Perhaps it is already very accessible for long cellaring,  but it is wonderfully food-friendly and at a great price.  A case of this wine is essential for any even half-committed wine-lover.  Cellar 3 12 years or so.  VALUE  GK 11/08

2005  Mills Reef Elspeth One   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $73   [ 50 mm cork;  Sy 30%,  CS,  Me,  Ma,  CF all about equal;  selected barrels assembled;  c. 18 months in French oak;  100 cases;  previous vintage 2002 only;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  not as rich as the Church Road Merlot.  A clever name this,  harking back to the famous Mondavi / Rothschild Napa Valley Opus One cabernet,  but clearly differentiated from it.  And the wine represents a great step forward for Mills Reef,  which thus far has tended to produce red wines appealing rather more to wine judges,  but less harmonious at table.  This wine,  like the 2006 Elspeth Syrah,  is a much more subtle creation.  The floral and ethereal quality on bouquet is wonderful (if one is tolerant of the high alcohol),  the cassis of the dominant syrah fraction melding insensibly with the cabernet,  to give what seems a cabernet-dominant wine.  I have suggested elsewhere that the concept "Hawkes Bay blend" could perhaps best be exemplified and made distinct by adding syrah to the traditional Bordeaux blending varieties.  This wine is the most vivid illustration of such an approach so far.  Palate is as fragrant as the bouquet,  the whole wine closer to Te Mata's Coleraine in weight,  style and acid balance than richer Gimblett Gravels examples.  It is a little riper and oakier than the 2005 Coleraine,  though.  Notwithstanding the cepage,  this is going to be an exciting wine to run in future 2005 Bordeaux versus Hawkes Bay red comparisons.  Cellar 5 15 years or so.  GK 11/08

2005  Church Road Cabernet Sauvignon Cuve Series   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels 85% & Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $25   [ screwcap;  CS > 85%,  Me < 15;  up to 5 weeks cuvaison;  MLF in barrel;  20 months in French oak mostly new;  RS < 1 g/L;  cuve refers to the oak fermenters in the winery,  a premium approach from Bordeaux;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  redder than the matching Merlot Cuve wine.  Bouquet is quieter than the Merlot,  more aromatic and attractively cassisy,  with almost a subliminal mint aromatic as well.  Palate is younger and firmer than the Merlot or the Elspeth One wine,  and more savoury.  Fruit richness is again splendid,  classically Bordeaux,  and wonderful value at the price.  These two wines make a great pair,  being both good new world exemplars of the two varieties,  and illustrating the contrasting styles of west bank versus east bank clarets in Bordeaux.  Cellar 5 15 years.  VALUE  GK 11/08

2006  Alluviale Merlot / Cabernet Franc   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.9%;  $26   [ screwcap;  Me 85%,  CF 15,  hand-picked,  sorted;  16 months in 90% new and 10% one year barrels;  1260 cases;  www.alluviale.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  some carmine.  This is a fresher and more obviously new world Bordeaux blend than the Church Road and Mills Reef examples in this batch.  In the blind tasting cassis is to the fore,  notwithstanding the cepage,  so the wine is confuseable with subtle syrah in its attractive florality.  Palate is cassis and bottled dark plums,  showing good richness,  weight and flavour for its price-point.  It therefore continues the trend set up under its previous Blake Family Vineyard ownership,  and is one to seek out.  The new owners include winemaker David Ramonteau-Chiros,  a graduate of the University of Bordeaux,  so the winestyles of that district are uppermost in his mind.  The aromatics on this wine yet again remind us how exceptional merlot can be in New Zealand,  and with a cepage as above,  how closely wines like this can approach St Emilion or maybe Pomerol winestyles.  Present evidence is more for the former.  Cellar 5 15 years.  GK 11/08

2006  Mills Reef  Cabernet Sauvignon Elspeth   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $37   [ cork;  hand-picked;  5 days cold soak,  followed by 60% conventionally fermented,  40% in 400L Integrale barrel system;  4 weeks cuvaison;  17 months in French oak 93% new;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  forward for its age.  Bouquet is quite distinctive,  a fragrant Entre-Deux-Mers kind of aroma which is slightly leafy as well as cassisy,  but with much more new oak than Entre-Deux-Mers wines would typically see.  The actual fruit in mouth is good,  and the style clear,  but it needs a bit more ripeness and  richness to stand alongside even minor classed French.  But alongside many a Coonawarra,  the natural acid and silky texture is lovely.  Cellar 3 12 years or so.  GK 11/08

2006  Mills Reef Merlot Elspeth   17 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $37   [ cork;  hand-picked;  5 days cold soak followed by conventional open-top fermentation and 4 weeks cuvaison;  16 months in French oak 52% new;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  fresher than the matching Cabernet.  Bouquet is lesser,  however,  with less-focussed berry characters and suggestions of VA plaining it down.  Palate is better,  plummy fruits,  reasonable ripeness and balance,  the oak a bit heavy for the weight of fruit.  Cellar 3 10 years.  GK 11/08

2007  Mills Reef Merlot / Malbec Reserve   17  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $22   [ screwcap;  Me 51%,  Ma 42;  CF 7;  4 days cold soak followed by fermentation in s/s;  7 months in barrel approx. one third new,  one quarter American;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is very youthful and uncoordinated relative to some of the 'claret' styles in this tasting.  Plummy berry lifted by fragrant oak including some American [ confirmed ] makes for quite a big bouquet.  Palate is still too youthful,  but fruit is good and oak not excessive,  leading to a not-quite-bone-dry finish best described as juicy.  Sound wine to cellar 3 10 years.  GK 11/08

2005  Pask Merlot Declaration   17  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $56   [ ProCork;  some cold soak;  some BF in new oak;  > 3 weeks cuvaison;  18 months in French and American oak;  www.cjpaskwinery.co.nz ]
Ruby and some velvet,  lighter than the Church Road Merlot.  This is more quite rich red in a generalised Bordeaux style,  rather than varietal red.  The fruit is plummy,  but not communicating well,  with both some bacony brett and rather much oak distracting.  Palate is mellow,  savoury,  rich and pleasing in its way,  but it might not be a wine to cellar for the longer term,  beyond 10 years say.  As a food wine it is good.  GK 11/08

2005  Mills Reef Cabernet Franc Elspeth   16 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $37   [ cork;  CF 100%;  18 months in French oak some new;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet.  Mills Reef apparently feel it is not worth persevering with cabernet franc,  simply because the buyers are not interested.  It would be a very great pity if they gave up,  because they have pioneered an explicitly single-variety red programme in New Zealand.  Cabernet franc is a beautiful Bordeaux variety which could flourish in New Zealand in a manner only matched in a few rare climatic parts of France.  It is after all the dominant variety in the great St Emilion Ch Cheval Blanc,  and co-dominant in Ch Ausone,  one of the rarest and most expensive wines in all Bordeaux.  There seem to be three reasons it has not attracted a following in New Zealand.  Firstly,  our winemakers,  much too influenced by Australia,  have not respected the beautifully fragrant and subtle nature of the grape,  and have bullied it with too much oak into yet another cabernet sauvignon look-alike wine.  Secondly,  wine judges,  likewise much too influenced by Australia,  have not thought deeply enough about the subtleties our climate allows in varietal expression (in contrast to Australia),  may not be sufficiently familiar with the specific varietal characters of the grape,  and in any case tend to mark up the oak just mentioned,  not withstanding it destroys the essence of the grape and wine style.  Thirdly,  winemakers have not done enough to promote the virtues of the grape and the distinctive wine style it could make in New Zealand.  This follows as a corollary to not optimising its character in the winery in the first place.  

The challenge therefore is for Mills Reef to strive to resolve these dilemmas by persevering with their Cabernet Franc,  but perhaps in the more affordable Reserve series initially,  with the goal of really showing Kiwis what the variety means.  And then set about educating wine writers,  judges and consumers accordingly,  once real varietal quality has been achieved in bottle.  Meanwhile,  this example freshly opened shows VA and oak tending too high for the weight of the fruit,  so the elegant red currant and raspberry aromas on bouquet deepening into a riper plummy palate are hard to recognise.  I think they are there,  hidden for the reasons discussed.  Cellar 3 8 years.  GK 11/08

2007  Mills Reef Cabernet / Merlot Reserve   16 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $22   [ screwcap; CS 60%,  Me 39,  Ma 1;  4 days cold soak followed by fermentation in s/s and 3 weeks cuvaison;  7 months in barrel some new;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  deeper and older than the matching Merlot / Malbec.  Unusually for Mills Reef,  who favour a slightly oxidative red winemaking style such as Penfolds practise,  this wine opened slightly reductively.  It benefits greatly from a splashy decanting,  opening to a more cassisy and less oaky bouquet than the Merlot / Malbec.  Palate is definitely firmer than the sibling wine,  and total acid might be a little more,  giving a crisp aromatic red which is going to cellar well,  5 12 years.  GK 11/08

2006  Mills Reef Cabernet / Merlot Elspeth   16 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $37   [ cork;  CS 60%,  Me 40,  hand-picked;  5 days cold soak;  40% of the CS wild-yeast fermented in Integrale rotating 400L barrels,  balance both vars conventional open-top fermentation,  extended cuvaison;  16.5 months in French oak 53% new;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  a deeper and more youthful colour than either the Cabernet or the Merlot !  On bouquet and palate however this wine does not seem to match the individual varieties,  smelling and tasting as if it has more press fraction in it,  resulting in a harder wine.  A streak of under-ripeness shows up too,  along with some VA.  There is the constitution and tannin to cellar well,  5 12 years,  in its style.  GK 11/08

2005  Mills Reef Malbec Elspeth   16  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $37   [ cork;  Ma 100%,  hand-harvested;  some wild-yeast fermented in Integrale rotating 400L barrels,  some conventional open-top fermentation,  extended cuvaison;  18 months in French oak;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  more youthful than the other 2005 Mills Reef wines.  Bouquet is not such a success on this wine,  it showing leafy,  stalky and marcy under-ripe qualities not appropriate to the Elspeth range.  Palate is clearly varietal malbec,  a furry plummy quality coarser than good merlot,  but here too green-tinged.  Concentration is good,  and in its cool-climate way,  this wine will cellar well,  5 15 years.  GK 11/08

2005  Pask Malbec Declaration   16  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12%;  $56   [ ProCork;  partial BF in new oak,  16 months in barrel;  www.cjpaskwinery.co.nz ]
Older ruby,  not too different from the 2005 Merlot Declaration.  Bouquet however is very different,  much much too oaky including some American I suspect (has been 25% in previous years),  already varnishy which is not appropriate in such a young wine.  In addition there seems to be a euc'y taint,  a leafy quality,  and some brett.  Palate combines all these into a savoury flavoursome wine,  which could be scored highly,  but for the wrong reasons.  Not a good cellar prospect,  so 3 8 years only.  GK 11/08

2005  Morton Estate Merlot / Malbec Mercure White Label    14 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $20   [ screwcap;  Me 66%,  CS 25,  Ma 9;  elevage in French and American oak;  www.mortonestatewines.co.nz ]
Lightish old ruby.  Bouquet is modest and very old-fashioned,  showing some unfocussed old berryfruit with swampy and bretty overtones,  the way shippers' Bordeaux used to be.  Palate adds a stalky under-ripe flavour,  even though there is reasonable fruit.  Not a charmer,  more QDR,  and though more winey than the Jacobs Creek,  likewise not worth cellaring.  GK 11/08

Pinot Noir
2007  Mt Difficulty Pinot Noir Pipeclay Terrace Single Vineyard   18 ½ +  ()
Bannockburn,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14%;  $84   [ screwcap;  release date Feb. 2009;  7 clones of PN some up to 15 years age,  100% de-stemmed;  c. 6 days cold soak;  cuvaison c. 2 weeks;  MLF in spring in barrel,  and c. 14 months in French oak some new;  RS < 1 g/L;  not fined or filtered;  www.mtdifficulty.co.nz ]
Good pinot noir ruby.  Bouquet is simply beautiful limpid pinot noir,  showing all the dark florality of classic Cote de Nuits pinot.  Emphasis is on boronia and dark red roses,  but there is lilac too,  in red and black cherry fruit.  Palate is simply the liquefaction of the bouquet,  the floral qualities persisting right through the flavour,  in fruit which might be a little soft for long cellaring,  but is neither under-ripe,  nor low acid.  This is the richest of the three Mt Difficulty pinot noirs.  Lovely wine to cellar 3 10 years.  GK 11/08

2007  Mt Difficulty Pinot Noir Long Gully Single Vineyard   18 ½  ()
Bannockburn,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14%;  $84   [ screwcap;  release date Feb. 2009;  5 clones of PN,  some whole bunch component;  c. 6 days cold soak;  cuvaison c. 2 weeks;  MLF in spring in barrel,  and c. 14 months in French oak some new;  RS < 1 g/L;  www.mtdifficulty.co.nz ]
Good pinot noir ruby,  minutely the deepest of the three Mt Difficulty pinot noirs.  Once breathed,  telling these three wines apart,  for example identifying them correctly in repeated triangular tests,  would be hard.  I think this is fractionally the most aromatic of the three,  the same faint shadow of fine syrah as in the standard wine.  Likewise on the stunning black cherry palate,  it is a little firmer and crisper than the other two,  and is suited to the longest cellaring of the three.  It is not quite as floral,  supple and ample as the Pipeclay.  Buy as many of these three exemplary Otago pinots as you can afford.  Cellar 5 12 years.  GK 11/08

2007  Mt Difficulty Pinot Noir   18 +  ()
Bannockburn,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  14%;  $44   [ screwcap;  cropped at c. 1.6 t/ac;  up to 30% whole bunch;  8 9 days cold soak,  mostly wild-yeast fermentations;  c. 2 weeks cuvaison;  11 months in barrel on lees,  MLF in spring in barrel;  filtered;  www.mtdifficulty.co.nz ]
Good pinot noir ruby,  a little lighter than the Pipeclay Terrace.  Bouquet on this Mt Difficulty is initially a little more obscure than the other two,  but breathed there are the same boronia and cherry qualities,  plus it is a little more aromatic with the faintest thought of cracked black peppercorn.  Palate is therefore a little firmer and crisper than the Pipeclay,  closer to the Long Gully in style,  again Cote de Nuits in styling.  It is in fact hard to say which is better.  Cellar 3 10 years.  GK 11/08

2007  Jackson Estate Pinot Noir Vintage Widow   17  ()
Waihopai & Wairau Valleys,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $38   [ screwcap;  five clones hand-harvested;  4 days cold soak,  wild-yeast fermentation;  MLF in barrel spring following;  some new oak;  not fined or filtered,  RS nil;  www.jacksonestate.co.nz ]
Pinot noir ruby,  a little deeper than the Misha's.  And the varietal character is a little deeper too.  Though it is still in the highly floral Marlborough style,  there are more dark roses than sweet pea,  and it is not as leafy as so many of the valley floor wines traditionally have been,  reflecting the clay soils of the Waihopai component.  Palate shows attractive pinot textures,  and red fruits with some depth.  Cellar 3 8 years.  GK 11/08

2007  Misha's Vineyard Pinot Noir   16 ½  ()
Bendigo,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $45   [ screwcap;  mainly clone 5 planted 2004,  hand-harvested;  100 cases only first crop;  this wine 100% new oak circumstantially;  not fined or filtered;  www.mishasvineyard.com ]
Pinot noir ruby,  forward for its age.  On bouquet this wine lacks the perfect pinot ripeness of the Mt Difficultys,  and thus demonstrates the enhanced sweet pea florality of marginally under-ripe pinot noir.  The palate confirms this,  with a hint of leafiness in red more than black fruits cherry,  all subtly oaked.  Very much a 'first shot' wine,  I would think,  awaiting full cropping in the vineyard.  Pricing in such circumstances is difficult.  Whereas one can understand the desire to price where one wants to be from the outset,  there is a case for acknowledging the quality actually achieved via introductory pricing.  Cellar 3 6 years.  GK 11/08

2007  Hunter's Pinot Noir   16  ()
Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  14%;  $29   [ screwcap;  some hand-picked fruit;  a little barrel-ferment;  10 months in once and twice-used oak,  none new;  www.hunters.co.nz ]
Lightish pinot noir ruby.  Bouquet is very fragrant,  but clearly in the light sweetpea style of pinot from the Wairau Valley floor,  all raising the thought of leafiness.  And so it proves to be on palate,  though there is attractive red currant and red cherry fruit too.  Total wine achievement is somewhere between Loire Valley pinot and Savigny les Beaune in a representative year,  fragrant,  clearly varietal in a light red-fruits-only way,  pleasing as such,  but not so much a cellar wine.  Perhaps 2 5 years.  GK 11/08

2007  Kumeu River Pinot Noir Estate   14  ()
Kumeu,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  13%;  $35   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested;  100% de-stemmed fruit from selected Burgundy clones planted in 1994;  wild-yeast fermentation;  up to 3 weeks cuvaison;  11 months in barrel;  www.kumeuriver.co.nz ]
Pinot noir ruby.  Bouquet immediately gets this wine off on the wrong foot.  In the blind tasting,  it bears little relation to what seems a straightforward New Zealand pinot (which turns out to be the Hunter's Pinot Noir,  for example).  There is both a thought of under-ripe beaujolais in the fruit characters,  and also of South African pinotage.  It is the oak though which really is bizarre,  almost a smell of smoked fish,  far from the quality used in the attractive Kumeu River chardonnays.  To make matters worse,  there is quite a lot of it considering the gamay-like fruit weight,  and it persists on the tongue.  I can't help thinking the Brajkovich's pursuit of a quality pinot noir (i.e. in the Estate series) in the Kumeu district is best described as quixotic,  considering the style and varietal precision of contemporary Otago (and elsewhere) offerings.  But,  one has to acknowledge very occasional pinots from improbable climates do succeed:  1976 Nobilo Pinot Noir from the same district,  1976 Tyrell Pinot Noir from the Hunter Valley,  and in a lighter style,  occasional Millton St Anne examples from Gisborne.  This Kumeu wine is more an eccentric QDR,  an acquired taste not worth cellaring as pinot noir,  so it is expensive.  GK 11/08

Syrah = Shiraz
2006  Villa Maria Syrah Cellar Selection   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels & other districts,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $33   [ screwcap;  Sy 100% hand-harvested,  all de-stemmed;  inoculated yeast,  warm-fermented in open-top vessels,  15 days cuvaison;  c. 18 months in French and American oak 40% new;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
As before,  this is simply benchmark syrah,  put into the blind tasting as a reference / calibration wine.  The glorious thing about screwcap is,  the chances for the next bottle to be different are remotely small,  unlike cork.  And it was all there,  in the wine that turned out to be the Cellar Selection:  florals,  aromatics,  the cassis,  spice and berry,  clearly varietal.  Definitive,  and good value.  GK 11/08

2007  Te Mata Syrah Bullnose   18 +  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $43   [ cork;  3 clones of syrah hand-harvested,  100% de-stemmed;  extended cuvaison;  16 months in French oak some new;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  a good lively colour.  Bouquet is deep,  quite rich,  but very youthful and unformed as yet.  There is rich cassis and dark berry fruit,  and suggestions of cracked peppercorn spice plus floral subtleties to come.  Palate likewise is not giving much as yet,  riper than most Bullnoses to date,  teetering towards over-ripe,  just a hint of blackberry-like fruit as well as the cassis,  but there is black pepper on the finish.  Oaking is subtle.  Total style is northern Rhone in a hot year,  a little fleshier than classic St Joseph or Hermitage tying in with the suggestion of blackberry.  Cellar 5 12 years.  GK 11/08

2006  Mills Reef Syrah Elspeth   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $37   [ cork;  hand-harvested;  100% wild yeast BF via the Integrale hogshead system;  15 months in puncheons 80% new;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some velvet,  not as rich as the 2006 Villa Maria or the 2007 Bullnose.  Bouquet is very floral and fragrant,  lifted by academic VA probably below average threshold,  so it simply adds to the apparent volume of bouquet.  Total style is clearly Cote Rotie,  with wallflower and dianthus florals on cassis and red berries.  Palate is soft and winey,  gentle and already ideally suited to food in the way 10-year-old Cote Rotie or Rioja is.  This is a subtle and accessible wine better suited to the shorter term,  say 3 8 years maybe,  compared with some more substantial styles.  GK 11/08

2007  Mills Reef Syrah Reserve   16 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $21   [ screwcap;  DFB;  Sy 97.6%,  Vi 2.4;  5 days cold soak followed by > 2 weeks cuvaison;  French oak 7 months;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a little deeper and fresher than the 2006 Elspeth Syrah.  Bouquet is recognisably varietal,  but in a more rustic style than Elspeth.  There is cassis and stewed red plum and berry,  and a  suggestion of peppercorn and silage (sweet).  Palate is juicy,  gently oaked,  not the authority and varietal definition of the higher-ranked wines,  a hint of seaweed,  perhaps not bone dry,  but pleasing.  Cellar 2 5  years might be best here.  GK 11/08

All other red wines, blends etc
2007  Jacobs Creek Shiraz / Cabernet / Tempranillo Three Vines Series   14  ()
Australia:  12.5%;  $16   [ screwcap;  some of the wine sees older oak;  website tiresome;  www.threevines.com ]
Ruby.  Bouquet has the distinctive MIA smell,  tending stalky,  raw fruit,  a suggestion of cut beans,  all reminiscent of under-ripe pinotage.  Palate is hard,  clogged and dull,  the tannins and acid oppressive,  the flavour not appealing.  New Zealand's plain wines can be more attractive than this,  but it is hard to match Australia's volumetric prices sad to say though this new series hasn't been discounted yet.  Industrial wine,  perfectly sound,  but not worth cellaring.  GK 11/08