Melness 2004 Riesling (Waipara/Canterbury) – Wet sea-stones, pineapple pie, ripe apple, and soda water thick with minerality. Lemon rind on the finish. Really interesting, though I don’t know if it’s fully-knit yet. (3/05)
Notes from a tasting led by Daniel Schuster himself. He’s a bit difficult to understand with his blend of accents and a tendency to ramble into sub-audible tangents, but when he can be understood, he is absolutely one of the funniest – I mean side-splittingly, rolling on the floor hilarious – winemakers I’ve ever met. Were it not for the necessity of hearing the next bon mot, I’d have been roaring with laughter for a solid hour.
He’s also eminently quotable, uttering profundities that have you nodding your head, even while realizing that they don’t necessarily mean all that much. For example:
“This wine has a hint of corruption.”
“Why do ‘winemakers’ insist on that title? You don’t hear people who keep bees saying ‘I make honey’.”
“There’s no communism in wine.”
As for the wines, they’re a very solid collection that show restraint and elegance. One might hope for a bit more verve in places, but I suspect there’s an active stylistic choice at work here, rather than an inability to achieve something of more intensity. Only my unwillingness to drag myself away from day-long tastings at Pegasus Bay has stopped me from visiting this winery in the past. I won’t let that happen next time. (Well, I’ll probably still do the day-long tastings, but I’ll supplement them with a visit to Schuster…possibly the next day.)
Daniel Schuster 2006 Riesling (Waipara) – Plenty of spritz here, which fizzes up sweet crystalline lime, candied apple, and whipping needles of acidity slashing like a razor ‘cross the palate. Exquisitely balanced, with a light sweetness that complexes to white button mushrooms on the finish, in concert with a metallic aluminum sheen. This is impressive, albeit in an understated way. (3/07)
Daniel Schuster “Selection” 2004 Chardonnay Petrie (Rakaia) – Fetid apricot and overripe pear with some sweat on the nose. The palate is more generous, showing creamed orange, grapefruit, crisp crabapple and an almost shockingly vivacious acidity. The finish is piercing, with steel flakes in abundance, and matters are brought to a close by the gentle emergence of drying tannin. I find it a bit shocking, but very appealing…though others at the table note the overt butter (which I find restrained) and miss the acidity. (3/07)
Daniel Schuster Pinot Noir Twin Vineyards (Canterbury) – A non-vintage bargain pinot. Synthetic sour cherry, with tart greenness dominating. A few strawberry leaves are about all that’s worth mentioning. Simple-minded and not very interesting. (3/07)
Daniel Schuster 2004 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – Ripe strawberry, plum and beet with a deeper cherry core emerging on the palate. There are light but insistent traces of licorice and spice. Texturally, this shows gentle, cottony fruit with a beautifully supple finish that rolls and fades. A lovely wine, exemplifying a soft expression of the Waipara terroir. (3/07)
Daniel Schuster “Selection” 2004 Pinot Noir Omihi Hills (Waipara) – Tighter and more concentrated than the regular Waipara pinot, with the aromas shifted to a darker, black fruit and leather spectrum. There’s a slightly syrupy thickness to the forepalate that eventually lends a smooth texture to a core rich with morels, black truffles, and dark, roasted beets. The wine is round and mouthfilling, squeezing into every corner and filling it with satin. I probably wouldn’t drink this now, because everything is still a little over-wound, but I would most definitely stick a few in the cellar. It’s going to be a beauty. (3/07)
Daniel Schuster 2004 “Late Harvest” Riesling Hull Family (Waipara) – Shy, with sweet green apple and a milky texture. It’s very sweet, and while it gives the appearance of concentration, there’s not actually all that much that’s being concentrated. The wine quickly crescendos, then just as quickly decrescendos…it’s all build-up, with no subsequent explosion. The finish is long, tart and vibrating. It’s OK, but definitely not up to the standards of the rest of the portfolio. (3/07)
With dinner, Schuster springs for a few alternative tastes of pinot, the better to compare and contrast his wines. Given the very real possibility that one or both of them will be preferred by tasters, I consider this a commendable gesture.
Roumier 1994 Chambolle-Musigny (Burgundy) – A little imbalanced and a lot tired, showing dried-out red fruit and brown leaves with a squeezed meat finish, all layered with a faint but insistent tannin. It’s delicate and there are certain minor charms, but this was better at some time that was before now. (3/07)
Mount Difficulty 2004 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Fairly simple but boisterous plumberry, orange rind and gravel notes, with more weight than acidity (though this isn’t a heavy wine by any means). Nice. (3/07)
Donaldson Family “Main Divide” 2002 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough/Canterbury) – Zingy and forward, as this wine always is, with vivacious gooseberry and lime juice bouyed by playful acidity. Four years on, the structure and the fruit are slightly less well-integrated than they were, but this is still better than almost all the industrial-quantity New Zealand sauvignon blanc that litters store shelves. (6/06)
Trimbach 2001 Pinot Gris “Réserve” Ribeauvillé (Alsace) – Acrid pear and grapefruit soda keep themselves at a distance from the drinker, as if to withhold their apparent lushness until some sort of test is passed. In other words, this is showing signs of being a bit closed. It should come out the other side in a few years, at which point both the weight and the fat will re-emerge. (6/06)
I’ve always eschewed the “Ribeauvillé” designation on this wine, for no good reason. All the grapes are from within those vineyards allotted to the town of Ribeauvillé, and as this sort of village labeling is a regular practice in Alsace, there’s no reason for me to keep excluding it. I notice, though, that Trimbach de-emphasizes the appellation by using a font color very similar to the background. A little strange, perhaps, but then Trimbach has always been a brand-forward estate. Alcohol: 14%. Closure: cork. Importer: Diageo. Web: http://www.maison-trimbach.fr/.
Torbreck 2003 “Cuvée Juveniles” (Barossa Valley) – Full-bodied dark berries, but instead of leaden and concentrated (though the wine doesn’t lack for weight), they’re juicy and lip-smacking, with broad-shouldered complexities and a minimal amount of structure. A nice wine. (6/06)
60% grenache, 20% shiraz (syrah), 20% mataro (mourvèdre). The name does not, as one might assume, refer to a young-vines cuvée, but instead to Juveniles wine bar in Paris, whose owner suggested this particular style: old vines & unoaked. I’ve often been indifferent (and occasionally hostile) to the wines of Torbreck, while like-minded palates have insisted that I’m missing something I’d like. This is the first indication I’ve had that they might have been on to something. Alcohol: 14.5%. Closure: screwcap. Importer: Australian Wine Collection. Web: http://www.torbreck.com/.
Tohu 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Intense, almost overwhelming ripe gooseberry with a fuzzy, alcohol-induced haze. The flavor is undeniable, and there’s nothing “wrong” with the wine, but I wonder if a little restraint might not improve matters. (6/06)
Made by and for Maori interests in New Zealand, Tohu has cultural baggage that hangs on its success or failure in the marketplace; failure here would be more damaging than with most wineries. That it has heretofore matched decent commercial expectations is noteworthy, but other than the prestige “Mugwi” sauvignon blanc, not much has been done to push the winery away from the crowded low-price realm in which it resides. In my opinion, it’s time to do so. Keep the low-cost, accessible wines, but let’s see more of an adventurous spirit to move the wines onward and upward. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: screwcap. Importer: Davies & Co. Web: http://www.tohuwines.co.nz/.
Ollivier “La Pépière” 2004 Muscadet Sèvre & Maine “Moulin de la Gustaie” “Sur Lie” (Loire) – Crisp but generous (for Muscadet, that is), with fruit skins and flaky, sea-battered minerals scattered on some sort of moonscape. Utterly delicious. (6/06)
Marc Ollivier’s stupendous Muscadets are standard-bearers for what the region can accomplish with the right vines and dedication, and are incredible values as well (though objectively, it’s a shame that such good work can’t lead to greater financial rewards). However, what’s more interesting to me are the striking differences between his cuvées: the regular, the Eden, the shockingly good Clos des Briords, and this one. There’s terroir, there’s vine age, there’s a little bit of style, but all are distinctly different while remaining distinctly Muscadet. That’s terroir for you, right there. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM.
Bonny Doon “Ca’ del Solo” 2003 “Big House Red” (California) – Fun, fruity, pleasantly acidic. Red. That’s about the it. (6/06)
Seriously, what more do you want? Cheap, fun wine. Stop thinking about it and just drink it! Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: screwcap. Web: http://www.bonnydoonvineyard.com/.