Browse Tag


Amber gris

Blackenbrook 2004 Pinot Gris (Nelson) – Far too many New Zealand versions of this ubiquitously-planted grape are indifferent, at best. In an attempt to avoid such indifference, this wine sits on its fine lees for a while…not an uncommon technique, but one that helps add character and weight when the fruit is of sufficient quality. However, 2004 was a difficult vintage for this grape, and harvest occurred on the 4th of May despite an ardent desire to let the fruit hang longer. The result is still pretty good, and I’d like to see what could be done in a better vintage. There’s light pear and light residual sugar, good yeasty/leesy weight, and a fair amount of floral spice lingering about. It finishes a little sticky, though. (3/05)

More here.


[bottles]Blackenbrook 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Nelson) – Clean and crisp, with intense acidity lent just enough support to create a balanced wine. Aromas come in the form of green apple, passion fruit, light but ripe red pepper, pear juice, and dried pineapple. In other words, this wine straddles two commercially-relevant styles – the crisp, peppery sauvignon that made New Zealand’s sauvignon splash, and the more modern fruit salad version – merged with élan. It has some length, too, so it just might last for a few years. This doesn’t particularly stand out among New Zealand’s many sauvignons, but it is more deftly done than most. (3/05)

More here.

Jacques be nimble

St. Jacques 2004 Pinot Noir (Nelson) – As with the pinot gris, a later harvest was hoped for, but the onslaught of precipitation prevented that. Light plum and earth, blueberry, thyme and other herbs, with a light impact supported by only a little tannin. Fresh, fruity and fun, this is a wine of friendly immediacy, but little future. (3/05)

More here.

Swiss chard

Blackenbrook 2004 Chardonnay (Nelson) – Half barrel-fermented and half in stainless steel, taken off its lees at blending and allowed 100% (spontaneous) malolactic, followed by aging in 30% American oak. Light and open, showing cream, apricot and a lot of really fresh orchard fruit. Light- to medium-weight, with a little butter and wood spice, and then nice floral notes emerge on the creamy finish. Quite balanced and pleasant, handling its oak well but never heading over the top. (3/05)

Blackenbrook 2004 “Barrel Fermented” Chardonnay (Nelson) – Grapes picked at 24 brix. 100% oak here…60% new, with 90% of both types of wood sourced from America, with the remaining 10% only older French barrels. The wine spends 9-10 months in wood. 100% malo. The nose is full of intense clove, cinnamon and creamy ripe orange and peach, with a caramel note intertwined. Big and ripe on the palate, showing more peach, this time braced with slightly crisper apple. Intense, full and lush, this cleans up its act a bit on the finish, which is crisp and juicy. A very good wine with aging potential, and the likelihood that it will handle its wood well over that period. (3/05)

More here.

Black and noir

Blackenbrook 2004 Pinot Noir (Nelson) – Gorgeous floral aromatics pair with light red and purple plum, anise liqueur (not a dominant element) and graphite-infused cedar on the palate. Gritty but ripe tannin, smoothed-over and perhaps a little shorter than one might prefer, with the tannin still fairly obvious on the finish. Despite this, the wine is fresh and lively. A good effort. (3/05)

More here.

Friendly fields (New Zealand, pt. 18)

[Amisfield winery]We need a drink

With ten days ahead of us, and a nicely-equipped kitchen here in our Queenstown vacation rental, we’ve got certain needs. Travel essentials and food will come later. Right now, however, we’re in search of something even more fundamental: something to drink. With wineries just down the road, there’s no better time than now…and no better way to shop than to taste before buying, hopefully learning something along the way.

Five definitions of central

Of all the wine regions of New Zealand, the Central Otago is the source of the highest hype to output ratio. This is not to suggest that the area’s exploding reputation is built on a pile of horse manure, but rather to note that, 1) there’s just not that much wine, 2) what wine there is, is produced in fairly small quantities, 3) quality wines and producers make up a typically small percentage of the overall total, and 4) the entire region is very, very young.

Throughout the length and breadth of the Central Otago, freshly-tilled fields and new plantings are spreading like kudzu across often-difficult hillsides and slopes. This means that quantitative issues are being addressed as rapidly as possible, but it doesn’t necessarily say much about quality. Especially given that the reputation of the region is based almost entirely on the massively fickle pinot noir grape, the road ahead is going to be much like the road today: filled with eager but insufficient young contenders and a growing sense of entitlement-without-justification. The wines may sell themselves to the curious, but they won’t do so forever. The Central Otago does show many signs of becoming one of the world’s great pinot noir regions, but it is not there yet, and only a continued commitment to quality over commercialism will allow it to achieve the status it may well deserve.

Adding to the confusion is the geographical haphazardness of the vignoble. “The Central Otago” is actually somewhere between four and seven distinct regions, depending on how one wants to classify vineyards, and they are not close to one another. Cromwell, an historic mining town turned agricultural center thanks to a highly-reputed fruit industry, is slowly finding its niche as the geographical “center” of the area’s disparate vineyards, but unfortunately the town itself doesn’t possess immense tourist appeal, and many visitors to the area will instead choose to stay in Queenstown, at one extreme end of the region and necessitating a lot of long and twisty drives to reach most worthwhile wineries.

Local vineyards are probably most sensibly grouped by their terroir (which is how one gets to the number seven), but in such a young region with a barely emergent wine culture, it’s far too early to make definitive statements thereto, except in the most preliminary sort of fashion. Thus, I prefer to group the vineyards in terms of geography for the time being, especially as this is how most visitors will experience them. Five distinct locales form the basis of a complete tour of the Central Otago: Gibbston, Wanaka, Cromwell, Bendigo, and Alexandra. This classification, I should add, rests on the following caveats: 1) Wanaka has very few vineyards, 2) technically, the Cromwell Basin comprises Cromwell and Bendigo, and the latter has only vineyards…no wineries, 3) Alexandra could perhaps more properly be called Clyde/Alexandra, as most of the vineyards are closer to the former than the latter, and 4) the Cromwell area is, by experienced local growers and winemakers, the site where further subdivisions are most often made, leading to distinct identifiers that include Lowburn, Bannockburn, Pisa Range and Pisa Flats.

Hayes & vines

We start our winery tour in Gibbston, which can easily be split into two sub-regions: Gibbston itself, about a half-hour’s winding drive from Queenstown, and – closer to town, at an intersection that takes one to the charming old gold-mining center of Arrowtown – Lake Hayes. Overall, the area gets more rain, and much cooler temperatures, than most of the rest of the Central Otago sub-regions, and it is primarily for this reason that a lot of blending from other areas goes on. Sometimes it’s quite open, other times it is not. But all those undesignated grapes up in warmer and dryer Bendigo are going somewhere

(Continued here…)

Whites only (New Zealand, pt. 7)

Ask not what your winery can do for you…

The aquamarine rippling of the Hauraki Gulf throws shadows and highlights onto the trees below us. A breeze gently ruffles the leaves, then stills, freshening the quiet air but leaving nothing but memory in its wake. I hold up my glass of sauvignon blanc, which shines bright and clear in the sunlight, and take a deep, luxurious sniff. All is right with the world.

Though not quite as much is right with the wines.

We’re on the patio at Kennedy Point, looking down a rather precipitous cliff to the ocean, and working through a tasting conducted by a friendly young Californian. But after the sauvignon blanc, I’m afraid it’s all as downhill as the below-patio slope.

(Continued here…)