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Jewel of denial

Age is, unfortunately, just a number

by Thor Iverson


Riesling vieux
The world of wine is full of connections, and our second stop on this day is directly connected to our first: Daniel Schwarzenbach is (or perhaps, as of this writing, was) part of the winemaking team at Kahurangi Estate. What a difference a venue makes!

We’re met in a slick tasting/café facility by Greg Day, the owner. He takes us on a brisk tour of the facilities…and I do mean the facilities, as the majority of Day’s narrative is about tanks, bottling lines, barrels, vineyard purchases and total tonnage, with a good deal of marketing-speak thrown in for good measure In other words, not the stuff one usually hears at a quality-oriented winery, though to be fair Day is the business side of things, and not a winemaker. Kahurangi (the Maori word means “precious jewel” or “treasured possession,” among other things; there’s a certain aptness to that) is much more a smooth commercial operation than most places we’ll visit on this trip, and this character comes through very clearly in its lineup; the primary quality of Kahurangi’s wines is a lack of overt flaws. I suppose that’s rather the point, but it’s also somewhat uninspiring.

It’s also a shame, as Kahurangi holds an interesting distinction as the owner of the oldest vines on the South Island: a tight collection of riesling planted in 1973. In other words, not old at all by European standards, which helps point out just how adolescent the local winemaking culture really is. In addition to the estate vineyards (twenty-six acres), there is also the leased Five Oaks Vineyard (thirty acres) that, at the time of our visit, has not yet been fully utilized. Still, overall, Kahurangi buys more grapes than it owns. Most are from the Moutere sub-region of Nelson, though the appellations on each bottling tell the tale. Along with the standard palette of regional varieties, there’s a small trickle of montepulciano (that, unfortunately, we don’t get to taste). A slight majority of the wines are exported (mostly to Australia, the U.K., and the U.S.), and the winery employs screwcaps on all but the 30% of exports headed for the conservative markets of mainland Europe.

Kahurangi Estate 2004 Riesling “Reserve” (Moutere) – We start by tasting the old-vine flagship, which leads to a concern that everything will be downhill from here. (As it turns out, not an entirely unjustified fear.) There’s green-leafed apple and concentrated steel – the latter mostly apparent on the finish – amidst a mild overlay of residual sugar. A bit of petrol is also present. The wine shows a fair amount of intensity, but it’s not a consistent expression. One suspects that more could be done with these grapes, but then that assumes an inherent strength of the terroir about which I am ignorant.

Kahurangi Estate 2004 Riesling (Moutere) – Lots of petrol here, with tart and zingy grapefruit and a hint of pear. Starts strong, finishes very flat. Eh.

Kahurangi Estate 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Nelson) – The 2004 vintage was rife with problematic and/or nonexistent ripening, and this wine (harvested under 20 brix) is no exception. indeed, there’s a definite Serrano chile character to the grassy, leafy, lime rind palate. Underripe, for sure.

Kahurangi Estate 2004 “Unwooded” Chardonnay (Nelson) – No wood…and no malo, either. This is the estate’s biggest seller. Unfortunately, the wine is aromatically dead. Crisp, malic apple dominates the palate, along with greengage plum, but there’s just not much here. It’s inoffensive enough, I suppose.

Kahurangi Estate 2003 Chardonnay (Moutere) – 70% malolactic, and subjected to a mix of barrels and staves, showing clove-spiced apple with a good deal of orange juice on the finish. Basic and pleasant enough in this style, though without anything else to say.

[greg day]

Monday, Tuesday, Greg Day
Kahurangi Estate 2003 Chardonnay Mt. Arthur (Moutere) – 100% American oak (which is strange, as I’ve written elsewhere in my notebook that Day claims to use all French oak…no doubt one entry or the other is an error). Sweaty banana with other tropical aromas, crisp on the midpalate and then bitter and resinous on the finish. It’s woody, to be sure, and though there’s certainly fruit, the wood imprint here is off-putting more for its character than its quantity.

Kahurangi Estate 2004 Gewürztraminer (Moutere) – 18 grams/liter residual sugar; the result of a deliberately stopped fermentation. Thick, oily peach and orange give this wine a syrupy texture, and a decided lack of acid (though a trace is noticeable at the very tail end of the finish) adds to this quality. There’s a touch of skin bitterness as well, which isn’t uncommon for gewürztraminer. Drinkable.

Kahurangi Estate 2003 Pinot Noir (Nelson) – Slightly dirty, showing plum and blackberry on a tart, juicy palate. This sharpens, over-focuses, and turns bitter and tannic on the finish. A shame, as the wine was – for a moment at least – building towards actual quality.

Trout Valley 2004 Pinot Noir (Nelson) – This is the second label of Kahurangi, and bottled one month previous to our visit; Day muses that it might end up as a Kahurangi-labeled wine after all, though I don’t know if this actually happened or not. Pretty and floral, with a dusty flower pollen texture. There are minor suggestions of underripeness, but mostly this is crisp and food-friendly, though not much else can be demanded of it.

Trout Valley 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon (Nelson) – Eucalyptus, thick blackberry, walnut and bark. Strange, but not as bad as I might have predicted. I guess that’s praise…still, I suspect Nelson is not the right climate for cabernet.

Kahurangi Estate 2003 “Late Harvest” Riesling (Moutere) – From the oldest vines on the property. Gravel and diesel, with sweet lemon, ultra-ripe apple, and lilies. Botrytis is clearly present on the finish, to the extent that the wine begins to tip over into the realm of rot, but otherwise this is balanced and long-finishing, and unquestionably the best wine in the entire lineup.

Kahurangi Estate 2002 Sauvignon Blanc (Moutere) – Zingy, showing capsicum and minerality with a tart, grapey quality. Which would all be fine, except that there’s also a generous serving of canned peas along for the ride…not an unusual fate when one ages a sauvignon blanc that probably wasn’t meant for aging.

Five Oaks 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Moutere) – Ripe apple, green plum and lemon. Ripe and rather fine. Why is this so much better than most of the rest of the Kahurangi sauvignons? The difference is rather dramatic.

A commercially satisfactory tasting, albeit an uninspiring one. Thankfully, we’re on our way to another appointment. Will it be any different?

As it turns out, we have no idea…

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Copyright © Thor Iverson.