Category: Australasia

A taste from New Zealand’s Marisco Vineyards

My first taste of the 2015 vintage came from Marlborough, New Zealand, from the Marisco Vineyards. I tasted through part of the Marisco portfolio at The Merchant’s Tavern with owner and winemaker Brent Marris.

Wines at the Marisco tasting at The Merchant's Tavern

Wines at the Marisco tasting at The Merchant’s Tavern

Having tasted through a whole bunch of mostly okay, occasionally mediocre, 2014 vintages from other parts of the world this year, the 2015 from Marisco made a refreshing change. It should come as no surprise really – Marris has been in wine all his life.

Brent’s father, John Marris, had been one of the first contract grape growers for Montana (now Brancott Estate) in Marlborough. Following in his father’s footsteps, Brent went on to study oenology and made wines at Oyster Bay before creating Wither Hills. In 2003, on the 300 or so hectares of land on the banks of the Waihopai River, Marris established Marisco vineyards. Wine must run in the blood as his eldest daughter is also studying oenology with a view of joining the family business in the future.

But back to the wines. We tasted through 14 dry wines before dinner and three sweet wines with dessert from The Ned, The King’s Series and the Craft Series. There was also a Hartley’s Block Sauvignon Blanc. For ease, I’ve divided the tasting notes into their respective brands, followed by the sweet wines, rather than in the order tasted. There are a lot of notes and some stories too so brace yourself and read on.

Marisco brands

Marisco brands – yes, I’ve started scribbling on the page before taking this photo

The Ned

The Ned, named after the mountain which overlooks the Marlborough region, was the first wine brand created at Marisco vineyards. Marris wanted to make the stripped-back style of Sauvignon Blanc that first made Marlborough famous. And in the beginning, he worked exclusively with Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.

We started with The Ned Pinot Noir Rosé 2015, a tank sample which will be bottled in July. It’s apparently Marris’ first attempt at rosé at Marisco and it’s made with Pinot Noir grapes grown specifically for this wine. It’s a very dry style, and at times a little hot on the palate, with vanilla and red fruit notes. It offered nice structure though and was generally quite elegant.

The Ned Pinot Grigio 2014 (sold as Pinot Gris in New Zealand) had a sort of onion-skin blush to its hue, which was apparently achieved purely through viticulture. It was a light, crisp and delicate wine with lychee notes coming through. I also tried a tank sample of The Ned Pinot Grigio 2015, which, with its slightly pinker hue, was much fresher with a crisp apple nose and a citrusy profile.

The Ned Sauvignon Blanc 2014 had a sharp peppery nose and hints of tomato vine on the palate. There was nice acidity but also a certain roundness to the wine. The Ned Sauvignon Blanc 2015 had a slight foxiness about it before opening up to jalapeño peppers and a much more mineral-based palate.

The first red wine came in the form of The Ned Pinot Noir 2013, a cool-climate style Pinot Noir with a slightly spicy palate. There was a delicateness about it with notes of strawberry and vanilla over the gentle tannins. It’s a very likeable wine and I preferred it over the 2014 vintage. The Ned Pinot Noir 2014 was hotter on the palate with more tannins coming through. The fruit felt riper though and with great intensity, finishing with a slight hint of vanilla on the long finish.

Hartley’s Block

The Hartley’s Block Sauvignon Blanc 2014 came in the middle of the tasting and was the only wine from the brand. It was quite rounded for a Sauvignon Blanc (in contrast to the occasional sharp acidity) with a light, peppery palate and delicate nose.

The King’s Series

The King’s Series is a celebration of the Marris family name in the 12th and 13th century – De Marisco. Initially the family was in favour with the king but later, over the generations and as a result of piracy, they became a thorn in the king’s side. These were different kings obviously. Each of the wines in The King’s Series plays on this history of the Marris family – although it doesn’t literally translate into the style of the wine. Or does it?

The first wine we tried in The King’s Series was The King’s Thorn 2013, a lychee-rich wine with a short finish and perhaps in need of a little more acidity. The King’s Favour 2013 came next. It had distinct farmyardy notes with a very delicate palate, lots of minerality and notes of apple and lime. I’m not sure if it was because of the name but I really liked this one. The King’s Legacy Chardonnay 2012 (sold in the USA as The King’s Bastard) was a very light, citrusy Chardonnay, fermented and aged on the lees (with the yeast) in barrel.

On to the red wines we tried The King’s Wrath 2013. It was a herbaceous red wine with more prominent oak notes coming through and slight hint of development.

Craft Series

The Craft Series is the latest brand to join the Marisco portfolio, having launched last year, and is a more artisan selection. They were made on the principle that certain vines were showing exceptional characteristics which Marris wanted to capture. The result is a collection that’s intended to be for people who are really into their wines, know their stuff and isn’t afraid to try something new and interesting. I hope we’ll see these in the UK soon but they’re not widely available yet.

The wines came towards the end of the tasting starting with Brent’s favourite, The Craft Series Sauvignon Blanc Pride & Glory 2011. Like The King’s Favour 2013, this wine had the same farmyardy notes with apple, citrus, a hint of pepper but finished with a little lychee. It worked really well with the sea bream ceviche I ordered, which was surprisingly spicy, so I think it will comfortably work with other spicy dishes too.

The other white wine that I really liked was The Craft Series Viognier The Exemplar 2012. It was quite unusual for a Viognier in that it lacked the signature floral character of the grape variety. Instead, I got notes of sweetcorn and asparagus thanks to the barrel fermentation. It was quite a bold palate and maybe takes some getting used to – but I think that’s one of the reasons why I liked it.

The Craft Series Pinot Noir The Journey 2013 was restrained and elegant with a herbaceous character, black pepper and lots of tannin. It feels too young to drink right now but there’s potential. The 2014 vintage will apparently be divided into a feminine and a masculine wine as the parcels are so polarising.

The sweet wines

Marisco sweet wines with lemon tart and basil ice cream

Marisco sweet wines with lemon tart and basil ice cream

I’ve actually tried sweet wines from both The Ned and The King’s Series without ever realising that they’re from the same winemaker. Tasting them side by side, the difference is even more obvious.

The Ned Noble 2013 had a slight petrol note with highlights of citrus peel, tangerine and a floral quality. There was nice intensity and good acidity.

From The King’s Series, it was two vintages of A Sticky End. A Sticky End 2012 was more earthy while A Sticky End 2013 was much cleaner on the nose. Both, I felt, needed more acidity and, next to The Ned, didn’t show as well as they could have.

Brancott Estate, capturing the premium market

Brancott Estate at The Modern Pantry, Clerkenwell

Brancott Estate is one of those brands that established a bit of a cult status while your parents were just finding their wine feet.

Ok, maybe not that long because Brancott Estate as a brand has only existed for a few years; prior to that it was Montana. But there is some truth in the cult status.

One lady I spoke to said that all of the wines at her wedding were from Brancott Estate because she loved them so much. Of course when she chose the wines, they were still Montana. Evidently the transition between the brands has been pretty smooth.

The irony is, while Brancott Estate has managed to hold to this cult status, it’s in fact a mass market brand. Apart from being incredibly readily available, it’s also produced in that global, world dominating way – in bulk.

 

So why this cult status?

Well unlike your average Blossom Hill, the company is always trying to differentiate itself with different wine experiments. Something that Jacob’s Creek has also tried to do with its Reserve label, albeit with less success.

Chosen Rows, Brancott Estate at The Modern Pantry, Clerkenwell

As well as the mass market product, which happens to be quite good, it also regularly releases smaller quantities of more premium wines. A few months ago it was the Brancott Estate Chosen Rows and last year it was a new dessert wine not yet available in the UK.

While these wines aren’t super premium, they are hitting the top end of the market for your every day wines – around £30.

Unlike the artificial inflation of the prices of Chanel bags, the pricing isn’t just a marketing strategy – it is a more premium product.

The wines are produced in much smaller quantities in comparison to its mass market products with a lot more hands on wine making involved. Hands on being the operative phrase as the grapes are harvested by hand rather than machine.

The most important point is that they’re designed to have mass market appeal. The wines are pleasant, interesting but not too challenging. The price is a little steep but not insurmountable.

 

Is it just good market(ing) sense?

Of course some of it is down to clever marketing.

The name Brancott Estate offers the wine provenance. We envisage that the wine is from an estate called Brancott with perhaps a big Chateaux-style house, even if it’s not, and automatically attribute history, and by extension, experience to it.

The realities of the quantities produced are still pretty big compared to the small artisan growers out there. With the brand’s large overreaching arm, it’s able to distribute its wines across the globe, creating an illusion of scarcity.

That is not to say that the products aren’t good. Because they are. And that’s where it really hits home.

A selection of quality wines, accessible in more ways than one and yet scarce at the same time. Is there any better way to capture a premium market?

Brancott Estate hosted a series of events over a period of months to introduce their new wines. Amateur Wine was a guest at the events. You can find out more in our Editorial Policy.

Voyager Estate – a visit from down under

Voyager Estate tasting

Trade tastings can get pretty tough.

Imagine going to a wine festival and having hundreds of wines to choose from. What do you go for? The region? The grape? The producer? Or indeed, which ever bottle happen to look the most appealing when you extend your tasting glass for a pour? The choice is mind-boggling.

Well scale that down and imagine, say, just 50 wines but you have to taste all of them. That’s still a lot right? With tastings generally starting at around 10am, you can imagine that by lunch time the palate is as confused as the head.

A recent tasting of Margaret River’s Voyager Estate, however, was spot on.

The Australian winemaker makes a selection of red and white wines in a relatively young area – the first of Voyager Estate’s vines were only planted in 1978. But the area boasts a maritime climate with grapes ripening in a similar way to Bordeaux. This means that it’s the perfect environment to make premium Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blends. And indeed, Voyager Estate is perhaps best known for their Cabernet/Merlot blends.

The company’s head of winemaking, Steve James, was in town and headed up a tasting of their portfolio for scribes at Vinoteca, Clerkenwell.

We tasted a total of 12 wines consisting of Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blends between 2004 and 2010. What was interesting about the tasting was that as well as the vertical tasting (same wine, different vintages), we also had a wine by another wine maker for the most recent vintages to compare against. Essentially, a small horizontal tasting (same vintage, different wine of the same variety).

This was particularly interesting because the wines chosen were premium wines designed to create contrast but not necessarily to show up Voyager Estate as the superior choice. In fact, one comparison wine was double the price of the Voyager Estate wines. That’s a decision few winemakers would be brave enough to make.

Voyager Estate tasting

We started with Chardonnay and tasted the 2009, 2008 and 2006 vintages. 2009 Kumeu River Maté’s Vineyard Chardonnay from Kumeu in New Zealand provided the comparison. The Chardonnay actually varied substantially between the vintages in terms of mouth feel as well as of course flavour profile. It seems that as well as the changes in climate year on year, Voyager Estate has also been pulling back on the oak to allow the ageing vines to express their potential. The result is a move from the thick and heavy 2006 to something much lighter and much more refreshing found in the 2009.

Moving on to the reds, we began with the Shiraz in vintages of 2010, 2009 and 2007. I had almost expected big, powerful Shiraz that’s so characteristic of Australia but instead found restrained fruit, rounded spice and even a little of something floral – the 2010 Voyager Estate Shiraz had around 1% of Viognier (a highly aromatic variety). The most expensive wine of the night was the 2010 Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier from Canberra District in New South Wales presented as a comparison to Voyager Estate’s 2010 Shiraz. Though Voyager Estate’s Shiraz did display elegance, I found myself much more drawn to the obvious perfume and red berry of the Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier.

The final set, and no doubt hotly anticipated by everyone at the table, was the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blends. We tried 2008, 2005 and 2004 vintages and compared it against the 2008 Wynns Coonawarra John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon from Coonawarra in South Australia. The Voyager Estate wines were noticeably more green against the Wynns which was very on the cassis-heavy side. And while Voyager Estate wines proved to be heavier on the palate, owing to the high tannins, they displayed much more complexity. A complexity that would enable the wines to rest happily in the cellar for 8 to 10 years. Factoring in the tannins in the wines we tried, it really needed the rest.

The result of the tasting? Well the Voyager Estate wines would certainly be worthy of investment but it’s a case of patience is a virtue as most of the wines we tasted would ideally be rested for a little longer. Lucky visitors to Margaret River Gourmet Escape later this year should certainly make a stop – Voyager Estate are hosting one of the lunches. It also proved an interesting exercise to sit down and consider the character and style of one of the biggest winemakers of the region against their competitors. And it’s definitely nice to know that they’re still making changes to improve the complexity of their wines despite their success so far, whether it’s stripping back oak or moving away from heavy eucalyptus influences.

Voyager Estate hosted the tasting in London. Amateur Wine was a guest at the event. You can find out more in our Editorial Policy.

Cloudy Bay Chef’s Table at The Montagu, Hyatt Regency, Review

Hyatt Regency London, The Churchill, 30 Portman Square, London W1H 7BH

Cloudy Bay winesAhead of the London Restaurant Festival this week I was invited to The Montagu at Hyatt Regency, London, to sample a rather special meal. The meal was special in that the entire menu had been created to complement a small portfolio of six New Zealand wines rather than the usual method of matching wine to food. It was also special because these new world wines are almost exclusive to The Montagu restaurant since so few cases have been imported into the UK.

The wines in question were from Cloudy Bay, one of the oldest wine producers from the Marlborough region of New Zealand, where their vineyards have been established since 1985. The most notable wine from Cloudy Bay is perhaps their Sauvignon Blanc, known for its “vibrant aromatics, layers of pure fruit flavours, and fine structure” and often considered the benchmark for the variety. But Cloudy Bay also produces a number of other varieties including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and late harvest Riesling as well as limited release whites like Pinot gris.

Upon arrival at the restaurant we were given a glass of Cloudy Bay Pelorus NV, a sparkling white wine, to kick off the evening. There was a choice of two Amuse Bouche to match, one was a seared swordfish with Parmesan crisp and the other was tuna with salsa verde. These were enjoyed in the bar area so that all the guests in attendance had the opportunity to meet each other, the chef and the restaurant manager.

The man who created the menu we were sampling was Carlos Teixeira, a relatively young Portuguese chef currently holding fort as the Head Chef at The Montagu. Together with The Montagu’s sommelier and his team, Teixeira pulled together a further five courses to complement the other five beautiful wines we were about to sample.

Chefs at The Montagu, HyattAfter the Amuse Bouche, we were seated at the Chef’s Table – front row audience to the action inside the open kitchen of a five star hotel. As each of the dishes were plated in front of us, restaurant manager Adam Skrzypczak explained the tasting notes behind the wines and Teixeira explained how the dishes complemented the wines.

To begin the meal, we had Cloudy Bay Chardonnay 2007 matched with smoked duck breast with fig and roasted pepper salad. Course two was the infamous Sauvignon Blanc, the flagship wine of Cloudy Bay. We had a young vintage from 2009. Matched to this was a very fresh and fragrant fricassee of scallops, prawns and clams with lime and lemongrass. With the regular topping up of my glass, I was beginning to wonder how I was going to try and pace myself as well as remember everything that was said.

The third course was the Cloudy Bay Te Koko 2007, a wine named after the legend of the explorer Kupe. Whole roasted Foie Gras with Cox’s orange pippin and black truffle was selected to complement this wine. It was a match which was extremely difficult to do but done very well on this occasion. The flavours are so perfectly complementary that you could recall the tastes and smells for weeks afterwards.

The fourth course was the Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir 2008, the only red wine on the menu and in Cloudy Bay’s portfolio. Matched to this was braised breast of veal with curcuma polenta, blackcurrants and glazed root vegetables. The final course was the Cloudy Bay Gewurztraminer 2007. A very aromatic, light and fruity caramelised lychee parfait with cardamom foam and pistachios was chosen to match.

Five courses may sound like a lot but the dishes were light enough to allow the full sensory experience without filling up. By the end of the meal, it was obvious that everyone had decided on their favourite course and favourite wine which they happily reminisced as they staggered off into the night.

(First seen on Foodepedia)

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