Now is New Zealand’s moment
In Ontario, the momentum of New Zealand wines reaches a crescendo on May 24, when Vintages releases 28 labels from the Pacific’s tiny, perfect wine isles. There is no official count in progress, but this is one of the largest Vintages theme releases in memory, and chock full of exciting wines. It follows hard on the heels of the ever-popular New Zealand wine fair—held at the Design Exchange last week—where a tasting highlighted the new generation of such richer reds as syrah, malbec and tempranillo, and proved that the region is not a one-trick, cool-climate sauvignon blanc pony.
New Zealand, in my mind, stands for purity, vivacity and balance. Some may prefer the leaner idiosyncrasy of Europe, or the lushness of Australia, and find New Zealand too squeaky clean and linear. But I’m betting most will love the precision and generosity, no matter what the grape or style. Here are 10 that rise above: four are Vintages In-Store Discovery selections available in limited quantities at larger Vintages outlets—this means that there is no access to stock availability information on the LCBO Web site. You have to walk into a store and “discover” them for yourself.
Brancott B 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough ($36.95, 678730, 92 points)Brancott’s top-level varietal wines are showcased in the Letter Series. Not a lot of drama at first glance, but very complex, with terrific passion fruit, orange and cut-grass aromas set in a rich yet vibrant, substantial palate. The amazing length justifies the price. Vintages In-Store Discovery.
Vinoptima 2004 Ormond Gewürztraminer Reserve, Gisborne ($53.95, 65557, 90 points)This winery may be the only one in the world designed solely to produce gewürztraminer. It has all the lushness, richness and length of top Alsatian examples, with a very complex, unusual nose of guava, lychee, marmalade, dried herbs and scent mindful of bacon fat. The palate is huge yet tidy, with dense fruit and good acidity balancing 14.5 per cent alcohol and a touch of sweetness. A must-try for gewürz fans. Vintages In-Store Discovery.
Forrest Estate 2007 Riesling, Marlborough ($18.95, 60103, 90 points)Quite Germanic in style, with all kinds of zest and shine, this riesling possesses a lifted nose with classic petrol, lime, nectarine and earthy minerality. Lightweight and just off-dry, with crisp, mouth-watering acidity and fresh peach fruit on the finish. Very good to excellent length.
Trout Valley 2006 Sauvignon Blanc, Nelson ($19.95, 60046, 89 points)The cool Nelson region, tucked in the northwest corner of New Zealand’s South Island, makes whites with stony minerality and crispness. It’s not hugely intense on the nose, but the gooseberry, lime and fresh mint leaf notes are ultimately refreshing and appealing. Mid-weight, very zesty and juicy, with excellent length.
Lawson’s Dry Hills 2006 Gewürztraminer, Marlborough ($18.95, 60129, 90 points)If you are a fan of Alsatian gewurztraminer, you will love the generous, pitch-perfect, classic aromas of lychee, rosewater, grapefruit pith and pepper. Not as oily and rich as Alsace, but still substantial, with a warm, off-dry and fresh palate. Excellent length.
Pisa Range Estate 2005 Black Poplar Block Pinot Noir, Central Otago ($44.95, 62398, 92 points)All the Otago pinots are worth a try as we see them so infrequently, but this stood out for its power, complexity and length. It’s all here—a big nose packed with cedar, chocolate, cherry-strawberry fruit, meaty-leathery notes and some of the earthiness so common to pinot. Quite full bodied, fruity-sweet and warm (14 per cent alcohol), with excellent to outstanding length. Should age for at least five years.
Craggy Range 2006 Te Muna Road Pinot Noir, Martinborough ($40.95, 57703, 91 points)A Vintages In-Store Discovery, the Craggy Range 2006 comes from a well-regarded producer. Very generous, vibrant and complex aromas of fresh cran-raspberry decked out in toasty oak and a dried moss-hummus earthiness. Offers the same sense of vivacity on the palate, with juicy, sweet fruit, fresh acidity and sour cranberry finish. Excellent length.
Craggy Range 2005 Sophia Gimblett Gravels Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon, Hawkes Bay ($54.95, 57711, 91 points)Gimblett Gravels is a small sub-appellation of Hawkes Bay, where old riverbed gravel captures the sun’s warmth during the day and radiates it back during the evening to promote better ripeness. This has classic, ripe blackcurrant fruit nicely fitted with toasty oak, mocha and cedar from fine French barrels. Quite full bodied, dense and even, this red has a drying youthful tannin. Excellent length. Best 2010 to 2015. Vintages In-Store Discovery.
Shepherds Ridge 2006 Pinot Noir, Marlborough ($24.95, 586099, 90 points)One of the better values, this pinot offers more earthy, leathery and smoky qualities than the others without giving up its raspberry-redcurrant fruit. Fairly soft, dense and warm, with a sour edge on the finish. Very good to excellent length; ready to enjoy now despite its youth.
Lowburn Ferry 2006 Pinot Noir, Central Otago ($37.95, 60061, 90 points)There is a strong scent of spruce evergreen befitting the mountainous, cool-climate origin of this fine pinot. Ripe blackcurrant, raspberry, black licorice and smoke on the nose. A bit lighter than the others, with firm acidity and youthful tannin. Vibrant, with very good length. Best 2009 to 2012.