Welcome to this week’s column – a down to earth look at some interesting local and international releases that I have come across over the last few weeks.
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It’s aways a pleasure tasting good New Zealand Méthode and this new release from Awatere River was a very impressive effort from a producer who has a well-won following for their excellent still wines. Produced using the time-honoured bottle fermentation process from the classic Champagne varietals of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, it is a bright and vibrant style with plenty of complexity in the glass. Citrus, white flowers, brioche and yeast characters dominate the bouquet, while a dry, elegant palate is enhanced with some toasty back notes and nicely rounded mouthfeel. The finish is long and very refreshing with good acid drive, and plenty of tangy citrus flavours. In my book, this wine is very good value for small batch Marlborough Méthode. It comes highly recommended.
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Here is another outright winner from a Marlborough company with a big reputation for sharply priced, high-quality wines. In typical Rapaura Springs fashion, there is a lot going on in the glass for pinot gris in this price band. You are sure to find a lovely medley of spicy pear and sweet citrus on the nose, and a nicely textural palate that picks up those flavours and adds some tropical fruits into the mix. The finish is long and fresh with good acidity - and the lasting impression is very clean, with those spicy pear notes rounding out the conversation. The fruit weight / acid interplay is nicely harmonious and it’s that balance that sets this wine part from so many of its peer group. This is lovely wine. If you’re a fan of Marlborough Pinot Gris and don’t give it a crack, you’re missing a trick.
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Thankfully, the days of bulk, uninspiring wines from the engine room of Southern France are now largely behind us - and the rise in quality from appellations such as Pays d’Oc continue to impress. Chardonnay has certainly come on in leaps and bounds, and the 2022 vintage of Fortant de France Terroir d’Altitude is a definite case in point. Fragrant and inviting with aromas of sweet nectarine, cashew and lemon, this is creamy, fulsome wine with punchy flavours of peach, melon and lemon butter. It’s robust and rounded but carries enough acidity to keep the palate focused and bright, and the finish is long and rewarding with tangy citrus brûlée characters to the fore. Fans of bold New Zealand Chardonnay will find lots to like here, and I far prefer this chardonnay style to the flabbier Californian wines that currently dominate our imported chardonnay sales.
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Produced by Cromwell winery Wooing Tree as an entry point to their portfolio of pinot noirs, Beetlejuice has become a well-known option for buyers looking for Central Otago Pinot in the hotly contested sub $30 bracket. Vinted as an immediately accessible style to be opened without the need for further aging, the 2020 is a satisfying wine that brings a bouquet of plum and savoury cherry to the table - with some undernotes of game and mushroom if you look a bit more closely. Those characters carry through to a palate that flows nicely in the mouth with good length and supple mouthfeel, while the finish is softly rounded with nicely integrated tannins. It’s uncomplicated but nonetheless highly enjoyable; exactly what Central Otago Pinot in this price band should be.
Available from $16.99
Here’s this week’s outright bargain. Wild Grace may come from the catalogue of international drink giant Constellation Brands, but there is nothing ‘commercial’ about this well-made syrah. 2021 was an excellent vintage in Hawke’s Bay and this very affordable wine shines with glossy fruits in the plum and blackberry spectrum. Silken texture is the main calling card here and those lovely layers of dark fruits effortlessly fill the mouth with hints of oak and fruit spice adding another level of complexity. With the price of good Hawke’s Bay Syrah continually on the rise, it’s clearly good buying - but seeing wine of this quality well under the $20 mark is a golden opportunity for any syrah buyer looking to increase the calibre of their mid-week drinking.
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Produced in Salento – a Puglia sub-region within the southern ‘heel of the boot’ of Italy - this is another wine that fights well above its weight. Vinted from unoaked primitivo, it’s a fleshy and ripe style with plenty of red plum and black cherry flavours with some vanilla and spice notes providing the detail that elevates this wine to a higher plane. It’s rounded and quite velvety – but those dark red fruits always remain the star of the show. Anise and black pepper nuances close out proceedings and leave you looking for that second glass. Match with a spicy pizza or a hearty ragout when the gang calls around, and your ‘wine cred’ is sure to go up.