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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Let’s kick off with a total bargain. Albarino is a dry white wine that hails from the coastal regions of northwest Spain, but it’s global reach is widening as more and more international growers lock into the crisp flavours of this very attractive varietal. These days there are quite a few albarino producers in New Zealand and this is the third vintage of this varietal for well-known Marlborough winery, Mount Riley. Their 2022 vintage is an especially strong effort with quintessential lemon, lime and stonefruit flavours that sit over a very brisk palate that brims with zingy acidity. Though technically dry, it nonetheless carries a juicy core of citrus fruits to counter those zesty acids, while a trademark saline touch mark it unmistakably as albarino. Traditional sauvignon blanc or dry riesling fans will find much to like here. Try it with seafoods, shellfish or crisp salads – but in my book, few things in life can beat a cold bottle of albarino and a generous plate of freshly shucked oysters. Trust me on that.
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Keeping on the quirky white theme, here is a wonderful vermentino I discovered on a recent visit to Melbourne. Most of the world’s vermentino comes from Italy – especially from the island of Sardina in the western Mediterranean – but this one was grown in Australia’s Heathcote region. Beautifully presented with textural labels and lightly golden in the glass, this was a lovely expression that showed more weight and concentration than the vermentinos I have tried before. Classically, vermentino can often present as quite a simple wine, but here there is honey, pineapple / tropical fruits and subtle spice on the palate – and it wasn’t as dry as I expected either. Those lusher fruit characters perfectly countered vermintino’s natural acidity, and the lasting impression was fresh, but very satisfying indeed. If you’re looking for something to kick off a casual glass with friends when the sun is out and a drinks platter has just been put on the table, this would be a stellar choice.
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Let’s get back to something a little more familiar with this fine example of modern Hawke’s Bay barrel-fermented Chardonnay. 2020 was an excellent chardonnay vintage in the Bay and this small batch release has enjoyed every possible attention in the vineyard and winery. The bouquet shows classic, regional barrel-ferment characters with toasty oak and vanilla sitting over a solid core of stonefruits and lemon. A reductive touch adds some flinty notes while the palate brings good depth and creamy richness – but always keeps the conversation focused and tight. The finish is long and clean with soft acidity carrying those creamy lemon flavours on and on. This is top class wine; a very good example of how power and restraint can sit alongside each other in the glass. It comes highly recommended.
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Spanish Grenache is typically a bold, glossy wine with flavours that share much in common with the fuller-bodied, darker pinot noirs we know from Central Otago – but those savoury Otago cherry notes are amplified so it can have almost Australian Shiraz-like palate weight. Marque's De Nombrevilla is not like that. The cherry, plum and spice that you expect from grenache are there in full effect but are expressed in an understated fashion that I found very attractive. It’s soft and supple with very fine tannins and lovely flow in the mouth – and really blossomed once the wine had been in the glass for a minute or two. It’s a great anytime option and a very worthy pinot noir alternative. Decant before service.
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Burn Cottage has established quite the reputation in the hierarchy of Central Otago Pinot Noirs and the excellent 2020 vintage will do nothing but enhance that pedigree. Wonderfully fragrant, it shows an amalgam of red and black fruits with spice, forest floor and wild herbage notes adding further interest. The palate is finely expressed with those fruit characters looking very fresh and pure, and the acid line that begins mid-palate brings a lovely tension within the mouth that pushes through to a long and rewarding finish. This is a gorgeous wine; indeed it’s hard to think when I have seen Moonlight Race looking better. Already attractive and very harmonious, I expect this vintage to develop beautifully over the coming years, reaching peak condition around 2025.
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Let’s end this column with another bargain. Vinted from Yarra Valley fruit, this is quality Aussie Cabernet all the way. The nose shows textbook dark fruits that are complexed by notes of cigar box, leather and eucalypt leaf. The palate is almost medium-bodied by Australian Cabernet standards, but that touch of elegance does nothing but elevate the enjoyment this wine provides. There is lots going on in the glass here. Those dark fruits are supported by toasty wood spice (the 2019 vintage used 10% new oak) while sturdy tannins that make this wine more suited to food than casual drinking. The finish is nicely persistent with lingering characters of tobacco leaf and anise. Enjoy now or over the coming decade should you choose to lay some down.