Category Archives: New Zealand Wine

Feb 02 2014

Kusuda Syrah 2010: New Zealand’s Top Rated Syrah

Posted on February 02, 2014 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Martinborough-based winery Kusuda has long been winning plaudits for its sublime pinot noirs, but recently its syrah has started stealing the limelight. The Kusuda Syrah 2010 was rated New Zealand’s top red (for wines other than pinot noir) in this month’s Gourmet Traveller Wine. The panel of expert wine tasters, who tasted all the wines blind, commented that it is “an enormously impressive wine. Rich dark berries and lovely nutmeg oak combine seamlessly and the tannins are beautifully balanced.” (Red Highlights, Gourmet Traveller Wine, Feb/March 2014)

The Kusuda Syrah 2010 reminds critics of the medium -bodied, cool-climate syrahs of Northern Rhone – a style also embraced with great success by Australian wineries like Clonakilla. As wine writer and panel member Huon Hooke remarked, it has “lovely cool-climate white pepper and spice aromatics. An elegant and medium-bodied wine with intense spice and fruit blossoming on the plate. Succulent and smooth with sweet-fruit richness, but not overdone. Great length. An outstanding wine!”

Kusuda has been making fine wines in Martinborough for more than 10 years. Situated about 90 kms east-northeast of Wellington in New Zealand’s North Island, Martinborough is also home to Ata Rangi, one of New Zealand’s most famous expressions of pinot noir.

The deep, free-draining alluvial gravels of the Martinborough terrace force the vines to dig deep for water, which coupled with unusually low levels of annual rainfall and a long, gentle growing season, create full flavour grapes and impart mineral qualities in the wines. These growing conditions have proven ideal for creating flavourful, complex pinot noirs, and now wineries like Kusuda are demonstrating that the terroir holds excellent potential for syrah as well.

Kusuda is run by Japanese-born Hiroyuki Kusuda, who cultivates approximately three hectares of vineyards – 1.6 hectares of pinot noir, 1.2 hectares of syrah and … Read the rest

Sep 09 2012

New Zealand Pinot Noir: What Sets it Apart?

Posted on September 09, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

I was intrigued to read Lettie Teague’s recent article in the Wall Street Journal entitled What Happened to New Zealand Pinot Noir? Fortunately, the article was not about a decline in the quality of New Zealand pinot noir, but rather a lament about its disappearance from the shelves of many American wine stores. Teague cited a few reasons that I’m sure would also ring a bell with Australian wineries: not enough distributors, an unfavourable exchange rate and poor brand recognition. (WSJ, 1 September 2012)

Teague also shared Felton Road‘s head winemaker Blair Walter’s comment that “The USA is about the only place where New Zealand Pinot competes directly with the other New World Pinots.” He noted that in other markets New Zealand pinot noir is second only to Burgundy since most U.S. pinot makers don’t export their wines.

Teague interviewed an Oregon wine buyer, Mike Dietrich, who happens to love New Zealand pinot noir and has managed to put together a reasonable selection for the Fred Meyer store in Tualatin, Oregon. He believes that New Zealand and Oregon pinot noir have a lot in common: “Oregon and New Zealand Pinots are less about fruit and more about earth and minerals,” he told Teague. “There’s an earthy complexity to the wines—they’re not just fruit-forward like California Pinots.”

While Teague was less than impressed with lower price point New Zealand pinot noir (around $20 a bottle), she believes that the higher priced wines express a uniquely New Zealand point of view: “The Pinots from producers such as Ata Rangi, Felton Road, Craggy Range and Greywacke were quite good. Some, particularly the Felton Road and Ata Rangi, were truly impressive, marked by dense, dark fruit, firm minerality and a pleasing savory quality. But as Mr. Dietrich had noted, ‘fruit-forward/ they were … Read the rest

Nov 11 2011

Can you tell if a wine is any good just by tasting it? Impressions from a Craggy Range Tasting

Posted on November 11, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Have you ever been unimpressed with a wine on first taste, but then fallen in love with it over the course of a meal?

Well, according to a very interesting article by Decanter’s Andrew Jefford “digestibility is as much a hallmark of truly fine wine as is sensorial intricacy and harmony.” Jefford goes on to explain:

Twenty-five years of reading wine assessments, as well as providing assessments of my own, have convinced me that tasting without drinking is, in fact, a monstrous (if inevitable) flaw in all wine criticism. I’d like to see wine critics append a ‘D’ or a ‘*’ to any numeric score or tasting note for a wine which has been drunk rather than merely assessed by tasting. Any critic who claims that they have never had to adjust, after drinking, an initial assessment based on tasting alone is lying. (Jefford on Monday: Thinking about Tasting by Andrew Jefford, Decanter, 7 November 2011)

Jefford’s comments resonated with me when I attended a tasting last night of the Craggy Range lineup hosted by NZ Wine Online. The event was held at the Roof Top Bar of Coast, but the sun hadn’t set so I was hot and thirsty. Not the best state to be in when tasting wines! Fortunately the weather cooled and big plates of antipasto arrived in time to whet our appetites.

All the wines on show were excellent, but the Craggy Range Old Renwick Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (26.95) was definitely an example of a wine that opened up with food. I was initially perplexed by its unusually dry, stoney and mineral character, but over time its delicious lime and grapefruit flavours also shone through.

Initially struck by the dark rich purple red colour of the Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2009 (37.95), … Read the rest

Dec 12 2010

Martinborough Pinot Noir: All about the Terroir

Posted on December 12, 2010 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In my last post, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc: Top Producers Create an Exciting Alternative Style, 14 December 2010, I mentioned that our friends served the sublime Cloudy Bay Te Koko Sauvignon Blanc 2004 with a magnificent roasted prawn dish. Well, the follow-up course and wine were equally spectacular. This time they chose another New Zealand wine, the Dry River Pinot Noir 2002, to complement beautifully steamed John Dory with Asian flavourings and lightly sauteed greens.

New Zealand’s success with sauvignon blanc is in danger of being eclipsed by the Kiwi’s formidable achievements in creating superlative wines from one of the world’s most difficult noble grapes: pinot noir.

Top producers in the regions of Central Otago, Malborough and Martinborough are making an array of very fine pinot noirs at various price points.

Martinborough is the only one of the three regions on the North Island, but in terms of climate it is significantly cooler than neighbouring wine region Hawkes Bay and, according to the leading winemakers who call it home, the soil type and climate make it New Zealand’s closest approximation to Burgundy – home of the world’s most acclaimed pinot noirs.

Back in 1979 Neil and Dawn McCallum of Dry River recognised that the deep, free-draining gravelly ‘Martinborough Terrace’ was ideally suited to the pinot noir grape. They were very picky about their site selection, as within ten kilometres of where Dry River is located,  rainfall and soil quality vary enormously. Their efforts proved fruitful, and along with other pioneers like Ata Rangi, Chifney, Dry River, Martinborough Vineyard and Te Kairanga they decided they would define and demarcate the terroir they had adopted, just as such areas are described and mapped in France and Germany. From 1986, wines made from within this area were given a seal of origin … Read the rest

Sep 09 2010

Australian and New Zealand Wine: Telling a Complex Story!

Posted on September 09, 2010 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Even the most dedicated wine student can have a difficult time understanding the wine regions of France and the complex classification system. The Bordeaux classification system of 1855, for example, still dictates the ranking of the chateaux in the Medoc region, dividing the wineries into five different growths according to their value, prestige and quality. Burgundy is even more complicated with hundreds of premier and grand cru vineyards.

But Australian and New Zealand wines seem to be suffering from a perception that is the opposite of complexity, at least in the minds of the wine consuming public in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Due in part to the phenomenal marketing success of Yellow Tail and the legion of “critter brands” that latched onto the tail of Yellow Tail’s cute wallaby logo, American consumers tend to see Australian wine as homogeneous – flavourful but cheap and not very interesting.  According to Mike Steinberger, Not Such a G’Day: How Yellow Tail crushed the Australian wine industry, Slate 8 April 2009, “this perception became a major liability when those same consumers got interested in more serious stuff; rather than looking to Oz, they turned to Spain, Italy, and France.”

New Zealand’s outstanding Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc helped put New Zealand on the international  wine map, but regrettably it spawned inferior export oriented followers who have similarly cheapened the image of New Zealand wines in the US and UK markets.

Two recent initiatives, one from Australia and one from New Zealand, are designed to educate the international consumer about the high quality and viticultural diversity of the respective wine regions.

Complexity is the name of New Zealand’ export venture pitched at the premium and super-premium end of the US market.  As the name connotes, its purpose is to challenge simplistic notions … Read the rest