Tasting Report: Wines of New Zealand 2017

As was the case with 2016’s releases, New Zealand continues to slowly drift away from the classic “New Zealand style” of blowing wines out with tropical fruit and replacing it with a complex array of characteristics. You’ll find NZ wines today showing off a variety of styles that focus on everything from herbal notes to florals to earthier elements, both in whites and reds.

NZ’s finest winemakers descended on San Francisco recently, and we tasted a number of bottlings. Brief tasting notes, as always, follow.

Tasting Report: 2017 New Zealand Wine Fair

2016 Astrolabe Province Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough / B+ / simple, with brisk acidity
2015 Astrolabe Province Pinot Gris Marlborough / B+ / mild, some peach notes
2013 Astrolabe Taihoa Sauvignon Blanc Kekerengu Coast / B+ / very aromatic, dense body with long legs
2012 Astrolabe Wrekin Vineyard Chenin Blanc Southern Valleys / B / big briny character, high acidity, lots of sea spray
2016 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough / A- / fresh, melon and tropical fruit – classic NZ
2013 Cloudy Bay Te Koko Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough / B / huge body, very fruity, some mushroom notes
2014 Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir Marlborough / B+ / cherry and dried fruit, mixed berries; some beefy notes
2014 Cloudy Bay Te Wahi Pinot Noir Central Otago / A / dense, licorice and cloves, some chocolate
2016 Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Martinborough / A- / tropical heavy, with some honey; long finish
2013 Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard Pinot Noir Martinborough / A- / a touch of earth; beautiful and silky body
2013 Craggy Range “Le Sol” Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Syrah Hawke’s Bay / B+ / bold, heavy graphite and roasted meats; racy but also gently fruity at times
2013 Craggy Range “Sophia” Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Merlot Blend / A- / very spicy, aromatic with violets and baking spices
2015 Crown Range Cellar Drowsy Fish Riesling Canterbury / B+ / semi-sweet, honey and some earthiness
2014 Crown Range Cellar Stolen Heart Merlot Malbec Hawke’s Bay / B+ / very dry, with mineral notes and dried fruit
2013 Giesen Wines The Fuder Clayvin Chardonnay Marlborough / B+ / bold, California style, slightly meaty, buttery body
2013 Giesen Wines The Fuder Matthews Lane Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough / A- / green apple, some touger undercurrents, bold body
2013 Giesen Wines Single Vineyard Selection Clayvin Pinot Noir Marlborough / A / rich, Russian River style, orange peel and blackberry
2012 Giesen Wines Single Vineyard Selection Brookby Road Pinot Noir Marlborough / B+ / acidic edge, also earthy, some baking spice
2013 Giesen Wines Single Vineyard Selection Ridge Block Pinot Noir Marlborough / B / minty and funky, Burgundian at times
2013 Giesen Wines The August Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough / B+ / bold structure and big body, some camphor
2013 Giesen Wines The Brothers Pinot Noir Marlborough / B+ / gentle, expressive and fruity
2014 Giesen Wines Pinot Noir Marlborough / B- / quite jammy, some green notes
2016 Giesen Wines Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough / B+ / fresh and simple, fruit-forward
2016 Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough / B+ / slightly sweeter style, more floral
2014 Greywacke Wild Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough / B+ / a little funky, exotic with some meat character
2013 Greywacke Chardonnay Marlborough / B+ / bold fruit, acidic and slightly flabby on the finish
2016 Grey’s Peak Sauvignon Blanc Waipara / A- / fresh, apple and mineral notes; soft acidity with lots of lemon notes
2015 Grey’s Peak Pinot Noir Waipara / B- / thin, short finish
2015 Rockburn Wines Devil’s Staircase Pinot Gris Central Otago / A- / very acidic, lots of minerals, peaches
2014 Mt. Beautiful Pinot Noir North Canterbury / B / chewy, some flab; lightly spicy
2015 Mt. Beautiful Chardonnay North Canterbury / B / classic new world whie, modest oak and vanilla notes
2015 Mt. Beautiful Riesling North Canterbury / A / really fresh, surprisingly pretty with light florals, honey, and spice
2014 Mohua Wines Pinot Noir Central Otago / A- / brighter acid, fresh fruit
2013 Peregrine Wines Pinot Noir Central Otago / A- / fresh, lightly fruity, long finish
2016 Nautilus Estate Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough / B / tropical fruit dialed back a bit; a touch meaty on the finish
2014 Nautilus Estate Clay Hills Vineyard Pinot Noir Marlborough / B+ / understated, fresh cherry, strawberries; herbal finish
2016 Spy Valley Wines Sauvignon Blanc Wairau Valley Marlborough / B / iconic tropical character, bold fruit
2014 Spy Valley Wines Pinot Noir Southern Valleys Marlborough / B+ / bold and fruit forward, chewy finish
2015 Spy Valley Wines Envoy Johnson Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Waihopai Valley Marlborough / A- / aged 11 months in neutral oak, softening the acids; silky
2016 Tohu Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Awatere Valliey Marlborough / A- / fresh, citrus and peach notes; acidic with gentle florals
2013 Tohu Single Vineyard Pinot Noir Awatere Valliey Marlborough / A- / bright acids, lots of cherry; earthy underpinnings; a great value
2015 Vinultra Little Beauty Pinot Noir Southern Valleys Marlborough / A- / a subtext of earth, loaded with fruit
2014 Vinultra Little Beauty Black Edition Pinot Noir Southern Valleys Marlborough / A- / very similar to the above, with a slight graphite note
2014 Vinultra Pounamu Pinot Noir Southern Valleys Marlborough / A- / expressive fruit, strawberry focused
2016 Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough / B / a touch bitter, lightly tropical
2015 Whitehaven Greg Sauvignon Blanc Awatere Valley Marlborough / A / pretty, with florals and a finish of fruit; none of the above bitterness at all
2016 Whitehaven Hidden Barrel Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough / B+ / hand-picked and foot-stomped; wild and funky, lots of rancio on the nose, but lush and approachable on the palate
2014 Whitehaven Pinot Noir Marlborough / B+ / earthy with meaty overtones; understated fruit

Tasting the Wines of the Locations Series – Spain, France, Italy

Orin Swift veteran Dave Phinney is best known for domestic wines like The Prisoner, but he recently got a taste for the international with its Locations series, a unique set of wines that got their start back in 2008. (The wines are unaffiliated with Orin Swift.)

In a recent tasting, winemaker Phinney outlined the inspiration for this increasingly large series of wines, each of which bears nothing on the label except a letter or two: Each is inspired by a country code sticker like you see on automobiles, and each denotes the place of origin of the wine within.

Note however that these aren’t hyper-targeted regions but rather entire countries or, in the U.S., states. Grapes can come from anywhere in those boundaries, and as you’ll see in the tasting notes below, all of the wines in the Locations series are mutts produced from fruit sourced from literally all over the country or region in question.

As well, the wines are nonvintage, though the back labels do carry a number indicating the place of the wine in the series. These are all from the fourth release.

Let’s dive in…

NV Locations “E” (Spain Red Blend) E4 4th Release – A blend of Grenache, Tempranillo, Monastrell, and Carignan, sourced from Priorat, Jumilla, Toro, Rioja, and Ribera del Duero. Fruit-forward, and not immediately Spanish in character, the wine offers distinct chocolate notes and cinnamon, before evoking some black pepper notes atop a core of red berries and rhubarb. Much friendlier than the more austere regions in that list would indicate; ready to drink now. B / $14

NV Locations “F” (France Red Blend) F4 4th Release – A blend of Grenache, Syrah, and assorted Bordeaux varietals from the regions of Rhone, Roussillon, and Bordeaux. This wine is also quite fruit-forward, but it takes a caramel spin rather than a chocolate one. Some vanilla builds alongside plenty of fresh red fruit as the modest finish grows, which ends the session with notes of violets and currants. B / $14

NV Locations “I” (Italy Red Blend) I4 4th Release – Probably the least iconically regional (a typical Italian wine would be seemingly be heavily based on Sangiovese), this is a blend of Negroamaro and Nero d’Avola from Puglia combined with Barbera from Piemonte in the North. That said, it’s the most well-structured of the wines, with dense graphite and licorice notes complementing a tough tannic core. Currants and plum work their way through the weeds, as does the herbaciousness driven by the Barbera. Nicely balanced and worthwhile. B+ / $15

locationswine.com

Review: 2015 Hahn SLH Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

New releases from Hahn and its upscale SLH line of wines, both made with grapes sourced from its estate in the Santa Lucia Highlands.

These both represent a bit of a premium over the standard Hahn bottlings, but as you’ll see, they’re worth it.

2015 Hahn SLH Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highands – A thinner wine, particularly on the barely-there nose, but the initially watery body eventually builds to offer some bolder notes of licorice, charred wood, roasted meats, and savory spices. The finish is earthier and meatier than I’d like, but that does help it to pair better with a bolder meal than most pinot noirs. B / $20

2015 Hahn SLH Chardonnay Santa Lucia Highlands – Oak and butter on top of oak and butter, pumped up beyond imagination. Hahn can so often be a model of restraint, but for 2015 someone threw open the throttle and just let everything fly. Well, some mild lemon notes notwithstanding, the blowout of vanilla and brown butter simply destroy any hope of nuance. B- / $20

hahnwines.com

Review: 2 Greek Wines from Cava Spiliadis – Tselepos Santorini and Gerovassiliou Malagousia

The estates of Cava Spiliadis are the home of both of these Greek wines — Tselepos and Gerovassiliou — both of which serve as excellent introductions to the essential white wine styles of Greece. Thoughts follow on these highly approachable wines.

2015 Canava Chrissou Tselepos Santorini Assyrtiko – Fresh aromatics and a touch of honey give this white a lively character, slightly sweet with a bit of an herbal overtone and notes of lime zest, lingering on the back end along with hints of white pepper. An ample body adds substance to the experience. B+ / $30

2015 Ktima Gerovassiliou Malagousia – Malagousia is a recently revived grape varietal making a comeback thanks to Gerovassiliou, which produces a wine that is highly acidic, with notes of peach and apricot and plenty of florals to keep things interesting. It’s a bit like a cross between viognier and riesling… with some honey on the finish that works to smooth out the experience. A- / $16

cavaspiliadis.com

Review: 2015 Bodega Chacra Barda Patagonia

This wine hails from the very south of Argentina. A low-alcohol (12.8%), 100% organic pinot noir, it is a classic but surprisingly light-bodied and versatile pinot, with a deft interplay of fresh and dried fruits, gentle florals, citrus peel, and a little milk chocolate. The finish is clean, with just a touch bacon that adds nuance to an otherwise straightforward but intensely enjoyable wine. I’m not embarrassed to say we drank a full bottle of Barda in 90 minutes. No regrets.

A / $30 / kobrandwineandspirits.com

Review: The Wines of Game of Thrones, 2017 Releases

Listen close and you can hear the theme song. Yes, we’re still three months away from season seven of GOT, but if you’re jonesing for a taste of Winterfell — well, Dorne seems more wine-friendly — then check out these wines licensed with the Game of Thrones logo and motif. The grapes are sourced from all over Wester… er, California and are made by Bob Cabral at Vintage Wine Estates, which owns B.R. Cohn, Delectus, Cosentino, and a number of other brands.

Thoughts follow. Summer is coming!

2016 Game of Thrones Chardonnay Central Coast – A perfectly acceptable chardonnay, modestly oaked and fruit forward with notes of vanilla-dusted apples, some peach, and a squeeze of lemon. The finish is clean and quite dry, with just a touch of honeycomb. B+ / $20

2014 Game of Thrones Red Wine Paso Robles – A credible blend of predominantly syrah, tempranillo, and petite sirah, with florals and bright berries in equal concentration, a touch of chocolate and, on the finish, lots of cinnamon and nutmeg. This spice detracts from an otherwise perfectly drinkable — if lightly sweet-tasting — red, putting it roughly in par with a decent zinfandel. B / $20

2014 Game of Thrones Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – This ultra-fruity expression of cabernet doesn’t come across like any Napa cab I’ve encountered. It’s loaded with unctuous — and quite sweet — notes of strawberries and over-ripe currants, marshmallows and vanilla syrup. The finish is saccharine at times — and very lengthy. C- / $50

gameofthroneswines.com

Review: 2016 Balletto Rose of Pinot Noir Russian River Valley

Balletto’s 2016 rose of pinot noir is an improvement over the 2014 version we last saw, offering a more restrained berry fruit profile that is a nice foil to some lively acidity, with ample lemon and grapefruit character, particularly on the fun and aromatic finish. Drinks more like a crisp white than a lushly fruit-driven rose.

B+ / $18 / ballettovineyards.com

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