Stay Connected
What We're Drinking

2000 Labégorce, Margaux $39.99

A great value in Bordeaux! This bottle is mature enough to drink now, but has time in hand if you want to keep it in the cellar for the future. We love it for its laid back elegance and classic balance. A must try for your next nice steak dinner.

Recent Videos

Tasting with Oliver Krug

Upcoming Events

We host regular weekly and Saturday wine tastings in each K&L location.

For the complete calendar, including lineups and additional details related to our events, visit our K&L Local Events on KLWines.com or follow us on Facebook.  

 

Free Spirits Tastings at K&L! Now that we have our license for spirits tastings in Redwood City and San Francisco, we’re excited to host regular free spirits tastings in those locations.  Check the Spirits Journal for an updated tasting schedule.

All tastings will feature different products from the Spirits Department and take place on Wednesdays in Redwood City and San Francisco. Visit our events page on Facebook or the K&L Spirits Journal for more information.

>>Upcoming Special Events, Dinners, and Tastings

See all K&L Local Events

Archives

Entries in Terra Ignota (11)

Monday
Mar182013

{Terra Ignota} 100 Years in the Making: The Voice of Rippon

This week I was lucky enough to attend one of the most interesting and inspiring tastings I have ever been to. A "20 Year Vertical of Rippon Pinot Noir" the invite read. On the surface a 20-year vertical of any wine is a great accomplishment, (if the wines have held up anyways) but the thing with Rippon is that the story runs so much deeper than your basic chronology of vintages. This is a story about four generations of passionate farmers, a strong affinity to a place, the toils of a father, son and many others to bring forth the “voice of the farm,” the true expression of a special terroir.

Nick's father Rolfe looking out over the land that would become Rippon Estate.For those of you that don't know the wines of Rippon, it is an estate in Central Otago on the south island of New Zealand. This is an area famed for its Pinot Noir and much of Rippon's success can be attributed to this wonderful, fickle variety. The vineyard occupies a very unique and special site. The majestic Lake Wanaka lies to the east, and to the west are looming snow capped mountains of the Mt. Aspiring National Park. Current viticulturalist / winemaker Nick Mills who hosted the tasting at RN74 in San Francisco, is part of the fourth generation to call this place home.

Whilst the land has been owned by the family for more than 100 years, the first thoughts of vines began when Nick’s Father discovered the intricate and special relationship between Vitis vinifera and schist soils in Portugal sometime after his tours of service World War II.

(Schist is probably the most important feature that gives Rippon its character, texture and detailed nature. In a later video we will hear Nick talk a little more  about the complex geology that makes this site so special.)

Nick’s father planted experimental vines on the property in the 1970s, and the first “commercial” plantings were established in 1982. Here you can watch Nick talking about his family’s history linving on the land and the establishment of the vines there.

Wanaka’s climate is also very important to the character of the wines produced. Nick believes the growing season is characterized mostly by “gross climactic events at either end of the season”. Indeed with this kind of elevation and the southerly latitude of Central Otago, frost danger looms both at the beginning and end of the vine’s cycle. Despite this Nick describes the mid growing season as “clear and sanitary”, with very little pest or disease pressure on the vines to prevent them from producing clean fruit of the highest quality.


View Larger Map

He describes the site in Wanaka as having more “temperance” than the rest of Central Otago. Temperance from heat and cold accorded to it by the air flow off the Mountains, the thermal mass of the lake and the clouds that make it over the towering ranges to the west before dissipating over the high desert of Central Otago. This temperance produces a long and consistent growing season for the development of depth and flavor.

With high hopes and tangiable anticipation in the air, the first flight of the day was poured consisting of:

1990 Rippon Pinot Noir (Barrel Selection)

1991 Rippon Pinot Noir (Barrel Selection)

1992 Rippon Pinot Noir (Barrel Selection)

1995 Rippon Pinot Noir

1998 Rippon Pinot Noir

2000 Rippon Pinot Noir

The 1990 bottling was the first indication of how great this line up was going to be. Still bright, fresh, pure and with great balance. The wine showed the ripeness of the vintage all these years on with soft sweet fruits, silky and saturated. Notes of leather and hint of coffee emerged with air.

1991 was quite different but equally intriguing. Much less ripe fruit and some more dried herb qualities. Characters of cherry skin and more savory notes of mushroom and moss. The wine had notably higher acidity and a remarkable "grapey" quality that defied the wines age.

1992 was different again. Dense, rich and more concentrated. Dark earthy aromas, sandalwood and spice. A youthful, dynamic mid-palate makes me think that this wine has years ahead of it.

These three wines were all made by the esteemed Rudi Bauer, now of Quartz Reef winery in Bendigo, Central Otago while current winemaker Nick was living life as a transient "Ski Bum".

The 1995 was interesting in that it was much more herbal and less ripe than any that had come before it. I got notes of underbrush, fresh tobacco, even mint, a real green vegetative character. Nick then brought everything into perspective explaining that the volcanic eruption of Mount Ruapehu that year threw ash into the atmosphere starving the south island of vital sunlight luminosity. Quite fascinating I thought.

2000, the last wine of the flight, joined 1990 as my two favorites thus far. It was starting to show the detailed layers of complexity that I know and love about the Rippon wines. The palate was more layered and complex with a real textural elegance and ethereal qualities.

While we enjoyed the wines Nick continued to speak about how he felt these wines, despite tasting great, were “more defined by cultivar than the by place,” more “Pinot Noir than Rippon”.

Here he is talking about the development of the vine age and how he likens their early expressions to a young child’s artwork.

I found the analogy of a crayon drawing very intriguing. Yet another of Nick’s adept illustrations of how he understands wine and the ultimate goal of how to capture the sense of place.

I had heard Nick speak about his wines before at a small staff tasting at K&L and one concept he spoke about that day has always stuck with me. This is the idea that the flesh of the grape is all about attraction and getting the bird / animal to eat it in order to (eventually) propagate the seed within. The color, sweetness and flavor are all simply to get the fruit eaten by something. However a plant’s real focus is to thrive in its environment. To pass on what it has learned about its specific surroundings to its offspring so they too may flourish. The genetic material, everything the plant has learned, the instinct if you will, is contained within the seed. This data of ecological analysis gathered by the plant, is basically terroir encapsulated. Nick believes that allowing the seed to reach full and natural maturity is how wines convey textural and sensual markers that reflect their origin.

Here he is at the tasting explaining his thoughts on this:

As we moved into the next flight (2001 - 2008) the theme turned to the "adolesent" period of the vineyard and perhaps more importantly to the era when Nick returned home to take the helm as winemaker. Nick’s many years of experience making wine in Burgundy and beyond allowed him to return to the family estate better equipped to seek the true expression of Rippon. Whilst working at many esteemed Domaines in Burgundy, including Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (yes that’s DRC for short), Nick learnt what he describes as a “humility and deference to the land.” On his return the vineyard that had been farmed organically since the beginning, was converted immediately to Biodynamic farming. Nick believes that “vines must be in complete symbiosis with the land or they cannot produce a true vin de terroir.”  In his own words the journey from here on out was about one thing only, his quest to “deliver the land.”

Dry farming is another decision that Nick is adamant about. He describes how not watering the vines forces them to search the soil for their own sustenance. Micro root hairs penetrate the compacted schist searching for water. That water is often found in the form of algae and other micro-biological formations within the soil and rock all adding, he believes, to the complexity, depth and detailed nature of the resulting wines.

Nick’s first vintage back at Rippon 2003, produced a magnificent wine. One that I have tasted on numerous occasions and have always been impressed with. The ‘03 has the compact layers and precision that Nick talks about being the real textural markers that define the site. The wine has an incredible brightness and vibrancy.

The 2004 was the first wine to go from conventional cork to DIAM cork closures (which remain his closure of choice till this day). This technology combined with biodynamics and the vines gathering maturity has resulted in a quite remarkable consistency of quality throughout the wines from this point forward. Nick again modestly equates this to the symbiosis of the vines with the land and the climactic temperance that the site allows, however, I feel I must add that the guidance of his steady hand at the helm probably helps too. He concludes that schist is really the linear thread that gives precision and consistency to the wines.

Here is nick talking about the complex soil composition of the Rippon estate that is a combination of pure schist, moraines (glacial deposits) and schist laced with lateral clay lenses:

After six years back growing grapes and making the wines, Nick decided that he finally had the “courage” to bottle some single block wines to illustrate some of the unique geographic units within the larger farm. These single block wines in comparison to the “whole farm voice of “Rippon”” made up the final flight of the tasting.

2009 Rippon “Rippon” Mature Vine Pinot Noir

2009 Rippon “Emma’s Block” Mature Vine Pinot Noir

2009 Rippon “Tinkers Field” Mature Vine Pinot Noir

2010 Rippon “Rippon” Mature Vine Pinot Noir

2010 Rippon “Emma’s Block” Mature Vine Pinot Noir

2010 Rippon “Tinkers Field” Mature Vine Pinot Noir

Here is Nick talking about his decision to make these very limited production (100 case) single block wines.

 

The Emma’s block wines are from a parcel of vines directly on the lakeshore. The schist here is laced with clay deposited over many thousands of years as the lake setted. The wines have a remarkable supple character and silky texture. The palate is not as dense and layered as the “Rippon” bottling, yet it has more exuberance and a malleable texture and softness that makes it instantly gratifying. The Tinkers Field bottling by comparison comes from a pure schist parcel and really illustrates the detailed, compacted and indeed quite structural element of the estate. The flavors are not as obvious as Emma’s and yet the wine unfolds in an intriguing fashion with each sip revealing a new element. The Tinker's Field wines to me were quite grippy and spicy showing a lot of pent-up energy and power and I imagine are the component that gives "Rippon" its longevity.

Only at this late stage of the tasting did any details of cellar methodology emerge. To sum up: "it’s not a sorting table, it’s a tasting table; anything you don’t want in the wine stays in the vineyard!" In the cellar nothing is added or taken away, all wild yeast and enzymes. The wines spend two winters in barrel, the first in 25% new French oak, the second winter, after one racking and blending, is spent in entirely neutral wood for "slow repose and natural clarification". The wines are completely un-sulphured for the first year. His policy on whole cluster stem inclusion (quite the buzz concept right now) is that if its digestible it can stay in, if the stems aren’t right they stay out. This is about digestible material giving something to the wine, not making a stylistic statement. All in all you can see here that the expertise and skill is in the lack of manipulation and the absence of formulaic winemaking.

All that remained to do now was drink a little Rippon Riesling (2011 and 1991 side by side) and enjoy the charcuterie. (Riesling by the way is another thing that Rippon does exceptionally well but that’s another story!)

All day the wines spoke for themselves and illustrated what a special place Rippon is. Nick’s self confessed humility and deference to the land has gifted us some pretty special wines that I urge you all to experience at some point.

We have current vintages of 2008 Rippon “Rippon” Mature Vines Pinot Noir and a library release of 2003 Rippon Pinot Noir available on the shelves and online, as well and the Riesling and Gewürztraminer. Some of the older vintages featured in this tasting are available as library releases. The 2009 single block wines (Emma’s Block and Tinker’s Field) are also available in very limited quantities. Please do not hesitate to contact me directly via email if you are interested in any of the Rippon wines.

Cheers!

Ryan Woodhouse, NZ / Aussie Specialist

***

 Terra Ignota is Latin for "Unknown Land". It was the name for the South Pacific region during intial mapping and exploration of Australia and New Zealand. As we are going to be exploring new and exciting wines from this region, we think this is a fitting title for our blog series on wines from this part of the world. Stay tuned for more!

Wednesday
Nov282012

{Terra Ignota}: A Special Import of Hewitson Wines Now In Stock!

I am pleased to say that we have just received a very special import of Dean Hewitson’s wines from the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale.

We have been waiting a long time for the wines to arrive, but they are definitely well worth the wait! As you may know some Australian wines (especially those from Barossa) have gained a (what I think is an unfair) bad reputation for being big, overripe "fruit bombs". Well, these offerings from Hewitson are wines that actively seek to breakdown that perception. The wines are an honest 12.5 - 14% alc.  All of the wines have great structure, and freshness that only balanced acidity can bring. Make no mistake, these are robust wines with rich layers of fruit but they also really highlight how old vine Australian reds can also show elegance, brightness and exceptional balance.

Perfect fruit from ancient vines

First up is a fantastic dry Rose that arrived off the truck just in time for Turkey Day! The 2011 Hewitson Rose (made from old vine Grenache, Cinsault and Carignane) is dry, fresh, spicy and a refreshing 12.5% alc. This is quite a unique wine. Dark ground spices, Cranberry and Raspberry. Very drinkable but at the same time there is enough intrigue here to keep you thinking. $14.99.

Next we have the 2010 Baby Bush Vine Mourvèdre. This vineyard was established with selection massale cuttings from Hewitson's Old Garden Block. The Old Garden Vineyard is home to the worlds oldest surviving Mourvèdre vines planted back in 1853.

Dean taking cuttings from the 1853 Old Garden Mourvedre Vines. These cuttings are now 10 years old and produce the fantastic Baby Bush Vine MourvedreThe "baby" vines are dry farmed, head trained vines, grown to mimick the conditions in the original Old Garden. This is beautiful brooding, meaty, earthy Mourvèdre. Dark red fruits and spice are freshened by some well-placed acidity. Polished, soft tannins mean this wine drinks well now but I suspect the precise balance of this wine will help it cellar well for another 5+ years. This is a nice, pure example of this seldom seen varietal that has acquired an underground following for all the right reasons. $19.99

Then we have the 2011 Ned & Henry's Shiraz. 10% Mourvèdre is added to this Barossa Shiraz. All fruit is from vines all grown in the classic Terra Rossa soils (red dusty clay soils with limestone beneath) Barossa is famous for. This is a powerful yet finessed wine with dry tannins and spice. The Limestone sub-soils add some intrigue and savory notes to this deep, viscous and richly fruited Shiraz. $19.99

 

Some of the 110 + year old vines that create Miss HarryPerhaps my favorite of the bunch, the 2010 Miss Harry's Blend, a stunning Rhone style red made from Grenache (44%), Shiraz (39%), Mourvèdre (8%), Carignan (4%) and Cinsault (4%). The fruit is all from 110+ yr old vines. Aged for 12 months in neutral French oak, no racking. A wine of richness, authenticity and complexity. Very very good! $19.99

The 2010 Mad Hatter Shiraz is Dean Hewitson’s expression of the ultimate McLaren Vale Shiraz. The fruit is from the Blewitt Springs sub-region famed for that bright, blue fruit, fresher style of Shiraz. This is a single vineyard, single varietal wine selected from the absolute best lots available. The chosen vineyard is situated on a prime northwest-facing slope; vines are planted in very low vigor sandy loam soils. A meticulous fruit selection process is followed by 21 months in the best French oak. This is a huge wine that will reward patience. Dean Hewitson notes "this wine exudes Old-World balance and elegance while striding easily into the New-World with the freshness of the concentrated cassis fruit." A very serious wine that defines how big blockbuster Aussie Shiraz should be styled. $49.99

All these wines deserve your consideration. They are all excellent and authentic examples of what Australia can produce. Thanks to a special import deal the pricing is also remarkably good considering the quality of these wines. As rain lashes against the window and another two storms are lined up in the North Pacific, I know what I’ll be putting in my glass to see me through the depths of winter!

Dean Hewitson CEO and Head Winemaker making his rigorous selections

Cheers!

-Ryan

Ryan Woodhouse

NZ & Aussie Wine Specialist

K&L Wine Merchants - Redwood City

Contact

 ***

Terra Ignota is Latin for "Unknown Land". It was the name for the South Pacific region during intial mapping and exploration of Australia and New Zealand. As we are going to be exploring new and exciting wines from this region, we think this is a fitting title for our blog series on wines from this part of the world. Stay tuned for more!

Wednesday
Nov212012

{Terra Ignota}: New Zealand Beyond Sauvignon Blanc

 

Image courtesy of NZWine.com.

By: Ryan Woodhouse | K&L NZ & Aussie Wine Specialist

 

As a huge fan of New Zealand wine it’s hard to argue against the success of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, but for the next few paragraphs that’s what I’m going to do!

Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc has enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame. Consumers all around the world know what to expect -- grassy, citrusy, gooseberried Sauv Blanc -- and buy based on familiarity and trust. The successful bonding of regional and a varietal has allowed product to flow into huge markets far and wide. “Marlborough Sauv Blanc” rolls off the tongue like “Napa Cab”. Even the complete wine novice shopping in a mainstream grocery chain would be hard pressed not to find a Kiwi Sauv Blanc consistent with this aroma and flavor profile. It has become “the” NZ wine.

However there are several problems with this phenomenon that have a negative impact on the position of NZ wines in the marketplace. To start, many consumers think they understand everything about NZ wine in general because they are familiar with this narrowly defined, mass marketed, homogenus style of grassy, gooseberried Sauvignon Blanc. Although this feeling of confidence and familiarity has driven millions of people to spend their hard earned cash on New Zealand wine, it has also worked against promoting the diversity of NZ wines, stunting the growth and success of other varietals and regions in this complex wine growing nation. A win for the big guys, a loss for the little guys, and in the end, a loss for the consumer as well.

Even Marlborough’s own attempts to break free from this stylistic stereotype have been hampered because many people aren't aware quality wines of many styles and different varietals can be produced there. When faced with a New Zealand Syrah, for example, customers are confused. “They make Syrah down there?” they ask, as if the very idea contradicted nature! It shocks me how many people - not just consumers but industry professionals too - have balked at the idea of trying something from New Zealand that is not Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

Another factor to consider is what if people have experienced this dominant flavor profile and don’t like it? What then? Do they abandon NZ wine? In my experience, Yes, often they do. I have received push back from many people who have been put off New Zealand wine, period, by the over the top, pungent, astringent, grassiness of the "Motherwine". The dominance of Marlborough SB is so complete some people who are not fans of this dominant flavor profile have often abandon the country as a whole, based on the assumption that all wine from New Zealand will display the same aroma and flavor characteristics regardless of the varietal, sub-region, or vinification methods. It makes no sense, and yet it happens time and time again. The Sauv Blanc grape and the perception of its “classic” flavor profile is so entrenched in the minds of consumers that anything different is often seen as alien and undesirable.

If you are a mega winery churning out millions of cases of generic Malborough SB, this is the ideal scenario. But what about the many small producers in the region trying to make distinctive wines that represent their special piece of terroir? Do they have to conform to the dominant flavor blueprint, or take a (in many cases, significant) risk going out on a limb and creating a brave new flavor of their own?

Furthermore, what if you’re a small winery in, let’s say, Hawkes Bay on the north island specializing in Syrah? The fame of Marlborough SB and the association it has with a specific varietal and style of wine is not doing you any favors in today's marketplace. I’m convinced it is actually a negative factor that makes your perfectly delicious Syrah seem like some kind of freakish abnormality in the eyes of the average consumer.

 
View Larger Map

So, what to do? In my opinion, the idea of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc must be deconstructed for the consumer. The region of Marlborough is not one homogenous zone that supplies an ocean of tart, grassy, gooseberry zingyness. Marlborough (as you can see in the map above) is in fact a large and very topographically diverse area made up of numerous distinctly different sub-regions. Not only does the climate vary between these regions, but so to do the soils, aspects and most importantly predominant flavors.

Drawing the most basic distinction of Wairau Valley Vs. Awatere Valley could help people understand why Marlborough SB actually has much diversity to give. Awatere, being much more influenced by the Ocean and generally cooler throughout the growing season, has a tendency to produce more herbal, “greener” aromatics and flavors. Wairau Valley is more protected by geographical features and has a considerably warmer (relatively) growing climate. This means that wines from this locale often exhibit riper, fuller, more citrus and tropical notes. Other sub-regional distinctions exist especially now with plantings spreading back into the interior tributary valleys and up on to the elevated slopes surrounding the valley floors.

To illustrate my point, the Burgundy AOC has a similar area of land under vine (25,000 hectares to Marlborough’s 24,000.) Within Burgundy there are some 300 delineated villages. There are also hundreds of individual vineyards that are recognized with their own 1er Cru status. Even within those vineyards more distinctions drawn on soil, aspect and the resulting flavor and quality. Burgundy is an area and a category that absolutley defines itself by very small unique terroirs or climats. So to think of Marlborough, with it's similar area under vine and diverse micro-climates, as one homogenous area that produces the same flavor profile is ludicrous.

Unfortunatley millions of dollars and a couple decades have been spent branding it this way. While Burgundy, on the other hand, has had many centuries to define and delineate its diversity.

Vineyards in the Awatere Valley

Moving on, the distinctly grassy, vegetal, green, even bell pepper like favor compounds that have become so fundamentally associated with Marlborough SB are not necessarily the typical expression of this terroir. I have discussed with many people over the last few years about how this flavor profile has as much to do with agricultural practices as it does Marlborough's terroir.

New Zealand’s wine industry has its roots in relatively modern agriculture. When Marlborough was planted en-masse in the early 80s, the prevailing crop growing mentality prevailed, “how much fruit can we produce from this acreage?” These vast swathes of over cropped vineyards resulted in much under-ripe, dilute, green, vegetal wine. There is no blame or finger pointing here; this was just the natural progression of an agriculture driven, rather than viticulture focused, industry.

Where the blame falls I feel is with the people and critics that accepted and marketed this as Marlborough’s definitive flavor. Popularized through homogenized mass production, little thought was given to subtlety or diversity as the wave of success swelled around the globe. What was actually pretty poor viticulture became known as the flavor of New Zealand. Sure it was fresh, bright, and zesty, but ultimately it is limited in its depth and finesse.

Though this flavor profile is still at large, thankfully viticulture practices in general have improved and styles have emerged that are distinctive, more restrained, balanced (and thanks to some expert growers and winemakers) rich, complex and textural. People in “the know” experiment with, native yeast, extended lees contact, the use of oak, splashes of Semillion etc. These artisanal touches and commitment to quality has brought us some dynamic wines and ensured the vitality and success of Marlborough’s real producers reigns on.

Just ask me next time you feel like a Kiwi SB I’ll be more than happy to introduce you to some with interest and authenticity. Here are a couple to start with:

2011 Te Whare Ra (TWR) Sauvignon Blanc $18.99


2010 Seresin Sauvignon Blanc $22.99

2011 Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc $17.99

NZ Pinot Noir

Now that we have discussed Marlborough specifically, what about those winemakers outside of the Marlborough SB bubble? Thanks in part to global trends, New Zealand has been able to take advantage of its moderately cool climate and climb aboard the Pinot train. While not as spectacular as the SB explosion, Pinot plantings have gone up dramatically in the last couple decades and producers have enjoyed great success with this fickle beauty. Central Otago has perhaps made the most of the global Pinot Noir resurgence after a false start by Martinborough. Marlborough also produces great Pinot and already has a familiar name in wine production. However now we are seeing concerted efforts by regions such as Nelson, Waipara, North Canterbury, Waiarapa, Waitaki etc to promote their own brand of NZ Pinot. In general I would say that NZ Pinot is consistently balanced and very good value for money when compared with domestic (US) competition. The different regions mentioned above have huge variety as far as styles and flavor profiles. It seems this time around NZ has seen the merit in promoting regional diversity and complexity over looking for one dominant style. The fickle, variable nature of the variety perhaps demands this approach.

However, again I believe there is a caveat to this success. I speak frequently with people about sub-regional intricacies and the need for producers and representatives alike, to focus on educating consumers about the complexity and infinite variables that make New Zealand’s wines so enthralling. For example Central Otago has huge ranges of geological and climactic variance. From the Cromwell Basin, to Bendigo, to Lake Wanaka, Gibston Valley and Waitaki, all Central Otago Pinot producing areas, all have very different qualites.

Mist hanging in the Gibston Valley, Central OtagoThis is not about dividing regions, this is about inspiring people to seek unique distinctions in wine. Diversity and complexity is what I think keeps wine lovers interested. NZ Pinot is definitely something worthy of exploring, so I plead with people to keep an open mind and relish the subtleties that define these growing areas. The possibilities are somewhat endless and for a person that thrives on interesting wines rather than big point scores, this is why New Zealand wines are so exciting to me. New Zealand is so complex in its regional and varietal diversity; I think this story of intricate micro-climate specialty is a compelling one that must be told.

Other NZ Varietals, Regions, and Styles

To stretch the comprehension of NZ wine even further, let us revisit our hypothetical winery trying to sell our non-Marlborough Syrah. Wines such as these are dependent on two things: people’s inquisitive nature to seek new things and the wines own quality to make an impact. Hawke's Bay is home to NZ’s longest operating winery Mission Estate (established in 1851) and has a fantastic viticultural history. Hawke's Bay also has a unique set of qualities that I think make it a truly world class place to make wine. Being on the east coast of the north island, shielded from most of the prevailing westerly weather systems, the area typically enjoys a great sunny warm climate. Being right on the ocean also moderates any extremes of temperature. The region has diverse soils ranging from limestone, to volcanic, to deep alluvial gravels. Perhaps the most exciting sub-region here is the Gimblett Gravels. This is an ancient riverbed where vines have been planted in soils consisting of 90% pebbles that extend 20-30 feet down. The very stony soil stresses the vines producing ultra concentrated fruit while the gentle radiated heat from the stones allow perfect elongated ripening (think La Crau in Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Graves in Bordeaux).

I think the Syrah grown here is perhaps some of the best in the world. When done right, a perfect balance between classic peppery, meaty, smokey Rhone characteristics, and bright, berries, violets and succulent fruit driven styles of the modern era can be achieved. Bordeaux varietal blends from this area are also world beaters as highlighted in a tasting where dozens of the world’s top wine professionals, some Masters of Wine, tasted them blind against Bordeaux’s 1st growths. Mission Estate’s top wine, the Jewelstone was only undone by Haut-Brion and Ch. Mouton, beating out Ch. Latour, Ch. Lafite and many other prestigious wines at 20+ times its price point, yes 20+!

Craggy Range's Gimblett Gravels Vineyard

Other exceptional wines from this area include Craggy Range’s “Sohia”, a right bank Bordeaux style blend and the Craggy Range’s “Le Sol” a Syrah of stunning depth, opulence and polished texture. Sacred Hill also makes a range of wines from this area including the Helmsman Bordeaux style blend and Deerstalkers Syrah. Near by are the epic wines of Te Mata Estate including the Coleraine, Awatea and Bullnose, all incredible wines of pedigree and excellence. 

So here on the Gimblett Gravels is a unique, world-class terroir that has absolutely nothing in common with NZ’s most famous export. This is only one example; New Zealand is also excelling in producing stunning Riesling and other aromatic white varietals. I recently tasted a Spatlese style Riesling made at Fromm Winery in Marlborough that I think rivals any German offering. With Riesling’s popularity growing around the globe this is an exciting prospect for New Zealand’s producers. New Zealand Chardonnay is also something I am always trying to turn people on to. Many of them strike a perfect balance between the fruit purity and richness of California Chard but without the overwhelming oak and buttery character and often with Burgundian texture, brightness and minerality. Try Neudorf’s Moutere bottling or Te Whare Ra’s excellent Marlborough Chard and Sacred Hill’s world class Rifleman’s Vineyard release.

Also, what about areas such as Gisborne or Northland. These wine regions have pretty much no representation in the US market yet both produce compelling wines with distinctive flavor profiles. The possibilities and variables of these beguiling isles are literally endless.

I guess my concluding point (finally) is that those of us who care (or are even remotely interested) have to work hard to spread the word about New Zealand’s diversity. To let others know that all of its regions have something to offer and need to be treated as distinct entities. No one grape or flavor can define New Zealand and in fact it is very harmful to try and do so. No single success story can support a whole nation of wine growers. Neither can this narrative excite the broad support of eclectic wine drinkers. So thanks all you Marlborough SB giants for putting NZ on the map, now please sit back and let the real inner beauty shine through.

Our first and fantastic venture into NZ Direct Imports: Te Whare RaIf I didn’t bore you too much with this rant and you're interested in learning more about or tasting more New Zealand wines please send me an email and I will be in touch.

Cheers!

-Ryan

Ryan Woodhouse

NZ & Aussie Wine Specialist

K&L Wine Merchants - Redwood City

Contact

 ***

Terra Ignota is Latin for "Unknown Land". It was the name for the South Pacific region during intial mapping and exploration of Australia and New Zealand. As we are going to be exploring new and exciting wines from this region, we think this is a fitting title for our blog series on wines from this part of the world. Stay tuned for more!