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Notes from New Zealand, 2011

text © 2011 Tom Cannavan

These notes accompany our in-depth feature on New Zealand 2011.

THE RIESLING CHALLENGE

What a fascinating idea and fascinating tasting. From the 2010 harvest, a single block of Riesling from the Waipara Valley was picked, chilled, and sent to 12 different winemakers across New Zealand who crushed, pressed, and fermented the grapes in any manner they saw fit, in stainless steel or oak, to produce their best Riesling wine, dry or sweet. Part of the thinking behind the challenge was to test the age old debate of whether great wine is more the product of a great vineyard, or could be created by the skills of a great winemaker. Some of the country's top winemakers rose to the challenge.

Though I enjoyed this tasting enormously and love the idea, there were some flaws with this first iteration of the concept. One is that in truth the wines were not very good overall, which was not down to the winemakers, but fruit here was not 'great' to begin with: there was a green, underripe character running through all of these wines, no matter what style. Secondly of course, it really proves nothing other than being a fun and intriguing exercise; the other side of the nature vs man debate would need fruit from 12 different vineyards made with absolutely identical treatment, to see if that produced more differences than 12 different winemakers.

The "winner" of this first challenge was Mat Donaldson of Pegasus Bay, voted for by his fellow winemakers. A mixed case of the 12 wines is for sale in New Zealand via rieslingchallenge.co.nz. Tasted blind, the winemaker for each wine was revealed afterwards.

2010 Waipara Rieslings

Ant McKenzie, Te Awa Wines, Hawkes Bay
With only 12% alcohol, this has a rather neutral nose and some lemony fruit and a squirt of juiciness, but not distinguished. 85/100

Larry McKenna, Escarpment, Martinborough
12.8% alcohol here, and a sweet edge to the apricotty fruit, but it is a touch thin on the mid-palate, finishing just a little watery. 85/100

Mike Brown, Golden Hills Estates, Nelson
11.5% alcohol. Juicy, easy-going and quite peachy fruit. Palate rather citrussy and a touch too thin, though the touch of residual sugar adds some rounding length. 85/100

Paul Bourgeois, Spy Valley, Marlborough
12& alcohol here, and the wine is open and lightly oxidised, more sulphidic than most, but that helps emphasise a touch of stony mineral character. Huge grapefruity push of fruit, even though it finishes a touch short. 87/100

Jules Taylor, Jules Taylor Wines, Marlborough
11.5% alcohol, and a delicate, peachy ripeness on the nose, even a little floral aspect. Good acidity with some grapefruity, dry and pithy character playing against the sweetness. 88/100

John Taylor, John Forrest, Marlborough
Only 9% alcohol. A little neutral and flat on the nose, a touch green. Lemony on the palate, though pleasantly sweet and decent balance. 85/100

Simon Waghorn, Astrolabe Wines, Marlborough
9.4% alcohol, and not terribly aromatic, but then in the mouth had a lively presence. Lovely grippy touches of phenolic character in the off-dry finish. 88/100

Patrick Materman, Pernod Ricard NZ, Marlborough
10.5% alcohol. Peachy and lightly sulphidic, with a touch of bruised apple. Quite a lean, lemony palate, and verging on the austere, the freshening acidity a touch prominent. 87/100

Simon McGeorge, Waipara Hills, Waipara
12.8% alcohol. More open, peachy style than many, with a touch of oxidative character. The sweetness balances, but lacks a touch of finesse as in the Jules Taylor bottling for example. 87/100

Matt Donaldson, Pegasus Bay, Waipara
10% alcohol. Peachy, delicate nose. Quite precise, the palate showing a richness through the middle but also a fresh, limey fruit tang. My favourite wine so far. 89/100

Duncan Forsyth, Mount Edward, Central Otago
12.4% alcohol. Wheat beer and yeast on the nose suggests a bold attempt at something natural and different, but the palate is phenolic and very flat in the finish. 83/100

Matt Dicey, Mount Difficulty, Central Otago
12.5% alcohol. A little greenness to the fruit on the nose, but the palate is spiked with punchy lemon and lime and the sweetness gives very nice balance overall. 88/100

return to New Zealand 2011