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Spencer Hill, New Zealand

by Tom Cannavan, 10/08

Philip Jones and Sheryl Jones established their winery in Nelson, on the northern tip of New Zealand's South Island, in 1990. Philip is a graduate of the University of California, with degrees in Viticulture and Integrated Pest Management. He worked for eighteen years as a consultant to the agricultural industry and during this period trained as a Winemaker at California State University.

After investigating viticultural areas throughout New Zealand, The Jones's decided to establish vineyards and a winery in the Upper Moutere hills, close to Nelson. The first wines were produced in 1994, and additional vineyards have been planted and brands added. 'Goose Bay' is its brand for the kosher market, whilst the 'Latitude 41' range tasted here is a blend of Nelson and Marlborough grapes. The 'Tasman Bay' brand
Spencer Hill was the first New Zealand winery to use the 'Zork' closure in a major range of wines (a polyethylene-based closure, shown right). Spencer Hill say "We are not fans of the screwcap closure due to its limiting ability to let wines age and the risk of reduction in the wines".

Spencer Hill is now Nelson’s second largest winery in sales, and meanwhile they have been expanding into North America, planting vineyards in the Columbia Gorge area of Washington State.
  

Spencer Hills sent me four wines to try, two from the Latitude 41 range, and two from their Tasman Bay range. Smart Wines and Wholefoods, London, are UK stockists.

white wines

Spencer Hill Tasman Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2007
The Tasman Bay Sauvignon was partially fermented in small French oak barrels, although there's just a trace of mealy richness on the nose. Otherwise, there are stone fruit and lemony aromas, and a touch of more pungent gooseberry and nettle coming through. On the palate there's a mouth-filling density of fruit here. It is tangy and grippy, with a touch of leesy texture and weight, with quite a dramatic balance between sweetly ripe flavours and a pithy acidity. This is a more food-friendly style of Marlborough Sauvignon than some, with a bit of phenolic grip in the finish. £9.95, Smart Wines, Wholefoods.

Spencer Hill Latitude 41 Sauvignon Blanc 2007
Labelled as coming from 'South Island' fruit, this is in fact a blend from Spencer Hills' Nelson and Marlborough vineyards. Part of the juice was fermented and aged for two months on 'high spice and vanilla French oak.' The nose does display a little of that spiciness in the background, but really this is dominated by typical notes of tropical fruit and a certain gooseberry vivaciousness, with touches of lychee and mango. On the palate it is concentrated, powerful wine. Not as flamboyant as one might have expected from the nose, the fruit is actually quite subdued and savoury, with a bit of peach-juice sweetness on the mid-palate, and then a lemony core of acidity pushing through. This is a chewy, big mouthful of Sauvignon in quite a serious style. £10.95, Smart Wines, Wholefoods.

red wines

Spencer Hill Tasman Bay Pinot Noir 2006
Coming from fruit in Nelson and Marlborough, native, wild yeasts were used for fermentation and the wines aged in French oak for nine months. The colour is a medium-pale garnet, and the nose offers an attractive perfume of wild strawberry and black fruits, with a smokiness and touch of toast and spice. On the palate this has richness and a nicely silky texture, with earthy and truffly tones to moderate black fruit. The lean tannins add a slightly aggressive edge to an otherwise very easy-drinking, sippable wine that has good Pinot character and plenty of style. One that might be better with food. £11.95, Smart Wines, Wholefoods.

Spencer Hill Latitude 41 Pinot Noir 2007
Like the Sauvignon blanc also tasted in this Latitude 41 range, bottled with a 'Zork' closure - an easy to remove plastic stopper with tear off grab handle. Like the company's 'Tasman Bay' Pinot, a blend of Nelson and Marlborough fruit, fermented with wild yeasts and aged in French oak for nine months. Fine, light ruby colour, with refined aromatics suggesting ripe berry fruits, briar and a touch of woodland undergrowth. There's a slick of vanilla too, and a hint of espresso. On the palate the fruit is a little lighter, but also sweeter and more translucent than in the Tasman Bay example, with sweeter tannins giving this for me, a more harmonious finish. Lovely. £12.95, Smart Wines, Wholefoods.