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LETTUCE SHOW YOU A GOOD PINOT NOIR

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2008 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION
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2006 SF INTERNATIONAL  WINE COMPETITION.
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2005 SF INTERNATIONAL WINE COMPETITION.

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Some New Zealand Selections


NEUDORF 2008 CHARDONNAY Sold Out
NEUDORF 2009 "Tom's Block" PINOT NOIR $29.99
Neudorf's 2010 CHARDONNAY "Moutere" $39.99
Neudorf's 2009 PINOT NOIR "Moutere" $39.99
We recall hearing British wine writer Hugh Johnson, back in the 1980s, speculating that New Zealand might have a good future with respect to wine-making.   
He must have tasted wine from this venerable (old for New Zealand, anyway) winery.
 
Neudorf ("new town" in German) takes its name from an old German settlement in the Nelson region of the south island.  The winery was founded by Tim and Judy Finn.  They followed their dream of making good wine, despite the bank's advice to take the more safe path and raise sheep.  

The New Zealand wine world is much better off as a result, for if one tastes the wines of Neudorf, it's easy to see the future is very bright indeed!

The 2008 Chardonnay was superb!  Beautifully balanced, it tips its chapeau to the French in Burgundy and yet it retains an element which says New Zealand!  Dry, lightly oaked and showing some stony, minerally notes and a touch of toastiness, this is a complete and totally satisfying wine.  

We tasted good Sauvignon Blanc from Neudorf--different from Marlborough Sauvignons.  

And they make really good, soulful Pinot Noir.  The 2009 Tom's Block Pinot is quite good.  Medium+ bodied and intensely fragrant varietal aromas.  Nice flavors and a touch of tannin, but not too much.

They make a "reserve" wines called Moutere. 

Chardonnay from a single vineyard undergoes an indigenous yeast fermentation and it's fermented in wood (barriques and puncheons).  Its yeasty sediment is stirred for about a year and it has undergone a malolactic fermentation.  Very complex and it's a wine for which most Burgundian winemakers would be proud.

The Moutere Pinot Noir comes from a couple of vineyard sites...low yields for this, as you might expect.  They employ a nice range of coopers for the barrels in which this is matured and about one-third new wood.  No fining or filtering...dark cherry fruit character...very fine!  Only a few hundred cases are produced.

 Kudos to the Finns and their 'team' of Neudorfers!  


 
 





GREYWACKE
An Australian winery, many years ago now, launched a little winery in New Zealand's Marlborough region called Cloudy Bay.  

They hired a young feller named Kevin Judd to be the winemaker, as he'd graduated from Roseworthy College, worked for Australia's Reynella winery before moving on to New Zealand's Selaks.

Judd worked for 25 harvests at Cloudy Bay so he's seen it all.  He witnessed the blossoming of New Zealand's wine industry, dealt with all sorts of vintage challenges and make some wines which put the country on the world's wine map.

When he started at Cloudy Bay, of course, things were manageable.  It was a small business.  Today it's a 250 hectare winery and even that's not enough to meet the demand, so they buy fruit from numerous growers.

Well, with Cloudy Bay being part of the Veuve Clicquot branch of the Louis Vuitton-Moet-Hennessy conglomerate, things started to become fairly corporate at the winery.  Despite his accomplishments, if you have a gander at Cloudy Bay's web site, there's not a mention of Judd, let alone of tip of their corporate cap!  That's a bit like Napa's Beaulieu Vineyards not keeping Andre Tchelistcheff's memory alive or the Mondavi winery forgetting about Robert Mondavi...

In 2009 Judd started making wine for his own brand, a name he'd registered back in the 1990s, thinking then, "one day perhaps I'll have my own winery!"  And some pals with whom he'd worked at Cloudy Bay offered him some space at their new winery, Dog Point.  

We had seen the Greywacke wines listed in the large liquor company catalogue and, while we knew whose wines they were, we had not tasted them.  I asked the sales rep, a "wine specialist" and he knew nothing about Greywacke.  So we bought a bottle of the 2011 "regular" Sauvignon Blanc and a 2010 "Wild Sauvignon."


We liked both wines very much.  The "Wild" bottling is more of a winemaker's wine or a wine for some wine writers...it's showing notes of Sauvignon Blanc, for sure, but there's a whiff of wood and an overtone reminiscent of honey.

Showing greater clarity of the grape and the place is the 2013 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.  It's a thrilling bottle of wine, showing beautiful citrusy notes of New Zealand Sauvignon with ripe melon notes, a touch of an herbal quality and maybe a note of gooseberry or "green."  It's dry.  It's marvelously fruity and it's got zesty, zippy acidity.  What's not to like?

The "Wild" Sauvignon is now from the 2012 vintage...what a complex Sauvignon!  Some of the fruit was machine-picked, while some was hand-harvested.  The juice was settled before being transferred to seasoned French oak cooperage and the fermentation took its own sweet time in starting and finishing.  Winemaker Kevin Judd says it took perhaps 6 months for this.  Some barrels underwent a malolactic fermentation, but not all.  They stirred the yeast sediment in the barrels from time to time...and the resulting wine is remarkable!


Currently in stock:  2013 GREYWACKE SAUVIGNON BLANC $21.99
2012 GREYWACKE "WILD" SAUVIGNON BLANC   Sale  $29.99

 

 

 

MAN O'WAR

When most people speak about New Zealand wines, the main appellations include Marlborough, of course, perhaps Martinborough, Central Otago and perhaps Nelson and Hawke's Bay.  

The Waiheke Island is one most people will miss, though it's a region that's close to Auckland, New Zealand's most populous city.

It's located 11 miles east of Auckland in the Hauraki Gulf and you can take a short ferry ride from the big city, if you like.  The island has nearly nine-thousand residents and there's a seasonal influx of people who maintain a vacation residence there. 

Captain James Cook anchored in this region back in 1769, or so they say.  And his journal indicates he'd seen some rather large trees there which he felt would make perfect masts for British war ships, hence the association with "Man o' War."

The big land owner of this island is the secretive Spencer family, a seriously wealthy clan.  John Spencer is the patriarch of the family and one of his two grown children operates the Man o' War winery.  That would be Berridge Spencer, who actually had invested in some vineyard property in Sonoma's Knights Valley some years ago, but sold his interest to dabble in New Zealand wine.

Their holdings on the Waiheke Island amount to 4500 acres and today they've planted numerous little parcels (something like 76 different plots), mostly Bordeaux varietals.  

We found their 2009 Syrah called "Dreadnought" to be exceptional.  It's a magnificent expression of Syrah and I can't imagine a Rhone Valley vigneron not being impressed by this wine.

The grapes come from a very steep, north-facing slope.  The grapes are de-stemmed and put into the fermenter in a gentle manner to retain as many "whole berries" as possible.  The first few days the tank is chilled to essentially have a "cold soak," before allowing it to warm and begin its fermentation using indigenous yeasts.  After it's dry, the wine was transferred to small oak cooperage, with about one quarter of the barrels being new.  

The resulting wine is amazingly fine and most tasters would identify it, poured "blind," as some sort of Northern Rhone Syrah.  There's a pepper spice note which is exceptional and the wood remains in the background as a sort of seasoning for the fruit and spice.  The tannin level is modest, making for a balanced wine.  Drinkable now, this can probably be cellared for another decade, if you like.

Currently in Stock:  2009 MAN O'WAR "Dreadnought" SYRAH  $35.99

BIRD WINES

http://www.birdwines.com/wp-content/uploads/Steve-Bird-2012-Big-Barrel-Pinot-Noir-Thmb.jpgWinemaker Steve Bird got his start at the venerable Morton Estate winery and then he moved to Thornbury Vineyards where he was lead winemaker.  

These days he's got his own winery and is making some terrific wines in New Zealand's Marlborough country.  

We're especially fond of his Pinot Noir.

The wine is fermented and aged in 900 liter French oak.  Bird likes the way the oak integrates with the fruit using this size cooperage.  Whatever he's doing, it works beautifully.  The 2012 has some plummy notes, the typical cherry-like fruit of Pinot Noir and a bit of vanillin from the oak.  

The wine is well-priced in our view, comparing to California and Oregon wines costing in the $30 to $40 range.  


Currently in stock:  BIRD 2012 Marlborough PINOT NOIR  $21.99

 

 


 
CAIRNBRAE
A family of Scottish heritage founded this vineyard in Marlborough in the 1980s and sold grapes to neighboring wineries.  In the early 1990s they began vinifying some of their fruit and launched their winemaking career.

The Scots sold the winery to another New Zealand winemaking family, the Masons (who own Sacred Hill Vineyards in Hawke's Bay on the North Island) and the brand  is in good hands.

We've had a couple of vintages of Cairnbrae's Pinot Noir.  It's a remarkably good wine and is easily identified in the glass as "Pinot."  You won't mistake it for Syrah or Cabernet...it sings "Pinot."

And it arrives in California at a most attractive price without letting on (in the glass) that this is a most affordable wine.

They even manage the crop to farm for quality and they do a cold soak before allowing the fermentation to start.  It's matured in French oak cooperage, though wood plays a supporting role here.  The fruit on the nose is decidedly Pinot Noir, showing cherries and dark fruits.  It's beautifully balanced and very drinkable now, in its youth.  


Currently in stock: 2012 CAIRNBRAE Marlborough PINOT NOIR  $15.99
 








HINTON
The wines of the Central Otago region tend to be rather costly, so we've had trouble finding good wines which represent 'value' for the lofty prices they carry.  Add to the mix, the fact that the climate is variable and so the batting average there is a bit low.

The Hinton family has been in the fruit growing business in Otago since around 1910.  They've been cultivating cherries, apricots, peaches and plums, for example.  At one point they planted some table grapes, but these were grown in greenhouses.  In the 1940s they decided to plant some grapevines "outside" and this didn't work so well, as wild rabbits found the fruit to be delicious, apparently.  

In 1999, they took another stab at grapes and planted some Pinot Noir and Merlot.  And, with attention to detail, it seems they can make a go of it.  And now they're in the wine business.

We tasted a 2008 Hinton Pinot Noir and were pleased to find such nice fruit and a deft handling of the oak program...the wine is easy to peg as Pinot Noir and there's a hint of wood, but it's merely a light 'seasoning' and not the focus.  Combine these features with an affordable price tag and we're delighted.  

We suspect this wine is probably at its best now and for a few more years, but don't leave this in the rack for a decade.  It's charming now, in its youth.

Currently in stock:  HINTON 2008 Central Otago PINOT NOIR Sold Out

 

 







SAINT CLAIR
This winery made some superb Sauvignon Blancs a few years ago, winning some blind-tastings we had organized.  Some difficulties with the importer at the time meant the wines were not available, much to our disappointment.

We were delighted to see Saint Clair has returned to the Bay Area and we bought a bottle to taste and evaluate.

It's as exceptional and exuberant as earlier vintages.  Think of passion fruit, lime, citrus blossoms and a hint of grass.  

I was interested to see the winemaking notes on this wine.  Some Sauvignon producers like to give their wine some "skin contact," citing increased aromatics and flavors.  Saint Clair's winemaker Matt Thomson prefers to press off the skins as quickly as possible.  The juice is fermented in stainless steel at low temps to retain as much "grape" as possible.  The results are delicious.  

The 2013 is a rather dry white with nice snappy acidity.  It's a lovely wine for cocktail service and it'll match nicely with Asian-styled foods and many fish courses.  The wine is intensely Sauvignon and it's a showy bottle of New Zealand wine...  

Currently in stock:  2013 Saint Clair "Marlborough" SAUVIGNON BLANC  (list $18) SALE $15.99



 

 
CLOS HENRI
There has been quite a flood of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc wines arriving in our market.  It's no secret that many of the wines produced there are excellent expressions of the grape.

A real validation for the Marlborough region was the arrival of the Bourgeois family from France's Loire Valley.  Their arrival was rather like the Baron Rothschild's or Christian Moueix' interest in owning a piece of the Napa Valley far from their Bordeaux homes.  

Bourgeois is the leading ambassador for the Sauvignons from various top Loire appellations, especially that of Sancerre.  
 
 


The land purchased by the Bourgeois family was virgin vineyard territory, featuring three soil types.  They're planting several hectares annually and expect this to be a 12 year project before reaching the finish line.  They expect to plant about 65 hectares of the 100 hectare estate.

We find the Clos Henri wine to combine elements of top Loire Valley Sauvignons with top New Zealand wines.  Having notes of each makes for an unusually complex bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, no matter the wine's birthplace.   We like the minerality of this wine, as well as the spicy pineapple and citrus tones.  It's got more 'weight' than your average New Zealand Sauvignon, yet it's not as potent as most California Sauvignons.  

We're big fans and delighted to have some bottles to share with our customers.   Don't miss this.  I included the 2006 in a blind-tasting with 7 Loire Valley Sauvignons.  I ranked this in my top 3 and did not find it 'stood out' as something particularly different as would most New Zealand wines.

Pinot Noir from this estate can be truly special as well.  We tasted several vintages recently and they seem to be getting closer in style and character to Burgundy!  We have the 2007 Pinot Noir in stock...it's a wonderful example of Pinot Noir.  There's a beautiful black cherry fruit aroma and the oak is just right (meaning it's not much in evidence, but there's probably some in the mix)...
This is deliciously drinkable now and should be fine for a number of years...

Currently in stock:  2008 CLOS HENRI SAUVIGNON BLANC Sold Out
2007 CLOS HENRI PINOT NOIR Sold Out




ATA RANGI 2011 Martinborough PINOT NOIR $59.99
ATA RANGI 2013 Martinborough SAUVIGNON BLANC  $20.99

ata_rangi.gif (13223 bytes)One of the original pioneering winegrowers in this "new" region of New Zealand, Clive Paton saw the benefits of Martinborough's deep soil and relatively dry climate for the cultivation of red wine grapes. 

We see only a few bottles annually of exceptional Pinot Noir. We used to say this wine reminded us of the lavishly-oaked Burgundies of Jayer-Gilles, but that was nearly 20 years ago.  These days they're making a wine which certainly has detectable contributions from the oak barrels, but in a perhaps more restrained and balanced fashion.  It remains one of the top Pinot Noirs of New Zealand and, in our view, it's far more reliable than most of the Central Otago Pinots.
Given Ata Rangi's long history of exceptional Pinot Noirs, I'd opt for this every time.

The 2011 has beautiful dark cherry fruit and there's a touch of a floral quality on the nose and maybe a bit of plum on the palate.  The wood nicely balances or integrates with the fruit.  The tannin level is mild, so this is a beautiful bottle to open now, but a few years of additional aging should yield a more complex wine.


Sauvignon Blanc from this estate is also excellent.  It's from Martinborough, so you shouldn't expect the same sort of aromatics and flavors you'll find typically in Marlborough wines.
They ferment approximately 20% in neutral oak and the rest is vinified in stainless steel.  No M-L, as they want to retain the fresh, zippy notes of the Sauvignon.  It's dry, full-flavored and a very expressive white wine, but a bit restrained compared to most Marlborough Sauvignon.





CLOUDY BAY 2013 SAUVIGNON BLANC  SALE $27.99
CLOUDY BAY CHARDONNAY Sold Out
Associated today with the Champagne producer Veuve Clicquot, Cloudy Bay was founded in 1985 by the folks at Australia's Cape Mentelle winery.   They are world famous for their exceptional Sauvignon Blanc, but also produce Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and a bottle-fermented sparkling wine.  The supply used to be much sought-after and doled out to "worthy" customers who supported the Clicquot line of Champagne.

Today there are dozens of terrific New Zealand Sauvignons and hundreds of brands of Kiwi plonk and this has taken the pressure off Cloudy Bay.  They still make good wine, though, but it's not as "hot" a brand as it once was.  

The 2013 is a good example of their handiwork.  Nice fruit, dry and crisp.

Chardonnay from Cloudy Bay is relatively unknown, but it's a nice bottle of wine.  Apples and hints of pear fruit with a touch of wood...dry, of course.
 


SINEANN

Sineann is actually a winery (or winemaker) from Oregon.

Peter Rosback was a partner with David O'Reilly (who went on to found the Owen Roe winery) at one point in time.  

Peter makes some interesting wines under his Sineann label and he now travels to New Zealand to make Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.

For some reason he's labeling his New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc as "merely" White Table wine.  But it's made entirely of Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough and the wine is beautifully citrusy and tangy, thanks to ample acidity. 

It's a good cocktail white and you can pair it with seafood...
 
 
Currently in stock:  2013 SINEANN WHITE TABLE WINE  $13.99

 
 

 



SELAKS 2006 RIESLING/GEW‹RZ "ICE WINE"  $19.99 (375ml)
selaks_ice_wine.gif (5517 bytes)This winery and accompanying restaurant were purchased some years ago by the famous House of Nobilo (one of their clan is a pro golfer, so you'll sometimes see the Nobilo name on the sports pages of your newspaper). 

Selaks has a pretty good name for table wines and is a highly-regarded source of "Ice Wine," blend this vintage of Riesling and GewŁrztraminer.  I don't know why they're allowed to call this "Ice Wine," since American producers of frozen grape (not on the vine but in a freezer) wines can't use the term on their bottlings.

In any case, the resulting wine is amazingly well-balanced for a wine of such sweetness.  The other nice feature of this is the modest price tag, the wine costing far less than comparable German or Austrian "ice wines."  The 2006 is crisp, mildly citrusy and very fresh and floral. 


FIRE ROAD

The Fire Road label is a brand made for a US importer, as we understand it and it's vinified at some sort of custom-crush facility in Marlborough.  

The name comes from a catastrophic event back at the turn of the century when there was a major fire in Marlborough around Blenheim and some sort of "fire road" was established in an effort to extinguish the flames...

The wine is not only a good example of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, it's attractively-priced at eleven bucks.  As a result, this wine flies out the door as we offer a case discount off the already low 10.99 bottle price.
 

Currently in stock:  2013 FIRE ROAD SAUVIGNON BLANC  $10.99

 

 

MOUNT BEAUTIFUL

No Longer in our shop...*

Marlborough is a couple of hours' drive north of Cheviot in the Canterbury region where you'll find Mount Beautiful.    And you'll need an hour and a half to drive north to this place from the big city of Christchurch.

Canterbury is home to nearly two dozen wineries and its climate is best suited to early-ripening varieties, though there is a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon.

This winery is the work of Dr. David Teece and his wife Leigh.  He's from New Zealand, but spends a fair amount of time here in the San Francisco Bay Area as he's a professor of Business Administration at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business.  He was hired by the music recording industry here to argue their case in favor of shutting down the music file-sharing web site, Napster.  

Teece holds four honorary doctorates, too and now he's got his hands in a vineyard and winery project as if he doesn't have enough to do!

Mrs. Teece is an American and she was living in the world of business, banking and venture capital when she meet Dr. Teece.  Instead of their investing in a region where wine was already a part of the local scene, they pioneered an unheralded area of the Canterbury region on the southern banks of the Waiau River close to 6 miles from Cheviot.

Vineyards are mostly devoted to Sauvignon Blanc with about 30% planted to Pinot Noir and a scant few percent each to Riesling and Pinot Gris.  

Sauvignon Blanc vineyards are predominantly a UC Davis (California) clone of Sauvignon, with two clones from France's Bordeaux region.  Pinot Noir vineyards are of Burgundian clones along with some UC Davis clones.

We found their 2010 Sauvignon Blanc to be of interest and a bit different from the typical Marlborough bottlings which are so popular.  The Mt. Beautiful Sauvignon displays some herbal tones leaning towards vegetal rather than the overt citrus/grapefruit of Marlborough.  There's a hint of bell pepper and some of the green, gooseberry sorts of notes here, too.  Dry, no oak and purely Sauvignon!  It's a good aperitif and seafood white.

A 2011 Pinot Noir is also delightful.  It's a medium-bodied wine with classic Pinot aromas, showing a bit of cherry and a hint of wood.  They did a cold soak before the fermentation and even left the skins in contact with the wine for a couple of weeks after the fermentation completed.  It spent ten months in French oak, with 25% of the barrels being new.  Delightful and well-priced.

Currently in stock:  2011 MT. BEAUTIFUL PINOT NOIR  Sold Out
2010 MT. BEAUTIFUL SAUVIGNON BLANC  Sold Out

* We had been featuring their wines for a few months and the sales rep told us, as we were about to order some more wine, that we would be obliged to paying new, higher prices for the Mt. Beautiful wines.
It seems the sensible prices we'd been paying were now going to be offered solely to restaurant accounts (who can obtain a 300 to 400% mark-up).
Retail shops would have to pay a higher price in hopes of the winery establishing its brand as a more premium product.
We've not carried their wines since.

 

NAUTILUS

The Australian family, Hill-Smith, started a distribution business in neighboring New Zealand and along with that the distribution company launched a winery called Nautilus.

The distribution company offers an impressive portfolio of wines to sell to shops and restaurants in New Zealand:  Gaja, Sassicaia, Bollinger, Chateau d'Yquem, Guigal, Henschke, Egon Muller and St. Clair from their backyard.

They launched Nautilus in the mid-1980s and today it's a well-regarded brand in its home market.  We'd had their wines quite a few years ago and have found this to be a reliably good producer of Sauvignon Blanc.

In 2000 they finished building a winery devoted exclusively to making their Pinot Noir and in 2006 they put the finishing touches on an energy-efficient facility devoted solely to white wine production.

In making Sauvignon Blanc, they strive to produce a wine for the dinner table, not to be a cocktail-hour show-piece.  If you need a translation for that, it means they make a wine which is a good deal more subtle than the typical Kiwi-land Sauvignon.  Further translating, this means for some people, the wine will not be "audible" as they've not cranked the volume up all the way so the VU Meter is not in the red zone.

The grapes come from a handful of Estate vineyards and they have long-term contracts with local growers.

Wairau Valley, gravelly soil sites are one part of the puzzle...gravel over mud-stone in the Awatere Valley and some clay/loess soils in the south.  As they make their blend, they look more for texture rather than the 'loud' expression of many NZ Sauvignons and they use the term "sophisticated" in describing their wine.  

And so the resulting wine is perhaps more suited to the "Old World" wine drinker than today's hipster wine fan.  

We like the Nautilus wine, as it occupies a place on the spectrum of New Zealand Sauvignons which few winemakers seek.

Currently in stock: 2010 NAUTILUS SAUVIGNON BLANC  Sold Out

 

 


While we don't have the facilities to keep an encyclopedic collection of New Zealand wines in the shop, we'll be happy to special order your favorites.  There's been a flood of wines arriving in the market.  

 
 

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