New Zealand’s Age of Classic Refinement
JamesSuckling.com Nick Stock, Contributing Editor
Monday, November 13, 2017
I was back in New Zealand for another big tasting recently and am very proud to be publishing close to 500 notes in this landmark tasting report at JamesSuckling.com. The depth and quality of the wines tasted, shared across regions from north to south, has left me with a strong feeling that New Zealand has hit a stage that I will describe as classic refinement.
The determined psyche that is at the heart of New Zealand’s success in so many areas (rugby, sailing, wine to name a few) underpins a powerful balance of self-belief, humility and a robust ‘get it done’ mentality. And tasting the nation’s best producers it is clear that there’s a willingness to trust the land, the terroir, to work hard in the vineyard and winery and to craft wine of authentic character with a strong connection to place.
Pinot noir is the golden ticket and there is considerable depth among the best producers of pinot noir in terms of quality and consistency. Hands down, this is the best category for New Zealand wine. And Marlborough sauvignon blanc producers should all be sending chocolate snap flowers to the top rung of pinot makers as they have shifted some focus away from sauvignon so it is free to get down and dirty in the supermarkets without too much attention – for now.
Chardonnay is the other big news story and New Zealand’s smooth refinement of chardonnay styles towards greater finesse, more vineyard and less winery influence and an understanding of ripeness and lower alcohol balance makes for enlightening tasting. The best chardonnays here are richly flavored and full of energy.
The best makers of sauvignon are easy to separate from the cynically farmed, over-cropped and sugary dross that defines the worst of a big bunch. Dog Point are again at the forefront of the finest and most interesting sauvignon made in New Zealand. And you’d have to say that James Healy and Ivan Sutherland were there to see it all kick off at Cloudy Bay and they never lost sight of what made it work so well at Dog Point, their winery after Cloudy Bay. Quality people making quality wine.
The prism of riesling is always a fascinating one through which to view New Zealand terroir and the best wines from Marlborough, Waipara and Central Otago are among the most exciting wines being made outside of Germany and Austria. They excel on stony soils and schist, they garner extraordinary depth of flavor and they ring with clarity and power.
Syrah is a quiet force to be reckoned with, primarily the wines of Hawke’s Bay where things bend in a medium-weight direction and are bathed in fragrance, spice and pepper. Outside of the Northern Rhône, and perhaps Chile, it is hard to think of a place that delivers syrah with this much allure. The wines are immensely expressive when young, the test still to face is that of the cellar, but then very few bottles will get the chance.
And then there’s the reds made from the Bordeaux varieties, in particular those that lead with merlot, these are stunning wines. I’d wager there’s no better home for merlot outside of Bordeaux or Tuscany. These wines radiate depth, flavor and freshness in a way rarely seen. These are among the most refined New Zealand wines on offer.
Vintage highlights are many across what is actually a very diverse set of regions. The showing of strength from Hawke’s Bay is bolstered by a pair of strong vintages in 2014 and 2015. Ditto for Martinborough where 2015 produced low yields of pinot noir with plenty of concentration and richness and 2016 delivered wines that are full of detail and definition. Central Otago pinot noirs are strong in 2015 and 2016, the latter delivering striking power and freshness. Waipara/North Canterbury followed a similar patter to Central, the quality of 2016 is an emerging highlight with solid 2015 wines in the market.
Our tasting at JamesSuckling.com was a very convincing offering, and New Zealand’s quality wine sector is going to be a very exciting one to watch in the next five years. We will be there to cover it.
Two Paddocks The Fusilier Pinot Noir 2015 – 94pts
This has performed very well in 2015 with red cherries, boysenberries and blueberries amid a swathe of sappy forest and bracken notes. Subtle toasty oak here too. The palate is full and fleshy, packed with rich red and dark cherry and cocoa powder flavors. Tannins clasp the finish neatly with nicely judged structure and grip. Drink now. Screw cap
Two Paddocks Pinot Noir 2015 – 94pts
This has a deep and darker fruited feel to it with dark cherries, blueberries and plenty of toasted spices. The palate has impressive weight and presence. Tannins are cast in thicker lines and there's a strident acid profile that really drives things along. An impressive wine that could use a little time to bed in. Try from 2020. Screw cap.
Two Paddocks The First Paddock 2015 – 93pts
Plenty of structural emphasis here. This has an array of baking spices and wild herbs with wild cherry and red currant fruit aromas. The palate is firm and forthright with punchy acid drive as well as a web of bold tannins and vibrant red cherry fruit flavors. Finishes fresh and assertive. Needs a year or two. Screw cap.
Two Paddocks Pinot Noir 2016 – 92pts
A blend of the Bannockburn, Earnscleugh and Gibbston vineyards. This leads with ripe sweet cherry-berry fruit aromas ahead of a spicy and meaty background. Plenty of youthful appeal. The palate is succulent and packed with vibrant flesh, attractive red cherry fruit and plenty of lithe, juicy tannins. Drink now. Screw cap.
Two Paddocks Riesling Picnic 2016 – 90pts
A slightly waxy and spicy nose with a core fresh apple, pear and lime flavors. A slight barley-like finish. Drink now. Screw cap.
Two Paddocks Pinot Noir Picnic – 90pts
This early release pinot noir has a reductive meaty thread ahead of some spicy blue and dark berry fruit aromas and flavors. Chewy, untamed tannins and a sense of knockabout appeal. Drink now. Screw cap.
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