Best wines of 2007

I tasted a lot of wines in 2007. Just on 4000 if my calculations are correct, although I only made detailed tasting notes for around half that number. I generally focus on a single wine type each issue. If the theme is Sauvignon Blanc I send out a request for samples to winemakers and importers. Tastings can be large. In the case of Sauvignon Blanc it was 193 wines. But throughout the year I wrote tasting notes for a total of 272 examples of Sauvignon Blanc.

This annual roundup is based on all the wines tasted in 2007. In the case of Sauvignon Blanc that was 272 rather than the smaller number tasted for the feature on that variety. It’s a relatively easy matter for me to find out which wine or wines scored top. It’s also easy to find out which wines came first under any price level. At this stage I haven’t started to explore my records for 2007 but I’m dying to find out which wines came top.

I also plan to make a few predictions for 2008 to give Taste readers a head start on other wine drinkers. You’ll need a head start if you want to buy the best wines which disappear off retail shelves faster than you can say “in that case I’ll have second best”.

Sauvignon Blanc

I’m not sure whether 2007 was Marlborough’s best Sauvignon Blanc vintage yet but it certainly produced the best ever wines thanks in part to vine age and the fact that there are now more labels than ever before.

Top Wines for 2007

  • Astrolabe Awatere 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough $22.95
  • Villa Maria 2007 Clifford Bay, Marlborough $24
  • Saint Clair 2007 Pioneer Block Oh! Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough $26.95

Top Wines under $20

  • Blackenbrook Vineyard 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Nelson$19.90
  • Kaituna Valley 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough $18.95
  • Framingham 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough $19.90

Tip for 2008

When the 2008 wines hit the market around August/September buy the heavily discounted 2007 wines that are being cleared to make space.

Riesling

New Zealand’s best value wine style is getting even better with a growing number of low alcohol sweeter styles the best of which compare favourably with good German Riesling. Framingham Select (tastings) is an excellent example.

Top Wines for 2007

  • Mt Difficulty 2007 Target Gully Riesling, Central Otago $25
  • Neudorf 2006 Moutere Riesling, Nelson $28
  • Framingham 2006 Select Riesling, Marlborough $24.90

Top Wines under $20

  • Vavasour 2003 Riesling, Marlborough $18
  • Palliser 2006 Riesling, Martinborough $18
  • Montana 2006 Reserve Riesling, Waipara $19.95

Tip for 2008

If you want to avoid an increasing number of sweeter Riesling styles check the alcohol level. If it’s below 12% there’s a good chance the wine will be at least moderately sweet.

Pinot Gris

The quantity of Pinot Gris produced in this country has doubled last year and the year before. It’s now this country’s fastest growing wine style with a bewildering number of labels to choose from. Pinot Gris comes in all shapes, sizes and sweetness levels – it pays to read the back label or seek advice if you want to try a new label, or even a new vintage from a trusted label.

Top Wines for 2007

  • Kaituna Valley 2006 Pinot Gris, Marlborough $24
  • Rimu Grove 2007 Pinot Gris, Nelson $28
  • Ata Rangi 2007 Lismore Pinot Gris, Martinborough $28
  • Neudorf 2006 Upper Moutere Pinot Gris, Nelson $29

Top Wines under $20

  • Morton Estate 2006 Pinot Gris, Hawke’s Bay $18.95
  • Villa Maria 2007 Private Bin Pinot Gris, East Coast $16.95

Tip for 2008

If you like delicately flavoured and truly dry Pinot Gris then you’ll probably enjoy Italian Pinot Grigio (same grape variety). You can buy a good example for less than most local wines.

Gewürztraminer

Gewürztraminer is so chock-full of exotic tropical fruit and floral flavours that some people love it while others find it a little over-the-top. Every New Zealand wine region is capable of producing a top Gewürztraminer although styles vary from lush and very fruity in the northern regions to sleeker and more delicately flavoured in the south.

Top Wines for 2007

  • Lawson’s Dry Hills 2006 Gewürztraminer, Marlborough $21.95
  • Mahi 2006 Twin Valleys Vineyard, Marlborough $23
  • Stonecroft 2007 Old Vine Gewürztraminer, Hawke’s Bay $40
  • Framingham 2006 Gewürztraminer, Marlborough $25.95

Top Wines under $20

  • Spy Valley 2007 Gewürztraminer, Marlborough $19.95
  • Villa Maria 2007 Cellar Selection, Marlborough $17.49

Tip for 2008

If you want a great Gewürztraminer at a good price you can trust Lawson’s Dry Hills (tastings) in any vintage. Each vintage is released in December of the same year so make a note in your diary.

Chardonnay

Chardonnay falls into two broad styles; big and buttery, and sleek and citrusy so I’ve offered a couple of examples of each. If you like Chardonnay and have, like many, defected to Pinot Gris, it might be worth revisiting your old flame – it’s better than ever after a couple of pretty good vintages (2005 and 2006).

Top Wines for 2007

Big & Buttery

  • Escarpment 2006 Chardonnay, Martinborough $30
  • Cloudy Bay 2005 Chardonnay, Martinborough $35.95

Sleek & Citrusy

  • Saint Clair 2006 Pioneer Block 4 Sawcut Chardonnay, Marlborough $24.95
  • Villa Maria 2006 Reserve Taylors Vineyard Chardonnay, Marlborough $36.99

Top Wines Under $20

  • Corbans 2005 Private Bin Chardonnay, Hawke’s Bay $19.95
  • Hunter’s 2006 Chardonnay, Marlborough $19.95

Tip for 2008

Many people like unoaked Chardonnay, a style that seems to be disappearing faster than the Kakapo. Winemakers are tending to drop the words “unoaked” from their labels despite the fact that they’re continuing to drop oak from the winemaking recipe. Most unoaked wines are priced below $20 but you’ll have to read the back label to ensure you don’t get the subtle taste of wood.

Sweet wines

The best are made with the help of fickle vineyard mould called botrytis (or “noble rot”). They are necessarily expensive because shrivelled grapes yield only a small amount of juice and because the development of botrytis involves considerable risk. The wines below are all in 375ml bottles.

Top Wines for 2007

  • Villa Maria 2006 Reserve Noble Riesling, Marlborough $40
  • Framingham 2006 Noble Selection, Marlborough $29.90
  • Jackson Estate 2006 Botrytis Riesling, Marlborough $30
  • Wither Hills 2006 Noble Riesling, Marlborough $45

Top Wines under $20

There aren’t any

Tip for 2008

With a few exceptions New Zealand sweet wines don’t seem to improve with bottle age. When they’re first released most are about as good as they’ll ever be. Drink them young.

Sparkling Wines

Price is not always a reliable guide to quality but in sparkling wine it certainly comes close. Champagne is more expensive and consistently superior to sparkling wines made outside France’s Champagne region. It costs a lot to make high quality sparkling wine. Cut the production budget and quality goes down.

Top Wines for 2007

  • Cloudy Bay 2002 Pelorus, Marlborough $42
  • Deutz 2002 Blanc de Blancs, Marlborough $38.95
  • Highfield 2003 Brut $35
  • Nautilus Brut $40

Top Wines under $20

  • Lindauer Brut Cuvee $14.95
  • Lindauer Special Reserve Blanc de Blancs $19.95
  • Freixenet, Spain $14.95
  • Grandin Brut, France $19.95

Tip for 2008

Non-vintage sparkling wine is normally best enjoyed within a year or so of release. Vintage dated wines can develop greater quality with bottle age. Store bottles upright – the gas in the wine helps the cork to retain extra elasticity.

Rosé

Anyone who has visited the south of France during the summer months will have discovered the delights of Rosé, a wine capable of offering the freshness of a white wine and the richness and flavour intensity of a red. New Zealand Rosé from the South Island and Martinborough/Wairarapa is typically light, supple and often off-dry wine made from Pinot Noir while more northerly examples tend to be richer, beefier wines.

Top Wines for 2007

  • Clearview 2006 Black Reef Blush, Hawke’s Bay $17
  • Esk Valley 2006 Merlot Malbec Rosé , Hawke’s Bay $17.95
  • Cable Bay 2006 Waiheke Island Rosé $19
  • Mt Rosa 2006 Gamay Rosé, Central Otago $22

Tip for 2008

Rosé should be enjoyed within 18 months of release while the flavours are at their fresh and fruitiest best. Most are released in August-October after vintage.

Pinot Noir

New Zealand’s glamour red grape variety is attracting international attention. Great Pinot Noir may be found in every South Island wine region and in Martinborough/Wairarapa although the regional styles vary. Pinot Noir is the most versatile red wine as far as food is concerned and also suits a wider range of tastes than most reds. The only downside is the price. Good Pinot Noir can be fairly expensive.

Top Wines for 2007

  • Neudorf 2005 Home Vineyard Pinot Noir, Nelson $79
  • Mt Difficulty 2005 Long Gully Pinot Noir, Central Otago $80
  • Muddy Water 2005 La Collina Pinot Noir, Waipara $50
  • Dog Point 2005 Pinot Noir, Marlborough $38

Top Wines under $30

  • Te Mania 2005 Reserve Pinot Noir, Nelson $29.95
  • Tohu 2004 Rore Reserve $29
  • Te Kairanga 2005 Runholder Pinot Noir $29
  • Shepherds Ridge 2006 Pinot Noir $19.95

Tip for 2008

Vintage conditions make a difference, for example in 2005 I rated the Martinborough Pinot Noir vintage six out of ten while Nelson scored the maximum ten points. The price of Pinot Noir doesn’t vary much from year to year although the quality can. Buy in good vintages, boycott the bad.

New Zealand reds other than Pinot Noir

North Island, principally Hawke’s Bay is the source of our best reds other than Pinot Noir. Syrah produced a string of winners from the excellent 2005 vintage as did Merlot and the blended reds based on Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. Since 1991 Hawke’s Bay’s even vintages have been very good while the odd years produced less successful wines – until 2005, a great vintage that broke the spell.

Top Wines for 2007

  • Craggy Range 2005 Le Sol Syrah $80
  • Puriri Hills 2005 Reserve, Clevedon $55
  • Craggy Range 2005 Sophia, Hawke’s Bay $49.95
  • Blake Family Vineyard 2004 Red Gravels, Hawke’s Bay $80

Top Wines under $25

  • Wild Rock 2005 Gimblett Gravels Merlot, Hawke’s Bay $17.95
  • Mission 2005 Reserve Syrah, Hawke’s Bay $23
  • Mills Reef 2005 Reserve Merlot Malbec, Hawke’s Bay $22.95
  • Esk Valley 2005 Black Label Merlot, Hawke’s Bay $24

Tip for 2008

Slosh the wine in a decanter for at least 30 minutes before serving and don’t serve them too cold (never below 18oC).

Aussie Reds

When Australia started to develop a wine lake two to three years ago price wars created quite a few bargains. Since then drought and frost have dramatically cut the country’s wine production and heavily discounted wines are a thing of the past. Aussie reds still offer some good bargains, especially in the under $20 category where my sense of patriotism weakens.

Top Wines for 2007

  • Cullen 2004 Diana Madeline Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot $91
  • Mount Langi Ghiran 2003 Langi Shiraz $50
  • Brown Brothers 2004 Patricia Merlot $50
  • Leeuwin Estate 2002 Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon $63

Top Wines under $20

  • Jacobs Creek 2003 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon $18.95
  • Brown Brothers 2004 Heathcote Shiraz $16.99
  • Barossa Vines {Grant Burge} 2004 Shiraz $19
  • Wyndham Estate Bin 555 Shiraz $16.95

Tip for 2008

If you enjoy super-smooth, full-flavoured Aussie reds look for blends of Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre (often shortened to “GSM”). They’re a whole new breed of silken-textured Australian reds that offer plenty of flavour without mouth-puckering astringency.

Italian Wine

Italian wines offer a welcome change from an Australasian wine diet as long as you expect the whites to be less fruity and the reds to be drier and more austere. Italian wines are made to go with food. At my Italian wine classes I always serve an antipasto platter of meats and cheeses. The wines taste significantly better. So do the meats and cheeses.

Top Wines for 2007

  • Rocca delle Macie 2000 Ser Gioveto $58.95 (a rich and powerful red)
  • Frescobaldi 2003 Nipozzano Reserva Chainti Rufina $37.95 (Very serious Chainti)
  • La Massa 2005 $41.99 (a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet and Merlot)
  • Frescobaldi 2003 Benefizio Chardonnay $59.95 (a great Italian white)

Top Wines under $20

  • Menhir 2004 Quota 29 Primitivo $19.90 (soft, medium-bodied red)
  • Valle Reale 2004 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo $19.90 (big, fruity red)
  • Villa Vescovile 2005 Farneto Valley Sangiovese $14.95 (smooth, full-flavoured red)

Tip for 2008

When you’re next in the mood for a sweet white wine try an Italian Muscato d’Asti. These low alcohol (usually around 5.5%) white wines are absolutely delicious. Serve well chilled with most sweet dessert dishes. A fantastic match with white chocolate.


First published in Taste Magazine NZ – Jan 2008.

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