Fourty minutes drive north of Christchurch central and you’re in Waipara, which is (after an incredibly generous spring) an absolutely stunning looking, heaving mass of lush, green grapevines. Until relocating to Canterbury back in January, I’m embarrassed to say that I’d only ever visited the region once; even then it was a whistle-stop, one-day jaunt to Mount Beautiful vineyard way north in Cheviot Hills years ago. I had no idea of the scale of vineyard area or the sophistication of the cellar doors. I knew Waipara produced some pretty snazzy aromatics and one or two delicious pinots but that was about it.
So when the invitation arrived to attend a one-day regional tasting I couldn’t get my skates on fast enough. After filling my boots with all sorts of nibbly treats from one of Waipara Springs lunch platters it was time to get to work. Out in the barrel hall, 64 of Waipara’s finest wines had been bagged and numbered ready for me to taste blind. I like tasting wines this way because I love the big reveal at the end, and my jaw hit the floor when I saw the huge range of styles being produced. Sparklings, Sauvignon Blanc, a smorgasbord of rieslings, pinot gris, gewürztraminers, blended whites, chardonnay, pinot noir and even syrah – it was all here.
As far as sparkling wines go, the Sherwood Estate 2008 Laverique ($30) is now a new favourite. A 50/50 blend of chardonnay and pinot noir, its lean, lemony aromas and elegant, minerally mouthfeel made it lovely to drink. Rich, toasty and fresh, it has personality, poise and fantastic length of flavour. www.sherwood.co.nz. I have to be honest and say that the sauvignon blancs on offer didn’t spin my wheels as much as I’d hoped they would, however the last one in the line-up was absolutely sensational.
It was the Bellbird Spring ‘Block Eight’ Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($31) which was beautifully aromatic, showing soft, finely tuned oak influence, elderflower, white peach and lemony characters. It’s a stunning exercise in restraint with all the flavours and textures working in harmony, finishing with complex minerality and excellent persistence of flavour. www.bellbirdspring.co.nz Rieslings were next and my tastebuds went into overload because the flavours were so intense. My favourites were easily the Terrace Edge 2010 ($19 4.5 stars), Muddy Water Dry Riesling 2010 ($28 4 stars), Pegasus Bay Bel Canto 2010 ($32 4 stars), Mount Beautiful 2009 ($22 4 stars), Waipara Springs 2010 ($19 4 stars), Pegasus Bay 2009 ($28 5 stars) the Greystone Feather Star 2011 ($26 4 stars) and The Crater Rim 2010 ($22 4 stars)
The Waipara Hills Equinox Pinot Gris 2011 ($27) had classic fresh-cut pear and quince aromas and an incredibly concentrated burst of white peach and spicy pear flavours in the mouth. It’s a great example and dangerously drinkable. I also found the Greystone 2011 Pinot Gris ($30 4 stars) with its splash of sweetness really hard to put down, and the Mudhouse Home Block 2011 Pinot Gris ($24 4 stars) with its hints of apple and walnut and layers of texture really delicious. The chardonnays had definite potential, but the Black Estate 2010 Omihi Series Chardonnay ($31) was exponentially ahead of the competition. I loved the way it smelled like fresh peach and pineapple spread on a buttered crumpet. In the mouth it is vibrant, concentrated and creamy, with silky length of flavour and I can’t wait to see how well it does in the cellar. www.blackestate.co.nz While very young, the 2010 Pinot Noirs are already showing potential and the Fancrest Estate 2010 Di’s Pinot ($42) is deeply coloured and perfumed with black tea, and savoury, earthy notes which carry through to the palate. The tannins have definite grip, and the fruit is ripe and robust enough to indicate great potential in the cellar. But the 2009 Pinots were eye-poppingly good but if you were going by colour, you’d probably pass 90% of these pinots by. They’re pale ruby, like the colour of kids cough medicine or cranberry juice, yet the flavours are absolutely immense. All eleven examples were delicious and I could hardly stop smiling through the whole section.
I loved the Mount Beautiful 2009 Pinot Noir ($29) with its aromas of black tea, rosemary, cherry and earthy leaf-litter. Lush, silky and fresh in the mouth, it is absolutely stunning stuff. Other highlights were the Pegasus Bay 2009 ‘Prima Donna’ Pinot Noir ($84 5 stars), the Pegasus Bay 2009 Pinot Noir ($47 5 stars), Black Estate’s 2009 Pinot Noir ($45 5 stars), Pruner’s Reward 2009 Pinot Noir ($25 4.5 stars) and the Sherwood Estate Pinot Noir ($28 4.5 stars)
Sherwood Estate’s 2009 Syrah ($28) was the lucky last wine in the line and I loved its classic blackcurrant, pepper and violet aromas, concentrated fruit sweetness and layers of spice and texture. Syrah from the south island really excites me – Nelson has lovely examples from Waimea, Golden Hills and Te Mania. I’m a huge fan of Fromm’s Marlborough Syrah’s and Spy Valley, Mount Riley and Staete Landt are doing great things too. Plus you only have to taste the Aurora Syrah’s from central Otago to see that it’s a style that can really work in our cooler climes.
The team at Trinity Hill can now legally claim to be official Syrah Stars. Each year I wonder if they can possibly make their syrah any better than the previous one – but they do. Now I’m wondering if they’ll ever step aside and give someone else a turn because quite frankly, all this excellence is getting out of hand.
Sexy inky purple colour and aromas of roast beef, rosemary, ripe plum and cuddly cocoa notes. Boasting youthful acidity, beautiful structure, elegance in the mid palate and the tannins are chewy but stylishly knitted together. It’s a ‘drink now’ wine representing superb value for money.
Perfumed with intense dark berryfruit, plum, dried thyme and violet notes while in the mouth it bursts with fresh, juicy, ripe fruit, hints of smoke and cocoa and deliciously savoury spices. Complex and concentrated, it has muscular elegance and silky, warming length of flavour. One of those wines that you won’t forget in a hurry.
It only took two or three sips for me to declare to my husband that when I die he’d better bury me with a bottle of this wine in my coffin – or there’ll be trouble. The Homage is only made when the fruit is exceptional and the 2009 is nothing short of perfection. A drop of viognier (2%) adds lift to the aromas of cherry, blackberry and Christmas pudding spices. In the mouth it has depth, grace and poise, with peppery warmth, plump, plush tannins and a concentrated, multi-layered, smoky finish.