4 First-Rate Wines from New Zealand’s Marlborough Region
New Zealand is home to some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes: rugged mountain ranges, lush rainforests, and tranquil coastlines. New Zealand’s unique terroir also yields crisp, vibrant, lively wines reflecting the very essence of this island country.
Last year’s grape harvest not only markedly bountiful (34 percent above usual yields) but grapes were of exceptionally high quality. Small estate wineries like Catalina Sounds, Crowded House, and Nanny Goat were direct beneficiaries of this good fortune and took advantage of exceptional fruit to craft superb wines, which haven’t yet reached the U.S. market. In the meantime, though, these earlier vintages reflect the quality they’re capable of:
Crowded House Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($13)
The winery’s name is a reference to New Zealand's crowded yet unique Marlborough wine growing region as well as to Crowded House Winery's mission to stand out in a crowded world of wine. Winemaker Peter Jackson's philosophy is to keep it simple, sourcing top-quality grapes from local vineyards. "I believe the most critical decision a winemaker makes is deciding when to pick,” he says. “Once harvested, my role is to simply steer the fruit in the right direction in order to best express the vibrant fruit flavors that Marlborough is renowned for while respecting subtle differences as well."
Sourced from vineyards in the Wairau Valley and Southern Valley sub-regions, the grapes yielded wine with bright and focused aromas of guava, citrus, black currant, and sweet crushed herbs, with a solid minerality that keeps the fruitiness at bay. A soft acidity with tart citrus lingers on the palate, with well-balanced astringency carrying the fruit flavors to a long, pure finish. This would be equally enjoyable paired with seafood or on its own.
Catalina Sounds Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($16)
Inspired by and named after the majestic Catalina flying boats that played a vital role across the South Pacific during and after World War II, Catalina Sounds Winery pays tribute to the majestic grace of the aircraft as it once flew over Marlborough Sounds by showcasing the purity and vibrancy with which that the region's climate and landscape are naturally blessed.
Drought conditions before the harvest produced low yields but excellent flavor concentration. Sourced predominantly from the winery’s Sound of White vineyard in Marlborough’s Waihopai Valley, this vintage showcases a restrained yet powerful aromatic mix of herbal notes complemented by a well-balanced minerality giving structure to the fruit. Tart apple and sweet fruit meet their match in this palate pleaser that's astringent on the finish. It makes a notable golden flourish in the glass while swirling.
Catalina Sounds Pinot Noir 2015 ($18)
This pinot noir comes blends 55 percent from the Sound of White vineyard, with the remainder from Omaka Valley's Clayridge Vineyard. Fruit for this one is hand-harvested and destemmed into open fermenters. “Hot barrel ferments” are then drained into new French oak barriques producing an essence of savory char.
"Our growing season was dry, warm, and long, without excessive heat making it ideal for elegant flavor development while retaining natural acidity," says winemaker Jackson. "Once harvested, the parcels were gently handled and really left to themselves to express each vineyard site as clearly and as naturally as possible. Ten months of oak aging afforded the wine time to soften and integrate prior to blending and bottling."
You get a classic pinot balance of oaky stone fruit on the nose. Its deep garnet red has an enticing mix of red and dark berry fruits rising to the forefront with gentle dried herb notes in the background, soft lingering tannins, and a rich well defined bramble berry with mild spiciness and a slightly salty touch evoking Marlborough Sounds’ surf and breezes.
Nanny Goat Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014 ($21)
The mission of Nanny Goat Vineyard, named after the nimble and sure-footed wild goats that roam the mountainous terrain of Central Otago, reflects its determination to adapt and thrive in the rugged terrain and extreme climates that shape the vineyards' terroir.
Winemaker Alan Peters-Oswald sources grapes from New Zealand's Central Otago region, giving this lightly oaked pPinot a deep ruby color with a youthful purple hue on the rim. Numerous small parcels of fruit were hand-harvested and then fermented using indigenous yeast, with the cap plunged three times daily at its peak, ensuring gentle extraction of color and tannin. Twenty percent of the 10-month oak maturation takes place in new French oak barriques with the remainder in one-to-five-year-old barrels.
There are suggestions of bramble and spice in the nose; the wine gradually opens up to reveal more subtle floral notes complemented by mellow tannins with a fruit-forward, smooth-drinking appeal. Rich darker elements of black cherry and plum linger long on the palate.
Photos courtesy of Crowded House, Catalina Sounds, & Nanny Goat Vineyards. Coverage made possible by participating in a sponsored tasting.