Calgary Wine Life: Greywacke Tasting with Kevin Judd

7 10 2014

Kevin Judd is a New Zealand visionary, a trailblazer who has left a permanent imprint on the nation’s young wine culture.  As the founding winemaker of Cloudy Bay, now the near-ubiquitous signpost for the sharp, tangy, herbal style of Sauvignon Blanc that is instantly recognizable in the glass, Judd pioneered a flavour profile for New Zealand’s signature grape that put the country on the world wine map.  He helmed the ship at Cloudy Bay for 25 years, taking it from an unknown producer in an anonymous wine nation to a whirlwind New World phenomenon, the crown jewel of a Sauvignon Blanc revolution that saw millions of bottles fly off the shelves.

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After Cloudy Bay was sold to luxury brand behemoth LVMH (whose wine portfolio includes such luminaries as Krug, Dom Perignon, Chateau d’Yquem and Cheval Blanc, upper-crusters all), Judd finally realized a lifelong dream of starting his own label and making wines in a manner that best suited his palate:  riper batches of fruit, slightly softer acid, yet retaining all of the structure and complexity that a cooler climate can provide.  He called the new venture Greywacke, a name he had quietly reserved 15 years earlier while waiting for his opportunity:  the word (pronounced “grey-wacky”) refers to the grey sandstone rocks that are commonly strewn across New Zealand’s vineyards.

Fruit for the Greywacke lineup is sourced from a series of high-quality vineyards in Marlborough, tended by growers with whom Judd has strong, long-term relationships, including some estate fruit from another excellent New Zealand producer, Dog Point.  The owners of Dog Point were co-venturers with Judd in Cloudy Bay, and their professional ties continue to this day, as Judd also makes the Greywacke wines at the Dog Point winery.  Everything in the Greywacke portfolio has a powerful sense of identity, a unique character that separates them from the rest of the country’s wines.  They are also set apart by their label photography, a collection of stunning vineyard pictures taken by Judd himself, who may be New Zealand’s most renowned wine photographer in addition to being a Sauvignon Blanc soothsayer.

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I have adored Greywacke’s wines for years, so it was with great anticipation that I attended a small tasting this week with Kevin Judd and his wife Kimberley, where I was fortunate enough to try six different wines, including a collection of five whites which emphatically confirmed that zingy Sauvignon Blanc isn’t the only thing in New Zealand’s wine arsenal.  Without further ado, the lineup, in the order we tasted it:

2013 Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc

We started with the classic, the meal ticket, Sauvignon Blanc, which stood out from its New Zealand brethren by virtue of its slightly rounder mouthfeel and the torrent of complexity with which it assaulted the senses.  Canteloupe and pink grapefruit were swept up and mixed with a chalky minerality and an electric sweet greenness that took NZSB’s standard cut-grass herbaceousness and made it richer, smoother, more velvety, all sweet pea and wheatgrass and even tennis balls.  Despite the lavish feel of the wine, it finished clean as water, sliced away by perfect laser beam acidity and leaving behind exotic traces of currant and slate.  My notes finish with a double-underlined word:  character.  This wine speaks.

90-91+ points

2011 Greywacke Wild Sauvignon

FullSizeRender_3Here’s why wine is cool.  Greywacke actually releases two versions of its Sauvignon Blanc:  the standard Sauvignon, which is primarily stainless steel fermented using commercial yeasts, and this Wild Sauvignon, which starts with basically the same juice but ends up in a wholly different place.  Instead of starting the normal fermentation process, Judd puts the Wild Sauvignon juice in (mostly old) oak barrels and leaves it to its own devices.  The ambient yeasts in the winery eventually kick-start a natural fermentation, which quickly accelerates and then gradually slows over a period of several weeks, then goes completely dormant over the course of winter, only to restart and complete the next spring.  The whole process lasts over six months, and the wine is then transferred out of barrel and allowed to sit on its lees (the dead yeast cells left over after fermentation) for another five months.  The result is a whole new Sauvignon, lavish and rich in texture and absolutely exploding with unique flavours.

There’s no real proper way to describe what this wine smells or tastes like:  you could just keep going back to the glass and coming up with new descriptions.  The first prominent smell I got was a crystal clear aroma of black currant Wine Gums…what’s the last white you said THAT about?  That sweet tanginess mixed with linament/chemical notes, smoke and live-wire tropical fruit, mango and guava, honeydew melon and banana.  Throw in some black shoe polish, that rubbery smell you get when inflating balloons and vanilla yogourt, combine with a healthy dose of chalky acidity and a finish that lasts as long as the fermentation, and you get something close to what we experienced.  This is one of the best wines I’ve had all year.  I could drink it every day.  It is apparently generally available across Calgary, and it should be in the neighbourhood of $35.  Find some if you can.

93-94 points

2011 Greywacke Chardonnay

The Wild Sauvignon led into another white that was nearly as impressive.  The Greywacke Chardonnay was a gorgeous mix of richness and vibrancy, coming across taut yet welcoming and easily handling its 14.5% alcohol — I would have guessed it was close to a full degree lower.  Despite 18 months aging in French oak barriques (20% new), there was only the slightest hint of gold in its pure lemon colour.  The oak treatment elevated the more delicate pear and lime fruit flavours, infusing them with smoke/resin, anise, buttered popcorn and diesel, as well as a flinty note that Judd referred to as “struck match”.  Again, the mineral-tinged acidity was a hallmark of the wine and kept the Chardonnay deft and light on its feet, guiding it effortlessly to a lemon drop finish.  This was another wild yeast-fermented wine, and it managed to hit all the high points of oaked Chardonnay while maintaining its own separate personality.  Just stellar.

91-92+ points

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2012 Greywacke Pinot Gris

I asked Kevin Judd which of his wines other than his Sauvignon Blanc has been showing the most commercial promise.  Fans of Okanagan Valley whites may not be surprised to discover that his answer was this Pinot Gris, a white that has been hugely successful domestically and starting to grab an audience abroad as well.  This is the kind of bottle that you could down a whole bottle of before realizing what you had done, an utterly pleasing, laid back, almost plump white with a light touch of sweetness (10 g/L), soft acid (in distinct contrast to the other wines in the lineup) and lush ripeness.  Honeyed and musky, but not mushroomy like some Old World Pinot Gris, it paired bright stone fruit flavours of peach and nectarine with a touch of nuttiness and baking spice.  It didn’t stick in my memory as much as the others, but it’s a bottle you would dare somebody, anybody, to dislike.

88-89 points

2011 Greywacke Riesling

Just like the Chardonnay and Pinot Gris before it, the Greywacke Riesling was made without the addition of sulphur after pressing.  Without this antioxidant protection, the juice actually starts to go brown ahead of fermentation, but it somehow emerges a shimmering pale green-tinged lemon colour on the other side.  At 12.0% abv, this was the lowest alcohol wine in the tasting by a wide margin, but Judd kept 20 g/L of residual sugar in the wine to add depth and balance.  This was surprisingly muted for a Riesling, with a delicate nose already showcasing the grape’s hallmark petrol/kerosene aromas overlaid over Granny Smith apple and white flowers.  The palate was highlighted by vivid, piercing acid, expertly softened by the wine’s subtle lingering sweetness.

87-88+ points

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2012 Greywacke Pinot Noir

The tasting finished off with the lone red of the event, the Greywacke Marlborough Pinot Noir, which seemed to straddle the New World and Old World expressions of the grape.  Instead of tasting notes, I found myself writing personality traits as I explored the wine, words like “soft” and “thoughtful” and “romantic”.  (You need a date wine, guys?  This is it.)  It’s somehow expressive and restrained all at once, delicate but rich, open but mysterious.  The best wines trade in contradictions, and this one does it in spades.  A bright, translucent purple hue, the Pinot Noir sang with all of the main characteristics of the varietal:  cherries and strawberries, violets, potpourri, dark chocolate, menthol, with a touch of foresty earthiness lingering on the edges.  A serious wine that confirms New Zealand will be a major Pinot player in the decades to come.

90-91 points

All in all, this was one of the most consistently impressive tastings I have attended in a long time, with each of the wines showcasing their individuality and highlighting their varietal but all of them vibrating on the same frequency, expressing the same idea in different forms.  Stay on the lookout for any of these bottles; you will not be disappointed.

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