Sacred Hill Marlborough Trio

29 11 2016

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

fullsizerender-488If you follow this blog (thank you!) and enjoy wine reviews (I do too!) but aren’t as into other forms of alcoholic beverages, I would suggest that you cherish this write-up.  Mull over it.  Take your time reading it.  Stop halfway through and come back tomorrow to finish it.  It will have to last you a long time.  This is officially Pop & Pour’s last wine review until after Christmas, as on Thursday I dive headlong into Year 3 of Whisky Advent, with 25 straight days of write-ups about the little bottles sequentially coming out of Kensington Wine Market’s tremendously awesome Whisky Advent Calendar. Pray for me.  Incidentally, Advent in 2017 may look a little bit different for PnP, as my years-long quest to get somebody to make a proper Wine Advent Calendar just might be coming to fruition:

Make it happen, Bricks Wine Company.  I’ll be ready, and I’ll make sure everybody who reads this site is ready too.

Anyway, since this is my last wine write-up for a calendar month I figured I’d make it a multi-bottle one, from an area that is a bit at risk of becoming a victim of its own success:  Marlborough, New Zealand.  Since catapulting onto the scene 30-odd years ago with a distinctive lean, blisteringly aromatic and herbaceous style of Sauvignon Blanc initially popularized by now-mega-label Cloudy Bay, this region on the northern edge of the South Island has become synonymous with this piercing, vegetal, unabashedly flavourful take on the grape.  Producers have rushed to respond to global demand for Marlborough’s established house style for NZSB, to the point where it is now one of the most readily available bottles around, no matter where you are.  This is good in the sense that you know that a solid, consistent bottle of white that will not disappoint is always around the corner.  It’s bad in the sense that a lot of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has become almost mechanical, put together as if by rote to satisfy an expected flavour trope.  The old challenge for NZSB was to become relevant; the new challenge is to regain its individuality and joie de vivre.  Easier said than done at a competitive price point, but certain producers are proving up to the task, like Sacred Hill, to whom I was introduced by the three bottles below.

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Sacred Hill was founded 30 years ago, in 1986, at the start of New Zealand’s wine explosion; however, unlike many similarly timed winery ventures, it was not started at the epicentre of the Sauvignon Blanc earthquake, hailing from Hawkes Bay on the eastern side of NZ’s North Island as opposed to Marlborough.  Hawkes Bay is a warmer region known mainly for red wines, and the two brothers behind the Sacred Hill label grew up there and came by their wine aspirations naturally:  their father was one of the first farmers in the region to take the plunge and start planting grapes as opposed to more common (at the time) agricultural crops.  The business has since expanded and Sacred Hill now has vineyards in both Hawkes Bay and Marlborough, which the brothers (correctly) call the “engine room” of New Zealand’s wine industry.  They have access to half a dozen different vineyards in Marlborough, one of which, the eerily named Hell’s Gate, is their own.  Their Orange Label line of wines, including the three below, are multi-vineyard blends offering up a true sense of the region without any sticker shock.

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Stelvin Ratings: 6.5/10 (Admire the graphics and boldness; colour scheme just a bit weird.)

I was given the opportunity to try three different Marlborough expressions from Sacred Hill, starting fittingly with the grape where it all began:  Sauvignon Blanc.

2014 Sacred Hill Sauvignon Blanc

2014 was a very warm and dry year, unusual in Marlborough, requiring an early harvest to preserve acidity in the grapes.  There was a touch of spritz in the wine as it came out of the bottle, drawing the eye to its pale greenish-lemon colour.  That hue is basically the only thing about the whole wine that seems restrained:  it is ferociously, vividly, could-be-nothing-else NZSB on the nose, attacking with sour lemon, gooseberry, sweet pea (both the flower and the vegetable, weirdly), lime zest and pungent wet grass/seaweed aromas that burrow their way into the sinuses.

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A touch of sweetness leads off the palate, bringing a beat of relief before you are plunged headlong into talcum-powder-laced tropical herbaceousness, with penetrating green lasers of acid (pH: 3.06) driving straight lines into your tastebuds.  The wine is saved from harshness by a surprising textural roundness and that overall sense of life and fun that $19 New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc often lacks and needs to remember to be successful.  There is nothing mechanical about this bottle; really nice work.

90- points

$15 to $20 CDN

2013 Sacred Hill Pinot Gris

Three year-old Marlborough Pinot Gris?  This was new.  Colour me intrigued.  2013 was a near-ideal vintage, where a cool spring led into an early summer and a dry, leisurely fall, resulting in easy ripeness and flavour development.  Immediately obvious was the added depth of colour the Gris brought to the party as compared to the preceding Blanc, a deep lemon trending to gold that filled the glass.  It is equal parts musky and flinty on the nose, part papaya, pear and honeydew, part celery salt, cap guns and smoke, the aromas shifting and adjusting with exposure to air.

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Soft, lush and silky on the tongue despite acidic undercurrents, this is about as friendly and generous as Marlborough gets, an expression of Pinot Gris as far away from Grigio as New Zealand can make it.  That said, it never loses its edge, marrying lively flavours of pineapple, tangerine, vanilla bean and…Vaseline?  Rubber balls?  However described, it is a kind of pleasant griminess that keeps it all grounded and makes you return to the glass to try and figure it out.

87 points

$15 to $20 CDN

2014 Sacred Hill Pinot Noir

New Zealand may be second to Oregon to me in terms of New World homes for Pinot Noir, but Oregon can be hard pressed to generate much inventory at this $22 price point, a cost that does not tend to open many Pinot doors.  Enter Sacred Hill.  The colour of this Orange Label Pinot is, well, Burgundy, a pretty dark, deep ruby that draws the eye, and its aromas are classically Pinot, a swirling mix of strawberries, wildflowers and earth tinged with Otago-esque liniment and incense.

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The flavours are equally on point, herbal and bright, red fruits and crushed flowers through and through, but it is the delicacy and luxuriousness of texture that is the true calling card of this wine.  Pillowy yet precise, this rich, soft mouthfeel is apparently (I later discovered) a Sacred Hill calling card, something they are actively trying to achieve with all their wines.  Looking back at my prior notes in light of that goal, I can see this textural aim playing out in all three bottles, a rarity and true treat at this price level and the main thing that makes these Orange Label wines over-deliver for what you pay.  These wines have an effortless appeal yet remain fully anchored in their birthplace, a combination that is easy to love.  Keep an eye out.

89+ points

$20 to $25 CDN

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