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. Read the rest of this entry »

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Saint Clair Family Estate – Marlborough Battle

11 08 2016

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

FullSizeRender-392When you’re in a brand new wine shop or liquor store looking at a string of unfamiliar sub-$20 labels and hoping not to take a step too far wrong, the word “Marlborough” should be a huge source of relief to you.  It is the name of New Zealand’s most famous wine region, and more than maybe any other star region on Earth whose bottles you can still grab without a price cringe, it offers a very high quality floor, a strong baseline that offers confidence that even the lower-end offerings on the shelf will be somewhat well-put-together.  Marlborough, located on the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island, is most renowned as the birthplace of Sauvignon Blanc’s most distinctive New World expression, that zingy, grassy, refreshingly searing style that almost anybody under 30 now associates with the grape.  Producers there have locked down on that mythical combination of quality, quantity and value that make Marlborough the safest, if at times one of the more redundant, “I’ve-never-had-this-bottle-before” picks out there.

A relatively new region on the global scale, Marlborough has been on the world’s radar since the mid-1980s, but the owners of Saint Clair Family Estate have been at the wine game longer than that.  Neal and Judy Ibbotson have been grape-growers on their estate since 1978, but previously sold off their crops to other wineries and didn’t decide to start making wine themselves until 1994.  They opted for the name “Saint Clair” for their winery because their vineyard property was initially settled by a James Sinclair back in the day; the added words “Family Estate” are not just lip service, as all three of their children are currently involved in various aspects of the business, with one of them even designing the wines’ labels.

This is an intriguing tasting, pitting Marlborough’s bread and butter Sauvignon Blanc against another white grape that’s starting to gain acclaim in the area, Chardonnay.  Enough acclaim to unseat the viticultural ruler of the region?  Let’s find out. Read the rest of this entry »





NZSB Playoff Challenge

4 05 2016

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

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Two enter, one leaves. Well, actually zero leave; there were no leftovers.

I need very little reason to open and taste two bottles side by side, especially when their comparison can tell me even more about them and where they’re from.  Somebody decided that Friday, May 6th would be known as Sauv Blanc Day (or #SauvBlanc Day, to be more accurate, even though it makes no sense to put a space in a hashtag), although this is a fact not without controversy, as others seem to have settled on April 24th for International Sauvignon Blanc celebration.  We can all agree that some time within this two-week window would be a great opportunity to open some Sauv Blanc, and with the playoffs upon us in two of the four major professional sports leagues, my dining table was also primed for a showdown of some sort.  Enter the titans.

These two bottles are excellent references for each other, as both are from the same vintage (2014, a shorter growing season with a wet harvest), the same country (New Zealand), the same region (Marlborough, the kickstarter of the NZ wine industry and of global New Era Sauv Blanc) and the same grape (the aforementioned SB).  Flavour and textural differences thus largely stem from slight climatic and geographic alterations at the vineyard level and minor distinctions in winemaking choices by the producers, as well as whatever cosmic forces make good wines end up just so.  Going in, I have to admit I was leaning toward the 2014 Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc as the likely favourite; this winery, run by former Cloudy Bay winemaker Kevin Judd (who literally put New Zealand on the world wine map with a now-ubiquitous tropical/herbaceous style of Sauv Blanc), now turns out deeply personal, characterful expressions of the grape year after year.  They are no stranger to love from this blog.  But strange things can happen in the playoffs.  Onward. Read the rest of this entry »





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.

Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: Cloudy Bay Winemaker Tasting at Alloy

26 09 2013

If you’re into New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, you’ve heard of Cloudy Bay.  When I bought my first book about wine a few years ago, the first couple pages of the chapter on New Zealand were the story of this winery:  one of very few producers scattered across the Marlborough region of New Zealand in the mid-1980s, when nobody was paying any attention to NZ wine and nobody on the northern half of the globe was buying it, without any vineyards of its own, making Sauvignon Blanc in a style that has since become synonymous with the nation and the grape (crisp, aromatic, intense, herbaceous), exploding onto the international scene, and shining the spotlight of the wine world on this scenic region on the northern tip of the country’s South Island.  This isn’t ancient history:  New Zealand was an afterthought of a wine nation with only a small handful of producers at a point during my lifetime (I’m 33).  Now it has turned into a thriving and exciting contributor to the world of wine that is home to over 700 wineries, and in large part Cloudy Bay is to thank for this surge of success.  One of the main reasons that “New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc” possesses the same instant and tangible sense of identity in the psyche of wine drinkers as “Australian Shiraz” (or “Cali Cab”, or “German Riesling”, or “Argentinian Malbec”) is the work of this trendsetting producer that started small and turned itself into a national icon with a world-renowned style.

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In 2003, Cloudy Bay was purchased by luxury brand supergroup LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy), which was charged with maintaining the legacy of New Zealand’s most famous liquid export.  This responsibility is now in the capable hands of lead winemaker Tim Heath, who has spent the past 9 years at the winery trying to ensure that Cloudy Bay’s historic voice is as strong as ever within its wines while simultaneously helping them evolve and grow.  Heath recently made his inaugural journey to Canada to showcase his latest creations and discuss the impending release of Cloudy Bay’s 2013 Sauvignon Blanc (just put in bottle in August!), which should be out on the shelves in a matter of weeks.  I was fortunate enough to join him and a few others for a stellar lunch at Alloy, my favourite restaurant in town, to talk and taste New Zealand wine. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2010 Villa Maria Marlborough Private Bin Pinot Noir

13 06 2012

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

Marlborough spreads its wings…who needs SB?

This wine is the red corollary to the Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc I reviewed last week, but (through no fault of the SB, which I quite enjoyed) I found myself much more excited to open this bottle because it was uncharted territory for me.  I (and you, and any other casual-or-more wine drinker) have had the famous Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand’s Marlborough region many times before, but I can count the times I’ve had Marlborough wine made from ANY other grape on one hand…actually, one finger.  I was enthralled by The Doctors’ Riesling by Forrest Wines, a producer daring enough to take Marlborough vineyard land guaranteed to sell with SB and plant something else instead, and I’m doubly intrigued to open my very first red from this sacred Sauvignon Blanc area.  The most famous region in New Zealand for Pinot Noir is probably Central Otago, located in the southern half of NZ’s South Island and known for generating Pinots with distinctive, if potentially off-putting, gamey/meaty/Band-aidy aromas; I had no idea if Marlborough would be more of the same or if it would show off its own individual Pinot style.  No better way to find out… Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2011 Villa Maria Marlborough Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc

4 06 2012

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

Cold and young: the best way to enjoy NZ Sauv Blanc.

For my generation of wine drinkers, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is a white wine mainstay, both a defining expression of the Sauvignon Blanc grape and one of the first whites that comes to mind during a trip to the wine store.  However, this level of penetration into the world’s vinous consciousness is a very new phenomenon:  NZSB didn’t attract international attention until the mid-1980s, when the bright, crisp, fruit-packed bottlings from the country’s star Marlborough region first took foreign palates by storm.  New Zealand has seen exponential growth in its wine production in the nearly 30 years since, and most of the Sauv Blancs you see on the shelves now are a product of this modern white revolution, only recently arrived to the SB scene.  But not this one.  In 2011, Villa Maria celebrated its 50th year as a producer, which, in a country that is relatively new to the world wine limelight, makes it a true New Zealand pioneer.  Its Private Bin bottling of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is sourced from grapes grown all over the region and shows that even recent wine history leaves a strong flavour footprint. Read the rest of this entry »