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Some New Zealand Selections

 

 


GREYWACKE
An Australian winery, many years ago now, launched a little winery in New Zealand's Marlborough region called Cloudy Bay.  

They hired a young feller named Kevin Judd to be the winemaker, as he'd graduated from Roseworthy College, worked for Australia's Reynella winery before moving on to New Zealand's Selaks.

Judd worked for 25 harvests at Cloudy Bay so he's seen it all.  He witnessed the blossoming of New Zealand's wine industry, dealt with all sorts of vintage challenges and make some wines which put the country on the world's wine map.

When he started at Cloudy Bay, of course, things were manageable.  It was a small business.  Today it's a 250 hectare winery and even that's not enough to meet the demand, so they buy fruit from numerous growers.

Well, with Cloudy Bay being part of the Veuve Clicquot branch of the Louis Vuitton-Moet-Hennessy conglomerate, things started to become fairly corporate at the winery.  Despite his accomplishments, if you have a gander at Cloudy Bay's web site, there's not a mention of Judd, let alone of tip of their corporate cap!  That's a bit like Napa's Beaulieu Vineyards not keeping Andre Tchelistcheff's memory alive or the Mondavi winery forgetting about Robert Mondavi...

In 2009 Judd started making wine for his own brand, a name he'd registered back in the 1990s, thinking then, "one day perhaps I'll have my own winery!"  And some pals with whom he'd worked at Cloudy Bay offered him some space at their new winery, Dog Point.  

We had seen the Greywacke wines listed in the large liquor company catalogue and, while we knew whose wines they were, we had not tasted them.  I asked the sales rep, a "wine specialist" and he knew nothing about Greywacke.  So we bought a bottle of the 2011 "regular" Sauvignon Blanc and a 2010 "Wild Sauvignon."


We liked both wines very much.  The "Wild" bottling is more of a winemaker's wine or a wine for some wine writers...it's showing notes of Sauvignon Blanc, for sure, but there's a whiff of wood and an overtone reminiscent of honey.

Showing greater clarity of the grape and the place is the 2017 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.  It's a thrilling bottle of wine, showing beautiful citrusy notes of New Zealand Sauvignon with ripe melon notes, a touch of an herbal quality and maybe a note of gooseberry or "green."  It's dry.  It's marvelously fruity and it's got zesty, zippy acidity.  What's not to like?

The last "Wild" Sauvignon we had was from the 2012 vintage...what a complex Sauvignon!  Some of the fruit was machine-picked, while some was hand-harvested.  The juice was settled before being transferred to seasoned French oak cooperage and the fermentation took its own sweet time in starting and finishing.  Winemaker Kevin Judd says it took perhaps 6 months for this.  Some barrels underwent a malolactic fermentation, but not all.  They stirred the yeast sediment in the barrels from time to time...and the resulting wine is remarkable!

 

 

We have tasted a few vintages of Pinot Noir.  The 2013 is dynamite.
I attended a tasting of Pinot Noirs from various sites in New Zealand and none approached the character and complexity of the 2013 Greywacke.  
Dark fruit aromas and beautiful, sweet oak combine to make for a very complex bottle of wine.
We opened a bottle of this during the visit of an Italian winery family member...they make Pinot Noir and a very good one.  But this blew away everything else on the table.



Currently in stock:  2017 GREYWACKE SAUVIGNON BLANC SALE $19.99
2012 GREYWACKE "WILD" SAUVIGNON BLANC   Sold Out
2013 GREYWACKE PINOT NOIR  $39.99

 

 

 

DRY RIVER

The Dry River vineyard was established in the late 1970s/early 1980s by Dr. Neil McCallum and his wife Dawn.  They're located in Martinborough in the southern part of the north island of New Zealand.  

With the name Dry River, you might surmise this is a gravelly, well-drained area and you would be correct.  The place sees, usually, very little rainfall.  It typically has the lowest precipitation totals of any locale on the north island, in fact.  And back in the 1970s, the heat summation totals for the growing season suggested that cool-climate varieties such as Pinot Noir and Riesling might be able to do well there.

The McCallums took the plunge and bottled their first commercial vintage in 1984.  By 1986 there were five wineries working to grow grapes in this special site.  Ata Rangi, one of our other great favorites, is there as well.
The winery was purchased in 2003 by a couple of Americans and they've kept their mitts to themselves and allowed the grape-growing and winemaking philosophy of McCallum to continue to guide the winery.

These days Dry River produces Pinot and Chardonnay, as one might expect, but also Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Syrah.  The wines are not readily available in their home market and we, frankly, are lucky to have some here.

We liked both the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but chose some of their other wines for the shop.  

Especially complex is their 2011 Syrah.  

When you taste a wine such as this, it transports you to when you first "discovered" Syrah from someplace special.

For us, it's France's Rhône Valley.  For others, it may recall a Washington State Syrah (yes, there are some winemakers in the Walla Walla area making phenomenal Syrah wines!)...or perhaps something from California.  Or something from South Africa or Chile where Syrahs are occasionally profound and reminiscent of cool climate Rhône Syrahs.  How about Switzerland, while we're at it?  There are some killer Syrah wines made there, but these are consumed in their home market and get very little notoriety in the rest of the wine world.
 
But if you appreciate Syrah, you'll possibly recognize this right from the start as something soulful and compelling.  

There are floral notes.  There are spice notes.  There are dark fruits and red fruits.  White pepper.  Olives.  Is it Cornas or Côte-Rôtie?  Well, maybe not either of those, but certainly a cousin.

They have an old clone of Syrah, for sure...The New Zealanders call it the Limmer clone, as a fellow named Alan Limmer rescued some vines that were about to be destroyed back in the 1980s from a government research station.  He planted these in a vineyard site he owned and so it's this fellow who gets credit (or the blame) for New Zealand being a source of some exceptional Syrah wines.  

The Dry River 2011 Syrah is very fine.  
 
 
 


Would you think some winemaker capable of producing such a killer Syrah would have a great touch with the often-finicky Gewürztraminer grape?

France's Rhône Valley and Alsace are not exactly close.  You need 4+ hours in the car to drive from Vienne in the Northern Rhône to, say, Colmar in Alsace.

But at Dry River you can taste splendid examples of both!

We suspect a big part of the secret is Dry River's protocol for handling Gewürztraminer is that they aim for ripe fruit, of course, but they do so by making several passes in the vineyard to pick grapes at particular stages of development.  Most vintners simply pick all the grapes in a vineyard in one pass, but Dry River's harvest crew goes through as many as four times and they pick selectively.

Ages ago, we recall hearing British wine authority Hugh Johnson saying New Zealand was capable of making some of the world's finest Gewürztraminer. Well, this might have been a wine to which he was referring.  

It's got the grapefruit and lychee notes along with rose petals and spice.    Maybe there's some mango fruit in there (or is it papaya?)...It's certainly a fruit basket and the aromas and flavors are intense.  It comes across and being in the direction of dry, but not in an austere fashion.  There's a bit of residual sugar, but with plenty of acidity to balance, it's barely noticeable.    


Then there's a 2014 Dry River Riesling.
If this was a German wine, it would be labeled "trocken."  Most palates will find it to be quite dry.   

And the nose of the wine is familiar if you enjoy German Rieslings.  It's just starting to blossom and show some of the secondary fragrances one encounters in good Riesling.

There are the typical floral notes.  There is fruit, reminiscent of a Granny Smith apple, perhaps a ripe pear, some lemony acidity and it further replicates good German Rieslings being relatively low in alcohol and fairly high in acidity.
That acid backbone will allow this wine to grow and mature over the next 10-15 years.  

It's delicious now, though, so don't hesitate to put a bottle of this on the dinner table in the near term.

 

Currently in stock:  2011 DRY RIVER Martinborough SYRAH  $59.99
2014 DRY RIVER Martinborough GEWÜRZTRAMINER  $39.99
2014 DRY RIVER Martinborough RIESLING  $39.99

 

 

 

 

 


NEUDORF 2013 CHARDONNAY $25.99
NEUDORF 2013 "Tom's Block" PINOT NOIR $29.99
Neudorf's 2010 CHARDONNAY "Moutere" $39.99
Neudorf's 2009 PINOT NOIR "Moutere" $39.99
We recall hearing British wine writer Hugh Johnson, back in the 1980s, speculating that New Zealand might have a good future with respect to wine-making.   
He must have tasted wine from this venerable (old for New Zealand, anyway) winery.
 
Neudorf ("new town" in German) takes its name from an old German settlement in the Nelson region of the south island.  The winery was founded by Tim and Judy Finn.  They followed their dream of making good wine, despite the bank's advice to take the more safe path and raise sheep.  

Judy recalls their humble beginnings: "We figured Tim’s masters in Animal Behaviour along with my unimpressive journalism career would be beneficial. Wrong. However we did have youth (temporary), self belief (unwarranted) and friends. At one stage we had four mortgages and three jobs each. The old house at Neudorf had electricity in two rooms, an outside long drop, an inefficient wood stove and no hot water. I look back with no regrets."

Not knowing what varieties might grow best there, The Finns planted all sorts of things, rejecting Cabernet, Merlot, Chenin Blanc, Müller-Thurgau and Gewürztraminer.  Judy admits they may have been a bit hasty in booting out Gewürztraminer and says they may, at some point in the future, have another look.

They are dabbling around with Albariño, though.  Aside from that, they make Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  

 



The winery is on every critic's list of top New Zealand estates.  No question.  And if you've tasted the range of Neudorf wines, you quickly understand why...the wine have style.  They have soul.  They are full of character and complexity and they're delicious.  

The 2013 Chardonnay is superb!  Beautifully balanced, it tips its chapeau to the French in Burgundy and yet it retains an element which says New Zealand!  The do a whole cluster pressing and are not much for settling the juice before transferring the wine to barrel for its fermentation.  The wine sees maybe 15-16% new oak.  They do a modest amount of battonage and this is done only until the malolactic fermentation is finished.  We agree with Jancis Robinson's assessment of this as "Chablis-like."  It's dry, lightly oaked and showing some stony, minerally notes and a touch of toastiness.   The 2013 is a complete and totally satisfying wine.  

We tasted good Sauvignon Blanc from Neudorf--different from Marlborough Sauvignons.  The newest vintage to arrive here (in late 2016) seemed brighter, crisper and more focused than the wines from, say 2008, or so.  

They make really good, soulful Pinot Noir.  The 2013 Tom's Block Pinot is quite good.
It's a mix of numerous clones of Pinot Noir.  All destemmed.  All indigenous yeasts.  It's matured entirely in French oak, 22% of the barrels being brand new.
  Medium+ bodied and intensely fragrant varietal aromas.  Nice flavors and a touch of tannin, but not too much.  It is a delight and shows up at an attractive price level, too.


They make a "reserve" wines called Moutere. 

Chardonnay from a single vineyard undergoes an indigenous yeast fermentation and it's fermented in wood (barriques and puncheons).  Its yeasty sediment is stirred for about a year and it has undergone a malolactic fermentation.  Very complex and it's a wine for which most Burgundian winemakers would be proud.

The Moutere Pinot Noir comes from a couple of vineyard sites...low yields for this, as you might expect.  They employ a nice range of coopers for the barrels in which this is matured and about one-third new wood.  No fining or filtering...dark cherry fruit character...very fine!  Only a few hundred cases are produced.

 Kudos to the Finns and their 'team' of Neudorfers!  


 
 

 




 

 

MAN O'WAR

When most people speak about New Zealand wines, the main appellations include Marlborough, of course, perhaps Martinborough, Central Otago and perhaps Nelson and Hawke's Bay.  

The Waiheke Island is one most people will miss, though it's a region that's close to Auckland, New Zealand's most populous city.

It's located 11 miles east of Auckland in the Hauraki Gulf and you can take a short ferry ride from the big city, if you like.  The island has nearly nine-thousand residents and there's a seasonal influx of people who maintain a vacation residence there. 

Captain James Cook anchored in this region back in 1769, or so they say.  And his journal indicates he'd seen some rather large trees there which he felt would make perfect masts for British war ships, hence the association with "Man o' War."

The big land owner of this island is the secretive Spencer family, a seriously wealthy clan.  John Spencer is the patriarch of the family and one of his two grown children operates the Man o' War winery.  That would be Berridge Spencer, who actually had invested in some vineyard property in Sonoma's Knights Valley some years ago, but sold his interest to dabble in New Zealand wine.

Their holdings on the Waiheke Island amount to 4500 acres and today they've planted numerous little parcels (something like 76 different plots), mostly Bordeaux varietals.  

We found their 2009 Syrah called "Dreadnought" to be exceptional.  It's a magnificent expression of Syrah and I can't imagine a Rhone Valley vigneron not being impressed by this wine.

The grapes come from a very steep, north-facing slope.  The grapes are de-stemmed and put into the fermenter in a gentle manner to retain as many "whole berries" as possible.  The first few days the tank is chilled to essentially have a "cold soak," before allowing it to warm and begin its fermentation using indigenous yeasts.  After it's dry, the wine was transferred to small oak cooperage, with about one quarter of the barrels being new.  

The resulting wine is amazingly fine and most tasters would identify it, poured "blind," as some sort of Northern Rhone Syrah.  There's a pepper spice note which is exceptional and the wood remains in the background as a sort of seasoning for the fruit and spice.  The tannin level is modest, making for a balanced wine.  Drinkable now, this can probably be cellared for another decade, if you like.

The Man o'War wines don't seem to be in the California market presently.

Currently in Stock:  2009 MAN O'WAR "Dreadnought" SYRAH  Sold Out

BIRD WINES

http://www.birdwines.com/wp-content/uploads/Steve-Bird-2012-Big-Barrel-Pinot-Noir-Thmb.jpgWinemaker Steve Bird got his start at the venerable Morton Estate winery and then he moved to Thornbury Vineyards where he was lead winemaker.  

These days he's got his own winery and is making some terrific wines in New Zealand's Marlborough country.  

We're especially fond of his Pinot Noir.

The wine is fermented and aged in 900 liter French oak.  Bird likes the way the oak integrates with the fruit using this size cooperage.  Whatever he's doing, it works beautifully.  The 2012 has some plummy notes, the typical cherry-like fruit of Pinot Noir and a bit of vanillin from the oak.  

The wine is well-priced in our view, comparing to California and Oregon wines costing in the $30 to $40 range.  


Currently in stock:  BIRD 2012 Marlborough PINOT NOIR  $21.99

 

 


 
CAIRNBRAE
A family of Scottish heritage founded this vineyard in Marlborough in the 1980s and sold grapes to neighboring wineries.  In the early 1990s they began vinifying some of their fruit and launched their winemaking career.

The Scots sold the winery to another New Zealand winemaking family, the Masons (who own Sacred Hill Vineyards in Hawke's Bay on the North Island) and the brand  is in good hands.

We've had a couple of vintages of Cairnbrae's Pinot Noir.  It's a remarkably good wine and is easily identified in the glass as "Pinot."  You won't mistake it for Syrah or Cabernet...it sings "Pinot."

And it arrives in California at a most attractive price without letting on (in the glass) that this is a most affordable wine.

They even manage the crop to farm for quality and they do a cold soak before allowing the fermentation to start.  It's matured in French oak cooperage, though wood plays a supporting role here.  The fruit on the nose is decidedly Pinot Noir, showing cherries and dark fruits.  It's beautifully balanced and very drinkable now, in its youth.  


Currently in stock: 2012 CAIRNBRAE Marlborough PINOT NOIR  Sold Out Presently
 








 








 

 
CLOS HENRI
There has been quite a flood of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc wines arriving in our market.  It's no secret that many of the wines produced there are excellent expressions of the grape.

A real validation for the Marlborough region was the arrival of the Bourgeois family from France's Loire Valley.  Their arrival was rather like the Baron Rothschild's or Christian Moueix' interest in owning a piece of the Napa Valley far from their Bordeaux homes.   Or Drouhin's arrival in Oregon's Willamette Valley.



Bourgeois is the leading ambassador for the Sauvignons from various top Loire appellations, especially that of Sancerre.  
 
 


The land purchased by the Bourgeois family was virgin vineyard territory, featuring three soil types.  The property is about 109 hectares presently and they've been planting more vines annually.

They planted their vineyards at higher-than-normal density for New Zealand.  It's normal for France, but a bit of a rarity in New Zealand apparently.

Bourgeois is also cultivating organically and biodynamically.  Dry farming, too.

We find the Clos Henri wine to combine elements of top Loire Valley Sauvignons with top New Zealand wines.  Having notes of each makes for an unusually complex bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, no matter the wine's birthplace.   We like the minerality of this wine, as well as the spicy pineapple and citrus tones.  It's got more 'weight' than your average New Zealand Sauvignon, yet it's not as potent as most California Sauvignons.  

We're big fans and delighted to have some bottles to share with our customers.   Don't miss this. We had included an early vintage in a blind-tasting of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc wines and it was amongst the top finishers in the tasting. 
 
The 2016 is currently in stock...it's sort of a New Zealand Sauvignon with a bit of a French accent...less overtly fruity compared to most Kiwi Sauvignons.  Dry, too.  Most of the juice is fermented in stainless steel tanks with a small percentage going into wood.  
They typically leave the wine on its spent yeast for maybe 8 months and they stir the sediment to give the wine a bit more texture.
We like the lemongrass and lime notes along with a slightly stony aspect.  
It's not your typical New Zealand Sauvignon but it's not exactly a Sancerre, either.

Pinot Noir from this estate can be truly special as well.  We tasted several vintages recently and they seem to be getting closer in style and character to Burgundy!  We have the 2014 Pinot Noir in stock...it's a wonderful example of Pinot Noir. 
The grapes are de-stemmed but not crushed.  They go into French oak vats  for a one week cold-soak.   The wine gets some pump-overs and some punch-downs.  The skins are macerated for about three weeks after that one week cold soak.  The wine spends about a year in small French oak and 25% of the barrels are new. 

There's a beautiful black cherry fruit aroma and the oak is just right (meaning it's not much in evidence, but there's probably some in the mix)...
This is deliciously drinkable now and should be fine for a number of years...

Currently in stock:  2016 CLOS HENRI SAUVIGNON BLANC $25.99
2014 CLOS HENRI PINOT NOIR  $35.99


 

 
 
 
 
 
 




CLOUDY BAY 2017 SAUVIGNON BLANC  SALE $29.99
CLOUDY BAY  2014 TE KOKO SAUVIGNON BLANC  SALE $64.99
Associated today with the Champagne producer Veuve Clicquot, Cloudy Bay was founded in 1985 by the folks at Australia's Cape Mentelle winery.   They are world famous for their exceptional Sauvignon Blanc, but also produce Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and a bottle-fermented sparkling wine.  The supply used to be much sought-after and doled out to "worthy" customers who supported the Clicquot line of Champagne.



Today there are dozens of terrific New Zealand Sauvignons and hundreds of brands of Kiwi plonk and this has taken the pressure off Cloudy Bay.  They still make good wine, though, but it's not as "hot" a brand as it once was.  

The 2017 is a good example of their handiwork.  Nice fruit, dry and crisp.
Most of the juice is fermented in stainless steel after the juice is settled for a few days.  They use cultured yeast and indigenous.  A tiny percentage of the juice is fermented at slightly warmers temps in wood, not so much for oak but simply to have another layer of complxity in the wine
It's bottled just a few months after the fermentation to capture the fresh citrusy, lemon-grass notes of their Sauvignon Blanc.

There's a special bottling of Sauvignon called Te Koko.
This comes from some of their oldest vineyards.  The juice is fermented in oak, though less than ten-percent of the barrels are new. 
No cultured yeasts for Te Koko...only indigenous yeast.  It is aged longer than their regular bottling and the wine is quite a different animal than their regular bottling.  In fact, there's a bit of malolactic fermentation to this batch.
It's quite good, but it's not for everyone.
.




 


 

 

FIRE ROAD

The Fire Road label is a brand made for a US importer, as we understand it and it's vinified at some sort of custom-crush facility in Marlborough.  

The name comes from a catastrophic event back at the turn of the century when there was a major fire in Marlborough around Blenheim and some sort of "fire road" was established in an effort to extinguish the flames...

The wine is not only a good example of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, it's attractively-priced at eleven bucks.  As a result, this wine flies out the door as we offer a case discount off the already low 10.99 bottle price.
 

Currently in stock:  2017 FIRE ROAD SAUVIGNON BLANC  $10.99

 

 

 

NAUTILUS

The Australian family, Hill-Smith, started a distribution business in neighboring New Zealand and along with that the distribution company launched a winery called Nautilus.

The distribution company offers an impressive portfolio of wines to sell to shops and restaurants in New Zealand:  Gaja, Sassicaia, Bollinger, Chateau d'Yquem, Guigal, Henschke, Egon Muller and St. Clair from their backyard.

They launched Nautilus in the mid-1980s and today it's a well-regarded brand in its home market.  We'd had their wines quite a few years ago and have found this to be a reliably good producer of Sauvignon Blanc.

In 2000 they finished building a winery devoted exclusively to making their Pinot Noir and in 2006 they put the finishing touches on an energy-efficient facility devoted solely to white wine production.

In making Sauvignon Blanc, they strive to produce a wine for the dinner table, not to be a cocktail-hour show-piece.  If you need a translation for that, it means they make a wine which is a good deal more subtle than the typical Kiwi-land Sauvignon.  Further translating, this means for some people, the wine will not be "audible" as they've not cranked the volume up all the way so the VU Meter is not in the red zone.

The grapes come from a handful of Estate vineyards and they have long-term contracts with local growers.

Wairau Valley, gravelly soil sites are one part of the puzzle...gravel over mud-stone in the Awatere Valley and some clay/loess soils in the south.  As they make their blend, they look more for texture rather than the 'loud' expression of many NZ Sauvignons and they use the term "sophisticated" in describing their wine.  

And so the resulting wine is perhaps more suited to the "Old World" wine drinker than today's hipster wine fan.  

We like the Nautilus wine, as it occupies a place on the spectrum of New Zealand Sauvignons which few winemakers seek.

Currently in stock: 2010 NAUTILUS SAUVIGNON BLANC  Sold Out

 

 


While we don't have the facilities to keep an encyclopedic collection of New Zealand wines in the shop, we'll be happy to special order your favorites.  There's been a flood of wines arriving in the market.  

 
 

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