Saturday, June 10, 2017

WINE FOR O.A.P.s

I like Chardonnay. It's been my white wine of choice for my wine-drinking lifetime (which is a lot of years I can tell you).

I've flirted with other varietals both professionally and socially and can easily identify a Viognier or a Sauvignon Gris in a blind line-up but always return to Chardonnay. It's the best.

Chardonnay (White Burgundy) used to be called the 'Queen' of wines in the old lexicography of wine appreciation (Pinot Noir or Burgundy was the 'King').

In recent years the commercial popularity of wine accompanied by a democratisation of wine drinking and wine appreciation has raised the 'second-tier' white wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Viognier etc. to a point where good old Chardonnay has been nudged out.

One of the problems with the promotion of the 'second-tier' is that on average the cost of production of Chardonnay or at least good Chardonnay has gone up. Reduced plantings and volumes of chardonnay grapes means that costs cannot be amortised as much as before. Also, with the growth in popularity of wine and the dominance of supermarkets in selling it, wine producers are now making wine from the bottom up rather than top down.

OK, what do I mean by that?

In the past the norm was for a producer or brand owner to make the best possible wine they could that represented their region and carried their name. In making this the best bunches of grapes were selected and in final selection before bottling the best parcels of wine were chosen - volume depending on market conditions and demand. This left a lot (the bulk) of grapes and made-wine left over from the top selection which was used, on a tier basis, to fill second labels, third labels and then budget offerings. The beauty of this 'system' was that the lower offerings were generally pretty smart wines that had a lot of the expensive inputs (grape selection, barrel fermentation and ageing, oak usage etc) that the top wines had, especially the second-tier labels.

In recent years the demand for cheaper bottled and labelled wines has increased (there was always a demand for cheaper, everyday wine but this was usually sold in unlabelled packaging or in bulk). This has resulted in the wine giant companies who make their money from supplying supermarkets with millions of cases of fancy-labelled plonk. The wineries factories are set up to churn out this stuff like beer production. To further meet demand quicker growing varietals like Pinot Gris and sauvignon Blanc have been promoted and cheaper growing regions like Chile, Eastern Europe and China have gained in size if not reputation.

As a consequence the model has been tipped upside down - wineries primarily produce cheap wine to meet new market demands and, if they wish to have higher tier brands and labels they have to start from scratch. While it's easy to produce a lesser quality and cheaper wine from a base of really good and expensive wine (blending, stretching, barrel and tank selection etc.) the reverse cannot be done you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear you can't make a quality wine from a cheap wine base.

Wineries and wine companies that want to make a good wine on top of the commercial wines necessary for their continued survival - in our case here - a Chardonnay - have to make the choice right from the beginning to have a dual process going. Of course smaller wineries can still do the top down approach but the volumes produced of the second and third tier labels are not great and are hard to find although I still look out for them on internet wine sites and ex-winery sales.

The bigger wineries who dominate the industry and populate the wine shelves (nearly 80% of retail wine around the world is sold through supermarkets and the very large format stores) who choose to still produce top quality brands and labels (for PR reasons essentially to gain wine-writer support and successes in wine competitions) don't need to employ the trickle-down method with these wines and generally, unless bullied by the supermarket customer or have made a mistake in production planning, price the wines according to the expensive inputs they have used.

Whew!

So what does this mean for me as a recent old age Pensioner and you my readers reader?

Bad news I'm afraid.

The type of Chardonnays I like to drink are the top-tier ones: made from ideally bunch selection grapes from low-yielding vineyards; barrel fermented in new oak; barrel aged in a mixture of new and seasoned French oak barrels and held back for 18 months before release.
Montrachet would be a good choice.

Try and find this for under $500 a bottle


It is becoming increasingly difficult to find the second-tier wines that have been made like this and even the third-tier wines (that might have had a percentage of the real stuff in the blend) are not a patch on what they once were. The canny big wine companies now market ordinary shit with sub-branding like "Reserve', 'Selection' etc. that means bugger-all.

I've written in the past about brands like Selaks that had Selaks Reserve Chardonnay which was a pretty good and fair-priced drop. Unfortunately no longer. The wonderful Selaks Founders Reserve Chardonnay seems to have disappeared from supermarket shelves - hopefully it hasn't been discontinued. I bought a bottle of Selaks Reserve Chardonnay 2015 for $12 the other day (not the Founder's Reserve) and guess what? It was very very ordinary and a pale imitation of the wine under this label of a couple of years ago. To try and be fair to Selaks I then bought a bottle of Montana Reserve Chardonnay 2016 for $13. It was very ordinary.

Bummer!

I'll still look out for deals on the top wines but I fear that these will be few and far between.
I'll have to change my wine drinking choices. Not to Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris which to me is just lolly-water, but to Riesling and Gewurztraminer which fortunately New Zealand makes some of the best examples in the world and, at least at this time they are very affordable.


Saturday, March 11, 2017

CONFUSED? I AM.

I bought some Matahiwi Estate Chardonnay on-line a while ago and then forgot about it. That was prescient.



Last night I dug one out of the cellar, chilled it, opened it, tasted it and gasped. Not at its outstanding quality as I'm sure the on-line seller raved about inducing me to buy a case, but at its ordinariness bordering on awfulness.

The wine is lean, woody and tart.

The leanness is from poor fruit. The woodiness is not nice vanillin oak but that varnishy, splintery and bitter character that comes from being too long exposed to cheap wood staves or planks. The tartness is not refreshing but that bitter lemon character from lemon skins.

Intrigued as to why I bought this and not having to hand the blurb that the on-line seller had used I read the back label.

Now I must say here that over the years I've written many back labels. On most occasions this has been a sincere attempt to inform the buyer about how the wine was crafted and what the winemaker considers are the primary elements of the wine's aroma and taste. On other occasions it's been a marketing exercise where the descriptions used bear little relationship to the actual wine. The 2015 Matahiwi Estate Chardonnay is definitely a case of the latter. This is what I found:

"Sourced from two vineyards in Hawkes Bay, this chardonnay has lovely nectarine and melon fruit with a spicy oak nose. Ripe citrus with a nutty creaminess and a toasty oak finish".

Well, I don't know what hallucinogenics the writer of that was on and if he/she was drinking chardonnay at the time it wasn't the 2015 Matahiwi Estate. It sounds more like a Te Mata Elston or something from the Sacred Hill stable.



My view of wine labels is that the best use of them is for the diner left at the table at a restaurant has something to read when his/her partner nips off to the toilet. I can't really think of another use. Now that smartphones are in almost everyone's pockets the abandoned diner has no shortage of things to read and listen to thereby making the back label completely redundant apart from the legal mandatories like name of producer, name of wine, alcohol and additives.



Nevertheless after I'd recovered from the blatant lie by the winemaker or the marketing person I read the other crap that was written.

"The Phoenix has long been seen as a symbol of renewal. The Matahiwi Phoenix symbolises the rebirth of winemaking in the northern Wairarapa after the period of prohibition in the early 1900's (sic). New Zealand wine pioneers recognised the region as an ideal environment for grape growing, as did Alastair Scott when he returned from London to his homeland in 1998 to establish Matahiwi Estate. Matahiwi is a place recognised by Maori as a windy and exposed area sheltered by the high mountainous Tararua ranges to the west. These wines, produced by winemaker Jane Cooper, show just how the Wairarapa has earned a reputation for producing some of the best wines in the world."

The blurb then goes on to describe the chardonnay in the bottle.

What the fuck?
I'm a marketer and used to all sorts of advertising and marketing bullshit but this is incredible.
Apart from the dodgy grammar and incorrect use of punctuation these are some of the outtakes for me:


  • What the hell is the use of the phoenix for? Apart from being a good logo/badge device for the front label why is it there? Is it because disgruntled wine drinkers burned down the first winery after tasting the wines?

  • How can a place be windy and exposed at the same time as sheltered?

  • After all that rubbish about Wairarapa producing 'some of the best wines in the world' the writer goes straight on to say that this chardonnay was 'Sourced from two vineyards in Hawkes Bay'.

So, my impressions?

Unimpressed by the wine.
Flabbergasted at the verbosity of the wine description.
Appalled at the poor editing and allowing a Hawkes Bay chardonnay to be introduced as the epitome of Wairarapa winemaking.




Friday, January 20, 2017

VILLAGE IDIOT





I've wittered on in the past about the benefits of blending wines especially if one of them is a bit below par.

Last night when I collected Her Indoors (H.I.) from the bus station we went to a local wine bar/restaurant before heading home.
I had the ever reliable Trinity Hill Chardonnay (one of the basic ones but still damned good for the price) and H.I. had a Central Otago Pinot Gris. I won't name the brand but it was bloody awful which made its price:quality = value equation way below par. This wine was made from unripe fruit a fact which the winemaker was evidently aware as he/she poured in bags of Chelsea's finest during processing. See here:  

       CHELSEA MORNING   

 The result was a sharp and thin wine with an unpleasant sweet finish. Frankly I thought that we had got over this sort of winemaking but there you go. If it had been a bag-in-the-box wine or one of those that Robert from Moera buys for $6.99 at his local supermarket I would kind of accept it, but this was priced like all the other Central Otago wines. Expensive and overpriced.

Anyway, H.I. is pretty good at tasting wines and she said "taste this" as she passed her glass over to me. This of course immediately made me suspicious as if she had a glass of Taittinger Compte, Roederer Crystal or a Montrachet of any vintage there'd be no way in hell that I'd be able to get a sip of it so I cautiously accepted the glass and came to the conclusion of which I've already bored informed you.

She then hailed the wine waiter-type guy and, from the list, ordered a decent Marlborough Riesling (Te Whare Ra I think) and proceeded to blend the two together. The result although not being brilliant certainly made the C.O. wine drinkable.

Tonight I'm enjoying a glass or two of chardonnay.
This is good for a few reasons: firstly because as I've been ill since before Christmas I haven't been drinking any alcohol; secondly as I did some good work today I feel that I've earned it: and, thirdly I've made a blending discovery.

We had family staying with us during Christmas and New year. They like good wines and brought a few treats up with them. As I wasn't drinking I didn't really take too much notice of the wines that were opened and consumed.
Today H.I. pulled out a bottle from the wine fridge. It was a Kumeu River Village chardonnay 2015.



It seemed full when lying down in the stack but had been opened and only one glass used from it.
We deduced that Chris, one of the guests had opened it, consumed a glass of it and then forgot about it. We tried it and the fruit quality is certainly there but it was a bit sharp with a poor finish. This wine has been open for more than 3 weeks. There weren't any overt oxidative characters but it was a little but 'flat'.



Recently I bought a case of Smoking Loon 2014 chardonnay on the web. It was promoted as a '98 point winning wine' which means that it should be almost perfect. The 98 points were awarded by a Californian wine competition so I guess has to be looked at sceptically. See here:



WHAT'S THE POINT?




But the wine is good. It is rich and buttery and almost 'thick' compared to the usual Hawkes Bay chardonnays I drink.
On tasting the Kumeu River wine I didn't want to chuck it just because it had been open (albeit refrigerated) for such a long time, so blended it with a bottle of the Smoking Loon that was in the fridge.
The result is stunning. It is easily the best chardonnay (blend) that I've drunk for quite some time.
I'm now thinking about buying some bottles of Kumeu River Village chardonnay 2015 to open simultaneously with every bottle of Smoking Loon I open.