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New Zealand Wines Are Delicious and Affordable

Several years ago we had the opportunity to taste the wines of Greywacke, a New Zealand producer in the Marlborough region, with winemaker Kevin Judd. The long-time winemaker at Cloudy Bay Winery, Judd was introducing his wines to America when we met him.

More recently we were able to catch up with Greywacke’s recent releases with Richard Ellis, who concentrates his energies on winery operations and marketing. The U.S. is Greywacke’s second largest market behind the United Kingdom.

Greywacke’s wines are set apart from the ocean of New Zealand sauvignon blanc imported into the U.S. by price and quality. Many of the New Zealand major brands currently available to US consumers fall price-wise into the lower to mid-teens. Greywacke’s sauvignon blanc costs $25 to $30.

Ellis said that Greywacke pays their grape growers a premium to limit yields and undertake leaf pulling to produce higher quality harvests. Most Marlborough sauvignon vineyards yield 6 tons per acre while growers for Greywacke produce 4 tons per acre.

Ellis said Greywacke is looking for more golden colors in their grapes rather than green to reduce the bell pepper and intense grapefruit notes that characterizes some New Zealand sauvignon blanc.

Greywacke produces two significantly different sauvignon blancs. The Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2018 ($26) is aged in almost all stainless steel and is somewhat similar to the traditional grapefruit style. However, the citrus notes are more in balance with some peach flavors and only a hint of grapefruit.

Ellis commented that the wine is “more subtle, more restrained. …doesn’t leap out of the glass and punch you in the nose” Well said.

The Greywacke Wild Sauvignon Marlborough 2015 ($31), on the other hand, is aged in old French barriques and only the yeasts present on the grapes at harvest are used to ferment the juice. The outcome is a different sauvignon blanc that is reminiscent of a well-made grand cru Bordeaux. The “Wild Yeast” displays ripe peach and elegant toast notes with a delightful creamy mouth feel and finish.

Marlborough is not known for its chardonnay production but Greywacke makes a very credible one from its grapes. With the Greywacke Chardonnay Marlborough 2014 ($42) the very ripe chardonnay grapes were vinified in French oak barriques using only indigenous yeasts. The result is a savory wine exhibiting peach, citrus and some smoke notes that create a tasty wine.

New Zealand is becoming better known for its pinot noirs and with good reason. The Greywacke Pinot Noir Marlborough is grown in hillside vineyards over a long cool growing season. Ripe cherry and plum elements dominate the wine with interesting spice notes present as well.

New grapes in Bordeaux

Global warming has opened the door to additional grape varieties in Bordeaux. The General Assembly of Bordeaux AOC and Bordeaux Superieur have approved a new list of grape varieties that, if passed by the INAO, will help growers adapt to changing climate with hardier stock.

The present collection of six grape varieties will expanded by seven more varieties. The reds included arinarnoa, castets, marselan and tourigna nacional; the whites include alvarinho, liliorila and petit manseng.

If approved, these secondary varieties cannot make up more than 5 percent of the vineyards or 10 percent of any blend. Furthermore, these grapes cannot be listed on the label.

It is not surprising that growers are seeing a dramatic impact from the changing weather patterns. Grapes that flourished decades ago aren’t producing the same results as temperatures warm. Grapes are being picked later in the year and are loaded with sugar. The results are riper and more alcoholic wines.

We doubt we’ll see much change in the blends of first growths, but AOC and Bordeaux Superieur wines will quickly adopt these varieties. Yet, even they are planted next year, it will be several years before the new vines produce usable grapes.

Touriga nacional is a variety that does very well in Portugal. Alvarinho is another name for Spain’s popular albarino grape. Arinarnoa is a cross between tannat and cabernet sauvignon. Marselan is also a cross but between cabernet sauvignon and grenache. Petit manseng is grown in France along the Spanish border.

Wine picks

  • Shooting Star Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($16). This reasonably priced cabernet sauvignon packs a lot of punch for the price. Fresh fruit character with notes of plums and black cherries with a hint of tobacco.

  • Garofoli Podium Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesu 2016 ($26). We loved this single-vineyard verdicchio from the Marche region of eastern Italy. The area sits between the Apennine Mountains and the Adriatic Sea, so there is a cooling maritime influence on the vineyards. Fermented on the lees for eight months, it has a creamy mouthfeel balanced with good acidity. Complex and ageable, Citrus and pear notes with a bit of minerality. Very impressive.

  • Gundlach Bundschu Estate Vineyard Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($55). This massive, full-bodied cabernet is packed with dark fruit flavors and layered with nuances of baking spices. Lingering raspberry aromas. Firm tannins and fresh acidity give it promises of a long future, yet it can be enjoyed now with a beef or lamb dinner.

  • Domaine Eugene Carrel et Fils Jongieux Blanc ($13). There is a small wine-growing region in eastern France between lakes and mountains called Savoie (Savoy). Little of the wine made in the rugged foothills of the Alps makes it out of the country, which is a shame. We absolutely loved this lovely wine made from hand-picked jacquere grapes. Round and juicy pear flavors with a touch of minerality and a long, delicious finish. Jongieux is one of the villages there.

  • Sea Slopes Fort Ross Winery Chardonnay 2017 ($30). Rich and generous peach and lemon notes with a a hint of mineral and toast in the bouquet. Delicious.

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