The Wine Curmudgeon’s favorite New Zealand sauvignon blanc is Spy Valley; the catch is that it’s often difficult to find in Dallas. So when I had a chance to meet Jules Taylor, whose New Zealand winery gets high marks for quality and professionalism ( “Plus, Jeff, she’s a great person,” said the PR type), I was excited. There’s nothing wrong with having two favorites.
I was not disappointed. Taylor is clever and passionate about her work. How do I know this? When someone can sound as excited as she did about her wines when talking to a wine writer after a long and hot day of visiting retailers and sitting in meetings, she must be passionate. (She is also a tequila aficionado, and was very excited to be in Dallas if only for that. Not many interesting tequilas for sale in New Zealand, apparently.)
The sauvignon blanc ($18, sample) is New Zealand sauvignon blanc the way it should be. There is more grassiness than citrus in the front (and lime instead of grapefruit); a soft, almost seductive tropical middle (passion fruit?); and a long, very subtle mineral finish. This is a complex wine, especially for the price, and not only well above the entry level wines on the market, but on par with many more expensive ones. Highly recommended.
Taylor also makes a late harvest sauvignon blanc dessert wine ($20 for a 375 ml bottle, sample), which I really shouldn;t mention. It’s not that it isn’t very nicely done (lots of apricot, honeyed sweetness, and a bit of sauvignon blanc character). It’s that she makes very little of it, and even less gets imported to the U.S. If you can find it, buy it.
New Zealand is known for sauvignon blanc. And, as much as its wineries have tried to convince the world that they can make something else, they have run into huge problems. That ?s because their sauvignon blanc is not only terrific, but cheap. Even with the weak U.S. dollar, they ?re still mostly around $10 and exceedingly well made.
Which is why the Wine Curmudgeon was so excited to find this red blend from Villa Maria, one of the oldest family producers in New Zealand. It ?s not typical; if you see a red from that country, it ?s usually pinot noir because New Zealand is supposed to be too cold to grow cabernet and merlot.
But the cabernet-merlot blend ($14, sample) shows progress has been made with those varieties. It has black fruit that is obvious but not over-ripe, and it ?s not as harsh as a similarly priced wine from France. Also impressive: long tannins and surprising balance.
It's a simple wine, and would be a whole lot better at $12, but given the dearth of drinkable red wine at this price, it's more than worth buying. Serve this with any red wine dish, and it wouldn ?t be bad by itself, either, when you run into someone who will only drink red wine.
? The one thing I didn't like about the Villa Maria ($13, sample): It's not $9 any more. Stupid weak dollar.
? Best thing about the wine besides the taste: The screwcap, of course.
? So what did it taste like? It didn't has much grapefruit as most New Zealand wines, but you could still taste citrus. The middle was a bit short and without any New Zealand-like tropical flavors, but there was a very long mineral finish. In some respects, it was more French in style.
? What do you pair this with? The web site suggests green bean and potato salad, which must be a New Zealand thing. Otherwise, almost any shellfish, grilled or roast chicken and the Wine Curmudgeon's favorite, spaghetti with clam sauce (though I use canned clams).
? What's with this bullit-style layout for the wine of the week? Trying something different. Not sure that it would work every week, but it was fun to do this time.
? New Zealand group sets organic target: Organic Winegrowers New Zealand wants 20 percent of the country's vineyards to be certified organic by 2020. The 140-member organic group signed a memorandum of understanding last year with New Zealand Wine Growers to work towards organic goals. The amount of vineyard land in New Zealand under organic certification has tripled in the past three years, and about 4.5 percent of vineyard land is certified organic. That compares to 5 percent in California, which is one of the New World leaders in organic wine. Note that the Kiwis want organic vineyards, which is different from organic wine according to U.S. law. No synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides are permitted in organic vineyards.
? French wine values: My pal Dave McIntyre at the Washington Post says France, thanks to an exceptional 2009 vintage, will offer some exceptional "recession buster" wines in 2011. Dave especially likes the Gugial Cotes du Rhone blanc, about $13, and a white from Savoie, Domaine Eugene Carrel Jongieux, about $11. From California, he likes two reds — the 2007 Parducci petite sirah and Liberty School Cuvee, both about $12.
? Not all malbecs are alike: The Wine Curmudgeon is indifferent to much malbec, and Michael Apstein at Wine Review Online, discussing the various regions and styles of malbec that are available today, does a good job of explaining why: "Argentine Malbec satisfies the current thirst in the United States for big, ripe, fruity red wines to accompany the robust flavors found on the plates in fashionably boisterous restaurants. … Hence, there are plenty of Malbecs from Argentina that disappoint with their simplicity and monotonic profile of dark black fruit." But, he says, there are plety of interesting malbecs, from Argentina and elsewhere.
Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month (Thursday this month because of the holiday).
? Stone Hill Vignoles 2009 ($16, sample): Lots of pineapple, but not all that sweet with a long peach pit finish. An excellent example of what can be done with this hybrid grape from one of Missouri’s top producers.
? Souverain Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($14, sample): This wine is one of the reasons why I love wine, and it has nothing to do with whether I “liked” it or not. The Souverain is done in a style I don’t usually care for, oaked sauvignon blanc, but it’s so well done that I can appreciate what it offers and recommend it.
? Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($18, purchased): More wonderfullness from what may be the best sauvignon blanc in the world. Look for even less citrus and more tropical fruit than usual, which is saying something since Spy Valley is among the least citrus-y of the New Zealand sauvignon blancs.
? Bodegas Iranzo Vertus 2003 ($15, sample): Tempranillo from a less well-known part of Spain, and well worth the effort. More fresh cherry fruit than a Rijoa, lots of bright Spanish acidity and even a bit of herb tucked in. Highly recommended.