What if I told you, you could get world class Burgundy at a fraction of it’s normal price? You’d jump at it wouldn’t you? Well, here is your opportunity but it’s not from France as you might think, it’s from New Zealand. I was at the Wine Cellar at the Bluebird the other night for a wine tasting of NZ wines made by the German winemaker Kai Schubert.
Kai Schubert and his partner, Marion Deimling, both graduates of the Viticulture and Oenology University in Geisenheim, Germany worked in vineyards around the world, stopping in Europe, Oregon and S. America before finally settling in New Zealand to grow and make the notoriously difficult pinot noir. They found what they thought was the best site in Wairarapa Valley, near the town of Martinborough and founded Kai Schubert Vineyards.
The pair bought an established vineyard in 1998 and began planting pinot noir which comprises more than 75% of their plantings. The remainder is comprised of syrah, cabernet and merlot as well as some white varietals. Their first vintage of pinot noir was released in 2003 and they haven’t looked back since. Schubert’s 2004 Pinot Noir “Block B” even beat out the 1999 “Musigny Grand Cru” of Comte de Vogue, Chambolle Musigny (€450 in Germany) in a blind tasting held in Berlin recently.
Kai brought a couple of whites and his prizewinning pinot noirs for us to sample. I was a bit late so I missed the white wines but I was able to get my mitts on the pinots and the syrah. Kai’s pinots were cool, sleek, elegant offerings like the afghan hounds one sees lounging insouciently in 18th century paintings. I loved the Marion’s Vineyard 2006 pinot noir (£26). Kai says that legend has it a Kiwi winemaker travelled to La Tache in Burgundy and stole a few clippings. On returning to NZ he was busted by customs trying to smuggle the cuttings into the country. Of course the cuttings were confiscated but rather then burning the plants, the Customs Officer took them home and planted them. Thus the Able clone came about, named after, naturally, the Customs Officer who confiscated them. Whether that story is true or not, Kai couldn’t confirm but it makes for an entertaining tale.
And that clone was the one Kai used to produce the ’06 Marion’s Vineyard. A lovely savoury nose, sweet ripe red fruits, black forest gateau and a slight smokiness on the nose. On the palate, silky smooth tannins, sweet spice and an edge of smoke, a very approachable wine, the oak and fruit working together in harmony to create a fabulous Burgundian style red.
The Block B pinot noir (£30) was made using Dijon clones and was much more pronounced in it’s fruit profile. Intense black cherry and plums, quite ripe. The aromatics were much more New World in style. The tannins were much more lively but still smooth in this one as well, darker fruits coming thru, the acidity and finish of the wine carried on for quite some time. Faint cherries and liquor filled chocolate flavours on the finish. It was such a delight, people were gushing all around the tasting table, just couldn’t believe the quality and high standard of winemaking that was on show.
We finished off with the ’05 Syrah (£36), a different style of wine all together. Kai was going for a Northern Rhone style. This particular block is experimental and only 169 cases are produced a year from the .6 (yes, less then 1) hectare. This one was completely different, a very aromatic nose, it was practically first degree assault but in a good way. Wood spice, cedar, black pepper and red currants hitting my nose upside the head. I could have just stuck my nose in there forever, more spice and pepper on the palate with hints of tar thrown in for good measure. It had sprightly acidity but the tannins were quite round and mellow. This wine was drinkable now but could live on for quite some time.
On another note, these wines also stand out because Kai uses only the best quality cork instead of the almost universal screwcap that is used in New Zealand. When asked why go thru the expense of paying nearly £1 per cork vs 5 pence per screwcap, Kai responded that he’s not quite convinced of the merits of screwcap in enabling wine to be aged over a long period of time. It’s still an unknown quantity as far as how much air is exchanged with screwcaps as opposed to corks, even with the newer screwcaps being introduced. Another reason Kai uses cork is because his production is so small that economically, it’s cheaper to buy the corks then to buy a screwcap machine for the winery.
Kai and his partner Marion are producing some fine wines in faraway New Zealand. New Zealand has become known as the land of Sauvignon Blanc but it appears that Pinot Noir is coming up fast and NZ may soon become synonomous with not only fantastic well made SB but also PN. All the wines are available from the Wine Cellar at the Bluebird.