Vidal Hawkes Bay Syrah ’06 of New Zealand

Last week was a busy week – 4 tastings and a London bloggers get-together – Whew! My liver tried to send out a little white flag at about the halfway point but she managed to make it through the week. This week isn’t as hectic, only 1 tasting, 2- tops! Two of the tastings I went to last week were for wineries from Down Under. Vidal winery from New Zealand on Monday at the Bluebird Wine shop and Katnook Estate from southwestern Australia on Tuesday. Australia and New Zealand. Two Antipodean  wine producers with vastly different profiles. One, a powerhouse of a producer, churning out millions of bottles a year.  The other a well known sauvignon blanc producer but gaining a reputation for its boutique wineries and wines that have not  been historically produced in that country. Monday night was a tasting of Vidal wines of Hawkes Bay, NZ where I had the opportunity to speak with Hugh Crichton, the winemaker of the Vidal Winery of Hawkes Bay, NZ. Tuesday night was the turn of Wayne Stebhens, winemaker of Katnook Estates in Coonawarra, southeast Australia to take me on a tasting tour of his wines. Both men were passionate and dedicated proponents of their wines but as my grandma used to say, the proof is in the pudding. Vidal is one of those boutique wineries with production limited to the low thousands, located in Hawkes Bay. They started out as a small family owned winery back in 1905 by Spanish immigrants and were one of the early pioneers of winemaking in NZ. Although they were bought out by Villa Maria some years ago, they strive to produce handcrafted wines which reflect both the terroir and Hugh’s skills as a winemaker. Hugh tries to retain as much of the purity of fruit as possible in his wines, not diluting it with too much oak or overextraction while at the same time pricing it reasonably. We tried a range of his wines but the one that...

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Montes Alpha M ’05, Folly ’05, and Purple Angel ’05

I went to a Montes tasting the other day at the Bluebird Wineshop. Montes is one of the iconic wines of Chile, having been written up extensively in various publications as well as getting rave reviews in the Wine Spectator and winning numerous industry awards. I decided to see what all the fuss was about. Montes started out in 1988 and was one of the few Chilean wineries to focus entirely on import production. 90% of their production was for export and England was one of the first markets to benefit from this policy. Today they produce over 5 million bottles and export to over 92 countries, not bad for only being in business 20 years. Montes is seeking to make the varietal Syrah the flagship grape of Chile. To this end, they presented their showcase wine, the Montes Folly, so named because the general consensus at the time they planted the vines was that they were crazy to try and produce a premium wine made from Syrah. We sampled the 100% syrah ’05 Montes Folly. It opened with a full-on black fruit nose, juicy blackcurrants and blackberries predominating, with a tantalizing earthy minerality lingering in the air. It was fresh and lively, bright black cherries, morello cherries and again that earthy minerality shining through on a nicely balanced, clean, crisp wine. It didn’t have the big fruity jamminess that many people associate with new world shiraz. And to differenciate themselves a bit more from the pack, they call the grape syrah (as they do in France) as opposed to shiraz (as they do in the new world i.e., Australia, US, etc). The wine that everyone knows is the iconic Montes Alpha M. We tasted the ’05 M. Composed of 85% cabernet sauvignon, 10% merlot and 5%petite verdot, this lovely is produced from a single vineyard at low yields and aged for one year in new french oak barrels. It had a deeply fruity, intense nose, blackcurrant leaping out of the glass with new...

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