RICHARD ESLING: Family of 12 adopted by wine society

Wines from the New Zealand Family of XII

Wines from the New Zealand Family of XII

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Much as the members of Arundel Wine Society support many of the local charities, this event was nothing to do with social services, but about a family of wine companies.

In 2005, twelve of New Zealand’s most prestigious and enduring wineries got together and formed what they call the ‘Family of XII’.

The idea is to promote New Zealand wine at its best. Rather than being in fierce competition with each other, the members of ‘the family’ share information, both with regards to wine-making and to marketing, to the benefit of all.

Last week the AWS members had the opportunity of learning about these wineries and tasting a range of wines, many of which were revelations. The companies and wineries concerned are at the cutting edge of New Zealand wine-making and are all passionate about their craft and creating exceptional wines ‘beyond the normal’.

The wine industry in New Zealand has seen a meteoric rise in the past 35 years and continues, not only to grow, but to develop in terms of both quality and variety. Although the vast majority of wine produced is still good old Sauvignon Blanc, other grape varieties are gaining ground, both for white wines and for red. As both experience and expertise continues to grow, the importance of ‘terroir’ and origin is becoming more and more important. These are concepts which have been refined over centuries in the wine making areas of Europe, but in many New World countries, the time span is somewhat shorter.

One of the relatively new white grape varieties to New Zealand is Viognier, planted currently on a very small scale. This is one of the great aromatic grape varieties, whose original home is the Rhone Valley in France. Millton Vineyards Riverpoint is one of the Family of 12, producing a deep flavoured, aromatic Viognier from their vineyards in the Gisborne region on the East coast of North Island. Complex, top level winemaking techniques are used, including fermentation in French oak barrels, some fermentation on skins and the addition of Marsanne, another grape variety from the Rhone. The resulting wine is astonishingly good and in their own words is ‘a haunting wine with a bristling delicacy, buoyed by a noted mineral edge’. Great stuff, and all this for only £13.75 a bottle.

All the white wines tasted were of tremendous quality, but another which stood out for all tasters was the Chardonnay 2014 from Kumeu River Estate. Made in a truly Burgundian style, this Estate’s wines have received outstanding accolades and are considered world class by several international wine commentators, myself included. Excellent value at £19.50 per bottle.

Regarding red wine from New Zealand, the most widely grown variety is Pinot Noir which is perfectly adapted to the cool climate. But again, other grape varieties are gaining ground and produce very interesting wines when adapted to the appropriate terroir and micro-climate. The most surprising of these in the Family of 12 tasting was a Syrah 2013 from Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels in Hawke’s Bay. Deep coloured, yet with mellow tannins and rich, ripe, berry flavours. It had a wonderful aroma of black pepper, cedar and herbs, with a fine, long, stylish finish.

At nearly £20 a bottle, not a cheap wine but superb value for the quality. Worth seeking out, along with the others to perhaps change your views of New Zealand wines.

Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. An erstwhile wine importer, he runs a wine agency and consultancy company called WineWyse, is founder and principal of the Sussex Wine Academy, chairman of Arundel Wine Society and is an International Wine Judge. Twitter @richardwje. Visit www.winewyse.com.

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