WineFolio Top 10 Tasting: ‘Other Whites’

Top 10 Tasting Other whites

We sneaked in a Top 10 Tasting, only a couple of months since our endeavours with Red Blends – www.winefolio.co.nz/?p=5323 – as one of our crew – Morningside legend Nigel – was heading away for a long stretch in June. We needed a class that wouldn’t be too huge, so that we could christen his new wine cave, with just three of us able to squeeze in and judge some wines. I settled on ‘Other Whites’ as it would likely be manageable, as well as blooming interesting. I really love this spectrum of wines – I was expecting Chenin Blanc, Albarino, Viognier and Grüner Veltliner to make up most of the entries (and they did). All varietals of which rarely go to making bland characterless wines (and didn’t). I was also keen to get ‘White Blends’ into this. Always a favourite at the Cellar Door, but rarely have a spotlight shone on them in tastings.

There were an excellent range of entries, from many regions. Where a wine that made the Top 10 was also the top scorer of its varietal, I’ve noted that. Look at the spread of types through the Top 10 though – I’m stoked with the wide-ranging results. Hopefully you’ll find some of these either in stores, or now have the confidence to order one from a restaurant wine list. Looking at the wider world of varietals is super interesting and you’ll always discover something new. Before last year I’d literally never had a Grüner Veltliner that I liked – and now we have two in the top four of our Top 10 Tasting!

Viognier was possibly the star of the show – with 50% of the top six, and this is a varietal that I believed has really kicked on and established itself as the top contender outside the mainstream grapes. Able to be made in a breadth of expressions – from unctuous spiciness to drier and minerally. At home at the northern end of the Rhone Valley, Viognier – like the other star Rhone grape – Syrah – is looking really at home in New Zealand.

We really enjoyed the breadth of wines on offer tonight – good on the wineries and labels for keeping this depth and range on the market.

Some bone dry, some plush and verdant. There’s an awful lot to look for when you’re next of a mind to step out of your comfort zone and take a dive into “other whites”.

Onto the wines…

#1 – Church Road McDonald series Viognier 2019

I contacted Chris Scott, Chief Winemaker at Church Road, for comments about their Viognier…

“The wine comes off a 0.8 ha block of Viognier on our Redstone Vineyard in the Bridge Pa triangle. Red Metal soils (an old Greywacke gravel river bed, covered by a shallow layer of windblown loess which includes iron rich volcanic ash that give the soils a distinctive red orange hue). This vineyard is very sheltered by Roy’s Hill and is very early ripening when compared to other parts of Bridge Pa and Gimblett Gravels. The block is quite close planted,  with 1.6m rows and 1.2m vine spacing and the fruiting wire reasonably close to the ground which further helps create a warm micro-climate for the fruit. 

The best viogniers we’ve made have always come from warm years, so I think, at least for the style we try to make, that this site and trellis design work well. We lay down two canes per vine, and shoot thin and bunch thin down to very low crop loads. 19 was a great year too of course, even though we did have quite a wet summer, it dried out in Feb and then we had a good sustained drought period right through Autumn which of course is great if you’re a winegrower. The fruit was full flavoured and in exceptional condition when harvested.

From a winemaking perspective, viognier is an interesting beast, and we’ve played with lots of different approaches over the years. Two things, I think, are very important. Firstly, though viognier is an aromatic variety, it doesn’t necessarily behave like one. I’ve always found it expresses it’s aromatics much more openly if we employ winemaking methods that might instinctively be considered counter to that goal. Barrel fermentation rather than tank, oxidative juice handling, and malolactic fermentation all seem to tend the wines toward more expressive fruit.

Secondly, viognier is a naturally low acid variety and this structure helps give that oily richness that you see in good Condrieu. I think that texture is really important. It’s part of the varietal identity of Viognier. Something that gives it a personality that is clearly different to a Chardonnay for example. A number of New World winemakers I’ve spoken to (though certainly not all) baulk at those low acids and will adjust significantly, fundamentally changing the nature of the wine. In contrast in the Northern Rhone, winemakers are putting the wines through malo to reduce acid even further, because they see that as being critical to the palate texture of the wines.

I’m very much in the latter camp. We don’t add acid, and we do let the wine go through 100% MLF, and we don’t worry about the numbers. Other than that, the fruit was crushed to press and allowed to undergo skin contact for about 5 hours. After pressing it was lightly settled and then filled to barrel (228 L barriques, French and Hungarian) as still very turbid juice. 100% Wild ferment, 100% MLF and around 21% new French oak. 9 months barrel maturation on full yeast lees, bottled unfined and without sterile filtration. (There’s a mention of milk product on the back label, which is a drop of cream to each barrel to prevent foaming over during fermentation)”.

The thoughts of the WineFolio panel on this winning wine:

Full-bodied indeed, with the interest cranked up to maximum. Grilled pineapple, cardamom, jasmine and satsuma on the nose, with toasty vanilla oak notes following through into the deep palate. A tightrope balance here, with the plush fruit, soft acidity, a nibble of tannin, baking spice and nutty woody complexity. Gorgeously textural too, and a long, drying finish. The Boss noted “All the fun of the fair”. Our top Viognier

* note this is a Cellar Door only wine, and can be purchased from churchroad.com

Blank Canvas Gruner
Passage Rock Viognier

#2 – Blank Canvas Grüner Veltliner 2015

This is the current vintage – even though it is a 2015, having been aged before release. Starts out delicate and fresh, pithy and saline with a delicious peppery astringency that is a ‘pfefferl’ signature of Grüner. Lemon zest, grapefruit, cress and pear flavours begin, as it then takes a turn deeper into weight and richness – peach, dried pineapple and blood orange. Dry, but with a sumptuous spice of nutmeg and dukkah. Lovely texture, some mineral notes, and ending with a lime marmalade sweetness on the finish. Our top Grüner Veltliner.

#3 – Passage Rock Reserve Viognier 2019

Pale and golden in the glass, with aromatics to match. Peach, apricot and honeysuckle, with allspice, vanilla and toasted almonds. Expansive palate, broad and plush with a generosity and ripeness that is beguiling. Complex – a light but integrated acidity keeps the wine balanced, and there’s an opulent barrel influence in the spice, caramel and candy-apple tones mid-palate. An enveloping texture builds and is silken, deep and rounded. “One to lose yourself in” as one set of notes explained.

St Clair Gruner
Vergence mk1

#4 – St. Clair ‘Block 5 – Bull Block’ Grüner Veltliner 2020

More Grüner! A fresh champagne-like nose of golden apple, hazelnut, peach, apricot and white pepper, with a lovely yeasty brioche top note. Delicate but with a subtle power, weight and a juicy acidity. Spices come forward, with cardamom, jalapeno, dried papaya and ginger – as well as a curious almost ‘marmite’ note – underlying the stone fruit flavours. Chalky, oyster shell minerality is also layered into a complex, elegant expression which was much admired around the table. 

#5 – Pegasus Bay Vergence Mk I

A big personality, with aromatics that burst from the glass. Plenty of funk, flavour and charisma. Apricot, brazil nut, grapefruit, orange zest, elderflower and oatmeal on the nose. Beautiful weight to the palate with a pumping acidity and some savoury notes of hay, bay leaf and nettle. Outstanding texture, where the complex winemaking really shows – waxy, oily, creamy and pithy. Some tannic phenolics and a drier finish that lasts superbly. Our top white blend.

Topsy Turvey Viognier
Terrace Edge Albarino

#6 – Topsy Turvey Viognier 2020

Another ‘big’ Viognier, showing a fruit caramel nose of stonefruit, citrus and orange blossom. Concentrated and powerful but well-balanced and despite being quite hedonistic, there’s “some lovely detail and poise on show here” according to our panel. Complex, with layers of discovery – good oak, gentle spice and a mellow acidity all play a part. The texture has a suppleness that’s plush and caramelly. Finishes long, harmonic and rich.

#7 – Terrace Edge Albarino 2021

Generous and full on the nose, with a myriad of aromatics – ranging from a briney salinity to ripe melon and with citrus and stonefruit in between. Succulent and spicy on the palate, with great acidity and intensity of fruit. Pear, apricot and quince come through over a delicate phenolic nuance. Some vanilla bean, nougat, toasty barrel notes add to the luscious texture. Our top Albarino.

Clearview Semillon

#8 – Clearview Estate Reserve Semillon 2020

Dry, with a mineral-flecked earthiness underlying the fresh, bold flavours. An elegant nose of lime peel, nectarine, lemon curd and pink apple. Waxy, with a slippery, lanolin-like texture apparent as the zesty acidity kicks in and drives the palate. Yeasty lees influence, a truffle-mushroom savouriness, and a hint of toasted oak add depth and interest. “Really complex and characterful wine” was easy to agree upon around the judges. Our top Semillon.

#9 – Tohu Whenua Awa Pinot Blanc 2020

Delicately spiced, with butterscotch, vanilla and lemon balm on the nose next to white peach, roast almond and mandarin. A fruit-forward style, with a lush textural palate – more spices and a lovely baked apple strudel, toasty baguette crust note too. Dry, with dried fruits coming through – apricot and fruit peel. “Smooth but concentrated” say the notes! Lovely pithy, mouth-watering finish. Our top Pinot Blanc

#10 – Fromm Chenin Blanc 2020

Bone dry with a bracing acidity and clean, pure fruit. On the nose is grapefruit, pea pod, lime, apple and a lift of delicate white spring flowers. Tight, balanced and with a well-judged clarity that makes the fruit shine beautifully. Saline, with a chalky minerality like a sea breeze. A hint of savoury elements – green olive, capsicum, hazelnut and dried herbs. The finish is dry, peppery and precise. “Quite delicious”. Our top Chenin Blanc.

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