The Bottom Line
Accordingly to the 2013 edition of the New Zealand Winegrowers Annual Report, New Zealand exports its wine to 80 different countries to the tune of more than $1.2 billion, an increase of 22% since 2009. Wine is the country’s biggest crop, so the need for a great vintage is of no small importance – luckily for New Zealand’s bottom line and oenophiles everywhere, all signs point to 2013 being an absolutely legendary year.
On the North Island, which includes the major wine-growing regions of Gisborne, Hawkes Bay, and Martinborough, the growing season got off to a cool start. Spring was marred by severe frosts that hampered early growth, leading to plenty of tense and anxious winemakers and, for some, a lower overall yield. Still, the rest of the season was pretty unremarkable; the weather stayed warm and dry and the vines stayed happy. Harvest came a little earlier than normal but the grapes that were picked were beautiful. Having an ideal season, in both weather and length, means the fruit was expressive and concentrated, with plenty of saliva-inducing acidity and a strong, elegantly structured base.
Down on the South Island, spring got off to a similarly cool start. Frost hampered things in some regions, like Central Otago, but damage was minimal in most areas. Still, some vineyards suffered, including the belonging to the world-renowned Kim Crawford, who lost a reported 20% of his crop, but those losses happened early enough that they were factored into the long-term plans. Crawford told Wine Spectator that he usually thins his crops by 30%, which helps prevent diluting the overall harvest, so in the end the frosts meant little in terms of final product. Summer was dry almost to the point of drought, and while the grapes got enough water to mature, harvest on the South Island was not only early but also a little frantic – different varietals usually mature at staggered intervals, but in 2013 they all crossed the finish line at the same time. To avoid grapes over-ripening or even rotting on the vine, varietals like Sauvignon Blanc that were normally picked over three or so weeks were completely harvested in about 16 days. All the rushing around was a logistical nightmare, but the wine industry is not or the faint of heart, and for most, the stress and frenetic crush paid off.
The 2012 vintage in New Zealand was disappointingly small, dealing a huge blow to producers who were largely unable to meet consumer’s demands, so the comparatively high yield in 2013 is putting a lot of smiles on a lot of faces. For the average wine buyer, though, it isn’t just about being able to buy this year’s wine, the questions is: how does it taste? The answer is simple – really, really, good. Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc in particular are showing beautifully. In their best years these varietals show the kind of balance and complexity that keeps you coming back sip after sip, discovering more and more with each caress of the wine against your palate, and that intoxicating effect is very much in evidence here. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is sought after for very good reason, and those that crave the varietal’s crisp, high-acidity, wet stone-like qualities will be thrilled. Likewise, the Pinot Noirs are soft and supple, full of the kind of sexy, velvet-like tannins and luscious ripeness only a great vintage produces, and Merlot, Pinot Grigio, and Chardonnay are also having a moment.
2013 in New Zealand was a bit of magic – warm but not too warm, cool but not too cold, dry but never depriving the grapes of the water they needed to arrive at harvest juicy, plump, and primed for picking. The last few vintages in New Zealand were a letdown for everyone involved, but the quality and quantity of wine coming in 2013 should go a long ways towards making up lost ground. Buy early and buy often, and don’t be put off by prices that may seem a little higher than usual; the winemakers know they’ve bottled magic, and you shouldn’t be afraid to pay for the privilege of tasting it.
2012 Lawson’s Dry Hills Reserve Pinot Noir, $30 – This is not a shy version of Pinot Noir. Dip your nose into the glass and you’ll be greeted with a raucous blend of oak and berries, a combination that is continually present throughout the tasting process. It’s juicy, soft, and per usual with high-end Pinot Noirs, infinitely sexy. The concentration is superb as is the interplay between the wine’s sweet and spicy notes.
2010 Brancott Estate Chosen Rows Sauvignon Blanc, $50 – With Chosen Rows, Brancott sought to elevate the standard for New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and many would argue they have succeeded. The wine is zesty and herbaceous, full of brambles and spicy accents. The peach and pear flavors are so warm they almost taste like they were soaked and baked in honeycomb, which could make the wine flabby, but the bright, zingy acidity keeps the wine in line. 2010 marked the first release of Chosen Rows and only 3500 bottles were produced; look for bigger things from Brancott, both flavor and production wise, in the future.
2009 Kumeu River Coddington Chardonnay, $37 – If you had a moment of insanity after dinner and decided to scarf down an apple crumble and a peach cobbler with a Mai Tai, you’d start to get an idea of what this delicious Chardonnay tastes like. There’s something comforting about the sweet, baked aspects of the fruit, but that roundness is kept from getting overly stodgy thanks to a vibrant thread of acidity and mineral and cedar notes that hang out on the palate long after the fruit has dissipated.
Featured image from Flickr user https://www.flickr.com/photos/flissphil/55123274