Towards a concensus on New Zealand Pinots: 40 wines in 40 minutes

The New Zealand Wine Fair came to Montreal two weeks ago at the height of my hosting duties for WBW 33. What does a good host do when he himself gets invited as a guest*? He attends, and drinks 40 wines in 40 minutes, takes a few photos and then gets back to work.

By the end of WBW 33 and its "Mid-priced wines of the Midi" theme, I claimed to have tasted 40 Languedoc-Roussillon wines in about 40 days. That was in addition to the "virtual tasting" of 40 wines submitted to this site by WBW 33 participants. At the New Zealand Wine Fair, my first wine expo, I figure I tasted 40 wines in 40 minutes. With diverting snacks and freshly-prepared food dishes, conversation with passionate Kiwi winemakers and some discussion and note-taking on the wines themselves with my tasting partner, I easily spent a couple of hours at the Fair, but it still felt like a whirlwind compared to WBW 33. What's more: it is not easy to taste that many wines in that little time. I was surprised and sympathetic for the Michel Phaneufs and Jancis Robinsons of the world.

churton at the montreal wine fair on new zealand wines marche bonsecours hosted the fair in its balroom

Mathieu Turbide of Méchant Raisin is a local voice in wine and he posts a lot of tastings for his readers. Even though he writes in French, I'm sure even most Anglo oenophile can appreciate this recent round-up of rosés he did last week. It basically is everything in the SAQ catalog, rated and described for the rosé drinker in Quebec. If it's pink and on sale in this province, Mathieu's got it. (I love a good rosé guide for local shoppers -- last year it was the Caveman who launched a valiant effort.)

Anyway, it turns out that Mathieu spent time at the Fair too and posted on it. He titles it New Zealand Attacks and that's definitely how it felt for me going from table to table, cleansing and recleansing my palate, not ever spitting but sometimes dumping, getting the inevitable buzz though the serving sizes were thankfully modest.

Though I am an amateur and Mathieu is a professional, we selected the same three Pinots as the best in show. That is reassuring because though wine writers can wield expertise, not all of them necessarily allow you to identify with their palate, and that is what I value most in a wine review/wine reviewer.

The New Zealand Wine Fair's top Pinots are produced by some names that are worth retaining: Carrick, Churton (pictured at right above), and Mt Difficulty. I also noted Waitiri Creek, Waimea (Nelson) and the distinctive Bordeaux-like blends of Alpha Domus but apparently these names aren't available at the SAQ. Check out Mathieu's post for official availability, and vintage and descriptive notes.

What is also reassuring is that the best at the Fair are already in the SAQ catalog so apparently those SAQ buyers who are out there working so that we can drink well deserve some of the credit too, though every NZ producer I talked to would tell me that they were in the midst of on getting on SAQ shelves. I wouldn't hold my breath, unless New Zealand really is attacking, in which case, watch out.

Even though the Fair itself features more wine, both red and white, than you can appreciate (I had to focus on Pinot Noir for example), the producers involved were nothing more than a drop in the New Zealand wine-producing bucket.

Elsewhere, Vinography has reported on the Fair heading to San Francisco. It would be interesting to see which of the wines that our intrepid Alder tastes gets the thumbs-up.

* actually the guest was a friend of mine who works in translation -- he passed on the comp ticket to me when he could not attend... a big thank-you for that.


The ghost of WBW past: "Ego" 2000 and Domaine Sainte-Marguerite 2001

domaine st. marguerite cotes du roussillon 2001
domaine cazes ego cotes du roussillon-villages 2000This here would be the last post on WBW 33 for all time.

I had to post this because I noticed that the Domaine Cazes "Ego" Côtes du Roussillon-Villages 2000 reappeared in stores as if back from the dead just when WBW 33 was winding down. I explained in my roundup that Roussillon bottles were hard to come by in Quebec stores so that explains part of why I rushed out to buy it and churn out a WBW post scriptum.

This Domaine Cazes wine from the 2000 vintage is also on record as Michel Phaneuf's favourite from the producer (a rather large selection in Quebec of some 10 Cazes products, including the Rivesaltes I reviewed a couple of weeks ago, seems especially large in light of the modest Roussillon representation here). His influential approval is part of the reason why inventories depleted away to nothing. So I simply had to try this and really put a nail in the WBW 33 coffin. Since I didn't want to end up hammering away at it all summer long, I picked up the Domaine Sainte-Marguerite Côtes du Roussillon 2001 while I was at it, more serene-looking than "Ego" with sloping shoulders like a Burgundy bottle and quietly fading teardrop label ensconced in grey pearls (shown at top -- click on either bottle image for product details and local availability).

We chopped up a local organic chicken on the occasion of tasting the ashen-faced "Ego" (if you can't help but leave a carbon footprint pursuing your wine hobby then at least the food you serve with it can be sustainable.)

This was one of Eric's purchases from his favourite butcher Boucherie les Fermes Saint-Vincent at Jean-Talon Market. Gordon took on cooking duties and pan-fried the bird with a mirepoix instead of roasting it. Oven-roasting can get very smoky and hot. Montreal was already smoggy and humid, which I think is enough of a drain on your better tasting faculties as it is.

The wine, put right on schedule with this Snakshot of a dinner (that post is to come), was uncorked, carafed and chilled to cellar temperature.

Domaine Cazes's "Ego" requires decanting -- careful decanting -- and I did not see the remark on the label instructing you to do so. I was merely decanting for ceremony as we often do and found that lots of sediment got into the decanter. That said, even a sloppy decanting job with a Bordeaux bottle will manage to get most of the job done.

The second thing about the look of the wine we remarked on was its colour, a dull magenta colour, almost limpid. Before I set it into fridge while the cooking continued I gave it a good sniff. I like to decant wine if only for the superb opportunity it presents to inhale the aromas that gush out. On the nose it was very luxurious, berries and cotton candy.

This was the oldest wine I opened during WBW 33 preparations. Of 40 wines, only a few were 2001s and there were none older than that. This 2000 was indeed old by any standards. The sediment and colour indicate that it should not be cellared much longer.


Finally the tasting. Chocolate-covered strawberries all the way! I was on my heels. Light to medium bodied, ample acid completing the wine's arch and a nice finish. No wood though I was getting some sweet vanilla notes. A relaxed wine, enjoying its golden years, as far from green as you could get.

This was a delicious dinner wine. And a fascinating look at an aged wine devoid of standard ageability factors such as the presence of Cabernet or other tannic grape variety, of oak barrels, and a Roussillon pedigree to boot. It reminded me of the recent discussion on Eric Asimov's The Pour in which aged Beaujolais was assessed for all its worth. Clearly, all you need is good acid and some integrity supplied by the grape, be it even a Gamay or even a Mourvèdre. It turns out that Domaine Cazes is selling their 1993 "Ego" online.

I tasted the Domaine Sainte-Marguerite another night and had no notes taken, but I'd be surprised if these two wines weren't identical in style, weight and flavour profile. The descriptive file indicates that it, unlike the Ego, added Carignan to the Syrah-Grenache-Mourvèdre blend. Sainte-Marguerite may have had a little less complexity but it too was an eye-opener for me at the very least for how delicate a 2001 red from Langudoc-Roussillon could be.

Bernard et Andre Cazes, Rivesaltes, France. 13.5%. Les Vignerons du Cellier de Thuir, Thuir, France. 12.5%.

Onward to WBW 34 people! WBW 33 has been moved to the catacombs.

catacombs design


Ghost of WBW 33
WBW 33, by the numbers
The roundup
Spirit of WBW 33: The feast
WBW 33
A WBW 33 appeal
Sweet side of WBW 33, pt 2
Sweet side of WBW 33, pt 1
WBW 33 shapeshifters: Vin de Pays, pt. 2
WBW 33 shapeshifters: Vin de Pays, pt. 1
The preparations
The backgrounder
The announcement


WBW 33: The master list
WBW 33: The country wines
WBW 33: The top ten

catacombs design