We recently saw a major event in our Grey Lynn tasting room. It was basically a chance for everyone to catch up with their friends. About ninety odd customers arrived alone or in groups, to mingle and taste, while we at Caro’s also met up with some of our favourite people. Namely, all those wonderful winemakers and vignerons who make up our own in-house family of eleven labels, otherwise known as the Caro’s trade catalogue.
There in person to discuss their wines, this troup of accomplished friends and associates showed pretty convincingly – though with great humility, all things considered – exactly why they were part of this particular crowd. While everyone presented a fairly complete range, there were some real highlights on each table.
Astrolabe offered a number of beautiful varietals. But what really stood out was their absolutely expert Sauvignon Blanc wines – the Marborough, the Awatere and the Kekerengu labels. Each one offered such similar but different forms of an impeccable completeness, elegance and weight.
From Awatere we also had the full range of Stanley Estate wines. While their Albarino captures the superb potential of this variety in New Zealand – and their Lagrein offers something almost unique – it was their Pinot Noir that perhaps stole the show. With lovely freshness and fine tannins, the alluring perfume of savoury, spicey dark-red fruits was exactly what Marlborough Pinot is all about.
Rounding out our representation from the top of the South was Ursula Schwarzenbach from Nelson’s Blackenbook, who showed their famous range of richly textural aromatics and other varietals. But what really shined on the day were their lush and generous Chardonnays – particularly the Family Reserve, which managed to offer a whole array of classy oak and savoury flavours in an impressively harmonious, layered, and simply delicious palate.
Speaking of Chardonnay, one of the country’s leaders in that varietal is Tony Bish of Hawkes Bay. On the back of fancy new facilities and world-leading techniques, Tony has grown over a couple of years from two or three highly accessible labels to a stunning mid level range topped by the spectacular Skeetfield ($55.99), before recently introducing a super-premium Chardonnay called “Zen”, which sits on the shelf for $155.
One of the most expensive Chardonnays in the country – and one unquestionably deserving of its price – this wine of opulent texture and extraordinary elegance is sourced from the same dry-grown, old-vine Mendoza fruit that also defines the Skeetfield label. This even higher quality selection of that fruit is however aged in a device – an enormous egg-shaped fermenter constructed out of top quality French oak (seen above) – which is so physically beautiful that it almost belies the intensive technical and winemaking considerations that informed its design.
A more recent addition to our catalogue has been the lovely Element Wines, a label run by Dominic and Rachelle Smith whose plot on the fabled Gimblett Gravels produces wines of real harmony and a gentle, effortless ripeness. Focused at present on a Syrah and Cabernet Merlot from the superb 2016 vintage, these reds offer wonderfully typical yet elegant examples of these varieties, with a palpably boutique quality and handmade appeal that is rarely found at these prices.
Also from Hawkes Bay we had the large and impressive range from a more established Gimblett Gravels-based producer, Squawking Magpie. Owner Gavin Yortt was showing off extreme value in Methode Traditonelle and Pinot Gris, the latter under the inexpensive ‘Chatterer’ label. Very strong in Bordeaux varietals, the Squawking reds moved up in depth and intensity to wines of real breath and ripe structure, such as the impressive Nest Merlot.
From Martinborough was another boutique producer, Katherine Jacobs and Jeremy Corban of Big Sky wines. In addition to a compliment of classic Martinborough styles – Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir Rose, and Sauvignon Blanc – Big Sky also offer one of the country’s finest examples of the Austrian grape, Gruner Veltliner. But the wines for which our customers most look to Big Sky are their wonderfully complete and savoury Pinot Noir reds. Showing perhaps even more elegantly than usual, the Pinots on their table were superb.
Long-standing growers in Waipara, Boneline are now an established presence in the top tier of fine wine. Almost visible above is their new winemaker, Paul Goodege, here with owner Vic Tutton. With calcareous soils and well-chosen varietals, Boneline’s winning local styles – Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, along with a great Sauvignon Blanc – are among the best we’ve seen from the region. A favourite is their Cabernet Franc, a rare variety with a nice prominence in their stylish Bordeuux blend (called ‘Iridium”), which also appears under a single-varietal label (called ‘Amphitheatre’). The current release of this red was deliciously different and elegant, while the previous 2016 vintage won a Bragato trophy.
The night’s rare highlights was a chance to talk to Pete Bartle, a consultant winemaker so hard-working and in-demand that he has almost never been seen around the traps. Pete was responsible for a shocking number of those Central Otago wines that have knocked your socks off over the years. Now out in front of his own exciting new label, called Providore, Pete is bringing his nuanced winemaking expertise – and the inside pick on Central Otago’s best sources of fruit – to a range that was born perfect. With a Blanc de Noir and Rose of impeccable balance, and a beautifully dry but rich-textured Pinot Gris, his stars might be a couple of Pinot Noirs – a cheapie and an over-delivering main label – that have gone straight to our top spots in terms of sheer deliciousness for the price.
To illustrate Pete’s credentials, we only need mention that his many consultancies include serving as winemaker (and glass-pourer, on this occasion) for Grasshopper Rock – a single-vineyard Central Pinot of such discerning popularity and high ranking that it has become a real Caro’s classic. From one of the world’s most southerly vineyards, located in the Alexandra basin, Grasshopper is famous for capturing under this solitary label all those pristine central Otago flavours, while presenting them in a palate that is more refined and feminine than many of the region’s other house styles. And its a style that ages gracefully too, as was shown by the delicious 2012 library stock they brought up specially.
And finally from Central Otago, we were also pleased to be able to chat with Steve Davies of Doctor’s Flat (also pictured above next to Pete Bartle). Steve is both a accomplished ex-estate winemaker (for Akarua and others) as well as a vigneron in loving possession of one of the finest vineyards in Bannockburn. Year by year he produces only one variety under one label, and as a result his expert offering is one of the best wines out of Central Otago. Ripe and flowing but also restrained and mineral-infused, this paradoxical and impressive wine made a magnificent vintage flight on the night.
It’s not the first time we’ve caught up with our friends like this, but each time is special. Thank to our suppliers and our customers for coming along, and we look forward to seeing you again next year!