The Marlborough region at the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island produces about 60 per cent of that country’s wine. The region has plenty of sunshine, low rainfall and cool autumn nights — perfect ingredients for a long growing season and the slow evolution of fruit flavours.
Cloudy Bay in Marlborough has been described as the vineyard that heralded New Zealand’s success with sauvignon blanc. Ivan Sutherland and James Healy were key to the success of Cloudy Bay’s wines.
Viticulturalist Sutherland started with the vineyard in 1986, and oenologist Healy joined in 1991. They left Cloudy Bay in 2002 to start their own venture and produced their first wines two years later under the Dog Point label. In recent years these wines have attracted considerable attention worldwide.
Dog Point concentrates on sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir. When grown on appropriate sites in Marlborough these varieties express excellent fruit characteristics. It is the fruit flavours that make Dog Point wines stand out.
Many of the vines were planted in the late 1970s on free-draining clay loam soils that give unique flavours to the wines. Dog Point continues to supply grapes to Cloudy Bay.
The 2011 Dog Point sauvignon blanc is a luscious wine that James Healy said reflects the region’s soils. It offers aromas of tropical fruits and passionfruit mixed with ripe citrus notes at the grapefruit end of the spectrum. It has a touch of minerality and a refreshing and crisp finish. It should best be enjoyed as a young wine though it could be cellared for a few years.
The other sauvignon blanc they make is the 2010 Section 94. This is a special block of 6 hectares that makes an unusual and delightful wine that some critics describe as “sauvignon blanc with a difference”. It is full of character with considerable depth and complexity, and is one of the nicest examples of sauvignon blanc I have encountered.
Healy said they wanted a wine with good acidity and thus did not use any malolactic fermentation to allow a focus on the wine’s acidity and minerality. This sauvignon blanc spent 18 months in older oak barrels. Ivan said extended lees contact in older oak produced a wine with considerable texture and intense citrus and mineral flavours.
The 2009 chardonnay displays a similar purity of fruit that is compelling. All wines are hand harvested. Ivan said machine harvesting was the “kiss of death” to winemaking because machines produced grape juice that was too coarse.
The chardonnay offers lovely aromas of ripe citrus with hints of toast and roasted nuts plus savoury overtones coming from extended contact with yeast lees. This is a stylish wine with a rich body with flavours of nuts and figs plus a chalky textural complexity that comes from stirring of the lees and malolactic fermentation. It is drinking well now but could be cellared for three to five years.
The 2009 pinot noir offered hints of violets and smoked wood on the nose and a combination of subtle savouriness plus sweet, spicy flavours in the mouth. Ivan said the pinot’s flavours were a reflection of the clay soils in the vineyard.
The average age of the vines is about 20 years. This is a wine that will get better and better as the vines age. Again it is drinking well now, but it could be cellared for four to six years.
The 2008 pinot noir came from a riper vintage and offers aromas of ripe red and black fruits and sweet floral notes. Both pinots have soft tannins and relatively low acidity, and the 2008 has a subtle earthy character with spicy sweetness and a lingering soft finish. It also is drinking nicely now but Ivan said it would age well.
All Dog Point wines are a reflection of the quality that comes from winemakers who know their trade and share a passion for letting the natural fruit flavours and characteristics of the vineyard manifest themselves in the wine.
* This article appeared in China Post on 4 October 2012, page 10, under the headline “Quality fruit flavors from Dog Point”.