Most critics acknowledge that Henri Bourgeois is one of the best wine estates in France. The Bourgeois family have been making wine in the small village of Chavignol in the Sancerre region of the Loire for 10 generations. In the Oxford Wine Companion Jancis Robinson MW describes Henri Bourgeois as “meticulous growers, producing the best of Sancerre”.
In 2000 the family established a vineyard in Marlborough in New Zealand after spending 12 years on a worldwide search to find terroir similar to what they know in Chavignol. They named the estate Clos Henri. The label features the beautiful church next to the winery in Chavignol.
The 2012 Clos Henri pinot noir is eminently drinkable. Sweet dark fruit mingles with soft and velvety tannins, along with a mineral and fruit texture that makes the wine very approachable. This pinot spent a year in oak, a quarter of it new, which explains the style of tannin, though the ripe Marlborough fruit contributes to the soft mouthfeel.
The 2012 Clos Henri sauvignon blanc is definitely not a typical New Zealand savvy. It has a flinty feel with loads of passion fruit, guava and peach on the nose that reflect the ripe fruit. Yet it finishes dry, and has slightly more acid than a typical Loire sauvignon blanc. People expecting a typical Kiwi savvy will find it much more stylish and refined. It has a long and crisp finish, and could best described as an aristocratic wine that needs food.
About 95 per cent was fermented in stainless steel tanks with a small amount treated in old French oak barrels. The aim was to boost the ageing potential. The wine spent eight months on lees with constant stirring, to obtain a more rounded feel in the mouth.
New Zealand boutique brand TerraVin, also based in Marlborough, recently released its 2013 sauvignon blanc. This elegant wine won a silver medal at the International Wine Challenge last year, as did the 2011 vintage. Winemaker Gordon Ritchie said a fifth of the 2013 wine was aged and fermented in French oak barrels. This sauvignon blanc has a fresh nose with hints of citrus and white flowers. On the palate it offers racy acidity with persistent length. The 3D Wines Experience of Lincolnshire provided a sample of this wine.
The TerraVin 2011 Te Ahu, a sauvignon blanc aged in new French oak and released later than the more traditional styles of Marlborough savvy, took out several awards at last year’s International Wine Challenge including the trophy for oaked sauvignon blanc and the trophy for international sauvignon blanc. TerraVin are on the wine list of a range of Michelin-starred restaurants. This wine was not tasted.
The Ohau Gravels is probably first new region to be developed in New Zealand for some years and it produces wines that are very fruit driven. Ohau is on the west coast at the base of the north island. Over centuries the Ohau River has laid down deposits of gravel, resulting in stony yet fertile soils. Sunshine reflects off the stones onto the vines, helping to produce high quality grapes.
The 2014 Ohau Gravels pinot gris is a formidable wine intense fruit character and strong aromas of pears, spice and honey plus complex citrus and mineral tones. It feels like a high-end wine from Alsace though with more prominent fruit. In the mouth it presents layers of texture and feels luscious without being heavy. It finishes long and dry with hints of bitter almonds on the back palate, and the lingering aftertaste suggests grapefruit and minerals. The 2014 Ohau Gravels sauvignon blanc is another large mouth full of fruit, and will seem more familiar to those who like traditional Kiwi savvy.
In 2011 American winemaker Mike Weersing told us he spent four years travelling the world looking for his ideal vineyard site. He found it in the Waikari region of North Canterbury, about an hour’s drive north of Christchurch, the main city on the south island.
We highly praised Weersing’s Field of Fire chardonnay after tastings two years ago. The 2011 was the first vintage using clay amphorae, and Weersing described the results as “fascinating”. “The giare [clay vessels] provide focus and clarity, while the barrels lend richness and opulence. The combination seems better than either component on its own.”
Those earlier tastings noted aromas of cashew and toast enveloped in elegant acidity, and suggested it was as good as a French premier cru white burgundy. But the bottle we tried this time was a lesser wine. Perhaps the screw-cap closure was faulty. Wine under screw cap can oxidise or lose flavour if the cap has been damaged and this chardonnay did not display the beauty we experienced in the past.
Weersing’s 2009 Angel Flower pinot noir has an ethereal nose like those of great French burgundies with flavours of delicate red and black fruits. Think dried rose petals and strawberries plus cloves, cinnamon and orange peel that linger like memories of great occasions. But the wine did not offer as much satisfaction in the mouth. It was a fascinating process – enjoying the delights of the aromas but then feeling somewhat let down by the taste. This is still a great wine, but earlier tastings of the same vintage gave more satisfaction. As many wine writers have noted there are no great wines, only great bottles.