Must-Have Wine: Neudorf Vineyard

Directly following the New Zealand Pinot Noir Celebration 2010 in February, I attended the Nelson Aromatics Symposium, staying at Neudorf Vineyard, which was celebrating 30 years of winemaking. And no matter how many times I visit Neudorf, I am always struck by the beauty of the property, with its extensive, immaculately manicured gardens and sweeping vineyard views towards the Moutere Hills, totally captivating at sunset. It is the quintessential, wholesome vineyard and cellar door experience, indeed therapeutic for a wine writer, cleansing one of any wine industry disenchantment and I always leave completely rejuvenated.

Sitting on the veranda on a perfect summers afternoon with Tim and Judy Finn and Neudorf winemaker John Kavanagh, a relaxed yet instructive two-hour tasting of the full Neudorf range was inspiring, every wine impressive in its purity of fruit, brightness of acidity and balance, even if I was somewhat influenced by the conducive surrounds.

Elegance underpins the Neudorf style, a poised and sometimes reserved nature misconstrued in comparative tastings, particularly with pinot noir and on many occasions I have found myself defending Moutere Pinot Noir against more in-your-face New Zealand pinots in a line-up.

And yet it is this very subtlety of flavors and complexities and seamless textural finesse that sets Neudorf apart from others, a combination of a unique site, old vines and deep-seated experience that comes from over 30 years of dedication and pursuing a refined, subtle style that expresses its true sense of place.

This subtlety and sophistication is perhaps lost on the mass market but with such limited production, Neudorf need not be concerned. I personally feel the Finns' perseverance and achievements as well as their altruistic commitment in building New Zealand's reputation for distinctive wines, deserves more recognition within the industry, conceivably the consequence of a burgeoning wine industry and a plethora of new labels.

There is no question in my mind that Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay is the point of reference for New Zealand chardonnay, with an undisputable track record for quality and age-ability with which only the likes of Kumeu River and Te Mata Estate can be associated.

With some of the oldest pinot noir vines in the country, the Moutere Pinot Noir is distinctively unique and given bottle age, develops the highly desirable silky tannins and secondary complexities akin to red burgundy, qualities that many New Zealand pinot noir producers are still aiming to achieve.

Neudorf Rieslings are perhaps their most intense wines, as you would expect of this variety although they still retain a sense of elegance and fineness and a honeyed complexity that I associate with Rieslings from Mosel, Germany.

Their Sauvignon Blanc is a personal favourite and I consider it the best in the country with an unmatched nervosity and tantalising tanginess. It's the sort of savvy that converts the sceptics and opens their minds to the parallel universe of sauvignon blanc.

Neudorf Pinot Gris's are superbly unctuous and exotic with the richness and intensity of flavours that Alsace enthusiasts admire. In a way, they are perhaps their most underrated wines as this variety and rich style is going through consumer ambivalence. There is also a propensity to drink pinot gris too young, unfortunately a consequence of commercial examples, whereas Neudorf Pinot Gris's develop brilliantly over five years and more.

Actually, that can be said of all Neudorf wines. They really repay short-term cellaring (five years) and for those who have the patience and appropriate conditions, 10 years and beyond.

Neudorf Brightwater Riesling 2008

Perfume of fresh cut apple, floral with summer clover fields, lemon scents in the background, distinctive river rocks minerality, breaths out with some complexity of lemon mints and spiciness yet a fineness and gentleness on the bouquet; saying that, the plate is racy and powerful with lots of fresh apple and a surge of lime, infused with wet stone minerality and impressive length with a lemon-edged and almost a chalky, seemingly bone-dry finish despite 8 grams of residual sugar tantalizingly balanced by 7 grams invigorating, natural acidity. Wonderful drink now although will develop nicely over five to 10 years.

Neudorf Moutere Riesling 2009

Scent of ripe fig and an alluring mélange of tropical and stone fruit nuances - nectarine, guava - with a background of tangerine and orange, a gentle perfumed sweetness of white honey and lime and palm sugar. An initial surge of ripe peaches engulfs the palate, beautifully textured with ripe red delicious apple freshness and tartness kicking in and a brilliant foil for the sweetness of the wine, an astounding 50 grams I am informed, yet you would hardly pick that, with a whopping 8.2 grams of natural acidity. Very smooth and seamless palate with a lingering lime and palm sugar tailing with a touch of honey and orange and mandarin flavours - brilliant wine with a wink to Mosel. Whilst evocative as it is, this wine really deserves a good 5 years ageing to do it justice with the structure to age way beyond 10 years.

Neudorf Sauvignon Blanc 2008

Pronounced perfume of passion fruit, kiwifruit, grapefruit, enticing custard-like sweetness to the perfume, hints of fresh snow peas; the palate is racy with green apple along with pear and lots of grapefruit tanginess and succulence, superbly textured with racy steeliness and minerality, has much more backbone and poise than most – consistently rates as my best New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Drink now although perhaps irrelevant as sold out with the excellent 2009 now in circulation.

Neudorf Chardonnay Nelson 2008

Nuances of custard, crème Brule and vanilla pod with a lifted citrus perfume; the palate brimming with grapefruit and fresh pineapple (grilled pineapple says Judi), tensioning to a more nashi pear, Korean apple flavour with a powerful surge lemon that builds in succulence to tangerine and blood grapefruit. A lively, mouth-watering chardonnay that draws you in to the next glass with its refreshing citrus lingering amongst pickled ginger/spiciness - drinking superbly now.

Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay 2008

Engaging perfume with a sherbet-like quality, subtle crème brulė toffee-ness, white peach and nectarine with some fresh fig, also some spicy complexity with cardamom and fennel, yellow curry-like nuances - very fine bouquet with restrained pedigree. The palate is sleek yet noticeably richer than the bouquet suggest with hints of caramel and ripe peach with the grilled sweet pineapple again (could well be a Neudorf site-distinctive nuance) yet superbly enveloped in piquant lemon-citrus acidity tensioning the palate and lending a nervy, tightness to a youthful finish with a hint of otherwise seamless oak. Very classy and distinctive chardonnay - from 20 to 30 year old Mendoza vines with a proven track record of ageing gracefully well past 10 years and taking on distinctly white burgundy-like characters.

Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay 2004 (Very challenging vintage, rain, botrytis but end up having a long hang time)

Custard-like sweetness to the perfume, vanilla ice cream and pronounced nougat richness, poached peaches, ripe mango, again lots of spicy complexity - cardamom and fennel and turmeric yellow curry. Rich, creamy texture, custard and grilled pineapple and ripe peach, really long on the palate goes on forever with a smoky-pork fat nuance and spicy fresh ginger, oscillating to coconut flakes and custard sweetness on the finish. Drinking superbly but showing no sign of fading and will hold for several more years. We were all salivating at the thought of lobster and pineapple grilled on the BBQ to go with it.

Neudorf Moutere Pinot Gris 2008 (15 year-old vines)

Ripe pear, fresh fig and guava with a distinct quince paste note amongst almond skin, hints of nougat. The palate is peachy and viscous with a smoky, pork fat quality and a spicy pepperiness, there's a pistachio nut tailing and nougat like quality to the sweetness, and little bit of honeyed sweetness, leading to an overall creamy and soft texture. Very appealing now and would be excellent with fruits and soft, runny cheeses, but really should be cellared for a 3 to 5 years to allow the primary sweetness transform to richer complexities.

Neudorf Maggie's Block Pinot Gris 2009

Brighter and more tightly perfumed with peaches, poached pink guava, and reminds me of Thai pink pomelo. The palate is markedly zippy with a mandarin and orange succulence, although builds in plushness mid-palate with tropical flavours and lots of peachiness – a really energetic back-palate is charged with lemon mints, gushing pink pomelo and freshly squeezed mandarin augmented by fresh ginger spice - excellent balance between the exotic fruits and refreshing acidity making for a really invigorating and sprightly wine. Less opulent than the Moutere and made in a relatively drier style with 5 grams residual sugar and 7 grams acidity.

Neudorf Tim's Block Pinot Noir 2008

Black Cherry and blueberry amongst dried tomato paste and tamarillo flesh, with a peppery spiciness and smokiness with olive tapenade nuances. The palate opens with a savoury quality and perkiness of sour plum and deep black cherry, dried tomato and black olive and spiciness and the warmth of Mediterranean-like aromas. The mid-palate builds in sweetness and richness with more cherry and blueberry flavours lending a juiciness and attractiveness to the wine with gentle black tea tannins and long palate and refreshing tailing of tangy acidity. Excellent balancing act of sweet and sour flavours makes for a very approachable, versatile style pinot.

Neudorf Moutere Pinot Noir 2008

Nebbiolo like vibrancy with juniper, blood rose and red cherry, a wonderfully captivating perfume with lots of spice and peppermill, dried thyme and briar complexity, the power of bouquet fanned by bright acidity and an exceptional pureness of the fruit. Really intense palate, piercing, red cherry and wild strawberry, red currant piquancy, tightly wound with an overall intensity yet elegance with restrained oak and grape tannins are incredibly fine already with amazing silky, texture, and an invigorating spicy warm tailing of perky acidity. Made from some of the oldest pinot noir vines in New Zealand - 30 years plus – and clearly shows the benefit of old vines structure and defined exceptional fruit. It really needs a good 3 or 4 years though, to do the quality of the justice, and will greatly reward those with the patience to cellar for 10 years.

Neudorf Moutere Pinot Noir 2005

Big, lifted nose of ripe black cherry with a sweetness and subtle sweaty saddle, reminds me of a hot day in pine forest, very alluring secondary characters coming through, aromas of cooking mushrooms, straw and hay, and little chicken shed (nice farmyard nuances!) black olive tapenade, thyme oils and tarragon notes – the sort of herbal garrigue-warm-earth characters of Provence. Lush, sweet black fruits and quince paste like intensity on the palate, certainly showing a real difference of weight than usual, perhaps the low yields and concentrated of a warmer vintage. The palate builds in concentration, enveloped in fine, earthy tannins and tangy acidity and showing almost primary, youthful structure still. I get the feeling this brooding monster (comparable to Neudorf's super-elegant style) will continue to develop for 10 years.

Neudorf Home Vineyard Moutere 2005 (from their oldest Pommard clones)

Wonderfully rich with a deep black cherry and blueberry perfume, again hot day in the cedar forest with the garrigue nuances. (On queue a cicada pitches in, Tim commenting they have only been around for the last week, a very late summer start), there's a hint of liquorice and fireside charcoals and overall brooding quality to the bouquet. The palate is rich and powerful yet really soft and silky tannin structure; there's an incredible length and poise with concentrated juniper and sour plum adding an edible tanginess to the length and an infusion of Indian spices augmenting a warm spicy, dark chocolate finish. A really impressive wine that reminds off the concentration and seductiveness of an Angelo Gaja Sori Tildin, only silkier tannins!

There was a palpable sense of satisfaction around the tasting table as we reflected on all the wine. One got the feeling that whilst an atypical vintage, 2005 will one of those legendary years for Neudorf and the wines will live long. Overall, a most enjoyable tasting; reaffirming my admiration for what the Finn's have achieved and their indefatigable enthusiasm inspirational.

With the warm late afternoon sun beaming down, John Kavanagh intuitively declared the best course of action now was a cold pint of Three Boys Indian Pale Ale at the Moutere Inn, which just happens to be New Zealand's oldest pub – but that's another story…

For more on Neudorf http://www.thewanderingpalate.com/neudorf-vineyard.html and www.neudorf.co.nz

Available in Hong Kong through Watson's Wine Cellar www.watsonswine.com

Singapore, The Wine Guru www.wineguru.sg

Kumeu River Wine Dinner at Coriander Leaf with Master of Wine, Michael Brajkovich August 21 in Singapore

The Wandering Palate has been on a chardonnay crusade for the last year, predicting the resurging interest in this variety with the adage 'ABC, ''Anything But Chardonnay' displaced by 'Another Brilliant Chardonnay'. For my commentary on the stylistic changes in the new world and reviews on the best contemporary chardonnay's of Australia and New Zealand visit www.thewanderingpalate.com/ and the Must-Have Wine column at Asia Sentinel, for the latest chardonnay review: www.asiasentinel.com

Adding to the momentum of the chardonnay crusade, The Wandering Palate is holding a series of wine dinners with chardonnay specialists kicking off with one of the world's most distinguished masters of the variety, Michael Brajkovich MW, winemaker at the family-owned, icon chardonnay producer, Kumeu River, in North Auckland, New Zealand. Brajkovich was also the first New Zealander to attain the coveted Master of Wine credentials with his studies on chardonnays global permeations and research on wild yeasts and fermentation techniques touchstone. Brajkovich is an engaging, down to earth speaker, so don't be perturbed by his acumen. Besides, he's a very friendly bloke and this intimate and informal dinner is a great opportunity for a close encounter with one of the most erudite winemakers and master of wines on the planet.

Putting Kumeu River's reputation in to perspective, this third-generation family-owned winery was established in 1944, evolving from the original "San Marino Vineyards" with the first Kumeu River Chardonnay made in 1985 with Michael Brajkovich clocking up 25 successive vintages of chardonnay in 2009; an enviable achievement in the new world of wine and equally commendable amongst the top echelons of white burgundy producers. Indeed, given 4 to 5 years bottle age, Kumeu River Chardonnays are often mistaken for premier cru white burgundy in blind tastings.

"Few Chardonnays in the world so consistently hit the mark for quality and style as New Zealand's luxurious standard bearer, Kumeu River" Harvey Steiman, Wine Spectator USA

"It would be hard to exaggerate the importance of this famous wine. Kumeu River is one of New Zealand's great Chardonnays, with a rock solid, prestigious reputation. A distinctive wine with notable power and concentration, it is typically lush, harmonious, and creamy smooth – a sheer delight to drink" Michael Cooper, Classic Wines of New Zealand.

More @ www.kumeuriver.co.nz

Having held many enjoyable wine dinners at Coriander Leaf, Singapore I can think of nothing more tantalizing and a perfect match for chardonnay than Chef Samia Ahad's interpretation of Moroccan cuisine and her contemporary Moroccan platter with a kaleidoscope of flavours and textures – menu and wines below – exceptionally priced all inclusive $150++ ($176.55nett) per person, making for an excellent and enlightening Saturday evening out. Seats are limited so please book at your earliest.

Hermitage Wines http://hermitagewine.com/blog/ our preferred retailer will be offering incentivised prices for purchases on the evening.

Bookings through Coriander Leaf, Tel: 6732-3354 www.corianderleaf.com 3A Merchant Court #02-03, River Valley Road, Clarke Quay, Sinagpore

Date: Saturday 21st August – Time: 7.30 for 8pm start

On arrival - Kumeu River Villages Chardonnay 2008

  • Moroccan Sharing Sampler Platter

  • Chorba bil Hout - Fish Soup w/lemon & harissa

  • Choukchouka (roasted red pepper & tomato dip) w/Pita Chips

  • Bruschetta (green olive tapenade, preserved lemons) w/Zaytoun Meslalla

  • Slada Jazar - Moroccan Carrot Salad w/cumin

  • Briwat bil Kefta - Minced Beef Cigars w/harissa salsa

  • Kefta bil Hout - Fish Cake saffron & coriander

  • Kumeu River Chardonnay 2004 and 2008

Main Course

  • Moroccan Chicken Tagine - green olives, preserved lemons, buttered rice

  • Kumeu River Mates Chardonnay 2006 and Pinot Noir 2008

Dessert

  • Muhalabiah Creamy Milk Pudding fresh fruit compote, orange blossom infusion

Curtis Marsh is an independent Asia-based wine and food writer. His commentaries are published in www.thewanderingpalate.com Marsh's theorem: "Life is filling in time between meals... and a meal without wine could only be breakfast!"