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New Zealand winemakers are dabbling in fascinating blended wines, reviewer Mark Henderson discovers.
Kiwis are well-used to varietal labelling, with the grape variety (chardonnay, pinot noir etc) prominently noted on the label.
While individual producers naturally vary in style, most wine drinkers have a fairly good idea of what to expect when buying their bottle of sauvignon blanc or shiraz.
This practice of varietal labelling is common in New Zealand and Australia, the Americas and South Africa but far less so in Europe, where labelling by region or appellation is more commonplace.
One downstream effect of varietal labelling seems to be a perception that single varieties are sacrosanct, yet wine regulations and labelling laws allow judicious blending within the 85% rule.
This law (also applying to region and vintage) means that to be labelled as a single variety, there must be a minimum of 85% of that variety, allowing up to 15% of another, or other varieties.
Wines labelled as blends (cabernet, merlot, malbec for example) must be listed in descending order of grape percentage while, by contrast, wines with proprietary names such as Te Mata Coleraine or Te Whare Ra Toru allow the winemaker the freedom to tweak the blend to best suit the vintage.
The practice of blending is a longstanding one.
Winemakers may seek to blend softer, low-acid varieties with high-acid ones to find better balance, similarly blending tannic varieties with supple, fruit-driven ones to create a more rounded whole.
A powerfully dense yet shy wine may be improved by one offering greater perfume and immediacy, while a seasoning of a grape (or grapes) may bring added layers of complexity.
The aim, in the best hands, is to create a greater whole that exceeds the individual parts.
Blending is both an art and a skill and a number of New Zealand winemakers are dabbling in fascinating blended wines: here are three.
2010 John Forrest Collection
The White Price: $35
Bright sauv blanc notes at first with a top note of tropical fruit.
Waves of aromas come and go: citrus, flint, musk, guava, wet wool, herbs, all building to a fascinating whole.
Nicely textural in the mouth; seamless and with incredible freshness for a six-year-old wine.
The 2007 tasted alongside was stunningly good showing the potential of this blend.
2015 Brennan Trio
Price (cellar door): $29
Rating: Very good
Fragrant and attractive nose with roses, red apple and a grapey note, moving to bubblegum with time.
The youthful palate offers Juicy Fruit chewing gum, spiced apple and citrus; initially with a real, acid drive through the palate, softening with time.
The flavour concentration builds, offering appealing drinking.
2015 Te Whare RaToru Single Vineyard 5182
The wine opens to notes of musk and citrus, rose petal, straw and spices.
A textural entry with a lanolin-like note and a whisper of minty freshness.
This builds considerable richness and lushness in the glass with a sweet fruit core, ripe pears and spiciness: hints of rose and lychee on the finish.
This Alsatian blend is an old favourite, and quite delicious.