Sheltering in the cellars

Dan Asher and his savoury pinot noir from Swallows Crossing vineyard, which slopes  steeply down...
Dan Asher and his savoury pinot noir from Swallows Crossing vineyard, which slopes steeply down to the Clutha. Photos by Charmian Smith.
The glorious view from Rippon Hall - on a fine day.
The glorious view from Rippon Hall - on a fine day.
Swallows Crossing vineyard.
Swallows Crossing vineyard.

While passing through Central over the Christmas and New Year break, I retreated to a few cellar doors to escape the wet and windy weather.

There's nothing to beat a winery visit to get a feel for the vineyards and the house style of the wines as you taste them side by side.

Rippon Hall offered shelter from the gale, and the wines were almost more absorbing than its much photographed views over Lake Wanaka.

It is one of the few wineries in the world to produce an osteiner, a cross between riesling and sylvaner, in fact probably the only one outside its native Germany.

The current release, 2010 ($18.50), is showing the benefit of bottle age, rather like a mature riesling, fresh and lively with a hint of lime and kerosene, a lovely summery wine, if only there was a summer.

The rieslings were younger 2012s, the Jeunesse ($24.50) oozing lime, citrus and stonefruit with a lovely fresh, crisp finish, while the mature-vine riesling ($32.50) was more powerful, intense and textural.

Aficionados will want to cellar this to see it develop.

Rippon is one of the few Central Otago producers of gewurztraminer, a variety that can do very well in the region as the wonderfully perfumed 2012 ($32.50) demonstrates.

Hugely attractive fruit hinting of lychees and ripe peaches is held in restraint by a firm structure and crisp acidity, unlike some of the blowsy, overblown versions from warmer northern climates.

There's a marked difference between Rippon's four pinots, all 2011.

The young-vine Jeunesse ($38.50) is peppery with red fruits, a lip-smacking finish and a lovely warmth on the aftertaste.

The mature-vine ($54.50) is the ''voice of Rippon'', perfumed, savoury and textural with red berryfruit.

Emma's Block ($82) is from a small block of mature vines planted on clay down by the lake, and has a hint of minerality, with underlying intensity, power and complexity, but gives the impression of delicately dancing on the tongue.

Tinkers Field ($95) is denser, darker and powerful, but at three years old is still fresh and youthful.

Driving from Wanaka towards Tarras, we came across Swallows Crossing, a vineyard on the banks of the upper Clutha I hadn't seen before although Julie and Dan Asher established it in 2002.

It's on its own, the nearest other vineyards are a few kilometres away in Maori Point Rd.

The vines on the flat near the main road were in the path of the southerly blast, but the lower vineyard is on a sheltered steep north-facing slope rising from the river, some of it terraced, both of which are unusual in Central vineyards.

Most of the grapes go to Mt Difficulty but winemaker Matt Dicey makes a small amount of Swallows Crossing which the Ashers sell from their cellar door, through a few local outlets and their website,

Swallows Crossing Red-breasted Rose 2013 ($24) is fragrant with fresh fruit, an attractive, nicely balanced dry wine, and the 2012 riesling ($28) is intense and limey, initially with a light sweetness cut by the lively acidity on the finish.

The 2010 pinot noir ($32) from the steep riverside vineyard is savoury and tightly structured, with fruit richness, hints of oak, and a dry finish.

The savouriness is characteristic of this vineyard, according to Dan Asher: it's certainly different from the fruity Bannockburn style or the more muscular style characteristic of nearby Bendigo.

At Aurum, just outside Cromwell, Lucie Lawrence does numerous things with pinot gris, from sparkling to dessert wines and even a fortified white port style which was welcome on a cold day with horizontal rain.

The blanc de blanc ($34.50) from pinot gris is light but has a light autolysis, unusual length and finesse.

The 2012 18 Carat Pinot Gris ($36, 375ml) is a botrytised wine oozing peaches, pears and apricots, while the Port Molyneux ($35, 500ml) is fortified with marc distilled from their own grape skins.

Lucie says she'd like to make a rose from the pink-skinned pinot gris next year, and even an orange wine, a white wine made like a red so it gains colour from its skins.

Aurum Pinot Noir 2012 ($35) oozes cherry fruit with a savoury hint and youthful intensity.

Unlike many other producers, perhaps reflecting Lucie's French training, Aurum's reserve wines are not bigger and bolder than the regular ones but more elegant.

The Mathilde 2011 ($45), a clonal selection, is savoury and intense but elegant, while the Madeleine 2012 ($65) is richer, spicier and elegant with a silky texture.

Like everyone else, growers were hoping the weather would settle but they are not worried as fruit set has been good because the season got off to an early start before the weather changed, and there's still plenty of time for the grapes to ripen.

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