Cloudy Bay Winery Shines with Autumn Releases

Jordan Simon - 16/10/2011

The sky lowered all last week, spitting a fine mist. I found myself one evening in the damp Elizabeth Street Garden, surrounded by rain-grey Greco-Roman statuary, French cast-iron lions, and copper cupolas. It was wonderfully atmospheric, almost creepy in the crepuscular shadows, like something out of Dickens.

Silkstone, a glam, cutting-edge events planner affiliated with the farm-to-table Loisaida Fat Radish restaurant, had discovered this distinctive yet rarely-rented venue for New Zealand’s eminent Cloudy Bay winery. Founded by two enterprising twenty-something Brits, Silkstone develops “creative innovative and sustainable food, lifestyle and design concepts… through unique experiences.” 

I was one of the lucky folks invited to this Cloudy Bay dinner, matching their latest releases to Chef Anna Morris’ market-driven fare, redolent of early fall’s bounty “when everything’s seemingly in season.” Silkstone had constructed a long table and benches; a planter runs the length of the table, holding various herbs (sage, rosemary, chervil, mint, dill).  Jamie from Silkstone says, “The meal was constructed so you can add them to the dishes and complement the wines… a fun exercise in pairing.”

Co-winemaker Sarah Burton introduces each wine after relating her Manhattan experiences with typical self-deprecating Kiwi humor. “In Blenheim, where I live we have no traffic lights. Well, we pretty much have no people.” The 2011 Sauvignon Blanc is “about the vibrancy, fresh Marlborough fruit, but we want to capture smooth creaminess... What we really want is for people to want another glass… I love it to pieces.”  As do I. This refreshing refresher course reminds me that Cloudy Bay led the Kiwi vanguard. But its admirably restrained Sauv Blancs showcase dazzling minerality that counterpoints the effusive tropical fruit typical of most New Zealand bottlings. The nose suggests damp autumnal leaves in the forest after a cleansing rain that continues on the palate with lemongrass, kaffir lime, passion fruit, and a hint of fines herbes.  

Second is the 2006 Te Koko, 100% Sauv Blanc sourced from the same vineyard (but different rows), left to ripen a little later: a wildcard wine never made according to a formula. The 2006 was “100% barrel-fermented (10% new oak, 90% really really really old oak), with 100% malolactic fermentation.” Held three years for release, the focus is “on minerality, texture, elegance.” From start to lingering finish it detonates the taste buds with wisteria, Meyer lemon, kiwi, macadamia, and ginger, its voluptuously creamy palate undercut by zingy acidity. The Te Koko enhances the smoked bluefish terrine, grilled breads and assorted fresh and pickled vegetables from beets to cucumbers. For the entrée, Chef braised rabbit legs and shoulders in broth with fregola (those lovely beads of pasta), baby artichokes. She encourages us to” add the herbs to the broth or the side of salsa verde for a kick.” The dill and sage play off the rich rabbit and the 2007 Chardonnay, a Burgundian-style beauty despite the use of 20% new oak, thanks to its mineral focus. Date, grapefruit, and toasted almond aromas yield to a tight core of lemon curd, orange zest, and Bosc pear flavors laced with crisp acidity.  

The just-released 2009 Pinot Noir (“the next category out of Marlborough”) is “all about expressing the grape and our winery brand new release.” The nose recalls strawberries, earthy fresh mushrooms, violet, cedar and smoke. Bing cherry, rhubarb, and red berries slink along the palate, with chalky tannins wrapping the generous but not blowsy body. Impressed, I ask Sarah about sparkling wine and she winks, “We make a brilliant bubbly, but it isn’t available here.” Cloudy Bay has been holding out on us Yanks. “There’s lots of Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, and Riesling, rarely exported.” Until now. The 2010 Riesling (scheduled for fall release) waltzes with green apple, petrol, lime, its brilliant bracing acidity counterpointing the 30g of residual sugar. It slices surgically into the caramelized peach tarte tatin with fresh mascarpone. The PR team dispenses plastic baggies to take herbs home: the ultimate in waste not-want not event recycling (some writers yank them up by the roots and dash off, ready to re-pot). Ensuring the evening, like the wines, features a lingering finish. -- Jordan Simon Photo credits: Cloudy Bay Winery and Gregory White PR