Julia Harding MW at www.JancisRobinson.com on Delta Wines
Having had more than my fair share of tasting Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand and Chile in the last few weeks, I was delighted to come across this New Zealand Sauvignon that caught my attention – not for its extreme pungency but for a very attractive combination of distinctive, top-quality, ripe Marlborough fruit and a gentle subtlety that almost hid an underlying minerality and elegant persistence.
Delta Wines is a joint venture between Kiwi winemaker Matt Thomson and David Gleave MW, MD of Liberty Wines in London. Although Liberty now has a much wider portfolio, they began life as Italian specialists and it was in Italy that Matt and David met when Matt was working a vintage there in 1994. Matt is consultant winemaker to other top Marlborough wineries such as Saint Clair and Mudhouse, and he continues to make wine in Verona, Friuli and Piemonte.
Delta’s first wines – both Pinot Noir – were released in 2004, and this is only the second vintage of the Sauvignon. It comes from a single 25-acre vineyard in Dillon’s Point, just west of Blenheim, owned by Matt’s wife Sheena and planted with two different Sauvignon clones (for clone buffs: the quite widely planted BDX 317 and the Sancerre-derived CI1). Matt believes that the combination of the heavier soils and proximity to the sea creates one of the best locations for Sauvignon in New Zealand.
Some Sauvignon growers harvest at different times to obtain a range of flavours – grassy capsicum aromas due to the methoxypyrazines from the early picked fruit and the riper gooseberry, blackcurrant and stone fruit aromas due to the thiols from the fully ripe fruit. Matt prefers to pick all the grapes in a single phase and avoid those greener flavours, but the cooler nights of this subregion and the mineral-rich, well-drained soils ensure freshness and subtlety without the use of underripe fruit, and allow him to keep to moderate alcohol levels of less than 13%. The winemaking is straightforward but carefully controlled – as little skin contact as possible to avoid any phenolic flavour or grainy texture and cool, quite slow fermentation.
The result is a wine that’s distinctively Marlborough in origin, with plenty of lovely ripe citrus and restrained yet pure gooseberry and ripe green fig flavours, very fresh acidity but not an iota of harshness or over-intensity and a silky gliding texture. It’s long and more elegant than most New Zealand Sauvignons I have come across. A wine I want to drink not just taste.
Delta’s small but perfectly formed range includes a straight Marlborough Pinot Noir and the superior Hatters Hill Pinot Noir (£13.99 in the UK). All the Pinot fruit comes from the clay soils of Delta’s own vineyard just west of Blenheim, and Hatters is a selection of the best fruit from the hill blocks, further selected at blending. Low yields, hand picking and the inclusion of 10 per cent of stems and whole berries contribute to the structure. Matt is particularly keen on hand-plunging the open –top fermenters. 75% of the wine is aged for 11 months in French oak, including 45 per cent new barrels.
The emphasis is on purity and freshness of fruit – which explains his hawk-like attention when it comes to avoiding Brettanomyces (a common spoilage yeast, properly known as Dekkera, which can give very pungent stable or bandaid off-flavours or simply dampen the expressiveness of the fruit with spicy peppery notes that are often mistaken for oak influence). Brett is particularly damaging to aromatic varieties such as Pinot and Nebbiolo, though this is a whole other subject, and a topic of continued and heated debate in the wine trade, since in some circumstances and with some varieties, a little bit of brett can add complexity.
The current 2005 Hatters Hill Pinot Noir is still pretty youthful and oaky aromas are noticeable but underneath this fine veneer of sweet oaky spice the red fruit character is very pure, aromatic and fine. Like the Sauvignon, it has clear varietal definition – delicate red fruits in this case – but it’s also subtle and elegant with a lingering aftertaste of cool, very fresh pure fruit. You can almost taste the New Zealand climate in this – sunny and clear but not too hot. It’s a pleasure to drink now but will be even better in a year or so.
Both wines are sealed under screwcap.
Julia Harding MW