Today it’s a wine I actually drank some time ago, but am only just now writing it up. Alas, when you drink more quickly than you write, it’s difficult to keep up, but I’ve slowed down slightly on the drinking front and hope to clear out the backlog before the end of the year. So without further delay, I give you the Millton Gisborne Te Arai Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2006.
My wife and I have been together for long enough that when we sit down at a restaurant and are looking through the menu I can tell what she will order even before she has decided. Her tastes are fairly consistent and there’s usually something that I know she’ll go for. She can typically do the same in terms of knowing what I’ll drink, and if she spotted this on a wine list she would pick it for me right away. The combination of an under appreciated classic Old World grape in a New World terroir draws me in more often than not.
This is not the first varietal Chenin Blanc we’ve seen, nor even the first from a New World producer, but the Kilikanoon Brut Vouvray was something of a trick – a holiday wine essentially, made by an Australian while visiting France. A quick recap of the grape is probably worthwhile. Chenin Blanc is a white grape with its Old World roots in the Loire Valley, most famously in Vouvray where it is made into sparkling wine, dry wine and sweet wine, all depending on the vintage. It was at one time the biggest white grape of South Africa, and it can be found planted throughout the rest of New World. It requires a long growing season to fully ripen, but it rewards warm climates by retaining its acidity when other grapes become flabby. It’s also one of the few white wines that really improves with cellaring – Chenin Blanc can develop complexity over years or decades in bottle.
Gisborne is a new region to this blog, situated in the eastern peninsula of the North Island of New Zealand, roughly in the middle. It is situated on a flat, fertile river valley, with loam being the dominant soil type. The climate for New Zealand as a whole is often described as maritime, with mild winters and cool summer. Gisborne in particular has low heat summation, and most grapes grown are cool climate white varieties.
The region initially rose to prominence in the 1960s-1970s for the production of vast quantities of bulk wine, much of it slightly sweet and made of German varieties such as Müller-Thurgau. When the area was struck in the 1980s by phylloxera it required replanting, and many growers took the opportunity to replace Müller-Thurgau with Chardonnay at the same time they were replacing their rootstock. The area also diversified somewhat from exclusively bulk production with smaller, often high quality, wineries carving out a niche. The ratio of grape growers to wineries remains high.
Millton Vineyards & Winery was founded in 1984 by James and Annie Millton around Manutuke where Annie’s family had been involved in grape growing since the 1960s. The couple had spent the preceding years learning the trade in France and Germany before returning home to replant much of the family holdings and establish the winery. They became New Zealand’s first certified organic winery in 1986 and then were one of the first to qualify for certification as biodynamic. (I expressed my thoughts on biodynamic practices when I wrote about Marchand & Burch.)
Millton specializes in single vineyard varietal wines of their own estate. They have three lines of wines, their namesake, Clos de Ste. Anne and Crazy by Nature, and have plantings of Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Muscat, Viognier, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir and Merlot. In addition to varietals of those grapes, they produce a Muscat Mistell, a sparkling Muscat, and organic grape juice.
In the glass this wine is clear and bright, with a medium gold colour, and slow, thick legs when swirled. On the nose it’s clean and developing, with medium intensity and notes of green apple, quince, some lemon, and a bit of honey. On the palate it’s dry, with high acidity, full flavour intensity, medium plus body, medium minus alcohol, but a medium minus length. There are notes of quince, sour apple, a little black pepper, and some struck match.
This is a good wine. While it’s interesting on the nose, it comes on very strong on the palate with exceptional acidity and intensity. The flavour profile, while clearly Chenin Blanc, has some elements that are a bit out of the ordinary, particularly the sour notes. I would have gone for very good except that it’s a bit short, something I find surprising given its strong attack.