The fresh fruity start made delightful inroads on the palate as the underlying minerality and pure elements became apparent. Halfway through the first sip, the fruitiness was over taken by a stony, slightly burned sensation that finally came to a somewhat woody, ashy end.
This is the finish of the premium Ohau Gravels Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc wines from Ohau, New Zealand’s newest wine region, introduced recently at the Decanter Wine House by wine importer and distributor Dimatique.
Such an interesting finish may be attributed to the fermentation of around 5 percent of the wine in old oak barrels for fewer than two months.
Old oak barrels usually impart little flavor and are inexpensive, this suggested that perhaps the winemaker only wanted to season the wine a little bit, to give it a gustatory twist and to retain the wine in a favorable price bracket.
Although the progression from an aromatic, fruity start to such a woody, ashy finish suggests a divergence, it can also be perceived as a well-defined balance of two flocks of flavors, especially for the Pinot Gris.
The residual sugar content of 8.9 grams/liter — noticeable despite the wine’s pH of 3.55 — intensifies the contrast and the counteracting finale. Without the cushion of food, it rapidly exhausts rather than refreshes the palate.
As if a mind reader Yohan, host and Dimatique general manager, came prepared with honey-glazed pork and mustard sauce — the sweet-savory taste made the wine seem drier than it really was — and the result? Balanced flavors that were mutually complementary. It is definitely a food wine.
According to export director Peter Healy, this Pinot Gris is intended to be a radical departure from the variety New Zealand is normally associated with, Sauvignon Blanc, in particular because the 2009 vintage was awarded the Champion Pinot Gris trophy at the country’s Romeo Bragato wine competition for viticultural excellence.
I have no idea how the 2009 vintage tastes but it is quite likely that this maiden wine has a much bolder, more exciting taste profile because of the oaking.
Moreover, its higher alcohol content and residual sugar, reported at 14 percent and 10.8 g/l respectively, would highlight its fruity intensity with a finish perhaps redolent of spices rather than wood and ash notes.
The other Ohau Gravels wine, made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes, is more suited to the earthy finish because the residual sugar (less than 1 g/l) is imperceptible, the varietal’s typical character (herby, leafy) is closer to earthy, minimizing the feeling of being cut short at the end from the wine’s vibrant acidity, minerality, lime skin and green apple flavors.
However, the most enjoyable of all is the winery’s entry-level second label, Woven Stone Sauvignon Blanc 2011. Right from the first sip it impresses with its stony minerality, lime and gooseberry flavors and the excellent balance between residual sugar (6.9 g/l) and total acidity (7.9 g/l).
Despite being made from the third crop, this Woven Stone wine exhibits crisp purity and fruitiness at its fullest, unencumbered by an oaking-imposed finish. Full tank fermentation enables it to express the stony character of its vines’ growing site, the gravel-deposited terrain of the Pure Wind, or Ohau in Maori language, just north of the Kapiti Coast on the lower North Island.
This wine is great to drink, without or with food, especially peppery Asian food, as showcased by Yohan who paired it with a spicy Thai beef salad.
Its cold temperature, smooth texture and medium dry character subdued the dish’s hot characteristics very well, while its low-key acidity and spritzy touch cleaned things up on the palate.
The wine honestly reflects its terroir of origin, uncomplicated but well-focused table wines like this are often better than the ones made with elaborate techniques to impress.