Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Aurora Vineyard and Ocean Eight - 2008 releases

I attended two tastings of exciting new wineries in the last two days and there are interesting similarities and contrasts.

Aurora Vineyard is a new Central Otago producer which aims to produce wine which is not big and bold, but still captures the developed fruit which the sunshine of Central Otago can deliver. The 2008 Riesling is of excellent quality. It has predominantly lime and citrus flavours and shows nice minerality. The wine has fresh acidity, but is not sharp and well balanced. A good contrast to the very austere Rieslings from Australia.

2008 was a very warm vintage in Central Otago, and it shows in the reds. The 2008 Aurora Vineyard Pinot Noir is still very young, but all bright red cherry fruit. It hits you right upfront, even more than what is typical for the region. I loved the 2007 Pinot Noir for its length and soft tannins. It is not yet clear to me that this opulent and dense wine will develop in the same way. The 2008 Shiraz has lovely bright fruit as well with spices and earth rounding out the flavour. It is bigger than your typical cold climate Victorian Shiraz, but has a nice freshness on the finish.

Ocean Eight is a very exciting new producer from the Mornington Peninsula. It was founded by the previous owners of Kooyong in 2004, but the vineyards are 12 years old. Similarly to Central Otago, 2008 was a very warm vintage on the Mornington Peninsula. Ocean Eight's philosophy is to pick early and produce wines in the 12% alcohol range. They failed this year, but the 13%ers, with Pinot picked at the end of February, are still a refreshing departure from the 'riper and bigger is better' philosophy.

I was simply blown away by the quality and smoothness of these wines.

The 2008 Ocean Eight Pinot Gris has nice peach fruit flavours, it sits in the middle between the austere Italian and the rich French style. The wine is quite elegant and a good food wine. I am not a big fan of Pinot Gris in general, and the floral overtones which this wine showed, but it is a fine wine.

The first stunner was the 2008 Verve Chardonnay. The lime and grapefruit flavours are backed by nutty aromas. The wine was barrel fermented, but in used oak. This has the effect of some creaminess on the palate, but it is subtle. Apparently the wine was judged a Burgundy during a blind tasting over lunch, and so it tastes. The wine has nice minerality and a fresh finish. Everything is balanced here and nothing overblown.

The 2008 Ocean Eight Pinot Noir was a great wine as well. It has medium weight, quite strong fruit flavours in the strawberry spectrum and good length. The wine is very elegant with great texture and silky tannins. It reminded me a bit of a Bass Philip, although less extreme.

The second stunner was the 2008 Aylward Pinot Noir. This is a reserve wine made from the best four barrels. It has similar characteristics to the regular wine, but the fruit concentration is stronger, and the finish very long - quite a special wine, as it still achieves lightness on the palate.

I was most impressed by these wines.

We are beginning to see a new trend, where the focus is on balance, elegance and regional expression. How exciting!

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