On this occasion, I had enough time to develop a tasting strategy beforehand. After reading the winery profiles, I decided to only taste premium wines, and do it by region. As a result, I learnt more than I otherwise would have. It is a good idea to take a strategic approach, in particular at large tastings. The only trouble was that the winery stands were more or less organised alphabetically. It therefore involved a fair bit of walking backwards and forwards.
I started with Marlborough. I wanted to revisit Sauvignon Blanc, as the expression of these wines is developing significantly. Unfortunately, I only managed to identify one interesting winery for this variety: Saint Clair. The three Sauvignons were impressive. The 2011 Block 18 Sauvignon Blanc has mainly tropical flavours, pineapple and passionfruit, and a dry finish (93 points). This is a mile away from your standard herbacious and sweet guzzler. The 2011 Block 21 Sauvignon Blanc is more typical, with herbacious flavours, but quite clean and dry (91 points). The 2011 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc is a 'best of barrels' blend. Flavours are a bit more mixed (not necessarily an advantage), and there is some creaminess to the wine (I am not sure if it sees any wood) (92 points). All three wines are very clean and linear - impressive.
The other variety I tasted from here was Pinot Noir. Marlborough gets a bit forgotten in the fight for supremacy between Martinborough and Central Otago, but some great Pinot Noirs can come from here. The key is vineyard location. The better wines come from the more southern Wairau valley or the mountains south of the Marlborough flats.
What are the components of a great Pinot Noir? To me they are fruit concentration, savoury flavours, elegance, silky tannins and a widening finish, the famous Burgundy fan. Marlborough can actually deliver quite a bit of this. The fruit is vibrant, often red cherry, and most of the other components can be found in the best Pinot Noirs from the region.
Villa Maria is one of the prime exponents of good Marlborough Pinot Noir. The 2010 Selection Pinot Noir is a fresh, of red cherry tasting wine, with a silky finish. The mouthfeel is a little average though (91 points). The 2010 Southern Clays Pinot Noir comes from a vineyard at 300m altitude. The cool nights lead to a longer ripening period. This wine is quite concentrated, with black cherry flavours. It is elegant and silky (93 points) - an excellent wine.
The 2008 Spy Valley Envoy Pinot Noir comes from Wairau. It is quite similar to the Southern Clays, quite savoury, but not as full (92 points). The 2007 Auntsfield Heritage Pinot Noir is grown on New Zealands oldest vineyard, first planted in 1873. It lies high in the southern hills of Marlborough. This wine has quite a European expression, with floral aspects and minerality dominant. It is dry, with a long finish (93 points).
This set of Pinots was a great start, mind you, these wines are not cheap, say $50-90 per bottle.