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Cloudy Bay more than primo sauvignon blanc

By Stephen Quinn--Cloudy Bay in New Zealand's Marlborough region gained an international reputation for exceptional sauvignon blanc soon after it released the first vintage in 1985.

The company effectively introduced the world to a new style of wine, and made New Zealand synonymous with this grape variety. Cloudy Bay has become the benchmark for sauvignon blanc.

But Cloudy Bay makes a range of other wines that are equally stylish and memorable. Winemaker Nick Lane has been focusing of late on wines made from chardonnay and pinot noir. He conducted a master class for media and wine trade to demonstrate the company's success with these grape varieties.

English explorer James Cook gave the name Cloudy Bay to the area at the eastern end of the Wairau Valley at the northern tip of the South Island. It is a region of rare natural beauty.

The vineyard's simple label is easily recognized and evokes images of the beautiful landscape in the Marlborough region.

The non-vintage Pelorus Brut sparkling wine is considered one of a handful of exceptional champagne-method wines made in New Zealand. It is pale straw in color with aromas of ripe citrus and passionfruit.

Lane said chardonnay and pinot noir grapes were sourced from several estate vineyards in the Wairau Valley. The chardonnay gives the wine apple and lemon notes in the mouth, and delightful acidity, and two years of bottle ageing on lees provides aromas of bread, toast and a lingering nutty finish.

The 2010 chardonnay has a mineral zing cloaked in a savory structure. It was aged in a range of new and old oak, and then spent a year on the lees. The wine is a delight and pairs superbly with most seafoods.

The 2009 Te Koko is made from sauvignon blanc, but unusually for this wine in New Zealand it is aged in some new oak. Nick Lane said after pressing the juice was put in French oak barrels, about 8 or 10 percent of which were new. There the wine underwent a “natural” fermentation.

The wine was left in barrels on yeast lees for about 18 months. The oak gives the wine a smoky flavor, which complements the aromas of honeysuckle and mango with herbs like thyme and rosemary. A most unusual wine that I found memorable because sauvignon blanc is not my favorite grape variety.

Cloudy Bay produced its first pinot noir in 1989. Fruit comes from a range of sites. Each block is handled separately, and the final wine is a blend of anywhere up to 40 different parcels of fruit.

Nick Lane said the 2010 pinot noir consisted of 25 different components. It was a good vintage in terms of weather with low yields of fruit that had unusually thick skins (pinot noir typically has thin skins). This provided more tannin than in other pinot vintages. Those tannins mean this pinot will be a delight in two to three years, though it is drinking well now.

The wine offers aromas of dark berries and cherries, with touches of spice like cinnamon and white pepper. Nick Lane said a feature of this wine was its “delicate and lacy tannin structure.” I liked its acidity, and the flavors of black and red fruits seemed to cascade into a lingering finish.

All Cloudy Bay wines are high quality and worth pursuing. If they cannot be found in your area they can be purchased online from the company's website.

Stephen Quinn writes about wine for a variety of publications

in the region. From 1975 he was a journalist for two decades with the Bangkok Post; BBC-TV, The Guardian, ITN, the UK Press Association; TVNZ; the Middle East Broadcasting Center in Dubai and a range of regional newspapers in Australia. Dr Quinn became a journalism educator in 1996, but returned to journalism full time in 2011. He is based in Hong Kong and is the author of 17 books.

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