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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Return of the King
Charles W. Borden
Photos Ruslan Sergeev

The Knights of the Vine took another trip to New Zealand at year-end, just before the long Russian holiday. Besides being a long way from anywhere, New Zealand is known for three things: wool, the location for the filming of The Lord of the Rings, and its wines. New Zealand has ten diverse wine regions, ranging from the mountainous, cool Central Otango on the South Island to the warmer, coastal Hawke’s Bay on the North Island.

This was a last minute expedition, with invitations going out to the Knights the morning of the tasting, Christmas eve, and during a week when many ex-pats had already departed Moscow. Nevertheless, by the time we arrived at Navarro’s that evening, the table was filled. After all, the western Christmas on December 25 is just another preholiday shopping and work day since Russian Orthodox Christmas falls at the end of the first week of January. Passport publisher, John Ortega, made one stop at a Kauffman shop, Moscow’s only wine boutique with a large selection of New Zealand wines. As it turned out from John’s selections, we had a tour of several of New Zealand’s best wine regions.

It was Sauvignon Blanc that first brought vinicultural fame to New Zealand, proving it has a place on the world stage. Pinot Noir followed, and today Pinot Gris has become the fashionable white wine. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot have also achieved distinction in New Zealand, notably in the Hawke’s Bay area on the east coast of the North Island, If one looks at the New Zealand wine menu, and the flavors extracted, the Northern Hemisphere parallel would be Oregon and in fact, Central Otango lies at the same latitude in the southern hemisphere that Oregon’s Willamette Valley lies in the northern.

A few years ago, few if any New Zealand wines graced Moscow’s shelves. Though the selection is still sparse, a number of highly respected wineries are represented, including Ata Rangi, Felton Road, Fromm, Te Mata, Neudorf, Mount Riley and Palliser, from both the North and South Islands.

As usual, we worked our way up through the white wines, this time beginning with Nobilo Orca Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2006. Nikola Nobilo was one of many Croatian immigrants in the 1940s who brought a desire for home-produced wines to New Zealand and so planted vineyards. Nobilo Winery is now part of Constellation Brands, the world’s largest wine company. The Orca Bay line doe not appear on the Nobilo website; it appears to be a “value” brand, the type that is created for the mass export market. The two Nobilo wines we tried, the Sauvignon Blanc and a Rose, were, handily, the lowest priced we tasted.

Privately-held Thornbury Wines was founded in 1997 and now produces wines from four of New Zealand’s ten wine regions. The Thornbury Sauvignon Blanc comes from Marlborough, the region that put New Zealand on the world wine map with its intense and fruity Sauvignon Blanc wines. To many oenophiles, nobody does it better.

After just two Sauvignon Blanc wines, we skipped to Chardonnay, a grape that is respectably produced in New Zealand but to no great distinction. The first was Martinborough Vineyard Chardonnay 2002, a wine we tried in our 2006 tasting. Martinborough Vineyard was founded in 1978, after a study showed that this area in the Wairarapa region on the southeast coast of the North Island, not far from Wellington, was most suited to production of Burgundy style wines, thus Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, cornerstones of Burgundy, were planted. Martinborough Vineyard was one of the pioneers, and it has over twenty vintages under its belt.

Eric Boone

Yelena Baldanova

William Bosler

Dan Brooks, Yuri Navarro, John Ortega

Natalia Zamyshlaeva

This Chardonnay was one of the few that we tried that had any Parker or Wine Spectator rating or comments – it scored 87 in Wine Spectator with the following description:

“Stylish and intense, with a focused stream of pear, apple, fig and creamy oak tones. Acidity keeps it refreshing, with pretty oak spice shaping the finish.”

From Winery is a strong, Swiss-founded, boutique winery in Marlborough, New Zealand’s largest producing region. Though Fromm’s focus is on Pinot Noir, it produces a number of excellent single vineyard Chardonnay wines. We sampled the Clayvin Vineyard Chardonnay 2002.

The last white was a Chardonnay from Felton Road, located in Central Otango on the South Island. The mountains in this area create small, diverse microclimates. Felton Road lies in the Bannockburn district, where hot days, cool nights and dry autumn weather provide the conditions for Pinot Noir. Felton Road follows a number of organic viticulture practices.

After a taste of the Nobilo Rose, we went on to try two Pinot Noir wines from Fromm, the La Strada, a blend from two vineyards, and the Fromm Vineyard Pinot Noir, a single vineyard wine. These were followed with a signature Pinot Noir 2003 from Martinborough Vineyard, a wine that demonstrated that the experts were correct when they selected this district for Burgundy-type wines. The last pure Pinot Noir was from Palliser Estate, another Martinborough fixture and one of New Zealand’s largest, with 85 hectares of vineyards, the first planted in 1991.

Unison Vineyard of Hawke’s Bay specializes in red wines from the Gimblett Gravel Winegrowing District. Unison was founded by Bruce & Anna-Barbara Helliwell, a husband and wife team who emigrated from Tuscany. Unison is a premium blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. It is aged in large wooden casks, rather than barrels, to avoid over-oaking, creating a softer style of wine.

Stonyridge is a Cabernet producer, located on Waiheke, a small island near Auckland. Stonyridge produces French blends with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot grapes, and uses organic viticulture. Our selection, Larose (2002) is Stonyridge’s flagship Bordeaux blend.

The last wine came from Kumeu River Winery, founded by Mick and Katé Brajkovich in 1944, about 20 miles from Auckland, after the family emigrated from Yugoslavia in 1938. Our wine was Melba (2002) (after the founders daughter-in-law and current director) a blend of Malbec and Merlot. The winery continues as a Brajkovich family operation.

The scores for the wines this Christmas Eve were somewhat disappointing, though the Orca Bay white proved that the big boys know how to make a wine for the world markets.

Marina Sergeeva, William Bosler

Dan Brooks, John Ortega

John Oehrlein, Steven Traylor, Eric Boone

Lilia Kazberouk, Roger Johannson

Knights of the Vine:

John Ortega, Publisher, Passport magazine

Charles Borden, Director, Meridian Capital

Yelena Baldanova, Assistant to Russian Federation Council Member, Buryatia

Josef Batoshovili, Owner, Café Café

Eric Boone, Independent Business Consultant

William Bosler, President, Texas Consultants, Inc.

Dan Brooks, President, Tchibo Coffee

Jan Heere, General Director, Inditex Zara Group Russia

Roger Johannson, IKEA

Lilia Kazberouk, Attorney, Maersk

John Oehrlein

Marina Sergeeva, Nokia

Steven Traylor, General Director, OOO B & T International

Alex Tumanov, Kitchen Contractor

Natalia Zamyshlaeva, AVC Real Estate

Ortega Easy Rating System

I love this wine! 5 pts.
I really like this wine! 4 pts.
This wine is good! 3 pts.
This wine is not that good! 2 pts.
I don’t really care for this wine! 1 pt.

Winery Wine District Retail (RR) Retail (USD) Rating
White Wines
Nobilo Orca Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Marlborough & Hawke’s Bay 396 $16 3.58
Thornbury Sauvignon Blanc 2006 Marlborough 904 $37 3.23
Martinborough Vineyard Chardonnay 2002 Wairarapa (Martinborough) 1,628 $66 3.35
Fromm Winery Clayvin Vineyard Chardonnay 2002 Marlborough 2,026 $83 3.03
Felton Road Chardonnay 2004 Central Otango 1,443 $59 3.20
Rose Wine
Nobilo Orca Bay Rose 2006 Hawke’s Bay 396 $16 3.27
Red Wines
Fromm Winery La Strada Pinot Noir 2002 Marlborough 1,566 $64 3.78
Fromm Winery Fromm Vineyard Pinot Noir 2003 Marlborough 2,532 $103 3.15
Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 2003 Wairarapa (Martinborough) 2,424 $99 3.58
Palliser Estate Pinot Noir 2004 Wairarapa (Martinborough) 1,447 $59 3.75
Unison Unison Selection 2001 Hawke’s Bay 2,170 $89 4.05
Stonyridge Larose 2002 Auckland 5,607 $229 4.05
Kumeu River Melba Merlot/Malbec 2000 Auckland 1,158 $47 4.02
$967 Rating

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