This past Thursday I was invited to an “Experiential Dinner” in Manhattan to meet Cloudy Bay Winery winemaker, Sarah Burton, and to taste through some brand new, just released 2011 wines and some previously released oak aged wines. Southern hemisphere wines of each vintage are released six months earlier than northern hemisphere wines because the seasons are reversed. The address on the invitation was “Elizabeth Street Garden @ 209 Elizabeth Street” I looked up this restaurant in some books and I couldn't find that it existed. I arrived early and found preparations being made for an outdoor garden dinner. Crews were stringing lights and constructing a 30 foot long spruce table and benches complete with a table length herb garden as a center piece. A kitchen was established in one corner of the garden where the culinary staff was at work creating a multi-course magical meal under the stars. This event was envisioned and implemented by Gregory White marketing and PR company. Simply unforgettable! There is a high wrought iron fence enclosing the garden, as there are sculptures and plants that might create a Manhattan temptation. As we tasted and talked, I looked at the gated entrance where there was frequently a small group of curious observers. It was sort of a public zoo for wine writers, giving New Yorkers a glimpse into the glamour side of journalism.
Sarah Burton has been the winemaker of Cloudy Bay Vineyards in Malborough, New Zealand for two years now after working in wineries in Tuscany, Bordeaux, Portugal and Oregon. As appetizers were being passed around we tasted Cloudy Bay's 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, their brand new release. It had puckery tart grapefruit flavors with a fresh, creamy texture and an herbaceousness followed by a crisp acidic finish. Retailing at $25 US this is worth owning.
Next we tried their 2006 Te Koko made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes from the exact same vineyard. The fruit is allowed to ripen a bit longer on the vine before harvest. It is 100% barrel fermented with 100% wild yeast. It rests for 18 months in oak barrels. The wine had obvious oak characteristics tempered by orange blossom flavors with a minerality and elegant texture. Sarah loves the way this is drinking now but told me it will improve and age gracefully for ten years At $55 US this wine is not inexpensive. But for that special occasion it is well worth the price. Simply delicious!
Next we tried the Cloudy Bay 2007 Chardonnay. The fruit is all hand picked, wild fermented and oak aged. This wine showed delicious minerality, typical of the Marlborough region, with a texture that produced a lingering finish.
The Cloudy Bay 2009 Pinot Noir is also a brand new release and is their biggest seller, accounting for 70% of their total production. It tasted fresh and fruity, with raspberry and strawberry flavors.
This wine is produced by blending wines made from plots, each creating unique flavors. Sarah told me, with a gleam in her eye, “Being a wine maker is a little like being a mad scientist. I like to blend plots of grapes, some being spicy, others fruity, to achieve a complex goal”. Sarah and Cloudy Bay people won't tell what their annual production is. “We're small”.
At dessert, we tried the Cloudy Bay 2010 Riesling, which is only available in the New York metropolitan market. At 10.5% alcohol, it is a great afternoon/apertif wine. It showed crisp refreshing lemon flavors, slight hints of finely ground white pepper with a wonderfully balanced finished. I experienced a slight micro-effervescence which seemed to keep this riesling playful and fun.
Cloudy Bay Winery celebrated their 25th anniversary in late 2010. The wines are well made, nuanced, structured, with many flavors emerging. If you find yourself in a wine bar, taste through a few of their styles and vintages. Make a list of your preferences and pick up a few bottles for your home. Being a small production winery, Cloudy Bay typically sells out of each wine they make. “Step right up. Get it while you can.”