Cloudy Bay Te Koko 2002
There’s one important point which I must stress before I begin this week. My Wine of the Week is not necessarily a wine recommendation; there are already more than enough hacks out there puffing up whatever wines have just landed on their doormat in the latest supermarket sample-case, and I don’t see the benefit in joining them. Rather it is a weekly article stimulated by, and all about, wine, usually the wine that has most piqued my interest in the preceding week. The reasons for my interest may be varied; the wine may simply be mature and enjoyable, such as last week’s 1988 Vieux Télégraphe, and thus giving sufficient pleasure for me to bring it to your attention. Or perhaps some other element of the wine is of note; an unusual variety or location, a change of winemaker, or some other controversial issue. Or perhaps the wine is just plain weird.
This wine was purchased expecting it to fall into one of those categories, although I’m not sure I will reveal which one. After featuring what is obviously New Zealand’s greatest grape a few weeks ago with the 2004 Lowburn Ferry Skeleton Creek Pinot Noir, this week I’ve moved onto the variety with which New Zealand made its name, and with which it is still most associated in the eyes of many, Sauvignon Blanc. There’s no more famous example than Cloudy Bay, a name that even the most vinously disinterested find rolling off their tongue from time to time. A wine which has achieved fame by the combination of pungent aroma and flavour – it’s a very good example of the style, to be fair – together with very astute marketing, in the UK at least, where the bottles are drip-fed onto the market to create an aura of exclusivity and to lend the wine a certain cachet. A look at Wine-Searcher for worldwide retailers reveals over 350 outlets across the world stocking this wine, so supply is hardly short, with the cheapest New Zealand prices less than one third that in the UK – no other Sauvignon Blanc from down under trebles in price as it travels along this well-worn export path.
Just a few years ago a new wine was added to the Cloudy Bay range, this being Te Koko. At first glance this wine would seem to be an anathema to those seeking what we might now regard as ‘traditional’ New Zealand Sauvignon, typified by an array of flavours ranging from the green, grassy, gooseberryish style up to the more tropical end of spectrum. After pressing in tank this wine undergoes a very slow fermentation (in the case of the 2002, having been harvested in April, the fermentation was not finished until December!) in French oak, no less, rather than the customary steel. Following the ensuing malolactic, the wine was then left on its lees for a further ten months, again in oak, before bottling. With this sort of treatment it’s surprising that the wine does not taste overtly of wood, wood and also a little wood, but I haven’t found this to be the case in this week’s wine, the 2002 Cloudy Bay Te Koko. Richness, yes. Creaminess, and perhaps an element of barrel-derived texture, yes. But an oak-infused substitute for white Rioja? No, not at all. We are undeniably and incontrovertibly in New Zealand with this wine, with its pungent nose dominated by aromas of cut grass, asparagus, greengage and tinned green beans (not everyone’s cup of tea), all backed up by a cream-cake richness. This typicity is evident on the palate, which like the nose shows little of the oak characteristics I might have expected, rather akin to the 1999 vintage, tasted when that wine was three years old. Good structure though, and pungently obvious flavours like the nose, led by a note of yellow capsicum. Precisely refreshing acidity, and a grippy undercurrent which is the most prominent feature of this wine’s exposure to oak, together with a fairly rich, buttercream texture. Overall pretty good, and lovers of the New Zealand style will take to this like a duck to water. It’s not really my cup of tea though, although I can register the quality, and I find the desire to break from the accepted norm admirable. 16.5/20 (21/8/06)