Millton Estates Gisborne New Zealand tasting 23rd February 2010

Posted on: March 11th, 2010 by Andrew 2 Comments

Off to the Culm Valley Inn at Culmstock in Devon, a former Devon Dining pub of the year where Vintage Roots in the genial form of Emmanuel Biyilingiro was hosting an across the board tasting of James Millton’s Millton Estates Biodynamic wines

Millton is considered a bit of a maverick in his native New Zealand having ploughed the organic-biodynamic furrow since the early 80’s, very much against the trend towards larger size and more commercialised vineyards. However his individuality has stood him in good stead as well as the production of some superb wines of which more later.

I’m not normally a fan of bio-dynamic production as my previous experience (though limited) has not been altogether favourable. These were a revelation though, with clarity of fruit and great vinosity right across the range at prices that were relatively reasonable. They were correct, clean and not at all quirky, and in some cases came close to achieving greatness, whilst James himself seemed very normal, not a sandal in sight.

For those of you who are unaware of Bio -Dynamic farming, the concept was established by Rudolf Steiner, the Swiss educationalist, in the 1920’s and involves farming in conjunction with the phases of the moon and strict organic principles but also includes more bizarre elements such as the use of homeopathic amounts of special cow dung applied at certain times of the year. Afficionados such as James Millton swear by it. In his words”It helps balance the effect of frost and keeps the leaves firm and green in the heat of summer”

As a mere wine merchant with scant knowledge of the process involved I remain sceptical. You can’t, however, argue with the quality of the product and below are my picks from what was a fascinating tasting.

The Wines

Crazy by Nature Shortberry Chardonnay 2008 Gisborne

This new venture, an entry level chard made with grapes from younger vines and blended across his vineyards. Given a funky name and label to make it stand out the; wine is immediately appealing to me. Although lacking some of the pungency of the slightly cheaper Riverpoint Chardonnay on the nose, the palate is broader and more developed, giving complexity and ripeness without taking away from some of the iconic single vineyard efforts higher up the scale. A great attempt at broadening the market appeal of what is still a very niche product.

Chardonnay Clos St Anne 2007 Gisborne

This is his go-to wine. OK so its a chardonnay and has to put up with the proximity of its much sexier viognier sister. In my view though it is by far his best white wine. The depths of flavour combined with steely acidity and great minerality put it squarely in fine burgundy territory. The Clos St Anne is his premier cru vineyard plot and gives class and structure to this tip top example

Viognier Clos St Anne 2007 Gisborne.

Slightly less succesful in my view than the chardonnay this was slightly let down by its nose which had a vegetal note that I disliked. Past that though it was elegant and complex and was certainly up there with the best of the breed. It was certainly the most complete New World viognier I have tasted recently.

Chenin Blanc 2007 Te Arai vineyard Gisborne

Opulent full flavoured and rich. This has instant appeal. The fruit jumps out of the glass with citrus flavours and a hint of honey on the finish. A great advert for Millton Estates this is perhaps a little obvious and crowd-pleasing but why not? A great example of how one can make complex wines from this variety outside of the mid -Loire. This will sell well at tastings!

Crazy by Nature Cosmo 2008 Malbec Syrah Viognier.

Another winner, this has complexity with multiple layers of fruit and a smooth long finish. Ripe and rich on the finish, this is a great example of how good the North Island’s reds can get. A more commercial style, this is the sort of thing that makes a good talking point in a shop or at a tasting as well as being an intriguing blend.

Pinot Noir Clos St Anne 2007

I gave this wine 3 ticks on the sheet and a rather short tasting note along the lines of rich, fantastic!

From recollection it was a marvel of concentrated power in the Burgundian mould; a sort of Beaunes in drag with multiple flavours and great length. Tasted blind I would put it in Burgundy but I’m no expert so dont take my word for it- go and buy some.

Syrah 2006 Clos St Anne

This vineyard has certainly got it when it comes to churning out quality wine. Syrah has become a bit of a North Island icon and this fully justifies the adulation. Another “fantastic” on the tasting sheet, this ticked all the boxes with spice, layered fruit, weight and length. A wine with instant appeal and lots of presence. This vies with the Pinot for his best red and perhaps gets the accolade for being more its own man than the very frenchified PN.

Lastly, a late harvest Riesling Opue vineyard 2009.

This was unctious and sweet yet with good acidity and balance. A fine example of this Beerenauslese style.

So what were my conclusions?

James Millton makes first class wines certainly. Would they be as good if they weren’t Bio-Dynamic – I don’t know. Fundamentally though my biggest problem with them was that they slightly suffer from the same thing that most New World producers of fine wines suffer from; a sort of vinous cultural cringe which ensures that these wines in the most part aren’t viewed as great Gisborne masterpieces in their own right but as colonial offshoots of the motherland. As a wine drinker I would be more than happy to down a glass or several of all of the above but as a merchant I am always aware that they are going to be compared often unfavourably with the great wines of France or Germany or wherever rather than being taken on their own merit. This is something that the New World will find hard to fix while they use varieties like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and will leave them permanently trailing in the wake of the top producers in Bordeaux, Burgundy and Tuscany.

2 Responses

  1. Terry Milton says:

    Only one problem with the story and that is you have spelt James name wrong throughout your piece. His name is James Millton with two l’s

    I don’t think that New World wine comparison with French wines or German wines is at all bad. In fact I would say that with the accolades that new world wines have attained over Old World wine producers in the past few years would make those old world countries a little bit nervous.

    Just have a look at the blind tasting that was held a couple of years ago for bordeaux wines between France and NZ. I think a number of 1500 pound French wines were beaten by John Forest’s Cornerstone blend $60.00 wine.

  2. Andrew says:

    I wouldnt disagree that NZ for instance can give France a good run for its money, my point was a little different. Even though your wines my actually be better than equivalent Old World offerings, they suffer, albeit subtly, for being not from France or wherever. Surely the evidence for them not being taken as seriously is in the price they can command on the open market. Very few New World wines can get close in price to the top iconic wines of France and Italy. My Point about the vinous cultural cringe is that on the whole the New World has not attempted to forge new wine styles with varieties not used by the top regions in Europe. Exceptions are of course Pinotage in South Africa and Zinfandel in California. In fact the opposite is true; its about creating wines mainly from a handful of “noble varieties” in styles that mirror their European counterparts. After all cool-climate and terroir are all the rage at the moment. Dont get me wrong – I love your wines and I thought James’s wines were superb (sorry about the mispelling.) -Ii was trying to make a broader point about Old versus New.

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