Saturday, 20 February 2016

Turning the New Zealand wine clock back 113 years

There were a dozen or so of us from around the globe gathered around the table at Brancepeth, a stately Edwardian farmhouse in New Zealand. There were wine writers, sommeliers and other experts from around the globe all sniffing and sipping.

We were gathered to make our pronouncements on what were believed to be the oldest bottles of New Zealand wine ever to be opened; 113-year-old Lansdowne reds from the Wairarapa region – one of which recently sold for $14,000 at a charity auction.


The wine was a Lansdowne Claret 1903, believed to be a blend of pinot noir, pinot meunier and shiraz, and it was grown by settler William Beetham and his French wife Hermance in a vineyard outside Masterton that was planted in 1895 only to be ripped out in 1908 due to Prohibition.

Around 150 bottles were discovered in the family cellar at Brancepeth, which is still owned by the Beetham family. Two bottles were opened, and the corks crumbled on both, but, miraculously, both wines were still alive, albeit at death's door.

The wines were brown and dotted with detritus, clearly oxidised but still magical with sherry-like rancio characters, hints of orange peel, funghi and burnt citrus, rosehip and pot pourri  and with still some tannins intact.


Beetham's Masterton vineyard was recently revived under new owner Derek Hagar, also originally from the Newcastle region in England, so we were able to sample 2009 and 2010 Lansdowne pinots with their early predecessors; a fascinating exercise.

The tasting was one of several outstanding experiences on a 16-day trip hosted by New Zealand Winegrowers. Among my fellow travellers were influencers including Oz Clarke and Robert Joseph, along with Matt Kramer from leading US magazine Wine Spectator.


We were joined by wine figures from Europe, North America and Asia. The budget for this event must have been immense as many guests went from the Pinot Noir Celebration in Queenstown, to the first Sauvignon Blanc Symposium, Sauvignon 2016, in Marlborough and on to further events in Gisborne, Hawke's Bay and Martinborough.

The key messages: New Zealand chardonnays have never been better; Kiwi pinot noir continues to blossom and sauvignon blanc producers are keen to expand into a range of different styles. More in coming weeks.


# The original version of this story appeared in the Sunday Examiner newspaper 

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