November 05, 2012

Pelorus – nice bubbles from the misty bay

Last week’s most interesting tasting was a sparkling event. On the agenda, the New World. One of the wines turned out to be a real challenge for our reference champagne and it was outstanding compared to the other sparkling wines. Perhaps not that surprising, as one of the big Champagne houses is the owner of the winery. 

The wine we liked so strongly was Cloudy Bay Pelorus Blanc de Blancs. Thus 100% Chardonnay. Made by the traditional method, it is stated on the back label. The Swedish wine magazine Livets Goda tells us that the Pelorus Blanc de Blancs was made especially for the 25th anniversary of Cloudy Bay in 2010 and that Sweden is the only European country where it is launched. A superb sparkling wine and incredible value for just 119 SEK (~17 USD) at Systembolaget.
Large fresh, very nice multifaceted nose, which grows and develops in the glass. Notes of butterscotch, spices, flowers, lemon and bread. Medium bodied, fresh with pleasant fruit . Mineral, nuts, lemon. Long, complex taste with characteristic Chardonnay bitterness. Very delicious!
Cloudy Bay is best known as the creator of the pioneering New Zealand style of Sauvignon Blanc. Fresh fruit, clean, aromatic with the distinct nose and palate including black current leaves, gooseberries and nettles.
We do not need to travel back in time more than 30 years to find the roots of Cloudy Bay. The year was 1983 when the Australian David Hohnen tasted his first New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Hohnen was then the successful winemaker of Cape Mentelle in Margret River, Australia. He got completely overwhelmed by the wine and soon plans for New Zealand winemaking started to grow. On a reconnaissance trip to New Zealand one year later he found the right spot, Blenheim in Marlborough on the northern tip of the South Island. He also met Kevin Judd, who was to become the wine maker of Cloudy Bay during 25 vintages up to 2009.
1985 was the first year of Cloudy Bay Vineyards and the construction of the winery started. At the beginning, purchased grapes were used to make the wine. The first vintage was in fact made at Corban’s winery far up in Gisborne at the North Island. George Taber describes in his book Judgment of Paris how Kevin Judd, who not could attend to the wine making personally, made the first vintage on distance by instructions to the Corban staff over the phone. Interesting is also that some Semillon was included in the first vintage, just below 15 percent, i.e. beneath the limit to be stated on the label.
Back home in Hohnen’s Australia, the wine was an immediate and hearty success. And that was only the beginning of the success story. Cloudy Bay became the role model for the clear-cut New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc wine, the consumers love it and every vintage is sold out in no time.
The French LVMH, owner of several highly renowned wine producers including Veuve Clicquot and Möet & Chandon Champagne, was an early partner in both Cloudy Bay and Cape Mentelle. 2001 they became sole owner, when David Hohnen sold his remaining share.  The production of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc has increased steadily and is today said to exceed 100 000 cases, i.e. 1,2 million bottles, per year.

There are critics who consider Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc not to be worth its premium price any more. The latest vintage, 2011, is available at the Swedish Systembolaget for 239 SEK (~34 USD). When I tasted the same vintage this spring it fulfilled all my expectations and had then a more pleasant price tag of 199 SEK (~28 USD). At the new higher price level it is unfortunately hardly best value.

The Pelorus Blanc de Blancs is on the other hand an extreme bargain. Just to run to the store!

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