Those with long memories may remember that I attended a tasting of Riverby Estate’s Marlborough wines at Butler’s in Brighton late last year, here: https://wideworldofwine.co/2014/12/01/riverby-estate-tasting-butlers-brighton/
Yesterday I attended an even larger Riverby Estate tasting at London’s La Trompette restaurant, with estate owner Kevin Courtney. It included, as its centerpiece, a vertical of eleven vintages of Riverby’s Chardonnay, never before attempted by Kevin, among nineteen wines tasted in total.
Several lessons were learnt by a knowledgeable group of wine lovers. First, New Zealand Chardonnay can age, and really well. Second, that we are not yet familiar in the UK with every class producer in the country. Actually, Riverby are direct neighbours of Cloudy Bay, and their vineyards are among the earliest planted, and best sited, in Marlborough. We also learned the importance of clonal selection. And finally, we learned not to judge wines purely by price. These are award winning wines in New Zealand and elsewhere (including some top Decanter WWA medals), yet they rarely cost more than £20 retail per bottle.
List of wines and food matches
With canapés – 2012 and 2014 Eliza Riesling, 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, 2013 Sauvignon/Semillon
With raw Orkney scallops, bonito cream, pickled cucumber and English wasabi – 2014 Gruner Veltliner
With crayfish and buttermilk chicken wings, späetzle, girolles and sweetcorn – 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 Estate Chardonnay
With john dory, peas, samphire, lardo di colonatta, butter lettuce and lovage oil – 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 Estate Chardonnay
With suckling pig shoulder, white polenta, cavalo nero, turnips and muscat grapes – 2012, 2013 and 2014 Estate Chardonnay
With St Felicien, Reblochon and Swiss Challerhocker – 2013 Estate Pinot Noir and 2013 Reserve Pinot Noir
With petits fours – 2012 Noble Riesling
It would be tiresome to post a tasting note for each wine. All wines performed well with the exception of the 2010 Chardonnay which was reductive and didn’t improve in the glass, no doubt a phase. Some wines were slightly tight to begin with, a facet of age and screwcap, but everything blossomed, changing in the glass for the better. There was no wine here I wouldn’t buy myself and the standard is incredibly high over the whole range.
My highlights began with the Gruner Veltliner. I’ve only tasted this a couple of times but I do recall telling Kevin last winter it had massive potential. The vines are young but it impressed everyone with its poise and focus.
Of the Chardonnays, my favourites included the 2004, yes, an eleven year old NZ Chardie. It tasted fresh, not fading at all. A remarkable contrast to many an expensive bottle of premoxed Burgundy we’ve all experienced. I also loved the 2008, not that it was as good as some of the wines around it on the day, but because it seemed to have everything in place to become better and better, a wine with such potential. I think it focussed everyone on Marlborough Chardonnay, its forgotten variety after Sauvignon’s domination of the region in the eyes of consumers.
Of the younger wines the 2013 and 2014 really impressed. The estate style is one of restraint, and the wines are never overtly tropical or oaky. To a degree, the 2013 breaks that rule. It’s a bigger wine, but it’s still balanced. The 2014 was only bottled in March and it’s lovely now. Not remotely near its full potential, yet fine and elegant on the day.
Of the two Pinots, the Reserve bottling is clearly the more impressive (on the right below), and impressive it is with its already integrating oak and smooth texture. It put the basic estate Pinot under its shadow, yet I know from experience that the cheaper wine is a lovely fresh glugger, full of gentle fruit. One to drink whilst allowing the Reserve to blossom into something even better.
We ended with the 2012 Noble Riesling. Riverby first became famous back in New Zealand for their stickies, with best dessert wine in show at the Air New Zealand Awards for several vintages. The 2012 is one of the lighter Noble Rieslings they’ve produced, with just 128g/l of residual sugar (the norm is around 200g/l) and clocking in with 9.5% alcohol. The sweetness is gentle, not cloying, and is balanced with a pure backbone of acidity. I’d have gone for a third pour if it hadn’t all been snaffled, and its taste lingered throughout my journey back to Victoria Station.
As ever, La Trompette provided food of a level above its single Michelin Star. The suckling pig was well up to the usual standard. One attendee who knows his food reckoned the scallop dish was his best starter of the year.
Riverby Estate’s Marlborough wines are imported into the UK by Black Dog Wine Agencies, Cheshire. They are currently available through Butler’s Wine Cellar in Brighton and Loki in Birmingham. La Trompette is available to anyone who can find Turnham Green on the District Line. Those who can are in for a treat from one of the less well-known restaurants of this excellent stable, which includes The Ledbury, The Square and Chez Bruce.
Many thanks to Charles Taylor for organising the event, and to Kevin Courtney for generously supplying all the wines.
Riverby owner, Kevin Courtney. Catch him at the Oxford Wine Festival this weekend (21-22 August, Oxford Union).