Friday, 17 June 2011

New look for Nautilus

“And on the left is our guest house” announces Nautilus winemaker Clive (CJ) Jones as our bus tootles alongside their Kaituna Valley vineyard.  “If you’re ever in Marlborough and need a place to stay, you’re sweet there.  It’s even got an awesome dress-up box.”  It’s safe to say that at that moment everyone in the bus including myself and a bunch of too-cool-for-school Auckland restaurateurs and wine trade people, all looked sideways at each other.  “Aw c’mon, it’s not like that” back-tracks CJ, “it started ages ago when we had some visitors from the UK.  They needed costumes for a party, so we let them loose in the local Salvation Army shop with $20 each– the costumes stayed and now it’s just become a bit of a tradition”.  He can see we’re only half-believing his story and quickly quips “Ahem, oh look, ladies and gentlemen on the left is our compost heap…”

After deftly distracting us by explaining the finer points of the Bokashi method for successful decomposition, we’re given a sneak preview of their 2011 sauvignon blanc.  “These are three tank samples of sauvignon from our different vineyards with different soil types which are blended together to create the Nautilus style” says assistant winemaker Brett Bermingham. “But just remember these are unfinished wines” interjects CJ, “they’re cloudy, they’re pretty gassy and they’re really acidic.           So enjoy!”

These are three very distinctive components out of a possible 25 that CJ and Brett can use for the final blend.  I fall in love with the last one, a sauvignon from their Awatere Valley vineyard which curiously has been fermented in a 5000ltr oak cuve.  It has delicious lemon verbena, basil, passionfruit and tomato leaf characters along with a touch of toastiness.  Although Nautilus are not in the business of making ‘single vineyard’ wines, there’s every chance that because of its distinctive character, this little number “may end up one day becoming a stand-alone sauvignon” according to CJ. 

A vertical chardonnay tasting is up next, but not before we’re given a taste of Nautilus new project, Gruner Veltliner.  Gruner is the signature grape of Austria, and Nautilus has a teensy four barrels worth sourced from new vines out in Kaituna.  Amongst the group murmurs of “florals”, “nectarine stone”, “lemon”, “and chalky minerality” and “white peach” are offered.  I also love the creamy, custard-apple texture on the finish.  Plus there’s a gewürztraminer from their Renwick vineyard which I could quite happily sip on all day such is its heavenly rose-petal, ginger and lychee aromas and sweetly crisp, spicy fruit flavours.
Nautilus winemaker Clive (CJ) Jones

While it’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the Nautilus pinot noir and think that the fruit they harvest from their Clay Hills vineyards out in the Omaka Valley is nothing short of sensational; it’s their chardonnay which really spins my wheels.  Marlborough chardonnay is something else; and sadly underrated yet when well-made it has incredible fruit intensity combined with elegant minerality, texture and length.  Crisp, clean yet dense and juicy – current favourites of mine are the Fromm La Strada 2008 and the Dog Point 2009; but chardonnay hasn’t always been a favourite for CJ.  “When I arrived here at Nautilus in 1998 I had thousands of litres of chardonnay in tank that we didn’t know what to do with and an almost equal amount in barrel that was ‘stuck’*  so back then it was a huge challenge for us to make and sell.

But I had a chardonnay epiphany a couple of years later when I was over working at Domaines des Comtes Lafon in Burgundy where I tried my first Montrachet.  I learned two things from Mr Lafon; one - always employ great-looking cellar hands, and two - that it’s ok to make just small amounts”. 
The key to great chardonnay is not to be greedy, he learned.  So these days the vineyard team at Nautilus crop the chardonnay right down to only about 2kgs per vine, whereas a few years back the vines were allowed to carry three times that amount.  “It’s all about fruit concentration and purity for us” he adds.

“I think that correlates to what’s going on in the marketplace” adds Clive Weston, head of Negociants, Nautilus’ distributor.  “The world is full of chardonnay whether it’s French, South African, Californian or Australian – so if you’re going to make chardonnay, you have to make a wine that’s distinctive so that when people see it they can tell it’s a great wine that stands out from the crowd”. 

Back in 2007 Nautilus were only making 250 cases of chardonnay, five years on the wine is still going strong albeit having developed some nutty, mealy notes alongside its still-fresh acidity and tropical fruit. 2008 saw production increase to 750 cases and the use of indigenous yeasts became the norm – and it has a funky, sweaty character to it.  Still carrying peachy, tropical notes it’s definitely more broad and creamy than the first.  2009 is a different beast altogether with deliciously fresh grapefruit, peach, tangelo and toasty characters making it ultra-fresh and flavoursome – sadly for me it’s practically sold out – but the 2010 has huge potential (see my review below). 
Extra for experts…
* ‘stuck’ fermentation is a fermentation that has stopped before all the available sugar in the wine has been converted to alcohol and CO2.
* The Nautilus shell possesses a special kind of spiral curve which often appears in nature. This logarithmic spiral, equiangular spiral or ‘growth spiral’ as it’s sometimes known is an example of nature and mathematical precision aligning to create something incredibly beautiful.  The same can be said for making great wine.

Sip of the week
Nautilus Estate Marlborough Chardonnay 2010 $31 êêêê½
This is an exercise in restraint and elegance, showing nectarine, citrus and lemony loveliness, tangy, toasty texture and solid length of flavour.  I’d love to try this wine again in a years time because I think its’ destined for great things.  It’s also the first chardonnay out bearing the new Nautilus label (3 years in the making) which will be rolled out over the coming months.  Available from fine wine stores or via
Sacred Hill Wine Thief Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2010 $30 êêêê
Created from fruit sourced from the famous Riflemans vineyard out in Hawke’s Bay’s Dartmoor Vineyard.  It has downright sexy aromas of peach, buttered crumpets and honey with juicy, tropical intensity and freshness on the finish – it’s a lovely chardonnay which would suit seared scallops wrapped in bacon – sublime.
Margrain Martinborough Pinot Gris 2009 $30 êêê½
Soft quince, pear and hints of honey lead to razor-sharp dryness and minerally riverstone, lime and white peach characters.  Ultra-clean length of flavour makes this a perfect match for thai red chilli prawns.
Kaimai Brewing Co. Porters Rye Ale $4.90 330ml
Smells like marmite mixed with treacle and yet it is surprisingly fresh, with dried grassy notes, cocoa and lovely malty magic.  Clinging length of flavour and smooth, smoky texture makes this a definite new favourite for me.
Monteiths Doppelbock Winter Ale 330ml $15 (6pk)
Attractive auburn colour with a dense, creamy caramel-coloured head.  It’s unique, six-malt brewing method makes for a smoky, malt-driven aroma and smooth, bitter cocoa notes and a super-rich finish.  Yum.  Widely available. 
Mount Riley Seventeen Valley Marlborough Pinot Noir 2009 $38 êêêê½
Baked strawberry, cherry, sweet rhubarb and cocoa notes merge with lush, clean acidity, savoury spices in the mouth.  It has excellent density, weight and lovely length of flavour.   

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