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A green approach to quality: Yealands wines continue to impress

Helen Savage meets one of New Zealand’s most talented winemakers and samples some of her best recommendations

Jim Tannock Tamra Kelly-Washington, Chief Winemaker Yealands Estate, New Zealand
Tamra Kelly-Washington, Chief Winemaker Yealands Estate, New Zealand

I’m not sure if going green is necessarily the way to make better wine, but it certainly helps.

Most of the wines I love most are made from organically grown grapes and one of my favourite New Zealand wineries has won a whole string of awards for sustainability.

The latest is from the influential magazine The Drinks Business, which voted it Green Company of the Year 2014.

They are green to the core: carbon-neutral, energy hyper-efficient, mad about bio-diversity, dotty about re-cycling, passionate about healthy manure and they also make some wonderfully tasty wines.

I first met Yealands’s chief winemaker Tamra Kelly-Washington when she came to the North East to visit Carruthers & Kent’s shop in Gosforth and I’ve been delighted to catch up with her since on a number of other occasions.

A warm, engaging character, she’s very quickly and deservedly earned a reputation as one of New Zealand’s most talented winemakers.

Her skill is shown both in the way she produces classic examples of single variety wines, and also in the daring way in which she’s developed new styles and flavours alongside them.

Let’s start with the innovations.

No-one should ever think that New Zealand is a southern hemisphere version of Alsace – the fruit down-under has a brighter, less savoury quality and acid levels are crisper than in north east France, but PGR 2013 is a cunning Alsace-like blend, a very clever piece of winemaking.

A selection of Yealands wines
A selection of Yealands wines

It’s based on Pinot Gris, which gives it a rich, firm structure, to which Riesling adds zip and minerality and Gewurztraminer an exotic perfume. I’m impressed.

Another bold move was to plant the Austrian grape Grüner Veltliner. I tasted the first release two or three years ago and could see why Tamra was so pleased with it.

It’s even better now. The 2013 is more scented than its Austrian cousins but similarly mouth-filling, a flavour of green plums, lime and lemon with juicy acidity to balance a savoury almost salty tang and all dusted with a little white pepper.

As to the classic varietals, 2013 has served them well.

Yealands Estate Sauvignon Blanc has a piercing scent in classic Marlborough style of tomato stalks and passion fruit, very crisp acidity and then a creamy texture gained by judicious stirring of the yeasty lees that are a welcome by-product of fermentation. It’s dry but not quite bone dry – just well balanced.

Gewurztraminer is a tiny touch sweeter, which is all the more evident because it’s naturally fairly low in acidity. It’s a little less powerful than an Alsace Gewurz, but that’s no bad thing as it has no lack of wonderfully exotic fruit flavours, everything from banana to lychees, with a classic and classy scent of roses.

Riesling and Chardonnay are both unjustly underrated in New Zealand, Riesling especially. The Yealands Estate version is delicious.

It’s actually marginally sweeter than the Gewurz, though you’d never guess it. It has so much fresh, mouth-watering acidity that it seems quite dry. Again it’s all achieved through Tamra’s mastery of balance in a wine. The scent is heady and citrus with distinctive whiff of kerosene, the flavour comes racing through with a lovely purity of zesty lemon and lime.

All these wines are available at Carruthers & Kent. They all weight in at a very reasonable £14.59, except for the Sauvignon which is £13.49. It’s also worth keeping an eye open for Yealands’s other goodies: a Viognier and Pinot Noir in red and rosé form. Marks and Spencer have one (red) version at just £12.99 and Sainsbury’s a different, slightly less intense Peter Yealands Sauvignon Blanc at £9.99.


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