One could hear the chortles from right across the ditch, almost as though we’d lost yet another Bledisloe Cup Rugby series. Wine judging and reviewing must be as objective as possible, but put bluntly, there is no possible way that a little subjectivity doesn’t creep in, now and again, however much one may fight against it.
Why the giggling? New Zealand winemaker Steve Smith was highly amused that I’d found a sauvignon blanc, one of his, which I did not hate. One might dislike a variety or style but as a wine judge you have to taste every wine objectively, or you will end up reviewing for that tiny percentage of the population with an identical palate.
I’ve known Steve Smith for decades, a Kiwi MW and one of their most influential wine men who is most famous for his time at Craggy Range after long stints at both Villa Maria and Peregrine. He has now turned his considerable energy and talents to a new venture, Smith & Sheth, with Brian Sheth, “a Texan, an investor and a wildlife conservationist with a love for New Zealand.”
The two are combining to source grapes from some of New Zealand’s finest vineyards, and they have both the resources and contacts to make that happen. As an aside, when I first met Steve he was incredibly excited about a dismal field of rocks. As it turned out, we were standing in what would become one of the great vineyards of the brand new Gimblett Gravels region.
Reds have dominated in New Zealand’s famous Gimblett Gravels but there have also been some very fine chardonnays from this small but wonderful district. Sauvignon blanc? Not so much, but then why plant sauvignon here when it has worked so well in other regions, notably Marlborough. That is the great advantage of sourcing fruit from across the country which also allows for some exciting single vineyard wines. So far we have some stunning Smith & Sheth Hawkes Bay chardonnays from the Omahu Vineyard, the Mangatahi Vineyard and from the Howell Vineyard, a twenty-year-old block (almost elderly for this district) that is dry farmed. It is silty loam over gravel with, as they put it, “some limestone influence”.
Of course, they also offer their regional Heretaunga Chardonnay, which comes from fruit sourced off two Hawkes Bay vineyards, again both twenty years in age, but with different clones for extra complexity.
The Smith & Sheth Sauvignon Blanc hails from the Wairau River region, part of the world’s most famous area for this variety, Marlborough. Their grapes are sourced from the Churton Vineyard, owned by Sam and Mandy Weavers and located not far from Renwick, with an average vine age of 25 years.
We are going to see some very exciting reds from these guys in the coming years, and some wonderful chardonnays. There might even be a decent sauvignon blanc or two – we can’t let Steve get too excited.
Smith & Sheth ‘Cru’ Heretaunga Chardonnay 2018
94 Points – $50
A seriously impressive Chardonnay. The fruit comes from two vineyards in the Heretaunga sub-region – the Heretaunga Plains is a 300 square kilometre alluvial plain at the southern end of the Hawkes Bay district (Napier, Hastings and Havelock North are all located on the plain). The first vineyard is dry farmed with clones, 15 and 95; the second has Mendoza clones grown on river terrace soil. Whole bunch pressing, then fermentation in new and older French oak (19% new), 100% malo and some lees stirring during its ten months in oak.
This is delicious. Nuts, a mix of almonds and grilled cashews, with stonefruit characters and a slight mineral backing. A little oak is still apparent. The wines then has focus and very good length throughout, and it maintains its intensity. A slight but appealing smoky note too and juicy acidity. A lovely all-round Chardonnay.
Smith & Sheth CRU Wairau Sauvignon Blanc 2019
94 Points – $50 (Review by Jane Skilton MW)
When someone asks ‘does Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc age’ I usually say ‘no it doesn’t’. Because let’s face it, the joy of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is in its sheer youthful exuberance. It has an unapologetically vivid, full throttle personality that shouts ‘drink me NOW!’. And once this starts to fade, as the wines age, a little of the magic disappears.
But I suspect this 2019 Smith & Sheth Wairau Sauvignon Blanc never shouted anything. Instead it has chosen to be quietly powerful, a carefully crafted wine whose appeal lies in its depth of flavour. With a little time in bottle, and thanks to having density and concentration, there are strongly textural white nectarine and grapefruit flavours harnessed by a delightful stony, mineral edge that lifts the palate. A really super wine.
This 100% independent content was published with support from the winery.