I’m no big expert on the wines of the New World. Often I dislike their emphatic style. Given my pro-European bias I should like the wines of New Zealand best, and I do. I like the Sauvignon and the Pinot Noirs. So it was a big occasion to meet Kai Schubert in Warsaw and try his award-winning wines.
Stuttgart-born Kai Schubert founded Schubert Wines in Martinborough on New Zealand’s North Island in 1998. A wine lover with a particular fondness for Pinot Noir, he was looking for a place on earth to produce world-class Pinot, and was impressed by the average quality of Martinborough Pinots he tasted. The climate here is harsh with cold winds and frosts putting the vines under pressure and naturally limiting the yield to some 30hl/ha, lower than in many leading vineyards of Burgundy and a key factor in making high-quality wines.
The other key factor is the vinification style, heavily inspired by Europe and in many ways opposed to standard New World practice. Take the Sauvignon Blanc. By extending lees contact and stainless steel tank maturation to ten months, Kai Schubert intentionally gets out of the young Kiwi Sauvignon market, offering instead a wine more subtle and multi-layered than many notional NZ SBs. The aromatics here are less upfront and pungent, with understated mango, passion fruit and mint, letting the core of cool minerality express itself better. Most impressively, this Sauvignon has real staying power and we actually tasted the 2008 vintage, still in fine shape. The Cabernet Sauvignon–Merlot 2006 with its subtle notes of eucalyptusey herbaceousness was also subtler than most New World counterparts, and not showing its three years in wood at all (although it’s perhaps the least distinctive wine here). The Syrah 2008 was again European in style, very un-Shirazy with plenty of acidic backbone and cool-climat peppery aromatics. Incidentally I went through a flight of Crozes-Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie that same day and Schubert’s Syrah would have competed well – for quality and style – in that context.
The focus at Schubert’s is of course on the Pinot Noirs. Apart from a lengthy 6-week vinification (100% destemming as Kai says “stems would add more tannins than New Zealand consumers are prepared to have in their wine”), these wines are based on a selection of Burgundy clones. The Marion’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009 is from Able and Pommard, and the most tense and driven Pinot Noir I’ve tasted from outside Burgundy. The cool climate of the Wairarapa district contributes to some amazing zest here; this is not even Chassagne or Volnay but almost Marsannay in style. Made from different Dijon clones, the flagship Block B 2009 is a bigger wine, denser, darker in colour and register, digesting its 50% new oak well. Its portentous bass voice is almost operatic in scope, and this wine will reward cellaring for another 5 years. With a fine attention to detail and an unashamed European twist, these wines would be great with fine food, too.
I tasted the wines at a public tasting on the invitation of the Polish importer.