A potted history;
2000 – I’m working in the call centre at Direct wines, it’s my gap year and Cloudy Bay is still impossibly desirable, there are rumours that sweep the telephones that there is some stock of the Sauvignon available, but it all goes to the fine wine sales staff on the floor above.
2005 – On the restaurant floor at the Hotel du Vin in Brighton we have a healthy allocation, but one that tended to disappear with an alarming rapidity.
2007 – I’m starting to wax lyrical about the other Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, Te Koko. By now I’ve decided that it’s impossibly trendy to knock Cloudy Bay as merely part of the LVMH stable, as a conscientious sommelier, I can’t really be seen to be recommending something that’s made by a multi-national luxury goods company.
But still there’s something about the Te Koko that meant it held onto its charm. It’s slight mutedness on first release, the sense of walking into a dew slicken arcade of summer white flowers that it soon evoked. I was hooked, and to Te Kokos credit I never found any oaked Sauvignons that tasted quite the same.
2011 – By now cynical and quite a lot older I’ve been invited to a tutored tasting of the Cloudy Bay wines with Nick Lane their head winemaker.
Te Koko began as a small barrel experiment in 96, initially with 10g residual sugar left in, 97 saw very heavy oak being applied, before the current more measured formula was found.
There is no specific selection of parcels or plots, the wine can be part of a normal Cloudy Bay parcel, or as happens occasionally just the next load that arrives into the winery. Before I make this sound terribly slap dash, I should point out that selection criteria for Cloudy Bay starts out very high and that there is a huge amount of work done in the vineyard to ensure the high standards .
However none of this can take away from the fact that this is a winemaker led wine (well in some ways it is and in other ways it’s less so)
The chosen must it allowed to ferment naturally (in contrast to the neutral yeasts favored for the Sauv B) and is then plonked whole sale into old oak (8%) new. Between 50-80% malolactic fermentation takes place, with occasional barrels warmed slightly to encourage it should the vintage seem a trifle acidic. This is then left on lees for 16-18 months. That’s pretty much it.
We had the 2008 to start with, this is the most recent release, white flowers, just a tiny hint of coffee, some honeysuckle, white peach and tropical flavours. On the palette there is that lovely silkiness that Sauvignon in old oak seems to acquire. Due to the slightly oxidative character of the vinification there is substantially less herbaceous (typically Sauvignon type) aromas, something all the wines will show.
The 06 was slightly less floral but had a marked lime and mango character to the nose. There was something of the bottle aged character to this that was slightly revelatory, a sort of lime marmalade and toast impression. Not the same as, but similar to the aged Riesling notes I’d expect of a 5 year old Clare Valley.
The 05 was similarly slightly waxy and Riesling like, the floral notes were still there but accompanied by a delicate caramel note, some interesting waxy tropical fruit notes on the palette and a certain saltiness on the finish.
Finally we were served some of the 2001, now I can’t be certain, but I think this was the wine I first fell for (the dates of releases sort of make sense, also it was stock that didn’t move that fast). A ten year old new world Sauvignon Blanc, by all that is right and good (and French) in the world, this should have been rubbish. It wasn’t. Lime scented salt caramel, a whiff of the elusive sous bois, a hint of something that reminded me of damp cellars, a powerfully silken palette intertwined with aldehydic and autolytic aromas, Nick Lane was suggesting an affinity with youthful Bollinger, but for me there was still just a bit to much floral and ghostly herbaceousness for the comparison.
I’m really glad that I still like Te Koko, yes it’s LVMH, but so is Yquem so sod off. The strength of its showing in the older vintages was very impressive.