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You may not know who Kevin Judd is, but you've probably enjoyed his wines. Judd was the first winemaker at Cloudy Bay, the winery that put New Zealand on the wine map. Judd's wines, especially his Sauvignon Blancs were vibrant, rich, complex and startlingly new. While there are other first-rate Sauvignon Blancs - and other wine types - from New Zealand, it was the notoriety of the Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc that made it possible for other producers in the country to achieve worldwide success.
Judd left Cloudy Bay a few years ago and started a new winery called Greywacke (pronounced gray-wacky) sourcing fruit from the Marlborough region not far from the northern tip of New Zealand's South Island. At Greywacke - named for bedrock that is found in vineyards throughout New Zealand - the focus will be on Sauvignon Blanc along with Pinot Noir and from time to time, a little bit of Gewurztraminer.
The new releases of Greywacke wines are just arriving in the US; I tasted three of them last week with some friends at a wonderful Thai restaurant named Yindee in Chicago; if ever there was a cuisine to pair with tangy, expressive Sauvignon Blanc, this is it! The first wine we tried was the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc. One whiff of this wine and you know instantly the variety you're dealing with, as aromas of gooseberry and lime jump out of the glass. Medium-full, this is very rich on the palate and has zippy acidity and plenty of spice in the finish. If you've never had a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, here is a classic example of a steel-aged version with all its power and complexity. Enjoy this over the next 2-3 years; it paired perfectly with our shrimp rolls and scallop nuggets. ($20)
Then we moved on to the 2010 Wild Sauvignon, so named as Judd used indigenous or "wild" yeasts for the fermentation of this wine in old French barriques. About two-thirds of the wine underwent malo-lactic fermentation in barrels and afterwards, the wine was transferred out of barrels and left on its lees for a further four months before bottling.
The aromas here are quite intense, though they are somewhat more subtle than the regular wine; there are perfumes of gooseberry and pear that are heavenly. While I normally am not a big fan of Sauvignon Blancs that have been fermented and/or aged in oak, the wood treatment works beautifully with this wine. Wood aging can also add texture to white wine and is there ever richness on the palate with this wine! This has an extremely long finish with outstanding persistence and vibrant acidity; the complexity of this wine is extremely impressive. There is plenty of spice -this certainly held its own paired with red and green curry, not an easy trick - and the wine lingers on in the mouth with amazing varietal purity. One of my dining companions compared this to the finest Pouilly-Fumé he had ever tried; as for myself, in the 30 plus years I have been in the wine business, this is among the three or four finest examples of Sauvignon Blanc I have ever tasted! This is worth every penny of its $30 price tag and I urge you to purchase this wine while it is still available. Congratulations, Kevin!
We finished with the 2010 Pinot Noir, a beautifully made version with rich, ripe black cherry fruit and notable wood notes. If this wine did not impress up initially, well, it would be difficult for just about any wine to do that after the two examples of Sauvignon. However, the wine did open up nicely after thirty minutes, revealing a more floral side to the aromas. The tannins are nicely balanced and there is good acidity. We all agreed that the wine is just a bit too young and that another year in the bottle would do wonders. This wine, incidentally, was a fine accompaniment to various types of Thai soup. ($40).
P.S. I did meet Kevin Judd about eight or nine years ago in New Zealand and found him to be a very down-to-earth, humble person. He wouldn't go out of his way to tell you this, but he also happens to be one of the world's greatest vineyard photographers. In fact, the gorgeous photos of leaves and grapes that grace the Greywacke labels are by Kevin and they make for a striking package. Kevin and I, by the way, have the same photo agent, so we love talking about photography just as much as about wine. Believe me, I learn a lot about both topics from Kevin!