Like most Marlborough-based wineries, the majority of Yealands’ output is Sauvignon Blanc destined for the off-trade. But in chief winemaker Natalie Christensen the winery has a talent that is willing to experiment with the on-trade in mind. At a lunch in London’s Apricity restaurant, Christensen showed off her new range of Yealands Estate wines aimed at the premium on-trade – from single blocks and single vineyards and featuring for the first time an Albariño, a homage to her time spent making wines in Rias Baixas. Victor Smart reports.
“Although Yealands’ non-Sauvignon Blanc output is small in volume, it is clear that the ‘niche’ varieties provide more than just diversity,” writes Smart.
Inevitably, a New Zealand wine producer from Marlborough gets associated with Sauvignon Blanc. In the case of Yealands (pronounced “Yeelands”), this is both fair and unfair. The winery does in fact use around a dozen varietals to produce wine but, yes, 80 per cent of its production is from tried and tested Sauvignon Blanc.
Yealands Reserve wines and its core range should be a familiar sight from the shelves of British retailers – but we have not been invited for lunch at Apricity, a stone’s throw from Selfridges in London, to taste either of these. Rather we’re getting to drink the top-of-the range Estate wines aimed squarely at the on-trade and with their own distinct branding. They are drawn from the winery’s Seaview Vineyard in the Awatere Valley, where there are some of the toughest growing conditions in Marborough.
We’re a bit spoiled. Both the restaurant’s chef Chantelle Nicholson and the producer’s chief winemaker, Natalie Christensen, are on hand to discuss things. For those who don’t know, Apricity (meaning the “warmth of winter sunshine”) is all about sustainability. Or to be more specific, it’s pioneering a low-waste approach to cooking while not going fully vegetarian. Highlights of our lunch are cured wild Cornish seabass, black pearl and oyster mushrooms, wild fallow deer haunch and kale tart. For dessert there is a doughnut affair that is new to me, called a chouxnut.
Apricity offers a list of low intervention wines. Often these are English but today New Zealand gets star billing. And Christensen is eager to talk us through the on-trade range.
While most of the wine bottles made the journey from Marlborough in the belly hold, the Pinot Noir Single Vineyard 2020 (13.5% ABV) was cosseted in Nat’s luggage. Rightly so, as this is a gem. Nicely structured with intense blackberry flavours, this has smooth tannins that make it exceptionally approachable – it’s beautifully made but not challenging.
Then on to the Single Block Organic Sauvignon Blanc 2022 (12.5% ABV). Yealands now has 70 out of 1200 hectares under a certified organic regime. This is fine example of what a good Sauvignon Blanc can be, fresh but free of the excesses of some of the more ‘out-there’ offerings, with a well-judged minerality and notes of guava and passionfruit. Ideal for the Sauvignon Blanc fan who has had enough of wines that show off big grassy or tropical fruit flavours.
Christensen trained as a classical double-bass player and after briefly – and unhappily – working in management wound up in a winery in Galicia. Her next wine for us is, unsurprisingly then, an Albariño – a homage to Rais Biaxas. A first for Yealands, the varietal was only planted four years ago and the 2022 Single Vineyard Albariño (12.5% ABV) will be a limited production wine. The fashionable, fresh, aromatic variety has notes of yellow plum and lime blossom. How well it’s received may help determine whether other New Zealand producers start to plant Albariño or not.
Although Yealand’s non-Sauvignon Blanc output is small in volume, it is clear that the ‘niche’ varieties provide more than just diversity. We end our meal with two Riesling dessert wines. Of the two, the Noble Riesling 2020 (9.5% ABV) as you may guess, is the one made solely from botrytis grapes. Unctuous while also displaying a nice balance between the acidity and sweetness, this can give some far more famous noble antipodean stickies a run for their money. Truly opulent!
The Yealands Estate wines are distributed to the on-trade and independents by Enotria & Coe, a commercial partner to The Buyer. To learn more about them click here.