Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sea Level Wines – Published 11.11.11

Occasionally I come across a new wine producer that gets my attention from the very first taste; something quite unusual because it normally takes a couple of vintages for a new producer to get to grips with making the best possible wine from fruit grown in a new vineyard. Sea Level Wines is one such producer. Owned by the father and son team of Mike and Sam Smail this is a new label on the Nelson winemaking scene. Their first wine, a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, hit the shelves in 2010 while the first white wines from the home vineyard at Mariri were produced and released this year.
When I met with Mike and Sam to taste their wines a couple of months ago I quickly understood why the wines are so good so soon, Sam is a senior winemaker for Whitehaven Wines in Marlborough and has a wealth of experience to call on. Mike Smail may be new to the wine industry but is certainly not new to business having been an importer and distributor of goods for many years. His enthusiasm for this new venture is obvious and as well as “bringing resources essential to a fledging wine company” as their website says “he is proving useful at a wide array of tasks including vineyard development, label design and sales.”
Sam has worked for Whitehaven Wines in Marlborough since 1999, having previously
worked vintages in Italy, USA and New Zealand and studied winemaking at the University of Adelaide. Not a bad pedigree for a new wine company winemaker.
The focus of Sea Level Wines is to “make wines with varietal intensity and expressive of the site”. As a small producer Sea Level has a total quality focus and the first wines from the home vineyard reflect the hard work and dedication to quality. Definitive varietal characters, purity and intensity of flavour and perfect balance between fruit ripeness and freshness demand your attention from the first taste.
As well as a Sauvignon Blanc from the Awatere Valley in eastern of Marlborough the Mariri vineyard is planted with Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer and Chenin Blanc. When I first tasted these wines they hadn’t been bottled very long and needed some time to recover from inevitable bottle shock (wines don’t like being beaten up in the bottling process and need to settle down a bit after bottling) but the individual flavours and structure components were all there.
At the first smell of the 2011 Sea Level Gewurztraminer (RRP $23.95) my senses lit up, this is a special wine; delightful perfumed powdery rose and Turkish delight aromas with a palate weight that is opulent and has multi-layered flavours of soft spice, lychees, green apple and Turkish delight. I rated this as a five star wine then and not long after I tasted it with Mike and Sam the wine won a Gold medal at The New Zealand International Wine Show.
Since I first tasted and rated these wines I have been following Sea Level’s show success with more than a little interest and they have continued to pick up awards including a Pure Gold medal for their 2011 Pinot Gris (RRP$18.95) at the Bragato Wine Awards.
These new boys on the block are creating something very special and I will be following them with a great deal of interest in the years to come. Check out

I have been drinking

Yealands Estate 2011 Pinot Noir Rose – RRP $19.95
I can see why this wine was crowned as Champion Rose at this year’s Bragato Wine Awards. It is packed with red current and raspberry flavours and is made in a dry style. The mouthwatering acidity in the long finish mean it is perfect with food. This is a vibrant, exciting style that I just love. Try it with smoked fish.

Ti Point Matakana Coast Matriarch Syrah 2010 – RRP $44.95
This is an iron fist in a velvet glove - deep red in colour with rich, complex, savoury red and black berryfruit flavours that finish with a delightful pepper burst and a twist of acidity. Two Gold medals already point to this as another wine to follow from one of my favourite newer producers.

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