When I called Nadine Worley, one half of the winemaking powerhouse from Mud House wines of New Zealand, I knew that I was in for a treat: Nadine has the kind of innate knowledge of her vineyards that only comes from incredible passion blended equally with tremendous work ethos. Nadine’s respect for her little patch(es) of Marlborough and Waipara is self-evident in her wines and I was excited to have a few minutes to dig through the many layers of her hard-won knowledge.
KRISTOF: Nadine, thank you so much for taking the time for us today.
NADINE: A pleasure.
KRISTOF: Nadine, let me get right down to it: I’ve had some time to go through the samples you were kind enough to provide… I hope you take this the right way, but I have to tell you how stunned I was at the complexity of your wines! Every time I moved up a notch, no matter the varietal, I was rewarded with a marked increase in complexity, integration, concentration…
NADINE: Well there’s a reason why some of the finest wines in New Zealand rarely leave New Zealand~! Our locals really have come to love the work that we do and, while exports are incredibly important, some wines are made in such small quantities that some markets that rarely see them.
KRISTOF: – but the range of flavors!
NADINE: -thanks Kristof, that’s what we’re striving for. We at Mud House are really excited about this great range of flavors and aromas that New Zealand terroir wants to express: from lush tropical notes to green peppers to grapefruit. For us it’s that trinity of balance, dimension and flavor that we’re only just getting to because we’re starting to truly know the sites.
KRISTOF: The expression from the sites is brilliant and that brings me to my next question: with this vast diversity in flavors, how does a global brand such as Mud House work with the difference in palate between Europe, Asia, North America…
NADINE: -not an easy task, for certain. But what makes it easier for us is that our markets are really telling us what they want; in Australia for example they love the young fruit flavors/more of a Spanish style. Whereas in the North American market we definitely need more concentration in the wines even if only due to the length of time the wines need for travelling, crossing customs, and then finally reaching the consumer.
KRISTOF: So lead me through it then; explain it to me like I’m 5 years old: what, to you, are the biggest differences between the Mud House labels when it comes to “Woolshed”, “Homeblock” and “The Mound”.
NADINE: Well when we’re talking about “Woolshed” we’re talking about such a work in progress; this is truly a case of knowing the individual blocks and what they want to showcase. And that takes time, no way around it. When we get down to brass tacks and are finally tasting the wine from the blocks, we do it blind so that there’s no prejudice. And if the acid is high? We showcase it! Because that’s the wine that “Woolshed” wants to make that year.
2012 Mud House
89+ points, very good value
- visual: clear; pale straw core to watery rim, silver highlights
- nose: clean; fully intense youthful aromas of cantaloupe and honeydew melons, guava, precise minerality, long green grass in the background
- palate: clean; dry, medium+ grapefruit acid, medium- body, medium+ alcohol (13% ABV), medium+ youthful flavors much in-line with the nose; starting with a refreshing burst of grapefruit and melon, clean lines of minerality and just a hint of exotic fruit in the background. Good balance, good structure and medium- length
- conclusion: a refreshing Summer wine meant to be consumed young. Enjoy 2013-2016 for best results
- FOOD PAIRING: given this wine’s precocious nature, I would pair it off food with a bit more fat to it. Consider Thai green curry seafood bowl with BC Spot Prawns and wild salmon, steamed local gai-lan and Shiitake mushroom, toasted coconut jasmine rice, pickled mango
2012 Mud House “The Woolshed Estate”
92+/93 points, EXCELLENT VALUE
- visual: clear; pale lemon-straw core with watery rim, gold highlights
- nose: clean; fully intense and youthful aromas of lush Summer flower-gardens, ripe apricots, strawberry-papaya, guava, warm grass and underneath it all: a very keen minerality smacking of Burgundian-style precision
- palate: clean; dry, medium+ to full yellow grapefruit acid, medium- body, medium+ alcohol (13.5% ABV), medium+ intense and youthful flavors that are perfectly in-line with the aromas; the minerality takes center-stage here! Grassy notes play well with stonefruit, grapefruit-dominated citrus. Excellent balance and structure with long length that continues to develop for 20 seconds and longer
- conclusion: Stunning example of varietal. Will cellar easily for several years, but, will not develop appreciably… enjoy 2013-2018
- FOOD PAIRING: I’ve said before that Sauv-Blanc does well with seafood, but in this instance the natural grapefruit-dominated palate makes me think of seasalt barbequed duck with smoked garlic aioli, Swiss-style potato rosti, charred sweet pepper and corn succotash with garden-fresh Italian parsley…
NADINE: That’s a vineyard that I feel still needs some vine-age to really develop the phenolics; this is wonderful gravel soil with enough clay to it that Pinot Gris is showing beautifully on it already.
2012 Mud House
South Island Pinot Gris
89 points, very good value
- visual: clear; ultra pale core with watery rim, silver highlights
- nose: clean; medium- youthful aromas of waxy Anjou pear and Golden apple, warm hay and spicy/peppery background
- palate: clean; dry, medium+ to full grapefruit acid, medium- body, medium alcohol (well integrated 13.5%), medium concentration of youthful flavors that are in-line with the aromas; a clean line of minerality is enhanced by the orchard-fruit tones and a peppery finish. Very good to excellent balance, very good structure, medium- to short length.
- conclusion: an excellent introduction to NZ expression of varietal, enjoy young 2013-2016
- FOOD PAIRING: these crisp tones will sing next to fattier birds; consider crispy-skin duck breast on caramelized onion potato rosti, hazelnut sauteed Brussel sprouts, apricot compote… the hazelnuts will emphasize the freshness in the wine through contrast, the natural sweetness in the apricots bring the spicy palate into greater alignment
2012 Mud House “The Home Block Vineyard”
Waipara Valley Pinot Gris
92 points, EXCELLENT VALUE
- visual: clear; pale straw core to watery rim, light silver highlights
- nose: clean; medium+ intense youthful aromas starting with a burst of ultra-precise minerality, warm/ripe pear, a myriad of little white and yellow summer flowers and at the end a touch of dried apricot
- palate: clean; dry, medium white grapefruit acid, medium body, medium+ alcohol (14% ABV), medium intense and youthful flavors much in-line with the aromas; the palate starts with an ultra-crisp and clean minerality that carries through the strong structure of Southern Hemisphere citrus tones (orange pith, grapefruit, lemon and limes and more limes) finishing with a light touch of Thai chili. Excellent balance and structure, medium length
- conclusion: an absolutely professional example of what small-lot production can bring out of southern Pinot Gris; enjoy 2013-2016 and possibly beyond but will not develop further
- FOOD PAIRING: if ever there was a natural of south-east Asian salads, this is it~! Green papaya salad with grilled Spot-prawns and baby octopus, mango emulsion, toasted peanut… the wine has depth and layers! Just beware of pairing with too spicy of food as it may pull that balanced 14% alcohol out of balance
KRISTOF: and “The Mound”
NADINE: Well that’s the heartache for us; it’s just such a hard sell for us still to showcase single vineyard Riesling from New Zealand… when people think about great Riesling, they aren’t thinking about us yet.
KRISTOF: A pity… I’ve enjoyed some top-tier Riesling from around the world and yours is certainly one of them.
NADINE: Thanks Kristof.
2012 Mud House
Waipara Valley Riesling
88 points, good value
- visual: clear; pale straw core, watery rim
- nose: clean; medium- intense youthful aromas of smokey minerals and crushed seashells, ripe stonefruit in the background
- palate: clean; dry, medium+ to fully intense yellow grapefruit acid, medium- body, medium- alcohol (12.5%), medium+ intense youthful flavors; the yellow grapefruit is like a big deliciously-mouth-watering bomb that goes off! Huge citrus flavors with a small supporting cast of the auxiliary stonefruit/minerality, and the end of the palate is all grapefruit again. Very good to excellent balance, good structure, short length
- conclusion: great for the mid-afternoon glass on the patio! Enjoy it whilst it’s young 2013-2015
- FOOD PAIRING: “panini in the park”: fresh arugula panini with mustard and rosemary fire-grilled chicken, red pepper pesto and fresh mozzarella (bocconcini)
2012 Mud House “The Mound Vineyard”
Waipara Valley Riesling
92+/93 points, EXCELLENT VALUE
- visual: clear; ultra pale silver/straw core, watery rim, silver highlights
- nose: clean; medium+ youthful bouquet of smokey minerals, warm hay, mango jam, young pineapple, grapefruit skins
- palate: clean; off-dry, fully intense yellow/pink grapefruit acids, medium- body, medium+ alcohol (12% ABV), medium+ concentration of youthful flavors perfectly in-line with the nose; bright citrus and cranberry flavors dance on a palate glued together with a fine mesh of tight minerality… exotic fruit notes create a subtle backdrop. Excellent balance and structure, long length that develops appreciably for 20 seconds and longer
- conclusion: as I am a newcomer to New Zealand Riesling, it’s only a guess, but I would hazard that this has a long life ahead of it: enjoy 2013-2023
- FOOD PAIRING: so dense with flavors and layers, I would enjoy this much like I would a fine German Riesling… sous-vide pork tenderloin, coriander-coconut marinade, dried apricot-Challah stuffing, sweet potato pave, spicy mango relish, fresh steamed Collard greens
KRISTOF: On to a happier topic: tell me about some of the regions outside of New Zealand that are most exciting for you personally right now?
NADINE: Well in some of our more structured tastings *(industry events) we’re getting the opportunity to sample some brilliant work from Chile: really superb expressions of Sauv Blanc, Chardonnay, Syrah, Cab Sauv…
KRISTOF: One of my favorite regions as well! But now what about within New Zealand; what’s the place and what’s the grape that’s really tugging at your heart?
NADINE: That’s easy: Central Otago Pinot Noir. I’ve absolutely been blown away by the flavors; the complexity and texture that are being achieved there right now when the vines get a bit of age to them and we the winemakers come to a better understanding of the sites.
KRISTOF: And so if Pinot Noir is the grape that you’re most attached to these days, what’s the oddest you’ve seen in New Zealand?
NADINE: Ha! Gruner-Vetliner is top of the list…
KRISTOF: -and yet they’re growing some brilliant Gruner in Australia as well these days.
NADINE: True, small quantities but excellent quality.
KRISTOF: So we’re living in the greatest age of wine-making the world has possibly ever seen. So many boundaries broken, so many traditions shattered… New Zealand is renown as the land of Sauv Blanc, and now Pinot Noir - both cool climate grapes. Is it possible that we could see a cool climate Bordeaux style blend coming from these inspired winemakers?
NADINE: Definitely. Without a doubt. The area around Hawkes Bay… 5 years ago people would have thought it was madness but, now? Climates are changing, the world is changing, and we’re seeing that something like that is possible.
KRISTOF: So much possibility… Nadine, there are going to be a few young winemakers who read this. Any words of wisdom?
NADINE: I don’t know how much wisdom I have, but: just treat the vines with respect. Soil health/biodiversity… it’s really about not putting into the soil what you don’t want want to take out, and that doesn’t need a certificate, just common sense. That, and while you’re out in the world and learning – make sure you keep those good principles you’re fortunate enough to see in action.
KRISTOF: And a last question, a bit more personal: If you could have anything right now, anything in the world, what would it be?
NADINE: I love what I do, where I do it, and the madly brilliant people I get to work with.
NADINE: One day, it will be me on a little plot of land. I’ll have Pinot Noir, a bit of Chardonnay… and it will be decades of getting to an intimate knowledge of my vines until I can name every single one of them.
KRISTOF: Beautiful vision you have Miss Worley. Thank you so much for sharing your time with us.
NADINE: My pleasure Kristof. Please come and visit.
And that was the end of my whirlwind adventure through New Zealand terroir with Mud House and Nadine Worley… I set out with the clear intention of understanding what Mud House was “bringing to the table” with their single-vineyard offerings: more concentration? Better balance? Structure? Really, was it worth the extra $10 or $15 to upgrade?
I got more of an education than I was expecting. For in this winery, and in these winemakers, I’ve found small-town values in the big city. Here is a place where the land isn’t just respected, it’s the beginning, the middle and the end of the story. Here is a place where winemakers hope that this year they will understand what their vines are trying to say – just a little better then the year before. Nothing is perfect; perfection is a dream of vanity. But… these entry level wines are full of concentration and balance, which makes them anything but entry-level. And the single vineyard wines? As lovingly crafted and articulate about the soil as could be hoped for by any maestro.
The wines alone would be reason enough to admire Mud House vineyards, but, I find it is the genuinely humble and talented artisans who work there that have won my respect.
Many thanks to Mud House wines for the samples and to the irrepressible Peter Sheehan for all his work in coordinating and facilitating this article. For further reading on Mud House, I invite you to read my first article on their work: the SWAN Pinot Noir http://astudentofwine.blogspot.ca/2013/07/mud-house-single-vineyard-pint-noir.html
As always, I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions. Here, or:
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