Dry River, New Zealand’s finest wines

17 Jul 2019

Wine science in pursuit of perfection

'Optimal phenolic ripeness with ripe fruit flavours and modest alcohol levels that faithfully reflect the site and vintage' - it sounds simple, it sounds like the mantra many quality-oriented modern wineries might follow, but the practice of course is devilishly difficult to achieve. At New Zealand's Dry River they have it down to an art form. Labour-intensive vineyard practices (severe pruning and crop thinning, no irrigation, organic farming) are followed by a policy of minimum intervention in the winery. Because of the cold climate the wines here are always fresh; because of the farming they're always very ripe, and because of the winemaking you get the best expression of Martinborough fruit. The wines are classy and classical, outside the New Zealand mainstream, but over time they have come to be regarded as the country's finest.

So where is the dry river? The name comes from an old, local sheep station. When Dry River was founded by Dr Neil McCallum in 1979, a friend had just mapped rainfall on North Island; Neil chose the site with lowest rainfall, well-drained gravels, and relatively cool local conditions. He experimented widely with equipment and techniques, with decisions always based on results, not fashion. He insisted on tiny yields and always prioritized quality over anything else.

Neil retired in 2011; current winemaker Wilco Lam follows Neil's precepts, and the wines, in particular the Pinot Noir, have become purer and more floral. The Riesling is stunning with great texture (rare in the New World) as well as fruit; the Chardonnay is ripe with great structure and balance and the fruit is tight but creamy. Rich and savoury Pinot Noir is also packed with red fruit and floral notes; it has a fine, woven structure and great length. Is Syrah the real red variety of New Zealand? It has a great future if this is anything to go by with plenty of floral and pepper notes, a gorgeous core of fruit and fine texture. Truly an elegant Northern Rhone style and not a bit Shiraz. /NT

Offered subject to remaining unsold; available imminently