Little Beauty Comes Home

Little Beauty Comes Home
Bringing Gold
Maurice O'Mahony of Wine Alliance introduces
Little Beauty's Fleur McCree.
Little Beauty’s Fleur McCree says demand is high for her 600 cases of limited edition Riesling. She even sells it into Germany and has had a recent query from Japan where the grape is "all the rage with the young affluent Japanese woman”. It will be all the rage in other places too with yesterday’s news that her 2010 from Marlborough has won the New Zealand Regional Award (for Riesling selling at under fifteen pounds sterling) in the Decanter World Wine Awards!

The wine, made from less than 2 hectares of vines, is a “refreshing lemon lime” and “deliberately made dry”. It is the drink anytime wine, the “lager of wine” according to Fleur who loves it with roast pork.

The second wine at last week’s tasting in L’Atitude 51, who supplied some really tasty bites for each wine, was the Pinot Gris, again from less than two hectares of vines. “Pinot Gris loves the stones, the water, and the sun.” It just takes off in these conditions and that can, in the wrong hands, lead to quantity over quality.

So it has to be reined in. Bunches are removed. Must be done by hand as machines can’t decide which bunches to discard. “Concentration in Pinot Gris means quality” and it is “the most pampered variety in the vineyard”. Here you have lip smacking flavour, oily, yet drier than the Riesling. Don’t over chill it and use with nuts, pork crab and so on.

Sauvignon Blanc is perhaps the typical Marlborough wine. Little Beauty’s 2010 is, I think, a little bit more restrained than the usual Marlborough and the better for it. The different blocks around the vineyard ripen at different times yet the intense fruit is preserved and there is “a build-up of layers of flavour to enhance the experience. Mango, Passion fruit at the start followed by Citrusy flavours mid-palate and then basil at the back of the tongue”. Really top notch.

The Gold medal news was the first surprise at the well attended tasting. You can’t taste gold medals but we could taste the second surprise: the Black Beauty Edition of Sauvignon Blanc. Only 200 cases were produced from a few selected rows and this was a world first for Ireland. “...quick harvested...and then put into small old barriques (French), barriques that are ten to twenty years stainless steel is used..fermentation is in the cultured yeast...just the local wild yeast”.

And that intensive management pays off. “It is a beautiful fruit wine..lots of texture..creamier...richer...use with pork chops and garlic.”

“Hello, you exotic Little Beauty”, was Fleur’s greeting to the next wine, the Gewurztraminer, as she sniffed the Turkish Delight on the nose. This comes from two different one hectare plots, from two different clones of a variety that is “lazy in the vineyard”.

Its sweet fruitiness is balanced by “a clear acidity”. “It is a food wine, very versatile.” She advised us to try it with Cheeses, Foie Gras, Terrines, spicy crab and fragrant curries.

Now it was time for the final wine, Pinot Noir, the only red in the Little Beauty team. The Marlborough sun will not ripen the likes of Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz and so Pinot Noir is the most common red variety in the area.

This, hand harvested from between six and seven hectares, has a short spell in stainless steel before aging for 12 months in oak. It is a terrific example of the variety. “Complex but in a friendly way! Soft silky and a hint of tannins. Enjoy, definitely, with Pan-fried duck breasts.”

Just another Little Beauty in a beautiful wine tasting in L’Atitude’s superbly appointed upstairs room, made for just such an occasion. May there be many more of them. 

Little Beauty wines are imported by Wine Alliance. It is widely available around the country so check out the stockists here.

Wine Geese events

Tuesday May 28th, Cafe Paradiso: Presentation & Tasting with winemaker Emma Cullen of Cullen Wines, Margaret River, Australia in Café Paradiso in association with Liberty Wines.

July 11th, Crawford Art Gallery: “A Bordeaux Evening in Cork” with Pierre Lawton, Bordeaux and Ted Murphy, author of “A Kingdom of Wine – a Celebration of Ireland’s Wine Geese”.

 (Part Two)

Little Beauty Comes Home

 (Part One)

In 1825, thirty year old John Cox welcomed his new son William into the world in Passage West, Co. Cork. William, who married in 1846, was one of the first Europeans to settle in New Zealand and died there in 1899.

William was the great, great great grandfather of Fleur McCree, co-owner of Marlborough winery Little Beauty, who was back in town last Thursday evening, her tutored wine-tasting, in Union Quay’s L’Atitude 51, part of the current Wine Geese Series.

“Marlborough is the home of Little Beauty and a very important place for me,” she said. “There we have 2,500 hours of sunshine annually and clear skies. If you go to New Zealand be sure to have your sunglasses with you when you land in Auckland, it is so bright.”

Marlborough is into farming both on land and on sea and has “a huge reputation for such a little place”. But its grape history is a very short one. The first were planted in 1972 and the hopeful farmer was told he “was bonkers”.

Fleur, who had always had a terrific affinity with nature (sleeping as a child on her trampoline under those bright bright stars),decided in the late 90s to get into wine – for keeps!

The apprenticeship took quite a while. Scouting trips to Alsace, Burgundy, the Douro, Napa Valley and Mendoza (among other places) yielded valuable knowledge before she and her partner decided to settle back home. But then they spent years in London, working to raise capital before eventually starting up in Marlborough where they now farm 41 hectares of vines, which is a tiny area, considering that there are 33,000 hectares under production in New Zealand.

They first planted in 2002/3 and then of course they had to wait for their first harvest. But two years later they were in for a big shock when a severe frost wiped out blocks of their Sauvignon Blanc. And two years later again, a once in a sixty year flood caused major damage again. Tears then but only for a brief period. “Then I realised we were essentially farmers. This was what we had to deal with.” And deal with it they did. It is not an easy life ”but rewarding”.

Labour is scare here and machines are necessary (though not used in all areas, Pinot Gris and Noir are hand harvested for example). The versatile tractor is put to good use. To preserve the freshness and flavours, they have to use the machines to make the harvest “really quick”.

Perhaps one of the most ingenious machines is what looks like a windmill and nine of these are scattered around the vineyard and used to prevent the blanket of frost settling. While New Zealand enjoys long hours of sunshine, the day’s highs (maybe late twenties) can be followed by very cold nights. But the blades on these machines oscillate and rotate and succeed in fighting off the frost.

A state of the art technology network across the site captures real time data variables from Mother Nature and, among other things, helps dictate when the wind machines (and which wind machine) comes into play. The use of stainless steel, copied from the thriving local dairy industry, is widespread, though oak barriques are also used in Little Beauty.

The fledging Little Beauty earned its early keep by selling its Sauvignon grapes to Cloudy Bay. The cash helped them develop the vineyard and then they got a huge boost when Eveline Fraser, then head wine-maker with Cloudy Bay, decided to join the rookies!

You’ve often heard of the passionate vineyard owner. Last Thursday night we saw one in action in L’Atitude. “I’m very fussy over where Little Beauty goes. Come hell or high water, you’ll never find Little Beauty in a supermarket. It goes only to good homes. Integrity is very important nowadays. A wine made with integrity or an accountant’s wine. Which would you prefer?”

I reckon William Cox would have been proud of his great great great grand daughter!

Fleur also had a couple of real surprises for us during the tasting and I’ll have that and more on the Little Beauty wines themselves in Part Two tomorrow.