Much like the ancient astrolabe steered mariners and explorers through uncharted waters, so the palate of Simon Waghorn guides the winemaking at Marlborough’s Astrolabe Winery. We had the distinct pleasure of joining Simon, his wife Jane Forrest, and his general manager Jason Yank, in the cosy confines of their loungeroom for a personal journey through seven of their signature wines. Throughout the tasting, Simon provided an in-depth explanation of the intricacies and nuances of each of the wines. It is hard not to feel the passion that Simon exudes, not only for his own wines, but for the process of winemaking itself. His vision is to make wines that he enjoys and that exemplify the terroir in which the grapes are grown, all the while maintaining the integrity of his personal wine-making style. This passion and vision is shared, not only by his wife Janet, but also by Jason, who are both exuberant ambassadors for the Astrolabe label.
We began with the pinot gris, another example of this easy-drinking varietal. It has a fine minerality with flavours of pear and peach. The next four wines we tasted were all sauvignon blancs, but each had its own individual characteristics, derived from the unique terroir in which the grapes were grown. Simon makes one sauvignon blanc from a vineyard in the tiny Kekerengu region, which is just off the coastal highway between Blenheim and Kaikoura. This wine is medium-bodied, with flinty, almost salty notes. The second sauv we enjoyed was from a region a little further north, the Awatere Valley, not yet well-known in Canada, but producing a lot of great fruit. This wine had bright clean flavours of gooseberry and citrus, with a crisp, dry finish. The Taihoa vineyard, another of the nineteen in total from which Astrolabe sources its grapes, produces a very unique barrel-fermented sauvignon blanc. Fermented with wild yeast, it results in a perfumy floral passionfruit wine with savoury notes. The Astrolabe Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is a blend consisting of grapes from all over the region, and is their flagship wine. This is the label we enjoy so much in Alberta.
Astrolabe also makes an elegant chardonnay, which is oak-aged, but since only 30% is new French oak, the tannins do not overpower the fruit. This wine is nicely balanced, with hints of apple and melon, and very subtle vanilla and buttery notes.
Astrolabe’s pinot noir has fine tannins, yummy cherry and strawberry flavours and great balance. We enjoyed it very much at the tasting, but later in the evening, the 2008 vintage was a wonderful complement to our barbecued salmon dinner.
We have enjoyed the kind hospitality of a number of wineries in our travels thus far; however today’s tasting with Simon, Jane and Jason certainly went beyond a mere sampling of their wines, and gave us better insight into both the challenges and the joys of producing world-class wines.