An evening with Sam Weaver of Churton Wines

In conjunction with Altaya Wines of Hong Kong, I spend an enjoyable evening in the company of Churton winemaker Sam Weaver, sampling seven of his terrific bottles.

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Having studied microbiology at university, and initially spending a decade in the fine wine trade, British-born Sam Weaver found his way to New Zealand’s South Island and began a journey to make first class wines in the famous Marlborough region. Although his aim has always been to “bring a different perspective, a European perspective, to New Zealand wine”, Sam is committed to people identifying his wines as Churton, first and foremost. Their 2016 crop marks their 20th vintage.

Through biodynamic practices, low-intervention vinification and unique site selection (the majority of which carry cut-of-meat related names), Churton wines are individual and characterful. The evening involved Sam running our small group through his philosophy and practices, as we tasted four whites and three reds:

2013 Petit Manseng

Made in extremely low quantities, this 10% abv off-dry wine (or “Demi Sec”, as the French like to call it) was an appealing medium yellow colour and had an intensely aromatic nose. Floral cues, quince, ripe pineapple, tropical fruit and what appeared to be an unusual tomato juice-like character (Bloody Mary, anyone?) all attacked the senses. On the palate it was extremely refreshing – the high acid level doing the heavy lifting in the face of that lower alcohol level, providing a moorish, fruity, mouthfilling experience. So drinkable, and stylistically not a million miles away from a lower-alcohol Spätlese Riesling from the Mosel in Germany. Cracking as an aperitif.

2011 Viognier

Another aromatic varietal, this wine was very well balanced on nose and palate. Not particularly expressive out the glass, showing a marked austerity. Floral; very linear, it felt like this is still closed and in its early development. To taste this wine showed notable power, high acid, being delivered by a punchy 14% abv, with a very pleasant and refreshing finish of citrus, apple and a touch of white flowers.

2014 Sauvignon Blanc

An interesting exercise, compared side-by-side with the below wine. Typically – and beautifully – herbaceous on the nose, with those classic Kiwi SB cues of gooseberry, green pepper and cut grass. It goes further than most though, with an excellent texture and strength. Highly refreshing and enjoyable.

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2013 “Best End” Sauvignon Blanc

Sam’s ‘premium’ Sauvignon is a real step up from the above. 100% fermented in barrel for 12 months, and it adds another dimension. A wonderfully complex nose: all of the above, plus a marked flinty minerality, the faintest touch of vanilla (“I never want my wines to be ‘oaky’; I want them to have the flavour of oak in them”, says Sam), on top of a note of pure passion fruit and feijoa, a local “spoon fruit”. Apricot in there too. Later, on the fifth or sixth swirl, a pleasant vegetal note makes an appearance, akin to fresh asparagus. Layered and rich on the palate, with a flavour concentration that marks this out as special, its finish goes on and on. An outstanding wine.

2012 Pinot Noir

This Pinot was very approachable and enjoyable, showing cherry, soft oak, sweet spice and violets on the nose. Drink-young Pinot is terrific when it’s like this. There’s a real thread of cinnamon and dark cherry to taste, and its dry, high acid structure means nothing is out of place. Good stuff.

2013 “The Abyss” Pinot Noir

From a site on the edge of an 80m cliff drop, Churton’s benchmark Pinot is a cracker. Still opening up (Sam described it as “brooding”), its nose is somewhat tentative at this stage – but still showing signs of what is to come. Wonderfully floral; rose petals, violets and a savoury character is all there, although red fruit staying under the covers. Very young. On the palate there’s real flavour concentration but the tannic structure really jumps out – not grainy but fine, this wine has a real elegance about it. You can tell this wine is going to live a long life. Rich on the finish, it’s still a baby. Will likely reward you after 10-15 years.

2010 “The Abyss” Pinot Noir

The last of the night takes the above wine 3 years into the future. Starting to show brownish/tawny tinges, its maturity is starting – only starting – to emerge. Fruit now present, in the form of dried cranberries and stewed apples, with some fresh dark cherry there too. Most strikingly though, a marked sweet liquorice character runs through nose, palate and finish. Almost reminds me of my childhood! Tannins nicely grippy, indicating continued longevity, this is structurally very elegant indeed. A touch short on the finish, and I suspect this is going through a bit of a closed period – but lovely nonetheless.

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An excellent and informative evening, centred around Sam Weaver’s terrific wines. The Best End Sauvignon Blanc and 2013 Abyss Pinot were the stand-outs, worthy of any collection. A huge thank you to Sam for stopping over in Hong Kong on the way back to New Zealand from the UK!

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You can find out more Churton’s wines by going to their website. Altaya act as Hong Kong’s official distributor.

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