Ned, as you’re probably aware, is a diminutive form of the name Edward. If, like me, you’ve often lain awake at night wondering how and why the letter ‘N’ came to be placed before the seemingly adequate ‘Ed’, you may be interested to hear this (fairly) plausible theory. In days of yore, before surnames were the norm, the range of common English names was either limited to the biblical, or determined by monarchical trends, and hence your local village might well have been home to a number of Edwards at the same time. Without a system of surnames allowing you to differentiate between the various Edwards in conversation, endless confusion and repeated cases of mistaken identity would be the inevitable result. Fortunate then, that Edward the blacksmith’s son was rather a chubby lad, and by contrast, Edward the shepherd boy was a skinny little whelp. You could thus conveniently assign them primitive, does-what-it-says-on-the-tin nicknames such as Fat Ed and Thin Ed. Or, if you were feeling particularly lazy or short of breath, Ted and Ned.
Nowadays, as any Scot will tell you, Ned is not a meek, stick-thin shepherd boy. He is a surly, often hooded young ruffian, usually found hanging about on a street corner. A scallywag. A reprobate. A ‘Non-Educated Delinquent’. Except when we’re talking about The Ned, in which case the name refers to one of the highest mountains close to Marlborough’s Waihopai Valley, around which winemaker Brent Marris has established some fine vineyard sites. Happily, the wines are far from delinquent, but are smartly presented, brimming with class, and have excellent table manners. Brent is one of the founding fathers of Marlborough winemaking as we know it, so I couldn’t resist going along to an intimate tasting evening last week hosted by the man himself, where we would have a personal insight into Brent’s winemaking and the opportunity to compare some of The Ned’s latest releases.
Sauvignon Blanc is of course the cornerstone of the range. The 2010 vintage has only just been bottled, and is showing just as well as the excellent 2009, with well-defined citrus and herb aromatics. Although supremely fresh and youthful, the fruit showed surprising ripeness and a soft edge, but a touch of minerality helps the wine maintain a tight structure all the way to the finish. Interestingly, The Ned has been the Sauvignon Blanc of choice on KLM Airlines for the last couple of years, chosen for its ability to cut through the palate-dulling effects of 30,000ft of altitude.
Next up was the 2010 Pinot Grigio. This grape variety is rarely among the first plantings for New World winemakers, who have traditionally concentrated on the usual benchmark whites of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Surprising in a way, seeing as Pinot Grigio has long been established as one of Europe’s most versatile varieties. Employed in both the sweet style of Alsatian Pinot Gris, and in the dry Pinot Grigio of Italy, where the much warmer conditions also allow production of the delicate ramato rosé, when the sun-soaked Pinot Grigio grapes turn lobster pink (as you and I might well do in the heat of a Tuscan summer). The Ned wine is labelled as Pinot Grigio, which is intentionally indicative of its dryness and its fresher fruit profile, which place it closer in style to that of Italy. Marlborough’s abundant sunshine is also in evidence in the wine’s pale pink tinge. However, this wine still doffs its cap to Alsace, with the merest hint of residual sweetness helping to bring out the grape’s melon and honeysuckle characters, and adding a touch of palate-coating unctuousness to an otherwise light and crisp wine. When asked if he’d ever consider making an actual rosé, Brent’s answer was a resounding ‘no’, despite the style’s current popularity. Having seen and tasted The Ned Pinot Grigio, I can clearly see why he doesn’t feel the need: it straddles the bases normally covered by dry rosés and apéritif wines, while still maintaining its own unique stance.
A back-to-back tasting of the 2008 and 2009 Pinot Noirs followed, giving us a gentle pull back to the old school, with both vintages showing remarkably prominent savoury, Burgundian characters against a backdrop of Marlborough’s pure and precise fruit. 12 months’ bottle age is a fair amount in Pinot Noir terms, and the 2008 wine was noticeably displaying more development than the 2009, with softer fruit, and those classic wild mushroom notes on the nose. The acidity was still nicely taught, balanced out by plenty of red berry fruit on the mid-palate, and offered plenty of grip, despite the light tannins. By comparison, the 2009 was decided more youthful, with seemingly brighter fruit and with its secondary character defined more by smoky, bacon-like notes on the nose. Although a little bolder than the 2008 at present, the 2009 had the feel of a wine that will age and mellow in a nice linear fashion, with all its elements being well-balanced and smartly structured.
Rounding off The Ned range was the 2009 Noble Sauvignon Blanc. While the Sauternes, Raisined Muscats and Tokaji heavyweights of this world are here to take on the big, chocolatey puddings, as dessert wines go, this Sauvignon is perhaps in the welterweight division: fruit-based desserts and tangy, creamy cheeses are the likely opponents. I say ‘division’, but I can’t think of many dessert wines with a similar blend of lightness and punch. Using around 70% botrytised grapes, fermented partly in barrel, the wine possesses some complexity, with a pleasant blend of lychee and candied citrus zest flavours. However, it’s the lightness with which these are delivered that marks this out as a potentially more versatile partner for a range of desserts. Brent explained that his main focus was on providing a drying finish to what is a sweet wine, the aim being to help refresh the palate after each spoonful of pudding, readying it for the next spoonful!
Following our tasting of The Ned range, we were treated to an extensive preview of the results of Brent’s latest endeavour, The King’s Series. As you might expect from the name, this is a range of varietals which are a step up in what you might call ‘seriousness’, having extra depth, cellarage potential and sense of occasion. Like Ned, but with added nobility. We’ll be getting our hands on the Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir from The King’s Series here at Majestic some time this winter, but as that’s a little way off, I won’t tease you by telling you if they’re any good yet (OK, I will: they’re delicious, but they’re not here yet, so you’ll just have to wait!) The range was also inspired by a fascinating story, relating to the Marris family’s noble heritage, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post. Watch this space.