A decade of Dog Point
Wine tasting becomes that much more special when there’s emotion involved – and there was a helluva lot of soul-baring at the recent Decade of Dog Point celebration.
Much of the emotive energy came because it was the first time ever the Dog Point team had tasted every wine they’d ever made, with absolutely no one quite sure how the wines would taste.
Even Ivan and James, the winery co-founders, looked fidgety about opening up their winemaking back catalogue.
But they needn’t have worried – all this tasting illustrated was just how drinkable (and regularly bloody exciting) even the older ‘standard’ Sauvignon Blancs were.
Part of the secret to this label’s success is the Dog Point Vineyard itself, which is one of the oldest privately owned vineyards in Marlborough. Planted by Ivan and Margaret Sutherland back in the late 1970s, it remains not only the backbone of the Dog Point label but also a key source of fruit for a whole swathe of premium Marlborough producers.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that Ivan met James Healy, however, with the pair working at Cloudy Bay alongside Kevin Judd (Ivan in viticulture, James in winemaking) during a period when Cloudy Bay really put quality Marlborough wine (and particularly Sauvignon Blanc) on the map.
In 2002 Ivan and James finally decided to split from Cloudy Bay to start their own label, with Ivan providing fruit and James making the wine in one of those classic wine partnerships.
As a final twist of irony, Kevin also left Cloudy Bay in 2009 to start his own Greywacke label, also buying fruit from Ivan and in fact moving into the Dog Point winery too (Tim White cheekily calls it the ‘Cloudy Bay retirement village’).
Needless to say with such a combination of winemaking skill and high quality fruit, no one should be surprised that the Dog Point wines are so good – and good from the very first vintage (as you’ll see below).
Speaking of vintages, there are 2002 and 2003 Dog Point Vineyard wines in existence, but given that they were made at Cloudy Bay, the decision was made to not put them in this lineup.
The following wines were thus tasted in a large, slightly rushed session in Melbourne recently.
While all of the wines were checked initially for cork problems, the spectre of TCA claimed more than one scalp during the day, much to the chagrin of Ivan and James who then had to fence off the questions from an audience unconvinced by the continued decision to seal the Dog Point ‘barrel wines’ with a piece of bark.
Notes are as written on the day, Background information in italics.
Dog Point Vintages
2014: Good season. Some challenges with warmth, summer vigour and late rain. Early finish
2013: Very even vintage. Normal year in many ways. Moderate yields.
2012: Cool year with poor flowering and low yields. Tricky vintage
2011: Even and very favourable vintage
2010: Stop start vintage with a quite late dry summer.
2009: Warm and humid. Some disease risks but otherwise good.
2008: Very vigorous year with late rain. Mostly missed at Dog Point but tricky in Marlborough
2007: Average flowering. Warm year and good quality.
2006: Superb year. Earliest harvest on record.
2005: Very average flowering and fruit set. High disease risk over warm summer.
2004: Frosts. Average to cool summer but warm autumn. Low yields.
Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc
Making up 60% of the Dog Point production, this is undoubtedly an important wine. The fruit for this initially just came from the original Dog Point ‘Estate’ Vineyard but now comes from eight different plantings in the Lower Brancott, Renwick, Fairhall, Omaka and Rapaura subregions in the Wairau Valley, with all this fruit under Dog Point control. The UCD1 clone is planted exclusively and is cropped at an average of 7.5t/ha.
At harvest, all fruit is hand-picked, transported to the winery in small bins where it is whole bunch pressed, chilled and cold settled for a minimum 48 hours before fermentation, with 20% allowed to ferment naturally. The wine is then kept on lees for 2-3 months and bottled later in the year.
Wild ferments were only introduced in 2006 and increased gradually to 20% from 2011 onwards. Some issues with this wild ferment meant a few vintages there with closer to 5g/l residual sugar in that period. All wines in the lineup were under screwcap.
Sauvignon Blanc 2014
pH 3.11, TA 6.9g/l, RS 2.9g/L. 13.5% alc.
Tropical. Herbs. A very lively nose and the most classically Marlborough Sauv in its gooseberry fruit. Juicy and vital style with a real tang. Soft acid. Tasty and open. Quite ripe in its form but still embryonic. 17.7/20, 92/100+
Sauvignon Blanc 2013
pH 3.17, TA 7.2g/L, RS 2.6g/L. 13.5% alc.
Some of the tropical fruit has been shelved here and more passionfruit – this feels much more complete and less simple after the ’14, the concentration still there and more citrus through the finish. Complete Sauv and quite mouthwatering acidity. The archetype. 18.5/20, 94/100
Sauvignon Blanc 2012
pH 3.34, TA 7.5g/L, RS 3.3g/L 13.5% alc
Asparagus. Distinct cool year style. Asparagus on the chalky palate too, although the finish is quite stony and fine. Love the definition and acid etched finish – adds an extra dimension. Can you conquer the asparagus though? 17.5/20, 91/100
Sauvignon Blanc 2011
pH 3.15, TA 7.2g/L, RS 3.3g/L 13.5% alc.
Citrus. Quite delicate white flowers on the nose, almost Blanc de Blanc ish. I love the palate here too – there’s some late herbs to announce the savviness, otherwise this could well be a textural Pinot Blanc such is that gentle white fruit. 17.7/20, 92/100
Sauvignon Blanc 2010
pH 3.16, TA 7.8g/L, RS 3.2g/L, 13.5% alc.
This looks the most developed on the nose so far – tinned asparagus and a hint of decay. Structurally a highly impressive and detailed wine, the acid and fruit power big and in your face. Maybe a fraction forward though. 17.5/20, 91/100
Sauvignon Blanc 2009
pH 3.16, TA 7.5g/L, RS 4.9g/L, 13.5% alc.
Quite mature. Citrus but also a little tart and some late awkwardness. This doesn’t have the class through the finish either – a bit tinny. 16.5/20, 88/100
Sauvignon Blanc 2008
pH 3.13, TA 6.7g/L, RS 4.8g/L, 13% alc.
Less recognisable as a Sauv, the palate heading into into pineapple territory. Just a little flabby. 16
Sauvignon Blanc 2007
pH 3.14, TA 6.6g/L, RS 2.6g/L, 13.5% alc.
Toast and chalk over the top of Asparagus. This is a much more complex and full wine after the last too, the acid quite a deal more integrated. A step back to the classic Dog Point style. 17.7/20, 92/100
Sauvignon Blanc 2006
pH 3.14, TA 7.1g/L, RS 6g/L, 13.5% alc.
Marzipan. Grassy edges too. I find the waxy edges here and mothballs a little distracting and decayed, but there is some complexity. 16/20, 87/100
Sauvignon Blanc 2005
pH 3.17, TA 8.5g/L, RS 3g/L, 13% alc.
Peach and mandarin. A broad sort of wine that lacks some of the charm of the younger Sauv. Probably more interesting than the 06 though – quite complete. 16.5/20, 88/100
Sauvignon Blanc 2004
pH 3.17, TA 8g/L, RS 5g/L, 13.5% alc.
Sweet and sour, lime and peach. Pine lime Splice without sweetness. Long, if a curio, and the fruit is starting to decay, 16.5/20, 88/100
Dog Point Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc
Sourced from a block in the original Dog Point vineyard, which is cropped at 7.5t/ha (50hl/ha), the fruit handpicked and whole bunch pressed into older French oak barrels. Indigenous ferment is long and slow with occasional battonage to ‘retain freshness’. No malo, the wine is racked from barrel to tank and bottled unfined after a light filtration only. Released the following year, approximately two years after harvest.
This wine, as with all the ‘oaked’ Dog Point wines, is bottled under cork. When pressed, James explains that ‘we just use cork because we’re old fashioned‘.
Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2013
This came over in a suitcase as its an unreleased bottling sample. Released in 2015.
Very much a work in progress. Showing a little sulphur on the nose and just bottled. Indeed the palate is still bound up in itself and cheesy. A work in progress. N/R.
Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2012
pH 3.21, TA 7.6g/l, RS 1.7g/L, 13.5% alc.
Cool year stamped and really quite herbaceous. Yet for all the shrill herbs of the nose, the extra cream of lees and oak really fills this out nicely – layers of delight. Perhaps a little sharp buzzy acidity yet no doubting the length of this one – very fine. 18.1/20, 93/100+
Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2011
pH 3.2, TA 7.2g/L, RS 1.5g/L, 14% alc.
Such a different wine! Herbs are gone, replaced with white flowers, icing sugar and white nectarine. This is gentler, a little toastier and yet also full and rich, the acid an undercurrent. Much more Chardonnay than fume and yet a quite brilliant wine, showing that wavering rich-yet-dry texture of classic-ness and some wild sulphide flavour, utterly delicious. 18.7/20, 95/100
Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2010
pH 3.12, TA 7.9g/L, RS 1.6g/L, 14% alc.
After the 2011 this looks just a little flatter, without quite the swish and wildness. It’s still mighty complex, the first hint of beeswax development giving weight and a little preserved lemon flavour. Would be a very good wine by itself but overshadowed here. 18/20, 93/100
Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2009
pH 3.16, TA 7.8g/L, RS 3.2g/L, 13.5% alc.
More new oak? (no new oak apparently) Certainly more vanilla. A quite rambunctious wine in context, big flavours and very full, lemon fruit and chalky, candied flavour. A real biggun, the length and weight rampaging through. Easy to write off due to its power and alcohol, but goes on and on. 18.5/20, 94/100
Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2008
pH 3.24, TA 7.8g/L, RS 3.4g/L, 14% alc.
Vanilla slice. Creamy and open but just a fraction sweet and sour. Looks delightfully generous and full with a slight hint of Sauternes-esque Creme Caramel. Quite delicious, if as much a developed white wine style than a distinctive Sauvignon Blanc. 17.7/20, 92/100
Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2007
pH 3.24, TA 7.8g/L, RS 3.4g/L, 14% alc.
Honeyed and looks quite dark. Recognisable as an oaked Sauv though, with a little passionfruit to give it away, the palate is quite fruity but looks rather more textured than the wines before it. Good but not the absolute drive. Quite conventional. 17.5/20, 91/100(These three tasted quite quickly).
Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2006
pH 3.17, TA 7.4g/L, RS 5.9g/L, 13.5% alc.
Mothballs. But despite the slightly sullen nose it’s still texturally dynamic, if a little aldehydic. I need another (longer look at this). 17/20, 90/100
Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2005
pH 3.32, TA 7.7g/L, RS 3.3g/L, 13.5% alc.
The only really toasty wine yet, the oak sticks out a bit here but it retains the lime cordial fruit. Limey and has a crinkly fruit joy too. Good, if not quite sublime. 17.5/20, 91/100
Section 94 Sauvignon Blanc 2004
pH 3.15, TA 7.2g/L, RS 2.5g/L, 13% alc.
A cool year wine and retains its acidity. A little fusty but in pretty good shape. 16.8/20, 89/100
Dog Point Chardonnay
Also sourced from the Dog Point ‘home’ vineyard, using a blend of two clones – 65% Mendoza and 35% B95. The Mendoza ‘tends to be higher in acidity and confers strong citrus character’, while the B95 has ‘softer acid and contributes subtle meaty and mealy characters’.
Vineyard is cropped at 5 t/ha (30hl/ha), with all fruit handpicked and whole bunch pressed to French oak (15% new) and wild ferment and full malo. Small amount of battonage, then bottled without fining and a light filtration.
Interesting looking at these in a lineup – a real consistent nose of oatmeal and vanilla bean with increasing dollops of honey as it ages. From 2004 the new oak was 25%, all heavy toast, reduced to 15% from 2008. Notably all new oak is heavy toast as James believes ‘heavy toast oak with grapefruity flavours is a winner’.
Just bottled and looked it.
Milky and showing a bit of sulphur. Banana ferment character. Looks good underneath. N/R
pH 3.28, TA 7.3g/L, RS 0.6g/L, 14% alc.
Nutty but also subdued and cool. Cool season dialling things back. Sulphide and banana. There is much to come here, but at the moment it feels so backward and a little raw. 17.8/20, 92/100+
pH 3.25, TA 7g/L, RS 0.8g/L, 14% alc.
The most classic Dog Point nose of the lot. It’s almost like there is a little Sauv in here. Buzzy acidity (no malo?) and a little warm too. Milky, full tilt leery style of some complexity. Maybe a little lumpy finish but top weight and complexity. 18.5/20, 94/100
pH 3.27, TA 7g/L, RS 1.0g/L, 14% alc. ‘This looks a bit oaky looking at it now’ according to James.
The most open and full Chardonnay nose yet, oatmeal leesy oak. The palate is the best yet, the acid quite soft and with a nectarine like filip through the finish. Delicious fruit and really lots of power and weight. Yes. 18.5
pH 3.34, TA 6.8g/L, RS 1.9g/L, 14% alc.
Just a little toasty decay on the nose. Oak looks a little sawdusty too. A flatter wine in this line and, whilst still long, suffers from a little awkwardness and cardboard. Average bottle? 16.8/20, 89/100
pH 3.26, TA 8.3g/L, RS 1.7g/L, 14.5% alc.
Back in business. Oatmeal and honey, banana cream pie richness. After that open and brilliant nose the palate looks a little bit left behind, if still a complex mealy beast. Fruit not quite up to the task? Good without being great. 17.5/20, 91/100
pH 3.32, TA 7.1g/L, RS 1.7g/L, 14% alc.
Biscotti laden and maybe a little volatile, more aldehydes too. A slightly flat and cheesy wine with acid rising up over the fruit. 16.5/20, 88/100
pH 3.30, TA 6.6g/L, RS 1.3g/L, 14% alc.
Banana cream pie getting richer by the second. In this case the palate weight can keep up with the winemaking giving a condensed milk, tangy and lightly aldehydic richness and alcohol warmth. Quite a complex beast with lots of flavours and power. Yes, 18/20, 93/100
pH 3.40, TA 7g/L, RS 4.8g/L, 14% alc.
Surprisingly the nose is fresher than the 06, but the palate fades quite quickly. There’s still some flavour here but it falls away a little. 16.5/20, 88/100
pH 3.37, TA 7.1g/L, RS 2.6g/L, 14% alc.
Very rich and mealy – an oaky beast no doubt. But of this line its holding up the best. Custard and lime, fruit keeping up and acidity too. 17.7/20, 92/100
Dog Point Pinot Noir
Produced from six Pinot clones (B777, B667, B115, Pommard Clone 5, Abel and AM10/5) planted in the clay soils on the gentle slopes and plots around the winery. Small parcels of fruit included in 2013 from the new Dog Point Yarrum and Omaka Settlement vineyards. Average cropping is 5 t/ha.
Fruit is handpicked, spends a night in the chiller in picking bins before being put through the sorting table and destemmed (small amount of whole bunches) then transferred to small open fermenters via gravity.
After a cold soak fermentation is wild with twice daily manual punching down. 21-28 days of skin contact and 17 months in barrel. Bottled without fining or filtration.
Like the white wines oak has been reduced here, from 50% back to 40% in 2010 onwards and toast reduced in accordance. More Dijon clone influence from 2006 onwards and whole bunches increased to 10% from 2010.
While the white wines get all the attention it is this wine that has improved the most over the years, though it’s still just a step behind in the completeness stakes. Watch this space…
Pinot Noir 2013
Red raspberries but lots of sulphur. Not much love yet. U/R
Pinot Noir 2012
pH 3.65, TA 5.2g/L, RS 0.3g/L, 14% alc.
There’s a wonderful Marlborough pinosity here – that classic saturated red currant. Very fragrant. It’s maybe a little drying and extractive this vintage, the hint of leaf and extra alcohol making this a certain sort of drying beast. There isn’t quite the fruit power though – it’s pretty but maybe not as age worthy. 17.5/20, 91/100+
Pinot Noir 2011
pH 3.56, TA 5.4g/L, RS 0.2g/L, 14% alc.
Volatile. Resinous edge to the palate too. But underneath it’s a multi faceted beast – cherries and cherry stalks, raspberry, smoky bits and more. Warm finish with lots and lots of chew. Is it awkward or is it great? I came back to this and that palate blew my socks off. 18/20, 93/100
Pinot Noir 2010
pH 3.58, TA 5.4g/L, RS 0.3g/L, 14% alc.
Sexy. Sexy caramel oak on the nose and an open. Cherry palate. Probably the most approachable wine yet, pretty and spicy and fresh. Less tannin extraction too. Red fruits in a red bottle. Maybe a little warm? Nice though. 17.7/20, 92/100
Pinot Noir 2009
pH 3.72, TA 5.3g/L, RS 0.2g/L, 14% alc.
The most ‘fruity’ nose yet, from an obvious ripe year. Bacon bits, cherry and smoky, it feels ripe and generous and lavish. Alcoholic finish and just a bit heavy. It will live for ages though. Has to be admired. 17.7/20, 92/100+
Pinot Noir 2008
pH 3.69, TA 5.9g/L, RS 0.4g/L, 14% alc.
Dark colours. Fish oil nose and a palate that seems a little light on. Nice cranberry flavours and a more open wine but just not quite the carry. 17/20, 90/100
Pinot Noir 2007
pH 3.69, TA 5.5g/L, RS 0.0g/L, 13.5% alc.
Lots of oak. Seems very developed and bacony. Tomato leaf and awkward finish, 16/20, 87/100
Pinot Noir 2006
pH 3.64, TA 5.5g/L, RS 0.0g/L, 13.5% alc.Creamy oak. This is a much more complete effort, the red fruit not banging into extraction. Softly softly. Quite lithe even. Really quite delicious. 18/20, 93/100(These last two were looked at very quickly).
Pinot Noir 2005
pH 3.55, TA 5.7g/L, RS 0.0g/L, 14% alc.
More structure than fruit. Gruff edges and quite bitter. Not much joy from me. 15.5/20, 86/100
Pinot Noir 2004
pH 3.55, TA 5.9g/L, RS 1.0g/L, 14% alc.
Some lovely tomato leaf and quite sappy. Really quite lively in the scheme of things. Not bad. 17/20, 90/100