Urlar (NZ) Exclusives - February 2019


We're big fans of Urlar's wines.

And the typical Exel customer - if such a thing exists - still seems pretty excited about well-made New Zealand wines. Many are Urlar fans already.

To which end, an opportunity to get your hands on some of Urlar's wines that seldom leave New Zealand - and which are UK-firsts and UK exclusives - may well appeal.

Let us explain:

Angus and Davina Thomson and their family decamped from nearby Aberfeldy to New Zealand in 2004, to set up an organic farm and vineyard. They chose slightly-leftfield Gladstone at the very southern end of North Island, in Wairarapa, some 10-15 km north-east of better-known Martinborough (home of the likes of Ata Rangi, Dry River, Escarpment et al).

They established some 31 hectares of vineyard (91,000 vines) - of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Pinot Noir - on biodynamic (and hence also organic) principles. It would be fair to say that the project has borne considerable fruit. They now produce some 15,000 cases of wine each year.

We connect with Urlar in two ways:

  • one half of the Exel 'wine team' - not the half writing this - was at school with Angus when both were in shorts and sandals (yes, in the Highlands). We considered seeking extra allocations and enhanced prices from Angus by threatening to show the school photos on this very page. So far, at least, we have stopped short of this;


  • more particularly, and more objectively, the wines are tremendous. You'd need to be a little daft not to list them. Given the Perthshire link, they've always been a stock item in our shop, and are much drunk by local folk. And Perthshire folk have a discerning palate, let me tell you (as someone who organises tastings with/for them on a regular basis). It wasn't a great leap of faith to take them across to online sales.

The wine industry isn't, in general, the most planet-conscious of trades (the glass and cardboard we see each day bearing some minor testimony to this). The half of the Exel 'wine team' writing this, in particular, (with a previous career in sustainability) has a great admiration for the environmentally-sensitive approach of Urlar.

However, all of that only comes to anything commercially - and we do have a business to run - if the wines taste (very) good. It may seem brutal to state, but a wine that safeguards dragonflies whilst tasting awful is not a lot of use to us.

When you encounter wines like Urlar's - that taste this fulfilling but also Don't Cost The Earth - it's a special thing indeed.

But... to the nub of this...

We've long taken and sold the three wines of Angus's that are today shipped 'standardly' to the UK - the Sauvignon Blanc, the Pinot Gris and the Pinot Noir (for all of which, see below). The Pinot Gris, in particular, has developed a legion of loyal followers (we explain why below).

But now we're delighted that Angus/Urlar - and UK importer Enotria & Coe - have asked, allowed and enabled us to offer three wines that either

- are not currently available in the UK; or

- (in the case of the two Select Parcels wines) have never been available here before.

These are they (photo taken at our recent Exel team tasting):

Reviews for each wine - and more detailed information - appear on the wine's product page (click blue links). Insofar as the wines see limited circulation outside NZ, the reviews are by NZ reviewers, albeit the country's leading ones. Decanter will get to these in time, no doubt!

All of the 'specials' - plus Urlar's already-in-the-UK wines - appear and can be bought at the foot of this page.

The Riesling 2016 (centre) - is perhaps the most 'everyday' of the three, although that is to severely denigrate its charm and quality. Anyone who's followed us - and/or read our Riesling article or Decanter Headliner piece on the topic - will know that NZ Riesling typically offers an opulent, richy and honeyed style ... and the Urlar is no exception.

Unusually apricotty-and-stone-fruity, we thought: one is more accustomed to citrussy flavours from (even New World) Riesling. The mildest and earliest beginnings of age flavours - including the 'kerosene thing' - are just starting. "Drink now to 2030", say the reviewers - it'll be really something by then. It's on the margin between dry and just-off-dry (6-7g/litre of residual sugar). It uses German yeasts for its fermentation: a classy touch and a nod to Riesling heritage that adds to the wine's elegance.

Its stand-out characteristic is its riper hit and weightier texture, despite only low sugar and alcohol levels; these are encouraged by some months of the wine ageing on its lees. A wine's crucial acidity can occasionally take a hit from this body-building adjustment, but the Urlar retains great, truly mouth-watering acidity.

The Riesling has created quite a buzz in the limited tasting it's seen in the UK in the last few weeks: hushed tones over the samples at the importer's recent London super-tasting and some skirmishes among the the Exel team to take home the left-overs. Only 175 cases of Riesling are produced by Urlar each year - this is a rare wine indeed!

Urlar Riesling 2016




The other two wines form Urlar's Select Parcel series: a Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Noir.

Select Parcels? Both wines draw upon the use of particularly well-favoured plots (parcels) of the Urlar vineyards, but also make use of particular clones ofthe grape varieties and/or the most precise and exacting of winemaking tactics in the cellar:

The Select Parcels Sauvignon Blanc 2015 is no normal New Zealand Sauvi Blanc (NZSB). If you're seeking that classic, zingy, zesty, all-fruit-driven, gooseberries-and-grapefruit-and-passionfruit wine, be just a little warned. This is not that wine. Urlar can help you with that, all too happily - see this link. Those familiar with the likes of Cloudy Bay's Te Koko, Mondavi's To Kalon from California or some boutique Pouilly-Fumés will know what they're getting into. At £18, this is a classy and much more affordable alternative to those.

The 2015 vintage gives you a clue. One doesn't see a lot of NZSB 2015 on shelves in 2019. This wine, then, has taken some time to get from vineyard to bottle, passing through all of:

  • oak barrel fermentation;
  • lees ageing and stirring/bâtonnage; and
  • further oak barrel ageing.

In short, it's had the (very-well-conducted) works thrown at it and is, as Urlar state, “a textural wine”.

Such treatment of SB can divide opinion. Some adore the purity of the classic, fruit-driven style and feel it should not be tinkered with. Others (especially, we find, big Chardonnay and Chenin fans) find the classic NZSB format all a bit ubiquitous and love the multi-layering and unusual flavours of this complexified approach. Jancis Robinson wrote, in 2014, "We tend to think of Sauvignon Blanc primarily as an unoaked wine, but I must say I have been hugely impressed by some oaked Sauvignons and in fact would probably more easily recall thrilling oaked Sauvignons than unoaked ones, despite the ocean of unoaked examples from Marlborough and Sancerre that washes around the globe".

Me, I like 'em both, and I particularly like this wine (admitttedly, it wasn't for everyone at Exel).

Part of the story here is the meticulous post-fermentation selection: each barrel is tasted and assessed and its destination decided. Those that suit the richer Select Parcels ideal are sent for further ageing; those less deep in texture are sent for use in the Estate/'everyday' SB to add texture and weight. As you might imagine, therefore, only 350 cases of the Select Parcels SB see the light of day.

The flavours are properly complex: a subtle but intense blend of rich fruit flavours - mainly stone fruit - of vanilla twinning with the gentle oak effect ... with just a little almond-nuttiness starting to show.

The cellar handling means that you have here a wine that will drink beautifully now, but will continue becoming more interesting for easily another 10 years. Fans of 'NZSB Plus' generally will need no second bidding; newcomers may be very pleasantly surprised. Really, £18 is a daft price for something this interesting.

Urlar Select Parcels Sauvignon Blanc 2015



So to the Select Parcels Pinot Noir 2016.

  • Let's start with 2016 being the best Martinborough area vintage of Pinot for a good few years.
  • There's the best plots of land bit.
  • Then there's the selective use of only the best and most suitable Pinot clones in the Urlar vineyards (all get used for the Estate Pinot, but only four are used for the Parcels version to enhance purity and richness).
  • The best Burgundian tactics of whole-bunch pressing and extensive (70%) use of new oak come into play...
  • ... and then, finally, you have the same selection of fermented barrels to get the very best pick and inclusion of the made wine...
  • ...followed by further barrel ageing.

What emerges in the glass? Something pretty special, pretty Burgundian and pretty well suited to holding a while longer. The glass in your hand says: dark cherry and plum with some lovely savoury, spicy notes on the nose and a rich palate of the same ... but not too rich with lovely soft round tannins. There is quite a whack of acid in this wine currently which, at this stage does make the mid-palate appear a little leaner than we and you will see in a year or two. ‘Structured’ is the word here; a wine built of the right stuff fir the mid-term and beyond.

If you want an immediate, super-ready NZ Pinot - the Central Otago style, perhaps - again, this isn't it... but it isn't meant to be; go for the Urlar 'standard' Pinot Noir.

But by mid-late-2020, you're into something pretty special. Frankly, if I were to be spending £28 on an elegant Pinot to age - and with apologies to our Burgundy producers - I'd be buying this.

Urlar Select Parcels Pinot Noir 2016



An important note on ordering, arrival and delivery now follows:


We don't hold these three wines currently here in London or Perth. They are in Gladstone, NZ. We really don't know just how well - or very well - these will sell. We hate running out, and we can't afford to overstock. So we order in response to what you would like.


Order by next Wednesday (27th) at 3pm and the wines will be with you  - at the very latest - by/in the first week of June. We may well see them earlier, and we and Enotria will work to do so.


This does mean that it makes most sense to put these three wines in on a separate order just for them; if that order clears £200, you're into free postage.


If you're ordering with other products - and we can't group the whole order so as not to end up with extra carriages - there will be a wait for the other products until these Urlar specials arrive. This means ordering at least 16 bottles in total (Urlar specials + others) to avoid an extra postage charge: order 16 btls and we can get the 'other products' to you without waiting for the Urlar specials or levying an extra postage charge.


Or, below 16 bottles, we can charge an extra carriage charge (£10.80) to get the other products to you much sooner.


Sorry, but it's that or we have to elevate the prices of these wines to cover extra carriage, and we don't like that sort of clumsy cross-subsidy.

If you need wines more quickly than that, don't forget how exellent the 'existing', 'Estate' Urlars are, be that:

  • the richly-textured and fragrant (but dry, note) Pinot Gris;
  • the zingy but fuller-bodied-than-normal (and now you know why) Sauvignon Blanc; and
  • the fruity and more immediate Pinot Noir.

These we can have with you as normal.

For the specials, we, Enotria and Angus are all ready for you...

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Urlar Organic Pinot Noir 2018 (1x75cl)

Proudly family-owned, Urlar Estate produces outstanding single vineyard wines using organic and biodynamic principles. Urlar is a Gaelic word that means “the Earth”. Their desire is to bring an abundance of life back to our ancient soils so that the drinker can discover the purity of flavour inherent in the land. Their journey from the highlands of Scotland to the stony soils and cool climate of Gladstone, Wairarapa has cemented a love for all things pure and true.

See this blog on Urlar, especially regarding their organic credentials.

For the Pinot Noir, the grapes were handpicked according to flavour and skin ripeness. Each clone was fermented separately in a mixture of traditional oak cuves and stainless steel vats after undergoing a period of cold soak to enhance colour extraction. Our winemaking style encourages texture, complexity and balance. Once these elements are in unison the wine is pressed off and matured in 20% new French oak barriques. The wine is gently fined but not filtered.

See blue link below for the fiche technique/technical note from the winemakers themselves.

Urlar Pinot Noir 2018 - fiche technique

The 2018 vintage delivers an elegant wine of dark red berry fruits, dried herbs and spicy savoury notes. There are complex layers of spice, earthy cedar and forest floor. Elegantly concentrated with fine tannins and a silky texture and a lingering intensity of dark chocolate. Beautifully suited to a rack of lamb or game dishes such as venison or duck.

ABV = 13.0%.


Urlar Riesling 2016 (1x75cl)


"Fragrant and feminine with aromas of sweet mandarin and red apple, some florals rose layers and fresh wet rock soil ideas. Dry on the palate with vibrant acidity then flavours of citrus – both lime and lemon, some barley sugar and apples. Wild flowers and honeysuckle, long finish, a great aperitif and very tasty wine. Drink now and through 2030".

94 Points, Cameron Douglas MW


"Bright, very pale straw-yellow colour, a little lighter on the rim. The nose is fresh with taut and finely concentrated, bright aromas of lime fruit with subtle notes of white florals, honeysuckle and suggestions of toasty nuances. Dry to taste and medium-bodied, the palate is tightly bound with an elegantly concentrated core of lime fruit, white florals and minerals with suggestions of honey and toast,  The palate is crisp with a fine-textured line of fruit extract and phenolics, with underlying thirst-quenching acidity.  The wine has very good linearity and carries to a long, lingering, soft-textured, dry finish.  This is a taut and finely concentrated dry Riesling with lime, floral and mouthwatering mineral flavours on a dry, textural palate with good linearity. Serve as an aperitif and with shellfish over the next 4-5 years.  Hand-picked fruit, WBP and cool-fermented to 12.0% alc. and 6.0 g/L RS, TA 8.2 g/L and pH 3.0.  Certified BioGro organic".  

18.0+/20, Raymond Chan, Dec 2017 


Proudly family-owned, Urlar Estate produces outstanding single vineyard wines using organic and biodynamic principles. Urlar is a Gaelic word that means “the Earth”. Their desire is to bring an abundance of life back to our ancient soils so that the drinker can discover the purity of flavour inherent in the land. Their journey from the highlands of Scotland to the stony soils and cool climate of Gladstone, Wairarapa has cemented a love for all things pure and true.

100% Riesling.

Only some 175 cases of this are made each year!

In the vineyard, in keeping with traditional techniques, the grapes were hand harvested with each bunch passing over a sorting table to ensure only the ripest of bunches were selected. The bunches were then gently pressed to avoid unattractive phenolics.

In the cellar, aromatic (German) yeasts - together with low fermentation temperatures - ensured the uniqueness of flavours from the site were captured. After a period on its lees (for 5 months) to add mid-palate weight and texture the wine was carefully filtered for bottling.

In homage to its stony origins, this dry styled Riesling has an underlying mineral thread throughout. Aromas include lime zest, granny smith apples and citrus which combine beautifully with a rich palate texture. A tight mineral thread runs the length of the palate making it delicious to drink now although cellaring for five years or more will be richly rewarded. It stands up well to lightly spiced tapas, Asian food and handles strong cheeses well.

Residual sugar is around 6-7g/litre - so on the cusp between dry and off-dry.

ABV = 12.0%.

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