19 November, 2018
New Zealand Wine: More in the Queue than Sauvignon BlancComments : 1 Posted in : Pinot Noir, Red Wine, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz / Syrah, White Wine, Wine on by : The Gourmez
This past April, I took my first deep dive into New Zealand wine. Yes, I’ve had plenty before, but I hadn’t had the chance to explore them at depth until New Zealand Winegrowers, the national organization representing all 1,500 NZ-based winegrowers and wineries, invited me to this tasting. Obligatory disclaimer: That means I paid nothing for this experience.
New Zealand’s first grapes were planted in the early 1800s by missionaries planting for communion wine and landowners looking to please British soldiers. New Zealand’s wines have come a long way from those early plantings, though commercial production did not begin in force on the islands until the 1960s-1970s.
In the ensuing 40 years, New Zealanders have been busy. They now have 10 growing regions, and 98% of their vineyards are certified sustainable. New Zealand’s wine reputation is fully aligned with the amazingly fragrant tropical, gooseberry, and grassy sauvignon blancs to which the world was first introduced in the 1980s. But at this New Zealand Wine seminar, I was exposed to more of the great wines coming out of this country.
The seminar took the form of a formal, seated tasting that illuminated, for me, the unique pinot noirs coming from New Zealand. I was most enchanted with a Felton Road Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2016 (4.5/5) from the Central Otago region.
Though it’s young, it’s fully drinkable now and very good with a light nose of raspberry and strawberry. Raspberry, sage, oregano, and white pepper fill the glass with candy sweetness and a bamboo backbone.
From Martinborough, the 2015 Schubert Marion’s Vineyard Pinot Noir (4/5) brought plenty of fruit and depth to please newer drinkers and enthusiasts.
It offers a rich nose of red berries and wet wood. The wine has a lot of personality from tannins and prickly spices of fenugreek, curry leaves, and green peppercorns as well as cherry and raspberry notes overflowing.
But let’s not pretend there’s shame in being known for sauvignon blanc. The very first glass at the seminar was one, and it’s an exceptional wine: the Toi Toi Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (5/5) from Marlborough. It conjured up the refreshment of being served a fruit salad in a grapefruit half. Super light in color, but it packed a beautiful, fruity, edible bouquet that woke me up on an early Monday morning. Lots of bright acidity and cream accompanied guava, gooseberry, and rosy apple notes. Low sugar pleased me as well. In summary, drink up!
But don’t drink for too long without nourishment. After the seminar, we were invited to join in on the annual Made in New Zealand Wine Tasting. Featuring over 20 producers, and a delicious host of appetizers catered by Marks the Spot Fine Foods, I was ready to begin tasting again.
Food, that is. Tasting food. Marks the Spot featured many products from New Zealand, including those green-lipped mussels on the half shell pictured above, topped with a bacon and jalapeno dressing and something baked and crunchy. Also great were the NZ lamb sliders,
I’m also a big fan of the Kusuda Syrah 2009 Martinborough (4.5/5) and its luscious, deep and dark nose of berries.
In the glass, they taste aged to loneliness and lap up the attention. Great pepper builds as the wine lingers. That may not sound appealing, but it’s a mood I relish experiencing. I often find that syrahs are the most expressive wines of a region, and this one certainly makes me want to spend time on the shores of the Wairarapa Valley.
I found a sauvignon blanc that had a similar effect on me: the Greywacke Wild Sauvignon Blanc 2015 out of Marlborough (4.5/5).
It made me imagine visiting a zoo full of well-behaved animals: Semi-dry and oh-so-smooth, with the precarious balance of a lemon-lime popsicle. The natural yeast used during fermentation made itself known in this restrained, adventurous glass.
I guess you could say that as much as I found new types of wines from New Zealand to enjoy at this grand tasting, I also learned anew just why sauvignon blanc is its calling card. In a few more years, I wonder if the pinot noirs or syrahs of the region will rise to that same prominence. I look forward to finding out.
Especially with tasty bites to accompany them.
Tasted 16 April 2018.