Those of you that know me, know that I’m partial to white wine. Those of you that know me particularly well, know that I am extremely partial to Riesling and Gewürztraminer. Hi. Dave here.
Living in California, a state that swirls and swallows vast quantities of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, I’m seen as somewhat of a wino odd-ball. In San Diego, the Riesling and Gewürztraminer sections are usually banished to the far corners of most wine stores. It’s almost as if you have to ask for them in a soft muted voice.
And then there are those (mostly men) who would accuse me of being as fruity as the wines I like, not realizing that when the occasions calls for it, I’m as appreciative of a smooth Pinot Noir or an earthy Syrah or — heaven forbid — a wheat beer or a lager.
We arrived in New Zealand on a Thursday morning after the overnight flight. By the afternoon I’d located and ventured into the local wine shop, Mairangi Bay Wines. By Friday evening, Sue and I left Tau with his cousins and aunt and ventured back down to MB Wines for some wine tasting.
My initial impression remained constant throughout our time in New Zealand. In the words of one great wine critic and educator: New Zealand makes the best New Zealand wines. They are not Californian or German or Australian or Italian. Kiwis have come to understand the potential of their land in producing truly excellent wines.
That Friday night, we discovered Jules Taylor Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007, which received an Air New Zealand Elite Gold medal. Two bottles made it back to California and one has already been consumed. Sue Courtney, the wine blogger describes this wine as: Juicy, vibrant and punchy with musk, sweat pea and sweet citrus aromas and a grassy, herbaceous undercurrent to the tropical fruit, lime and grapefruit flavours. Intense and zesty with a powerfully long finish and fabulous length. I don’t get all these nuances of flavors. I just really like it a lot.
Not a bad start to enjoying Sauvignon Blancs, seeing as I’d always associated them with a strange, harsh, grassy aftertaste, therefore avoiding them completely. The following evenings and sometimes early afternoons, we delved into sampling a number of excellent savvies (as New Zealanders affectionately call them). Kiwis are fiercely proud of their country, their culture and their produce and wines. They have every right to be.
Early the next week, we flew from Auckland to Nelson on the northern tip of the South Island and rented a cottage in Tasman. Neudorf Riesling and two websites (Nelson Tourism and Nelson Wine Art) had convinced me that a trip to the area would be rewarding. You gotta love the power of the Internet.
I was also very much interested in exploring a smaller, more boutiquey wine region that is well know for crafting some of New Zealand’s finest aromatics. The Neudorf Rieslings I’d purchased in San Diego bore witness to this. Accommodation at the Tasman Village Cottage was also booked based on the advertised “… just relax with a bottle of wine from the adjoining Blackenbrook vineyard and make the most of having a private and spacious place to stay.”
This didn’t take much convincing as the evening we arrived, we discovered another savvie gem: Blackenbrook Vineyard Nelson Sauvignon Blanc 2007. Sue Courtney describes this as: Light golden coloured with powerful aromas and flavours of citrus, apple and nectarine with underlying gooseberry and tropical fruit. Juicy and flavoursome with an amazingly long finish where hints of tobacco, tomato stalk and capsicum emerge. A wine of richness and power with a wonderful texture, bright acidity and balance all the way through. A truly remarkable Nelson Sauvignon Blanc.
Again, I don’t get the hints of tobacco, tomato stalk and capsicum references because it’s been a long time since I experimented with any tobacco products. I also believe that the tomato plant itself is poisonous and for those of you that don’t know a capsicum is a bell pepper! Again, I would just say, I liked it a lot.
Note that this wine was good enough to get my red-wine-loving-wife to go, “Mmmmm.” And I should note that this wine was awarded Gold and Trophy for Best Sauvignon Blanc at the 2007 New Zealand International Wine Show. Not bad for a Savvie produced in Tasman’s clay soils!
Blackenbrook was a wonderful jumping off point for our time in Tasman. It was close enough to walk Tau up to see the tractors at work, past the fields of grazing sheep. We also managed quick trips to Kahurangi Estate and Neudorf with our two-year-old who saw very little purpose in the activities, regardless of the number of nearby sheep or horses.
If Blackenbrook was the jumping off point, it also signaled the end to our stay. Our hosts, Cameron and Maria, had arranged for me to meet with the Blackenbrook wine maker Daniel Schwarzenbach for 30 or so minutes. I was eager to meet the man behind the wine we’d been consuming all week long, and valued the opportunity to meet Daniel one-on-one. Our 30 minute chat spilled over 2 hours as he walked me around his gravity-fed winery, answering tens of probably naive or stupid questions and giving me insights into the wine industry that I otherwise would probably never have gained.
Back in Auckland, I ventured into the local grocery store to see shelves filled with Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris alongside the Pinot Noir and Savignon Blanc. Clearly in NZ a few other folks have as much an appreciation of these varietals as myself. My lasting impressions of New Zealand can also be said about the wine – quality is more the norm than the exception.