February 2017 marks the sixth anniversary of my eating adventures and, as ever, I'm excited about what the coming months will bring for us foodies! In case this is your first visit (if not, welcome back), I'm a 30-something female with a very healthy appetite!...I promise to share with you my experience of each restaurant, café or bar in which I set foot...so, let's go out!

Monday, 31 March 2014

An introduction to New Zealand wine...not a canapé, cupcake or cocktail in sight!

As you may have gathered from my lengthy absence from the social media scene, I've been otherwise AWOL - sunning myself on the other side of the world no less; swapping my beloved Bristol for a three-month 'tiki tour' of New Zealand. I felt compelled to put stylus to touchscreen in some capacity and yet, found myself deliberating over an appropriate angle to take. I mean, given the 12 week time-frame, the best part of thirty locations over two islands and the plethora of cafés, restaurants and bars visited therein, I couldn't possibly offer a review short of a novel in order to document the experiences which have constituted an altogether amazing trip. Instead, I thought I'd draw upon the pastime which became a pilgrimage of sorts and ultimately, an education in a subject which I was more than willing to learn... For, although I was well aware of what I enjoy when it comes to wine, it wasn't until a thorough exploration of New Zealand's vineyards that I really began to understand the reasons underpinning my preferences and furthermore, appreciate the blood, sweat and tears afforded to each and every bottle.
Trinity Hill, Hawkes Bay
As per the unfounded knowledge of Wikipedia, there are ten main wine-growing regions of New Zealand. Despite this, I'm going to focus on the three that featured most heavily in my adventures; incidentally, areas influential enough to increase the likelihood that you'll be able to sample some of the wines I'll mention, here in the UK.
Wither Hills, Marlborough
Marlborough (South Island): 
As 62% of the total vineyard area in the country, Marlborough is famous for its Sauvignon Blanc (affectionately referred to as simply, 'Sav' by the locals) which is abundantly produced here due to perfect conditions; hot, sunny days and cool nights which extend the grape growing period. It is vibrant and grassy by nature, a classic example being the 2013 vintage from Wither Hills which, we were informed, recently won gold at the Marlborough Wine Show. Although 'Sav' is undoubtedly the king varietal, other grapes including Pinot Noir and Chardonnay also have a place here; Framingham Estate especially wowing The Boy and I with its array of sophisticated wines which, as the first winery we visited, set the bar rather high in light of the sipping and swishing that ensued. Here too, four diverse styles of Reisling from thirty-year-old vines, produced solely in the Wairau Valley and embodying the vineyard's Germanic fashion; the F-Series old vine 2012 Reisling proving to be my particular favourite which, delivered in an old world style, undoubtedly hit the mark in terms of its texture and complexity. It was here too that we discovered how many doctors and scientists steer their careers towards winemaking; the brains behind Forrest wines for example (doctors, John and Brigid Forrest) claiming that 'grape growing...is an exacting science' - the punchy aromatic whites and powerfully scented reds that we enjoyed at their site seeming to support this. Moving on and if it's bubbles you're after, you can't go far wrong with No1 Family Estate; their Methode Traditionelle sparkling wines simply bursting on the palate with refreshing acidity and subtle fruit notes. The No1 Rosé especially which, as the first of its kind for winemaker Daniel Le Brun and made with 100% Pinot Noir, is salmon-pink to the eye and packed with teeny tiny bubbles to taste; surely making it the grown-up alternative to champers, no?!
Central Otago (South Island):
As a lesser known but by no means lesser quality wine growing area, The Boy and I found ourselves in some rather impressive Pinot Noir growing territory on our way through the mountains towards Queenstown. Responsible for just over 70% of the plantings, Pinot Noir is plentiful and delicious; rich and oh-so smooth on the palate with a lasting fruitiness which lived-on long after each mouthful. Tannins to rival that of its continental counterparts and a vibrancy owing to the unique grape-growing conditions which are the most southerly in the world as well as the highest in New Zealand (at 200-400 metres above sea level). Mt. Difficulty's 'Roaring Meg' Pinot Noir was a wonderful example of a 'drink-young' style, brimming with sweet cherry and plum flavours, yet balanced with a little oak. Also notable is the soil here which is often glacial, making for strong competitors in terms of the Reisling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer produced here; the latter being a particular favourite of mine with its Turkish Delight essence and spicy, aromatic notes (a perfect accompaniment for Asian fare or even, I'm told, marinated pork). Central Otago is in the process of applying for a geographic indication for wine growing in the area - a formality to well and truly put it on the map and rightly so, as wineries like Peregrine with its outstanding Saddleback 2011 Pinot Gris and Chapel Estate's strawberries and cream scented rosé are really worth being aware of.
Chapel Estate, Cromwell
Hawkes Bay (North Island): 
As New Zealand's oldest wine producing area and the second largest after Marlborough, it came as no surprise that the wineries visited here were nothing less than incredible. Mission Estate was our first stop, constituting a little slice of history given that it was established back in 1851 and thus, as the oldest winery in the country, often referred to as the birthplace of New Zealand wine. Although Bordeaux blend reds are big in this region, with Syrah at top of the bill, I found the Sauvignon Blancs particularly appealing; less grassy than those sampled in Marlborough and instead, crisp, fruity and refreshing. The Gimblett Gravels play a big part in this; the stony soils from former river beds giving wineries like Unison and Trinity Hill a real edge when it comes to fresh-tasting whites which are delicately balanced and above all, dangerously drinkable! Rod McDonald's 2012 'Quarter Acre' sampled at the friendly Te Awanga Estate was a revelation, so much so that we went back for a second taste...and then a third, hic! There too, a late harvest Semillon; so beautifully coupled with blue cheese that it would have been criminal not to indulge in just that! Viognier is another popular grape here; the 2013 offering from the Black Barn vineyards standing-out amidst those of its neighbours. This winery also deepened my love-hate relationship with Chardonnay, the 2012 reserve my preference over the 2012 100% barrel fermented variety due to its subtle vanilla notes and smooth disposition. We learnt that Chardonnay is Black Barn's most awarded wine so my personal aversion to heavily oaked whites is clearly in the minority. Overall, my favourite visit in this region was to Clearview Estate whereby the winemaker himself supervised as devotees showcased his stunning range of wines, the best of which was the 'sea red'; a rich dessert wine with just enough residual sugar to adequately pair it with dark chocolate but minus the cloying sweetness of some of the other stickies we'd tasted; just divine!
Rod McDonald's 2012 'Quarter Acre'
Clearview Estate's 'Sea Red'

Lastly, I feel I should also mention Emporium*, an art deco style restaurant/bar in central Napier that allowed us to sample our new found favourites in larger quantities...just to make sure!
The oldest winery in NZ
Despite missing out on the boutique style wines of Martinborough and the Gewurztraminer-lover's dream to be found in Gisbourne, it's fair to say that it was a journey of the senses nevertheless; gifting me with experiences that will affect the way I'll drink and purchase wine in the future. Wine growing estates are certainly picturesque and this is no doubt testament to the hard work that goes into their maintenance...Brancott Estate in Renwick (Marlborough), Chapel Estate in Cromwell (Central Otago) and award-winning Craggy Range Estate in Havelock North (Hawkes Bay) were visually delicious, even before sampling the liquid gold that lay within. Not to mention the strategy behind their arrangement, the Boy and I learning how, in certain plots, vines were planted outside of the typical East to West formation, so that one side of the vine takes longer to ripen, producing two variations of the same grape. Genius!
Mission Estate
Overall and in addition to sharing the teachings of my travels, I hope that my brief insight to New Zealand wines will inspire you, the reader, to sample those available to us in the UK - for I can certainly vouch for the fact that the wine makers themselves will be chuffed that you've chosen their craftsmanship from that of their peers amidst the international market that we're so lucky to be privy to. Cheers!

For further information regarding New Zealand wine, visit:
www.winesofnz.com or www.nzwine.com 

If you are interested in purchasing any of the aforementioned wines from the UK, you could try; ' Hard-to-Find Wines' at www.htfwines.co.uk
Ngatarawa Winery, picnic perfection