|Trinity Hill, Hawkes Bay|
|Wither Hills, Marlborough|
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|
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|
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|