Monday, May 21, 2007

Report from: New Zealand Wine Fair - May 17, 2007

So here I am at the New Zealand Wine Fair, ready to see what’s new on the other side of the world. You’ll recall that New Zealand is one of the first country’s to really specialize; they came in with the Aussies and they were the perfect party pair: the Aussies brought the red (shiraz) and the Kiwi’s brought the white (sauvignon blanc). They took the wine-world by storm with their one-two punch, specializing in just one grape variety. And while the Aussies have now got the world on a string, the Kiwis seem to have stalled with Sauvignon Blanc and last year’s show off variety, Pinot Noir, a cool climate loving grape that enjoyed the New Zealand climate … now it’s time to branch out. This year it’s a whole new ballgame as they try to show the world they aren’t just a one, or two, trick pony. This year’s New Zealand show, while still top heavy with sauvignon blancs and pinot noirs also saw grape varieties that you don’t associate with New Zealand, like riesling, gew├╝rztraminer, pinot gris, syrah, cab sauvs and francs, and some merlot. They’re not out in full force like the sauv blancs and the pinot noirs but they’re out there, waiting to be discovered. So instead of focusing on what we already know New Zealand can do, let’s look at those other varietals and taste where New Zealand is headed.

First stop today was the aromatic white seminar, which focused it’s attention on three grapes New Zealand is auditioning for their next world domination of, namely: Riesling, gew├╝rztraminer and pinot gris. The gris was underwhelming with the best being from Mount Riley, a consistently good white producer, and their 2006 Pinot Gris (~$18.95), but, in my opinion, this is not New Zealand’s next grape (not yet anyway) – although the percentage increase of plantings tell a different story. Gris is up 3,548% from ten years ago, compared to Riesling (215%) and Gewurztraminer (202%) over the same period. Gewurztraminer was also not my choice for New Zealand’s next wave, the three showcased at the seminar were varietally correct, but none truly floored me; though the Vinoptima 2004 Gewurztraminer ($49.50) was the talk of the show – turns out they are the first winery in the world to specialize in Gewurztraminer, that’s all they do, period the end … the wine wasn’t bad either. On the other hand, New Zealand has the perfect climate conditions to make some pretty awesome Riesling … the three on display were of excellent quality. From a consumer friendly, fruit forward 2006 Allen Scott ($17.95); an aged, petrol infused 2002 Forrest Estate Dry ($21.00) and an impressively fruity semi-sweet Pegasus Bay ($29.95), which seemed to have a touch of botrytis. If New Zealand is about the take the world of white again, it’s going to be with this grape – though they face some stiff competition as the Germans, as well as we Ontarians, are making some pretty fine Rieslings of our own, at half the price. But as I was remarking on price a local winemaker pointed out to me, “what do you expect from something coming halfway across the world.”

Now let’s head downstairs to the wine fair floor and see what else we can find of interest coming out of New Zealand. Below I am going to focus on wines not normally associated with the Zealand; sure we know they make world class Sauvignon Blanc, but what else are those Kiwis up to …

The aforementioned Mount Riley is focusing its attention on some pretty good whites, of which their Riesling is a definite highlight. Now currently on the general list at the LCBO for $17.95, the 2006 Mount Riley Riesling is fresh and lovely with soft peach and citrus, some hidden petrol nuances on the palate and a clean orange peel finish. I know I promised not to mention Savvy B. but a must try comes out this Saturday (May 26) as their Sparkling Savee ($22.95) is set for release. Two to three months lees contact and then quick to market keeps this wine lively and fresh, retaining the best aspects of Sauv Blanc … with bubbles. I also picked it as one of my selections in the May 26 LCBO Vintages Release.

I’m sure when you think New Zealand you rarely think Bordeaux-style reds, well shame on you, cause there are some good ones being made down there. If you get the opportunity check out Alpha Domus, who are making some of the best Bordeaux blend reds coming out of New Zealand. Using merlot, malbec, cab sauv and franc their line (Alpha Domus - $20; The Navigator - $25; and The Aviator - $60) are loaded with the black and red fruits you’d expect, with oak and ageability to spare.

I hate to come back to it, but Brancott Vineyards still makes one of the best general list Savvy B’s on the market, at $14.15 it delivers all you’d expect and more … and all at a reasonable price. Joining Brancott this year is the surprising animal-labeled Monkey Bay … $14.50 and also quite impressive. Here’s another New Zealand sauv blanc joining the general list under $15, and delivering on what you’d expect from a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

How about Syrah? Yes New Zealand is making it and it can be made well, just ask the folks at Gunn Estates Wines. Their 2005 Silistria Syrah ($29.95 – vintages pending) is black fruit and pepper dominated, and begging to be served with a steak.

People were talking about the Spy Valley 2006 Gewurztaminer ($22.00) with it’s in your face rose petal and floral characteristics (I’m talking nose-in-the-glass neck-snapping back aromas here); but I liked the toned down Seifried Estate version better ($22.25) … still with the rose petal nose but not so much with the head-snapping up-frontness. I found the Seifried much friendlier. The Spy was like walking in a fridge-full of roses at your local florist and sucking on the petals, while the Siefried just had a small case in the same room. The Siefried 2006 Riesling ($19.50 – Vintages) was also impressive – this winery knows how to make good white wines.

On July 7, in Vintages, look for the Soljans Estate Winery Fusion Sparkling Muscat ($16.95) … good value in a sweet sparkler – fruity, peachy and lychee – should be a big hit with the ladies and for evenings on the patio – heck, great for mimosas or morning glories too.

Back to Spy Valley – while their Gewurzt was too in-my-face, their Riesling was pulled back and light … at $17.95 I thought it showed good typicity in a Riesling and made for a light summer sipper.

Torlesse Wines also had a 2004 Riesling ($17.50 – Vintages) that had good length with its peach and lime notes. With each passing table and each sip of another good Riesling, it just proved to me more and more that the next best thing out of New Zealand is going to be their Rieslings.

Finally, last year’s next best thing was Pinot Noir and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention at least one from this year’s batch. This winery’s Pinots were just heads and tails above the rest (and there were plenty to choose from, but I could still taste these ones 2 days later). Waitiri Creek seems to have a handle on how to make great Pinot Noir. First one up, their second label “Drummer”, a fruitier version of Pinot; 6 months in stainless steel with some light oaking ($30). But hold on to your hats as the Waitiri Creek Pinot Noir 2005 crosses the threshold from good to incredible. 11 months in French oak, 35% of it new, it has the usual red fruit and the earthiness of Pinot, along with some vanillas and cinnamons to round it off. This one was spectacular … a little pricey at $43 … but what can you expect from a wine that comes halfway round the world.

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