Tuesday, December 19, 2006

New Zealand - Further Impressions

We are getting toward the end of our New Zealand trip, and having found excellent accommodation in Martinborough, with free wireless internet access, I thought I should post again. At least that is my excuse for the paucity of entries into this blog.

Navigating to and from Napier
After arriving in Wellington Miranda and I drove by car to Napier and the Hawkes Bay wine region. We had a little detour to Martinborough in the Wairarapa region, which resulted in our present accommodation, but more on that later. The trip to Napier is pleasant if you enjoy driving country roads, I mean Highways. Its more interesting if you come into Napier through the Gimblett gravels wine country. Napier, after being destroyed by earthquake in 1931, was rebuilt mostly in the Art Deco style. If architecture is your thing, go for it. We found it just a little too out of the way for trips to wine country, and arriving at rush hour made us realize that there are more people than sheep in some places in New Zealand. We pulled up our tent pegs and moved on to Havelock North.

A Few from Hawkes Bay
We got through quite a few wines on our first day in Hawkes Bay, but only two wineries. Outstanding hospitality from Nicholas Buck at Te Mata saw us in the vineyards, winery and tasting room for over 3 hours. Their Elston Chardonnay (2005) is pretty special, as is the Bullnose Syrah (2005). The Coleraine (from barrel) looked good as well. A quality line up in all respects.

The other visit was to Sileni where Grant Edmonds had lined up 18 wines. While Miranda looked after the owners’ toy Poodle I faced the task undaunted. My pick would be the 2004 Semillon (The Circle), with the 2005 EV Chardonnay, 2004 Merlot, 2004 Merlot (The Triangle) and the 2004 EV Pourriture worth trying as well.

I was on my own for the second day, which started at Stonecroft. After all the hype I was not as impressed by their Syrah as I was hoping. The 2004 Young Vines was all pepper, while the 2004 Serine was more approachable but will need time. Unfortunately Alan Limmer had “gone fishing” and his son, who was serving the wines, while very friendly was not a wine drinker. He wasn’t great at giving directions either when I asked about Unison, but fortunately I did find the winery. And it was worth it. I’m not a big Rosé drinker but their 2006 Rosé is excellent, as was most of their small line-up. The stand out wine was the 2005 Syrah. The best I tasted in the region, seek it out. Next was Te Awa where I preferred the 2002 Boundary. Trinity Hill did not excite me. I scribbled my tasting notes on their sheet of printed tasting notes, and its around here somewhere. Last was Vidal, which is in Hastings. The friendly young lady serving grabbed me a pour of the 2004 Soler Syrah from the restaurant, and it was worth it.

My most lasting impression about Hawkes Bay Syrah is the diversity of the wines. Admittedly I tasted across two vintages (2004 and 2005) but even so the differences are pronounced. The 2004 wines go from peppery (almost under-ripe) wines to over ripe wines, and even though the 2005s appear to have more depth, they ranged from a peppery style to something that approached Cabernet in its flavor profile. And all this from a handful of wineries in one region! You gotta love it.

Wine and the Big Picture in New Zealand
When in New Zealand, and especially Havelock North, you have to go to the movies, right? Well, you are on vacation. Havelock North has Cinema Gold, and Cinema Gold will sell you a glass of wine while you wait for your movie to begin screening. You can then take your wine with you into the theatre. Better still make it a whole bottle and store it in the pull out receptacle provided between the seats. Saluté!

Buring, a name alive and well in Martinborough
Arriving in Martinborough on a Sunday evening is not the best choice as many of the vineyards are only open on the weekends (or by appointment). We missed Margrain and Escarpment because we could just not quite hook up with Strat Canning or Larry McKenna at mutually agreeable times, but the unexpected should always be expected in wine country. On Monday, while I was busy sticking my nose into a tasting glass at Schubert Miranda was busy quizzing the server, Robert Hunter, about education of winemakers in Martinborough and learning that one was a UC Davis graduate. And not just any UC Davis graduate but the great nephew of an icon of the Australian wine industry, Leo Buring. The presence of another Cal Aggie graduate within spitting distance was enough for Miranda to drag me kicking and screaming (Yeah, right!) to Oak House and the once barn now winery that is the home of Buring wines. Chris Buring has worked as a winemaker in Martinborough since 1989 and started Burings of Martinborough in 2002. Lacking his own vineyards, he buys his fruit from local growers and was kind enough to show us his 2004 and 2005 Pinot Noir and then some blended barrel samples from 2006 of fruit from old and new vine Pinot Noir. Enthusiastic and technically proficient would be inadequate descriptors of Chris’s approach to his craft. And his Pinot certainly fits the bill. I just hope that the bottles of 2004 and the gift of a single bottle of the yet to be released 2005 make it back to San Diego unscathed by baggage handlers and customs officials.

For me this trip was capped by a discussion about Pinot with Chis Buring and his mention that the 2005 TerraVin Hillside Selection is an excellent Pinot Noir that he has purchased for his own cellar. Maybe I am beginning to understand New Zealand Pinot!

A Pinot you can Live In
We had originally planned to stay in Wellington and drive out to Martinbouorgh and the wineries. But Wellington is one busy city and a good 90 minutes from Martinborough; looks much closer when you view New Zealand as a whole! So on our way through to Napier we stopped to check out accommodation, and found Pinot Villas. If you come to Martinborough and you need a place to stay, look no further. It’s the best accommodation we have had on our trip, and the cost is extremely reasonable. Plus the internet is free! And if you get really lucky Millie will wink and wag her tail at you.

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