Tuesday, December 12, 2006

New Zealand - Some Impressions

We have been in New Zealand for almost 10 days, long enough to form some opinions. And while my views may contrast with those of longer experience, its often first impressions that form the most lasting memories; I’m certain not to forget some of the experiences we have had so far.

Auckland and Waiheke Island
Our plans to visit some of the wineries around Auckland were dashed when we found our hire car had been broken into, about five hours after we signed the hire agreement, and it would take a week to fix. Did we want another car? Is crime a problem? Well, yes it is worse in the city. Then, seeing as how the deductible meant that we were already responsible for an unknown repair cost, we would use public transport for the rest of our stay. That was not entirely true. A few days later, when relatives arrived from Australia, we took the ferry across to Waiheke Island and hired a car so we could visit some of wineries and view some of the scenery.

I apologize to those who view Waiheke Island as a serious wine destination, but it seems little more that a tourist trap to me. If you wish to visit the wineries on the island, be warned that many require prior appointment. And tasting the wines can be expensive. We stopped at the Waiheke Island Wine Centre and had to hand over $15 to sample three wines. At Stonyridge Vineyard it cost a further $30 to taste 3 of their wines. While we didn’t taste widely among the wineries, what we did taste was far from impressive, and more remote in terms of value. The noted Passage Rock Syrah from 2004 cost me $80NZD at Accent on Wine in Parnell. At an informal offline, which included the 2004 Lagier Meredith Syrah (Mt Veeder, California), the Passage Rock sank to the bottom, or very near the bottom, of the 8 wines consumed on the night. I should have taken the hint when the store attendant at Accent on Wine said that most New Zealand reds were 2 to 3 time over priced! The one bright spot? Te Whau. Excellent food and the wine is quite good. I had The Point, but also try the Chardonnay.

Its Quite Restrained
This seems to be the chorus line among winemakers/cellar staff in Nelson and Marlborough. Do they know that this means austere, or severe on the palate? And its not really a term for acidic white wines. However some of my teeth have taken to aching but we haven’t had THAT many wines, and I can only think of one that really upset the apple cart in terms of acidity.

I planned on visiting only two wineries in this region at the north-western end of the South Island, and that is what we did. And if you don’t go out and chase down some of Andrew Greenhough’s (Green–hoff) Pinot Noir, especially the 2005, then I don’t know why you are reading this. Purity, density, complexity – its all there. Get some of the 2004 to drink while you wait for the ’05 to really strut its stuff.

The Max and Simon Show
Most posters and lurkers on the Auswine and Starwine forums will know Maximus, but I doubt that many will know his friend Simon. Both work in the wine industry, Max in Nelson and Simon in Marlborough. Max was very helpful getting us into the two wineries in Nelson, and in putting on an outstanding picnic-style late lunch offline with some really excellent wines including some great wines for Options. Thanks Max. Now if we can just teach you to throw a tennis ball!

Simon turned out to be the king of options players. While I was still trying to decide whether the first wine was from the Old World or New World, Simon already had country and grape! This guy is really quick off the mark, and so correct that either he has tremendous knowledge and an excellent palate, or x-ray vision. I know the answer.

We visited a total of eleven wineries in the Marlborough region. More than I had planned. And while we missed a couple that I wanted to see, we visited others that turned out to be very pleasant surprises. I hope to write more about some of these wineries at a future date, but for now I just wanted to mention two.

The first is TerraVin. I don’t know how widespread the reputation is of this winery, but if they continue to make wines of the quality that we tasted then their future is assured. Without a doubt the best Pinot Noir I have tasted. I’d love to put these wines in a blind tasting up against some really big names, maybe even from that place in France, begins with a B or something. The 2004 Hillside Selection was going all oldie worldie on me just before I tipped out my glass to taste the “J”. Oh yeah, sure, you made this in Marlborough, New Zealand. Its 85% Cabernet! Bordeaux blend, sure. But its bloody impressive. Still, THE wine was the 2005 Hillside Selection Pinot. If I can convince you to get just one bottle of wine, this is it. OK, get the ordinary Pinot, but make it the 2005. The yields were low, the flavors concentrated, and these wines have a mouthfeel that really is sex in a glass.

The next winery to blow my horn, so to speak, was Te Whare Ra. Don’t ask me to pronounce it, but in the native dialect Wh has an f sound. What is so special about this place? Well, they are a young husband and wife team making quality white wines, and a very nice Pinot as well. But it’s the whites that will spellbind you. The 2006 Riesling was delicate and yet filled the mouth with flavor and finished with lively acidity. It was the best example I tasted in Nelson and Marlborough. Their Gewurztraminer is also excellent as is their Noble Riesling. And a little thing called the Toru might not set your world on fire, but it will certainly make a warm summer evening pleasant.

Tomorrow we are bound by ferry to Wellington for a day of rest before its off to Hawkes Bay and big reds. Can anyone say restrained?


Mal said...


If you are going to be in Brisbane during December/January give me a yell via my email (I hope you still have it). Maybe we could catch up for a drink a taste a few wines - I might learn something

Mike said...


We won't be in Oz this year, all New Zealand this trip. Heading back to the States on December 21st. Might make it to Australia again in 2007.