amarchinthevines

Learning about wine, vines and vignerons whilst living in the Languedoc


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A Tour Down Under, conclusions

It was always going to be the trip of a lifetime but, my word, it lived up to that billing. There are so many positives to Australia and New Zealand. I couldn’t help thinking that these young nations are energetic, vibrant and forward thinking in comparison to so much of Europe. Links with Pacific and Asian countries are to the fore and that will be their future though they retain a tremendous affection for their European links. The many people who were more than keen to talk with us were rightly proud of their countries, eager to find out about our trip and delighted to hear our enthusiasm. Positivity abounds.

The people themselves were such a highlight, as I have said before, they are helpful, polite and know how to enjoy themselves. The climate is obviously helpful in encouraging outdoor lifestyles, admittedly we were very lucky with the weather on our trip.

The wildlife was a constant joy, seeing kangaroos, koalas and kiwis in real life was just marvellous. Birds, fish and shark were stunning. Please look after them.

Above all though it was the joy of their natural landscapes which will live longest in the memory. These are jaw droppingly beautiful countries with such variety from coastlines, mountains, equatorial forest to the wonders of the Barrier Reef. Add on man made wonders such as Sydney Harbour’s Bridge and Opera House, I find myself smiling just thinking about them all.

Regarding wine. To be honest overall I was a trifle disappointed with so many wines and wine lists. The safe, conventional and commercial are everywhere. Perfectly drinkable wines but lacking excitement. However, dig a little and quality emerges. From Kalleske in the Barossa to Hans Herzog in Marlborough and Domaine Road in Otago I found conventional wines that were very good to drink. The highlights though were from the emergence of a natural wine scene in both countries. Kindeli, Cambridge Road and The Hermitage Ram in New Zealand were certainly highlights. Shobbrook, Sullivan, Tausend are names to look up in Australia.

In a way though I was spoiled early on. The Adelaide Hills was the source of so many of my favourite wines of the trip. There is a lively community of producers, supporting each other, who are making exciting, vibrant clean wines. Gentle Folk, Jauma, Manon, Basket Range, The Other Right are just some of the names to seek out. Add to that list the excellent bottles of my friend James Madden of Little Things wines. I am biased but his wines were amongst the best I tasted during this trip. The brilliant Chardonnay, refreshing PetNat, complex Field Blend were all in my top wines.

Australia and New Zealand have young winemakers looking to break with traditional methods. Behind the wave of producers in Europe perhaps but starting to create an impression and proving to my mind that there will be some wonderful wines to savour in coming years. It is no coincidence that most of these producers have worked in Europe, for example James at Jeff Coutelou’s. They will use that learning, adapt it to their local conditions to make their interpretation of Australian and New Zealand wines. I buy into their vision wholeheartedly.

Thanks to everyone we met for making the trip so special. Above all thanks to James, Sam, Flo and Pat for sharing their home with us and being so generous. And to Howard, a great chef, host and friend.

 


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A Tour Down Under, Queensland

After the busy city, time to relax with a trip to the Whitsunday Islands off the Queensland coast at the southern edge of the Great Barrier Reef. Hamilton Island is a holiday resort essentially, famed for its exclusive residences used by the rich and famous as well as its family hotels. Island visitors are well catered for with restaurants, shops, beaches and pools. To get around the small island golf buggies can be hired as no cars are allowed. The system runs like a well oiled machine.

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Buggy driver outside the church

As well as relaxing in the warm sunshine we made two day trips. The second was to Whitehaven Beach on the largest of the 74 islands, Whitsunday itself. The beach is a shining white colour, the sand is almost pure silica and has a fine flour like texture. The waters are clear and a beautiful colour.

However, star of the visit was the day snorkelling on the Reef itself, notable Bait Reef. I had never snorkelled before but I took to it, well, like a duck to water. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Reef, whatever expectations I had were surpassed a thousand times over. The magnificent colours of the coral and the fish lit up the ocean. The Reef here was badly damaged by Cyclone Debbie in April 2017 and yet, though some parts died off others were showing signs of recovery with beautiful blue, pink, yellow coral sprouting along with many other colours too.

                          Waves breaking on the coral reef and fish around the boat

Apparently 10% of the Earth’s fish species live on the Reef and it was impossible to keep track of the dozens of species I saw. However, two stood out. A blue spotted ray darted along the seabed and then, as we were returning to the boat I saw a black outline against the white sand. It could only be a shark from its shape but it took a while for me to get my head round that. It sat for a couple of minutes and then turned and swam straight towards me which made my heart skip a beat. It swam right under me and it was a few minutes I shall never forget. I was told by our guide that it was a white tipped reef shark, it was magnificent.

                    Butterfly fish, blue spotted ray and the white tipped reef shark

Then to Brisbane for the final few days of the trip. The city is dominated by the river of the same name, free ferries and buses help the traveller to get around easily. The beautiful botanic gardens sheltered a variety of birds, water dragons and beautiful plants, trees and flowers.

 

Strangely some of the better wines from shops and bars of the whole 2 months were experienced here in Queensland. The bottle shop on Hamilton Island carried good wines such as O’Leary Walker‘s Polish Hill Riesling, D’Arenberg‘s Custodian Grenache and the interesting Toru blend of Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Gris from Te Whare Ra in Marlborough. All very good. From another bottle shop in Brisbane I secured an old favourite in Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2016. I hadn’t tried this since James Halliday gave up the domaine but it proved to be as good, refreshing and fruity as it always was.

At the Silver Fox Wine Bar in Brisbane though came a real treat. We ordered an orange wine from the Barossa Valley and the sommelier advised me to try the Old Vines Grenache from the same producer Kalleske. It was excellent advice. The orange wine, Viognier, had aromas of, well, oranges. Lavender too. It was delicious with tangy zesty fruit and lovely texture. One of the most interesting orange wines I have come across. The old vines Grenache was concentrated black and red fruit delight too. Unlike many reds I have tried here it was full but also light, not jammy, not over oaked. When I looked up the producer online I found that it is a biodynamic domaine in the Barossa, I was not surprised. There was a real energy and finesse to these two wines and I will be seeking out more of them if I can find them in the UK.

So, some good wines to finish and some of the most memorable of experiences too. Australia and New Zealand, thank you.


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A Tour Down Under, Sydney

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Since I was a little boy I have always wanted to see Sydney Harbour, the bridge and the Opera House. So, for 6 days I was entranced by this place and at the end of my stay I remained awed by the spectacle. We were lucky to stay in a room which afforded this view through the window and I would get up and simply look out of the window from time to time to make sure I was not dreaming it. As man made attractions go, it is as good as any.

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The view from the room window

I hadn’t realised just how much of Sydney is a collection of villages and suburbs dotted around the huge harbour. Darling Harbour, Potts Point, Rose Bay, Manly were all places dotted around the magnificent waters linked by ferries and, so, easy to get around. Manly Beach was especially good (better than Bondi in my humble opinion, but then I am not a beach person) and a thriving place of its own, 30 minutes from the Circular Quay ferry wharf.

Darling Harbour is the scene of new building, banks and museums sitting side by side, Chinatown and Paddy’s Market just around the corner. I can recommend the Powerhouse science museum, try to avoid school holidays though unlike us.

A terrific day at Randwick races was another highlight, facilities which would put any UK course to shame, free shuttle buses, cheap entry, well-priced food and drink of good quality and, top class racing. I combined my two passions by having a glass of Chandon sparkling wine ($8.50 or just uner £5) to celebrate winning on the first race and some decent Barossa Shiraz after winning on one of the big races.

Sydney is certainly cosmopolitan, Asian culture is a big part of the city’s appeal. The people were without exception friendly and helpful, more than once when we were looking lost passers-by stopped to help and even walked us in the right direction. Some even recognised the North East England accent, one man born in the next village to our home town. Beautiful gardens and green spaces, that stunning harbour – it is a lovely city.

Jeff Coutelou wines are imported to Sydney by Andrew Guard and he kindly recommended places to eat and drink. Sadly, we missed him by 10 minutes in one of those, he must have seen me coming and done a runner! It was good to meet one of his assistants, Andy Ainsworth, at 10 William Street in Paddington. This is a wine bar/restaurant recommended to us from other friends too and we walked there after visiting the Sydney Cricket Ground. Lovely food including a memorable Brussel sprout dish. Yes Brussel sprouts, I’d never have imagined them so tasty.

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Sprouts stir fried with mint and candied almonds

To drink, a Beaujolais from Karim Vionnet but mostly a bottle of Riesling from Adelaide Hills winemaker Travis Tausend. This was recommended to us by Andy who reckons this is one of the most up and coming producers. The Riesling was zesty, vibrant, fruity and had a lovely, Riesling finish. He reported that Tausend worked with Riffault in Sancerre and borrowed the idea of picking 3 times to get a mix of early higher acidity grapes, the main pick and then others just showing the merest hint of botrytis. The result was excellent. No SO2 either.

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The other restaurant of note was Fratelli Paradiso in Potts Point. The pasta with langoustine I had there was certainly the best pasta I have eaten outside of Italy. To accompany a Vineyard Blend from Basket Range, yes another Adelaide Hills wine. Basket Range is made by Sholto and Louis Broderick whose wines I praised in my post on Melbourne. This blend included Petit Verdot, Merlot and whole bunch Saperavi, a Georgian grape I had only ever had once before. The result was fresh, sappy, fruity and terrific with the pasta, I liked this a lot. And no SO2.

Elsewhere I tried a number of wines from fairly familiar names from Hunter, Barossa and Mclaren Vale. They were fine in a typical Australian wine way, they just seemed a bit heavy, perhaps the heat didn’t help them. Instead I turned to the many craft beers for refreshment, Pale Ale is very much on trend and to my taste. For me though this was further evidence that Adelaide Hills is the exciting region to explore, I urge you to do so. Meanwhile the people and those views will long live in my memory as the absolute stars of Sydney.

 


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A Tour Down Under, North Island NZ

Wellington from Mt. Victoria

If I stick to wine this will be a short post. Through a mixture of bad planning and the need to do holiday activities which are not wine related there were no wine trips on North Island. The wines of Martinborough and Hawke’s Bay (with or without its apostrophe) were not untasted of course but we headed from Wellington to Rotorua and then the north coast missing out those two venerable wine regions. Another time maybe?

As I said I have tasted wines from both areas whilst here.

From Hawke’s Bay:

  • Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay which were both good, plenty of classic aromas and flavours with more concentration than most
  • Church Road Pinot Gris, pleasant though not world beating
  • Pask Syrah and Declaration Syrah both of which had good fruit and full flavours, the latter being more concentrated. A sign of how the area of Gimblett Gravels does add more depth
  • Te Mata Syrah was ok, typical of the grape though lacking the style and finesse of its elder brother Bullnose. Te Mata Coleraine was the first wine from New Zealand which convinced me that great wines could be made here when I tasted it a good 20 years ago.

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The wine which stood out for me though, and I had 2015 and 2011 versions, was Stonecroft‘s Serine Syrah. This was my favourite red of the North Island by far and yet it is far from the most expensive. Good red fruits, complexity from some oak age and very persistent combined to make this a very good glassful and good value. Apparently it comes from the oldest Syrah vines in NZ and was once thought to be from Serine, a Syrah clone though this is not the case. Gimblett Gravels again and the 2011 had plenty of life even though this is not intended as a wine to age too long. I would like to find more of their wines.

From Martinborough

  • Schubert Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc which were fine, good examples of each
  • Palliser Riesling which was nice and tangy, good and dry
  • Escarpment Pinot Noir had good fruit and less sign of age than many other examples I have had in NZ

However, North Island has been about the magnificent natural scenery and landscapes as well as the most friendly and attractive capital city in Wellington. The harbour, botanical gardens, cable car, Mt. Victoria and its views all make Wellington a perfect city to visit, its range of architecture and friendly greetings all add to its charm. Add in a magnificent national museum Te Papa with free entry including the outstanding Gallipoli exhibition, one of the best I have ever seen.


From there to the volcanic region of Rotorua, also showing many Maori villages and culture. Geysers, mud pools, hot water springs, steaming hillsides all have a mystery which captures the imagination and awes me.


The north coast of the Coromandel, Bay of Plenty and Bay of Islands are all superb, I have never seen a beach so enticing and beautiful as Cooks Beach whilst small towns and villages such as Whitianga as well as Russell (NZ’s first capital city) and Paihia on the Bay of Islands show colonial style architecture as well as charm, as long as the cruise ships have not landed! There were even some vineyards to look at too.

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Finally I must mention Cult Wines in Wellington. I finally found some natural wines and this little shop has a good selection from New Zealand, Australia and Europe. We had a very good, juicy PetNat from Black Estate (Waipara) called Netherwood and a round no SO2 Pinot Noir from Escarpment (see above). It is interesting to see more domaines experimenting with making natural wines. These two were certainly successes. NZ’s fledgling natural wineries such as Hermit Ram and Cambridge Road were represented but travelling isn’t wine buying friendly.

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Kindeli Otono, Escarpment Noir, Kindeli Verano

I did buy two wines from Kindeli which is the work of Alex Craighead. He has his own vineyards and sources more grapes, all from Nelson. Verano was a delicious, juicy, fresh field blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. A deep rosé in colour it was very good. Otono is a blend of Gewurztraminer and Riesling, it is distinctly natural in style but the Gewurz violets come through and there’s a nice saline, dry lick to the finish.


I would love to have visited Hawke’s Bay but if you get the chance then New Zealand, both islands, are must visits. Wherever we have been has been spectacular in its own way.

E noho rā.


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A Tour Down Under, Marlborough

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The most famous wine region of New Zealand, Marlborough, is found in the north East corner of South Island. No less than 77% of the country’s wine originates from Marlborough, around the towns of Blenheim and Renwick in particular. Factor in the fact that 85% of Marlborough’s grapes are Sauvignon Blanc and we begin to see the importance of this variety to the reputation of wines from the region and, indeed, the rest of the country.

Certainly, the region is very different to Nelson, the focus of my last blog. There the vineyards are part of a much bigger agricultural scene, fruit orchards, hops, cattle and sheep mix with vineyards in the Nelson area to create a true pastoral landscape, e.g. in the Moutere Valley.

Journeying into Marlborough across the hills from Nelson the vines do not appear until shortly before reaching Renwick. But then vines stand, row after row, mile after mile. Wineries which put the country on the world wine scene stand side by side, Wither Hills with its many vineyards, Hunter’s, Villa Maria are all producers which played a major role in my personal learning about wine and, especially, wines from New Zealand.

The winery which first drew attention to and recognition of the potential of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc was Cloudy Bay. Named after the beautiful bay to the East of the vineyards. This winery now produces a number of different wines but it was the Sauvignon which really made its name and established New Zealand as a quality producer. Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc is also the long time favourite of my wife so a visit was obligatory.

Cloudy Bay itself

A very professional tasting room and comfortable garden allowed us to taste the celebrated Sauvignon 2017 which was classic Cloudy Bay but also the oaked version Te Koko 2014 which wears its wood ageing well. In addition we were able to taste a rare old version of the Sauvignon, from 2005. There was still plenty of acidity, the wine had become a little flabbier but had a dry finish. Not many bottles of 12 year old Cloudy Bay still exist I’d imagine, it was interesting to see that they do age quite well though I would drink any bottles younger. Pelorus NV sparkling wine and the Pelorus vintage 2010 (only available at the cellar) were both pleasant enough, the latter definitely had more weight and flavour. Chardonnay 15 was wild fermented in barrel (82% of it at least) and the oak was subtly done, a good example of the grape.

Herbicides and machine harvesting but a lovely setting

On to reds and the Pinot Noir 15 was very good, one of the best Pinots of the trip so far, fresh, fruity, juicy with good length. The Pinot Noir 2010 had already gone the way of so many older NZ Pinots, all forest floor and mushroom. It obviously appeals to Kiwis but not to this Rosbif. Neither did the Central Otago sourced Pinot Te Wahi 15, there was some rose scented fruit but this was very oaky and tannic, again not my style. There was also a very good Late Harvest Riesling, good Riesling notes, acidity balancing the sweetness.

Interestingly, Cloudy Bay has made the decision to reduce the varieties it uses. Riesling and Pinot Gris are out, they will concentrate on Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir alone. Cloudy Bay owns 50% of the vineyards it uses to make its wines and works with growers for the other 50%. This is common in the region, growers provide the grapes, the winery gives instructions on how they want the vines to be tended.

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There are wineries which grow all their own grapes and I visited two, both organic producers. I had tasted Fromm wines before, notably a very nice Sauvignon Blanc La Strada 2016. On this visit we mainly concentrated on reds. Pinot Noir La Strada 16 was a little unforgiving to my taste, not much fruit showing. For once the older wine was more to my taste, the La Strada 10 being more open and balanced, red fruits and just a little earthiness. On to two single vineyard Pinot Noirs. Churton 16, more weight and concentration than the entry level, still very young and tight. Quarters 16 was different, more spicy and fruity, grown on more clay soils than the Churton. On to Syrah and I liked the La Strada 16 with its peppery, spicy notes and more friendly flavours. The Fromm Syrah 16 was more concentrated with rich pepper notes, quite tannic still, I am sure this will be very good. I must add that Syrah has been my favourite grape amongst red wines in New Zealand.

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Fromm vines

Two white wines to finish, the highlight of the tasting for me was the Riesling Spätlese 17, well named being very much in the style of a Mosel spätlese, lovely apple fruit with zingy acidity and a lick of sweetness too. Finally, a Late Harvest Gewurztraminer 15 had classic aromas of the grape, spicy and floral but the wine had very fresh acidity cutting through the sweetness. Apparently this variety suffered in 2018 but I liked this wine, very well made.

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My favourite visit of the day though was undoubtedly to Hans Herzog. The domaine is next to the Wairau river on one vineyard which the Herzogs have planted with lots of different grape varieties. They have planned this carefully so that sunnier aspects get grapes such as Montepulciano and Tempranillo whilst cooler areas are planted with white grapes and Pinot Noir. The plan makes for fascinating reading.

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This is a biodynamic domaine and only a small amount of SO2 is added at bottling, these would qualify as natural wines for many people though I was surprised that harvesting is mostly by machine. There is a beautiful restaurant in the gardens next to the vines, with a splendid trellis supporting lots of different grape varieties and notes to explain each one. A treat for those, like me, who love to study ampelography. The food was very good too.

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The Herzogs are Swiss and Hans comes from a family of winemakers of long standing. It was a young Swiss woman, Petra, who gave us a very generous tasting. Wild Gewurztraminer 2017 is named after its open fermentation and longer period on skins. It had vibrant aromas in the glass, spicy and dry flavours, a real treat and a sign of good things to come. Pinot Gris 16, 5 days on skins, was apple and pear notes, lovely and fresh.

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Very ripe Roussanne grapes 

The Sauvignon Blanc 15 was made on lees which are stirred and there was a yeasty aroma to the wine which was very dry and quite textural, one of those rare wines which actually tasted of …. grapes. Very good. A sparkling rosé wine to follow, Cuvée Therese made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with red fruit notes and a dry finish. Finally Gruner Veltliner 14, yellow in colour, pear and quince aromas and lovely texture and clean finish, lovely.

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On to the reds. Pinot Noir 2011 was macerated 18 days on skins, aged for two years in bottle. My favourite Pinot Noir of New Zealand so far, fresh, vibrant spicy red fruit with a balancing acidity and complexity and gentle tannins. This is how Pinot Noir should be in my opinion. Tempranillo 14 was a lovely surprise. This is not a grape I usually like that much but this example was just lovely. The light red fruity notes of a young Rioja but without any oaky notes even though it was aged in barrels for 22 months. Energetic, lively, smashable. Spirit of Marlborough 09 is a Bordeaux style wine made from Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 26 months in barrel and then more years in bottle. Again this would not be my favourite style of wine but somehow this works. Finally, and definitely worth waiting for, was the Nebbiolo 2013. Petra told us that this was the wine which is opened as a treat at the end of harvest, only one barrel was made. It is a stunning wine, easily my favourite in this New Zealand trip. Aromas of rose and fresh tropical fruits (yes in a red wine) and then, amazingly, hints of peach and apricot as well as red fruits. Light in the mouth yet with concentrated, long flavours. I loved this wine and was very impressed by the range, there is a real energy and vivacity in them. So different to a lot of the more commercial wines produced in the area and, hopefully, a sign that quality will win through.

Ampelography lesson over lunch, perfect!


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A Tour Down Under, Nelson and West Coast

1200 miles (1900km) in a week amongst some of the most beautiful scenery. Yes, a long way and with winding roads not a quick route but, my oh my, it was good.

We criss-crossed from Queenstown via Franz Josef to Christchurch, Hanmer Springs and then Nelson on the north coast of South Island. The Franz Josef and Fox glaciers were one of the main attractions and we did see them but we had the only day of heavy rain in a month and so could not get to them. Nonetheless the journey, through mountain ranges, rainforest and limestone valleys was spectacular.

Christchurch is a city recovering from earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 which caused 185 deaths and much damage. CCTV footage in the Quake City exhibition showed just how frightening things were. The Cathedral was the most prominent building to be damaged and it still stands looking forlorn, work will start in the next few months to take it down and then rebuild. Meanwhile an amazing ‘cardboard’ Cathedral is serving parishioners made from shipping containers, large cardboard rolls and plastic sheeting.

Hanmer Springs was a very relaxing spa village in the hills to the NW of Christchurch, we passed through part of the Waipara Valley wine region to get there. And, so, on to Nelson. A compact city with a central area containing restaurants and bars etc, I can recommend Urban for its modern, sharing tapas style but most of all The Cod & Lobster with an excellent value fish and seafood sharing plate.

Pinot Noir grapes still on vine

Nelson is a wine region but wine is not the only focus. This is a region of rich agriculture, fruit in particular, sheep and cattle too. Interestingly it is home to a rich tradition of growing hops for brewing beer and they have an excellent worldwide reputation. Wine is a relative newcomer to this farming and growing history but is making an impact already.

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I have bought cases of Neudorf wine in the UK and have always rated them highly. It was therefore, a good opportunity to visit the winery in the hills to the West of Nelson. We tasted a few of the wines, it was very busy being Easter Saturday and their restaurant was doing a roaring trade in the sunshine. I must blame Jeff Coutelou for changing my taste in wines. I found the wines very precise and well made but I wasn’t excited by them even the Rieslings which I have always particularly enjoyed. The older Moutere Pinot Noir 2010 was richer and more fruity than many of the Otago Pinots of the last week. These are good wines, undoubtedly, probably not my personal style these days.

I also went to visit an organic producer, Mahana Estate, also in the Moutere hills.  We tasted a good range of white and red wines as well as a Clairet style light red. The wines are unfined and unfiltered, made using biodynamic methods and only lightly sulphured at bottling. The wines had a freshness and energy which I have found lacking in many NZ wines. The estate is experimenting with techniques such as open fermentation to produce wines such as the ‘Feral’ white. The wines are made in a modern winery,  complete with grassed roof and using gravity fed cuves. We ate a delicious lunch in the restaurant looking over the hills and the vines covered, as ever, by nets.

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I tasted other Nelson organic wines from producers such as Greenhough and Richmond Plains which were quite pleasing but Mahana certainly hit the right notes more than the others, to my palate. Time to move on again, to the largest of New Zealand’s wine regions, Marlborough.


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A Tour Down Under, Otago

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On to New Zealand with an interesting flight into Queenstown, mountains either side of the plane as we came into land. Any qualms were soon allayed by the region we were in, Otago is simply one of the most beautiful regions I have ever visited. Lakes, mountains, unusual wildlife, small towns, little villages. Undoubtedly tourism keeps the economy buoyant, Queenstown itself is a busy town of 16,000 residents, which population doubles every night with visitors.

Otago is a relatively new vineyard region. There had been tentative plantings from the 19thC but when Northern Ireland born Alan Brady planted a first commercial vineyard in the Gibbston Valley in the early 1980s he was mocked for being a dreamer. Yet Brady had realised that at a latitude of 45˚C South the area was at a similar level to Burgundy at 45˚C North. Success followed as did other growers and Otago is now widely regarded in the wine world as one of the most promising, up and coming wine regions. Pinot Noir dominates (that Burgundy parallel) with 75% of planting, whites make up the rest with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc (just 2%), Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer amongst the most common grapes.

                   Fighting two problems: small turbines to combat frost in the air                                      and netting to stop wax eyes from eating and damaging grapes

Within the region there are sub regions which do have different climates and geology. The Gibbston Valley, for example, is relatively cool and on schist whereas other major growing areas such as Bannockburn are warmer, more open and on sandy, silty soils. This has an effect on growing time, ripeness etc. We must also bear in mind that the wines being produced are from relatively young vines, most are around the 20 year old mark and will mature and produce more complex wines with age.

Not knowing the region at all I decided to take one of the wine tours available and travelled with Appellation Wine Tours, which proved to be a wise decision. We were taken to 4 wineries in different areas of the region and tasted over 20 wines, not to be recommended if driving. Our guide Gavin was very well informed, enthusiastic, patient and extremely helpful with a good sense of humour.  He certainly made it a very good day for everybody. Lunch was provided too, a very good platter (vegetarian in my case) with a glass of choice at Wooing Tree winery in Cromwell.

The main domaines we visited were Mt. Rosa, Domain Road and Kinross which is a type of co-operative where 5 different wineries sell their wines.

Mt. Rosa is in Gibbston Valley and we tasted a range of whites and Pinot Noirs. The Sauvignon Blanc was textural and not your typical Kiwi SB, nice. I was unconvinced by the Pinot Gris but liked the Pinot Blanc 2017 with its fruity, melon flavours. Trish MacKenzie kindly poured 3 vintages of the Pinot Noir, it was interesting to see vintage difference from this relatively cool area. The 2016 was juicy and fruity, the 14 starting to show forest floor, earthy flavours. The 15 was much more austere, apparently it snowed at the end of harvest time. The Pinot Noir Reserve 2016 was more intense with oak influence.

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Domain Road is in Bannockburn on a hillside with lovely views. The vines are covered in nets as most are in New Zealand because of the Wax Eye bird which eats grapes but also leaves some leaking juice so that rot can set in. They are a real nuisance. The Estate Pinot Noir 14 was plummy but already showing those earthy notes and the French oak was apparent. Single vineyard Defiance 2016 was more juicy and serious with the oak influence again. 2013 single vineyard Paradise Reserve was darker still. The best of the grapes are taken and given extra barrel ageing. However, the whites were much more to my taste to be honest. The Sauvignon Blanc 15 had typical NZ flavours but was subtle, concentrated and very clean, one of the best examples from NZ that I recall. Defiance Chardonnay 16 was barrel aged and though the wood gave crème brulée aromas the flavours were more subtle, stone fruits and spice. I liked it a lot. On to two Rieslings. Water Race 16 is very dry with only 9gms of residual sugar, not very aromatic but lime and citrus flavours more than compensated. Very refreshing. Duffer’s Creek 15 has 20gms of residual sugar and in an off dry style. Very appley on the nose with lime flavours again and a touch of sweetness. I very much liked this and bought some too!

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Finally, on to Kinross. Coal Pit wines have been running since 2006, we tasted their Sauvignon Blanc 2011. Interesting to taste an older SB and what an aroma, sweetcorn! Classic NZ Sauvignon Blanc flavours. Hawkshead Riesling 2015 was organic and has 11gms of residual sugar. Very kerosene on the nose but clean, citrussy flavours. Domain Thomson’s Surveyor Thomson Pinot Noir 13 is made on biodynamic principles. This 5 year old wine was very mushroomy and savoury. Fascinating to taste Valli Pinot Noir Gibbston Valley 2016 made by Grant Taylor, 4 time winner of Decanter’s Best Pinot Noir in the world award. The fruit was apparent but there were already savoury notes and quite apparent oak. Finally, and appropriately, The Wild Irishman Macushla Pinot Noir 15. This is made by Alan Brady and with minimal intervention, a slight use of SO2 on bottling but otherwise a classic natural wine. Interesting to see that this was the favourite wine of others in the group with its wilder, spicy freshness. The godfather of Central Otago still leading the way!

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I had the opportunity to taste other wines during my time in Queenstown. Carrick winery is organic and its Chardonnay 15 was one of the best examples of that grape that I have tasted in some time, delicious. Of other Pinots, I liked Prophet’s Rock 15 more than Two Paddocks 11. And that highlighted an issue for me. I found many of the Otago Pinots were showing very savoury flavours at a relatively early age. My personal taste is towards the fruitier Pinot and so, the younger bottles appealed more to me. There was also a lot of oak use, not all subtle either. So maybe it’s just me but I wasn’t completely convinced by Otago Pinots, much more so by the white wines. I go against expert opinion in saying this I have to say.

This really is the most stunning wine region and as vines mature and winegrowers learn more and more about their terroir and vines it will certainly produce increasingly good wines. I would be very, very happy to return and find out for myself one day.