I had the opportunity to attend the New Zealand Wine Fair this past Monday at City Winery in New York. I am no expert on New Zealand wines. I have tasted many examples of Sauvignon Blanc for which they are most known. I knew little, however, of other varieties, vineyard areas, or trends in wine making. I still am no expert but I do know more. That alone would make the event a success in my book. Getting to try a lot of nice wines and meet some interesting and informative wine makers made it a real winner.
In brief, New Zealand is a nation of islands in the Southern Pacific. The two major islands are the North and South Islands. Most of the wine regions have what is called a maritime climate, cool and a bit on the wet side. The Central Otago district on the southern end of the South Island has a more continental climate (i.e., dry hot summers and cooler wetter winters). For more information, here is a link to the web site for the New Zealand Wine Growers: http://www.nzwine.com/
I tasted around 35 wines and there was only one I didn’t care for. Even then, I can’t say it was a bad wine, just not my taste. Rather than go through each of the wines here I will pick out the wines I most enjoyed. Be aware that I started tasting white wines and by the time I got to the reds I felt my palate was more than a bit exhausted. So the shortage of reds on the list has more to do with me than the quality of the red wines available.
The first wine that impressed me was a Chardonnay from Babich wines, their Hawkes Bay 2010. The wine was cold fermented in steel so it did not have the big oaky buttery flavors made popular by California and Australian Chardonnays. It had plenty of fruit flavors but a nice balance of acidity and some mineral flavor at the end. The suggested retail price of around $14 makes it a real buy.
From there I moved on to the table for Forrest Wines. The entire range I tasted was very good and I am sorry I didn’t get back to taste their desert wine. The suggested price range of from around $17 to $28 was very reasonable.
They had two Sauvignon Blanc’s The Forrest Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, 2010 had all of the bright fruit flavors that are typical of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc but there was more subtly as well as a nice balance of minerals. It felt softer in the mouth than I expected and it had a nice long finish.
The Forrest The Doctor’s Sauvignon Blanc, Marlboro, 2011 was a very interesting wine. The alcohol content had been kept down to 9.5%. While a while ago a white wine at 9.5% would have been common, they have become almost an endangered species these days. The wine was lighter with a bit less fruit than the previous one. There was a nice balance of acidity and minerals. This would be a great aperitif wine. I also would enjoy drinking it on a hot lazy summer day.
The Forrest Pinot Noir, Marlboro, 2010 was a very nice Pinot Noir with plenty of the blackberry and raspberry fruit I have come to expect from “new world” Pinot Noir but balanced with woods and earthy flavors. I would like to taste this one again in a few years when it had time to mature a bit. I think it would be even better.
Another winery whose entire range impressed me was Staet Landt Vineyard. The standouts within the range were two Sauvignon Blanc’s and the nicest Riesling of the day.
They had two different vintages of their Staete Landt Annabel Sauvignon Blanc, Rapaura, Marlborough, the 2010 and the 2011. If I had to explain what got people excited about New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, I could hand them a glass of the 2011. It had multiple layers of fruit. At first I tasted the expected lemon and grapefruit flavors but quickly others joined in, including peach, apricot and pineapple. It was all balanced with good acidity and a nice mineral finish.
The 2010 was also very good but rather different. It had a much more creamy feel in the mouth and the flavors were a bit less upfront. It still was clearly a Sauvignon Blanc, just a different take on it. I could see this working very well where I might otherwise think to match food with a Chardonnay but wanted something different.
For the Staete Landt Dry Riesling, Rapaura, Marlborough, 2010, my first comment was “Wow!” This was a rich complex wine with a beautiful balance. I will seek out this wine.
I also wanted to mention the Hawkes Bay Chardonnay, 2011, from Distant Land Vintners. It was definitely in the big fruit forward style that I think of as “new world”. It is not a style I typically care for. This one was very well done with balance and elegance. At a suggested retail price of around $16 it put many more famous offerings in that style from California and Australia to shame.