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In the days before launching this site I sat and pondered for hours, staring blankly at my computer screen, wondering, “where was I going to start?” What wine should I write about for my first ever official post? I considered a Mexican wine taste off, or a Napa valley Grignolino, or maybe even an icewine post (all to come by the way), but in the end, I decided to begin at the beginning. Folks, this is where my love of wine started, this is where it all began, here is my story, and it begins in New Zealand.
New Zealand holds a very special place in my heart. Years ago I was invited to attend an information session on the wines that the restaurant I worked as a host at offered. Being underage at the time I was not allowed to taste the wines, however I was given the opportunity to smell them all. As the instructor carried on in a language that made almost no sense to me, talking about mysterious grapes I’d never heard of, and places I’d never been, I examined the wines before me in wonder. They all looked and smelled different, at the time I could not pinpoint in what way, but as I sniffed my way through the numerous glasses set in front of me I began to understand why people made such a big deal out of finding just the right bottle.
And then it happened. The instructor picked up a bottle from the table, leaving her corkscrew behind, and with one twist of her wrist spun off its screw cap closure. She announced that this was Kim Crawford’s Sauvignon Blanc, and it was from somewhere called Marlborough on the island of New Zealand. It was love at first sniff, with its incredible passion fruit, fig, and fresh cut grass aromas, it was so unique, so complex, so unlike anything I had ever smelled before, and it was at that moment that I knew that this was something I had to get into.
Since then, New Zealand has become one of my favorite New World wine producers. The country excels at everything from Riesling to Cabernet and its unique, long and narrow geography means that almost no matter where you plant, there is going to be a great coastal influence to make a perfect climate for grape growing. But today I’d like to focus in on two of New Zealand’s most popular regions, Marlborough and Martinborough. New Zealand is made up of two main islands. Marlborough is located on the North East end of the South Island, and Martinborough is at the Southern tip of the North Island.
Marlborough is a scenic river valley whose first commercial vintage was in 1973. The area has gravelly soils that allow for great drainage and limited crop yields. The summers are hot and dry but the nights can be cool. To counter the nighttime chill, many of the vineyards are planted with the vines firmly nestled in between big, naturally present stones that absorb heat from the sun and reflect it back at the vines, creating a more temperate environment.
Martinborough, although not quite as well known, is an intriguing little region. Climatically it is very similar to Marlborough, but the thing that I find most interesting about it is the region’s collective viticultural mindset. You do not see very many large producers here, the area is dotted with family owned and boutique wineries. I’m a big fan of these smaller scale wineries, they’re really the ones that have the most control over their product (direct hands on supervision) and a real passion and concern for quality. I’d highly recommend that you try any wines you can get a hold of from here, I’ll bet you’ll be impressed.
On to the wines!
Wine #1: Oyster Bay 2006 Marlborough Pinot Noir
I was excited to try this wine because it came from a great vintage. The weather in 2006 was cool enough in the spring that the vine yields were kept low, however was warm enough during the rest of the year to perfectly ripen the fruit. Another thing that I thought was cool about it was that it was fermented in stainless steel and new and old French oak barrels. This combination should have given the wine a subtle oak influence, while still preserving the freshness of the fruit, let’s see if it did…
This wine had a light strawberry red color and a delicate viscosity. There was a lot going on on the nose, with a core of sweet, red fruit and multiple layers of just ripe strawberry, a faint rosemary character, a bit of paprika, and a curious shisha (the sweet, syrupy tobacco smoked in Hooka pipes) component. The taste is bright and fresh with cherry candy, then some soft woodsy, mossy tones, and a delicate herbal finish. This is a fairly straightforward pinot with pleasant brightness and a nice light to medium body, nothing spectacular but a well made, easy drinking and friendly wine.
Pairing: Pinot Noir is the best red wine in the world for pairing. Because this is a lighter variety I would probably not serve it with a steak (which I think you can absolutely do with some of the big new world Pinots our there) but it would go great with anything from pork tenderloin to salmon (one of my personal favorite dishes with pinots like this.)
85 Points. Worth Drinking.
Te Kairanga calls itself one of the founders of Martinborough and strongly believes that it is a part of the region’s identity. In the glass this wine is darker and more deep in appearance than the Oyster Bay. The nose is also darker with more complexity and lots of intriguing spicy, smoky tones mingling with sour red cherries, cracked black pepper, and very dark chocolate. The aroma almost smells like an old world syrah had been poured into the mix. On the palate there are lush, sweet raspberries and blackberries, pomegranate seeds, black pepper, and some soft cacao powder on the end. This wine is richer, more refined, and more complex than the Oyster Bay and it had a much darker profile.
Pairing: This is the kind of pinot noir that can go with your bigger dishes like steak and grilled meats.
89 Points. Worth Drinking.
Please Leave a Comment:
The Grapevine: What is your experience with New Zealand wines, or (if you haven’t had any) with Pinot Noir?