edited by Sue Courtney
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Northland, New Zealand
When the Dalmatian immigrants arrived in New Zealand in the late 1800's, they headed up north to work the gumfields. Wherever they settled they planted grapevines and as soon as there were enough grapes, they made wine.
These days immigrants are still coming and planting grapevines, though they are Americans rather than Dalmatian (Croatian) and they are lured by the quality of other New Zealand wines they have tasted. Most choose the glamorous Martinborough, Marlborough or Central Otago regions to plant their vines but American Paul Kelly chose Karikari Peninsula in Northland for his piece of vinous paradise. The site, once scoured by gumdiggers for their resinous treasure, is not far from the Peninsula's first vineyard at Lake Ohia planted in 1890 but unlike the Lake Ohia vineyards, this is no backyard row of vines to provide vinous sustenance after a hard day's work in the fields. This is a huge operation that will have 40 hectares (101 acres) of vines when planting is complete and at its southern latitude of close to 35 degrees and 51 to 52 minutes, is the most northern commercial vineyard in the country.
Karikari Estate is part of the huge Carrington Resort that has luxury accommodation, tournament quality golf course, Black Angus stud farm, a wetlands area and 4WD beach access to the magnificent Karikari Beach, as well as wine. The development has transformed the former scrub-covered landscape into a fertile oasis and the Tuscan-styled winery, that was completed in time for the 2004 vintage, has a dazzling outlook over lush greens to the white sand dunes and the blue waters of the bay beyond.
The first Karikari Estate vines were planted in 1998, a 4.5 hectare plot with a myriad of varieties to test the site's potential. Gradually plantings have increased and now cover almost 25 hectares with a remaining 15 hectares to be planted next year. When planting is complete, there will be about 85,000 vines.
There are two whites and three reds in the range so far, all from the 2003 vintage. Kim Crawford made the wines and blended the whites while Ben Dugdale (ex Dry River and Matakana Estate) was appointed Chief Winemaker earlier this year and completed the blending of the 2003 reds.
My favourite wine was, without doubt, the Karikari Estate Silver Cloud 2003, a blend of 36% Chardonnay, 32% Semillon and 32% Viognier. This is a 'one-off' wine, there not being enough Semillon and Viognier to make 100% varietals from these grapes and the under-performing Semillon has since been replaced in the vineyard with more Viognier.
It is light gold in colour with smoky, cedary oak and obvious chardonnay characters but the other grapes add brightness and difference to the honeyed, leesy, tropical fruit flavours. It has a fat, mealy mid-palate with soft American oak adding a toasty richness and sweet fruit lingering on the bready finish. The aftertaste is long and full with just a touch of saltiness and good acidity that will cut through creamy sauces and of course it works a treat with the bountiful shellfish and seafood from the bay.
Some of the guys at the tasting didnít like this too much perhaps because there is sweetness on the finish from the stop fermented portion of Viognier. But the girls I talked to after lunch all loved it. So maybe it could be called a 'girly' wine but I donít care 'cos I'm a girl.
While this unique wine probably won't go on general distribution, it is available from the winery. It is sealed with a screwcap and carries 13.8% alcohol.
For the other wines in the portfolio, here is my synopsis.
Karikari Estate Chardonnay 2003 has toasty scented creamy oak aromas, a savoury buttery richness mid palate, spicy oak lifting the finish and lingering tropical fruit and citrus with just a touch of pineapple and a touch of lanolin as well. As with the Silver Cloud blend I detected some salinity.*
Karikari Estate Pinotage 2003 has an excellent, full deep crimson red colour. There's an earthy leathery note and pinotage rusticity marrying to plum and cherry fruit flavours with firm velvety tannins and lightly savoury oak, a dry clean finish and good length. Put it with the right food and it will work a treat this summer.
The brightly hued Karikari Estate Syrah 2003 is a dry wine with spice cupboard aromatics, some lovely underlying varietal characters of rose pepper, bitter chocolate and bright raspberry/cherry spectrum fruit. Though very tight & structured at this stage with dry tannins and a yeasty malo influence, the richness of the finish shows the potential. Viognier was added to the wine at blending. I'd like to see this develop in the bottle for a little longer.
Karikari Estate Merlot Malbec 2003 is deeply hued, almost opaque with bright cherry fruit, creamy oak, a violet/herbal note and an earthiness typical of Malbec, and cassis/plum fruit. With its firm tannins, reasonable acidity and lingering cedary oak, I'd like to see this develop in the bottle for a little longer.
The last four wines will be on general distribution and retail in the $24.95 to $26.95 range. The Silver Cloud, ex winery, is cheaper.
Karikari is a windy place, the locals say that 'karikari' means 'windy windy' and I wondered if some sea salt had got onto the skins of the grapes before they were crushed, or perhaps the saltiness was coming solely from the spiciness of the oak.
Dial up the Karikari Estate Vineyard website at www.karikariestate.co.nz to read more about this little piece of paradise.
© Sue Courtney
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