I fondly remember my two trips around the East Cape, the name given to the pregnant-like bump on the east coast of the North Island. It's a magical place. The first trip some, um, many years ago, was a real adventure. It took nine days with stops at every little bay along the way. The second trip, about seven years ago, was more of a drive with just one over night stop at Hicks Bay, which is about half way round. It's not far from here to Te Araroa, where you can detour if you wish, to the East Cape lighthouse, the easternmost place of New Zealand (not counting the off shore Chatham Islands).
From Te Araroa to Gisborne, the road goes inland for a while, but you are back at the coast when you reach Tolaga Bay. Tolaga Bay is famous for having the longest wharf in New Zealand, over 600 metres long, which you can quite clearly see on a satellite map. The wharf was built before roads gave access to the region. It's a mandatory stop on a tourist trip around the cape.
But there are vineyards in Tolaga Bay too although they usually only make the news after torrential rain, usually after a drought, causes the Uawa River to flood - like after Cyclone Bola in 1988 and the flood in 2005 that put vineyards under water..
Most of the vineyards in Tolaga Bay seem to be 'grower vineyards', supplying producers and most of those producers simply refer to their Tolaga Bay-sourced fruit as Gisborne, although single vineyard wines might ensure Tolaga Bay gets a mention..
However 'Sunrise Wines', owned by Roy and Sue Johnson, is based in Tolaga Bay on the flats just north of the settlement, and with the name 'Tolaga Bay Estate' on the label, they are getting the name out there, albeit slowly. These new vintage wines might just make the difference.
I've chosen Tolaga Bay Lightly Oaked Chardonnay 2009 as this week's Wine of the Week because it hit all the right buttons when we tasted it.
Tolaga Bay Lightly Oaked Chardonnay 2009 tempts with its appealing bouquet of peaches and pears and tastes light and fresh with a lightly oily texture that imparts a satin smooth mouthfeel. There's a touch of spice from the subtle oak, lots of juicy fruitiness and a touch of savouriness too and while light to start, this wine makes an impact on the palate with a richness to the finish and pleasing persistent flavours. A gorgeous peachy Chardonnay that is beaut served well chilled and enjoyed as a beverage wine, or with food. We accompanied the wine with chicken breasts served with a fresh peach sauce - a favourite at this time of year.
We also enjoyed the Tolaga Bay Unoaked Chardonnay 2009, which is similar in flavour profile, but with more acidity that adds a bright zestiness. Warm and just a little nutty with a smooth texture, juicy tropical fruit and the zing of peach sherbet on the finish, it's was good enough to receive a silver medal in the 2009 Air New Zealand Wine awards.
The fruit is transported to Gisborne and the Gisborne Wine Company where winemaker John Thorpe crafts the wines.
At $14.95 full retails, both are excellent value, juicy fruit driven wines - but I preferred the oak treatment (old Chardonnay habits die hard) - the oak has softened the wine and added the savoury factor.
Searching the web I see there are already discount wars going on and I've seen the Unoaked Chardonnay for as little as $8.99. You scratch your head and wonder how the producer can make any money.
Just one little quibble - on the Lightly Oaked Chardonnay, the vintage is on the back label. If you are going to buy, do make sure it is the 2009.
Check out www.tolagabaywines.co.nz for more information.
© Sue Courtney
22 Feb 2010