Sue Courtney's blog of Vinous Ramblings
wine, food and other vinous topics from New Zealand
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Welcome to Sue Courtney's web log (blog) of vinous ramblings. It's my on line journal and an adjunct to my website www.wineoftheweek.com which is for more formal tasting notes and articles.
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Archive: May 2010
May 31st: South Island Redux - Part 9 - Marlborough
May 30th: South Island Redux - Part 8 - Nelson Day 2
May 27th: South Island Redux - Part 7 - Nelson Day 1 cont'd
May 15th: South Island Redux - Part 6 - Nelson Day 1
May 11th: South Island Redux - Part 5 - Driving the Wairau Valley
May 9th: South Island Redux - Part 4 - Driving the Awatere Valley
May 7th: South Island Redux - Part 3 - Canterbury
May 6th: South Island Redux - Part 2 - Mt Beautiful
May 5th: South Island Redux - Part 1 - Yealands
May 2nd: Weekend Catchup
May 1st: Autumn Colours at Kumeu River
South Island Redux - Part 9 - Marlborough
It was April 7th and our last day in the South Island. We had caught up again with the rest of the intrepid MG'ers the night before after travelling to and from Farewell Spit lighthouse earlier that day, touching the most northern point of the South Island at the aptly named Cape Farewell on the way. The other car fanatics were going to the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre and the Knights of the Sky exhibition but I had another museum to see.
At the Wither Hills cellar door in New Renwick Road is a 'Vine Library' and at the time of year we visited it was a living museum of grape varieties. With harvest off to a slow start in the region, the timing was almost perfect. Except for a researcher taking some of the grapes for analyses, the rest were left to the likes of tourists like to me to photograph for posterity.
Considering the vines hadn't been netted, most of the grapes were in remarkably good condition and all but two of the 30 rows were named.
We must have spent about an hour here, walking through the vines taking photographs, tasting the grapes and talking to the young research scientist who was collecting sample off several rows for some kind of ripening curve experiment.
This, for me, was unique - seeing 30 different varieties within 100 metres of each other. I've now my own little library of grape photographs - I'm sure they'll some in handy one day.
Upstairs in the grand building, the tasting room was busy so we didn't dally inside, instead we headed over to the northern side of the valley to Rapaura Road and the Saint Clair cellar door for lunch.
I guess what was most disappointing here was that only the 'blue' label wines were available to buy by the glass to accompany meals - and I was so looking forward to a glass of Saint Clair Pioneer Block 9 'Big John Riesling' but it was not to be.
I ordered Smoked Salmon Bagel served with citrus cream-cheese, avocado and salad and a glass of Saint Clair Marlborough Pinot Gris to accompany it. The food was delicious but the wine, quite frankly, was far too cold and overall a little boring. It was well-matched with the food, however.
Neil ordered Marlborough Mussels served with lemon, caper aioli and foccacia bread and a glass of Saint Clair Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2009 to accompany it. I wanted his wine, it was so fresh, delicious and tangy. Pity I don't eat mussels, otherwise it would have been my pick too.
The cafe was peaceful with a quiet little rose-lined courtyard and a bird bath attracting the sparrows for their daily wash. Pity the staff had to sit around the corner and smoke!
It was soon time to leave because we had a date with Monte Stello, the Bluebridge Cook Strait ferry that was taking us to the North Island and the final leg of our journey home.
South Island Redux - Part 8 - Nelson Day 2
If you want to be a wine tourist over an Easter Weekend, my advice is have something else on your itinerary to do because the winery you planned to visit just might be closed. Wineries are not allowed to open on Good Friday but since 2004 they have been allowed to on Easter Sunday for sales of their own wine. I remember how excited everyone was when that happened but it seems the seven-year itch has kicked in. Our best laid plans on paper for a Nelson tour were stymied when every telephone call I made on both Easter Saturday and Easter Sunday morning ended not being answered or going to answerphone. And those answerphone pickups where I left my phone number and a message asking about Easter Sunday opening, were not replied to. So come Easter Sunday, we decided to wing it and see.
Te Mania Estate (www.temaniawines.co.nz)
Leaving the suburb of Richmond and heading west for an overnight stop at Golden Bay, things were looking promising with an open sign at Te Mania in McShane Road. Te Mania has always had a cellar door, with partner Richmond Plains, but this is a new cellar door further north along the road from the old one. Now amongst the vines and just in front of the winery, it opened August 2009. It costs 50c for each tasting sample although the Wine of the Month is free. Espying owner Jon Harrey heading down the driveway towards the winery I asked the cellar door lady to let him know we were there.
In the winery we had a quick look-see with Jon and winemaker Steve Gill, who was spending Easter Sunday taking care of the new ferments. We tasted juice, destined for Rosé, picked just the day before - a cloudy raspberry colour and smelling of grape skins it was lovely and sweetish but not too sweet with a thick fruit nectar texture and a peppery bite to the flavour.
We also tasted from a just-starting-to-ferment tankful of Pinot Noir - destined for Te Mania Reserve - impressive.
Waimea Estate (www.waimeabrands.com)
We had left a message on the Waimea Estate answerphone with a booking for an early lunch. We hadn't heard back but turned up anyway to find we were not expected. A birthday group was booked on the covered outside terrace but we could take one of the tables on the sandy gravel, nestled up to the grapevines, with an umbrella for shade. It was a beautiful day to do so. But first we decided to taste some wines. It costs $5 to taste 3 wines but as the website (now the old website) stated free tasting for restaurant diners. Cellar door guy didn't know of that promotion but after I asked him to check, he realised that we, the wine tourists, were correct.
I'm a huge fan of the Waimea Estate wines and the wines I tasted didn't disappoint
Waimea Estate Riesling 2006 - off dry, weighty, lovely acid balance. Excellent
Waimea Estate Pinot Gris 2006 - quite citrussy with a creamy softness
Waimea Estate Chardonnay 2006 - Oaky, creamy, buttery - still drinking superbly.
Waimea Estate Syrah 2008 - rich, succulent, plumy, dry and peppery. Very good.
Waimea Estate Barrel Select Pinot Noir 2007 - spicy, savoury, soft and gamey with strawberry tones.
Lunch - well that was interesting. Each food course had a recommended wine match so we chose the wines we wanted to drink (dry Riesling 2006 and Gewurztraminer 2008) and then the food to match (lemongrass chicken and Mediterranean tagliatelle respectively). The wines were good, the food was good but the food and wine combos were unusual.
The highlight was asking cellar door guy what the grapes were. He said he didn't know and then, quite surprisingly, he snapped off a big fat bunch to present to us. The grapes were deliciously tangy Sauvignon Blanc with the quintessential sweet sour thing going on. The best dessert you could ever have for lunch at a winery just before vintage.
We passed Seifried, which was open, but decided to head to Rimu Grove. It was closed. Woollaston Estate in the Mahana district was open but it was a Jazz Day and there were cars and people everywhere. When we drove through the complex a sign pointing to the cellar door and gallery indicated it was closed for tastings. We didn't have time to sit on the lawn and drink wine, not with the Takaka Hill to negotiate later.
Heading through the upper inland road rather than negotiate the roadworks on the lower road, we passed Glovers, Himmelsfield, Ponoma Ridge Vineyard and perhaps the prettiest of them all - Ruby Bay Vineyard. All were closed. So was Atalaya Vineyard, Anchorage Wines, Redoubt Hill Vineyard and Riwaka River Estate. Perhaps we'd have more luck over the Takaka Hill, but no, Golden Bay Vineyard was also closed.
In Takaka, if you want somewhere really magical to stay, then do what we did and get a beachside cabin at Pohara Motor Camp. The self-contained cabin is quite basic for the price ($140 a night) - it is the absolute beachfront that commends the fee.
Drinks at sunset, the tide out, reflections in the tidal pools on the beach flats, finishing off the Johanneshof wines we hadn't had a chance to finish before with a creamy pate, tomato and crackers, trying to pick out the light of the Farewell Spit lighthouse where we were going the day after next.
The following day it was would take us 8 hours to travel to Collingwood, a 25-minute journey without stops. If you are around that way, recommended stops on the way are -
Tarakohe and the old wharf where you will find fossils in the boulders;
Totaranui - the first stop on the Abel Tasman Track for walkers - a challenging gravel road for drivers;
Anatoki Salmon Farm - if you don't want to go fishing, enjoy a fresh salmon lunch;
Pupu Springs and that fantastic walk through regenerating forest - the intriguing scents you smell in Pinot Noir and Syrah absolutely resonate through here;
Onekaka and the remnants of what was once a very long wharf;
Milnthorpe - for bush and coastal walks;
Collingwood - for the famous scallop pies;
And of course you have to put a day aside for the Farewell Spit Eco Tour, which was the raison d'etre for our visit to this part of New Zealand.
South Island Redux - Part 7 - Nelson Day 1 cont'd
It's hard for a wine lover to go to Nelson and not visit Neudorf Wines. It really is one of the wineries you first think of, when you think of Nelson wines. It's not surprising as 2010 was their 30th harvest and in the young New Zealand wine industry, that's just about forever.
It was late afternoon on Easter Saturday when we arrived on route to Blackenbrook and the place was buzzing. Cars and people everywhere even though there didn't seem to be anything special going on. There's no restaurant of café but you can picnic in the gardens. I put the popularity down to Neudorf Vineyard being THE place to be seen.
We found a parking space in front of a $6,995 garden sculpture by local artist, Michael MacMillan. It was the third in his 'Cultivator' series and comes complete with prunings from grapevines.
Wine tastings are free, except for the Moutere Chardonnay and Moutere Pinot Noir where a charge of $2.50 a taste applies. There's a gorgeous array of gifts, most notably six pack verticals of a range of Neudorf wines.
I tasted two wines mainly to reaffirm my previous assessments - the gorgeous Nelson Chardonnay 2008 (5 stars) and Tom's Block Pinot Noir (5 stars).
It's hard to believe they started with varieties like Muller Thurgau, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot but Chardonnay has been their signature wine since 1991. As Tim says in a recent press release reflecting about 30 vintages at Neudorf, "We had a Chardonnay in the Sydney Top 100. Australian judge Huon Hooke declared he had found a Puligny Montrachet ringer in the flight it turned out to be our Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay 91. As the then winemaker I take very little credit for this, the quality comes from the Moutere terroir. These unique sites are not yet treated with the respect they deserve but future generations will recognise and value them".
The Pinot Noir is quality too and although the 'Moutere' is the benchmark, Tom's Block at $29 is definitely value for money.
From a tasting note in February, when the wine outshone the others in a blind line-up of Pinot Noirs in the under-$30 price range, Neudorf Tom's Block Pinot Noir 2008 is funky smelling - very pinotesque. A classy wine - bright, earthy and savoury with a touch of chocolate covered strawberry and bittersweet cherry. Dry, yet juicy with fine textured velvety tannins. Like walking through dense regenerating forest and ascending to the plateau, this is a wine with a long way to go.
South Island Redux - Part 6 - Nelson Day 1
An email from Daniel and Ursula Schwarzenbach of Blackenbrook Vineyard arrived in the Inbox while we were in Christchurch. It said ... The Blackenbrook Open Days at the beginning of the year were so popular, we just have to bring them back once more this season! Our winery will be open for tasting on Easter Saturday, 3 April 2010 and again on Easter Monday, 5 April 2010 1pm 5pm.
I sent an email back. "We will be in the area on one of those days. Would love to visit."
It was late on Easter Saturday when we arrived and Daniel had just pulled in. He'd been out in the vineyard checking Brix levels. The Gewurztraminer, the first off the vines this year, had been picked only two days before. The other grapes were still revelling in the early autumn sun.
Daniel showed us around the winery. It had been built in 2005 for the 2006 vintage. It is set into the hill and inside it was lovely and cool. A grape receival area was on the upper level. Small volume fermentation tanks for the Pinot Noir were on wheels so they could be rolled into a chiller room. All the grapes are whole bunch pressed and gravity is used to feed the must into tanks or barrels below. It looked like an extremely well thought out winery that Daniel could run mostly on his own with just one other person to help him in peak times. As we wandered around, we had tasted the delicious new Gewurztraminer juice from the tank - it was gorgeously sticky and sweet.
Ursula (pictured right with Daniel and their son) was looking after customers. Gewurztraminer grapes were on the table for tasting as well as the wines. The grapes were ripe and juicy with the characteristic musky spice that is the varietal signature of Gewurztraminer wine.
Blackenbrook Gewurztraminer 2008 is spicy and grapey - you can taste the flavours of the grapes while fermentation has enhanced the forward spiciness.
Blackenbrook Reserve Gewurztraminer 2008 is texturally complex and viscous. While shy on the nose and the spice is more restrained in the palate, it has great mouthfeel and weight with a honey feel to the finish.
Blackenbrook Pinot Gris 2009 is full-bodied, textural and viscous with great emphasis on the pear-like fruit. Concentrated and gently sweet it is a great follow-up to the gorgeous 2008 rendition - check out this Wine of the Week review.
Blackenbrook Riesling 2007 has lovely mouthfeel, richness and is picking up some kero notes. There's a nice touch of spicy zest to the mainly citrus fruit and pineapple fruit with a hint of ginger and it finishes dry.
Wow - three awesome aromatic styles in a row but there was more to come.
Blackenbrook Chardonnay 2008 is creamy and buttery with a touch of pineapple and tropical guava and a savoury backbone. I wrote 'Good Chard!' and noted it was rather easy drinking.
Blackenbrook Montepulciano 2008 is vivid in colour and the viscous texture is layered with tannins. A floral wine with hints of violets, briar rose hips and an earthy brambly depth, it has creamy oak with a savoury finish.
If you are ever in Nelson on one of Blackenbrook's Open Days, it really is worthwhile dropping in and buying some of these delicious wines to drink or cellar. Best way to find out when they are open, is to navigate to their website and sign up to their newsletter.
South Island Redux - Part 5 - Driving the Wairau Valley
When you are travelling around wine country in the midst of harvest watch out for roads slippery with grape juice and don't get too impatient if you get stuck behind a caravan of grape harvesters, hopper bins and portaloos on trailers.
In early April the Marlborough grape harvest had still not yet begun in earnest. Most wineries were hand picking Pinot Noir and the Sauvignon Blanc was still on the vines. So the holdups were few as we left Blenheim to head westwards to Nelson and Golden Bay.
Having driven the full length of the Awatere Valley coming into Blenheim from the south, we decided to drive the length of the Wairau Valley as we headed west to Nelson to determine exactly where the most inland vineyard in this valley was. But first we visited a couple of wineries and took a drive up the Waihopai Valley to check out the 'big balls'.
We stopped at River Farm Wines in Godfrey Road in the spot where Kathy Lynskey Wines used to be. Lots of reviews from critics pasted to the wall but disappointingly, none of mine (shrug). Pinot Noir picking was going on in the adjacent vineyard.
Next vineyard stop was Mahi Wines on Terrace Road at the former Cellier Le Brun. I was hoping to catch up with Brian Bicknell but he was not there. Retasted the gorgeous Mahi Twin Valleys Chardonnay 2008, which I had recently reviewed as a Wine of the Week.
As we headed up Highway 63 toward Wairau Valley township and Nelson Lakes, I pointed out the massive development that is Winegrowers of Ara to Neil. We were now travelling up the valley and where the road was above the vineyard terraces, the tops of the vines were like a carpet of green.
Last time we had done this, a few years before, the vineyards were on the Blenheim side of Wairau Valley township. This time they were well beyond. As we encountered vineyard after vineyard on both sides of the valley, my page of "last sighted" vineyards become two pages of scribbles as I exclaimed, "Oh here's another one".
We finally left the most inland vineyard behind 44 kilometres from the beginning of State Highway 63 at Renwick and 17.5 kilometres west of Wairau Valley township. It's was just 2 kilometres shy of the Wye River Bridge. Mind boggling to say the least. All new plantings and struggling after a not so good summer. Frost fans are de rigour.
The companies behind these plantings are Matakana Estate for the Goldridge brand (mostly on the north side of the road and the farthest west) and McKean Estates for the Tiki brand (on the south side). Both these companies have massive plantings in the upper valley. Here's a Marlborough Express article on the latter.
Later I found I could have saved myself all this trouble if only I had found the Marlborough District Council 2010 Viticulture Map.
South Island Redux - Part 4 - Driving the Awatere Valley
Heading north to Blenheim, the aim today was to see how far inland grapes were being grown in the Awatere Valley. The easiest way to do that, I figured, was to drive down the valley. Sounds easy but to come down, first you have to go up. But if you go up, how will you know when you have encountered the most inland vineyard and not go any further? So we decided to drive down by taking the route from Hanmer Springs through Molesworth Station, a high country road through a farm that is only open for a short length of time each year. Driving the Molesworth is an adventure in itself and in truth, was the primary objective.
Leaving Christchurch we passed through Waipara and eyes boggled at the expanse of vineyards that had sprouted from the ground since our visit four years earlier. We resisted the temptation to turn right at Stockgrove Road, along which is the renowned Pegasus Bay and turned left at the road to Hanmer Springs. We drove straight past Marble Point Vineyard this time too.
From Hanmer Springs it is 86 kilometres via Molesworth to the top of the Awatere Valley Road and then it is another 100 kilometres to State Highway One - and most of it is gravel.
After leaving the Molesworth, vowing to return another day despite a frustrating tyre problem, we travelled 69 kilometres alongside the Awatere - a stream that becomes the river that flows wide and also extremely narrow in places - before sighting our first vineyard. We had crossed the water twice but we were now on the north side of the river. The vineyard sign said "Aotea". It was still another 31 kilometres to State Highway One.
Five kilometres further on is Medway Vineyard, planted in 1996 and one of the first of the higher altitude vineyards within the valley. The netted vines looked healthy and vigorous, perhaps an indication of their age. Fortunately for a fatigued driver, established viticulture this far inland has ensured a sealed road the rest of the way.
Medway is the original vineyard for 'The Crossings' brand and is one of three Awatere Valley vineyards owned by the company. The other two, Willowbank and Brackenfield Estate, are further downstream towards State Highway One.
As we near the end of Awatere Valley Road, sometimes driving though avenues of vines and without ever spotting a cellar door, the sun is setting and grapevine harvesters are heading up the valley for a spot of night time picking.
Later we have the opportunity to try two Awatere Valley wines.
The Crossings Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2009 is a fFresh, grassy style of Sauv - vibrantly aromatic and full of flavour. It's slightly oily in texture with racy acidity and crisp citrus and tropical fruit. Like biting into a slightly under-ripe pineapple, it sends tingles down the spine then an onslaught of juicy tangelo adds sweetness and summer herbs linger with a touch of apple on the pungent and seemingly dry finish. Can't imagine anything better than this thirst-quencher served well chilled on a sun-soaked day.
Fruit is sourced from the companys three Awatere Valley vineyards and the wine is attractively packaged in a clear pale aquamarine bottle with the 'cross' on the label giving a glimpse of snow-capped Tappy (Mt Tapuaenuku) in the Inland Kaikoura Ranges. It has 13% alcohol with 2% oak. $18.99 is the recommended retail but shop around for deals.
The Crossings Awatere Valley Pinot Noir 2008 has smoky, savoury and slightly leafy aromatics supported by ripe red and black fruits. A smooth, rounded wine in the palate with ripe and seemingly sweet fruit playing a dominant role but the savoury earthy characters firmly stand their ground and the finish has a bright, spicy kick with the savoury flavours take the encore bow. A medium weight wine and specialling for far less than the recommended price of $25.99, it should have wide appeal.
Fruit is sourced from Medway and Willowbank vineyards and the wine comes in a standard, dark coloured Burgundy bottle but the cross on the label still has that glimpse of Tappy.
Find out more from www.thecrossings.co.nz - there's a map of the vineyard sites too.
The next day is Good Friday and wineries are not allowed to open. But wine is still on the agenda - Johanneshof wines in particular. Check out this blog entry.
South Island Redux - Part 3 - Canterbury
Leaving Hanmer Springs we drove to the West Coast of the South Island via the magnificent beech forest in Lewis Pass and Cape Foulwind (great name!) for an overnight stop at Greymouth where the only wine sales we found were at the supermarket. We returned to Canterbury via Lake Brunner and Arthur's Pass. As noted in this Wine of the Week, we discovered Creatively Canterbury wines when we reached the plains. With the MG Rally now in full swing, there was little time for winery visits - not until Wednesday afternoon. Few wineries are open midweek, according to wine trail map we now had in our possession.
First stop was Lone Goat Vineyard in Burnham, south of Christchurch. The vineyard was established by the Giesen family but the current owners are Matt King and Marion Seyb. I knew them both from Wine NZ shows and we had shared a table with them at the 2008 New Zealand International Wine Show dinner when they picked up the Trophy for their sumptuous Lone Goat stickie. The vineyard is adjacent to State Highway One where a sign on a trailer introduces Lone Goat but the entrance is from a parallel side road on the other side of the vineyard. Matt was down a hole trying to fix the water pump for the bore. Marion served us in the tasting room, which is open from 11am to 5pm daily and tastings are free.
I loved the Lone Goat Burnham School Road Chardonnay 2008 ($28). It is rich and fruity with nectarine and figs and lovely sweet oak. A classy wine.
It's also hard to go past Lone Goat Late Harvest Riesling 2007 - golden coloured with tongue-coating viscosity and refreshing acidity with a honey, melon and tropical fruit finish.
But we bought a bottle of Lone Goat Canterbury Riesling 2008 ($18). This is made in a crisp, off-dry style with plenty of limey acidity and a slatey finish. Fruit brims throughout and when the wine is well chilled, it is not too bracing.
We navigated our way to Sandihurst on West Coast Road. This was a favourite stop on South Island trips long past, the light blue label and the gewurztraminer still very memorable. There are new owners now and the label is black with white writing (like the sign in the photo below), which probably has more all round appeal. Sandihurst is open daily from 11am to 5pm and the white-walled tasting room is bright, clean and airy. There is art on the walls and a tranquil view of the adjacent vineyard. Wine tastings cost $5 and we could taste 5 wines.
This is the first tasting room I have encountered with Reidel O glasses and Celia, who was serving us, made a quip about the winemaker breaking too many stems.
Sandihurst Medium Canterbury Riesling 2004 ($25) was rich and honeyed with intense tropical fruit and a botrytis influence.
Sandhurst Canterbury Riesling 2006 ($24) seemed off dry with an oily texture and tropical fruit.
I liked these Rieslings even though they had been open since Sunday and it was now Wednesday. Fortunately Riesling doesn't deteriorate too much in the bottle but it would have been nice to taste what is was like when freshly opened.
Sandhurst Canterbury Gewurztraminer 2008 ($25) was a different style to what I was expecting. It was dry and austere with a ginger effect on the finish.
Sandihurst Waipara Pinot Gris 2008 (25)was opened only the day before and was the freshest wine we tasted. It is textural and off-dry with flinty notes and a richness to the finish.
Sandihurst Canterbury Pinot Noir 2006 ($40) seemed youthful. It was dry, stalky, savoury and tannic but evolved in the glass with more funky notes coming through and a long finish.
There is also a catchy label called "True and Daring" but we didn't taste it.
Sandihurst has an interesting blog that is regularly updated and reveals some fascinating winemaking secrets. As well as news about goings-on at Sandihurst you can also follow the 2010 NZ Riesling Challenge. Twelve winemakers from around the country have each received a parcel of grapes from the same vineyard in Waipara. They can make a Riesling in any style they like.
Last stop of the afternoon was Tresillian Wines in Johnson's Road, West Melton. Down the long driveway we found owner Graeme Lindsay (pictured). We asked about wine tastings and how much they cost, but darn, Graeme recognised me and waived the $10 tasting fee. We sat at a table outside the tiny tasting room and got down to the business of tasting through the range of wines.
Tresillian Pinot Noir 2006 ($28) has already been mentioned on my April 1st blog entry. In summary, it is light in colour but totally delivers in flavour.
Tresillian Rose 2009 ($20), is made from Merlot and Pinot Noir from the Sunnybrae Vineyard on Banks Peninsula. It's a fruity wine with structure and a savoury backbone.
Tresillian Chardonnay 2008 ($20) is another fruity wine with light viscosity and fresh acidity. Just perfect when sitting in the sun but trendy Meredith's Restaurant matches the wine to salmon on their degustation menu.
Tresillian Pinot Gris 2009 ($25) is made from fruit off the French Farm Vineyard on Banks Peninsula. An off-dry style with tropical fruit and yeast-induced esters that give off bananas characters, sorry Graeme, it wasn't a favourite.
However Tresillian Dry Riesling 2008 ($20) definitely was. Made from first crop fruit off Graeme's West Melton vineyard, it is rich in palate weight with ripe pear, apple and tropical fruit. Rounded on the edges yet great underlying acid drive. We bought a bottle and I'll open it in a year or so.
Next day we would be heading north again.
South Island Redux - Part 2 - Mt Beautiful
The greening of the Awatere is not only from Peter Yealand's environmental and sustainable philosophies, it is also the also literally the colour that the lush vines bring to the dry and otherwise barren valley (see photo right). The grass is dry, the soil is dry and the unsealed roads are dusty as we found out when we decided to drive the 'back route' from Yealands (see yesterday's posting) to State Highway One via Blind River and the salt works at Lake Grassmere.
Heading south on tarseal via the beautiful Kaikoura coastline, where a colony of seals played and sunbathed at Ohau Point and crayfish from Nin's Bin provided delicious sustenance (see this Wine of the Week), our next vineyard destination was Mt Beautiful.
Mt Beautiful vineyard is at Spotswood, north of Cheviot. This is about 60 kilometres south of Kaikoura township and 65 kilometres north of Waipara. The evocative name comes from an unseen hill somewhere between the vineyard and the coast. Passers-by on State Highway one can't help but notice the vines but access is along a dry dusty side road.
There are no tasting facilities but our stop wasn't to taste. It was because I asked their sales and marketing guru and my good friend, Cathy Hicks, to arrange the visit. I like to walk around vineyards. It gives a sense of place later on when enjoying the wines. Not that much walking was done. Thankfully we were driven around the 70-hectare vineyard over sometimes goat-like tracks in the company's 4WD, and because it is so undulating, the vine area is more than double the 'drawn-on-paper' size.
Seventy percent of the plantings are Sauvignon Blanc with Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling and some experimental Chardonnay vines now in the ground.
When we returned home, Cathy sent me Mt Beautiful's most recently released wines.
Mt Beautiful Pinot Gris 2009 ($23.95) is made from first crop grapes and 30% was fermented in 3-year-old oak. It has a floral overtone to the nut-infused bread, pear and apricot scents then fruit is the first impression on the palate - apricot, peach, pear and red apple come to mind. There's a vanillin creaminess and a hint of zesty, gingery spice. Full-bodied with a mouth-filling richness, it finishes dry. A flavoursome and deliciously juicy Pinot Gris, this is a beautiful wine that I think will have much appeal. Alcohol is a little heady at 14.5%, still I give it 4.5 stars.
Mt Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($21.95), is an unusually dry-styled, tropical scented and brightly flavoured sauv. The mouth is filled with juicy passionfruit and mango-like fruit with the zesty aura of tangelo and fru-ju ice blocks, a nervy herbaceous backbone and a long-lasting pungent finish. "Juicy" is the key word for this cool, refreshing, tasty wine. If you like sauv blanc, you'll love this. I rate it 5 stars.
Find out more from www.mtbeautiful.co.nz.
South Island Redux - Part 1 - Yealands
As some of you may have read in recent previous blog entries, I spent a couple of weeks in the South Island at the end of March, beginning of April. It was a MG Car Club trip but when passing through a wine region, it seems appropriate to take a little wine time.
We arrived in Blenheim, the biggest town in Marlborough Wine Country, late in the afternoon after an amazingly calm Cook Strait crossing. There is a choice of ferry providers across Cook Strait and we chose to travel Bluebridge. Our group had travelled with them four years before and I was impressed with the liaison that Kirk, their customer services guy, provided. As well, Bluebridge offered the best discount so that had something to do with the choice too.
The Santa Regina is a large passenger ferry - actually it's a small ship - with outside viewing areas at the front, side and back, and a comfortable bar for groups, like ours, to socialise in - although the day was so glorious most people stayed outside. Only downside is driving on and off the ferry - the corrugations on the ramp more juddery than on any gravel road we encountered in the 4000 kilometres of this holiday's driving. And of course the friendly farmyard smell from our four-legged woolly travelling companions was uniquely New Zealand.
If you are ever in Blenheim and holding a barbecue, I can recommend Meaters in Maxwell Road.
"We need steak and sausages for 50 people".
When do you want this?"
This at half past five at night and they closed at 6pm. But they obliged, cutting thick slices of rump, which so was tender to eat, plus pre cooked beef sausages - better than the supermarket versions - and bacon that added a tasty side to the meal. The supermarket helped out with the salads and dressing and other condiments, however.
Next morning a vineyard visit was plotted on the Courtney's route map to destination Hanmer Springs.
Leaving Blenheim to travel south over the Dashwood Pass, we were soon in the expansive Awatere Valley, where we turned left to head to the coast and Yealands Estate.
On entering the impressive building we were greeted in a very welcoming manner at a front desk. The young lady was our 'host' for our visit and took us through to the tasting room. Having worked there for just two days, her enthusiasm was infectious. Wine tasting at Yealands Estate is free and the new girl hadn't yet learnt the art of the teensy-weensy pour. Unlike the visitors served by another person, we actually got enough wine in our glasses to taste. We chose five wines from the cheaper and premium ranges setting off on our merry way.
Estate Viogner 2008 - okay
Estate Gewurztraminer 2008 - very good
Both tiers of Pinot Gris - didn't like either
Pinot Noir 2006, with an older label, selling at just $12 a bottle - rather light.
We didn't buy wine but we did take Miss Enthusiasm's suggestion of watching the 5-minute DVD in the theatrette. Here we learnt of Peter Yealand's greening of his 1000 hectares of Awatere Valley vineyard land.
This is a new cellar door on the Marlborough Wine trail, way off the beaten track but well worth the effort, if only to see this part of the wine country. From out more from www.yealandsestate.com
Back on track again after a pretty rough April for various reasons but I'm simply calling it 'North Island-itis', a malady one gets after returning home from two weeks of glorious driving on empty South Island roads.
This week's Wine of the Week is Kina Beach Reserve Pinot Noir 2007 from Nelson. I muse about the forest and its floor. Click here to read the review.
The previous Wine of the Week is the Marble Point Pinot Noir 2008 from near Hanmer Springs in northwest Canterbury. A unique location and very good Pinot - click here to read that review.
Last Wednesday we tasted all ten of Cuisine Magazine 's Top 10 Chardonnays. I liked nine of them very much. There were two ring-ins to make up the numbers, a gorgeous Chardonnay from Auckland and a stunner of a Viognier from Hawkes Bay. Click here to read those reviews.
The previous week the theme for the Wednesday Tasting was 'International Flavours' - so a New Zealand wine-free zone for once. Wines from France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Chile and of course Australia. Click here to read those reviews.
Autumn Colours at Kumeu River
As the sun sneaked over the yard arm to begin its early afternoon descent, the autumn colours of the Kumeu River's vineyard were distracting. Greens, yellows and coppers combined to paint a picture of a brilliant autumn scene.
I was at Kumeu River for a tasting of the new release Estate Chardonnay and the single vineyard Chardonnays from Coddington, Hunting Hill and Mates Vineyard. The wines being released were from the 2008 vintage but as a bonus the 2006 and 2007 vintages of each of these Chardonnays were poured to make four mini vertical trios.
2008 was introduced as a very ripe and luscious vintage but all the 2008s are extremely tight on release, although they opened up well in the glass over the course of the tasting.
The 2006s were the highlights in every trio. These wines were stunning on release and even more stunning with additional bottle age.
I was most impressed with the similarity of the Hunting Hill Chardonnays as a trio - they showed similar colour, similar aromas and similar flavours with the flavours compounding in their complexity with each additional year of age.
In summary, all of the wines were impeccable, nothing less would be expected from Kumeu River, producer of the greatest Chardonnays in New Zealand.
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