The biggest bore of working in a wine lounge is the knowing that our wine list could happily survive on seven wines. New Zealand knows what it does best, and it drinks what it does best- its the whole eggs in one basket situation we’ve got going on, a straight up shitload of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. But not to get too gloomy over our national wine glory, these wines are premium- new classics even- and wee old NZ deserves all the international recognition it gets, applauded for the rapid adoption of uniquely ‘NZ’ characteristics (cat-piss is one of them) that many countries take centuries to create. But really- just like how no one wants pb sammies everyday for lunch, no one wants to drink those two wines day in, day out, even when they don’t taste like piss.
Thankfully for us, there is no reason to look afar for international varieties (which includes paying for your bottle to fly business class) when winemakers here are broadening their horizons and producing new wines of premium quality that really can excite. New Zealand may not boast the history, size or variety of climates that other leaders in wine may have, and our maritime climate meant that even in this summer of drought rain threatened the last of the 2013 harvest, but lets just go ahead and pull out the old ‘big things come in small packages’ cliche- because nothing could be closer to the truth. NZ has the innate ability to constantly produce the cleanest, crispest wines in the world, and if I got started on the people, well, you’d scroll down a little then give up completely. So in brief- unbound by law, let loose by technology, driven by passion, pushing the envelope of innovation- there is no stopping the storm of wine that the people of the long white cloud can present to the world
Todays wines education begins in a small corner of France, Alsace- The aromatic capital of the world,.Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Muscat make up the Nobel Alsatian comradeship speaks of everything New Zealand wine is not- pretty, floral, aromatic, big and sometimes a little bit sweet. The four managed to weasel themselves in some time ago, and in classic NZ fashion, have now created a style of their own.
My most recent, beloved and adored (consumed) discovery is the Tupari Dry Riesling, and if you can get your hands on the 2010, grab it and run. Tupari is kiwi through and through- so fucking crisp. And the notes have everything right with riesling- fresh citrus and complex, but balanced minerality. Who would’ve thought wet stones would be so dang tasty. You wouldn’t call Tupari dry ‘inoffensive’ (sup Pinot Gris) and you wouldn’t say it has mass appeal- but that is Riesling, and its great to see Marlborough giving something new a push. In my book of the devoted Riesling fiend, Tupari Dry Riesling is a total success. If you have the balls, give it a spin.
Pinot Gris just isn’t going to be discussed, its the 4th most planted variety in New Zealand and any wine writer will laugh and tell you its boring (but totes delish, don’t get me wrong)
Back in the day I found Gewurztraminer as difficult to drink as it was to spell. But once the word was under my belt, I was able to advance from the sickly sweet 12 banger bargain bins and appreciate the god of floral and spice. Sweet has never been my jam, but its hard not to appreciate the perfumed intensity a singular grape can conjure up in a glass of Late harvest Alsatian Gewurztraminer, or the layers of aromatic complexity when Noble Rot gets involved- Gewurztraminer is in a league of its own, its liquid gold. A few weeks ago I took a tour of Kumeu River Estate, lead by Michael Brajkovich, M.W (Genius, Genius, Genius) and when it came to the tasting, stacked up against the best chardonnays in New Zealand , the 2012 Gewurztraminer (to my absolute shock) stood up to the plate and delivered something I have never experienced before. Turning back the clock to sweetness, in Alsace, the standard late harvest Gewurztraminer can have around 30 grams of residual sugar per litre in the final wine- hitting sticky sweetness, now compare this back to the Kumeu Gewurzt- where in their first, and at the moment only, batch released had an extended ferment till as low as 5 grams of residual sugar per litre. The sweet wine goes dry. Magic happens. Bursts of floral on the nose are stand by exoctic fruit and the sweet spice of ginger, complemented by acidity that holds structure magnificently. Only New Zealand could turn a floral Gewurzt crisp and fresh. and with 200 cases made-you’d want to get in as fast as possible.
Milton Estate Winery, Gisborne
Muscat possesses many personalities, all over the world- sweet, dry, still, sparkling, From France to Australia, Italy to South Africa. In Alsace, though ‘Nobel’, plantings are becoming increasingly rare. the grape itself isn’t groundbreaking- its flavour notes are best described as ‘grape’ (Eugh), but what producers can do with it, is what counts. One of my favourite expressions of the grape is the Moscato d’Asti, a DOCG of Northern Italy. The Sparkling wine of the Moscato Bianco clone of the grape is sweet and low in alcohol and on the palate has fruitiness with candied orange overlaid with floral notes. One of my favorite New Zealand producers, James Milton, has made a wonderful bubble in this style- Muskats @ Dawn. Before I start losing it over how much I love this wine lets first note, like all of Miltons wines, everything is hand harvested and bottled on site (snaps for Milton), biodynamically grown (Snaps for Milton), Certified organic (snaps for Milton), Vegan (Snaps for Milton), Clobabs it up with Kate Sylvester for the kickass label (Snaps for Milton, Kate and NZ) and is fucking delicious on a hot summer afternoon (100 more snaps for Milton). Tropical fruits, blossom floral, held by the fizzle of bubbles, its not too much, nor is it too little. Milton is one of the many (albeit best) gems to come out of wee Gizzy, and I personally cannot get enough.
Moral of the story- NZ has it going on in more ways than two. I’ve mentioned three, but each harvest brings out more and more exceptional expressions of international varieties, coming from New Zealand’s oldest and reputable producers, to the younger ‘Garagistes’ with an eye for innovation, that are giving our superstars a run for their money.
Tupari Dry Riesling, through glengarrywines.co.nz , $24
Kumeu River Gewurztraminer 2012, at the moment, you can only get it at their gorgeous Cellar Door, $35
Muskats @ Dawn 2012 by Milton, at the Gisbrone Cellar Door, Online at Milton.co.nz or Pretty much Everywhere in NZ, $22