Tag Archives: Terroir

Not Just Sauv, Part 1.

nz hearts

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

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.

line up- not just sauv 1

Get Some-

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

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Reign of Terroir

terroir bottles

Terroir (Tehr-Wahr, if you say it all french and sexy)  is without a doubt the most overused word in wine. Overused, over criticized, over worshiped and over defined. Literally, terroir translates to ‘The Earth, the Soil’,  but in wine we find it loosely encompassing the character, quality and personality of the wine- as defined by not just the ‘Earth’ but also, the climate, weather, slope and hand of the winemaker. Definitions and factors that influence ‘Terroir’ are thrown around by experts and novices alike, and more often than not it’s major BS . Littered through labels, press releases and journalism, we see it worse as the ‘it’ term of the unforgiving wine snob, Exhibit A:

“Darling, this Chateau Latour is incredible, just taste that Terroir”

But enough of the arrogancy, if a haiku can’t sum it up nicely nothing will.

That which makes a place

unique, that produces wines

unrepeatable.

-Christopher Watkins Manager, Author and Host of 4488: A Ridge Blog at Ridge Vineyards

A French word, Terroir is likened most to French wines – where a long history of winemaking has resulted in a tipple that tastes of the place, say your premium Bordeaux, or Cote de Beaune. Centuries of viticulture and winemaking have moulded a grape, technique and style that all bundles up into a bottle that tastes purely of its own. Constantly,  for reasons many can’t explain (the truly puzzled love to talk about soil, straight up wrong) , the wines take on their own unique characteristics- say the flint in a Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc, or the minerality of a Chablis.  Terroir is mystery and luxury the old world commands and with the highly reputable label, like most things in the world, demands an equally high price tag, Major dollar bills.

What was a term of old world prestige, now has some major competition. Even New Zealand’s cat-piss Sauv Blanc is recognised by many as having a taste of place, or in Australia’s s Barossa Valley, where Shiraz truly tastes like nothing in the world- the heat drenched valley floor lends its way into a wine that is baked, hot and big – a pure expression of place, in a place regarded as a baby of the wine world. Despite its history, it now seems that what defines Terroir changes as frequently as the vintages that characterise them.

The secret to Terroir is simply not to be a dick about it. Nowadays you can attach the word to anything, and some wine snob will nod, umm and ahh. Winemakers may rant on about how their new projects are displaying terroir already, just three vintages in and they’ve got that marked character? It doesn’t quite add up, and once again, the umms and aaaahs will ensue. the above is all testament to the fact that the word is thrown around like its going out of fashion, and the more it is thrown, the less prestige is associated with it.

Continuing with Terroir etiquette- how best to utilise it? with all the snobbery that clings to it, terroir can be used by the most casual of drinkers,  and it all has to do with food. When it comes to the concepts and successes of matching food and wine, how could we possible go past sake. The rice wine finds its masterpiece pairing with sashimi, with high amino acids derived from the production of traditional sake, accentuating sashimi’s s rich umami elements. But say you’re byo-ing it up and bring a beer or wine to drink with your sashimi- and the whole experience is different- you lose the aromatic savoury softness and instead are left with, well, fish. Pungent and not one bit enjoyable. Ancient japanese proverb teaches that ‘sake doesn’t get into fights with food’, and all around the world terroir leads its way to local pairings of similar virtue. Emilia-Romagna, in Central Italy is known best for it’s cheese, Parmigiano Regianno, and a ham, Prosciutto di Parma, and funnily enough, the wine that suits it better than any other  in the world- red, frothy Lambrusco, the local wine of the same region. And the pattern continues almost eternally – Melon Blanc from the Loire finds perfection with the seafood of its port, and the tannic structure of a New Zealand Pinot Noir faces up to beef and lamb with absolute elegancy.

Its hard to define whether terroir really matters in the fast paced world that is that of wine today- modern winemaking techniques and innovation beyond its time is shaking up common conceptions- the span of what can be created is far and wide. but despite this a lot of the world holds on strong to tradition, and the common grape, in the common environment, can conjure up extraordinary things. What I like to think is the beauty of terroir is that it is more often than not unpredictable and unexplainable, not the marketing BS that is exploited today, and the roots of a wine, a vine and a tradition can shine through.

Bottles of Terroir Left to Right: Piemonte, Italy. Lavaux, Switzerland. Cafayete, Argentina. Barossa Vally, Australia. Central Otago, New Zealand. 

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