February 6th was New Zealand's Waitangi Day, commemorating the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi on 6 February 1840. What better excuse did we need to gather some thirsty participants and get drinking some of New Zealand's tasty wines? Here's what happened...
Welcome Drink - Lidl Sparkling New Zealand Wine (£8.99)
An unexpected hit of the night! The guests were welcomed with an unusual fizz from New Zealand - made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Unlike most sparkling wines that have a second fermentation in a tank or bottle, this is made using the aeration method, where bubbles are simply "injected" into the base wine.
Some guests noted that the bubbles didn't last very long, but that was a reason to drink it faster. Generally the consensus was that this was a fantastic wine for a great price, and many would buy again.
Wine One - St Clair Sauvignon Blanc 2017 (Marlborough), Majestic Wine, £12.99 (or £10.99 on a mix six)
We started our wine tour in Marlborough on the South Island, where three quarters of the country's wine production can be found. You'll find supermarkets full of Marlborough sauvignon blanc and pinot noir, but the quality can vary according to the size and nature of the winery.
Marlborough is sunny and dry, but has varied soils. The town of Blenheim is home to many well known New Zealand producers; Brancott Estate, Villa Maria, Cloudy Bay, and also Saint Clair.
Saint Clair is one of Marlborough's largest family-owned and operated wineries. They started out in 1978 growing grapes for others (making them one of the oldest family run growers in New Zealand) and decided to set out on their own in 1994. Their commitment to viticulture has led to a number of award winning wines and a brand that is growing throughout the world. Their motto is "a love of wine, not money", and they invest in small presses and tanks to keep vineyard batches seperate.
This mouth-watering Sauvignon has aromas of passionfruit, blackcurrant leaf and gooseberry and a palate of ripe gooseberry and herbs. The crisp acidity is balanced by an enticing minerality, making it a perfect match with fresh salads, seafood and vegetarian dishes.
"It's really nice", "It's a zingy heaven - explodes in the mouth in a good way" and "great wine for a warm Saturday evening in the garden" were some of the comments that accompanied this wine.
Wine Two - Waimea Estate Pinot Gris 2016 (Nelson), Majestic Wine, £13.99 (or £10.99 on a mix six)
Grown in Nelson, to the west of Marlborough, on stony loam soils with high sunshine hours and a moderating Maritime influence. Waimea means river gardens in Maori, and the fertile lands there are suited to growing white aromatic grape varieties.
Pinot gris is an aromatic grape that is made with a touch of sweetness to it. It's said that the hotter the dish, the sweeter the wine needs to be, so we tested out this theory with some chilli cheddar cheese with the wine. It would also make an excellent pairing with Thai or Indian food.
Pinot gris is the same grape as Pinot grigio (Gris / Grigio means grey in French and Italian respectively) but the Italians make the pinot grigio in a much leaner, dry style. Instead of the lemon, lime and apple flavours of pinot grigio, this New Zealand number is bursting with aromas of pear, honey, spice and even a hint of cream. Hints of sweetness partner the pure fruit flavours and are complemented by clean acidity, good length and soft texture.
It was too sweet for some of the tasters, whereas someone else found this better than the previous sauvignon blanc, "but maybe because I have a sweet tooth."
"The aftertaste reminds me of the albariño we tasted in the Spanish tasting," observed one participant, whilst another found it too cloying, especially as it warmed up.
Wine three - Greywacke Riesling 2016 (Marlborough), Wine Society £18
Greywacke is a relatively new Marlborough label by Kevin Judd who was the founding winemaker of Cloudy Bay, a well known and prestigious winery. Born in England, Kevin grew up in Australia where he studied winemaking at Roseworthy College before moving to New Zealand in 1983. Greywacke (named after a dark coarse-grained sandstone containing more than 15 per cent clay) is made by Kevin at Dog Point Winery from grapes sourced from mature vineyards in and around the central Wairau Plains. Cloudy Bay, Villa Maria and Saint Clair all have vineyards and wineries in this same valley.
Riesling is of course found in Germany, often as a sweet wine, and in Australia there are quality rieslings made in a dry style in Eden and Clare Valleys. Greywacke's Kevin Judd picks his riesling last during the harvest season, unafraid of including a small proportion of noble-rot affected berries, which means they retain a natural sweetness. The wine is fermented using wild yeasts leaving around 20g/l sugar. The result is quite a funky style of New Zealand riesling, with bright flavours of peach and orange bitters flavours and a refreshing, long finish.
"It's my favourite wine so far this evening" said one taster, whist another claimed this was the best Riesling she'd ever had. Like the pinot gris, it paired well with the chilli cheese. "It doesn't smell like it tastes" was a recurring comment. Most tasters didn't find it pleasant on the nose, describing aromas of oil / petrol, asparagus and urine. However they enjoyed the taste.
Wine Four - The Edge, Pinot Noir (Martinborough), 2017, Waitrose £14.99
For the red wines, we headed to the North Island and to the wine region of Wairarapa (which means glistening waters in Maori). Here we find the area of Martinborough, renowned for quality 100% Pinot Noir, grown on the alluvial gravel terraces for which the district has become famous. The area sits in a wide river valley, and the climate is said to be similar to Burgundy in France, which is also praised for its decent pinot noir.
The free draining gravel limits the hydration to the vines, which causes stress in the plants. It is a dry area anyway, in the rain shadow of the hills to the west. As a result, the vine puts more effort into the grapes (effectively its reproductive part in case it is about to die), producing complex and fruity berries.
The 2017 season was exceptionally warm and dry allowing high quality, ripe fruit to be harvested with brilliant cherry/plum flavours. Although the wine looked alarmingly watery when poured, it tasted more full bodied and has a long lingering finish. An immediately accessible wine, which will improve over the next 2 years. The wine is versatile and could be enjoyed with full flavoured fish dishes, lamb or vegetarian dishes.
You can buy this wine from Waitrose Cellar and click and collect to get delivery to home or store.
"It works really well with the blue cheese," said one taster, "and I could imagine drinking this with a tuna steak." Others were put off by the pale colour and felt it tasted a bit watered down. Strawberry was the predominant aroma that most people could detect on the nose, but few were overwhelmed. "It's light and drinkable but I wouldn't order a second glass," commented one guest, whilst another was more impressed. "I think it's amazing.... but I have drunk a lot of wine tonight!"
Wine Five - Mission Estate Merlot-Cabernet (Hawkes Bay), 2016, Wine Society, £9.95
Beginning life as a Catholic mission in 1838, Mission Estate is the oldest winery in New Zealand and they have been growing grapes on the site since the French missionaries first began tending vines in 1851 and at their current site in the Taradale Hills above Napier in 1909. For many years, the wine was just made as table wine, but these days, Mission Estate is a large commercial operation.
The winery is now housed in the restored seminary buildings overlooking the vines and there are three vineyards (Greenmeadows, Mere Road and Gimblett Road) making up the holdings totalling 35 hectares or so.
New Zealand's Hawke's Bay area produces stellar blends using Bordeaux grape varieties. This gorgeous, plummy, blackcurranty and fresh red wine offers excellent value to boot!
You might think that it's too cool in New Zealand to grow cabernet sauvignon and merlot, but the special gravel called "Gimblett Gravel" in the area (laid down by the Ngaruroro River following a flood in 1860) absorbs the heat and radiates it through the vineyard sites.
The wine reminded couple of the guests of a shiraz. Nobody disliked this wine, but it didn't stand out either. "It's smooth and drinkable, a solid all rounder" commented one person. "I agree. It's very gluggable but nothing memorable." However for the price, many would buy this wine again.
Wine Six - Trinity Hills Syrah (Hawkes Bay), 2016, Wine Society £13.50
Trinity Hill winery is located in the temperate climate area of Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand’s North Island. It was founded in the 1990s by a syndicate including accomplished New Zealand winemaker John Hancock and Robert and Robyn Wilson (owners of London’s Bleeding Heart and The Don restaurants).
Like the Mission Estate wine above, the Trinity Hill vineyards are in the Gimblett Road district, recognised as one of Hawke’s Bay’s very best vine growing areas for both red and white grapes thanks to its gravely soils. The dry hot winds from the coast also help to give a long growing season, which the full bodied grapes need. Here, the winemaking team produces a portfolio of wines that stand out for their drinkability and fruit intensity rather than power.
A big hit! This black-pepper-scented New Zealand syrah was warmly received, and guests commented on the fresh acidity and cassis / blackberry flavours. "It's got some good spice, and a lovely long finish." was the conclusion.
If you're not a member of the Wine Society, you can also purchase this wine from Adnams online shop for £15.99.
We asked guests for their favourite white (including the sparkling) and favourite red. The scores were as follows:
Sparkling wine: Favourite white of 35% of guests (WINNER)
Sauvignon Blanc : Favourite white of 26% of guests
Pinot Gris : Favourite white of 11% of guests
Riesling : Favourite white of 20% of guests
Pinot Noir: Favourite red of 35% of guests
Mission Estate (Bordeaux Blend) : Favourite red of 15% of guests
Trinity Hill Syrah: Favourite red of 50% of guests (WINNER)
We held a vote amongst the guests to decide upon the recipient charity for the proceeds from the evening - The Prospect Hospice were the winners and £31.79 will be heading their way.
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