Sunday, August 19, 2012

New Zealand Part VI Northland, Aukland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty

Now we move to North Island and the longest history of winemaking in the country.  Here is a link to an excellent map.  New Zealand Wine Regions
The Northland region was the site of the first vineyards in New Zealand.  However, both it and Aukland are small and fly below our radar.  Interestingly, one of the better known wineries from New Zealand, Kumeu River, is located in Aukland but labels their wines Kumeu, New Zealand.  It is just this sort of lack of specificity that helps brand a producer but fails to develop a region.
Speaking only of this particular winery, their chardonnays are outstanding.  Offering minerality and depth, the wines have consistently been lauded by the press...and deservedly so.  Clay and sandstone help retain enough water to avoid irrigation but allow for sufficient drainage.
Next come Waikato and Bay of Plenty.  Often they are used interchangeably but the latter is coastal and perhaps better known for beaches than wine.  Production here runs the gamut from sparkling wine to dessert with many varieties of red and white in between.  Some of the juice is bottled under other regions' names and this helps to leave the area under-represented in America.
The best known producer is Mills Reef.  I have thought well of their wines in the past but they have never blown me away.  Although they are located in the Bay of Plenty, the wines mostly come from Hawke's Bay to the south.
The next post will address this area and Gisborne.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

New Zealand Part V Central Otago

Not quite all the way to the end of South Island, this region features the world's most southern vineyards.  More dramatic temperature swings and extremes mark the area and pinot noir dominates the plantings by nearly ten times over the nearest competitor (pinot gris).  They are also the highest vineyards in New Zealand (600-1,000 feet) and the furthest inland.
The vineyards can see snow before the end of harvest and hillside plantings are the norm, both increasing exposure to sunlight and minimizing the risk of frost damage.  Overall the soil is loam and silt with pockets of schists adding minerality and complexity to the wines.
The pinot noirs show a deeper color than anywhere else in New Zealand and exhibit darker fruit aromas and flavors as well.
Overall, I have been very impressed with pinot noirs from Central Otago and remain optimistic about what's to come.  My experience with other grapes from the area is limited to Felton Road's riesling which I enjoyed immensely.  More delicate and round than some of my favorite Aussie (some recommendations ) offerings but not so soft as to be flabby.  Their pinots are worth seeking out as well. Gerry Rowland, of Rowland Cellars, makes my favorite pinot but he only distributes in a few states and I'm not even sure he produces it any longer.
Again, this is a region a little below the radar in the States, with lots of competition from domestic pinot noir, so the available options are slim.
Next up, we go to North Island.