- Discovering the Joys of New Zealand Wine

Newsletter for March, 2004

St. Patrick's Day is upon us but you don't need the luck of the Irish to find a great wine from New Zealand. This month we will recap the NZ Chardonnay seminar at the DC International Food & Wine Expo, cover the results of a recent competition, and discuss a few favorites.

New Zealand Chardonnay

At the recent DC International Food and Wine Expo, Leslie Sbrocco, author of Wine for Women, conducted a seminar on New Zealand Chardonnay. Eight wines were presented to highlight clonal variation, terroir, winemaking technique, and aging. These were the eight as selected by a panel from the New Zealand Winegrowers:
  • Alpha Domus 2003 Unoaked - Hawke's Bay
  • Saint Clair 2003 Unoaked - Marlborough
  • Kumeu River 2002 Mate's Vineyard - Auckland
  • Amor Bendal 2002 Reserve - Gisborne
  • Te Kairanga 2002 - Martinborough
  • Pegasus Bay 2002 - Waipara
  • Wither Hills 2002 - Marlborough
  • Wither Hills 1996 - Marlborough
Clonal and regional variations were noticed in the some of the flavor profiles but that was fairly subtle. Clearly though, the primary difference was the winemaking technique and the seminar was an excellent exercise to showcase that factor. Alpha Domus and Saint Clair were "unoaked" - fermented in stainless steel, pale colors, and showed the bright fruit notes. The others were treated with oak to different degrees. These were somewhat reminiscent of the California syle but certainly not the massive butterballs that some of the Napa producers roll out. The unique wine of the tasting was the 1996 Wither Hills which I will discuss further down. Among those currently available in stores, I recommend Kumeu River and Pegasus Bay. Although not tasted at the expo, I also recommend Clearview Estate from Te Awanga in Hawke's Bay. See the Royal Easter Wine Show results below for another fine choice.

This past month, we tasted two NZ Chardonnays that were surprising and truly marvelous. Both of these were aged and let me tell you, Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore.

Wither Hills 1996 Chardonnay

This wine was tasted at the DC Wine Expo and was terrific. The only poor NZ whites that I've had were two older ones that probably weren't made to age combined with mal-treatment over the years on retailer shelves. The 96 Wither Hills, however, disspelled the notion that a NZ white can't age well. It has gracefully matured to a mid-gold color; superbly balanced fruit, toasty vanilla, lightly creamy, and a touch of French countryside. The Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc is marketed in the States under the Shepherd's Ridge label. I will follow-up on the availibility of the Chardonnay. Might have to go back to the wine shop in Queenstown where I bought the bottle to the right.

Mountford 1999 Chardonnay

Earlier this month, we visited Hi-Time Cellars in Costa Mesa, CA. We tasted some great Burgundy but that is a story for a different website. At point here is that we had dinner with John Downing, the Impresario of the Italian department and the Doyen of Downunder. John brought along a bottle of 99 Mountford Chardonnay he had stashed away. This was a classy wine on par with the Wither Hills. Pear and tropical fruit flavors, smooth and mature with a French note.

Mountford Pinot Noir is carried by DC retailers like Schneider's and C-W but they haven't picked up the suggestion to carry the Chardonnay yet. It's time for a special order.

New Zealand Wine Society - Royal Easter Wine Show

The New Zealand Wine Society held their annual Royal Easter Wine Show in February.

These were the Trophy Winners:

  • Riesling:
  • Gewurztraminer:
  • Sauvignon Blanc:
  • Pinot Gris:
  • Chardonnay:
  • Pinot Noir:
  • Merlot (and blends):
  • Cabernet(and blends):
  • Syrah:
  • Methode Champenoise:
  • Sweet Wine:
  • Export Wine:
  • Clifford Bay Estate - 2003 - Single Vineyard - Marlborough
  • Waipara Hills Wine Estate - 2003 - Marlborough
  • Saint Clair - Wairau Reserve - 2003 - Marlborough
  • Canterbury House - 2003 - Waipara
  • Sacred Hill - Riflemans - 2002 - Hawke's Bay
  • Mt. Difficulty - 2002 - Central Otago
  • Villa Maria - Cellar Selection - 2002 - Merlot/Cabernet
  • Villa Maria - Reserve - 2001 - Cabernet/Merlot
  • Bilancia - 2002 - Hawke's Bay
  • Allen Scott - Methode Traditionelle Blanc de Blancs - NV
  • Forrest Estate - Botrytised Riesling - 2003 - Marlborough
  • Mt. Difficulty - 2002 Pinot Noir - Central Otago

Best of Show:

Sacred Hill - Riflemans Chardonnay - 2002 - Hawke's Bay

And for those of you for whom the Ides of March is not complete without spilling red, this month we feature:

Mountford 2001 Pinot Noir

A double-header for Mountford in this newsletter. Winemaker C P Lin has another winner with this effort. Raspberry and plum on the nose; berry and black cherry on the palatte; full-bodied and smooth. At US$30, this is a very competitive Pinot Noir.

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