Before I even begin to attempt some wine blogging I should probably be very upfront and let everyone know that I have not taken any professional wine classes, I have only visited the vineyards of California and Greece, and I usually become dizzy after 1.5 glasses of anything! I know just enough about wine to confuse others into thinking that I know more then I really do! About a year ago I was introduced to a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and fell in love. Everyone has their wine moment in life and that one was mine. The one that pushed me down the “I really want to figure out this wine thing” path in life. Since then I have been trying to compartmentalize every single wine that I taste into a neat spreadsheet, hoping that my scientific approach will make me an expert. However, I have found that wine rules, especially in this country, are often broken and trying to understand wine in a perfect structured way is impossible and only leads to confusion and a slightly paranoid feeling that the wine makers are trying to keep me guessing!
Despite my limited capabilities in describing every fruity, earthy, asparagus-like aroma and tannin in a glass, I felt that I knew just enough to attend a Winegrowers event in San Francisco, featuring an array of newly released New Zealand wines.. Lucky for me, the wines were neatly divided into sections, starting with sparkling wines, then Sauvignon blancs, then moving into the oaked and unoaked chardonnays, a single Viognier, a bunch of sweet and dry Rieslings, some Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, a Rose, about a million Pinot Noirs and a few Merlots, Cab Francs, Zinfandel and a dessert wine.
As I gazed down the mile long table filled with exactly 59 Sauvignon Blancs, (54 from the Marlborough region, and the rest from Hawkes Bay, Waipara and Nelson) I thought I might have just done something good, died and gone to SB heaven..here I was, living out my personal wine fantasy, to have my own methodical introduction to one type of wine made by many different vineyards all in the same region. As a scientist, I don’t like to have too many variables in the equation. I knew in front of me were wines mostly made from Marlborough grown grapes and any differences detected would be due to wine making techniques only. This was good… easy to follow-easy to fit in my spreadsheet. I slowly began to work my way down the line, and while there was some slight variation from bottle to bottle, each one could easily be identified as a NZ SB-they all had that, and I take a direct quote from the wine literature “Pungently aromatic and explosively flavoured wine, its zesty character is redolent of green capsicum (bell peppers) and gooseberry with tropical fruit overtones”. I liked most of the wines in this category but most notable was Kemblefield The Vista-which had very intense “grassy” notes-the types of grassy notes that I have read about but never quite experienced. I also singled out the St. Clair’s and Brancott and Artisan as some of my favorites.
Moving right along to the Chardonnays, there were only about 7 –most oaked, a few unoaked. I needed a gold standard here, so I jumped right on the most expensive one in the lot, Man O War Valhalla 2007. This wine gave me the opportunity to use my new favorite oaked chardonnay expression “It was like biting into a 2 by 4!!!” Living in California I know all about the wine snob view on oaked Chardonnay and how it is considered to be very unsophisticated to like new oaked up vanilla tasting toasted Chardonnay (due to the fact that it is SWEET… and SWEET has a direct relationship to our love for Sugar and our propensity for being fat Americans). We are suppose to desire the clean natural taste of the grape that comes from a steel barrel. This particular Chardonnay was not bad, but after a few sips I felt like I was drinking vanilla flavored Kool-Aid. The NZ literature informed me it would go well with chicken, veal, rabbit and poached pears. So I am passing this bit of trivia on to you. I tried a few other Chardonnays including a non-oaked Kim Crawford and I did detect the same Chardonnay taste, but without the vanilla extract on top.
My next category was the Viognier. There was only one and while it smelled divine (like perfume and roses-reminded me of my favorite Hermes perfume Rose Ikebana)-it tasted like perfume too-in a bad way-like drinking perfume. Since I only was able to taste one, it is difficult for me to determine if this is typical of a NZ Viognier or typical of Viognairs in general. I can’t just have one sample in my spreadsheet analysis…
The Rieslings were mostly sweet and my favorite was a 2008 Spy Valley from the Marlborough region and a 2006 Waipara –both satisfied my sugar craving American sweet tooth. They smelled fruity and tasted fruity, with high sugar and a lingering taste of “green apples, citrus, lemon/lime and toasted honey”.
I tried one Pinot Gris to confirm what the literature stated-fruity and oaked. Skipped the Gewurztraminer and moved into the Pinot Noirs. I should have been spitting out my tastes into the containers like the other pros but I didn’t and was feeling the dizziness kick in. A shame since I was excited about the 46 different types available! The literature reminded me that Pinot noir grapes are difficult to growand New Zealand is one of the few countries to flourish with this fickle crop.
Since I only had 15 minutes left till the end of the event I tried the $100 dollar Pinot Noir (Amisfield RKV 2006) and figured that could be my baseline –the one to compare to all others on the table. It was.. as expected, fruity with hints of pepper and spice. Cherries, plum, strawberries, and possibly some French oak! I enjoyed the pricy PN but I also liked the $23 dollar Allan Scott, which was recommended to me by Brooke Cheshier, a Napa Valley wine writer who’s food and wine blog can be found at www.aficionada.squarespace.com.
I was not able to try any of the Merlots, Syrah, Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc or Riesling dessert wine. So I cannot comment on any of those, and I don’t want to quote the literature because I can’t verify what they wrote without tasting it first!
Overall I was grateful that New Zealand organized their wines in a methodical way that perfectly matched my preferred method of tasting. I was able to taste the wines and follow the literature at the same time (which listed the wines in the book the exact same order as they were lined up on the table) and read all about the different factors that affect the NZ wine flavors. The climate, the soil, the people, the wine making practices, it was all in there. I have not been to many “for the trade” wine events like this one, but i can say that often the wines are grouped by winery-which means you are going back and forth between the reds, whites, moving to the next table, repeating the process. The group method-as I experienced yesterday is easier and allows newcomers like me to compare side by side-and gain a better understanding of the particular wine.