Saturday, July 31, 2010

You've Come A Long Way NZ

A recent palate-numbing tasting at The New Zealand Embassy in Washington, D.C. uncovered some gems. When you think of wines from New Zealand do you just picture Sauvignon Blanc and grapefruit juice simultaneously? Think again. That tasting, along with an excellent seminar comparing NZ and French wine, presented by Jay Youmans, C.W.E., M.W. would make a convert of any NZ skeptic.

The standout at the embassy was the wine from Saint Clair Family Estate Their wines run the gamut of price ranges but the quality is consistent throughout. The pinnacle that evening was the 2007 Pioneer Block #14 Doctor's Creek Pinot Noir. Lush, dark cherry and raspberry aromas and flavors with a spicy hint of cinnamon and plenty of body. This is not a wimpy Pinot. Also not to miss is the 2009 Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc. Sure there's some grapefruit. But there's also pear, passion fruit, and zesty acidity with a smooth finish.

Winning the unique prize would be the 2009 Waimea Nelson Edel. "What the heck is this?" was overheard several times. It's a new release for the Waimea brand wines. The blend is Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer. Odd but it works beautifully on a hot summer evening with a platter of grilled shrimp and some crusty bread. Here's the description from the winery, "The first release of this special blend has a heady nose of orange peel, Turkish delight, Lychees and spice, plus hints of marshmallow!" But it's not that sweet. The acidity balances it out to make it great with all sorts of foods, but especially spicy dishes.

Also of note are the wines imported by Via Pacifica. They offered the Alpha Domus Hawkes Bay Navigator from 2006, an impressive Bordeaux-style blend, as well as an '09 Unoaked Chardonnay, crisp and aromatic. Alongside those were the 2009 Manu Sauvignon Blanc and 2009 Manu Pinot Gris. All total an intriguing cross-section of New Zealand ingenuity.

Mr. Youman's presentation a couple of days later was called "New Zealand: The France of the New World." He paired like varietals in seven flights and effectively proved the comparable quality of New Zealand's wines. Best of all, New Zealand is committed to protecting the environment with their SWNZ program. (Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand) with a goal of 100% participation by 2012. Those young upstart Kiwis. The nerve.