It seems after the hibernation of Winter, everyone is itching to get out and enjoy the first warmth and blossoms of Spring. I know I certainly was, and what better place than the Nelson New Release Wine tasting. It’s kind of the ‘kick off’ of Spring where the wineries bring out their finest wines ~ especially the first roses. It was a beautiful, sunny day out by the waterfront, perfect for lingering around, chatting with winemakers and nibbling on some tasty local Wangapeka cheeses… Following that event was the grand re-opening of Woollaston Winery out in the Upper Moutere a few weeks later. After being closed all winter, I wanted to see what new and exciting changes have been secretly underway at the winery. Again, it was a gorgeous day to sit outside and catch up with friends and enjoy a glass (or two) of Woollaston wine. They have a stellar location surrounded by vineyards, and now with plenty of room to relax outside or if the weather doesn’t cooperate, move inside to the new, chic interior space. They have also added a full kitchen, where one can now enjoy chef-created vinous fare. This is going to be a great season!
To be fair, winter in Nelson is quite mild ~ but coming from San Diego, I still get quite chilled in late August/early September. When the winter sun is shining and the temperature does get close to 15 C though, it’s the perfect time to head over to Abel Tasman National Park for a long hike. The park is quiet (the tourists haven’t descended on it yet) and the water has a crystal-blue quality that is breathtaking. We picked one of those perfect days and got an early start to our drive to the park. It’s great that the boats out of Marahau run all year round so that we can jump on one and take it to whatever point we want to walk back from ~ this day it was Anchorage, a 14 km hike back to the car.
We were prepared for any weather, as it can change quickly. Getting outside and breathing in all that fresh air is such a relaxing yet energizing way to spend the day, and only about 1 1/2 hours from our house. We will definitely make more of an effort to get over to the park in the winters to come.
As the tour season has slowed down for the winter, the wine tasting season has picked up! Over the last couple of months I’ve tasted some great American, Spanish, and French wines. As much as I love tasting the wines from New Zealand, it’s always good to keep up on what is happening in other wine areas around the world.
The season started tasting the great 2010 vintage wines from Bordeaux. The price points ranged from $20- $200NZD. Really interesting and solid wines across the board. Definitely worth buying and putting away some of those pricier (and heavier-style) wines.
Nearer to the US celebration ~ 4th of July, an American wine tasting was next. It was an interesting mix of more obscure varietals (viognier, petite sirah and zinfandel) and regions. California was the dominate area of production, with a touch of Oregon thrown in. Same could be said for the group that attended ~ mostly expat-Californians with a couple of expat-Washingtonians (?) in the mix! Overall, well-made, delicious wines. So different than the Bordeaux tasting the month before.
Lastly this month, it was back to old world and Spain. Lately it seems that we’re seeing a lot of inexpensive (but tasty) wines coming from Spain, and I am frankly really happy to see them. I find these wines offer good value for the money, and as a fan of the “old school” style of wines from there, they really deliver. In saying that, there were some truly new world-tasting wines on offer ~ for example, the Cab. Sauv-Syrah-Merlot wine from Cadiz. While very fresh, fruity and rich, I personally felt that the wine could have been from any country. It just didn’t say “Spain” to me at all. I was clearly in the minority, as it was the best selling wine of the evening! We did end the evening with two wines that absolutely, positively screamed ” Spain, Spain, Spain!!” ~ The Marques de Riscal Riserva and Gran Riserva. ~ Wow!. Produced from one of the oldest wine houses in Rioja, these wines were classic Tempranillo – dark, deep an dusty. I was truly in my element.
Autumn has always been my favorite season as far back as I can remember.. as a child, I loved rolling in the leaves and hearing the crunching noise beneath me, and as a young adult the first chill in the year meant football games (American), hot (spiked apple cider, and the changing of the leaves to vibrant gold, rust and red. I think back on those times now when autumn arrives here in Nelson. We live close to a huge line of trees, and the hues
of the leaves are so rich that the view looks like a painting. I love it!
It’s also my favorite time to get out on the bike and just ride,ride, ride! The mornings are a bit fresh, but it quickly warms up, and if the sun is shining ~ it’s magical. The apple trees are bursting with red fruit, and the vineyards, who have done their job for the year, take on a golden sheen.
The one thing I didn’t have growing up that I have here in autumn, is the amazing sunsets. Where the leaves take on vibrant hues, the sunsets are an ever-
changing light show of pastel pink, blue and violet. I’m going to grab a hot cider, sit back and watch the show.
With all the new cycling trails being created around the country, it’s really a joy to travel around and try out what the other regions have to offer. Recently we took a trip down to Queenstown and I spent an afternoon on the Queenstown cycle trails.
I left right from our accommodation in town and skirted along Lake Wakatipu ~ stunning views and all flat (a great warm up). At the end of the lake I headed inland along the Kawarau river, and while it seems that following the river would be flat, the trail heads uphill towards the Old Shotover Bridge. There were definitely a couple of serious uphills, but the views overlooking the lake were breathtaking and it was fun to cross the pedestrian-only bridge . There are trails for all levels, and as I stayed on the Beginner/Intermediate trails I had a chance to get a good workout but also take in the scenery ~ no worry of steep drop-offs or rock-jumping on this trail.
The trail continued to weave its way through a lush tussock field, and with nobody else around, just the birds singing away, I really felt like I was far away from town. I continued a ways ~ as the trail heads into Arrowtown, but I knew how far my ride was back home and I was already thinking about that glass of Otago Pinot Noir waiting for me… so….. back I went ~ lungs full of fresh air, a smile on my face and a real sense of joy thinking THIS is what cycling is all about.
It’s amazing how as soon as the New Year is upon us, the sunny skies and warm breezes signal the start of the wine tour season. The cellar doors welcome us with open arms (or doors, as it would be) and our phone starts ringing with those words I love to hear: “We’re interested in taking a wine tour in Nelson.” Yippee, let’s go.
We are truly lucky in this area to have such high-quality and diversity amongst our 24 wineries. For me the best part is that every winery is family owned, with a unique and interesting background story as to how they started here in little Nelson, New Zealand. For such a small wine growing area – about 3% of the country’s vineyard area, and 7th out of 10 in the number of hectares- there are such stunning wines, both white and red. Many of my wine tour clients comment on how high the quality level is of the wines, and how beautiful the settings are at the wineries ~ I definitely agree.
One of my favourite summer discoveries since living in Nelson, is the abundance of pick your own (PYO) fruit & veggies. While I have yet to get out and pick fresh peas- doesn’t it sound fun and tasty? I have thoroughly enjoyed picking blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and boysenberries. I love seeing (and sampling!) exactly where my food has come from, and not just picking a punnet up in the supermarket or even the Farmer’s market.
My first foray into PYO was with blueberries a few years ago. I was out on a bike ride and rode past a big sign that said “PYO Blueberries today” ~ I HAD to stop in and see what it was all about. I had gone apple and strawberry picking as a kid, but I absolutely love blueberries, so this was such a treat to find. Turns out there are early- ripening and late-ripening blueberries, running from December through to mid-March, so I could pick all summer to my hearts content! I’ve since gone many times and smile each time I defrost some blueberries in the middle of winter. Off now to pick my latest discovery… cherries.
What a stunning day we had out in the Upper Moutere celebrating the local artisans of the region. The Upper Moutere hills sit in northern tip of the south island, with mountain ranges to the east, south and west, and the Tasman bay to the north. It receives more than 2300 sun hours a year, making it one of -or as we in Nelson believe – THE sunniest region in New Zealand.
One crucial element that defines the area and makes it so special is the soil- clay-bound gravels known as the “moutere gravels”. Dense and naturally infertile, the soil retains the much-needed water throughout the summer and lends a concentrated, textural quality to the wines grown in the area. We also found that is contributes to many other artisan products in the area- mainly cheese, olive oil and mushrooms. It was a thrill to meet these family-run, passionate producers right in their environment.
Our first stop was Neudorf Olives. Owned and run by Jonathon & Susan, they were inviting the moment we drove up- and drove UP we did! from the road their driveway is deceiving- doesn’t look that steep and windy, but we kept going, and going, and finally found ourselves at the top of the hill with amazing views of the sea and Nelson beyond. WOW. They produce only single-grove extra virgin olive oil and it is exquisite. They have 1310 olive trees, planted to Leccino, Frantoio (both italian) and Koroneiki (greek). We tasted them all and truly each one has its own unique flavour & texture. Really worth seeking out or ordering online.
Our next stop down the road was Neudorf Mushrooms, owned by Hannes & Theres. Again, their property is hidden back off the road and allows for stunning sea views. I adore mushrooms, and am thrilled we have a boutique grower in the region. I had tasted their Saffron milk- cap at the farmer’s market- how is it I had never heard of that mushroom before? but now I’m hooked! It is a beautiful saffron colour, and tastes rich and deep. They are the first commercial growers of it in New Zealand, and they’re right in our back yard! (so to speak)- that means more for us…what I’m really excited about, though, is their small “truffiere”. They haven’t had any truffles from it yet, but are staying positive (as am I!).
Next it was on to Neudorf Dairy (seeing a pattern here with “Neudorf”?- all the producers are on Neudorf road I can proudly say we have had every cheese that Neudorf dairy makes- many more than once! Their solely sheep’s milk cheeses are made in the traditional European way, and if you closed your eyes and tasted them, the smell and taste would harken you back to a “fromagerie”… They had a nice mix of hard & soft cheeses for us to sample- I’ll never pass up a cheese tasting! and we took away a small cheese platter to enjoy with our wine at our last stop (whew!) of the day – Neudorf Vineyards.
It’s 1978, and the New Zealand wine industry is almost nonexistent, but Tim & Judy were young and enthusiastic, and thought they’d give it a go! Because so little was know about basic viticulture in New Zealand at that time, they planted a plethora of varietals (think Merlot, Cabernet Sauv., Gewurtz and Muller Thurgeau) to see what would stick. Those mentioned above did not, but what did, and has put them on the wine industry world stage, is their amazing Moutere Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It is that combination of climate & soil type (both mentioned at the beginning) that has given their wines an intense concentration and texture not found in other wines around the country. They, like the other producers we saw, are creating unique and amazingly flavourful products from the land they love, and we are the spoiled (and oh, so lucky) recipients of their work.
Yesterday was a perfect day for some late afternoon sipping at Rimu Grove Winery on Bronte Road. Patrick and Yvan were great hosts and they were joined by Neudorf Cheese and Rodrigo Breads for that classic tasty combo.On showcase was the new release Rose, working title “The Unexpected Guest”. This wine slapped you in the face with its forward, lush style and is definitely something to stock up on for summer. Be quick though….only 50 cases produced! It was also fascinating to taste the Gewurztraminers from both the 2010 and 2013 vintages, the 2010 drinking especially well. Also on hand was a new release Sangiovese, a small lot production item made in a lighter style, with lovely fruit and some nice white pepper notes. Really fun to taste new varietals from the Nelson region!
The Neudorf cheese were arrayed from young to more aged, with five or six cheese available to sample, our favorite being the Richmond Rascal, with its caramel richness and satisfying bite in the finish. Very hard to decide on favorites with Neudorf cheese.
The Rodrigo Breads were a revelation, and the pretzel style german sourdough had a tang and texture to cause addiction. I was very glad to finally sample these artisan breads.
The Rimu Grove Vineyard, just starting to leaf out, was particularly beautiful yesterday, and the soft backlighting and the appealing palette of spring greens completed the scene of a very lovely setting.
I have been to many wine tastings in my 20+ years in the wine business, but none have been solely focused on one varietal (and my favorite at that!) – until now. In its 14th year, the Pinot at Cloudy Bay 2013 is designed to showcase 18 top Pinot Noirs from the 2010 vintage and from around the world.
I was really excited when I heard about this event, and realising that it is truly a “pinotphiles” celebration limited to 100 people, I DEFINITELY was going to go. It was a full-on day: early wake up call (and coffee) and over the hill to Cloudy Bay winery in Marlborough. Once I arrived and signed in, it was great to see all the glasses gleaming in the cellar, just waiting to be filled and tasted. We all sat down, and after the perfunctory introductions and how- to’s we were off and tasting… Here are the wines tasted (in no particular order) and their country and region of origin:
NEW ZEALAND: Black Estate (Waipara), Cloudy Bay (Marlborough), Huia Vineyards (Marlborough), Kusuda Wines (Martinborough), Two Paddocks (Otago), Cloudy Bay Vineyards “Te Wahi” (Otago)
ARGENTINA: Bodega Chacra (Patagonia)
FRANCE: Chateau de la Tour, Domaine de la Vougeraie, Domaine Drouhin-Laroze, Domaine Raphet, Henri Boillet- All Burgundy (Bourgogne)
AUSTRALIA: Ashton Hills Vineyard (Adelaide Hills), Bass Phillip (Gippsland), Freycinet Vineyard (Tasmania)
CANADA: Foxtrot Wine (Okanagan Valley)
USA: Cobb Wines (Sonoma Coast), Thomas Winery (Dundee Hills, Oregon)
Whew! What a line up. They were all tasted blind in 3 series of 6 wines. We had 20 minutes to taste and evaluate the series, and then a discussion would start. I took notes, and while each wine was well and truly different and unique, by the third series my notes and palate were getting a little fatigued (as you guess, I didn’t spit). I definitely ended the tasting, though, with two definitive favourites: The Cloudy Bay Te Wahi and the Kasuda Wine . Interesting that both were from New Zealand, as I am a Burgundy- freak. While I really enjoyed a couple of the Burgundies for sure, the sweet fruit, luscious texture, and overall balance of my two choices stood out in the crowd. I kept going back to them, wanting another sip….and another. Tasting over, we cleared our palates (and our heads?) with a bit of finger food and a beautiful glass of Cloudy Bay’s Rose bubble -the perfect wine to have as we mingled outside in the fresh spring air. It was then back inside for a decadent long lunch and unlimited tastings of the days earlier Pinot Noirs – any guesses to what I went back for?