News from New Zealand

Monday, November 7, 2011
posted by: Irv

Our great New Zealand wine adventure has had a fine start. Departing Vancouver at 8:00 pm and landing at 6:00 am wasn’t a tough adjustment for our body clocks. We just had to get our heads around the fact that it was Sunday, not Saturday. We only had time for a coffee and a short visit before Joye, our hostess and travel guide suggested visiting Villa Maria Winery near the Aukland Airport. In addition to their tasting room and cafe being open on Sunday, they were hosting a ‘sausage sizzle’ on their beautiful grounds. How could one say no?

Villa Maria is certainly a major player in the wine industry. They own vineyards in four major wine regions and operate a large winery on each island. Suzanne, our very knowledgeable hostess, led us through a tasting of some of their 56 wines.

All of the Villa Maria wines showed well but I was most impressed by their Arneis. This is a new wine for Villa Maria and for New Zealand in general. It was very aromatic with floral and citrus notes with good fruit and acidity in the mouth. In total, Villa Maria makes 33 white wines, including ten different chardonnays. I would have loved to try them all! The reds were big and full bodied. My favorite was the Cellar Selection pinot noir. It was rich and soft, with more flavor than many NZ pinots. I ended up purchasing the 2009 Cabernet/Merlot which I belive will be great match for the barbied steak Joye has promised us.

After leaving Villa Maria, we headed north out tof Aukland toward Whangarei, our home for the next few days. A few k’s out of the city, we stopped at Ransome wines, a small family owned and operated winery with a 4000 case annual production. Owner, winemaker, Robin Ransom generously took the time to share his wines and twenty plus years in the business. Although his total production isn’t large, Robin manages to export some of his wine to Japan, England and China. He’s excited about the Chinese market and has even become involved in a wine making venture there. I certainly enjoyed his syrah which had both lots of spice and a smokey character to it. Value wise, at $36NZ it would show well against either French or Californian syrahs. Robin’s carmenere was probably my favorite red. There was a bit of earthiness to it but none of the ‘green character’ that often appears. Ransom currently makes the only carmenere in New Zealand. Robin bought vines that were advertised as cabernet franc but when they produced fruit that was not similar to his existing cab. franc, he had a DNA test conducted and the new vines turned out to be carmenere. It has turned out to be a tasty mistate. In golf you’d say it was a ‘good miss’! I was also impressed with Robin’s Grand’mere Pinot Gris Doux Naturel. The fermentation is stopped with a moderate level of sugar remaining in the must. With good acidity, the bottle I came away with will be a great aperitif this week.

We’re off to the northern beaches to enjoy the sea and sand and search out some more great Northland Trail wines.

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