This Saturday's Vintages release at the LCBO will feature New Zealand wines, along with a roster of good value stuff and cellar favourites. I had a chance to sample some of the Kiwi products on the list at one of the Guild's famous pre-release parties.
I know - that kind of a title makes it sound like a rock band debuting their latest album. The Guild event didn't quite have the same level of raucous, groupie-fueled energy; on the contrary, it was very civilized and carefully structured, in classroom-style gathering around a U-shaped wooden bar at the Vendage Institute.
Kent Currie, an LCBO product consultant and one of my former instructors at Algonquin, led us on a virtual tour of the north and south islands, with stops at some of the major wine regions: Marlborough, Otago, Nelson and Hawkes Bay, to name but a few. Breathtaking scenery replete with mountains, deep fjords and lush vineyards were the focal point of Kent's slideshow, along with plenty of interactive maps and personal anecdotes on left-side driving, sheep herds, and hobbit holes.
New Zealand has developed quite the reputation for its sauvignon blanc and pinot noirs, thanks to an aggressive marketing plan launched in the mid-90s. The winemakers wanted the world to think "New Zealand" first when drinking those signature grapes; so far, they've done quite well for themselves, with annual exports quickly approaching the $1 billion mark.
We tried a flight each of four whites, four pinot noirs, and four syrah/Bordeaux blends from the release. I wasn't sure what I had expected, but I was a bit disappointed with the line-up. Still, there were a few that stood out from the "meh" crowd:
Spy Valley 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) - Most of the folks thought this was the famous Oyster Bay s.blanc, it was so similar in taste and acidity. Crisp and tart, with a classic nose of lemon, grapefruit and cut grass. Light-bodied and fresh, with a long, slightly effervescent finish.
Kim Crawford 2007 SP Boyszone Pinot Gris (Marlborough) - The colour in the glass immediately revealed the varietal, with its signature peach tones in a brilliant, pale straw, clear bowl. Flowery and flinty aromas, followed by a slightly viscous mouthfeel and strong acid. Opinions were varied on this one; some felt it was flawed, others thought it was OK, but not worth the price ($24.95). But you know me, always swimming against the grain. I loved it!
Palliser 2006 Pinot Noir (Martinborough) - Bing cherry, syrup, roses and licorice on the nose, with a bit of a stemmy/licorice flavour. This one was done in a more modern style of vinification, giving off fuller fruit and less of the earthy, barnyard notes for which pinot noir is renowned. Well balanced, with medium weight, a dry, peppery mouthfeel and pleasant tannins. Long, maraschino cherry finish.
Elephant Hill 2008 Syrah (Hawkes Bay) - Complex nose of medicinal herbs (no, not THAT kind!), tobacco and pencil lead, with an undercurrent of blackberries and raspberries. Juicy, plump fruit flavours with well balanced acids and tannins. Lingering berry finish with a bit of a charred note on the end.