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Auckland, New Zealand (Nov. 11, 2000)

Pinotage vines at Kerr Farm
Although New Zealand isn't widely known as a source of Pinotage, the South African red grape is surprisingly widely grown there. Here's the vineyard at Kerr Farm near Auckland, which makes about as good a Pinotage as I've tasted anywhere.

Back in Auckland (a bustling city with more than a slight resemblance to Seattle in its sailboat-rich harbor setting, modern downtown and Space Needle-like tower, where the natives render the name of their town as something mighty close to "Oakland"), we couldn't end my whirlwind tour of New Zealand without a couple more winery visits. We take in two quick ones: An old and well-known property, Kumeu River, known for its Chardonnay and one of the first wineries in the Auckland region; and tiny but excellent Kerr Farm.

Kumeu River
2000 Brajkovich Chardonnay - Vinous, appley, a bit hot. $16

1999 Kumeu River Chardonnay - Citric and vanilla. Fresh, pleasantly lean. $35

1999 Kumeu River Maté's Vineyard Chardonnay - Figs and chestnuts aromas, tropical fruit and butterscotch flavors, full and rich. $45

2000 Kumeu River Pinot Gris - Pear and lime, intense aromas. Full and fresh, very good balance. $25

1999 Kumeu River Pinot Noir - Hazy ruby. Tobacco leaf, herbal. Very smoky, some bacon fat, tart, light on fruit. $35

1998 Kumeu River "Melba" - Garnet. Grilled meat and black fruit. Deep and plummy, tart and tannic. $27 (65% 13% 5% merlot, malbec, cab franc)

2000 Kumeu River Pinot Noir (barrel sample) - Ripe red-cherry fruit aromas. Sulfury reductive qualities make it hard to judge fairly now, but the signs are promising.

Kerr Farm
Jaison and Wendy Kerr's lovely home at Kerr Farm is a beautifully restored, historic New Zealand farm house moved from another location.
Kerr Farm
Owner-winemaker Jaison Kerr and his wife, Wendy, offer a warm welcome amid the bustle of visiting tour groups on a busy Saturday afternoon. I express surprise to find Pinotage grapes growing outside South Africa and receive a quick education: This red grape is rather widely grown - and does quite well - in New Zealand's soil. Jaison presents a glass of Kerr Farms Pinotage and offers a bite of spicy fruitcake to demonstrate the surprising affinity that these unexpected partners show. At day's end, no more need to spit out each taste, we enjoy a glass and happily accept a second before heading back to Sue and Neil's home to get ready for dinner.

Kerr Farm 1999 Pinotage - Inky garnet, almost black. Earthy, gamey black fruit and fragrant white pepper. Surprisingly good match with spicy holiday fruitcake. $15.95

Dinner at Merlot in Auckland
Sue and Neil Courtney Craig and Melanie Thompson RG 11/11/00 7:51 pm

Wrapping up my all-too-short New Zealand visit, we summon a cab to downtown Auckland where we meet Wine Lovers' Discussion Group participant Craig Thomson (who hosts the first-rate Kiwi Wine Fan Club site, http://myweb.ecomplanet.com/KWFC4971/) and his wife Melanie for dinner at Merlot, said to be one of Auckland's top restaurants, where we enjoyed the following wines.

Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé - Palest rosy hue with persistent bubbles. Rising dough and milk chocolate; creamy, rich texture, fresh and long.

Dry River 1995 Craighall Dry Riesling - Petrol, minerals, a hint of tangerine. Full flavors follow the nose, uff-dry and steely acidic.

Babich 1995 Hawke's Bay Irongate Chardonnay - Chestnuts and apples; big, rich and full. Oak well integrated. Fine Chardonnay, holding up very well.

Stony Ridge 1994 Waiheke Island Cabernets - Black coffee and cassis, structured and tannic.

Providence 1993 Matakana Merlot Cabernet Franc Malbec - Ripe black cherries and plums, menthol and leather notes; fruit-forward and appealing.

That wrapped up the New Zealand leg of the tour. In the morning I would head across the Tasman to Sydney and a week of judging at the Sydney International Wine Competition.

All my wine-tasting reports are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I accept no free samples from wineries or distributors, purchasing all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores.

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