Seeing New Zealand in red
But the greatest vinous excitement of this visit comes not from these anticipated results but from the pleasure of discovering that New Zealand is producing excellent reds as well. And while Pinot Noir may be its star, no wine lover should overlook what's happening here with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and even the relatively obscure Pinotage.
If you're lucky enough to visit New Zealand and want to spend a little time exploring the wine country, I would recomment making the one-hour flight from Auckland, the largest city and usual port of entry (which reminds me a bit of Seattle), to Wellington, the capital (which reminds me more than a little of a tiny version of San Francisco).
From Wellington, it's easy to visit the Martinborough wine region - and, with a little more driving, Hawke's Bay - as well as taking a 30-minute commuter flight over a narrow strait to Blenheim on the South Island, which is right in the middle of the Marlborough region, most noted for sought-after Sauvignon Blancs like Cloudy Bay but increasingly getting to be known for outstanding Pinot Noir as well.
Further afield is Central Otago, well down the South Island and requiring a bit of effort to reach (but an effort that's worth it for serious fanciers of Pinot). Alternatively, if you simply can't get away from the Auckland area on a brief visit, you can still console yourself with visits to a number of wineries within easy reach of the city, including Kumeu River, one of Auckland's oldest vineyards, and tiny but lovely Kerr Farm Vineyard, where Jaison Kerr makes a lovely Pinotage that's a surprisingly good match with spicy fruitcake.
If a trip to New Zealand doesn't seem likely for you any time soon, you can still explore the land through its wines; although the smaller vineyards and limited-production wines are hard to find, such winery names as Cloudy Bay, Grove Mill, Villa Maria, Palliser, Isabel Estate, and quite a few more are widely distributed. Don't miss them ... and don't overlook those reds.
I'll be publishing my New Zealand and Australia tasting notes on Wine Lovers' Page before long; meanwhile, if you would like to see a large photo of the Martinborough wine region (suitable for use as computer-screen "wallpeper"), shot from the top of a hill on the Escarpment winery estate, see http://www.wineloverspage.com/wallpaper/martin.shtml.
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Top-notch New Zealand Pinot
Dark garnet. Lovely dried-cherry aromas with earth and gamey notes. Flavors follow the nose, balanced and complex; a delight. Grove Mill's wines, produced by affable wine maker Dave Pearce, are available in the U.S. and Britain, although it may be a few weeks or months before this new release makes it to retail stores. This excellent wine gives a sample of what can be done with Pinot in Marlborough - and based on barrel samples, the 2000 vintage may be even better.
(New Zealand) Wine of the Week
Winetasting.com is an online cooperative of Californiaís leading wineries selling directly to wine lovers. This gives customers like you unique access to limited-release wines not available outside the tasting room. For full information, visit http://www.winetasting.com. I have known these folks for a long time and can confidently recommend them.
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Vol. 2, No. 43, Nov. 13, 2000