Like everyone else in similar status on the packed airplane, though, I survived the flight and even slept fitfully despite the claustrophobic conditions; so when I arrived at Auckland at the crack of dawn on Thursday (Wednesday having magically disappeared as we crossed the International Date Line), I didn't feel much more groggy than my hosts, Sue and Neil Courtney, who had gotten up before 5 a.m. to come out to the airport and greet me.
Sue, who is publisher of the excellent Wine of the Week Website, New Zealand's top independent wine site (http://www.wineoftheweek.com), would be my guide during my short stay in the country. To get in as much wine touring as possible, she had planned a schedule that began immediately. After a quick cup of coffee in the airport, we jumped on an hourlong flight to Wellington, the nation's capitol, located at the south end of the North Island. There, we got a car and headed over the Rimatuka Hill (which looked a lot like a mountain to me) toward Martinborough, our first wine-country destination.
Palliser Estate 2000 Martinborough Pinot Gris - Very pale. Delicious pear scent, crisp and ripe, with such cleansing acidity that its 7 grams per liter of residual sugar hardly shows. $26
Palliser Estate 2000 Martinborough Riesling - Very pale. Orange blossom and apple, zingy acidity cloaks gentle fresh-fruit sweetness. $18
Palliser Estate 2000 Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc - Pale brass, ripe tropical fruit, rich and full. Citrus and boxwood, Big and brash, yet finesseful. $20
Palliser Estate 1999 Martinborough Chardonnay - Light gold. Rich tropical fruit, big and round. "New World" but balanced. $24.50
Palliser Estate 1999 Martinborough Pinot Noir - Clear ruby. Full dried cherry aromas and flavors, Layered and complex, faint and pleasant bitterness in the finish. Very fine. $34
Palliser Estate 1997 Methode Champenoise - pale gold. Delicious bready and complex chocolate-nut aromas and flavors. Frothy, fresh, clean and lasting. $32
Margrain 1999 Martinborough Riesling - Citrus and minerals, crisp and tart; cleansing and fresh.
Margrain 2000 Martinborough Pinot Gris (tank sample) - fizzy from the tank; clear straw. Lime and melon, tart and crisp, pleasant spice.
Margrain 2000 Martinborough Chenin Blanc - Pale straw, tasty melon and apple aromas. Sweet, sippable, with snappy acidity for balance.
Margrain 2000 Martinborough Gewürztraminer - Pale gold. Good fresh grapefruit aroma, leads into a complex flavor of litchees, citrus and pleasant bitter almond, fresh-fruit sweetness structured with firm acidity.
Margrain 1999 Martinborough Chardonnay - Clear pale gold, apples, chestnuts and spice. Full, rich and round, tasty Chardonnay flavors follow the nose. Excellent.
Margrain 1999 Martinborough Pinot Noir - Dark garnet, perfumed cherry fruit. Good tart-cherry flavor, pleasantly herbal; slight bitter finish.
Stratford 2000 Martinborough Pinot Noir (barrel sample) - (Canning's own label.) Clear, light rosy red. Perfumed and herbal, like the '99, but seems to show more intensity and potential.
Margrain 2000 Martinborough Merlot (barrel sample) - Dark garnet. Raw beef, herbal, juicy.
Ata Rangi 2000 Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc - Very pale straw. Good, fresh chile-pepper aromas. Full and fresh, full-bore NZ Sauvignon Blanc. $18
Ata Rangi 1999 Martinborough Craighall Chardonnay - Lovely tropical fruit, balanced and full. $35
Ata Rangi 2000 Wairapara Young Vines Pinot Noir - Light garnet. Ripe wild-cherry, fruit and spice. "Pinot Nouveau," but fun. $24
Ata Rangi 1999 Martinborough Pinot Noir - Black cherry and tomato skin, very appealing aromas. Ripe and tart, fresh fruit flavors follow the nose. $45
Ata Rangi 1998 Martinborough Célèbre (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah) - Inky blackish-purple, peppery black fruit, herbs and hay. Big, full and deep, flavors follow the nose; very sharp acidic finish. $32
We finished our day with a visit to Larry McKenna, longtime winemaker at Martinborough Vineyards, who is now working on his own new project, Escarpment Vineyard. Larry took us for a ride to the top of a hill overlooking his vineyard and much of Martinborough; I've added a large copy of a panoramic photo from there to our online collection of Wine Country 'Wallpaper'.