Category Archives: New Zealand
Crossroads Wines, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
My last Hawke’s Bay meet-up was hosted in a hip little pseudo-Mexican restaurant called Mamagita in Haverlock with Miles Dineen and assistant winemaker George Leete of Crossroads Wines. I appreciated the gear shift from a winery visit to a casual cantina, allowing me to feel like a normal human just hanging with a couple of winemaker buddies, casually tasting 20 serious wines with platters of guac and tacos. Nearly tempted to guzzle a margarita, I, rather, kept my eye on the prize — the flagship wine “Talisman” that we would be tasting at the end (called, un-poetically, RGF in America due to somebody’s lame claim to the name). Talisman is a secret proprietary blend of five or so grapes, one of which is not a Bordeaux grape nor one grown by anyone else in the region. Threatening to sneak through the vineyards at night plucking leaf samples for lab analysis, I had good fun trying to trip Miles up in revealing the formula; alas, he kept it tight.
About Miles, he has been the winemaker at Crossroads since 2004. Born and bred in Hawke’s Bay, Miles’ first vintage was in 1996 as a cellar hand in New Zealand and then over in the US before completing a post-graduate diploma in viticulture and oenology at Lincoln University, Christchurch, in 2003. Miles chats about Mother Nature as a winemaker’s biggest challenge, compares Hawkes Bay to Sonoma, and wishes he could be traveling in the U.S.A.
I should also add a thank you to Miles (hopefully you read this one day) for transporting me to the Art Deco town of Napier to shoot photos. I would not have otherwise had a chance to see it, and am grateful for your hospitality in taking me. Thank you!
A little info from the Crossroads website:
Crossroads was started in 1987 with the aim to produce the best possible wine from an exceptional place in an exceptional country – Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand. To achieve this, it became clear we had to have total control of our winegrowing and winemaking from start to finish. To that end, Crossroads purposely sourced and developed more vineyards. Today, all our Hawke’s Bay wines come from our own vineyards.
Signature Wines and Prices:
- Talisman $48
- Winemakers Collection $38
- Milestone Series $26/20
What philosophy guides your viticulture and/or enology? Simplicity, respecting the earth and its fruit, making delicious wine that is a pleasure to drink.
What is your biggest challenge as a winemaker (e.g., volatility of Mother Nature, expense to income ratio, having to actually market your wine)? The weather is still the greatest human challenge.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of grape growing and winemaking in your region? Hawkes Bay is an awesome grape growing region for a whole range of varieties and wine styles due to our diverse soils and temperate climate. We are a long way from many major markets and trade blocs, but if anything, this makes us stronger as there is no room for complacency or bad wine.
What excites you most about New Zealand wines right now? New Zealand is one of the most dynamic wine producers in the world with ongoing rapid evolution; standards are high and the wines just keep getting better.
How do you think Americans perceive NZ wines? New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is now well respected and widely distributed and is going well in the states. There is less familiarity with our other varieties, but Americans are generally open to trying new things and the future looks very exciting for our wines stateside.
What is your favorite non-kiwi wine region? Sonoma, California–it has many similarities to Hawkes Bay on a slightly warmer base. Least? They all have their appeal.
Which wine or grape (in the world) is the least understood or respected? Muller Thurgau, the light, fruity, low-alcohol white wine that has been with us all along.
What do you drink at home when relaxing? Preferably a different wine every time. I stay with a style or region to get a good feel for what is going on; I am just coming out of a Cotes du Rhone vs California phase .
How do you spend your free time (if you have any)? Hiking, hunting, and hanging out with my family.
If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be? U.S.A.
Filed under Crossroads Wines, New Zealand
Clearview Estate Winery, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Continuing my journey through Hawke’s Bay, Tim Turvey of Clearview Estate Winery picked me up in his truck and we set off for a coastal vineyard and photography tour, replete with striking views of the shimmering aqua-blue bay. Clearview, and many of its vines, sit near the shore in a southerly location known as Te Awanga (pronounced like Tijuana, but no tacos or tequila in sight).
Turvey purchased the property that would become the winery in 1986, and bottled his first vintage in 1989. We had a brilliant afternoon in the dazzling sun (which seared my nose—the UV light dangers of NZ are no joke) largely because Tim struck me immediately upon sight, then further after a few loose, speedy turns up, over and around curbs in the car, as my father’s kiwi winemaker doppelganger. From the bleached hair and suntan, to the eyeglass frames, driving antics, and cool-dude attitude, I couldn’t believe my good luck to spend a few hours with Jim! I hoped Tim wouldn’t be upset by the comparison, but figured I probably looked nuts for continuously cracking up inexplicably at his responses to my questions, so I confessed. He laughed, and replied “well, funny you say that, my daughter looks just like you” and he whipped out his iphone and pulled up her photo. His daughter is Katie Turvey, up-and-coming winemaker for Kilikanoon Wines in Clare Valley, Australia. Just like dad, I’ve got an antipodean winemaker doppelganger too.
Signature Wines and Prices:
- Reserve Chardonnay $36 NZD,
- Old Olive Block (a Cabernets dominant Bordeaux blend) $36 NZD
What philosophy guides your viticulture and winemaking?
Let the attributes of the vineyard shine through. When the vintage is good we don’t need to do a lot of winemaking.
What is your biggest challenge as a winemaker (e.g., volatility of Mother Nature, expense to income ratio, having to actually market your wine)? Weather, being a maritime climate we have some challenges.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of grapegrowing and winemaking in your region? Cool climate viticulture on the edge.
What excites you most about New Zealand wines right now? The vines attaining 30 years of age and starting to see complexity as a result.
How do you think Americans (or the outside world) perceive NZ wines?
They love the freshness that our maritime South Pacific climate produces. We have wines with great, fresh acidity and vibrant flavours — a reflection of our clean climate.
Which wine or grape (in the world) is the least understood or respected? Merlot and Malbec are very undervalued as they are consistent producers, especially here in Hawke’s Bay.
What do you drink at home when relaxing? Chardonnay in all its forms from sparkling to dry
How do you spend your free time (if you have any)? I don’t have a lot, but when I do, I spend it with friends and family, and normally with good food and wine.
If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be? Cahors or St. Emillion
Give one surprising fact about yourself. I’m self-taught: nurseryman, viticulturalist, winemaker, tiler, builder, furniture maker, financier, marketer, and educator.
Filed under Clearview Estate Winery, New Zealand
Sileni Estates, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
I spent the afternoon yesterday in Hawke’s Bay, tasting wine with Grant Edwards, Chief Winemaker at Sileni Estates. Prior to my arrival, Grant emailed back and forth with me about his time at the winery, his winemaking philosophy, and Semillon, the misunderstood grape.
A little info on the winery, from their website:
Sileni Estates is named after the Sileni who featured in Roman mythology alongside Bacchus, the god of wine. They celebrated good wine, good food and good company.
Sileni boasts a state of the art winery designed to crush over 1500 tonnes of grapes. Our Winemaking Team have honed their winemaking skills in wineries around the world and we strive to maintain high standards in environmentally sustainable viticultural and winemaking practices. Sileni Estates produce hand crafted wines that reflect the unique characteristics of the vineyards.
Signature Wines and Prices:
- Cellar Selection Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc – RRP (NZ) $17
- The Lodge Hawkes Bay Chardonnay – RRP (NZ) $30
- The Triangle Hawkes Bay Merlot – RRP (NZ) $32
What philosophy guides your viticulture and/or enology? We want to make wines that are accessible and food-friendly.
What is your biggest challenge as a winemaker (e.g., volatility of Mother Nature, expense to income ratio, having to actually market your wine)? Getting consumer share of mind.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of grapegrowing and winemaking in your region? Benefits include high growing degree days, or GDD (esp. for reds), large areas of gravel based soils, well-established horticultural infrastructure, and a major port. Drawbacks include distance to main domestic consumption centres, weather volatility at harvest, and a small local population.
What excites you most about New Zealand wines right now? The fact that we are still one of the few growth categories in many world markets – much of the world still doesn’t know about us.
How do you think Americans (or the outside world in general) perceive NZ wines? I imagine there’s probably very little information available for them to base an opinion on. If anything, they might be surprised that we make wine, that we make good wine, that we make anything other than Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
What is your favorite non-kiwi wine region? Least? Tuscany. Champagne.
Which wine or grape (in the world) is the least understood or respected? Semillon. Makes great dry table wine if treated with
What do you drink at home when relaxing? Sileni Semillon, Italian reds, GSM, and Merlot.
How do you spend your free time (if you have any)? Orienteering, reading, and gardening.
If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be? China.
Give one surprising fact about yourself. Raised two children and still have some hair…
Filed under New Zealand, Sileni Estates
Te Mata Estate, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Te Mata Estate in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, was founded in 1896. The property was acquired by John and Wendy Buck in 1978, and is currently run by Nicholas Buck, the Estate Director, who has been with the winery, as he puts it, for “life”. Fortunately, I met Nick in person today, since his answers to my Q&A (below) in advance of my trip, were terse and cheeky. Turns out, he’s a super affable guy surrounded by a lovely team of folks that treat each other like family. Winemaker Peter Cowley has been crafting their iconic Bordeaux blend Coleraine for the nearly 30 years of its production, and this afternoon, the fantastic Mr. Larry Morgan drove me around vineyard sites, and introduced me to the hardworking Czechs (not chicks, as I later found out) who help net the vines to prevent birds from nibbling grapes as they ripen.
A few words from the winery’s site:
Te Mata Estate was established in 1896, specialising in high-quality wines of classical style. All steps in the production of our wines are undertaken by us, from grape growing and pruning through to winemaking and bottling. Today, Te Mata Estate is recognized as one of New Zealand’s most iconic and prestigious wine producers, making nearly 40,000 cases a year of premium wine and exporting to over 40 countries.
Regarding the physical winery, horse stables, constructed in the 1870s, were converted into a winery by the Chambers family in the 1890s, and are today the centre of Te Mata Estate’s winemaking. The winery has since been updated in design, with the aim to create a modern wine-making complex that reflected the character of the landscape. Specializing in in-fill architecture and innovative modernist design, Athfield Architects created a series of buildings to reflect the art deco heritage of Hawke’s Bay and the art nouveau heritage of the original Chambers homestead.
Signature Wines and Prices:
- Coleraine NZ$90
- Awatea Cabernet/Merlot NZ$40
- Bullnose Syrah NZ$50
- Elston Chardonnay NZ$40
- Cape Crest Sauvignon Blanc NZ$30
- Zara Viognier NZ$30
What philosophy guides your viticulture and/or enology? Maximising the potential of Te Mata Estate.
What is your biggest challenge as a winemaker (e.g., volatility of Mother Nature, expense to income ratio, having to actually market your wine)? Disrupting the wine world status quo.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of grapegrowing/winemaking in your region? Hawke’s bay’s ability to produce world leading wines across an array of wine styles.
What excites you most about New Zealand wines right now? The growing international recognition of the absolute quality of Hawke’s Bay’s best wines.
How do you think Americans perceive NZ wines? Source of widely available, inexpensive, reliable, good qpr, light-bodied, straight-forward, aromatic, fruity, white wines.
What is your favorite non-kiwi wine region? Least? Favorite = Sonoma; Least = Napa.
Which wine or grape (in the world) is the least understood or respected? Cabernet Sauvignon.
What do you drink at home when relaxing? Wine.
How do you spend your free time (if you have any)? Family.
If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be? Mars.
Give one surprising fact about yourself. Alternative career ambition was an astronaut.
Filed under New Zealand, Te Mata Estate
Man O’War Vineyards, Waiheke Island, New Zealand
Man O’War Vineyards was my last stop yesterday on Waiheke Island before heading off to the mainland wine regions and Hawke’s Bay. Duncan McTavish, Winemaker for the last five years, and Matt Allen, Vineyard Manager, showed me around the tasting room and property, the grapevines for which were first planted in the late 1990s. We tasted through their line-up, including the wild ferment Valhalla Chardonnay and two vintages of the dense, smoky Dreadnought Syrah, one of their signature wines that’s also available in the States (and by the glass at The Musket Room in NYC). Duncan took time to answer a few questions about the winery’s viticulture philosophy and the pros and cons to winemaking on Waiheke.
- Dreadnought Syrah NZD$55
- Valhalla Chardonnay NZD$34
What philosophy guides your viticulture? We have 76 vineyards spread over 175 acres so a lot of small parcels of fruit arrive at the winery. We want to understand each vineyard so the approach is to let each parcel speak for itself by doing as little as possible in the winery.
What is your biggest challenge as a winemaker e.g., volatility of Mother Nature, expense to income ratio, having to actually market your wine? All of the above!
What are the benefits and drawbacks of grapegrowing/winemaking in your region? The benefits are that 90% of our property is bordered by the ocean giving us a unique maritime climate coupled with volcanic soils and a varied topography allowing us to produce a diverse range of wines from a single estate. The drawbacks are that it is a challenging landscape and very labour intensive.
What excites you most about New Zealand wines right now? The people–there are some interesting characters in NZ making interesting wines.
How do you think Americans (or the outside world generally) perceive NZ wines? I would hope they are regarded as premium wines.
What is your favorite non-kiwi wine region? Favourite would be a tie between the Mosel and Burgundy (like, probably, 90% of kiwi winemakers). I’d love to travel to Portugal, but as I haven’t been there yet, I can’t call it my favourite. Least? I don’t have one.
Which wine or grape is the least understood or respected? Pinot Gris.
What do you drink at home when relaxing? Depends on the season but white Burgundy and Northern Rhone.
How do you spend your free time (if you have any)? Fishing and 2 young kids.
If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be? I’ve just come back from a two week around-the-world sales trip so I would travel down the road to my local beach; that or be transported to the Maldives.
Give one surprising fact about yourself. I’d be surprised if I could answer that…
Filed under Man O'War Vineyards, New Zealand
Destiny Bay Winery, Waiheke Island, New Zealand
Sean Spratt (an American by birth) is a very busy, multiple-hat wearing General Manager, Co-Owner (with his parents Mike and Anne) and Winemaker at Destiny Bay on Waiheke Island–aka Wine Island–New Zealand. My first stop on a 3-week journey across the country, Spratt took time to answer a long-distance interview before my arrival on January 26th (which is now today). We touched on topics such as the cost of doing business as a winery on a very expensive, little island; his predilection for scuba diving; and the “Sideways” effect on Merlot.
Destiny Bay Vineyards is located in a small, north facing valley on Waiheke Island, New Zealand. Established in 2000, Destiny Bay grows Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot from top-grade clones selected from premium wine districts around the world.
Destiny Bay’s Signature Wines and Prices (Prices are in USD and include taxes and shipping to customer door within 48 Continental US States. Must order in multiples of 8, 12 or 15 bottles):
- Magna Praemia RRP $330 / $180 Patron Club
- Mystae RRP $150 / $85 Patron Club
- Destinae RRP $100 / $60 Patron Club
What philosophy guides your viticulture and enology practices? We produce New Zealand’s highest rated and most expensive wine. We have an obligation to our patrons to uphold this tradition based on quality and artistic expression of our site through the wines. All decisions from grape to bottling are guided by this philosophy. That being said, our belief is that great wines are made in the vineyard not in the winery. Furthermore, we feel that expression of the fruit and vineyard is critical and that is why we do a level of grading and sorting that is unparalleled in New Zealand.
What is your biggest challenge as a winemaker (e.g., volatility of Mother Nature, expense to income ratio, having to actually market your wine)? Adapting to changing conditions without lowering any standard. It means our vintage volume swings wildly from year to year, wreaking havoc on capacity, oak barrel ordering, supplies and the psyche of our whole team.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of grapegrowing and winemaking on Waiheke? Waiheke’s unique weather and soils allow us to grow grapes of uncommon character – especially the Bordeaux varieties at our site. The drawback is that it is ridiculously expensive to do this.
What excites you most about New Zealand wines right now? Hopefully we are about to shift our global narrative to remind the world that nobody makes fine wine with the same commitment to protecting the planet as New Zealand does.
How do you think Americans perceive NZ wines? As an American by birth I have a pretty good idea. By and large most who know us recognize us for being a value priced, good quality, Sauvignon Blanc. In very small circles, Destiny Bay has cultivated a distinctly different perception.
What is your favorite non-kiwi wine region? Your least? Santa Cruz Mountains and Howell Mountain. Least is Romania, although even they are improving (slowly).
Which wine or grape (in the world) is the least understood or respected? That is tough. I am going to say Merlot because of the effect the movie “Sideways” had on popular culture. I’m amazed at how often people still talk about that scene from the movie. Otherwise, probably Riesling. Riesling is the grape that winemakers and wine-writers love and always seem flummoxed over why it isn’t more popular in the marketplace.
What do you drink at home when relaxing? A wide range of red and white wines from all over the world. I love the obscure varieties that aren’t common place (Marsanne, Roussanne, Picpoul de Pinet, Nebbiolo, etc…) Of course, I drink our wines, but as a winemaker, I am constantly looking to taste and explore wines from everywhere.
How do you spend your free time (if you have any)? I had a little bit of a chuckle when I read this question. You realize you are asking this question of a winemaker who is also an owner in what has to be one of the most vertically integrated global wineries that produces less than 2500 cases per year, right? Joking aside, with what little free time I have, I run/swim/cycle to stay healthy in body and mind since winemaking at the level which we operate requires a lot of concentration. Recreationally, I have a monthly wine club with friends, and when I travel, I try to hit wine regions I haven’t been to before, but also try to make sure I get a stopover in a tropical location where there is great scuba diving.
If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be? I would love to visit Portugal and explore their wine regions. Also, I have yet to make it to the Margaret River in West Australia. Otherwise, I try to make a trip to California each year to see family and friends.
Give one surprising fact about yourself. I used to be a stage actor and I am also a PADI Dive Instructor.
Filed under Destiny Bay Winery, New Zealand
Postcard: Hei Matau, Room with a View
Filed under Waiheke
Postcard: Auckland, New Zealand
Auckland, New Zealand as seen from the ferry to Waiheke Island.
First shot of my 3-week journey around New Zealand.
Filed under Auckland, New Zealand
New Zealand State of Wine with Sommelier Erin Scala of the Musket Room
If you missed my column Unscrewed last week in the Village Voice, here’s your second chance to read my interview with The Musket Room’s sommelier Erin Scala.
Erin Scala, originally from the state for lovers (Virginia), is currently having a love affair with New Zealand, especially the wines. She’s a female force on the NYC sommelier scene and has run the wine show at The Musket Room (265 Elizabeth Street, 212-219-0764), New York’s first restaurant showcasing haute Kiwi cuisine, for the last four months. In the interview that follows, Scala details how subway busking and a job making Mexican tortillas led to her career as a sommelier, and she also expounds upon New Zealand’s vinous state of affairs, strongly suggesting we start cellaring future NZ classics before the rest of the world catches on.
How did you get started in the wine and restaurant industry?
Virginia is a blossoming wine country, and as a kid, I used to run among the vines at my dad’s friends’ vineyards, so I was always in close proximity to wine, quite literally. But in high school and college I was a dedicated musician. I played drums in several bands and got to travel to pretty much every state in the U.S. on tour plus several performances elsewhere in the world.
In high school, I had to raise money to afford a band trip, so I got my first restaurant gig at a Mexican joint making tortillas. When I got my first paycheck I couldn’t believe it–$200 all for me! I was so happy I could afford new drum sticks or a cymbal! But one can barely scratch by on drumming gigs, so from then on I almost always had a restaurant gig on the side. When I first moved to Manhattan, I used to busk on the Union Square L platform, but then I got really serious as a sommelier, and it was just too all-consuming to have the time to play in the subways anymore. But I still play for fun, and I’ll take a studio recording job here or there.
Do you remember your first taste of wine and what it was?
I’m pretty sure that my first taste of wine was out of a box at a party, unfortunately. My first taste of a great wine that made me start studying, however, was Fonsalette; shortly after, I tried a killer Monbazillac. Then it just snowballed, and I became obsessed.
How long have you been with the Musket Room, and what is the focus of the list you’ve built?
The Musket Room opened in late May 2013, and I joined the team in the first week. It’s a brand new restaurant, doing something incredibly unique; we just hit our four-month mark and received a Michelin Star! Our talented chef Matt Lambert is from Auckland, and his food is “Modern New Zealand.” The wine list revolves around high-quality New Zealand selections but has plenty of interesting wines from around the world. We have help on the ground in New Zealand from Cameron Douglas, master sommelier.
How does the list complement the food?
Often in US restaurants, you’ll find cheap New Zealand wine in tandem with low-quality food. People will go to a pub or diner and expect a cheap NZ Sauvignon Blanc to go with simple bar food. But there is a whole other side to New Zealand wine, and The Musket Room wine list is a window into this world. We are doing something completely different by offering the best of New Zealand wine with inventive and inspiring New Zealand cuisine. When you drink these great wines with such great food, it presents what is happening in the New Zealand wine realm in a completely different light. I see people’s faces light up every night when I open some of these interesting bottles. Of course, the Kiwi community in NYC is already in the know, and they come in and are happy but not surprised.
Why have you spent so much of your career focused on the wines of the Antipodes, first Aussie and NZ at Public, and now NZ at the Musket Room?
I’ve always tried to grow and learn in my career. I started off working a French wine list, and then moved to an American one. When the job at Public opened up, I was curious to explore the Antipodes because it was a weak area for me. In music school, you learn that to become better at the performance of a particular piece, you must work on your weakest area until it is your best. If you approach practicing this way–be it music or wine study or whatever it is you do–you will make your base level of performance much higher.
The best way to learn the wines of a country (aside from going there) is to work a wine list predominant in those wines. I was curious and ready for a challenge in my career, so I hit the books and learned everything I could about Australia and New Zealand to prepare for the job at Public. When I left Public, my first thought was to challenge myself again and work perhaps a Spanish or Italian wine list, but then I watched a service at The Musket Room, and I knew that something very, very special was happening there, and I wanted to be a part of it. It’s been a great four months, too. There is always so much to learn as a sommelier; the pool of facts, vintages, soils, and varieties is really endless, but focusing in on New Zealand closer than I ever have before–even at Public–has been a great learning experience.
Even though I just spoke about challenging yourself with confronting weaknesses and focusing on the unknown, there is also something to be said for committing yourself to one thing and getting to know it on a deeper level. Like all great things, learning is a paradox because it asks you to both grow and reflect. At Public I was always playing the New Zealand wines off of Australia, always comparing them to Australia. Australia was always part of the conversation. But at The Musket Room, the New Zealand wines stand alone and rightly so.
|Scala pairs New Zealand wines to New Zealand fare|
Are there any recent movements in the New Zealand wine industry?
All movements in the New Zealand wine industry are recent, and that is what is so cool about it. I feel that I am watching history being made–a history to which not that many sommeliers are paying attention. Though a few people were making wines back in the late 1800s, the wine scene in New Zealand really started in the late 1970s.
Many of the answers that I search for–e.g. the sub-regions of Central Otago, the long-term ageability of Waitaki Riesling, the future of corks in New Zealand–are still being worked out. When asked about Central Otago sub-regions, many winemakers say “It is just too early to tell–our vines are only 10 to 20 years old!” For me, this is one of the most exciting parts of my job. To learn the fine details, we must all stay tuned with open minds.
There isn’t much chatter about NZ wines beyond Sauv Blanc and Pinots. Would you say NZ wines tend to be overlooked here in the States?
I think the wines of NZ are definitely overlooked–the good wines, that is. A lot of it has to do with consumer expectations and market pricing. Many people expect New Zealand wines to be cheap because of the flood of inexpensive Sauvignon Blanc in the 1990s, and a lot of wine consumers demand value; but many of the best New Zealand wines can be pricey, for a number of reasons.
People who are willing to spend $200 on a bottle of Pinot Noir in a restaurant will often lean toward the familiar and choose a Burgundy rather than experiment with an insanely good Pinot Noir, like, for instance, Rippon’s Tinker’s Field. But there are plenty of values out there, especially if you are willing to spend between $20 and $30 per bottle in a wine shop, or $60 to $80 in a restaurant. We’ve watched emerging wine regions earn respect in the past–California, then Oregon. New Zealand is right there.
I think in 15 to 20 years, I will laugh at this interview because these great wineries that are buzzing just beneath the global radar, like Rippon, Millton, and Fromm, will be collectors’ items by that time. It’s funny–I’m pouring some of these great wines by the glass every night, and I think, “I hope people realize what they are drinking!” I think they do. I can see it in their faces.
Outside of Pinot, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, what other grapes are, or could be, important to NZ?
This is a tough question for many reasons, and it cannot be addressed solely by addressing grapes. Why? Because within each category of grape variety lies a collection of different clones, making the answer to “which grape” complex. Additionally, clones develop differently in different regions, and in the hands of different producers. To be true to my sommelier beliefs, I cannot just gloss over all of these issues and spit out grape varieties that are doing well in New Zealand. There are many international grape varieties that grow well there. But, as I mentioned, New Zealand is only a part of the equation. I think a grape variety will do well in a suitable climate and make a great wine only in the hands of a dedicated and thoughtful producer.
What capable and thoughtful producers are working with alternative varieties in New Zealand? I can definitely name a few. Nick Mills (Central Otago) at Rippon is making amazing Gewürztraminer, Riesling, and Osteiner. James Millton (Gisborne) bottles some of the most sublime Chenin Blanc I have ever had. He also makes great Viognier. Ostler winery (Waitaki Valley) has Pinot Gris and Riesling that never fails to amaze me. Want a big red that will make your head spin? Try the Syrah from Dry River (Martinborough) with some age on it. For ethereal Pinot Gris, take a trip to Ponui Island and see what Man O’ War winery (Waiheke Island) is making. There is so much more–I could write a book! [Editor’s note: For further expansion on these topics, visit Scala’s blog.]
What can you recommend from your list that gives customers either a good value and/or a sense of place of the regions from which they come?
I have plenty of recommendations. From Gisborne, you must try James Millton’s Chenin Blanc before you die! Period. It’s by the glass at The Musket Room, so stop by and cross this must off your bucket list.
From Marlborough is Fromm’s La Strada Pinot Noir with some age. From Martinborough, I suggest Dry River’s Gewürztraminer and Syrah and the Ata Rangi Pinot Noir. Out of Waitaki Valley, look for Ostler anything! A few from Central Otago include anything from Rippon, Terra Sancta’s Pinot Noir, and Quartz Reef sparkling wine. From Canterburry, anything from Pyramid Valley. Finally, out of Waipara, I like Pegasus Bay “Bel Canto” Riesling and Mountford Pinot Noir.
Moving beyond the NZ wine scope, have you noticed any consumer trends over the last few years?
Pinot Noir is mind-bogglingly popular. It’s always the top selling wine by the glass and by the bottle at every restaurant I’ve ever worked in.
What are your personal drinking habits off the job?
Beer. At the end of a 12- to 15-hour work day, there is nothing else that compares to an awesome, cold, frothy beer, and the alcohol is lower, so it’s better for your liver. I’m addicted to Lagunitas IPA.
Do you regularly keep any specific wines at home?
There is always a bottle of Campari. But I change up the wine. I like to ask the people at the wine shops to put together a case for me–wrapped up–so I can blind taste the bottles. Last night I blind tasted a Sicilian Frapato, and it totally blew me away.
Do you have a favorite wine and food pairing?
I love pairing Gewürztraminer with dishes that have a lavender element. I like Tempranillo with pizza and Cabernet Franc with tacos. Botrytis wines with panna cotta. Old school Rioja with dishes that have a dill element. Funky Poulsard with mushrooms. Chablis can be magical with caviar. Crazy, awesome Riesling pairs best with a book on Philosophy.
If you could be traveling anywhere right now, where would you be?
I would be on a boat somewhere, eating some fresh grilled fish, listening to Bach, and washing it all down with something local and delicious.
Filed under New Zealand, Sommelier