Monday January 16, 2017
Now that we've had some temperatures in the teens and winter is a certainty, it's re-assuring to think that, right now, it's summer somewhere. All across the southern hemisphere, the seasons are opposite: summer now, winter when we're on the beach.
I just had a chance to taste some New Zealand wines made in the reversed seasons below the equator. While our temperatures sank below 20 and the ground hardened with frost, it was sunny and 70ish in Christchurch, New Zealand. The coastal breeze across Pegasus Bay from the Southern Pacific brought refreshing ocean air to the vineyards. What an ideal climate for Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris!
The island nation of New Zealand is a land of fantastic landscapes (Lord of the Rings was filmed there), steep mountain peaks, and stunning shorelines. NZ is really two main islands, the North and South, plus numerous smaller islands. Its isolated location in the southwestern Pacific made it one of the last places to be inhabited by humans and gave it a unique biodiversity.
The climate of this relatively small nation ranges from cool and wet to sunny and warm. Agricultural products make up the largest share of NZ exports, with the rapidly growing wine industry overtaking wool as a key part of the mix.
Wine has been made in New Zealand since colonial times, but their Sauvignon Blanc burst upon the world scene in the 1980s. Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough at the Northeast tip of the South Island, especially the Cloudy Bay brand, took the wine world by storm. The NZ style married the traditional tropical fruit flavors of Sancerre from Loire Valley in France with brisk acidity and refreshing citrus flavors.
With diverse climate regions and soil types on both islands, New Zealand makes a wide range of wines. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are well established producing varietal reds as well as Bordeaux-style blends. Pinot Noir is rising in production, as worldwide demand drives winemakers to search out sites where this difficult grape will thrive. Sauvignon Blanc is the dominant white wine, but Chardonnay is also widely planted. Winemakers are experimenting with Riesling, Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio) and Chenin Blanc, along with other international grape varieties.
Mt. Beautiful winery is continuing this exploration of New Zealand's wine potential. With more than 140 acres of vines including Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir, owners David and Leigh Teece have opened a new vineyard in North Canterbury on the east coast of the South island. Seven miles inland from Pegasus Bay, but sheltered from strong ocean winds by Mt. Beautiful, the vineyards are certified sustainable, and the wines are all made exclusively from estate-grown fruit.
Their Sauvignon Blanc has tamed the sometimes excessive NZ acidity, and blended tropical fruit aromas with a fresh-hay grassiness. Bright and refreshing, it's delightful to sip and well-matched with hors d'oeuvres, fish, or chicken.
Mt. Beautiful makes a small amount of Pinot Gris, a wine I'm always eager to try. This example, like some of the better ones from Oregon, has floral aromas accented with pear. The pear notes persist in the flavor along with green apple and continue into the wine's long mineral finish.
The Mt. Beautiful owners say Pinot Noir is their favorite of the five wines now under production. With a floral fragrance, red berry flavors, and mild tannins, it favors a more subtle French Burgundy style. No new-world, in-your-face, cherry-berry here.
With over 11,000 cases made, the Sauvignon Blanc ($16) should be easy to find. Production of the Pinot Noir ($26) was under 4,000 cases and the Pinot Gris ($19) only an experimental 1,500 cases. Mt. Beautiful wines are available at New Canaan Wine Merchants, Greens Farms Spirit Shop in Westport and Cost Less Wines in Stamford. Or you can ask your favorite retailer to order you some.
Mt. Beautiful doesn't host visitors at the winery, but they have a tasting room in the nearby town of Cheviot. With small plates and local products in addition to the wines, they have regular hours, but as the website says, "are often open later in summer months." It pleases me to know it's summer there now. Too bad it's so far away. I'd like to hop on a plane right now for some reverse season winter-wine touring.
Frank Whitman's Not Bread Alone runs Thursdays in The Hour. He may be reached at email@example.com