Wine: Land of liquid gold

By Yvonne Lorkin


Chances are that the Central Otago riverside hamlets of Alexandra and Clyde will be best known to you for their storybook scenery and long history of hard-graft gold prospecting.

I'm hoping that will change once you hear about the leaps their wine industry has been taking.

The first wines were produced in 1987 and I was fortunate enough to be invited to taste 70 wines from the Alexandra region last week.

Held at the Clyde Bistro, the vertical tasting dated back to 1997. And what an education. Some of those late 1990s wines were still going strong, but the shift in quality from 2002 (when the first pinot noir under screwcap appeared) was simply eyepopping.

The 2002 Hinton Pinot Noir and the 2002 Dry Gully Pinot Noir were definite highlights and I was wowed by the smooth, succulent, fruity 06 Three Miners Pinot, the 06 Judge Rock, the 07 Grasshopper Rock and the 09 Greylands Ridge pinot noirs. One thing was blindingly obvious: if you like ultra-defined, fruit sweetness and concentration then that's exactly what you'll find in the pinot noir from these parts. It's a very clear and present character and quite distinct from other regional styles.

The next day, 17 members of the Alexandra Basin Winegrowers group set up camp to show their new-release wines to 200 wine lovers in the gardens of New Zealand's oldest standing winery building.

Alexandra might fly under the radar, but it has some serious vinous pedigree behind it. The first wines here were made by John Desire Feraud, a Frenchman from a winemaking family who arrived in the area in 1862 seeking gold. After making some decent coin, he retired from prospecting, invested in land, planted grapes and built a stone winery called Monte Christo.

Over the next 20 years, Feraud made wines that went on to win top prizes in Sydney shows.

But then wine production stopped and wasn't revived until a century later.

Thankfully it was revived, otherwise I'd never have been able to taste the exotically sexy Grasshopper Rock Ernscleugh Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 $30 (which scooped Top Wine of the Tasting out of 326 other entries in Cuisine Magazine) fantastic riesling from exciting new producer Omeo, or the sublime 2011 Hinton Viognier which, with its citrus oil, jasmine and rich, honeyed notes would give Hawke's Bay or Gisborne a run for their money.

A tonne of other producers are creating their own bit of liquid gold between Dunstan and Dunedin. Check them out at www.alexandrabasinwines.info

TOAST BEFORE 'TOAST'


Te Kairanga wines will be open for tasting on the first Sunday of every month as part of the Wharekauhau Wine & Food Society Farmers Market in Martinborough.

The market runs from November 11 until March in the Te Kairanga grounds on Martin's Rd. Make sure you visit their newly renovated cellar door cottage.

While there you could register for Toast before Toast, a special event being hosted by the Wharekauhau Wine and Food Society on November 17, the day before the official Toast Martinborough Festival starts. So why not sun yourself on the lawn at Wharekauhau Country Estate, treat yourself to all sorts of gorgeous morsels from chef Tim Smith and indulge in the Foley Family Wines portfolio. There are sure to be some stunners. For tickets visit www.dashtickets.co.nz

AMATEUR TASTE SENSATION


Here's an idea that I think could gain legs in New Zealand if someone was willing to run with it. I read on the www.decanter.com website that Fran Evans, a sustainability officer from London, won a competition to find the best amateur palate in Britain. The competition, which attracted 5000 entries, was organised by winestore chain Oddbins.

Hopefuls were enticed by the chance to win a holiday in Tuscany, a magnum of Champagne and the opportunity to select a new wine for the Oddbins range.

Ten finalists endured flavour experiments, aroma tests and blindfold tastings, and then asked to try three wines with cheese and smoked salmon and give a 60-second presentation on which wine they would pair with which food and why. Phew.

Four lucky survivors were then subjected to an exhaustive 30-minute blind tasting test.

The winner gave "accurate and concise answers because she didn't try to bring any peripheral knowledge into them", Oddbins head of buying Emma Nichols said. "It goes to show that wine tasting is not an elite activity - it's for everybody.'

- Hamilton News

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