Wine: Parched to perfection

By Yvonne Lorkin


Spending most of last week tootling around vineyards in Hawke's Bay, the smiles on the faces of grape growers and winemakers I met were positively infectious.

The farmers, on the other hand, they're praying for rain.

But I'm not writing about the plight of stock or the price of milk because in my world it's all about the grapes and those incredibly hot, skin-stretching days, combined with refreshing afternoon breezes broken by the odd sip of rain overnight for the vines, that add up to some pretty sexy looking crops.

Across the region teams of workers are snaking their way up and down the rows, plucking leaves from the middle of the canopy. This ensures the ripening grapes get to see some sunlight and the warm, dry air can circulate around those precious bunches, reducing the risk of rot setting in.

There's a total fire ban here and you just have to squint at the camel-coloured hills horseshoeing the Heretaunga Plains to see why. Walking through rows of ripening cabernet sauvignon in Mills Reef's Mere Rd vineyard in the Gimblett Gravels with winemaker Tim Preston, it's so dry the grass crackles like straw.

"It's hot, dusty and dry, but that's exactly what the fruit needs right now and, hopefully, it'll continue for a few weeks yet," he says.

Peter Scott, vineyard manager for Morton Estate's Riverview vineyard out in Mangatahi, kicks his boot in the powdery, topsoil which sits above layers of enormous rounded rocks known locally as "Mangatahi swedes". "Any water we do get pretty much drains straight away, meaning the vines have to work extra hard to send their roots down through this obstacle course of rock and gravel to find moisture," he says. "The result is bunches carrying small berries that are packed with flavour - and that's what we need, particularly if we're going to make a Coniglio (Morton's flagship chardonnay)."

There's a lift, a buzz in the air here about what the 2013 vintage is going to reveal and Lord knows, after the wet, wild and downright weird 2012 harvest - Hawke's Bay is due, and definitely deserves, a hot one.

Although a hot, dry season is exactly what our grape growers need, too much sun can be detrimental to the health of grapes. Spare a thought for vineyard owners in Australia, where, in areas such as Murray Valley, they estimate the recent heat waves have wiped out up to five per cent of their crop because of sunburn. Ouch.

This past week I've experienced an avalanche of rather outstanding wine so, without further ado, let's launch straight into it ...

Tohu Single Vineyard Nelson Gewurztraminer 2011, $21

A rather gorgeous gewurz that bursts with white peach, ginger, lifted lychee and spice notes and has a really interesting, almost fuzzy mouthfeel, which I like. It's clean, classy and carries really nicely through to a long finish. www.tohuwines.co.nz

Astrolabe Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012, $21

I love the leafy, herbal intensity on the nose which, within seconds, morphs into tangy passionfruit and lime, and that's exactly what you get on the palate.

Full and generous, it's a wine with punchy acidity and lovely, juicy mid-palate harmony. Succulent, sexy and a joy to drink quite frankly. www.astrolabewines.co.nz

Rippon Central Otago Gewurztraminer 2011, $33

This gewurztraminer is so good it should actually be illegal to produce, purchase, own or sell it. Seriously. Scented with lychee, Turkish delight, mesmerisingly exotic, musky spices and oozing, juicy white peach, Belgian biscuit richness and gum-tingling acidity, it's a thrill to drink.

Beautifully balanced, long and elegant, it's an extremely good example that's hard to put down. www.rippon.co.nz

Morton Estate Coniglio Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2010, $90

There is so much going on in this chardonnay it almost needs its own personal assistant. Creme caramel, candied grapefruit, grilled peach and a hefty wave of toasty, nutty notes lead the way to a long, luscious yet elegant finish. It's drinking beautifully now, but it's definitely a wine for the long haul. www.mortonestatewines.co.nz

Johanneshof Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2011, $29

It's easy to see why this wine has been elevated to "Super Classic" in Michael Cooper's Buyers Guide to New Zealand Wine because there's a whiff of Turkish delight, lychee and yellow plum as soon as you pour this into the glass. Your taste buds are then taken on a roller coaster of ripe stonefruit, ginger and tangerine.

This is an absolute must-sip for gewurztraminer gurus or first-timers because it's luscious, lovely and classy beyond belief. www.johanneshof.co.nz

- Hamilton News

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