Wine for the senses

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Aromatic wines offer up a full-on sensory experience.

Hihi Sweet As Gisborne 2010 $14. Photo / Babiche Martens
Hihi Sweet As Gisborne 2010 $14. Photo / Babiche Martens

A floral bouquet of rose and jasmine with high notes of citrus and ginger, finishing with notes of musk and exotic spice" - this enticing description is of a perfume, but could equally be applied to a wine made from one of the so-called aromatic varieties, which have been taking off in our vineyards in recent years.

As their name suggests, aromatic varieties make wines that are more fragrant than most, with their naturally potent aromas something they possess inherently, rather than being a product of any winemaking input, such as contact with barrels. Redolent of a summer garden, they make for great seasonal drinking, and come in a variety of styles. One of the most recognisable is gewurztraminer, in which rosewater and lychee leap out of the glass along with the spicy character that inspired the "wurz' in its Germanic name. Examples can be quite high in alcohol and full in body, which works fine when there are big flavours there to support this.

Another similarly opulently textured and highly scented grape is viognier. It often smells of a more musky spice, joined by its typical mouth-filling apricot and peach fruit.

Once tipped to be the next big thing in New Zealand's vineyards, its popularity appears to have been held back by difficulties in pronouncing its name - vee-on-yay.

Although not considered an aromatic variety in its homeland of France, our flagship sauvignon blanc makes powerfully pungent examples when grown here.

Its success has signalled both to winegrowers and the world's wine drinkers that New Zealand seems well suited to making extremely aromatic styles.

Pinot gris is another popular variety regarded as an aromatic here, which often fuses notes of spice, quince and pear in a palate that can be fairly full and rich when made in a riper style. However, in Italy - where it's known as pinot grigio and picked earlier - examples are far lighter in both weight and aroma.

Riesling is one of the noblest aromatics. Though its often-floral peachy fragrance is less pronounced than other varieties, it excels in the crispness and purity of it wines, which range from bone dry to super sweet.

Muscat is a grape that's been around in our vineyards for years, although it's never really taken off in the same way as sauvignon, and more recently pinot gris. It's a shame, as this variety - which makes blossom-infused wines which are some of the few to actually taste of grapes - can make pretty perfumed wines which range from still and dry to sweet and spritzy "moscato" styles.

As a rule, the term aromatic is usually applied to white grapes. However, red varieties can pack a perfumed punch too. Syrah can display overt notes of black pepper, actually derived from a component present in peppercorns. Italy's nebbiolo can be redolent of roses, while pinot noir can possess a fragrant floral dimension.

There's a tendency for aromatic whites in particular to hail from cooler climates as they can often lose their aromatic intensity in warmer places.

Conditions here in nippy New Zealand seem to favour them, making fresh examples that across the board seem to turn up the dials in aromatic intensity, as has been seen in our sauvignons.

Given our strong track record with the existing aromatics we're making, winegrowers have also been experimenting with new varieties. These include Austria's peppery gruner veltliner, Italy's arneis, with its notes of nut and herb and most recently Spain's citrusy albarino.

Inspired by the gentil or edelzwicker multi-varietal blends of the aromatic heartland of Alsace, a growing trend has been to combine a selection of aromatic varieties. Rather than resulting in a cacophony of flavours, the best can balance the freshness of a grape like riesling, the weight of a gris and the intense aromatics of a variety like gewurztraminer.

So pop a drop in your glass, or a dab behind your ears, and get aromatic this summer.

SUMMER SPICE

VIVA VIOGNIER
Te Mata Zara Hawkes Bay Viognier 2010 $31.99
One of the country's most consistently successful viogniers, Te Mata's flavoursome expression is a delicious fusion of apricot, bergamot, lemon blossom and spice in a fresh but richly viscous palate. (From Caro's, Glengarry, Fine Wine Delivery Company.)

BEST IN SHOW
Whitehaven Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2010 $19.95
Whitehaven's gorgeous gewurztraminer was named the Supreme Champion Wine in Show at the recent International Aromatic Wine Competition. Rosewater and spice box notes of cinnamon and clove combine in its opulently textured but beautifully balanced palate. (From La Cantina, First Glass.)

AROMATIC ASSEMBLAGE
Hihi Sweet As Gisborne 2010 $14
Great value summer drinking in this eclectic assemblage of gewurztraminer, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and semillon. Off dry rather than sweet, it's fresh and pretty with notes of lychee and peach. (From Direct Wines.)

- NZ Herald

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