John Hawkesby

John Hawkesby is a wine writer for Canvas Magazine.

Wine: Something in the air

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Vina Pilar-Crianza Tempranillo, $27. Photo / Supplied
Vina Pilar-Crianza Tempranillo, $27. Photo / Supplied

Veteran English wine writer Hugh Johnson is quite right when he observes that a wine tastes best in the village where it is made.

I'm not suggesting that wine doesn't travel well but there are factors that come into play when strolling among the vines, glass in hand, with a wine made from the soil on which you are walking.

Johnson, a frequent visitor to New Zealand, once remarked while tasting wine at some coastal Waiheke Island vineyards that he could taste the salt from the sea air in the wines.

"Not a problem," he was quick to say, "merely a fact that vines close to the sea take on some salty characters, which add interest and complexity."

This is part of the notion of "terroir", first championed by the French and the term used to describe the holistic combination of soil, topography and climate that gives a wine its ultimate character regardless of winemaking practices.

There is a theory that Marlborough sauvignon blancs are unique, vibrant, aromatic and so popular internationally because no other region in the world can duplicate the special soils and climatic conditions particular to Marlborough.

We all owe it to the future of the New Zealand wine industry to keep the rumour alive.

Then there is the notion that grapes indigenous to certain countries won't travel well.

This has proved inaccurate, although certain varietals do better. For example, cabernet sauvignon likes a reasonable level of heat and a lengthy growing season, otherwise it doesn't ripen fully and as a result can produce leafy, vegetal, downright lousy wines. It does well in the hothouse areas of Hawkes Bay but is not so flash in the cooler climes of Central Otago.

Tempranillo is Spain's calling card for reds - their answer to cabernet sauvignon - but is now being exported hither and yon, including New Zealand where it is attracting some attention.

It's a wine that's likely to find some traction here because of its fruity, juicy simplicity but with a flavour profile that appeals to the Kiwi palate. It's an interesting exercise to compare a local sample against the Spanish.

2006 Vina Pilar-Crianza Tempranillo, $27
A fine example of a reasonably priced Spanish tempranillo, imported into New Zealand by Caros Fine Wines in Parnell. Goes beautifully with a variety of tapas. It is full and fruity with a touch of mellow sweetness.

2009 Black Barn Tempranillo, $48
From a smart Hawkes Bay producer. This wine has a rich, almost black colour, bursting with ripe plum, raisins, liquorice, spice and savouriness, with heaps of complexity and smooth tannins. They'd love it in Spain.

- NZ Herald

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