Babich 2005 Chardonnay “Unwooded” (Hawke’s Bay) – Under screwcap, and heavily reduced. It doesn’t much matter, however, because there’s just not much here to rescue; the mild, melony fruit is wimpy and generally useless. Babich is typically a very solid producer, even at the low end, so this performance is a little surprising. (8/07)
Tasting notes from the Boston Wine Expo. These were difficult tasting conditions, where speed and distraction were the norm rather than the exception. Thus, notes are brief at best, somewhat superficial, and cannot in truth be otherwise.
Rockburn 2005 Riesling (Central Otago) – Slate/quartz dominated, with clean lemon and green apple. It’s long, concentrated and very intense. A terrific wine. (2/07)
Villa Maria “Private Bin” 2005 Riesling (Marlborough) – Good and intense, with apples and rocky quartz. A fine value. (2/07)
Villa Maria “Private Bin” 2005 “Unoaked” Chardonnay (Hawke’s Bay) – Golden fig, melon and spice with a leafy finish. It’s ripe, but there’s a worrisome Styrofoam note on the midpalate. (2/07)
Mana 2006 Chardonnay (Marlborough) – Stone fruit, grapefruit and clementine with a touch of cream on the nose. It’s better than the sauvignon blanc, but only just. (2/07)
Crossroads “Destination Series” 2005 Chardonnay (Hawke’s Bay) – Crisp and clean, showing melon, pineapple and pine nuts. Ripe and very scrubbed. Simple, fruit-forward chardonnay with no rough edges. (2/07)
Dog Point 2006 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Incredibly intense, with green, white and red pepper (a little like the Italian flag, I suppose). Vivacious, with striking minerality. This wine continues to show the constraints under which so many formulaic Marlborough sauvignons operate, yet it remains unmistakably Marlborough. (2/07)
Grove Mill 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Round, showing grapefruit and pineapple in a sugar wash. The person pouring this wine makes pretentious and somewhat obnoxious noise about Grove Mill’s status as the only carbon-neutral winery in New Zealand. Well, that’s great, and I’m happy for them, but how about a little less residual sugar in this overly goopy sauvignon blanc, rather than appealing to the basest of sugar-loving palates? That’s the sort of neutrality I’d be more interested in. (2/07)
Redcliffe 2005 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – From magnum, though for what reason I can’t imagine. Slightly sulfurous (is it reduction?) with melon, grapefruit and grass. Boring and quite sweet. Dull, dull, dull. (2/07)
Villa Maria “Private Bin” 2006 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Mild and simple, with grass and some vague hints of ripeness. Overall, however, this is quite dilute, and a step down from previous years. (2/07)
Mana 2006 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Gooseberry and pineapple with green, underripe notes. In other words, fairly classic. But I’m over this style. (2/07)
Crossroads “Destination Series” 2006 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – Clean and metallic, with a short finish. Different enough to be interesting, but there’s some things missing here. (2/07)
Mana 2006 Pinot Noir (Marlborough) – Filmy raspberry sauce with acrid, slightly bitter medicinal notes. Crisp but underripe. (2/07)
Dog Point 2004 Pinot Noir (Marlborough) – Strawberry, plum, ripe blood orange and golden beet. Balanced, and almost approaching something one might call “elegant”…but in context, because it is fruity. Call it a fruit firecracker, rather than a fruit bomb. (2/07)
Mana 2005 Pinot Noir (Marlborough) – Burnt leaves and nasty, charred red cherry. Very underripe and shockingly tart. (2/07)
Rockburn 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Beet soup nose, turning to blended fat berries and plums. Soft but full-bodied, though it finishes somewhat stringy. It’s cleanly made, but it already shows signs that it might wear down under the ravages of age, so drink it soon. (2/07)
Villa Maria “Private Bin” 2004 Pinot Noir (Marlborough) – Strawberry and red cherry. Simple and pleasant, with light lemon verbena accents. (2/07)
Villa Maria “Private Bin” 2005 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon (Hawke’s Bay) – Herbal medicine and dirt with blueberry and blackberry, finishing with a barky texture. Dissolute. (2/07)
Crossroads “Destination Series” 2004 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon (Hawke’s Bay) – Soupy herbs, blueberry and wood bark. Firm enough, but not very good despite some hand-waving in the direction of structure. (2/07)
Crossroads 2002 “RGF” (Hawke’s Bay) – Sophisticated black fruit and dark leather over stones. Good acid. Balanced and surprisingly polished. (2/07)
Signs, signs, everywhere a sign
It would be a peaceful, remote beach lapped by cold southern waters, its beauty preserved by its very remoteness. It would, but it’s not, because the town and its beach are littered with agitation. “No reserve!” is the slogan repeated on signs, placards, graffiti on dozens of walls and houses…we’ve waded into some sort of simmering anger, but we’re completely oblivious as to the cause. Yet here in Port Molyneux, they’re certainly exercised about something.
We’d arisen early enough, but last-minute packing, cleaning, and more lengthy reminiscence and chit-chat from host Bill led us to depart from the Otago Peninsula little later than we’d intended. Today’s voyage is one of the chanciest of the entire vacation, because its success or failure depends largely on the quality of Southland’s highly unpredictable weather. Plus, time is also a looming concern. If it rains, it’s a quick but disappointing trip to our next bed. If it doesn’t, we’ve got to pick and choose from among far too many enticing options, lest we miss dinner at the other end. But a passage of the ultra-remote Catlins, unquestionably one of those paths less-trodden (which, for an already remote area, is saying something) by tourists, is something we must at least attempt.
Much is made, by Kiwis, of the potential dangers of the road. Twisty and often unpopulated by cars, it is unsealed for a few dozen kilometers (though the government is in the process of rectifying this), but I grew up on gravel roads and am not much intimidated by rocks under my wheels. And, truth be told, one can easily proceed through the Catlins without ever really experiencing true remoteness and anything wilder than the road; towns, at least on the eastern half of the drive, are pretty common and easily accessed, services are abundant, and there’s no real lack of infrastructure. But traveling the Catlins that way would be a mistake, one we’re determined to avoid. As long as the weather cooperates.
A man’s home…
Of all the things and places toured by visitors to New Zealand, a castle is one of the most unlikely. This is a country of natural wonders, of breathtaking scenery, of environments so unique they can never be truly captured by word or image. Castles…well, Europe is stuffed to the gills with ’em, and some pretty damned impressive ones as well. What could this far-flung corner of a far-flung country possibly offer in comparison?
A long, tragic, and occasionally scandalous history, for one thing…which is appropriate enough. Larnach Castle isn’t going to make anyone forget, say, Warwick, but it’s a pleasant enough diversion for a morning’s visit. The rooms are nicely restored, showing a level of historic extravagance that seems even more out of place (given its remote location, far from what would have passed for “civilization” in those days) than does the castle itself, and there are some entertaining decorative details: “sans peur (without fear),” the original owner’s family motto, is paired on an elaborate stained glass window with…those with an affection for puns can see it coming…several cats. Lodging and meals are available, though one has to book far in advance.
However, it’s the grounds that are the real draw here. Not only is the castle itself situated in a high point of the Otago Peninsula, providing (especially from its upper turret) wonderful panoramic views of the peninsula’s hills and harbor, but careful work has been done to make the grounds a showpiece for local plants and flowers. Neither Theresa nor myself have ever been particularly moved by matters botanical, but between yesterday’s hike and this morning’s excursion, we’re developing more interest than we’d ever imagined. In one especially artful corner of the grounds, with sheep covering the far-below valley floor like little maggots or grains of wiggling rice, a massive stump has sprouted a cleverly-carved door; something straight out of (or to) Narnia. (Unfortunately, the magical aura is a bit dampened when one peers behind the door; it turns out that it’s just a storage closet for gardening supplies. Mr. Tumnus is nowhere to be found.)
…is around his neck
We partake of a latish lunch, feasting from yesterday’s leftovers, including the Kennedy Point 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough), which is greener and leaner than it was the day before, showing more lemongrass, lime, and lemon thyme than the tropical notes it had sported previously. It’s still quite fun, though.
Driving east along the harbor, we pass an abandoned whaling station, a series of picturesque huts on elevated piers, and the rather depressed Maori settlement of Otakau (after which the peninsula is named), before climbing up the steep promontory at the end of the peninsula to Taiaroa Head. Far below us, waves thunder against ocean-etched cliff walls, with tangled colonies of bull kelp oscillating in the water’s relentless approach and retreat. A lonely lighthouse dots the tip of the peninsula, but what we’re here for is just a little bit inland.
On the rocky shore known as Pilots Beach, people congregate around a wretched stench. Blending into the rock are several dozen sea lions…many behind a protective fence, but some unconcernedly napping just a few feet from a curious public. They’re adorable, but wow does their waste smell horrible. And all around them, no doubt adding to the stench, are the crushed and rotted carcasses of unwary seagulls. We do spend some close-up time with these blubbery snoozers, but eventually the stench overwhelms us, and we scale a long path to a rather crowded car park. Anyway, it’s time.
The aquamarine rippling of the Hauraki Gulf throws shadows and highlights onto the trees below us. A breeze gently ruffles the leaves, then stills, freshening the quiet air but leaving nothing but memory in its wake. I hold up my glass of sauvignon blanc, which shines bright and clear in the sunlight, and take a deep, luxurious sniff. All is right with the world.
Though not quite as much is right with the wines.
We’re on the patio at Kennedy Point, looking down a rather precipitous cliff to the ocean, and working through a tasting conducted by a friendly young Californian. But after the sauvignon blanc, I’m afraid it’s all as downhill as the below-patio slope.
Dubourdieu “Château Graville-Lacoste” 2003 Graves (Bordeaux) – Marlborough sauvignon blanc: tropical fruit, zingy gooseberry, and residual sugar (or at least something that does a good imitation thereof). At $15.99 locally, it’s about the same price as the mid-level “Cellar Selection” Sauvignon Blanc from Villa Maria, which actually has a little more verve. But I don’t mean to choose for anyone else.
Dubourdieu “Château Graville-Lacoste” 2002 Graves (Bordeaux) – Fairly tight, showing green-streaked citrus and apple aromas with a firm acidic foundation and occasional razor-slashes of minerality. It responds very badly to air, but for the first hour or so it’s quite nice, and laser-sharp with food.
(For commentary on these wines, visit oenoLogic…the site, the lifestyle, the cheese sandwich.)
(Notes below reposted from elsewhere, for tagging purposes.)
Onetangi Road 2004 Rosé (Waiheke Island) – Juicy raspberry goodness that’s big and slightly hot, but despite the slightly overweight character it’s a really fun, full-fruited summer quaffer. It will get you tipsy, though. I suggest a post-lunch layabout on an isolated beach.
Westport Rivers 2000 Brut “Cuvée RJR” (Southeastern New England) – I serve this blind, and it’s amusing to hear the guesses. I doubt there’s much Massachusetts wine served in Auckland’s French bistros…or Auckland, or New Zealand, or really anywhere outside New England. I find it lemony and frothy, showing ripe apple and a big burst of fruit with a rather abrupt finish, but it seems to be a bigger hit at the table. The ’98 was better.
Trinity Hill 2003 Tempranillo Gimblett Gravels (Hawke’s Bay) – New Zealand winemakers work from a very limited palette of grapes. From region to region, winery to winery, one finds so many of the same grapes (vinified with the same profiles in mind) that a certain ennui is inescapable. No doubt the market has much to do with this state of affairs, but one hopes that as the industry moves inexorably towards maturity, new varietal horizons may be reached by some adventurous winemakers.
Yet, thankfully, not all New Zealand wines taste the same. The most obvious separator of all these identi-grapes is winemaking, but also at work are the first stirrings of terroir. It’s hard to identify much of the signature of the land when a vineyard site is still in its teens (and an entire region, like Marlborough, is barely in its thirties), but some sites are older than others, and certain things may be said, or at least theorized, by those with viticultural and/or tasting experience. Mistakes will undoubtedly be made along the way, winemaking will continue to obscure and obliterate terroir, and marketing will wield its nefarious influence (putting brand identity ahead of site identity), but the attempt to identify emergent site-specificity is an absolutely necessary step in the development of New Zealand as a world-class wine producing country. The Gimblett Gravels are, along with the much more controversial Martinborough Terrace, early steps in that direction.
This wine, however, doesn’t do much to advance either notion. Raw plum, strawberry and rosemary are rather dominated by volatile acidity and goopy chocolate. It’s dark and juicy, but there’s just too much wrong with it. Points for effort, but a barely honorable mention for execution.
Johanneshof 2001 Riesling Auslese (Marlborough) – Massive acidity is completely and oddly separated from thick, lemon, apple and lime leaf fruit with a cardboardy texture. More strange than good at this stage, but a few years in the cellar will probably help.