Browse Tag


TN: Over low heat

[Nußbrunnen]von Simmern 2004 Hattenheimer Nußbrunnen Riesling Kabinett 009 05 (Rheingau) – Granitic strawberry and pleasant, light-minded sweetness bring initial pleasure…but then the wine starts to unravel, leaving these elements disintegrated and uncooperative. I’m not sure what’s going on here, but I expect a little more from this producer. (12/06)

TN: Two more Trimbachs

Trimbach 2000 Gewurztraminer (Alsace) – Stone fruit jerky, tending towards slight bitterness and showing less acidity than one might prefer. It’s in a good place right now, riding a line between primary fruit and mature gewurztraminery characteristics, and the lack of acid means it probably won’t continue to develop in salutary ways. So drink up. (12/06)

Trimbach 1998 Riesling (Alsace) – Molten iron filings with a wet, slate-like character chunked up by something a little more organic-earthy…edging towards, but not actually reaching, the mushroom family. Fully mature, balanced, and really, really nice. (12/06)

TN: Five Trimbachs (not all of them white)

Trimbach 2002 Pinot Gris “Réserve” (Alsace) – Better and brighter than the last few vintages, with a light-filled crystalline aspect sparkling amidst ripe pear. There’s also a significant drying tone to the finish. Restrained and pure. (11/06)

Trimbach 2003 Riesling “Cuvée Frédéric Émile” (Alsace) – This announces itself rather sharply, but fails to deliver on its volume, except with a rather formless weight. Aromatically, the wine is far superior to, say, the contextually blowsy 1997 in that it delivers a fairly classic CFE profile of molten iron and shattered malic ice with salted apple, but structurally the wine is very reminiscent of a big Austrian riesling opened and consumed without aging or aeration: weight, but not enough presence. The hope that this, like the 1997, will provide good near-term drinking while waiting for better vintages to develop is, I’m afraid, misguided. (11/06)

Trimbach 2000 Gewurztraminer “Cuvée des Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre” (Alsace) – Classic and true to type, with significant salty minerality underneath vivid but balanced lychee dust, caramelized cashew and bright peach/pear aromas. There’s pretty good acidity, as well. Not a genre-defining gewurztraminer, but eminently typical for this house, and showing all the proper elements for a good decade’s aging. (11/06)

Trimbach 1997 Pinot Noir “Réserve Personnelle” (Alsace) – An adventurous choice. This is certainly the best pinot noir I’ve tasted from Trimbach. If that sounds like qualified praise, it is; the wine has good weight, a lot of worthy varietal characteristics (earthy cherry and autumn leaves, mostly, though there’s some wet morel as well), and has held up and developed well enough. However, there is – and there’s no mistaking it – the dreaded “hot dog” aroma that so often afflicts Alsace pinot noir. I’m not sure what the problem is – soil, clones, winemaking – but it seems that whenever a pinot noir rises above the biting rosé-like horde, it stands a better-than-average chance of turning to fermented frankfurter. It’s strange. (11/06)

Trimbach 2000 Gewurztraminer “Vendanges Tardives” (Alsace) – Trimbach’s late-harvest gewurztraminers are as solidly excellent as their rieslings, though they rarely reach the exalted heights of those wines. This is no exception: striking ripe stone fruit and lychee are paired with bright, freshening acidity and a solid, sun-drenched mineral core. The sweetness is significant, yet the wine’s structure is such that any trace of “stickiness” is thoroughly absent. Drink it now, drink it in ten years, drink it in twenty…it’ll be beautiful at any age. (11/06)

TN: Sam, I am (California, pt. 10)

[Yosemite Falls](The original version, with more photos – and since it’s Yosemite, they’re quite worthwhile – is here.)

27 April 2006 – San Francisco, California

Taylor’s Automatic Refresher – Loaded up with overpriced but high-quality groceries from the Ferry Building Marketplace, we’re completely ready for our trip to Yosemite. Well, that’s not quite true…we’ve got food for later, but we could use some food for now. And so, it’s one more trip to this upmarket burger joint for a perfect bacon cheeseburger, sinful garlic fries, and a decidedly average “black and white” shake.

27 April 2006 – Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite National Park – Anyone with the slightest bit of awareness has seen innumerable pictures of this place, and yet they still don’t replicate the jaw-dropping experience of one’s first glimpse of Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, Half Dome, and the various waterfalls that surround the valley. “Breathtaking” doesn’t even begin to describe it. Photos come closer, but even then….

Yosemite West – We’ve rented a self-catering apartment, in a little cluster of houses between the valley and Wawona, and technically outside the park itself (though the only way out, other than on foot, is through the park). It’s dark and in need of updating, but it’s clean, quiet, and comfortable…if a little bit harder to find than it should be. Theresa whips up a dinner of sturgeon with thyme and Meyer lemon, red leaf greens with crumbled Point Reyes blue cheese, and burrata for dessert.

Edmunds St. John 2003 Viognier Rozet (Paso Robles) – Sweaty and full-bodied, showing sultry decayed flower petals and dark stone fruit; the sun beats down on this wine, but it’s a dark, eclipsed sun. It’s rich and a bit heavy, but quite tasty nonetheless.

Dönnhoff 1999 Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Auslese 19 99 (Nahe) – From 375 ml. Long crystalline quartz, pulsing with energy and intensity. There’s candied tangerine rind, needle-sharp acidity, and massive yet well-integrated sweetness, but what’s most unbelievable about this wine is the length. Stunning, awe-inspiring wine.

TN: Wines on the wing (New Zealand, pt. 34)

[Peregrine winery](The original version, with many more photos, is here.)

Architecture aloft

The roof takes flight, curving against the breeze and rising gracefully skyward. Its strong lines are reflected in a nearby pool as it soars and swoops over the vines that cover the valley floor, tracing a graceful curve along its length that runs from sun to shadow, and then back again.

Or rather, it would do all those things if it weren’t bolted to the structure underneath.

There’s been much architectural hoo-hah over the new winemaking and visitors’ facility at Peregrine, and on both first and last view the chatter is richly deserved; this is a dramatic and original statement. It works in this otherwise wholly natural setting for three reasons: 1) it is, frankly, a beautiful structure, 2) it’s both low enough to the ground and set back far enough from the road, behind a protective veil of trees and low slopes, that it doesn’t overtly intrude on the surrounding landscape, and 3) it is of a piece with the carefully restructured grounds (which incorporate a pond, a more rustic and traditional banquet facility, and walkways), showing sensitivity to the harmonies and rhythms of nature. Plus, the peregrine falcons on which the wing-like roof structure is based do indeed visit the vineyards from time to time.

The curved steel and Duralite canopy shades a two-level concrete facility that accommodates the needs of both arriving grapes and inquisitive tourists, and it’s to the latter that I walk, gaping and marveling at the surroundings. But the tasting room itself cannot be ignored, either; a shadowy chamber that nonetheless seems partially constructed of light, with a thick wall of glass separating tasters from a precise and martial array of barrels in the winery’s aging facility. It’s no less beautiful than the exterior, and I begin to worry that – as with so many California wineries – more attention is being paid to the visuals and externalities than to the wine that provides the alleged raison d’être for all this man-made beauty.

Another source of worry: Peregrine has not experienced much winemaking continuity in its relatively brief history, having built their name under one regime, then experiencing a minor explosion in notoriety under the brief tenure of the very high-profile Michelle Richardson (ex-Villa Maria), a talented and fiery personality who has since left for her own venture. I’ve tasted, and liked, a few Peregrine wines in the States, but I approach their current lineup with a measure of trepidation, wondering if their obvious pretensions toward quality will be maintained by the wines, given the discontinuities in the cellar and all the money represented by its physical presence. (Co-founder Greg Hay is the principal constant, having remained attached to the project since its beginnings as yet another cooperative growers’ venture.)

Peregrine offers wine under three different labels: the main-line estate products (Peregrine), a lineup of “second” wines called Saddleback, (that carry neither the reduced quality nor, frankly, the usual price reduction of a typical secondary label), and a premium cuvée called Wentworth, which hearkens back to the original name for the winery.

Quicker than a glass of light

Rather remarkably, Peregrine offers nearly everything they have in stock for tasting, for free and to all comers. I’m not sure this is economically sustainable given the winery’s proximity to bustling Queenstown, but it’s a fine gesture…especially as it puts a good deal of what turns out to be quite high-quality wine into the glasses of a lot of previously-unsuspecting people. This is an unquestioned good.

My tasting experience is guided by a friendly young man (who also turns out to be a freelance photographer) that shows signs of being scatterbrained and inefficient when I first arrive, but easily rises to the occasion as more and more visitors populate the glowing bar behind which he stands. He’s able to answer all my (admittedly not particularly technical) questions with ease, and leads me through the wines as quickly as can be expected given a multitude of other customers.

Peregrine 2003 Riesling (Central Otago) – Intense, showing steel, grapefruit and lime leaves with an almost electric intensity on the midpalate. Finishes extremely dry and long. Marvelous riesling, with a good future ahead of it.

Peregrine 2004 “Rastasburn” Riesling (Central Otago) – Despite the geographic name, Rastasburn is here meant to indicate a stylistic shift towards the off-dry. Which it is, showing lime, mixed apples and a lush, shattered minerality that pulses towards the full-bodied, then retreats to permit a crisp, dry and tingly finish. It’s a bit shorter than the regular ’03 riesling, but very nice nonetheless.

Peregrine 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) – This is usually sourced from Central Otago fruit, but in 2004 the quality…and more importantly, the quantity…just wasn’t there, and so alternate sources had to be found. I regret not being able to taste the wine in its typical form, but this is hardly a chore: gooseberry and grass, yes, but also a mineral-driven liquidity on the midpalate and finish…something not often found in fruit-focused Marlborough. The only flaw is a somewhat sticky texture, but it’s forgivable. A nice wine.

Peregrine 2004 Pinot Gris (Central Otago) – Pinot gris is, in many ways, the chardonnay of New Zealand: mindlessly planted everywhere and producing wines of endless and anonymous tedium, almost without exception. Thankfully, “almost” is the correct term (though it would do no harm to the New Zealand wine industry to grub up 75% of the nation’s pinot gris vines), and this is one of the exceptions. Yeasty and thickly-textured (while the wine is matured in 100% stainless steel, lees stirring adds weight and complexity), but brightened with zingy acidity, showing grapefruit rind and pear with a long, dry finish that shows hints of further complexities to come. A marvelous wine with medium-term aging potential.

Peregrine 2004 Gewürztraminer (Central Otago) – Lychee and cashew oil form a fully ripe and quite phenolic nose, with a lovely, elegant complexity on the palate. It’s very light for gewürztraminer (those desiring more weight will want to look to the North Island’s Gisborne region), but nice in that idiom.

Saddleback 2003 Chardonnay (Central Otago) – 100% malolactic fermentation, 30% matured in French oak. Intense stone fruit (mostly apricot), fig, nut oil and nutmeg with a light touch of wood and a smooth, balanced aspect. A pleasant, good-quality chardonnay with a bit of aging potential but of no particularly unique distinction…which is, after, the persistent problem with this grape from anything other than the most remarkable terroirs. This, though, is a subjective complaint; the wine is perfectly nice.

Saddleback 2004 Chardonnay (Marlborough) – As with the sauvignon blanc, acceptable fruit for this wine was simply not available locally. The nose is tighter, flatter and leafier than the ’03, with banana skin and a long, growing intensity on the palate and a zippy, sorbet-like finish braced with fine acidity. This is more structured and probably longer-aging than the ’03, and certainly less overtly marked by oak, but objectively it’s probably less pleasurable. People will choose based on their perceptions of what constitutes quality in a chardonnay.

Peregrine 2004 Rosé (Central Otago) – A pink pinot (not saignée), juicy and off-dry with simplistic strawberry and floral components. Just…eh.

Saddleback 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Light plum, strawberry blossom and red cherry, with sweeter plum notes emerging on the finish. Almost nice, but slightly stemmy, unfinished and underripe. This should be better.

Peregrine 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Earth, dark plum and strawberry – a big-fruited wine with just a touch of syrup on the midpalate – given heft and direction by a brooding (yet crisp) structure so well-integrated that it almost escapes notice. Everything expands towards a beautiful finish; this is a lovely wine, with elegance and polish, and fine aging potential (though it will be very hard to avoid in the interim).

The swirling afterglow

These are, despite my initial misgivings, mostly extraordinary wines that show intensity, elegance and vision…not to mention high-quality fruit, handled well and relatively unobtrusively. There’s power here, but also class and maturity, something achieved by few other wineries in the Central Otago. This is an exciting winery, and one to watch very closely, for it is already the unquestioned star of the Gibbston sub-region. And after all, nothing flies higher than a star.

TN: A dam shame (New Zealand, pt. 32)

(The original, with more photos, is here.)[Black Ridge vines]

Separate ways, worlds apart

Back when this voyage was still in the planning stages, I’d assumed that, from time to time, Theresa and I would want to do different things. Her capacity for endless wine tasting doesn’t quite match mine, and I also figured she’d desire a few restorative days in between all of our rushing to and fro across the New Zealand landscape.

So it’s a bit of a surprise, just a few days shy of a month into this venture, that today is the first (and, it turns out, only) day we’ll pursue separate activities. Theresa’s going to nap, wander the streets of Queenstown, and spend a few refreshing hours at a local spa, while I’m taking the car to the last of the Central Otago wine regions for a little drop-in tasting.

With a half-dozen drives under one’s belt, the Queenstown-Cromwell road seems less twisty and precarious than it does at first glance. This is actually a slightly dangerous notion, for the road retains all of its perilous edge-of-danger aspects despite the familiarity, but it’s a clear morning and there are few cars on the road, which makes the drive a relative breeze. At Cromwell, the road angles south along the banks of the Clutha, straightening and flattening along the dramatic but rather harsh cut of the Cromwell Gorge. What seems like scant minutes later, the road descends past a mighty dam and drops into the rich valley in which nestle the towns of Clyde and Alexandra.

The layout of the towns – modern suburban grids in uniform two-story sprawl – seems somehow out of place in this otherwise remote landscape. Or perhaps moonscape would be a better term, for outside the (no doubt heavily manicured) valley, the earth is about as hostile an environment for agriculture as one can imagine (short of a complete lack of soil): tussock-covered mountains meet rolling fields and hills covered with craggy outcroppings, shelves, and tables; a forbidding and borderline unusable landscape that…inevitably…formed one of the major open sets for The Lord of the Rings.

It figures that someone would try to grow grapes here.

Sugar, sugar

In truth, the rocky slopes around Alexandra aren’t any worse than some of the great European vineyards…Hermitage and Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe come immediately to mind…though this is not to say that the wines from this region even vaguely compare to those exalted appellations. In the first place, it would appear that the majority of vines are planted not on the difficult slopes, but rather on the flat and fertile plains; rarely a recipe for top-quality wine. Second, there seems to be a lot of haphazard experimentation and, it must be said, pervasive underfunding, especially in comparison to the more developed vineyards and wineries around Bannockburn, Cromwell, and the Gibbston Valley. The end result is that, unfortunately, the wines of the region don’t quite meet the standards being set by the rest of the Central Otago.

My first stop is at Black Ridge, the Central Otago’s first commercial vineyard…though this presupposes that I’ll ever be able to find the place. The map in Michael Cooper’s Atlas sends me on a long but visually captivating detour through the area’s rocky hinterlands, but eventually I pull into the rather dramatic hollow in which the winery sits…on the heels of a small group of youthful Americans. What, exactly, are those odds?

The proprietor is somewhere between goofy and eccentric (in a good way), but his passion can’t be denied, and we delve into a haphazard tasting while I listen to his ramblings…some of which are sensible, others of which are rather the opposite. As for the wines themselves, they’re all over the qualitative map.

Black Ridge 2002 Riesling (Central Otago) – Diesel and mineral with pear skin, wet leaves and a metallic edge; the latter is usually welcome in a riesling, but here it’s a little bit too jarring. The finish is very dry, despite eight grams of residual sugar. Good for short-term drinking, but I don’t like its preparation for the longer haul.

Black Ridge 2003 Chardonnay (Central Otago) – Peach and stone fruit with a big impact, and a decent enough balance that persists until the onset of an oily-textured, low-acid finish that eventually dries out all the goop. It’s quite flavorful, but more akin to a good fruit wine than a chardonnay.

Black Ridge 2004 “Otago Gold” (Central Otago) – A blend of breidecker, riesling, gewürztraminer and chardonnay, carrying fifteen grams of residual sugar. (What’s breidecker, you ask? A müller-thurgau/chancellor cross, which should fill absolutely no one with anticipation. Further, blends with gewürztraminer are rarely anything more than thinned gewürztraminer.) There’s fusel oil and grapefruit, but only a dab of each, and otherwise this wine is sweet, simple fun that’s completely absent anything of interest or complexity. The proprietor suggests serving it over ice (“you keep on sipping until the ice is dissolved”), which seems as good a use as any: the pastis of the Central Otago.

Black Ridge 2004 Gewürztraminer (Central Otago) – My second attempt at this wine, and unfortunately it’s only slightly changed: oily lychee, roses and spiced orange are completely overwhelmed by fat, even blowsy residual sugar (19 grams) and a flabby midpalate. The finish is much better, showing long and luscious, but it’s a shame what one has to go through to get there. This is a cocktail wine, at best.

Black Ridge 2003 Gewürztraminer “Late Harvest” (Central Otago) – 20 grams of residual sugar…just one gram more than the regular ’04 gewürztraminer…but overall a much more solid wine, which indicates the problem at Black Ridge is likely to be insufficient physiological ripeness rather than regular old hang time; a way must be found to mitigate intrusive sugars while urging on the grapes’ aromatics and structural elements to some harmonious end. This wine, which is no more overtly sweet than the basic bottling, shows nice spiced apple and roses with a bitter-sour lychee, pear and peach midpalate that manages to hold into the finish. There’s good intensity here, and the only major flaw is…well, to be indelicate, a sort of “foot cheese” aroma that emerges as the wine warms in the glass. Still, if one can ignore this characteristic, there’s at least potential here.

Black Ridge “Conroy’s” 2004 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – An inexpensive wine meant to be an early- and easy-drinking pinot, except that it’s a little too easy. It’s juicy, perhaps even akin to a slightly flat soda, with light leafy flowers and a short finish. The still-bound CO2 eventually becomes a touch off-putting, but with enough chill this could be a decent quaffer on a hot summer day.

Black Ridge 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Sour cherry on the nose, which expands to fuller, riper and fleshier plum, orange peel and earth aromas on the palate. There’s good structure, balance and length here, but the wine persistently tends towards tartness, and one wonders if the fruit will outlast the acidity.

Black Ridge 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon (Central Otago) – OK, this is the second cabernet sauvignon I’ve tasted from this region (the first was part of a blend at Olssens), and I’m a little baffled at the enthusiasm for the experiment. OK, sure, maybe it’s possible to get cabernet ripe here, in one vintage or another, but the world needs another marginal cabernet about as much as it needs another breidecker. This one shows bell pepper, blackberry, black pepper and dark cherry with good structure, but despite the proprietor’s tremendous enthusiasm it’s just not all that interesting. It’s decent enough, and structured, and will age with all the qualities and problems it currently possesses, but there’s just no call for this wine, and no real purpose in its making other than to prove that it can (very occasionally) be done.

TN: The rusty belt (New Zealand, pt. 31)

[Rippon]The luxurious colon

Just what exactly is “luxury muesli,” anyway? 24-carat gold nuggets amidst one’s rolled oats? Or does it make your…no, wait, on second thought, never mind. I’ve felt some pushback from musing on muesli’s digestive effects in the past, and perhaps the world isn’t truly ready for such ruminations. (And maybe they feel the same about unsavory digestive puns. You know, the kind that leave a bad taste in one’s mouth.)

Anyway…it’s “luxury muesli” in our bowls this morning, and our bodies are virtually brimming with whole grains and crunchy earth-mother goodness. We’ll need it.

The mirrored crown

In a country full of ascendant byways, “the country’s highest sealed road” is bound to be quite something. And indeed, the breathtakingly beautiful and precarious trip from Queenstown and over the Crown Range is just that, flitting its way dramatically upward through golden mountain slopes tufted with tussock. It eventually flattens, shooting relatively straight along the Cardrona River to emerge high above Wanaka, a small but popular town draped across the southern tip of its majestic alpine lake. It’s a good thing the road’s downhill, too, because we’re running on fumes by the time we reach civilization. (Note to selves: next time, gas up before leaving Queenstown, because there’s nothing along the way.)

We’d been to Wanaka before, though only for a few minutes on a seemingly endless drive to the glacial wilds of the West Coast, and had greatly admired something it shared with its nearby “sister lake” Hawea: an almost impossible sky-tinted blue, like something out of an unlikely but riveting painting of the ideal mountain pond. Today, it’s not quite that blue – whether due to season, sun angle, or mineral content we can’t tell – but it’s hardly less beautiful for it. We park near the beach, and emerge into a sun-warmed (but wind-cooled) paradise surrounded on three sides by towering mountains. Wanaka is vacation town for Kiwis and tourists alike, and buzzes with activities and the planning thereof. We stroll along the beach to shaded, calmer groves of trees on the lake’s southwestern corner, then head north along the Waterfall Creek path for a gently pretty, leisurely stroll through trees, shrubs, beaches and grapevines…that, eventually, turns a little boring. What cynical and world-weary hikers we’ve become in such a short time!

Let napping dogs lie

Back to the car we go, to retrace our steps via a road only a few dozen meters from our walking path, leading us to the dramatic entrance to Rippon, a strong candidate for the world’s most beautifully-situated winery. Vines descend in orderly rows towards the lake, which reflects both the sky and the snow-capped mountain peaks in mirrored glass. It’s awe-inspiring. (linked image ©Gilbert van Reenan, Clean Green Images)

Unfortunately, the wines do not live up to the view.

(Continued here, with tasting notes and many, many more photos.)

TN: Fruit, wine, Antichrist (New Zealand, pt. 30)

(The original version, with many more photos, is here.)

The Holstein firm

There’s certainly industrial winemaking in New Zealand, but one doesn’t expect to find it in the smallholder-dominated Central Otago. Thankfully, the giant corrugated airline hangars at Central Otago Wine Company (“CowCo” to the locals), just down the street from Quartz Reef, hold not the worst excesses of mass-market vinification, but the very essence of small-estate winemaking. CowCo is a contract facility for wineries too small to have their own, and serves as both winemaker and stand-in tasting room for over a half-dozen producers.

It would be nice, then, if a few more of the available wines were on offer. I’m sure calling ahead would have arranged this, but our enthusiasm for tasting is flagging at the end of a long day doing just that (Theresa opts to sit this venue out in its entirety), and so I buzz through the four options as efficiently as possible.

Kawarau Estate 2003 Chardonnay “Reserve” (Central Otago) – An organic winery, working with Lowburn fruit. It’s wood-spicy, showing orange peel, clove and apricot with a short-ish finish. Fine in its idiom.

Central Otago Wine Cellar 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Blended from four parcels (I fail to ask who owns them), showing lemongrass, red cherry, strawberry and the classic regional orange rind, with pretty good acidity. Fresh, fun and easy-drinking pinot.

Dry Gully 2003 Pinot Noir (Alexandra) – Powdery chalk, strawberry leaf, banana skin and chewy celery over a bed of gravel. The tannin’s slightly underripe, leaving the wine with a bitter aftertaste, and overall it’s depressingly light.

Two Paddocks 2003 Pinot Noir “First Paddock” (Gibbston) – A winery owned by actor Sam Neil, though it’s most definitely not just another vanity project. This (from the One Paddock vineyard, their oldest parcel) is a fine effort, with elegant strawberry, plum, raspberry, red cherry and orange with very slightly touchy tannin and a long, zingy finish. Tasty stuff. (The brief disconnect of tasting wine from a guy who played the Antichrist is a little jarring, but I get over it. Anyway, the winery’s web site is frequently hilarious, which helps ease the struggle.)

[fruit]Loom of the fruit

After a full day with glass to nose, the highs push out the lows and we remember a rather packed day with appreciation. Comprehensive thoughts on what we’ve tasted are still coalescing, and I resolve to put them to paper after I’ve visited the third – and most remote – sub-region of the Central Otago. What lingers is the feeling that, while the whites continue to lag, the reds are showing a real spark, and finally starting to justify the regional excitement in sufficiently convincing numbers. But at the moment, we’ve got something other than grapes on our minds.

For the Cromwell/Bannockburn area is only recently known for its wine. Historically, what excelled here was produce, especially fruit. Old-timers, in fact, rather bemoan the general loss of the region as a berry Mecca, and consider winemaking more than a bit arriviste. In any case, proof of this history towers into the Cromwell sky in multicolored majesty: a giant, rather lurid sculpture of fruit. We’ve got a bit of a fetish for the kitsch represented by such things – with pictures of us hanging from giant kiwifruit (and kiwis), garlic, apples and even wheels of Munster – so we can’t resist a brief photo stop.

From there, it’s into Cromwell itself to pick up some items for dinner, and then to its historic outskirts for a few minutes in “Old Cromwell,” which is a faithfully- (if somewhat cheesily-) restored frontier town from the gold rush days. We also hit a few fruit stands (today littered with busloads of Asian tourists, for reasons that aren’t particularly clear to either of us) on the way out of town, just to check out the selection, after which the wonderful desolation of the Cromwell-Queenstown road brings us home.

Dinner is a Cromwell-sourced pasta primavera (of sorts; since it’s actually early autumn here, maybe pasta d’autunno would be more accurate) with the remains of our lunch wine.

Amisfield “Lake Hayes” 2004 Riesling (Central Otago) – Green apple and yellow-green citrus, clean and crisp but simple.

For “dessert,” I pop open something acquired at Akarua, which makes me wish I’d spent more time tasting through their brewed lineup.

BannockBrew “Wild Spaniard” Black Lager (Central Otago) – Chocolate and hickory-smoked espresso. Incredibly intensity. This is an aptly-named pit of dark, brooding blackness, and I rather love it.

Tomorrow, we work off the excesses of today. And, along the way, embrace some new excesses at a strong contender for the world’s most beautiful vineyard.

Disclosure: the beer is a gift.

TN: Doc Ock

Dr. Fischer 2004 Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Kabinett 02 06 (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) – A kabinett that actually tastes like a kabinett. Maybe a little too much so, as the mildly pleasant apple and light mineral aromas fade into the background at the slightest provocation…a bit of food, an aroma from the kitchen, a passing breeze…. I wonder if the wine might not be very mildly corked, though usually riesling is so transparent to TCA that time would make it obvious, and it never rears its moldy head. (11/06)

TN: Still more old notes

Gysler “Bundle of Scheu” 23 04 (Rheinhessen) – Off-dry dandelion pollen and other floral, leafy stuff of much unthinking goodness. (8/06)

Huet 2000 Vouvray Brut Pétillant (Loire) – Waxy and acidic with the faintest suggestion of bubbles, but otherwise giving up absolutely nothing. This is about as closed as a wine can be. (8/06)

Rodez Champagne Ambonnay “Grand Cru” Brut Blanc de Noirs (Champagne) – Soft strawberry and red cherry. The fruit is concentrated and almost liqueur-like, with sweet tones on the finish, and the overall impression is one of plushness. I’m not sure that’s an admirable quality here. (8/06)

Johannishof 2005 Johannisberg “G” Riesling Kabinett 010 06 (Rheingau) – Mixed heirloom apples dusted with nutmeg and ripe with piercing sweetness, turning quickly to overwhelming red fruit on the palate. There’s molten iron and a good deal of spice that emerges with air…as the wine gets redder and redder with each sip. Powerful stuff, though it bears about as much resemblance to a kabinett as does a Barossa shiraz. (8/06)

Lopez de Heredia “Viña Tondonia” 1989 Rioja Reserva “Viña Gravonia” (Center-North) – Dry toast with spiced butter and preserved lemon spread, dotted by buttered marshmallows. Long, with fine acidity and a drying element on the finish that eventually becomes a slight burn. Controversial, and though I finally decide that I like it, it’s definitely not for everyone. (8/06)

Trimbach 2000 Riesling “Cuvée Frédéric Émile” (Alsace) – Absolutely impenetrable, though it gives the impression of being nothing more than liquid minerality. Not even worth taking a peek at right now, but it should be much, much better in a half-dozen years. (8/06)

Mann 1998 Riesling Schlossberg (Alsace) – Intense, ripe and very dry banana skin shoved through a metal cylinder. It grows to an early climax, then quickly fades away, and the finish is surprisingly short. But from a site where most producers pursue some level of residual sugar, this wine is dry, dry, dry. (8/06)

Boxler 2000 Riesling Sommerberg “L31D” (Alsace) – Light sweetness…for Boxler, that is…backed by such terrific acidity that it really doesn’t register after the first sip. Otherwise, there’s a brilliantly-structured wine running the mineral gamut from coal to diamond, with ripe red apple and strawberry blossom. An extremely vertical riesling, with power and presence and many, many fantastic years ahead of it. (8/06)