Heights and lows
A cafella at Akarua
by Thor Iverson
Dusty rock and scraggly, breeze-burnt trees surround us. Dry grass whips to and fro in the swirling wind. We’re seated at a concrete picnic table in a hollow, alongside what can only be described as a watering hole in the heart of Bannockburn wine country, and would be not at all surprised to see itinerant herds of antelopes (or hippopotami) making their jittery (or lumbering) way down to join us.
Bottles purchased at morning winery visits help weigh down the corners of our picnic set’s tablecloth, as we try to prevent its wind-driven flapping from catapulting our lunch into the pond. We very nearly succeed, until a particularly strong gust spills a full glass of wine all over…well, pretty much everything but us. I guess it’s good that it’s a white.
Amisfield “Lake Hayes” 2004 Riesling (Central Otago) – Lemon-lime and green apple; a fruit-forward and quite acidic expression of varietal riesling character, but with absolutely no additional complexities. There’s no depth here. I think I preferred it at the winery.
Oh, by gosh, by Gullies
The tasting facility at Akarua (technically known as Bannockburn Heights Winery, Ltd., though no one calls it that) is small and cozy, so it’s probably a good thing that we’re the only visitors. Attached are the winemaking facility and a small restaurant. Natalie Wilson, an engaging and eager-to-share host (and, not coincidentally, the winery’s Cellar Door Manager), does the pouring and talks us through the more interesting details, though she seems equally interested in our travels and experiences…a longer-form but no less charming version of “the conversation.” There’s a nice selection of wine on offer (perhaps more when the conversation turns geeky), and some brewed-on-site beer as well.
All the fruit used here is from estate-owned vineyards, and a new winemaker has recently joined, making the notes that follow a bit of an historical snapshot. The core winemaking and viticultural team is now 100% female; though women are not at all unusual at the helm of New Zealand wineries (witness Michelle Richardson, of Villa Maria, Peregrine, and now an eponymous label), women inhabiting all key positions is just a touch unusual.
Bannockburn Heights “Akarua” 2004 Pinot Rosé (Central Otago) – From what Natalie calls “dropped fruit” rather than from a saignée, which seems a somehow less manipulative thing to do than making a saignée rosé for the primary purpose of concentrating a red, as so often happens. This wine is decidedly not dry – which I guess puts it in the white zin category – but it handles that burden with much more aplomb than most “blush” wines, showing sweet strawberry and red cherry in a pretty, sun-filled punch. Not “serious” in the least.
Bannockburn Heights “Akarua” 2004 Pinot Gris (Central Otago) – Pear and dry, ripe apple with a really great intensity on the finish. This wine is partially fermented in French oak (I don’t know how old), and seems to absorb the experience with deftness. A nice wine.
Bannockburn Heights “Akarua” 2004 “Unoaked” Chardonnay (Central Otago) – Peach and tangerine; intensely ripe and fruity, with a short finish. Fun. One must approach most unoaked New World chardonnays with simplified expectations, and this wine satisfies those expectations.
Bannockburn Heights “Akarua” 2003 Chardonnay (Central Otago) – 100% malolactic fermentation, with a dollop of new wood (mostly expressed by a clove accent on the nose), but otherwise dominated by ripe pear and nectarine. Unfortunately, the finish is deadened; a nice wine cut short before its time. I often find this character in wines freshly pulled from new wood, but that doesn’t apply here, and so I’m afraid it must be attributed to the wine.
Bannockburn Heights “Akarua” 2003 Pinot Noir “The Gullies” (Central Otago) – A barrel selection despite the geographical-sounding name, with just 5% new wood and done in an upfront, early-drinking style. Perhaps extremely so: sharp strawberry and fresh red cherry with a rasp of slightly bitter tannin make this a wine very obviously for the now. Only just OK.
Bannockburn Heights “Akarua” 2003 Pinot Noir (Central Otago) – Smooth black cherry, plum and earth (it’s striking how easily these Central Otago pinots move into the black fruit realm), with its own very slightly underripe tannin, but showing much longer and more intense with superior overall structure. It will never be great, but it’s certainly very good, and has aging potential.
This is a pleasant and tasty lineup of wines…solid (if slightly underachieving) with potential and an apparent desire for improvement. Just around the corner, however, big things are happening. Big things.Disclosures: free bottle of beer from co-owned brewery, trade discount on wine purchases.
Copyright ©2005 Thor Iverson.