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WINE AND FOOD WEDNESDAY
02/15/2017
Why I Am Running Away To New Zealand

By Charles Olken

Contrary to popular opinion in my circle, there is no political motive in my long trip to New Zealand. Oh, I enjoy making the little joke about it, but the truth is that there is wine down under and I am going in search of it.

New Zealand is a funny place. Here in California, we like to talk about coastal vineyards, and it is true that there are relatively cool growing sites from Santa Barbara to Mendocino near to the Pacific Ocean. But California is more than just coastal, and we grow very good grapes in several inland locations and up in the Sierras.

New Zealand is all coastal. You can hardly get away from the coast. And it is mostly temperate, which means that there are wine growing areas all over the place. Yes, we mostly pay attention here to Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region where relatively well-known brands like Cloudy Bay, Brancott, Villa Maria et al are located along with many smaller, less well-know places.

And I will certainly spend a lot of time there running from producer to producer to producer. In some ways, the Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs are of a piece. Yet, take the wines of Giesen for example. Here one finds many styles and ranges of complexity as well as late harvest bottlings. And, as I have tasted and expect to taste again down there, many wineries also make excellent Pinot Gris, Riesling and even Pinot Noir.

I am also headed to the Hawke’s Bay area. We don’t see much Hawke’s Bay wines in this country. The area is sheltered to a certain extent and specializes more in fuller reds like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. I am going in search of wines that are the leading examples of those varieties in New Zealand. Friends who know those wines say that there are many excellent versions. I certain hope so.

And then there is Chardonnay. I am sucker for Chardonnay. I have long been a fan of the Chardonnays from Kumeu River, a winery very near Auckland which is very far north of Marlborough, Martinborough, Central Otago and Hawkes’ Bay. Yet their Chardonnay has been a favorite for years.

What this all adds up to is a certain “like California only generally a little cooler” place with wine grown anywhere a grape vine can be stuck in the ground and prosper. Besides, New Zealand looks like a very attractive place to me, and while I promise to come back if I can get back into the country, I do amuse myself with the thought that New Zealand could be a great place to run away to if things go downhill here—or if the dam breaks.


 

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