The New Zealand Wine Fair recently made its way across Canada, touching down in Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa and Toronto. As Ottawa is often overlooked for these types of events, I was delighted to take part in the trade tasting and a winemaker’s dinner, which was part of the Visa Infinite Dinner Series.
This year’s Wine Fair has certainly reinforced that New Zealand as a wine region is at the top of its game, and that its best wines are yet to be discovered. While exports to Canada continue to grow at a steady pace, it is obvious that Kiwi winemakers are not resting on the laurels of their success with Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, but have ambitiously embraced innovation and are looking towards a future that will include other impressive whites and red grape varieties.
The main trade tasting featured wine from 23 producers and was, not surprisingly, dominated by New Zealand’s current flagship white and red, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. The standout Sauvignon Blancs included the (almost over the top) Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (to be released in Vintages in June), Churton Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (in Vintages this July) and Waimea Sauvignon Blanc 2011 from Nelson, available through Churchill Cellars. In addition to the crisp unwooded Sauvignons, with characteristic gooseberry and tropical notes, there were a number made in the Fume Blanc style (i.e. partially or fully oaked). Some, like The Brothers Sauvignon Blanc 2010 from Giesen Estate (Michael Andrews Brands), with a modest five percent of the blend matured in older French oak, were intriguing and had a creamy richness. However, I couldn’t help but wonder if there had to be a better way to diversify or invigorate the Sauvignon Blanc category, rather than subjecting this aromatic and crisp cool climate white to varying degrees of butter and toast.
The reds I tasted were mostly Pinot Noir, both from well-known Central Otago, as well as from lesser-known (for Pinot), but equally appealing, Marlborough. The Mount Difficulty Pinot Noir 2010, available through the Small Winemakers Collection for $43.75, and the TeMara Estate Mount Pisa Pinot Noir 2009, both from Central Otago, were particularly enjoyable, with the vibrant fruit and complexity one has come to love in Central Otago Pinots. The Rock Ferry Pinot Noir Bendigo 2009, also from Central Otago, and in fact most of the wines from this small winery looking to make inroads into the Canadian marketplace, also stood out and are worth keeping an eye out for (thelivingvine.ca).
The success and focus of the New Zealand wine industry, along with the overall quality of the wines, has been nothing short of remarkable over the past decade or two. We can see however, the desire to branch out and become known for more than just Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. It was in this vein that the self-pour format wine seminar for the trade highlighted some of the country’s up and coming aromatic white varieties – Pinot Gris (and thankfully not Grigio), Riesling and Gewürztraminer, along with Syrah, whose plantings and interest from winemakers has been dramatically outpacing that of other white and red varieties over the past decade. The well-priced Waipara Hills Pinot Gris 2011 (vinexx.com) and Waimea Nelson Dry Riesling 2006 (churchillcellars.com) stood out for me among the aromatic whites, with a good buzz among the trade.
As for the Syrah from Hawkes Bay and Waiheke Island, the stunning Trinity Hill 2009 Homage Syrah from Gimblett Gravels (ccwineco.com) and John Forrest Collection 2007 Syrah (abconwine.com), also from Gimblett Gravels, both showed a “Northern Rhone” finesse and elegance, along with bright and spicy fruit flavors, which the Waiheke Island Syrah didn’t have.
The multi-course dinner was held at SideDoor Contemporary Kitchen and Bar, with Executive Chef Jonathan Korecki at the top of his game. We began dinner with a glass of Oyster Bay Cuvee Rose NV “methode”, which is what New Zealanders call sparkling wine. We also tasted wines from well-known producers Villa Maria, Babich and Coopers Creek, alongside the new kid on the block (for Canada anyway), Marlborough-based Rock Ferry. The torched Albacore tuna sashimi was a perfect companion for the fresh and lively Babich Sauvignon Blanc 2011 from Marlborough, which offers great value at $14.95. With the delicious roasted New Zealand lamb rack, we tried the Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2009, also from Marlborough and coming to Vintages, which drove home the point that Central Otago is not the only place where good Pinot Noir can be made in New Zealand