Friday, 25 February 2011

Tolkein about New Zealand wines

“It's not my hobbit to be star struck but I was thrilled to meet Gandalf recently, (Ian Mckellan, the actor, that is) though sadly he was minus his flowing white locks. I am a huge Lord of the Rings fan, since being introduced to Tolkein's masterpiece in my youth and becoming totally bewitched by his allegorical legends.” enthused Heather A.  Like many afficionados she was sceptical about how these fantastical tales could be translated to celluloid, as nothing can ever hope to compete with our imagination, but she applauds director Peter Jackson for his masterly and magnificent effort.  The Lord of the Rings trilogy was famously filmed in New Zealand’s South Island, the stunning scenery providing the perfect backdrop for the trials and perilous journey of the Ring Bearer, Frodo Baggins.
In recent months there has been a public outcry in this far flung outpost of “British-ness”, as it has been mooted that another Tolkein tale, The Hobbit, is to be filmed  - but not in New Zealand.  This news has prompted a national outcry as a whole tourist industry has grown up in the wake of this land being designated Hobbit Holme.  We await the outcome.
In the meantime life goes on apace (or actually quite slowly in NZ it must be said), with the other relatively new “industry” that has captured the world’s imagination – New Zealand wine.  Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc is cited by many as the first Kiwi wine to make its mark on the world's wine fashion stage.  It is still popular and has become the model for the multitude of follow-on-ers who have since appeared. 
Sauvignon blanc must be a contender for the world's most easily recognizable grape variety:  that pungent, nettley, gooseberry fruit that jumps up out of the glass to meet you could not be mistaken for anything else.  New Zealand made its mark with what you might call “fruit salad” style sauvignons, which packed a punch, but perhaps lacked subtlety.  More recently, though, a greater deal of diversity in taste and a far more sensitive touch from the winemaker has allowed more subtle nuances of flavour to emerge.  A sauvignon much-rated by those in the know is Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc, from Marlborough of course.  Here  lively, herbaceous and lightly floral fruit dances across the palate.  More of an elegant pas de deux than a Highland fling.  Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2009 is available from the Vineking (Reigate and Horley) for £15.99, or £14 as part of a case.  The Vineyard in Dorking has the 2008 for just £9.99 – a steal, but as this is generally not a wine style that suits ageing, try a bottle before you grab a case of it.
Success breeds confidence and where once apple orchards exported fruit to the northern hemisphere, the new crop is the grape.  Many a brave decision has been made by colonial farmers to turn their lands and their hands to viticulture, and the result has been an upsurge of individual and family owned vineyards enthusiastically producing uniquely styled wines.  However, success can also breed over-production, as New Zealanders have found as they now wrestle with a glut of sauvignon blanc and vineyard sell-offs.  
Rieslings are being talked up as the vine variety à la mode by those of us who write about wine and those who try to sell it.  A variety that originally found fame as a light, floral wine  from Germany, and something more muscular and mineral in Austria and Alsace is now being championed by the newcomers from “the land of the long white cloud.”  Try Wild Earth Riesling 2008, £13.50 at Godalming-based Imbibros.   It has lively acidity and a combination of flowers and peachy fruit on the palate.  The flavours are delicate but have enough presence and the hint of sweetness (don't panic!) makes it a great choice with Thai dishes and Malaysian lightly-spiced curries.
Many people equate New Zealand with white wines, but for some years now really exciting reds have been emerging as a new world force and we urge you to try these hot contenders whilst they are still relatively inexpensive for their quality.  The wines from Te Mata Estate are a superb example and mentioned in the esteemed Robert Parker’s Buyers Guide as one of the top five outstanding wine producers.  Te Mata is in the Hawke’s Bay area of North Island and is well established as New Zealand’s oldest winery going back to the 1890’s.  Their 2005 Awatea Cabernet/Merlot blend with 92 Parker points is stunning – if you can find it, as it's not commercially available here.  However, the 2007 can be yours for £19.15 from online merchant, New Zealand House of Wines. 
Heather A was lucky enough to visit the Te Mata vineyard and to sample these wines recently and thought it would enhance your enjoyment of the wines to hear the love story legend of Te Mata:
Long, long ago when the world was young and warring tribes fought for land and sustenance, a plot was hatched by the Heretaunga tribes to conquer their main adversaries by using the womanly wiles and beauty of the chief’s daughter, Hinerakau.  She was sent to win the heart of the opposing giant chieftain Te Mata and, having accomplished this task, was to set him impossible feats to benefit her own tribe. In the meantime Hinerakau fell in love with this mountain of a man but that fact didn’t change the pact, and poor lovesick Te Mata died in his labours of love.  Today his prostrate form is known as Te Mata peak, and at sunset, when the mists form, a beautiful blue cloak (or purple-tinged mist) is seen to cover the body, put there by the grieving Hinerakua, who then leaps to her death.....  Sob.
On that sobering note (please excuse the pun), a Maori fare-thee-well, until we meet again.
Haere ra, Ka hoki mai ano

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