Saturday, September 7, 2013


   Few clouds in this bay...


  I love New Zealand: small, manageable, mountainous, trout-dense, agricultural, hospitable. I’ve just taken part in an extraordinary blind tasting here of 18 pinot noirs from four continents, and the good news for everybody (except maybe the Burgundians) is that New Zealand’s pinots surpassed most of the other wines and at least held their own with those of fabled Vougeot.
   If Lord of the Rings was real it would still take place  in New Zealand because no other place has so much natural enchantment. But the ring wraiths would be searching for grape clones instead the gold ring, and Frodo would be uncorking a 2010 vintage pinot noir and not sweating the small stuff.
   Americans should know that kiwi pinot noirs cost half as much, at most, as the French ones and are a lot more consistent. In short, you know what you’re getting with New Zealand pinot, a notoriously tricky varietal, and these are likely to be rich, nuanced, and lasting. The wines tasted were all 2010s. In continental order they were:
   New Zealand’s Black Estate, Waipara Valley, Canterbury; Cloudy Bay Vineyards, Wairau Valley, Marlboro; Cloudy Bay Vineyards Te Wahi, central Otago; Huia Vineyards, Marlboro; Kusuda Wines, Martinborough; and Two Paddocks’ First Paddock, central Otago.
   Argentina’s Bodega Chacra Trienta Y Dos, Patagonia (from vines planted in the 1932!).
   France’s (all Bourgogne) Chateau De La Tour, Clos Vougeot; Domaine De La Vougerai, Vougeot 1er Cru “Les Cras”; Domaine Drouhin-Laroze, Clos de Vougeot; Domaine Gerard Raphet, Clos de Vougeot; and Henri Boillot, Clos Vougeot.
Australia’s Ashton Hills Vineyard Reserve, Adelaide Hills: Bass Phillip Premium, Gippsland; and Freycinet Vineyard, Tasmania.

   Canada’s Foxtrot Wine, Foxtrot Vineyard, Okanagan Valley.

United States’s Cobb Wines, Diane Cobb Coastal Vineyards, Sonoma Coast CA; Thomas Winery, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley OR.
This wasn’t a competitive tasting but inevitably comparisons were made - and delight discernible among the denizens of down-under viticulture, which is expected.
I was struck by the earthy power of the Cloudy Bay Vineyards’ Te Wahi, a new release (“deep color, closed nose but mouth-filling, with round dark fruit flavors and a long, savory finish. Big, moderated tannins”). It costs $75 a bottle, more than Cloudy Bay’s other excellent pinot but half the cost of, say, the Chateau de la Tour Clos Vougeot, also a wonderful wine with great aromatics and a similar bright finish.
Among the surprises in this tasting, the fifth such annual event held at Cloudy Bay Vineyards outside the town of Blenheim, were Kasuda ($50), with dark fruit flavor, a luscious, mouth-filling wine; Bass Phillip (only $18), bricky, complex, “silky”; Cobb ($115), bright with dark fruit flavors and a good finish; and Foxtrot ($70), a plummy offering from British Columbia built to last. 
The tasting concluded with a mere four-hour lunch over-looking Cloudy Bay Vineyards and a smidgin’ of New Zealand’s Alps, my table mates one of Cloudy Bay’s clearly talented winemakers, Nick Blampied-Lane, and a wine merchant who moves much high-end product among the growing cognoscenti of Hong Kong. Lobster, lamb, a crisp blood pudding, fermented garlic sauce, puree of spinach, all prepared by Des Harris of Cloony’s Restaurant in Aukland, who is a great rarity - a fine and also modest chef.
All those bottles mentioned above were left open for our continued perusal while a band played and the concerns of the world hung far out there beyond snow-dusted peaks and white lambs contentedly nibbling weeds among the patient vines.
              (Photo by Katie Kelly Bell) 


  1. Great article. You totally had me at the tasting with you. Lucky you! Off to Norther Italy to enjoy some of their wines. Jayne

  2. Sounds like a great trip, Jim, and equally good wine--very glad it worked out! Cheers, RB