Thursday, July 21, 2011

Drink local

We have come to the conclusion that the best New Zealand wines never make it to the states.  So, while we are here, we are only drinking local.  And it is not a sacrifice.

Now, you probably know New Zealand for their 'summer wines' -- fresh, fruity sauvignon blancs that pair well with food, but might not be as great on their own.  Think of them as the granny smith of white wines.

But we have been discovering some other great New Zealand varietals.  If you are someone who only likes to drink big reds, go to Australia.  We haven't found much of that.  But have found some great surprises.

Today, we went back up to Waipara to follow up on some suggestions from a local who grew up there.  First, we went to the Waipara Springs cafe and winery.  It's a lovely spot, and we ordered a piece of berry cheesecake to share that turned out to be larger than Anna's head.

We finished our tasting and 'afternoon tea' at that winery, then randomly picked another winery:  Torlesse.

Torlesse is not to be missed out on.

It is a tiny little winery with no cafe or anything else going on.  They grow their own grapes, harvest them by hand, age and bottle them - all in Waipara.  Every one of their vineyards is within five minutes of the working winery.   And the winemaker is the one who runs the tastings.  (Or maybe his wife, if you're lucky.  He claims she is the nice one, while he is the grumpy old man.  But he gave us a great discount on a full case.)

The Torlesse wines are fabulous and interesting.  We walked out with Reisling, Pinot Gris and Gewurtztraminer.  Not our usual grapes.  They also make a truly delightful port (Port?  In New Zealand?  Yes!) and a drink-on-its-own-not-just-in-kir Creme de Cassis.

But I have to say, the real gem of that tasting room is the winemaker:  Kym Rayner.   He is a true talent, and like many true talents - a character.  When we asked, "Can we get a tasting?"  He said, "Are you looking for a tasting or a buying?  We're much more interested in giving you a buying."

He then gave us the most educated wine tasting we've received.  He could tell us how many months he had let grapes ripen, how much alcohol was in each glass, and would talk about which other region in the world might have a comparable wine to his.  He suggested unexpected menus and pairings for each wine.

He also lamented the size of his general market.  He commented that his general market, based on location, has to be Christchurch - which is less than 500,000 people.  He compared it to Napa, Oregon or even Washington that have local state markets of more than 5,000,000 people and a much more travelled wine trail than Waipara.  He said, "If I was there, I'd certainly be able to charge more for my wines."

I, for one, have mixed feelings about the fact that he isn't there.  I like the price point of his wines (feels like a bargain for the taste), but do wish that I could get his wines at home.

But I guess I'll just have to enjoy drinking local while I'm here.

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