New Zealand

Year round, rainy Sundays comprise most of my favorite lazy moments in life. In autumn, these overcast weekends are perfect for hot coffee, pumpernickel bagels with lox spread, tomato and capers, and Frisbee on the nearby track field. But when evening falls, and the rain hasn’t let up, and you don’t want to go anywhere, a glass of wine is your best bet. Of course, I’d say that about any night of the week, in any weather – but I needed a pretext for this review, so onward.

New Zealand is no stranger to bad weather. To prove this, I have excerpted a report for Central Ontago today, from MetService’s Snow Ontago Warnings site:

Issued: 8:25pm Sunday 7 Oct 2012
Valid from: 8:25pm Sunday 7 Oct 2012

A deep low over the Tasman Sea is forecast to approach the South Island during Monday, bringing cold southeasterly rain to Canterbury. This rain is expected to turn to snow about the Canterbury High Country early Monday morning, with some heavy snowfalls through to late morning and possibly through to Monday night. Between 3am and midday Monday, expect 10 to 20cm of snow above 700 metres with 5 to 10cm possible down to 400 metres. Further snow is likely above 700 metres through to Monday night, but should ease in intensity and is expected to turn to rain below 700 metres by early afternoon. This snow has the potential to disrupt transport about the Canterbury High Country and cause significant stress to livestock, especially new born lambs.”

New born lambs! Potential! Intensity! Key words for tasting notes. And what a subject for today’s tasting: the 2009 “Mud House” Pinot Noir, from Central Ontago. This wine owes a lot of its character to local terroir. There is a sumptuous quality to a lot of New Zealand Pinot Noir, strong notes of jammy fruit and crushed herbs. Intensity aplenty here; the red fruit aromas fairly jump out of the glass along with notes of lavender and cinnamon. The first sip brought a sense of silky softness in mouthfeel, with enough extract and tannin to make this a fuller-bodied Pinot, even by the standards of those New Zealand wines I’ve tried. But while this is a bigger Pinot Noir, the cool climate acidity brings phenomenal mouth-watering elements as you sip. Very pleasing balance, and a medium finish hinting at mocha and crushed berries. Delicious with roast venison, grilled salmon and beet salad, or on its own. $14.

2008 Wellies Pinot NoirI decided to get back into the swing of things in a straightforward kind of way – using the most finicky-yet-popular grape on the scene right now for the lay wine drinker: Pinot Noir. Redolent with redcurrants, blackberries, mushrooms, musk. It’s got social cachet, and has the flavor intensity to back it up. Besides France, New Zealand and Oregon remain my favorite places to go for wines made from this wonderful grape.

Usually, though, these wines don’t come cheap: a decent bottle of red Burgundy will generally run you around $30 (from Mercurey in the Côte Chalonnaise, say), and the best Pinots from the Sonoma Valley in California average $60-80 a bottle. So what’s a poor boy to do? Easy! Hunt, hunt, hunt. Never give up: there are bargains to be found.

Which brings me to the subject of today’s long-anticipated post: the 2008 Wellies Pinot Noir, that rarest of rare finds: an extremely affordable, highly quaffable wine made from the most prestigious of grapes. It’s just fantastic – bouncy cherry aromas waft up as soon as this wine is poured, which shows a nice bright red in the glass. Some hints of spice and earth, but mostly fruit, fruity fruit loop fruit. Its acidity springs forward, but remains well-balanced overall, leading to a medium finish. Fun. $12 a bottle. Pairs with itself, mostly, but I guess you could also spring for some wild mushroom risotto or braised lamb. Buy a case.

An obscure find from New Zealand, the 2003 Rowland Wild Thyme Vineyard Pinot Noir is a gem, and not to be passed up. At $25 a bottle, this wine has a flavor profile that bewilders anybody used to tasting Oregonian or French versions of this varietal. Bright cherries and earthiness on the nose, with more raspberries, hints of herb, and cedar in the mouth; light-bodied, with great balance and a lingering finish. This wine stands on its own, but would be a great companion to many a dish, including those with creamy sauces.