Sunday, April 12, 2009

Spying the Best New Zealand Wines at Zola

Ordinarily you might not wear a deerstalker and hold a magnifying glass while looking for specific vintages right next to Penn Quarter’s Spy Museum. Yet I spied, with my little eye, many Kiwi brands at a March 31 event showcasing New Zealand wines at Zola. This event presented an ideal opportunity to take the current pulse of New Zealand varietals and wineries. The New Zealand wine industry has acquired a very strong reputation in a fairly short amount of time, considering that much of the country started creating wines in the 1970s, and had an uneven prior history of production. For more information about the ten main wine-growing regions, sub-regions, and the varietals represented, click here.

These vintages were complemented throughout the afternoon by a menu of hors d’oeuvres created by Zola’s executive chef Bryan Moscatello and a tasty center table of fruits, cheeses, flatbreads, vegetables, and sausage slices. The bottles were placed in the side room on long thin tables by region and variety, rather than producer. This arrangement gave attendees a better basis for comparison.

Starting out with a table of Rieslings, I found a few that pleased my palate. The Dry River Craighall Martinborough Amaranth Riesling 2008 was phenomenal, intense, and complex, with a hint of grapefruit and orange zest, and a great potential for aging. One of the rarely distributed and more expensive wines at $45 a bottle, it seemed well worth the expenditure. I also enjoyed the Neudorf Brightwater Riesling 2007. At $16, it won’t break your bank, but its floral aromas, acidity and subtle lime and mineral flavors will make this wine a worthwhile addition to your cellar.

These days New Zealand is known primarily for its Sauvignon Blanc, which seduces you with its paradoxical knock-down, drag-out subtlety. My first taste on this table turned out to be my favorite, the Mount Grey Estate Sauvignon Blank Waipara 2008. Unwooded and unoaked, it had aromas of lychee and kiwi, along with some spicy herbs. I went back for a slightly larger glass of this to accompany my plate of hors d’oeuvres, fruits and cheeses, and found that its acidity went well with my selections. I would certainly try it again at $19 a bottle. Unsurprisingly, I also heard it complimented by an oenophile wholesaler following in my wake.

One pleasant and easily available Chardonnay that struck me as I wandered was the Oyster Bay Chardonnay Marlborough 2007. Very affordable at $16, it has a slight richness with grapefruit and melon aromas. Fermented in oak barrels and tanks, this wine was soft and integrated. It is worth drinking in the near future.

After trying the Pinot Noirs, I also want to mention a particularly lovely example. The Wild Earth Pinot Noir Central Otago 2006, a full-bodied, oaked and spicy wine with plum and currant fruit flavors, leaves you wanting more. At $32, it is completely worth your investment. You may want to let it age a few years.

Lastly, I do not want to forget Chef Moscatello while remembering my taste treats. As we stopped here an
d there to take notes and make comparisons, we had our choice of an assortment of savory bites. Perhaps one of my favorites was the tiny pork, relish, and lettuce hors d’oeuvre that, interestingly, reminded me of a tiny BLT presented on a garlic pita round. The lamb with pecan relish on a garlic pita round was also wonderful, and I enjoyed the macadamia-crusted chicken dipped in mango sauce as well. In addition, the cream-cheese-and-chive puffs seemed to go particularly well with my Sauvignon Blanc. While not the focus, the savory items did nothing to distract from the wines themselves, and added to my enjoyment tremendously. So did the mound of vegetables, sausages, flatbreads, cheeses, dates and grapes that took center stage in the room.

So don’t forget New Zealand when you plan your next trip to the wine store! There are many wonderful New World options awaiting you and yours.

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