Despite the semi-glamourous image that the wine industry has around its edges, winemakers are essentially farmers. They can only harvest their crop once a year, during a tiny window of optimum fruit ripeness (between March and May) in order to extract the best possible quality juice with which to make the best quality wine they can. They’re at the mercy of nature, and nature at this time of year, can be an unpredictable bastard of a thing. Take Hawke’s Bay for example. Since bud burst in September, right through to mid-February no rain fell. No rain at all. A summer so dry, so hot, so crispy underfoot that winemakers were giddy with excitement. Driving down Ngatarawa Road, watching grapes ripen outside, watching the temperature gauge inside my car hit 37 Celsius, it was hard not to be swept up in the impending glee of a great harvest. But I had to curb my enthusiasm because I didn’t want to jinx it. I liken the scenario to when you’re a teenager and you get too excited about a party. You’re convinced it’s going to be epic and you tell yourself that you’re going to look amazing and you’re going to love the music and you’re going to meet someone saucy and have an incredible time. But in reality, you arrive with pen on your face and toilet paper on your shoe (and no-one tells you). The speakers don’t work and the host insists on playing Lynard Skynard tracks through their tinny mobile phone and you end up being stalked by your friend’s Codys can-drinking, younger brother who has a mullet and a massive crush on you and you end up drinking too much and breaking your shoe getting out of the taxi. If you get too excited, you’ll be let down.
Sure as eggs, the rain began to fall in spectacular fashion right when the white varieties needed to come in. Rain can cause the berries to split and then rot can occur. If it’s raining you can’t harvest the grapes because you don’t want water in the bins. Rain makes the ground soggy, muddy and machine harvesters struggle to operate. Rain makes winemakers grizzly, pinched and grey. Thankfully the reds harvest is a while off and if things dry out they’ll be whistling Dixie. If not, prepare for winemakers to wail woefully.
Nevis Bluff Merrils Block Central Otago Pinot Blanc 2015 $35
I bet if I’d popped round to your place before now, there is no way you’d have any pinot blanc stashed away. It’s one of those rarely grown grapes that I harbour a lot of love for, so when I come across one, especially a great one, I do a little happy dance. I love the white pepper, fennel, apple blossom and white nectarine characters followed by ultra-tangy citrus-edged herbaceousness. Enjoy with mashed artichoke and prosciutto bruschetta. www.nevisbluff.co.nz
Moana Park Gimblett Gravels Merlot Malbec 2015 $25
The 2013 season was a monster vintage for ripeness and 2014 was more subdued and elegant – yet the 2015 reds show precision and focus and all-round sippability (that’s a technical term btw) This is a blend of 80% merlot, 15% malbec and a squeak of cabernet franc, fermented ‘wild’ and left to soak on its skins for 40 days to extract all that gorgeous colour and spicy, smoky cocoa, berries and black olive awesomeness. Sip with beef schnitzel and mushrooms
Autumn is upon us – the afternoon shadows are stretching longer, so savour that first glass of the evening.
Sebastiani Sonoma County Merlot 2014 $25
Septima Lujan de Cuyo Syrah 2015 $19 $11.90
Argentina’s Lujan de Cuyo subregion is one of the best patches of dirt in all of Mendoza for growing syrah and this little star absolutely proves that. I love the rich meatiness of this wine, the dried herbs, pepper and its ripe dark fruit concentration. Most people assume Argentina is all about malbec, but this syrah is ultra-spicy, juicy and darn delicious to drink, especially with a heaping plate of blackened Asado-style beef ribs . To buy email firstname.lastname@example.org
Mansfield and Marsh Methode Traditionelle $18
With its pale, white gold colour and delicate, lemony aromas, this is easily my new favourite Easy Everyday bubbly. It’s lifted and fresh on the nose, awash with creamy, nutty notes and has some delicious bready, biscuity complexity on the finish. There’s even a smidge of apple and oatcake happening too. Ok, so the label could be spruced up a tad, but don’t let that stop you from popping it in your ice bucket this Autumn. Sip with oozing brie.