I’ve just spent three days in stunning Nelson filming at Woollaston Estate and a bunch of boutique breweries for my show Thirsty Work.  Shane Munn and his team at Woollaston Estate produce a veritable smorgasbord of certified organic wines from their four-level, gravity fed winery in Mahana, and despite loving their floral sauvignon blanc, red-fruited, earthy pinot noir and racy rosé, it was their punchy pinot gris and ridiculously good Riesling which left an indelible impression on my tastebuds.  Chardonnay’s from Neudorf and Greenhough have been known to make me weak at the knees from sheer tastiness, but give me gruner veltliner or gewürztraminer from the sunshine capital and I pretty much go gaga because they’re so good.

Clearly the region is an El Dorado for growing grapes of all descriptions, in recent years it’s those deliciously delicate, aromatic varieties, which have been wowing wine fans here and abroad.

Those who’d like to investigate Nelson’s ‘aromatic’ artistry should think about attending the Nelson International Aromatics Symposium 2013 on Friday 1st and Saturday 2nd February at the Moutere Hills Community Centre in Upper Moutere.  Not limited to wines from Nelson, local winemakers will also highlight the progression of aromatic varieties around New Zealand, and this year the focus will be on the emergence of Austrian signature gruner veltliner (with keynote speaker being Markus Huber, an Austrian gruner veltliner specialist), plus there’ll also be tastings and discussions on the greatness that is Riesling.  A bevy of influential wine media from around the world will also be there including Dr Jamie Goode, highly respected wine judge, blogger and wine columnist for the UK’s Sunday Express who thinks Nelson “is a hot spot for aromatics” and Felicity Clark editor-in-chief of Germany’s Meininger’s Wine Business International Magazine.  If that’s not enough to pet your palate, then the promise of fantastic food and wine at the ‘Symposium Dinner’ at Neudorf accompanied by the stirring strumming of the Nelson Ukelele Orchestra should just about do it.  For registration and more information visit www.wineart.co.nz.

Recognising their talents in this area, Nelson’s wine community have set out to showcase their stuff by choosing fifteen of the very best aromatic wines on offer and I was lucky enough to get to sample them.  Six rieslings, five pinot gris, three gewürztraminer and one gruner veltliner make up Nelson’s First XV aromatic selection for 2012 – and I can see why people are fizzing about them.

Here are my top five (and notes on the others will be posted as reviews separately):

Kaimira Brightwater Gewurztraminer 2009 $23 ★★★★★

At 14.5% alc I was expecting this wine to have a hot, stringy, slightly resinous character but this wine delivers quite the opposite.  It hits the sweet spot between musky floral notes, rich, ripe, peachy characters and a long, elegantly spicy finish.  It’s exotically perfumed with a seam of sweetness and one glass is just not enough.  www.kaimirawines.com

Sea Level Home Block Pinot Gris 2011 $19 ★★★★½

I love the aromas of frangipane, nashi and crème caramel while in the mouth there are layers of gingerbread, quince, pear and prickly, textural acidity.  Created from fruit grown in their Mariri vineyard by talented winemaker Sam Smail, this flavourful pinot gris finishes dry and delicious.  www.sealevelwines.co.nz

Waimea Classic Riesling 2011 $19 ★★★★★

An incredible value-for-money Riesling which oozes lime and tangelo tanginess, a beautifully taut, concentrated mouthfeel and a long, lingering finish which is edged with hints of mango.  Lovely stuff.  www.waimeaestates.co.nz

Rimu Grove Pinot Gris 2010 $31 ★★★★½

Exotic confection and sweet, strudel-like aromas make way for a wave of luxuriously slick spices, succulent stonefruit and zesty acidity which creates a platform for excellent persistence of flavour. Not a pinot gris for the fragile or faint-hearted.  www.rimugrove.co.nz

Seifried Sweet Agnes Riesling 2011 $32 ★★★★★

I’d happily roll up my sleeves and launch into fisticuffs with anyone who disputed that this wine was one of the most consistently successful sweet wines from our shores.  With international trophies and stacks of gold medals in the trophy cabinet, the Sweet Agnes is a star.  With grilled apricots, orange zest, baking spices and manuka honey on the nose and decadently rich rose caramel, marmalade and clean, tangy acidity to lift the finish – it’s a true treasure.  www.seifried.co.nz

Only in America…

I was really hoping that finally I might have one week, just one week where I might avoid a run-in with some of the ridiculousness that is American culture – but just as I was finishing the final sentences of this column I noticed this headline from the latest issue of www.thedrinksbusiness.com PRISONERS SUE BEER AND WINE COMPANIES. It appears five prison inmates are suing a selection of beer and wine producers for US$1 billion because they believe they weren’t warned adequately enough about the addictive properties of alcohol and that alcohol was responsible for their crimes.

The civil suit was lodged in December 2012 against Adolf Coors, American Brands, Anheuser-Busch, Brown-Forman, Ernest and Julio Gallo, Gallo’s Winery, Miller Brewing Company, Pepsi-Cola and RJR Nabisco.  According to the DrinksBusiness article, the inmates claim they drank alcohol without knowing they could become addicted and that they state “At no time in my life, prior to me becoming an alcoholic, was I ever informed that alcohol was habit forming and addictive”.

One of the defendents is serving a 20-30 year sentence for shooting and seriously injuring someone when he was drunk.  He claims that if he weren’t an alcoholic, the shooting would never have happened.

That’s like anyone over the age of ten saying “I didn’t know that eating all these pies would make me fat” or that “drinking all this coca-cola would make my teeth fall out” or that “smoking all those cigarettes would make my lungs shrivel up and suffocate me from the inside” or that “not wearing a seatbelt is suicide” or finally, that “wearing white running shoes with straight jeans would incur the wrath of the fashion police”. You cannot blame anyone or anything else except yourself because some things are simple, common, knowledge.  Although in the land of fear where everything is litigious and there are big dollars involved, you can’t blame a ‘con for trying.