Wines From Middle Earth

New Zealand
Of course there is no such place on earth as “Middle Earth” in relation to the production of wine, but rest assured that a few Hobbits like Billy Boyd have personally experienced a sharper image of New Zealand’s wines at the Shire’s Rest while filming “Lord of the Rings Trilogy!” New Zealand is one of the most isolated countries on earth with wild virgin forests as old as memory, surrounded by enchanting coastlines and flatlands of contented grazing sheep. The Canterbury Plains and Central Otago regions along the Southern Alps of the South Island of New Zealand, gave way to the dramatic backdrop for producer Peter Jackson to film “Lord of the Rings”. This mystical region of the world offers more adventurous terrain than other parts of the world—and how!

There is a high proportion of the world’s wine drinkers who have not yet savored the piercingly crystalline flavors and bracing acidity of wines from NZ. However, those who have tasted these wines have fallen madly in love with them, as I have. I shall mention a few of my favorites that you should explore—ones that you need not travel to Mt. Doom to experience. In a “clean, green image” NZ coined the words “lifestyle winery” whereby a fine education is focused on the production of wine that is still one of the more delicious commodities on earth.

Some argue that the increasing ultra violate radiation, due to ozone depletion in the Southern Hemisphere is also helping to build pronounced wine flavors; even at NZ’s high altitudes. Lying on the latitude between those of Monaco and Bordeaux, middle earth, early wine growers took Germany as their model for wine growing. Muller-Thurgau, a workhorse grape, was widely planted due to the relative coolness factors but failed miserably. Chardonnay is now the most widely planted grape in NZ of which Orand Estate and Gisbourn Chardonnay is my number one favorite still to this day. However it was the iconic Sauvignon Blanc that made the world take notice of NZ. The lively Sauvignon Blanc opened up a Pandora’s Box of the flavorful Sauvignon Blanc’s that are either hated or loved. My favorites are Dusky Sounds’ 12 Degrees and Goldwater Boatshed both from Marlborough. These Sauvignon Blanc’s should be enjoyed young and exhibit admirable fruit intensity with nuances of Gooseberry and lemongrass that linger with an impressive mouthwatering acidity.

Enter the rising star Pinot Noir which is the third most widely planted grape in NZ and here are three of my favorite Pinot Noir’s to savor: Felton Road Winery in Central Otago, Dry River’s and Peregrine Pinot Noir’s. According to my NZ wine maker friend, Central Otago could very well be the sight of the Holy Grail of Pinot Noir. In the North, Gisbourn is North Islands answer to Bordeaux in Hawkes Bay. How ingenious, as it were, for Aucklander’s to plant “out to sea” on an east island of the city that misses the mainland rains. It is the only region that relies upon local fruit where as other regions in the North are dedicated to importing fruit from the South. Of interest Stonyridge Larose is one of the top 20 cabernets in the world! In the eight main wine making regions, NZ produces wines that range in style from bright and zesty, fresh and subtly spiced, to mellow and complex. The aromatic varietals of Riesling and Gewürztraminer are also on the rise as well as Late Harvest Rieslings and Roses.

There are now over 585 wineries producing 205,000,000 liters of wine and export $789 MM around the world, mostly to Australia and the UK. Nicolay Nobilo, Cloudy Bay, Gibbston, Te Mata, Brancott and Babich are prime wine maker’s who produce a few very good wines of noteworthy quality. Kai is native for “food” and NZ wines are paired well with the cuisines of Asia, France, Italy and the Pacific Rim. And from what I am told the foods are the freshest anywhere! You might just say that they are Kai friendly!

I dedicate this article to my Kiwi friends Tiffany and Michael Goldstein, former manager’s with me in the Pacific Northwest.  If you find yourself in New Zealand, make sure to try some hokey pokey ice cream made from the Zespri gold kiwifruit, or the compulsory taro root and green coconut drinks! The beer there is also fantastic and the snorkeling world class! The stars of Lord of the Rings stayed at the magnificent Powderhorn Chateau in Wellington. A visit might just have you sharing a glass of Pinot Noir with a Hobbit or a mug of Tui pale lager with Frodo and Sam at Shire’s Rest while viewing the Southern Cross and recounting epic battles! A fellowship sure to be remembered!

Filed in: Vino Files