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There are parallels in wine, with winter lending itself to comfort foods and the welcoming embrace of tried and trusted wines that we know won’t disappoint. Spring is a time to branch out and explore some of those less common wines that you’ve seen on the shelves, but parked in the back of your mind.
The NZ Winegrowers 2021 Snapshot Report lists 40,323ha of vineyard land planted. The top five white and top five red varieties make up fully 96% of that total, with dozens of ‘‘other varieties’’ combining for a paltry 4%.
To a degree this is understandable, as success begets success. Growers and winemakers know that consumers already understand and enjoy sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, pinot noir and the like, so the path to market should be smoother than with one of the ‘‘fringe’’ varieties, where consumers may need educating as to its qualities.
The fascinating book and reference work Wine Grapes by Robinson, Harding & Vouillamoz lists more than 1300 grapes grown around the world.
Some are absolute rarities, and may have fallen out of favour due to their needing very specific growing conditions in which to thrive, or being prone to vine diseases, or quite simply because they don’t yield generous quantities of fruit, while others have been sidelined in the rush to plant the big name international varieties such as chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, etc.
Thankfully, a resurgence of interest in these autochthonous (native) varieties has bought many back from near extinction.
The aromas and flavours in these ‘‘fringe’’ varieties may be different to what you are used to, but that point of difference is what makes them so exciting. Here are three to get you started. They may not be easy to find, but the quest is part of the fun.
Peach & stonefruits, a pepperiness, tropical notes hinting at pineapple, grape. Tropical fruits drive the palate, with nuts and almonds and a hint of orange citrus. Lovely texture, fruit filled with a zesty, tangy feel providing a lot to enjoy. All the components come together to create a vibrant and really appealing young wine from this Austrian variety.
2019 Carrick Organic Bannockburn Pinot Blanc
Tropical fruits, fresh grapes, spices, baguette, a growing fragrance, a sense of volume. Tropical fruits and melon are joined by a tinge of herb and crisp apple while aeration brings out some fruit jube. Nice weight and depth here. As the fruit sweetness builds, so does the palate richness, yet the bright acidity lends a racy crispness to the finish.
Rating: Excellent to Outstanding
Fragrant nose, Bordeaux-like leafiness, earthy, dusty, spices, savoury, fruit neatly in support. Depth without overt weight, blackberry, leaf, charcuterie, vibrantly crunchy and chewy. There’s a bittersweet element here which plays off the fruit richness superbly. Clearly ripe, yet not sweet, with a refreshing tangy quality. A cracking first-up effort.