It is the oldest city in New Zealand, this port to the Antarctic called Christchurch.
With a population of about 350,000 it's also the second largest in the country and the largest city on the Southern Island. It sits on the Pacific Ocean, at the edge of the known world, and is teeming with life... dairy farms, sheep ranchers, deer farms, barley, wheat, clover. And now grapes. Some of the most beautiful and kinetic vineyards in the world are on this strip of land that before the 1840's was a native kings retreat (true story).
Not so dis-similar to my new home of Vancouver, BC, the area around Christchurch revels in a moderate, oceanic climate: cool summers (the hottest ever was about 41c/107F) and mild winters with only the occasional dusting of snow. Sometimes not even that much! Hardly a climate that should give any winemaker concern for the health and safety of his vineyards, right?
Well, except for the Nor'Wester you mean: that gale-force wind that tears off the water, ripping through anything in it's path. The people here have immured themselves to it for the most part. And the homes, the businesses, are solid enough to escape injury. But what of young grape vines just beginning their struggle through the soil? What of tender buds in the most fragile part of their cycle of life? 100 mile per hour winds can devastate a new vineyard. And that's without the added pressure of the earthquakes.
You remember the earthquakes, don't you? The entire world remembers that black part of 2011 when the streets of Christchurch trembled and 185 souls perished. What most of us don't remember, what we never knew, is that the region actually suffered over 4,400 earthquakes above a magnitude 3.0, from September 2010 to September 2012. When one considered the havoc wreaked upon life, upon home, upon livelihood, then it seems a whimsical notion to consider the stress it must have caused these vines.
But we must also remember that the vines are life. They are business, passion and legacy to countless families here - the way that hundreds and thousands of New Zealanders are bringing home the bacon... I don't imagine that chief Te Potiki Tautahi could have imagined the change that would come to his summer home with the turning of only two centuries; after all, the indigenous people had been living and fighting for this land for almost three millennium.
But then again, perhaps the chief did see what would come. Perhaps he saw the coming wineries and smiled. "These people," he thought, "these people know how to fight for the land too." So in my imagination he saw winemaker John Belsham walk the seven terraces of his vineyard that overlooks the Awatere Valley, he sensed Johns passion and conviction that this was one of the premier wine-growing regions of the world. He saw this and was pleased that people would come and care for this place as much as he had.
But all the caring in the world doesn't matter very much to you or I if the quality isn't there! The proof of it? Well, the proof is in the glass my friends...
*AERATION OR 1 HOUR DECANT PREFERRED*
Bright, refreshing... "Tastes like more" as a colleague/mentor of mine says. My favorite aspect to this wine isn't the flavors themselves, rich as they are: lively yellow grapefruit and aromatic Meyer lemon tones balanced by wild floral aromatics, long grass, pure minerality. I love the flavors but they are typical NZ/Christchurch - what isn't typical for this price-point is the purity of those flavors. This is an exceptional wine for the price and represents great value for those who love NZ wine.
FOOD PAIRING: Though realistically this pairs with white fish and lean seafood admirably, the grassy tones made me want to try fresh, local pork as an option. With it's relatively low price, I felt comfortable serving it with comfort food: locally-raised pork sautéed with apples & sweet onions, homemade sweet & sour sauce, roasted squash from our garden
2012 Pinot Noir
*AERATION OR 1 HOUR DECANT PREFERRED*
For Pinot-lovers, this is a dream: plump red berry aromas are moderated by savory leather tones, wood notes and a musky/earthy backbone. Burgundian-styled bright red currant/young raspberry acid sings with mineral precision, depth and concentration. Delightful on its own, brilliant with a mid-afternoon snack of fresh bread and pate. Too high-brow? This is perfect for your next pot-roast... the bright young acid in the wine will cosy to any of your richer, meaty dishes.
Some of you may be raising an eyebrow, or two or three, at my suggestion to aerate or decant a Sauv-Blanc. Well "to each their own" as we've heard many times before. I loved this wine, loved the flavors, the acid, the balance... I just felt that it was actually a more harmonious wine after the bottle had been open an hour or more and as such would use an aerator next time round. The Pinot Noir as well is just a tad young in it's life and will sit comfortably in your cellar or wine-cooler, or just as easily open with just a hint of aeration or decanting.
Never forget that there are no more had and fast rules in the world of wine! Red wine with fish? Absolutely: Pinot Noir loves salmon and tuna. White wine with red meat? Have you had Chateau Mussar? One of the most highly skilled and talented sommeliers I know always says of that wine "Just treat it like a big red, and you'll be fine." Decant a white? Did you know that there's a trend in Paris, has been for awhile now in certain circles, to decant Champagne... very expensive Champagne. The sommeliers there say that too many bubbles interfere with tasting the true flavor of the wine.
And world-class wines coming from the ends-of-the-earth for a damned reasonable price.
Amen to that.
Many thanks to Empson Canada, representatives in Canada for "Seven Terraces": produced by Rossendale wines, for the sample bottles. http://www.empsoncanada.com/
As always, I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions. Here, or:
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