JULIAN HITNER TORONTO WINE CONSULTANT

"For love of everything that is wine"

WINES OF THE WEEK FOR SATURDAY, JUNE 14, 2008

'Big' New Zealand:

About a month ago, I attended an excellent New Zealand tasting at The Design Exchange in downtown Toronto. In the course of just a few hours, I was privy to sample some very unique New Zealand wines.

Granted, the 'usual supects' (i.e. Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc) were, on the whole, quite lovely; but the wines that really caught my attention were those that tasted a little bit 'bigger.'

Over the past several years, New Zealand has successfully proven to the world that it is more than capable of producing some superb wines from Merlot and company, as well as Burgundian-style Chardonnay and uniquely-crafted Syrah. Such wines (as I have described them here) are often considered 'larger' in style than NZ
Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. And yet, New Zealand winemakers have shown that they are more than apt at producing excellent wines from these grapes.

This week, then, I am happy to recommend a few 'bigger' items that might take some wine enthusiasts by surprise, only in a positive way!

RED WINES

(1) Craggy Range
      -'Te Kahu'
      -Bordeaux-style blend
      -
Gimmblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay,
       New Zealand
      -Vintage 2005
       (DRINK NOW OR HOLD)
      -PRICE: $34.95 (available
       through Lifford [agency])
      -8.75/10



COMMENT: Made primarily from Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, this is most certainly one of the 'bigger' wines I have tried from Middle Earth. While the nose is somewhat closed at present, the '05 'Te Kahu' is full of mint-chocolate and cloves on the palate, along with coffee and dark fruit. A full-bodied wine, if you were to try it 'blind,' you would never think it was from New Zealand! At $34.95, it offers tremendous value for your money.

PAIRING SUGGESTION: Frenched rack of lamb with light mint --- enjoy!

(2) Trinity Hill
      -Syrah
      -Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay,
       New Zealand

      -Vintage 2006
       (DRINK NOW OR HOLD)
      -PRICE: NA
       (soon to be available
       through a private agency)
      -8.5/10



COMMENT: It is only extremely recently that New Zealand has begun to cultivate the wonderful Syrah grape varietal, and it seems they are making notable headway in making great wines from it. At the moment, the '06 Trinity Hill boasts intriguing rustic-leather and cedar-mocha characteristics, accompanied by full fruit and fine tannins on the palate. With a long finish, this is a 'bigger' type of Syrah, and yet it still tastes very unique. I hope to see more wines like this in the future.

PAIRING SUGGESTION: Smoked back ribs --- enjoy!

WHITE WINES

(1) Gibbston Highgate Estate
      -'Heartbreaker'
      -Chardonnay

      -Central Otago, New Zealand

      -Vintage 2006
       (Drink Now or Hold)
      -PRICE: $32.00
       (available through Connoisseur
       Wines [agency: 905.508.7054])
      -8.5/10



COMMENT: Unmistakably Burgundian-like, the people at Gibbston Highgate have every right to be immensely proud of this wine. With scents of fresh seaweed, mist, and very Chablis-like nuances, the '06 'Heartbreaker' offers delicious fruit, with a zesty backbone, overall. It is not a 'huge' Chardonnay by any stretch of the imagination, yet it is most certainly larger in style than most Sauvignon Blanc to come out of the North or South Island. This, I believe, is a special wine, and the price is extraordinarily reasonable.

PAIRING SUGGESTION: Fresh oysters --- enjoy!

(2) Akarua
      -Chardonnay
      -Central Otago, New Zealand
      -Vintage 2006
       (Drink Now or Hold)
      -PRICE: $24.95
       (available on private order though
       Thompson Vintage Trade
       [agency])
      -8.25/10



COMMENT: From the looks of things, the winegrowing region of Central Otago (which is located in the southern part of the South Island) is positioned to become one the finest places for quality Chardonnay in the country. The Akarua '06 is a fine piece of work, with 'misty' cream, vanilla, and light butterscotch on the nose, along with clean, peach-like fruit on the mouth. With a refreshing finish, there is no doubting the potential of the Chardonnay already coming out of this wonderful country.

PAIRING SUGGESTION: Puréed lentil soup --- enjoy!

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