White Delights


The other day, someone looked at the selection of bottles on the kitchen wine rack and drily commented that “Mud House” is a peculiar name for a wine. Well, perhaps compared to imposing titles like Château Lafite Rothschild or Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet Grand Cru, “Mud House” sounds unduly modest. But don’t let that put you off, because in recent years this outstanding New Zealand winery has won many awards for its superb wines. Established in 1996, the company has two wineries; one in Marlborough, which is in the north of the South Island and another in Waipara Valley, which is in the centre.

Now if this sounds a bit confusing or your geography of New Zealand has become hazy, perhaps I should remind you that New Zealand is made up of two large islands known, rather prosaically as the North Island and the South Island. The vineyards are the furthest south of any in the world and they’re also the first in the world to see the sun every day, because New Zealand lies close to the International Date Line. Actually, that’s about all it does lie close to. Australia is 900 miles to the north-west and the small nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga are 600 miles to the north. Go a couple of thousand miles to the south and you’ll find yourself stumbling about in the icy wastes of Antarctica. But at least you might have the opportunity to chat with a few penguins. Incidentally, Welsh people like to say that the word “penguin” derives from the Welsh pen, “head” and gwyn, “white” but since most penguins have black heads, this story seems a bit unlikely. (Oh, do get on with it – Ed.)

Winemaker Nadine Worley.Winemaker Nadine Worley.

Mud House Winery makes seven entry-level varietals, two reds and five whites.  You can probably guess what they are. On the other hand, perhaps you can’t. I’ll give you a clue, because today I am feeling uncharacteristically lenient. The two red wines are made from grapes beginning with the letters M and P, and the five whites are made from grapes beginning with the letters C, G, P, R and S. There you are. It couldn’t be easier, could it?

The Head Wine Maker at for Mud House, Nadine Worley hails from South Australia and she studied oenology for four years at Adelaide University. After completing her degree, she began a career in Australia but her preference for cool climate wine-making led her to Marlborough and eventually to the Mud House team, where she has been since 2006. Mud House wines have won much acclaim at the New World Wine Awards, Air New Zealand Wine Awards, Sydney International Wine Competition, Japan Wine Challenge, Sélections Modiales des Vins Canada, International Wine Challenge (UK), Finland Wine of the Year and the Korea Wine Challenge.

These wines are imported by Siam Winery and I’ve been told that they are not currently available at retail outlets. However, you can buy them at the Amari Orchid Hotel’s Mantra Restaurant. With the usual restaurant mark-up on wines, you could expect to pay around Bt 1,500++ per bottle.

Mud House Pinot Gris South Island, 2011 (white) New Zealand

Forget those watery Pinot Grigios from Northern Italy, because this sumptuous New Zealand Pinot Gris (PEE-noh GREE) couldn’t be more different. It’s an expertly crafted straw-yellow wine with a classy floral, perfumed aroma announcing that something special lies ahead.  The aroma is complex and tantalising, with rich white fruit, notably fresh pear, quince, white peaches and honeysuckle. Give it a bit of time and you may detect hints of nectarine and in the background, a faint smell of nuts. I told you it was complex.

The sensation on the palate is splendid, because the wine has a sumptuous silky texture, giving a rich and creamy mouth-feel. It’s dry and quite full-bodied with a fine balance of very gentle acidity, rich fruit and subtle hints of sweet spices. The fruit follows through in the intensely long and glorious finish and you might even notice a delicate tang of oranges. To my mind, this is a very sophisticated and stunningly good wine. At a heady 14% alcohol content, the winemakers suggest you drink it with heavier white meats with moderately rich flavours like slow-cooked pork. Incidentally, this wine won a Silver Medal at New Zealand’s Spiegelau International Wine Competition.

Mud House Riesling Waipara Valley, 2011 (white) New Zealand

Riesling is one of the world’s great white-wine grapes, and for generations it has produced exceptional wines in Germany’s Rhein and Mosel valleys as well as in Alsace in Northern France. Riesling (REEZ-ling) grapes can sometimes be tricky to grow and for those people who manage to get the first two vowels in the wrong order, tricky to spell too. I was expecting something rather unyielding, mineral, flinty and as dry as a bone from a long-deceased dinosaur. But what a surprise! Gone is the stony, green-apple aroma of so many northern Rieslings – this one is rich and fruity. There’s a honeyed floral aroma, loaded with pineapple, citrus, and a distinct tang of orange peel. If you’ve got a really good nose you might pick up spicy herbs in the background and also that trade-mark of a fine Riesling: a very faint but distinctive whiff of paraffin.

The wine is soft and gentle on the palate; full of rich ripe fruit and just the faintest tingle of acidity. Unusually for Rieslings, which are usually low-alcohol wines, this one comes at nearly 13% alcohol content. There’s a superb off-dry fruity finish which seems to last for ages; invariably the sign of an exceptional wine.

Winemaker Nadine Worley has crafted a very special Riesling, totally different from the steely wines of the Mosel. It’s different again to their more full-blooded cousins of Alsace and the Rhein. This one shows the rarely-seen sunny side of its character; there’s a kind of joie de vivre about it, as though it’s rejoicing to be free of the grim and grey winters of Northern Europe.

And before I forget, did you manage to work out the names of the Mud House grapes? Of course you did. But just in case your memory failed you, the reds are Merlot and Pinot Noir and whites are Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. If you got the answers right, feel free to award yourself a modest treat.