Well, two actually. But did you know that the first vineyards in the world to see the sun every day are those in New Zealand? This is 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. There aren’t many vineyards down there. Not very many at all. But at least, you might see a penguin.
You probably know that New Zealand is made up of two large islands known as the North Island and the South Island. I sometimes wonder how long it took them to come up with such imaginative names. The vineyards are the furthest south of any in the world and although wine-making began in the nineteenth century, the industry didn’t really get going until the 1970s. Compared to other players in the field, the country produces a comparatively small amount of wine and an increasing amount comes from independent wine companies.
Winemaker Nadine Worley.
One of these is Mud House, a thriving company established in 1996 but already producing award-winning wines. 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. These wines are imported by Siam Winery and I’ve been told that they are not currently available at retail outlets. However, they are available 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 everything you know about those watery Pinot Grigios from Northern Italy. This sumptuous New Zealand Pinot Gris (PEE-noh GREE) couldn’t be more different. Expertly crafted by Nadine Worley, it has 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 superb, 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.
It’s a superbly crafted wine too and at a heady 14% alcohol content, the winemakers suggest you drink it with heavier white meats with a moderately rich palate like slow cooked pork. Incidentally, the wine achieved a Silver Medal at last year’s Spiegelau International Wine Competition.
Mud House Riesling Waipara Valley 2011 (white) New Zealand
Riesling is considered one of the world’s great white-wine grapes, because for generations it has produced exceptional wines in Germany’s Rhein and Mosel valleys as well as in Alsace in Northern France. In the 1970s Riesling (REEZ-ling) acquired an unfortunate reputation for sweetish, bland mass-produced wines which graced many a middle-class dinner table in Britain. If your memory of Riesling goes back to those days, prepare yourself for a revelation. Riesling grapes can sometimes be tricky to grow and for some 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 dinosaur bone. 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.
The makers suggest you drink this wine with mild and fragrant Asian styled dishes. And before I forget, let me remind you that despite the spelling, the wine is always pronounced “REEZ-ling”. Don’t let me ever catch you calling it “RIZE-ling” otherwise I’ll send over my three wild and ferocious dogs to sort you out.