Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Martinborough: Two More Consecutive Days of Wine Tasting

Quick note: we are playing catch up on our blog entries, so this is a little out of order. Tyler's entry "Well, all's well that ends well in Wellington" includes our time in Martinborough, so might be best to read that first.

Tyler and I have agreed that there are two things we really appreciate about our New Zealand trip leg. We narrowed our travel options by mostly sticking to hiking/outdoors activities and wine regions. The other is that by having our own set of wheels and speaking the dominant language we can get off the tourist track. And visiting wine country seems to be a prime way to do it. We lose most the other younger, more adventurous crowds and, because we're in shoulder season, we don't have a lot of the wine travellers either. (Though Tyler does mourn the days without other Spaceship sightings....)

After two days drinking our way through wineries in Hawke's Bay, we decided to break up the drive to Wellington by stopping in Martinborough. Though we wouldn't spend a lot of time there, it was a nice halfway point, conveniently situated with a number of wineries primarily growing Pinot Noirs.

We got into town and stopped at the local i-Site for a wine map and help booking the ferry to Picton. Our original plan was to hit a winery or two, stay the night, then hop down to the ferry the next day. That plan was kiboshed when we realized that we were trying to book a ferry near Easter weekend. Though I believe New Zealand is a secular country, there are public holidays the Friday before and Monday after Easter. It is also basically Kiwi's Labor Day--that last chance to hit the outdoors while the weather is still late summer-y. We couldn't book a spot on the ferry the next day. Nor the day after that. So we had some extra time in Martinborough.

We started by following the i-Site's suggestion by stopping by Ata Rangi. She had raved about it ("people come from all over the world to try their wines!") and because it was 3:30 and they closed at 4PM. And we were happy we did. The woman at the pouring counter was incredibly friendly and personable, and their wines were all fantastic--a lovely rose, Reisling, Sauvingnon Blanc, two Pinot Noirs, and a red blend called "Celebre." Ata Rangi, as well as several other local wineries, had an interesting approach in having a red blend with a "brand" name. However, they varied the blend depending on that status of the grapes from each year. We walked away with a reasonably priced (and their least expensive) Crimson Pinot Noir (a nice easy drinking bottle, with good black cherry flavors and made for drinking now), glad we had managed to stop by before they closed.

Afterwards, we made a stop to the Martinborough Wine Center, a local store which sells wines from all the local vineyards. They also have a large tasting menu, so for $1.50 to $4, you can sample any wines that catch your eye. We tasted a Riesling, two Pinot Noirs and a dessert Cabernet Sauvingnon. I wasn't terribly crazy about the first three, but the dessert Cabernet was really interesting--pretty sweet (which Tyler isn't as crazy about) but with some good richer more biscuity flavors after the initial sweetness. Yum.

After three straight days of wine tasting, our initial zest for hitting up to four wineries in one day had taken a toll. We did make a more meandering route to a few wineries:

Martinborough Vineyards/Burnt Spur: this winery didn't totally wow us, but it was worth it to tast three different Pinot Noirs. They had three labels: Russian Jack (their least expensive), Burnt Spur, and Martinborough Vineyards. The differences depended on the age of the grapes (2004 for Russian Jack, 2002 for the other two), the area the grapes were grown, and the age of the vines. I don't know if I've had the opportunity before to notice the different that vine age can make, but it was astounding to taste more depth and richness of the older vines (20-ish years, I believe) compared to the one made with 5-6 year old vines. Of course, it was also the most expensive.

Margrain Vineyard: we mostly went to Margrain because the label included Tyler's favorite New Zealand bird, the Pukeko or Swampo Hen. The winemaker had written up the best descriptions I've ever read (just one, to quote: The 2006 wine is absolutely magnificent, probably the best we have made, presenting its huge and lifted nose with pride. Strong aromas of lime-wire citrus, rambling jasmine, sun-dew melon and a perfume by Britney Spears hang in a haze over the wine’s surface. You can read more here.) Unfortunately, I wasn't too crazy about the wines. Many (the rose, reisling) tasted too sweet to me, and the reds didn't strike me as noteworthy. But they did have one interesting bottle called Mad Red, so named because they don't actually know what the grape varietal is. They thought they planted Syrah, but they had it DNA tested, and it's not Syrah. They think it's probably a hybrid of some sort, but they just bottle it as Mad Red with no varietal name to go along.

We tried to go by the other winery suggested most strongly at the i-Site, Schubert Wines, but they had the convenient hours sign of "11-4PM Most Days;" apparently our day swinging by wasn't one of their open ones.

Fortunately for our livers and our wallets, our walking tour of Martinborough didn't lend itself as well to buying, so we didn't purchase any other bottles and just paid marginal tasting fees.

And, after four straight days of tasting wines, we decided we couldn't properly enjoy tastings any longer and decided to skip the Marlborough region on South Island. There's always the chance to explore more wineries in Queenstown!

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