It’s still early days and the highs and lows of relocating from this country’s largest city to its capital are still intense. Not only because of 7.8 earthquakes over the past month but because 17 years is a long time in any place and Auckland and Wellington are like chalk and cheese. One contains our closest friends, the other is home to family and my new partner. One is warm, wet and cloudy while the other has intense sunshine but is cooler. One is where we had to be, the other is where we wanted to be.
It was a big decision to move but it was the easiest big decision I have ever made.
Still, 2016 has not been an easy year. For many, it has been one shocking political event after another, while on the home front, my year has been one of intense travel for the three ‘t’s – teaching, talking and tasting wine.
First world problems.
So, without further ado, here’s another: how does a wine writer whittle thousands of wines down to the 5 best?
With difficulty. But these 5 wines made the most positive impression on yours truly this year.
5 of the best… wines in 2016
Prices are recommended retail
Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvee Brut, $99, 12% ABV
Big and beautiful. Bollinger never fails to impress. This year I have tried and enjoyed old and new bottles of Bolly – from 1966, 1976, 1982 and 1990 at a retrospective champagne tasting in May – followed by brand spanking new bottles to celebrate a milestone. It has everything I love about champagne; character, toasty aromas and savoury flavours, richness and depth and a long finish. What more could you ask for? Stunning.
2014 Terrazes de los Andes Malbec, $27, 14.5% ABV
Take a man with great foresight, an under-appreciated black grape (Malbec) and a little known corner of the wine world (Argentina) and meet one of the best value, high quality reds on Earth – in my view. The late Robert Jean de Vogue pioneered this wine on high altitude terraced vineyards (above 1000 metres in the Andes mountains) in the 1950s, and this latest wine does him proud – it’s deep purple in colour with a burst of intense fruit flavour and a long finish. It has a full body, is earthy and bone dry in taste. A stunner.
2005 Pegasus Bay Chardonnay, $50
This bottle was pulled from the best place possible – the winery’s own cellar – and it was enjoyed outside on a warm autumn morning at Pegasus Bay in North Canterbury. The disclaimer is that I worked (unpaid) a couple of days of vintage there (for the third time) this year, which was to gain insight into wine’s finer details. This full bodied, rich and savoury, complex and delicious Chardonnay is underpinned by zesty citrus notes and a fine thread of bright acidity providing its nerve and zing. Sensation.
2007 Quartz Reef Pinot Noir, $50, 14% ABV
If only I had bought more of this Pinot Noir; half a case wasn’t enough but 9 years of ageing did seem like the perfect time to catch this deep southern red at its tastiest peak of savouriness (is that even a word?). There’s no shortage of good Central Otago Pinot Noir but, in my view, eight to nine years of patience is a small price to pay to enjoy the great ones at their best. Bravo to Rudi Bauer; winemaker of this exceptional drop.
2008 Mount Edward Morrison Vineyard Pinot Noir $65, 14% ABV
Another aged stunner from Central Otago, pulled from my modest wine cellar, which now has a walk-in home (it’s called the other half of the laundry and is not a bad space to mature wine in). This wine still has plenty of time up its tasty sleeve but its soft smooth tannins and bright fruit flavours are moving into a delicious earthy taste.
This year, I have been woed and wowed by vintage champagnes, great bottles of dry Austrian Riesling and exceptionally good French Vouvray, but the wines above are those that have provided the most pleasure – and the biggest sense of surprise.
Every day in Wellington rewards me with the feeling of clarity when I look out of the vast two storey windows of our apartment at the harbour, the hills and the houses precipitously perched on their seemingly impossibly steep slopes. The architecture seems to defy logic as much as our decision to move to a quieter place, which has brought with it an unpredictable sense of relief.
The sense of clutter I felt when living in Auckland has evaporated and I even enjoy frequent trips back there for work. So, was I suffering from other issues than merely a sense of feeling cluttered?
Undoubtedly. But as an old friend and therapist, Jill Goldson said earlier this year, when suffering from anxiety, feeling overwhelmed or under connected, the best path forward is kindness – to yourself. She sums it up perfectly: “Take time to reflect on conflicted feelings and to seek another perspective, which might be the very best place to start.”
And it’s also a high note to end a strangely conflicted year on.