Joelle Thomson's online wine guide

Category: Riesling (page 1 of 2)

Forage North Canterbury for food… humbling

We are luckier than we think.

Greetings from the sunny South Island of New Zealand where I have just spent 36 hours foraging for food, fishing in Kaikoura, harvesting wild edible greens and generally feeling humbled by Mother Nature’s seemingly endless supply of uncultivated food. If you look for it, you will find it.

Food is all around us, even in cities, as my own little patch of communal garden in Wellington’s ‘eco valley’ (also known as Aro Valley) show, but more on that in another blog.

The one is all about an event called Forage North Canterbury.

It’s the first year I have been to Forage North Canterbury, but the event is now in its third year and is gaining momentum, says food grower Angela Clifford, who founded the event. She describes Forage as a serendipitous relationship between a food movement and the local wine industry in North Canterbury’s rolling foothills of the Southern Alps. She also pays tribute to Kate McMillan and Melany Wright, two local women who she says were intrinsic to the start of Forage, due to their love of nature and its bountiful supply of food, sometimes in the most unexpected places.

Clifford also founded The Food Farm, which supports her assertion that the Forage event is a natural extension of the lives of those living in this rural region. The farm is 16 acres of vegetables that she owns with her life partner Nick Gill, a local viticulturist. It is also home to ducks, chickens, pigs, sheep and cows. There is no vineyard on site. The couple do make wine, however, under the tongue in cheek brand, Tongue in Groove, which they co-own with four other locals in North Canterbury. This region is significantly warmer, drier, sunnier and more sheltered than the Canterbury Plains, which spread out from Christchurch city, 40 minutes’ drive south. Prior to wine grapes being planted here, North Canterbury was home to experimental fruit and vegetable growing and some vineyards are still full of asparagus, which spreads like tasty wildfire each year.

But like many rural regions, the area is also home to wild fruit trees, wild mushrooms, such as porcini, and also to truffles, as well as being close to kaimoana (seafood). Blue cod, gurnard and perch all made an appearance on our fishing lines and our plates because the sea is nine kilometres east of the State Highway 1, just over the Teviotdale Hills, which provide much needed wind protection from the strong sea breezes.

There are wild deer, pigs, hare, rabbits and goats, some of which appeared (in a relatively minor way) on the table at this year’s Forage North Canterbury dinner. But the star attraction in most  dishes was wild greens, which tasted exceptionally fresh, crisp and, very often, very lemony – despite which, no lemons were harvested or used in the meal.

“Tonight’s meal is a snapshot of what happened today; it’s staggering how much produce we can get because there’s just so much wild food we can eat. If we just look for it, it’s there and there’s no need to go hungry,” said James Stapley, chef at  Bistro Gentil in Wanaka, and one-time chef at Pegasus Bay winery when it first won restaurant of the year from Cuisine magazine well over a decade ago. The winery’s restaurant has gone on to win the same accolade many times. It’s easy to taste why.

Stapley’s dish at Forage was slivers of fresh blue cod, caught by five of us earlier that day in Kaikoura. The explosive fresh taste of the dish came from the wild greens while its pretty appearance came from tiny purple flowers that he and I picked on the rugged beach at Kaikoura, prior to our lunch of fresh crayfish sandwiches served with 2009 Pegasus Bay Bel Canto Dry Riesling, brought by Edward Donaldson, who captained his own speed boat to take us fishing for Forage.

Other teams scoured the countryside for wild mushrooms, buckets of small, tart and incredibly tasty wild cherries, miniature wild plums ranging from pale green to red to deep purple, with flavours as varied as the colour. There were flowers and green leaves wrapped inside miniature bites of fresh mullet and a sensational dish of fish with the intensely earthy taste of truffle, which was crumbled over it.

About 70 of us attended Forage North Canterbury this year, including a handful of New Zealand’s top South Island chefs who gave their time in exchange for the privilege of being involved. While it took time out of their more lucrative lives, the privilege of taking part more than rewarded them, said chef Stapley, who enjoyed his second year at Forage.

After we had foraged for food and brought the spoils back, we were treated to aged Rieslings from the cellars of local wineries such as Pegasus Bay (where the Forage dinner was held), Terrace Edge, Tongue in Groove, Mount Brown, Bellbird Spring, The Boneline, Greystone, Black Estate and Crater Rim wineries. I think all wineries have been included, but email me, if I have missed someone. This region is known for its earthy Pinot Noirs and a growing amount of Sauvignon Blanc, but it has a long history of producing outstanding dry, medium and luscious Rieslings, all of which can age for decades and remain fresh in flavour.

With the exception of olive oil, salt and pepper, all ingredients used in the meal had been freshly foraged that day.

Two things surprised me: the discovery that I am a natural forager is one. Perhaps it’s not altogether surprising when I think back to my grandparents’ vast vegetable gardens, but it felt validating to walk along the beach with Stapley after we had been fishing, and to collect wild plants with someone else who clearly sees great edible potential in the natural world around us.

The concept of living off seasonal, unsprayed and unpolluted produce is one that’s close to my heart and my hands – I have just been allotted a segment of communal garden in Wellington’s ‘eco valley’ (also known as Aro Valley), an eight minute walk from the front door of my apartment.

Forage North Canterbury has left me feeling humbled to reconnect with the land and with Mother Nature’s seemingly endless supply of more than  we need, despite our questionable treatment of the world around us. We are luckier than we think.

The world of Riesling at Regional

Ask Marlborough winemaker Jeff Fyfe what turns his tastebuds on about Riesling and he responds: “It’s the whole ‘what the heck is this that makes it such an awesome drink for me. The fact that Riesling can be so many different things is what makes it such a great drink – it can be sparkling, dry, full bodied, light bodied, low alcohol, off dry, medium dry, medium sweet or luscious – which one is it? Well, I don’t mind as I like all the different ways it can taste great.”

This year, Fyfe made a Riesling along the lines of an old school, traditional European wine rather than a new wave New Zealand one – he fermented 100% of the grapes in oak – old oak, that is.

The wine is the first single vineyard Yealands Riesling in four years and was  100% barrel fermented in neutral old French oak from two blocks on one (extremely large) vineyard. The grapes come from two different areas of the same vineyard. One part of the vineyard is close to the sea (grapes with lean, high acidity) while the other is near to the winery (still close to the sea but not perched precipitously on the coast). All grapes for this wine were hand picked, then destemmed and settled for 24 hours being before moved into barrel for 4.5 months where they were stirred on lees (left overs after fermentation) twice a week until blending and bottling (with no fining). These grapes were planted progressively between 8 to 11 years ago and some of the barrels were inoculated with yeast whilst others were left to go through wild yeast fermentation in their own sweet time. Speaking of which, the wine tastes dry (due to its angular, youthfulness and naturally high acidity) but it is technically off dry since it contains 6 grams of residua sugar (RS) and that balancing 9 grams of acid.

“We didn’t want one wine to be way out of step with the others in our Yealands stable, so the style of the wines overall had to fit under our umbrella, which means fruit flavours  are there, but in this wine that’s not the primary focus,” explains Fyfe.

The wine

2016 Yealands Estate Riesling Marlborough $22, 12% ABV

A wine for the cellar – flavours are fresh, thanks to high acidity, which adds a very zesty, very fresh, very youthful aspect to the taste, while the fruit is in the background. It reminded me of a young Clare Valley Riesling such as Grosset Watervale Riesling – one of the great Southern Hemisphere expressions of this German grape variety. In its youth, this wine (the Grosset Watervale Riesling) can be extremely shy in aroma and flavour but after 10 years in the bottle, it’s a beautifully balanced, medium bodied white with notes of warm toast and lime zest.

PS: One of the most remarkable things about Riesling is… its ability to age, sometimes for decades (if storing conditions are favourable; cool, temperature stable, dark and all that jazz) and last week, at the World of Riesling tasting I hosted at Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington, we saw an outstanding example of this in the 2005 Framingham Dry Riesling (small supplies of which are still available at Regional Wines for  $26).

World of Riesling top wines of the night

2011 Egon Muller Scharzhofberg Riesling $39.90

The wine of the night, which is remarkable, given the fact this is not even on the first rung of the complicated German Pradikat system of ranking quality (but let’s not go there right now). It is the off dry, ripe citrus, honey and peach aromas and the extraordinarily well balanced freshness (acidity, in other words) that give this Riesling the X-factor. It really stood out from the crowd for its lightness and intensity – a delicious paradox.

2015 Taylors St Andrews Single Vineyard Clare Valley Riesling $44.99

Altitude is the name of the game for this wine, which is made from grapes grown at 359 go 382 metres above sea level – relatively high from a vineyard with a prevailing southerly aspect – a good micro climate for the late ripening, cool climate loving Riesling grape. The intensity of flavour, freshness and balance of the acidity made it a stand out.

2008 Misha’s Vineyard Limelight Riesling – cellar stock

Thanks, Misha, for sending up this eight year bottle and sharing your first vintage of Central Otago Riesling, which put its most youthful foot forward; it’s intensely flavoursome with lime zest suggesting its cool climate origins, and it was one of my top wines of the night. It is firmly in the medium sweet category, in terms of flavour and residual sugar levels.

2012 Misha’s Vineyard Limelight Riesling Central Otago $27.35    

A relatively youthful Riesling with at least another 5 to 6 years up its sleeve, for those with the willpower to age this wine.

2014 Weingut Clemens Busch Marienberg Riesling $40   

Mosel Riesling from the steep Pündericher Marienburg, a 25 hectare vineyard that runs along a hillside which faces the village of Pünderich and has a south to south west aspect. The ripe citrus and stone fruit flavours that this wine gains from this vineyard site make it a consistent winner, exceptionally good value at this price for its rich, off dry style.

2015 Giesen Marlborough Riesling $16.99

As always, extraordinarily good value for money and with the potential to age for 4 to 5 years, possibly longer in cooler vintages.

2014 Albert Mann Riesling Alsace AC $33.40

A regional wine rather than one made with grapes from a single vineyard site, nevertheless, this biodynamic producer (Albert Mann) packs a powerful dry punch in this French Riesling, which is medium bodied, dry and has a long lemon-zest flavoursome finish.

2011 Spy Valley Envoy Riesling Marlborough $32.99

A big toasty wine from Marlborough, which benefits from a little time in old fuder barrels, which adds complexity and another string to the multifaceted Spy Valley white wine bow.

The wines above are barely the tip of the world’s (and New Zealand’s) long list of good, very good and outstanding quality Rieslings. And their prices do not suggest the level of quality that they deliver, let alone their proven track records of ageing well (particularly now that many are sealed with screw caps). 

There are many other New Zealand wines that I would like to have highlighted that are, in my view, among New Zealand’s finest white wines – some of these wines include: The Doctor’s Riesling from Marlborough, Mt Edward Drumlin Riesling, The Boneline Hellblock Riesling, The Boneline Dry Riesling, Pegasus Bay Riesling and Main Divide Riesling, The Escarpment Riesling, Ata Rangi Craighall Riesling, Nga Waka Riesling (arguably New Zealand’s best dry expression of this great grape), and many more.

The Boneline: small scale North Canterbury wines

The low down and high quality on the South Island’s Boneline wines…

She’s the owner, he’s the winemaker and this week they came to Wellington to unveil their newest wines from Boneline – one of the few New Zealand wineries that actually can lay claim to calling itself an estate – which means all of their wines are made from grapes grown on their own land. In this case, that land happens to be in North Canterbury, one of the windiest corners of the country for grapevines to call home, which can be a factor in reducing the yield of grapes per hectare – and raising the quality of wine at the same time.

Vic is one of the owners of The Boneline and Paul is the winemaker and we will keep things on a first name basis in this article because their focus was firmly on the wines, which taste pretty awesome.

The tasting they hosted with Wellington wine woman Jeannine Mccallum was at Loretta’s in Cuba Street – one of Wellington’s best places to eat (don’t even get me started on the delicious cauliflower with almonds).

The Boneline wines…

The Boneline began life in 2013 as the new lease of life for the brand previously known as Waipara West (now the label for exports from this winery).

The vineyard is planted on three terraces on the banks of the Waipara River, approximately 5 kilometres from Amberley township. There are three distinct soil types here, which can attribute different aspects to the taste of the wines. The slightly different altitude on each terrace may also play a factor in flavour.

Paul worked his first harvest this year, 2016, and talked about the defining factors of the region being its very dry climate (drought is a frequent issue) and also the sea breeze, which cools the region.

The name Boneline is a reference to the fossils that have been thrust up from the riverbed – there is a visual line in the river where the soils and stones change colour. All wines are made with grapes that are 100% grown on the winery’s own vineyards. No grapes are bought from other growers. Vines were planted there in 1989.

Here are my highlights of this Boneline tasting

2015 The Boneline Dry Riesling

Dry Riesling is the gateway for many to one of the world’s greatest quality but so frequently misunderstood wines – by using the word ‘dry’ on the label and by ensuring this wine lives up to its name, the Boneline team hope to harness a new following for this fresh, light bodied, vibrant refreshing wine. Think lime zest on speed… it’s delicious.

2015 The Boneline Riverbone Sauvignon Blanc

This is a rich, full bodied style of Sauvignon with flavours of green apple, fresh herbs and creamy flavours – lovers of French wine will recognise its Bordeauxesque style in its rich, oily feel in the mouth. This wine is made from four rows of grapes grown on the Waipara River banks in North Canterbury. All grapes were hand picked and whole bunch pressed straight to oak (approximately 30% new oak) with the creamy notes coming from the oak and lees stirring. Low crop levels and lots of hand work adds the bells and the very subtle whistles to this high quality Sauvignon Blanc.

2014 The Boneline Waipara Cabernet Franc

Described by its makers as ‘an everyday and lighter style of Cabernet Franc’, this wine is made with grapes grown on Claremont limestone soils  and it tastes ripe and smooth with big tannins and dark fruit flavours; it’s an approachable style to drink now rather than to age.

2014 The Boneline Waipara Waimanu Pinot Noir

Big full body, dry with high acidity – so far, so technical, but this Pinot Noir puts the South Island’s best foot forward for Pinot Noir with its red and dried fruit flavours, its freshness and its long finish – a stunner.

A parting shot

2014 The Hellblock Riesling – made from grapes grown on the bottom terrace close to the river, which enables the grapes there to develop noble rot, which shrivels them and reduces their moisture, leaving elevated levels of sweetness in the grapes’ natural sugars, so that this wine cruises in with 46 grams of residual sugar, putting it firmly in the ‘sweet’ category. Its high acidity (cool climates retain that) means it has the perception of a medium sweet wine with a lingering finish. Very seductive…

Older posts

© 2017 Vino

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑