Monday, March 9, 2009


Now that I've been living in New Zealand for a little over a month, I've finally settled in and among other things I've undertaken the task of buying a car. Since cooking is a way for me to relax after a long day and channel my creative energy into a sensory packed output, I was quite excited at the prospect of being able to take a trip to the weekend market, as well as the supermarket in a suburb nearby. I stocked up on lots of fresh local produce, from apples (an historic Nelson staple whose market is sadly dwindling by the day) to silky organic lettuce. I also packed plenty of frozen meat and canned goods into my cart in anticipation of the late harvest nights to come when all I will seek is an easy, wholesome meal. That was on a Sunday, and the following Monday I was blessed to recieve a package from my lovely lady in the States; among a few other pleasantries, it included a bottle of the prized Sriracha sauce, a sweet and spicy nectar of a hot sauce which I tend to add, more often than not, to my culinary creations. How does this relate to wine you might ask? The story continues.

With all of the plenty at hand, my palate craved the can of potato leek soup that I had purchased, and after a long Monday of work it seemed worthy enough to be cooked. I doused it with heaps of Sriracha to add a tinge of red and an excess of spice. To lighten it up I also made a light balsamic salad. After preparation of the meal was complete, I brought it out to the picnic table where I dine, weather permitting, but felt a glass of wine was in order.

Lucky for me there was a recently opened bottle of Riesling open in the winery lab fridge, to which I had free reign. I couldn't have picked a better choice. Now to many, Riesling is often conceived as a wine-too-sweet-for-drinking. In my first experiences, that was the case. I believe the first Riesling I tried was a cheap bottle of German Riesling, perhaps a Spatlese, which is even middle of the road in terms of sweetness by German standards, but the only way I could drink it was with a super salty cheese at dessert. For more on German wine classification and its complexities one might consult any number of publications; My habit lately in enlightening my mind on new topics is wikipedia:

I guess my point is that, like all wines, there is more to each grape varietal than one simple style. That is the joy in trying wines from different producers in the same part of the world, or trying the same wine from different parts of the world. I remember the first time I tried a decent Riesling from South Australia at a grand tasting a few years ago and I nearly spit it out. It was nothing like I was expecting: way too dry. Perhaps the aromas and flavors were also a bit too subtle for my immature palate, but I was told it was a quality wine. Needless to say, I had, and still have quite limited knowledge of the grape and its possibilities.

When I was working my first harvest in Oregon last fall I was quite excited to find out that Riesling was one of the grape varietals that they produced at the winery. Imagine my excitement they day that the grower arrived, near the end of the harvest, in his shotty old flatbed diesel truck stacked full with rotting wood bins piled full of ripe Riesling. I had the pleasure of unloading them and soonafter rushed to pluck some berries out of the bins and put them to a taste test. The thich skins of the grapes gave way to a semi-firm gooey flesh, which instantly reminded me of childhood and the gummy candies I used to guiltfully sneak onto the counter when I went with my dad to the hardware store on a Saturday morning to buy paint. I am curious to try the soon-to-be-bottled wine that came from those specific grapes, but regardless, it was definitely a treat to try the raw form of such a mysterious grape.

Back to now. With a few more Rieslings having glazed my palate since then, I was so very pleased when I arrived here to Nelson, NZ, and got a chance to taste the wines they were making from the Riesling grape. Not uber viscous and sugar bombed like one might normally conceive a dense Riesling or an ice-wine, but not bone dry like my first encounter with the South Australian pour. The Rieslings I have tried here thus far have been spectacularly balanced. The acidity is enough to make your tongue salivate just a bit, the sugar just enough to make you want a little more (with aromas and flavors of the local fruits), the body heavy enough just to make you hold it in your mouth just a little longer, and the complexity enough for you to be tasting the wine long after swallowing (or spitting if you really must).

All said, I couldn't have been luckier to find an open bottle of Woollaston 2007 Riesling sitting in the fridge to pour with my modest meal. The light, halfway sweet texture was a perfect compliment to my over spiced, heavily salted, creamy potato soup, and the acidity also jived well with my vinaigrette salad. With the late (New Zealand) summer sun still beating down, even after dinner, it was fresh enough to have another glass as an aperitif after dinner.

Riesling is not even my favorite grape; There are so many grape varieties I have yet to even try (see Italy), and I have a hard time choosing sides in the first place. It is a fantastic example though of how one might shatter pre-conceptions of a wine through trial (and error) and the numerous wine styles that exist around the world and the endless food-pairings they might enable, all from one grape. That being said, I highly recommend you try and seek out a recent vintage of New Zealand Riesling, but don't stop if you can't find it or it doesn't please you, there are many others that await.