Over one hundred wines were lined up on the tables, ready to be sampled. But attendees at this year’s New Zealand Winegrowers Expo, held at Washington D.C.’s Westin City Center, may have been surprised to see wines grouped by varietal, not by producer. Bottles made with the country’s racy, zesty signature grape, Sauvignon Blanc, sat next to other aromatic whites like Rieslings and Gewürztraminers, which stood alongside New Zealand’s rising star, Pinot Noir. The vibe was friendly and approachable, one of unity rather than competition.
Most of the Sauvignon Blancs on hand hailed from the current 2006 vintage. New Zealand winemakers keenly recognize that the inviting bright citrus and passion fruit flavors, and vibrant acidity, are best enjoyed during the wine’s youth. These wines are perhaps the purest expression of the Sauvignon Blanc grape in the world, and the consistency of their intense aromas and flavors makes them extremely popular. David Strada, U.S. marketing manager for New Zealand Winegrowers, says that “people are recognizing these wines for their quality and style, and they have found them to go so well with food,” including freshly-shucked oysters and other seafood, and goat’s milk cheeses.
New Zealand is also well suited to growing other white aromatic varieties. The 2006 dry Rieslings were particular standouts, exhibiting apple, peach and mineral notes balanced by refreshing acidity. Gewürztraminers were weightier and richer, with honeyed overtones and the grape’s signature spiciness.
The considerable number of Pinot Noirs at the expo reflect the increasing importance of this grape to New Zealand winemakers. Flavors range from tart cherries, to riper berries and sweet plums. Some also exhibit smoky, earthy or meaty notes, giving way to comparisons to red Burgundies. But the country’s winemakers put their own stamp on the grape. Fresh fruit, not ageability, is the primary focus of these Pinots, so the screw cap closure so commonly used suits these bottles just fine.
The expo gave wine lovers the chance to taste the results of New Zealand winemaking—consistent wines with concentrated aromas and flavors. “Their respect for the fruit,” explains Strada, “shows in the bottle.”
Kelly Magyarics is a wine writer and educator in the Metro D.C. area. Kelly can be reached through her Web site, which is www.trywine.net.