My "Discover New Zealand" Tasting Experience

I had the absolute pleasure of walking into the classroom this past Wednesday at the North Vancouver Everything Wine to partake in the evening’s wine tasting, “Discover New Zealand: It’s not just Sauvignon Blanc”, hosted by John McLaughlin, an employee of Everything Wine who recently returned from his travels around Australia and New Zealand. While I have attended several tastings at Everything Wine over the past couple of years, this one was completely original. John took us on a journey around the New Zealand wine country and while reminiscing on his travel highlights, took the fifteen participants on a wine journey as well. For each stop along the highlights on his trip, John introduced a wine from that region, and while the first two were Sauvignon Blancs, of which New Zealand is famous for, he showed us that NZ has way more to offer than the traditional standard grassy green acidic Sauv Blancs, which are loved by so many. Before the tasting, had you asked me if I enjoyed New Zealand wines, I probably would have danced around the question and talked about another country, and I’m not knocking anyone who loves NZ wines… I just wasn’t a New Zealand fan... that is, until last Wednesday when John showed us some alternatives and my eyes were opened.

John began the course with some facts about the vast country of New Zealand. He informed us that there are about 4 million people in New Zealand, of which about 1.3million of them live in Auckland. Many people assume that Auckland is the capital city, however John corrected that misguided assumption and informed us that Wellington is, in fact, the capital city, which has about 350,000 residents. For the most part, New Zealand itself is a land covered in wine fields, and considering it was the last country in the world to be populated, is considered to be the fastest growing wine region on the planet.


John began the journey around New Zealand with the 2011 Jules Taylor Sauvignon Blanc ($24.99). Very typical to the region, this wine has a very light lemon colour, with a green nose (think grass and asparagus). The acidity of this wine is quite high, and ends in a sharp crisp finish while a subtle refreshing finish lingers on the back of the tongue. John explained that this is a classic Marlborough Region Sauvignon Blanc providing a delicious, herbaceous and vegetal wine that would be perfect with a salad, light fish, or to simply sip on the patio on a summer’s day.

From there John introduced us to another Sauvignon Blanc, this time from the Martinborough region, Ata Rangi Sauvignon Blanc. This wine possessed a noticeably rounder flavour, had an even higher acidic structure on the pallet, and yet was much softer and less green than the Jules Taylor. While it may seem odd to describe, the nose had a definite petrol aroma to it. "Petrol?" I know, you wouldn't think that it would be a characteristic to describe a wine, however John made it clear that we weren't making things up.... it's an aroma that is typical of the Ata Rangi region and is a good thing. As one who has an odd love of the smell of gasoline, I was immediately intrigued by this wine, and instantly determined that what I considered to be a typical New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc was only a small portion of the wines the country has to offer.

Then it was time to move on from the Sauvignon Blanc comparison and take a step in the direction of theme of the evening, "... Not Just Sauvignon Blanc". John's NZ journey took us back to the Marlborough region as we tasted the 2008 Babich Pinot Gris ($22.99). What was interesting about this Pinot Gris was that it has had some time in oak barrels during fermentation, and as a result, a much rounder, more complex wine is created that is unlike any Pinot Gris I have ever tasted. Coming forward are strong notes of pears, peaches, and a plethora of stone fruits, and while the body of the wine is round and complex to the point where you ponder on if you’re tasting a Chardonnay, the finish leaves an oily texture on your tongue longing for another sip, which is a varietally correct result of a Pinot Gris. Of all the whites, this was by far my favourite, and would be a perfect wine to pair with duck, veal, or chicken.

To finish off the first half of the evening, we tasted the 2010 Greywacke Riesling ($35.99). John gave us a little hint about the background of the winery itself and told us how Greywacke is, in fact, a type of rock in New Zealand, and is the namesake for this wine. This Riesling is made by the world famous Winemaker, Kevin Judd, who, after years of mastering the art of winemaking for other labels, decided he wanted to make his own wine. Compared to many I’ve tasted over the years, this Riesling is sweeter than I had expected or experienced, yet was taken aback by the hefty petrol smell on the nose. I thought the Ata Rangi had a strong petrol smell at first, but then I went back to it and determined that while the Ata Rangi had, what I now described as a "slight" petrol smell, there was no mistaking that this Riesling had much more of a predominant petrol aroma to it. It borught up a good tip from John that when tasting and comparing wines, to always leave a little in your glass as you work your way through the flight so that should you wish to compare a previously tasted wine, you can. Getting back to the Greywacke; the first taste was brilliant! My mouth was immediately filled with ripe peach and tropical flavours combined with a little zest, and finished with a high acidic finish which John explained helped balance the high residual sugar. John suggesting pairing this wine with a heftier fish, or a goat cheese salad. While the Babich Sauv Blanc was my favourite of the whites, thus proving that there is a NZ wine I like, the Greywacke was the most interesting of the lineup and is one that I would definitely serve at a dinner party!

We took a quick break to stretch our legs and nibble on some of the incredible cheeses and crackers that were served to go along with the wines, and started part two of John’s journey around New Zealand wines.

John took us back up to Marlborough and introduced us to the 2008 Wither Hills Pinot Noir ($34.99). After one sniff of the nose of the wine, I knew I was going to enjoy this, as I’ve recently been on an Pinot fix. On the palate, this wine was bright, and fruitful, with a delicious combination of light red fruits and spice. Unlike the Pinot’s big brothers, this wine had a soft delicate body and was followed by a smooth lingering finish. Ideally you would pair this wine alongside duck, ham, and of course, a Turkey, but I’d argue that this wine stands alone and is the perfect one to sip on throughout an evening. John did mention that though there are a few wines you could choose to lay down and cellar for a couple years, the Wither Hills Pinot Noir is best served during the year in which it was released. And really, while I have a couple wines in my collection that I’m saving, this is one I’d be taking along to the next dinner party to have that night in the company of good friends and laughter.

Next on our journey, John took us to a new location on the map: Central Otago, which is located on the Southern Island of New Zealand, and is a region with possessed the hottest, coolest, driest region which just happens to be the most southern wine region in the world. This made for a great Pinot Noir comparison as the environmental conditions in which these vines grow are so vastly different.

The 2009 Akarua Pinot Noir ($39.99) had an even more delicate nose, and was so soft that I had to take a real deep inhale to pick up on the delicious aromas within. While the nose was soft and secretive with a hint of spice, the first sip on the palate was quite an experience. Rated 91 points by Robert Parker, this Pinot Noir had an incredible taste of smooth earthy red fruits with hints of vanilla, light in body, and to some degree, not quite at its peak. In conversation we were surprised how much we favoured the Wither Hills, to which John explained that this Pinot Noir is quite young and is one to buy now and keep for 5-6 years. If the wine was that complex and interested today, who knows how delicious this will be in 2017? That’s the fun of the wine collecting game!

To conclude the evening, John took us all full circle up to the region of Hawkes Bay on the North Island. This region is New Zealand’s oldest and is the location in which all of the best NZ reds are produced thanks to the Maritime Climate influence. John informed us that Craggy Range is the largest producer in Hawkes Bay, and what better way to conclude the evening’s tasting than sampling the 2009Craggy Range Te Kahu Red Blend ($34.99). This big boy was quite different from the other two reds as this was Craggy Range’s Bordeaux blend which John informed us was a blend of Merlot (80%), Cab and Malbec. It came as no surprise that this wine was much bigger in body, had great tannins and left a spicy sensation on the underside of my tongue, longing for another sip. With its lovely long finish, the Te Kahu is an incredible wine for its value. John mentioned that while visiting this winery, he saw sheep actually roaming around the vines in the winery fields, and when he question the reason for this, was informed that many wineries allow their sheep to roam the fields as their hooves turn over the soil, they inadvertently fertilize the soil as they feed on the low hanging grapes and essentially help produce some fantastic wines. That alone was one of the the coolest facts alone I took away from John’s New Zealand tasting.

As mentioned earlier, I’ve been to several wine tastings over the past couple of years at Everything Wine and I must say that this was by far one of my most favourite. John was well educated on the wines he taught about and had so many visuals to go along. He literally took us on a journey around New Zealand, showing us personal pics from his travels, and he included some amazing tourist tips. What was so refreshing was how he had selected wines from a variety of regions. We were able to see and learn where the wines were grown and how you may have two Pinot Noirs or Sauv Blancs from the same country, yet have completely different experiences. If you ever have a chance to attend one of John’s future tastings, I sincerely urge you to do so. And as for me, well, it appears that I need to start a new savings account, as I’m clearly heading to New Zealand to relive John’s travels as soon as I can.