Christine Austin looks at what Kate and Wills – and the press pack – could be quaffing as they tour New Zealand.
As the Royal tour of New Zealand gets underway next week it seems likely that Kiwi producers will be keen to show off their wines to Kate and Wills. Part of the tour will include a visit to the Amisfield vineyard in Central Otago, but at receptions throughout the trip I expect wines from all parts of this lovely country will be served.
The tour starts off in Wellington, so the producers of the Wairarapa will probably be keen to have their wines on display. This is the region just an hour’s drive from the blustery capital, but its location, tucked behind a range of hills, gives it a dry climate with long, warm autumns that allow the grapes to ripen slowly. The main town is Martinborough and it is a pity that Kate and Wills won’t be going there since the centre is laid out in the shape of a Union Jack. It was established by a 19th-century Irish immigrant, John Martin, who bought a large sheep station and built the town, naming the streets after places he had visited. Venice, Suez, Panama and New York are just some of the street names, giving a cosmopolitan air to the thriving cafes, bars and small shops of this country town.
The key to this region is a two-mile stretch of stony river terrace providing mineral-rich, free-draining soils and while many producers grow other grape varieties the real star of Martinborough is Pinot Noir. One of my favourite producers of this region is Larry McKenna, whose vineyards occupy a prime spot on the terrace, hence its name of Escarpment. Close-planted vines, grown on knee-high trellises give the look of Burgundy in these vineyards with the aim of cutting yields and increasing concentration while Larry’s traditional winemaking extracts fruit and complexity into the wines. Get a taste for Escarpment in the soft-scented, expressive, great value The Edge, 2010 (Halifax Wine Co, £11.95) or move up to Escarpment 2009 (£18.95, Field and Fawcett) for bigger cherry fruit and sweet-edged tannins. Kupe is the flagship wine from this estate and I love it for its deep, expressive fruit, silky tannins and elegant complexity. The 2010 vintage is available at top independents such as Halifax Wine, Field and Fawcett and Martinez for around £27.50 but you should buy more than one bottle and be prepared to hide it away for a few years to really see how good this wine is.
The Royal couple and baby George then move on to Blenheim on South Island and while they will probably just hop over the Cook Strait by plane it would be nice for them to see the fabulous approach to Picton as the ferry wends its way between steep-sided, tree-covered islands.
Blenheim is the heart of the Marlborough vineyard area. The first vineyard was planted in 1973 and the flavours that came out of it were so dramatic, lively and taste changing that the local sheep were quickly rounded up and replaced by wall-to-wall vineyards. Now vineyards are planted on the hillsides and into neighbouring valleys and to the coast. This is where Sauvignon Blanc is king, famous initially for its vibrant gooseberry-fresh flavours and now maturing into more tropical fruit and minerally complexity. Cloudy Bay was the first label to become like a passport into polite society, its wines kept under the counter and traded on a second market, but those days are gone. Cloudy Bay is still good but I prefer the more subtle elegance of Greywacke 2013, made by Kevin Judd, the former chief winemaker at Cloudy Bay (£15.95, Halifax Wine, also at Flourish and Prosper in Howden) and the exuberant, tastebud-tingling Dog Point (£15.70, Field and Fawcett). These two wines are made at the same winery which has become the unofficial retirement home of Cloudy Bay’s best former winemakers, viticulturalists and finance people.
Perhaps easier to find and, to be honest, cracking value, the Ned Waihopai River Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (£8.99, Majestic on multibuy) is the one to have in your fridge for the first springtime lunch on the lawn. Its lively green, gooseberry fruit is thirst-quenching and delicious.
After a quick detour to Auckland the Royal tour moves to Queenstown where Kate and Wills will visit Amisfield, one of the first vineyards on the road into the Central Otago district. Wines from Amisfield are very good but are difficult to find in our region. The Royal couple will be very close to the AJ Hackett bungy jump bridge where this crazy sport started but apparently they won’t be leaping off the bridge, instead saving their adrenalin rush for the Shotover jet ride down the river.
Central Otago is New Zealand’s newest wine region and it is making Pinot Noir its signature grape variety. Felton Road, Mount Difficulty and Quartz Reef are the top names here but I have found Tesco’s Finest Central Otago Pinot Noir 2011 to be very good and it makes a great value introduction to the wines of the region at just £11.49. With lifted cherry fruit and a sprinkle of spice, it goes terrifically well with grilled duck.
From Queenstown the tour moves to Christchurch, which was devastated by the earthquake in 2011. Just north of the city, the wine region of Waipara is noted for its Rieslings which thrive in the cool, coastal climate. Main Divide Riesling 2011 from Pegasus Bay (£10.99, Majestic on multibuy) is the place to start exploring these lovely wines which capture the classic stone fruit aromatics of good Riesling with crisp, knife-edge acidity. There is an edge of sweetness in many Waipara Rieslings, which makes them perfect to accompany chilli-spiced dishes.
While I don’t expect Kate and Wills to spend much time drinking during this tour of New Zealand, just think of the needs of the international press corps who will be following their every move. This bunch of hacks will probably explore the range of New Zealand wines on offer with great enthusiasm. It is good that the new vintage is large so that New Zealand’s cellars don’t run dry.