“This is a tale of two ‘lesser’ wines that gave sublime enjoyment where context is everything; the place, the company you keep and the situation delivers the most worthwhile of memories,” writes RICHARD CALVER
THERE is a memorable 1970s song called “Torn Between Two Lovers“. This was Mary MacGregor’s number one hit: it reached those dizzy heights in the US in 1977. Mary warbles about “loving you both is breaking all the rules.”
That little two-timer celebrated the fact of having another man in her life in her sweet voice, telling her main man that he shouldn’t think he’d failed her because she had another lover. Bravo, sort of.
Anyway, I recently channelled a similar bifurcation when I returned to NZ. I loved them both but in the wine game there really are no rules. That hasn’t stopped the traditionalists casting aspersions on their Australasian rivals.
Legend has it that when a French wine critic first tasted a NZ sauvignon blanc he described it as tasting like a cat had pissed on a tomato plant. I haven’t been able to verify this unedifying labelling of the wine that resonates with NZ’s coming of age in the oenophile stakes, but it still makes me chuckle. And there I was in Auckland, that massive suburb that masquerades as a city, drinking an excellent Kiwi sauvignon blanc that I added to the cooking I undertook for my sister and her partner. Then, bang, a superlative pinot noir was brought out of the cellar. I was down for the count; the wine was a knock out. Later in return gratitude, I purchased for my sister and my wine-loving brother-in-law an exemplar French wine, a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, at a trendy restaurant.
I loved them both (blush), the French and the NZ. Let’s line up why they both were outstanding.
The Kiwi wine was a Valli pinot noir 2013 from Otago. My brother-in-law explained that this was a special wine in a number of ways: it wasn’t cheap at $NZ60 but was everything you could ask for in a pinot noir. I agreed: wonderful deep fruit colour with a complexity and minerality that filled out the entire palette. I tasted cranberry and with just a hint of clove. Pinots are generally light to medium bodied but this had a richness that belied the variety. Like a lot of the NZ-style of wines, it was fruit driven. Like a lot of pinots from Otago, it was glorious.
The French wine was served up by a bearded waiter at Parnell restaurant called Woodpecker Hill. The Clos de L’Oratoire des Papes 2014 cost $NZ130, the most I’ve paid for a bottle of wine in a long time. But in the fever of the moment it was entirely complementary to the Woodpecker’s slow-cooked beef and, at the time, money seemed impossibly unimportant as it tends to when on holiday. Plus, I’d never tried a wine from this historic region previously; ever. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a legendary village between the towns of Orange and Avignon, in France’s southern Rhône Valley. The wine is a blend powered by grenache. It has shiraz and mourvèdre in the blend but I don’t know the percentages. It was full bodied and well-balanced with a peppery back palate. We all were in awe of its fame and the gravitas it brought to the occasion, especially as our goat-waiter had to call in a more experienced server to extract the cork because he got so nervous trying to undertake the task.
The sojourn in NZ produced a spark of love for the new techniques and science that winemakers there apply. It also reinforced my love of a traditional appellation wine that resonated with authority. Loving you both isn’t breaking any rules.