I’M a little sheepish about sharing with ewe the fact that I spent most of the first week of 2017 in New Zealand, eh.
It is the land of my upbringing and the place where I return to undertake tramping (bush walking) and where I recently completed the alps-to-the-ocean bike ride.
The ride had some difficult elements, but was generally suited to a beginner/intermediate bike rider or some old guy like me. The trip was close to 350 kilometres over five days, so I stayed off the wine while pedal-pushing. But the trip takes you through the Otago region and before it started I caught up with an old friend and we shared some Otago pinot noir.
Pinot noir is a grape variety that likes cold climates, so the best Australian pinot noir, in my view, comes from Tasmania. And Otago, where the bike ride ended, sure displayed that cold-climate characteristic even in the height of summer. The last two days of the bike ride were drizzly with a cold southerly.
The day before I took off for the bike ride, where I sojourned in Christchurch, was also cold and wet. Pinot noir is a lighter style of red wine associated with the Burgundy region in France where warmer summers mean poorer pinots; the longer growing season of this variety says “stay cool”. Good advice for bike riders, too: and ring your bell when pedestrians are about (end of rant).
The two Otago wines I tasted were chosen circumstantially. I was being shown around Christchurch and environs by a friend who I have known for more than 40 years. We decided to have lunch at a pub that edged the ocean: the Beach Bar at Sumner.
I chose just a glass of what seemed the best pinot noir on the menu to go with the delicious venison carpaccio that was served with preserved lemon and hazelnuts. The glass at $9.50 was a Tatty Bogler (translates as a Scottish scarecrow rather than a send up of the French Tattinger). It was fruit driven and quite short on the palate but pleasant enough.
After lunch I chose a wine for dinner – my friend told me she was cooking slow-cooked beef for four. I chose a Mount Difficulty Pinot Noir at $NZ50; at the time the irony didn’t hit me but on the third day of the bike ride as we climbed to 900 metres I sure remembered the tag and knew what it was like to climb a mountain of pain.
The Mount Difficulty was clearly a league beyond the Tatty Bogler. It had more mouth feel, although still fruit driven. One of the guests said she had given up on pinot noir because of the finish that she described as “rusty”. But praised the Mount Difficulty as leaving a fresh fruit taste, berry like, that she hadn’t experienced before in a pinot noir. I compared it mentally with the best NZ pinot that I could remember, an Ata Rangi from Martinborough, which is in the south of the North Island.
As I pressed those pedals taking the ride deep into Otago, I couldn’t help but hanker for the warmer environs that you expect from summer. But which just wouldn’t have given NZ an advantage in growing pinot noir. And those sheep that you think are ubiquitous have largely been replaced by dairy cows. I know that for a fact as the bike ride took us through the back of a farmers’ paddock where the mud and cow poo that clung to our bikes and clothes was a reminder that perhaps even sheep jokes can no longer be sheared.