“The sommelier admitted his abrupt and rude behaviour and shouted us the wine. It was doubly good not paying the $70 price tag and tasting what a finely made chardonnay should reflect.” rejoices wine columnist RICHARD CALVER.
AT the same time that the White Island (Whakaari) volcano was erupting, I was in Hawkes Bay, NZ, the country’s second largest wine-producing area.
Whakaari is 220 kilometres from Napier, where we stayed, but the tragic experience of those who lost their lives was a world away from exploring the verdancy and produce of this region.
Jacinda Adern, NZ’s Prime Minister, underlined her reputation as a leader who is able to sum up the mood of a nation, saying: “There are almost no words for the stories of both the aftermath and the loss that has followed.
“I want to pay tribute to the many people who did extraordinary things to save lives – whether it was through rescue efforts or the ongoing response by health professionals across the country.”
She also showed apt emotion and acceptance by saying: “Those who have been lost are now forever linked to NZ, and we will hold them close.”
The linkage to NZ is important to me; it has been an abiding feature of my personal relations. But not bred from tragedy; the opposite is the case. It is born from retaining connection with family and friends, including one friendship that has lasted for more than 40 years. It is these links that should be celebrated and reinforced in the upcoming decade, as they were during the journey I had with friends seeking to taste the best of NZ’s chardonnays. The celebration of life-reinforcing activities was made more palpable against the backdrop of tragedy.
There was plenty of choice about where we journeyed, as Hawkes Bay has more than 200 vineyards, 76 wineries and 36 cellar doors. But we were on bikes and the weather was hard on us – two of the three days we were there were extraordinarily windy.
I subsequently found out that the prevailing hot, dry north westerly winds is one reason the climate is similar to that in Northern Bordeaux, with Hawkes Bay having many hours of annual sunshine, which combined with the drying wind can create drought.
The bike trails are well marked and the opportunities to visit a number of cellar doors was abundant, particularly as we had a bike rack attached to my friends’ van. We drove to a number of places. Which reminds me of a sign I once saw: “Tired of being fat and ugly – buy a bike and just be ugly!”
We didn’t really need to roam far and wide to find an exquisite chardonnay. Our accommodation was directly opposite the Mission Estate Winery, NZ’s first and oldest winery having been set up in 1851. It was planted out by Marist missionaries, as the name suggests.
I had previously tasted the Estate chardonnay but we were lucky enough to order the last bottle of Jewelstone Chardonnay 2017 that was in stock in the Mission restaurant where we had an indulgent three-course dinner.
The sommelier was extraordinarily ill mannered at the point when we ordered the wine, a matter pointed out to him calmly and with good grace by my mate.
In a moment of absolute professionalism, the sommelier admitted his abrupt and rude behaviour and shouted us the wine. It was doubly good not paying the $70 price tag and tasting what a finely made chardonnay should reflect.
This is a chardonnay that shows great balance. The tannins, developed over a hot dry summer, give the wine superb mouth feel without a hint of bitterness.
I like the young, fresh chardonnays that have no oakiness but still appreciate the more traditional buttery, oaky flavour of some chardonnays. But over-oaked they are spoiled. The Mission wine was only, appropriately, slightly oaky and some of the barrels in the 2017 vintage had been through a malolactic fermentation. This is a natural bacterial ferment which converts the malic acid in the wine to a softer lactic acid. This process is also responsible for a complex buttery flavour in the wine. It reinforced my love of this varietal which is sadly losing popularity.
Next year I will travel again to NZ to meet up with the lovely people who have been part of my life for decades. We will celebrate again because life should be grabbed with both hands.
“We think there is endless time to live but we never know which moment is last. So share, care, love and celebrate every moment of life.” – Anonymous