Nelson: Small but Diverse

My wife and I loved New Zealand wines even before we were lucky enough to visit there a few years ago.  Of course, we dropped in at a few vineyards as part of our sightseeing (and enjoyed plenty of tasting!).  But New Zealand is a larger country than many in the UK realise and, although we managed to get to several of the more famous wine regions, Nelson, in the far north-west corner of the South Island, is one we missed.  That is a shame because, even though it’s one of the smallest of the regions and dwarfed by Marlborough, its better-known neighbour to the east, its warm, maritime-influenced climate and poor, stony soils are ideal for vine growing.  And, despite its size, it’s home to as diverse an array of different grape varieties as you’ll find anywhere in New Zealand. 

One local company, Waimea Estates, alone, grow, at least 9 different varieties and Majestic Wines often have a selection of their bottles in stock.  I’ve particularly enjoyed their Sauvignon Blanc and Gruner Veltliner in the past so, when I saw the same firm’s Albariño on the shelf recently (£10.99), it was an obvious buy.

Albariño is a white variety native to Galicia in north-west Spain and to Portugal (where it is known as Alvarinho) and it’s only in the last decade or so that it has started to be planted more widely.  That’s a trend I hope will continue. Waimea’s example is beautifully clean and fresh with lovely floral aromas, peach and melon flavours and a long, attractive finish.  Drink it as an aperitif or team it, as the Galicians and Portuguese would, with grilled sardines, but it’s more versatile than that and I’m sure it would work well with a wide range of fish dishes.

I can only remember tasting one bottle of Albariño from New Zealand previously – an equally delicious example from Stanley Estates in Marlborough – but this quality variety clearly thrives in the conditions there and I’m looking forward to it becoming a common sight in vineyards across the country.

A Green Wine

The word ‘green’ has many meanings.  It’s a colour, of course, and, these days, is often used as a shortcut to describe environmental issues or, with a capital G, the political parties that are trying to advance those issues.

And, in Portugual, there’s a Green Wine (the English translation of Vinho Verde) but the meaning is different again; the green is used here in the sense of being young or immature.  Traditionally, Vinho Verde was consumed within a year of the harvest and so was always ‘green’ (with, in general, little character apart from mouth-tinglingly high acidity). 

Despite this, for almost a century, Vinho Verde has also been a DOC, the Portuguese equivalent of France’s Appellation Contrôlée, with designated geographic boundaries (roughly stretching from the Minho River in the north to just beyond the Douro in the south) and a list of allowable grape varieties, all native to the region of production.

Historically, most Vinho Verde was red and you will still find some like that if you visit the region.  But, today, overwhelmingly, Vinho Verde is white and the quality has improved enormously with many examples able to develop well in bottle for a year or 2 at least.  Look, especially, for wines made with Alvarinho (the local name for the currently very fashionable and attractive variety, Albariño, but, in Portugal, made in a rather leaner and crisper style than over the border in Spain), also Treixadura (sometimes spelt Trajadura) and Loureiro.

It was a bottle of the latter from producer Quinta de Gomariz that I opened recently (Grape and Grind, £14.50).  Rather fuller and richer than many Vinho Verdes despite still being only 11.5% alcohol, but retaining a typical floral character alongside a fresh, citrussy flavour and a delightful dry, honeyed finish.  A wine to enjoy on its own or to accompany many fish or chicken dishes.

And this particular Vinho Verde takes the ‘green’ theme even further – it is imported by Xisto Wines who, amazingly, bring all their stock over to the UK from Portugal in sailing boats, priding themselves in using no fossil fuels.  A Green Wine, indeed!