Second of my visits to the Antipodes in a week. First Australia, now New Zealand.

Curious wines and Joyce Austin (from New Zealand Boutique Wines) presented a great range of New Zealand wines on Friday evening.

Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinotage. Whodathunkit? But we drunk it.

Anyhoo, Curious wines know how to put on a show and Joyce gave a fantastic overview of the wines and the industry in New Zealand.

Blind tasting

There was also a blind tasting of four wines, which made for a lively exercise for all attendees (wines were tasted without knowing grape, label or price). When we drink a wine we can bring many preconceptions into the experience. It’s a Cabernet? Oh, I must be getting blackcurrant, bell pepper. It’s €50, reassuringly expensive. It’s from Sancerre? Oh yes, you can taste the underlying flintiness from the soil. With blind tasting, you’ve got none of that, just your eyes, your schnozz and your gob.

One’s reputation was at stake.

The Wines

I’d had a few of them before, from previous vintages so it was nice to have another look at them.

It was also nice to taste a couple of New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs side-by-side. They’re getting a reputation in some circles of “being all the same”. Clearly not the case.

Tussock Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Nelson (€13)

Grassy, gooseberry, passionfruit and all the typical traits of a New Zealand Sauvigon Blanc. Opens in a big way, with a soft finish and medium length. A better quality alternative for lovers of Oyster Bay or Montana, but not for me.

Waipara Springs Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Waipara (€15)

The winemaker behind this, Frank Manifold, previously worked for Cloudy Bay, the benchmark for Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand. It shows too. This was my favourite of the three tasted. Great balance, elegance, restraint and purity. All the great flavours of cut grass, tropical fruits and zippy fresh acidity but with great balance.

Greenhough Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Nelson (€16)

A very decent drop and about half way between the Waipara Springs and Tussock. Would go great with any food with goat’s cheese.

Mystery wine #1: Bilancia Reserve Pinot Grigio, Hawkes Bay (€20)

The first of the wines tasted blind. I went with a Chardonnay, and got it completely wrong. Rich, floral, oily and concentrated. Pear and peachstones. From Hawkes Bay, another of New Zealand’s up and coming areas. Absolutely delicious. Grapes of Sloth, One. Sour Grapes, Nil.

Waipara Springs Chardonnay 2007 (€15)

Chardonnay is back. The ABC brigade should sit up and take note. Not an in-your-face style, but one of style and grace. Finessed tropical fruit, butter on toast from gentle oak treatment. Loved this.

Mystery wine #2: Waipara Springs Riesling 2008

Racing acidity, lemon sherbert, white pepper. Had to be a Riesling. It was. Reputation ressurected. For now.

Mystery wine #3: Muddy Water James Hardwick Riesling 2008

Ultra dry, more lemon and acidity. Pink grapefruit in there too. Gorgeous

Mystery wine #4: Greenhough Gewurtztraminer 2008, Nelson (€17)

My notes were “Lychees, floral, pineapples, oily”. Yes, teacher. I was paying attention in class. Very similar to its Alsatian cousins a great drop too.

Finaly, on to the reds…

Waipara Springs Premo Pinot Noir, 2008, Waipara (€20)

This is just about to reach the shelves. I’d had it before (see the video post here) and was suitably impressed. Pure, clean, raspberry, sour cheery cherry are the notes I tweeted. Fresh, great acidity and my pick of the night.

Greenhough Pinot Noir 2006, Nelson (€17.65)

More herbs, more smokiness and a bit of liquorice in there besides the obvious raspberry and cherry goodness. On special at the moment at €15, a bloody bargain. Deal, steal, sale of the century and top candidate for the Christmas dinner.

Muddy Water Pinotage 2006, Waipara (€20)

Pinotage is a South African grape, a genetic cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsault produced first in the 1920′s. It’s often the whipping boy of the wine world but Pinotage does have loyal fans, Peter May of The Pinotage Club being one of its most ardent.

I’ve tasted about 20-30 Pinotage wines. Back when South African wine specialist, Vaughan Johnson’s in Temple Bar was open, they regularly had them open. It was never to my taste with the sole exception of the Diemersfontein mocha-style wine, which seems to have a cult-like following.

Understandably, I had my doubts about this one – the folly of bringing a perceived poor South African grape to New Zealand baffled me, at least in theory.

However, I was really impressed. Very different to the Diemersfontein from South Africa, this is more of a deep bodied rustic wild style – big sweet juicy cherries with a soft and smooth texture.  It was gorgeous.

Wonder what the South African’s think of how well this is made? A ballsy move by Muddy Water, the makers and also by Curious wines to bring it in, but one that will truly reward the adverturous wine drinker.

Not a good wine show, a great wine show

This wasn’t just a wine tasting – it was a wine show. Great wines, great energy and great education from Mike and David Kane, and of course from Joyce Austin. With The Good Wine Show coming up this weekend in Cork, I’d recommend you buy a ticket here.