Posted: Friday June 3, 2005 2:43PM; Updated: Friday June 3, 2005 3:28PM
Best wine I tasted, as previously mentioned: 2003 Neudorf pinot noir, Home Block. This is a small property in the Moutere hills outside the arts and crafts city of Nelson. It's pinot noir and chardonnay country, just like in the Cote d'Or. Both Neudorf Pinot and Chardonnay are fine wines, but those with a little extra class carry the Moutere designation.
The Moutere Pinot I tasted, the 2003, was exotic, with anise and clove and spices. New Zealand is capable of pinots like this, especially in the Central Otago mountains in the south, but none are this good. But then, as a topper to the topper, there was the 2003 Home Block.
Put it in front of me on a blind tasting, and I'd guess it's from Burgundy's Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, which is marked by an almost Oriental kind of opulence. It was a little deeper than the 2003 Moutrere, a bit longer in the finish, the same exotics. I'd have to go back through 35 years of tasting notes, but off the top of my head, I'd say this is the best pinot noir, outside of Burgundy, that I've ever tasted.
So we were there on that particular day with the San Francisco Chronicle columnist, Ira Miller, and his wife, Sharon. Ira is a collector. I mean he brought back enough new Zealand wine to service half the British Navy, and he immediately asked Neudorf's owner, Tim Finn, if he could buy three bottles ($43 apiece). I almost slammed him in the ribs. Ugly American ... I mean they make about 10 bottles for the whole country (actually 100 cases, which is little enough). Mr. Finn, being a gentleman, said yes, and as they were wrapping up these treasures, I'm standing there with my finger up my ... uh, I mean feeling really out of it. So I finally piped up, "Excuse me, comma, but do you think I could also buy a bottle?" Yes. So now I have one. When do I drink it? Whom do I drink it with? Such problems.
Pegasus Bay in Waipara, north of Christchurch: The first of their wines that I tasted, their 2004 Riesling ($32 in the restaurant, around $15 retail), was in a restaurant. Linda and I stared at each other. We're in the Rheingau. A Spatlese, beautifully made, clean as a whistle bearing the fine Germanic fruit and acidity. The second one, the '03 Riesling (same price) was at the winery, and it was different, more new world, with a higher, more piercing acidity, but again, beautifully made.
The young co-owner and winemaker, Matthew Donaldson, is passionate about his wines. Please, would you just taste this one ... hasn't been released yet ...and I want to know what you think of this ... and here are some pinot noir barrel samples, just pulled them ... won't take you long to get through them. Thirteen to be exact. Lovely fruit, for the most part. Velvety racehorse style. Passion in the winemaking, a desire for elegance. Bottled pinots we tasted carry those same trademarks.
Did someone say that New Zealand can't make red wines? They're more elegant now than the ones we tasted on our last trip, three years ago, and we thought they were pretty impressive.
Most of their sauvignon blancs, which are usually what you see over here, are not my style. More of the citrus, grapefruit character I'm not nuts about. But the Pegasus Sauvignon ($12) made up for it in intensity, in a richness and floral quality. Right up and down the line, you saw nothing but quality ... their merlots, their rieslings, especially their late harvest dessert chardonnay, of which we bought four bottles.
This is a place you must visit if you're ever in New Zealand, and plan to have lunch there because right now there is a tremendous competition among the wineries to hire great chefs and put a fine lunch on the table. And at Pegasus, we had the best of all the winery lunches.
The number one meal we had in the entire month, though, was on our last day, and it was at Harbourside in Auckland. It's not cheap, but it's a seafood paradise. Two things jumped out at me (I beat 'em back with a spoon). The seafood chowder was loaded with good things, fish, prawns, mussels, etc. And it had neither of the two elements I can't stand, that thickener stuff that turns chowder into white sludge, and those tasteless, blanded out potatoes.
It was a French style chowder, on the thinner side with great flavor. Saffron and orange zest in the recipe, both of which worked beautifully. The second was the seafood platter itself, which blended a few things and baked them into a quenelle, or large seafood sausage. Just terrific.
I ate a lot of fish and chips, and the standout was a well known waterside place high up on the North Island called the Mangonui Fish Shop. And our sleeper find, actually it was the Redhead's ... she saw one of their recipes reprinted in a food magazine ... was the Lime Café in Rotorua, where they have the mineral baths. Just a little lunch place, but everything was done with a deft hand and a light touch.