Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Pinot Gris Past & Present

Pinot Gris is here to stay and the volumes out there are increasing at a rate we haven’t seen since sauvignon blanc. So it’s a good thing that finally our winemakers are getting their heads around the potential of the fruit and what each region and sub-region are capable of. Finally we’re seeing crisp, clean intensity of flavour, textural elegance and, in a case proven by a 6-vintage vertical tasting of Bilancia’s example, solid ability to age.

I hardly ever get to taste pinot gris that’s over a year or two old, so when Lorraine Leheny from Bilancia delivered a half dozen bottles dating back to their first offering from 2004 I was excited. If I’m honest I was also a little doubtful – but as soon as the caps came off I was blown away. Grown from Hawke’s Bay’s Black Bridge vineyard in Haumoana, the 2004 was still pale yellow, straw-coloured and had delicate aromas of moist hay, dried herbs and minerals. In the mouth it still held fresh quince and hints of honeysuckle – incredible. The 2005 was scented with white flowers, hay and herbs and it held elegant pear character, mealy notes and tangy minerality on the finish. Five years old and still fresh and drinkable.

The 2006 had chalky minerality on the nose and splashes of pear and yellow plum. It’s slippery, elegant, multi-layered and textural with solid length of flavour. The 2007 is when the label changed from ‘grigio’ to ‘gris’ and it had soft pear and peach notes. The finish was crisp, clean and powdery. 2008 produced exceptional peach, quince and ginger aromas followed by solid, juicy, mouthfilling weight. A ribbon of minerality ran through it leaving a clean, dry finish.

And lastly, the Bilancia Hawke’s Bay Pinot Gris 2009 (NZ$24) was perfumed with peach, pear and a lovely underlying almond-meal aroma. In the mouth it was clean, fresh and dry with elegant minerality and gentle, textural length. So there you go. There are still those who feel even the greatest pinot gris taste no better than Uncle Bob’s bathwater, but when made with care and obsessive attention by people like Lorraine Leheny and Warren Gibson – I think its stunning stuff.

Cows go large in Canada.

Who’d have thought that your steak could be marinated from the inside out? An enterprising farmer in British Columbia is helping the local wine industry to get a big boost from a new market segment: Cows. Sadly these cows meet with an unfortunate end, reported the Vancouver Sun last week, but they do spend the last 90 days of their lives relaxing, eating and drinking Okanagan red wine; and it looks as though they like it. Apparently they moo more and are much more social.

The idea of feeding wine to cows was hatched by Janice Ravndahl of Sezmu Meats in Kelowna. (Sezmu is the Egyptian god of wine.) After tasting the meat, local chefs in the area were suitably impressed.

The inspiration hit when she was sitting around, having a glass of wine, watching Gordon Ramsay’s The F Word tv show. She saw him giving a taste of beer to some pigs he was raising – although I’m not sure if that was because he thought it might improve the meat or whether it was some consolation gesture before he sent them off to slaughter – but nonetheless a light bulb went off. Coming from five generations of cattle ranchers, she thought, "why not cows?" She phoned her brother, who told her exactly why not. "Because the carbonation would bloat them," he said. Ravndahl then thought: "Why not wine?"

So they did some trial feeding her free-range, hormone-free, organic Angus cow’s homemade red wine. "We were thrilled with the results," she says. The cows are each fed a litre of red wine every day (the cheap stuff apparently) and they mix it into the feed, but some cows like to drink it.

“After they've had it for a while, when they see us coming with the pitchers, they don't run, but they come faster than usual” she says. Local chefs have been applauding the beef as the best they’d ever tasted.

Former Food Network celebrity chef Ned Bell (Cabana Grille in Kelowna), Stuart Klassen (Delta Grand Okanagan) and Matthew Batey (Mission Hill Winery chef) are serving Sezmu beef. Batey says there's a subtle difference with the wine-fed beef. "It's beautiful beef to begin with. It's just adding one more dimension."

Ravndahl says they fed the cows wine for 120 days, but the flavour difference between 120 days and 90 days wasn't pronounced. "The difference between 30 and 70 days, though, is outstanding." Her beef costs around 15% more than comparable free-range beef.

The Vancouver Sun reported that researchers at Thompson Rivers University's agriculture department are also interested in the wine-drinking cows. In one study involving the cows, they're hypothesizing that the wine diet lessens methane production. They're also wondering if resveratrol in red wine might have benefits for heart health or disease prevention in cows.

(if you like the cow picture above then I strongly suggest you visit http://www.ahayball.co.uk/ - alan hayball is a talented UK-based artist who does gorgeous quirky cow-pics that are too cute. I hope he doesn't mind me using this one)

Five of the Best

Locharburn Central Otago Pinot Rosé 2009 $22 (4.5 stars)

Gorgeous salmon-pink colour and bursting with creaming soda, white peach and raspberry aromas. Super-clean and elegant to drink, it has amazing length of flavour and it’s one of the prettiest, most tasty rosés I’ve tried all year. Go directly to www.locharburnwines.co.nz for details on where to buy.

Alluviale Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Franc 2008 $30 (4 stars)
Elegant, earthy notes of pepper, mace, prune and dark chocolate. Fleshed out with berryfruit and hints of peppermint, it’s a beautifully balanced, vibrant wine with gripping, sensuous tannins and a solid, masculine finish. Winemakers and life partners Kate Galloway and David Ramonteau have created a hearty, ribsticking red that works sensationally well with spice-crusted roast leg of lamb slathered in gravy. Buy at fine wine stores or via www.alluviale.com.

Mission Estate Gewurztraminer 2010 $16 (3 stars)

It’s been aaaaages since I’ve tried a gewürztraminer from Mission Estate, no idea why, but clearly I’ve been missing something rather lovely. This has sexy rose petal and lychee aromas with hints of ginger and spice and a splash of tropical fruit to finish. Excellent value for money and a winner with sizzling Thai garlic and chilli prawns. Available in good wine stores or via www.missionestate.co.nz

Corallo Nero d’Avola 2008 $8.99 (3 stars)

I’ve talked about this wine in the past but I think it’s timely to bring it up again because there’s a new vintage and it’s sensational. They might’ve been a little average at the soccer world cup but their winemaking is still world-class, and even though this wine is probably produced in the millions of gallons, the drinkability factor of this wine is too good to deny. Plum, chocolate, pepper and juicy spicy notes – smooth and warming, mouth-coating and gorgeous, it’s a wine that’ll definitely please the crowds. – online www.blackmarket.co.nz

Wild Rock Cupids Arrow Central Otago Pinot Noir 2008 $24 (4 stars)

Ripe, red cherry and chocolate aromas followed by voluptuous, fruit-driven flavours and warming, spicy notes in the mouth. It’s an injection of love that’s smooth and textural; this wine has excellent length of flavour, represents great value and is a perfect partner for duck confit. For stockists in your area visit www.wildrockwine.co.nz