Don't Judge A Wine By Your Own Cover
We are all guilty of judging a book by its cover; we’re all filled with pre-conceived notions. Now that’s not always a bad thing. I don’t recommend you order the salmon at the gas station, pick up the hitch hiker wearing the goalie mask or gambling on the Detroit Lions to win on the road.
Same goes in the wine world. If you’re looking for a subtle bottle of white wine I don’t recommend you pick up a bottle of Butter Chardonnay from Napa Valley. Just because that bottle of Bordeaux has “Superieur” labelled on it does not mean it will be a better than a Second Growth from Margaux (Spoiler: It isn’t).
However, there is a reason why there are so many articles out there about how we allow our bias get in the way of a good bottle of wine. I was reminded of my own experiences with this over the Labour Day weekend when I was opening up a bottle of Bordeaux (great under-the-radar producer named Chateau De Lamarque) from 1983 and comparing it with a 2009 bottle of New Zealand wine from a little tourist area called Waiheke Island.
Waiheke is about 40 minutes by Ferry from Auckland. It is covered in beaches, coastline and fun restaurants. I never expected it also be a source of high end Bordeaux style wine.
*Just in case for anyone who don’t know the term “Bordeaux Style”. For a red wine this basically means any wine that is blended with any of the following grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. It doesn’t have to include every grape nor does it have to have a specific percentage of any one of these grapes. Just so long as there is a blend of some of them. Back to the column*
This was a prejudice that was bouncing around in my head. I did the wine math. Small touristy island in the land of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir was not the place you would go for a big, brooding, complex bottle of red wine. Then I went to this vineyard, Te Motu and within an hour I was gladly paying Bordeaux prices for several bottles while quietly swearing to myself about the paternalistic and draconian wine laws of Canada that only allow me to bring back two bottles of wine.
I waited a year to open one of these bottles and I decided to do a little taste test between that 1983 Chateau De Lamarque and a 2009 Te Motu. Both wines are mostly a Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend, but that of course is where the similarities end considering the 26-year difference in vintages. For so many old-school oenophiles who believe that wine should only be consumed from lands where World Wars were fought the idea of a wine from Waiheke Island being able to compete with a glass of old Bordeaux would seem preposterous.
But the Te Motu more than held up its end of the bargain. This was a damn good glass filled with complex expressive dark fruit, gamey notes and rich violet on the nose. I would put this bottle up against so many examples of French Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot. Both bottles were greatly enjoyed but the Te Motu is the one that I keep thinking about.
Giant wine companies like Oyster Bay and Kim Crawford did so much good for the New Zealand wine industry back in the day. Their Sauvignon Blanc’s helped introduce the rest of the world to what New Zealand could do, these bottles were the tip of the spear for the Kiwis to establish themselves.
But this Faustian success came with a catch; it overshadowed all the other great wines and innovations that were going on from wine regions like Hawkes Bay, Central Otago to Martinborough. But I can tell you that New Zealand has so much more to offer than a powerfully zesty glass of Sauvignon Blanc.
So my message to you is to do your best to throw away whatever wine stereotypes that may reside in you (except Fuzion, that wine is pure trash) and step out of your comfort zone. There are fantastic examples of Cabernet Franc all around St. Catharines Ontario, powerful acidic Rieslings in Clare Valley Australia and I swear you can find a good bottle of Xinomavro from Greece that will remind you of a baby Barolo.
I was so happy to have my eyes opened about big wines from a tiny New Zealand island I can’t wait to see what will be the next corner of the wine world that will change my vino outlook.
Matt Cauz @mcauz56. Matthew has explored the wineries of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo and many other parts of the world that do not start with the letter “B” including New Zealand and California. When he’s not looking for that next great bottle he is a radio broadcaster in Toronto.