Monday, February 22, 2010
(Feb. 11, 2010) Before leaving the States, I had scheduled an appointment to meet with Nick Mills, the winemaker and owner of Rippon Vineyards, which is often referred to as “the most beautiful winery in the world.” It was also the first winery that wine friends recommended when I asked where to visit in Central Otago. Furthermore, it is the home of the famous vineyard photo that appears on most NZ wine brochures, calendars, and other materials to lure tourists to NZ. Having traveled to more than 200 wineries around the world, I have to admit I was slightly skeptical. However, the first view of the vineyards, lake, and mountains literally took my breath away. I am now a believer – this is the most beautiful vineyard (not winery) in the world. The winery itself is a small tin barn with a cozy barrel room that reminded me of the small domains of Burgundy.
The linkage to Burgundy turned out to be correct, because Nick spent 4 years working in various domains there, including one year at DRC. In fact, before we left, he showed me a photo of magnums of La Tache and Romanee-Conti that he had corked. I am so jealous! It is also obvious that he incorporated some Burgundian philosophy in terms of crafting pinot noir, because he described himself as a “facilitator,” rather than a winemaker. He described his role as focusing on growing the best grapes possible to reflect the taste of the land on the shores of Lake Wanaka. He proudly told us that he is the 4th generation of his family to own and farm this land.
The vineyard is comprised of 15 hectares which fan out around the shores and hills of the beautifully blue, glacier-fed Lake Wanaka. All around the lake dramatic rocky mountains rise straight up – many part of the Mt. Aspiring National Park. To the left of the vineyard is a delicate waterfall that tumbles down the mountain and is called Waterfall Creek. In the middle of the lake is a small magical island. The town of Wanaka is hid behind a small rise to the right. So the vineyard is pristine and unspoiled in its beauty. Even the small winery tasting room (the size of a small bedroom) with huge open windows for walls is hidden back against the hill –so that the vineyard is the showpiece.
Finding Rippon Vineyards was not difficult, because we used Google Maps before leaving home. The drive from Queensland to the winery is 1 hour and 9 minutes, but the Cardrona Crossing on Route 89 is winding and remote. However, Mike enjoyed shifting gears and taking the tight and twisting corners – although I’m sure he would have preferred a BMW to the Toyota we had rented. On the way back to Queenland, we took the longer, but smoother, route along Highway 6. I would recommend driving both routes in order to get a better feel for the amazing mountains of Central Otago.
Nick immediately took us to one of his prize pinot noir vineyards up on the hill and showed us a piece of the schist rock which comprised most of the soil, along with some clay and loam. Altitude is 380 meters (1000 feet), which seems low considering you are surrounded by so many towering mountains. But Nick explained that it is the mountains and lower altitude that allow grapes to be grown in Central Otago. It gets warm enough at the lower level, and the mountains block the rain and cooler temperature from the ocean which is about a 2 hour drive. Rainfall is around 300ml per year, but they do not need to irrigate. The vineyard is protected from frost because the cool air flows down the slopes to the lake.
Farming is biodynamic (though he hasn’t pursued certification), and he keeps 3 cows on the property to make the prep and has huge compost piles. Rootstock is a mix of own rooted, as well as some 3309, and he has a variety of clones (777,667, 15, 14, etc). Spacing is primarily 1.75m by 1.5 m, but it varies. Of the approximately 3000 cases produced, 2000 are pinot noir, but they also make some excellent rieslings, gamay, gewutraminer, and an usual grape called Ostering.
Nick said friends, neighbors, and people arriving early for the ski season assist with harvest in late March and April. They use a sorting table, and then partially destem (usually around 60%) of the pinot noir grapes with the rest being whole-cluster -- but Nick stressed that it depends on the year. They use 2 ton stainless fermenters and natural yeast. He said it takes 6 to 9 days for the ferment to take off, and they use no temperature control. They sometimes jump in the tank to help get things started, and will use pigeage (all manual) to punch down once fermentation starts. The whole process can take up to 30 days to complete, but depends on the year. He uses a gentle press, and combines both free run and pressed juice to age in barrel. He believes that both aspects need to be married to make a complete wine. All vineyard lots are fermented and aged separately, and he names each barrel in white chalk with interesting titles such as “Barack, Dimaggio, and the Ganghi River,” as part of a coding system.
Texture is important with Rippon wines, and Nick says he prefers to talk about texture rather than fruit. “Terrior is wrapped up in texture and feel,” he said. He expresses this in several different pinots, which he blends after aging. The youngest is named Jeunesse, which is made from vines under 15 years of age and spends 10-11 months in old oak. We tasted the 09 out of barrel and the 08 in the tasting room, and they both displayed the fruity delicacy for which he was striving. My favorite was the 2007 Rippon Pinot Noir (which we bought), a classic Central Otago (in my mind) with deeply concentrated raspberry, velvety tannins, good acidity, and a long finish. This is made from 15+ years and older vines, and is aged for 16-17 months in 30-40% new French oak. No fining or filtering. We finished tasting out of barrel with Emma’s Block, which was a big intense pinot with savoury notes, dark berry, and earth. This was mouthfilling with many complex persistent flavors. Wow!
We were encouraged to head back to the tasting room to try all of the whites, as well as the current release pinots. Both Rieslings were exceptional, with great texture and fresh peach/citrus notes. The 2008 Rippon Gewutraminer was the most beautiful we tried in Central Otago, with a nose that jumped out of the glass; hugely floral, well balanced, crisp acid and long finish. As we were leaving the tasting room, a group of people rode in on horseback and tied up their horses in a little stall outside to come in and taste wine. Wow – NZ has great wine tourism, and they also have the most beautiful vineyard in the world at Rippon.
See short I-Phone video at:
Saturday, February 20, 2010
(Feb. 11, 2010) “Embrace the fear,” is the slogan that greets you as you drive through Queenstown, capital of Central Otago, which is known globally for its amazing pinot noir and as the birthplace of bungee jumping. Our travel book described Central Otago as being filled with young people pursuing extreme sports. This turned out to be more than true, because as soon as we arrived on a bright sunny morning we saw hang gliders, parasailers, and jetskiers on shining Lake Wakatipu, and many people walking around with bandages and casts on legs, ankles and arms – trophies of participating in extreme sports.
The small charming downtown curling along the pebbly lakeshore is filled with shops selling extreme sports clothing and equipment. Young people lounge in sidewalk cafes and crawl the many pubs and bars at night. Outside of town, there are many ski resorts for snow-boarding, skiing, snow-mobiling, and riding the luge. We also passed several 4-wheel drive centers and multiple bungee-jumping locations. Still we had come to Central Otago to taste pinot, and with more than 50 wineries, and many excellent restaurants, we were not disappointed. Though we did not participate in any extreme sports, I couldn’t help but think that Central Otago would be a great vacation spot for parents who enjoy wine, but travel with teenagers who crave adventure.
Our flight from Auckland was only 1.5 hours, and it took only 1 minute to collect the car keys from Budget because I had booked with FastTrack. Mike was slightly dismayed to learn that the car was a manual shift, because he had never tried to drive on the left-side of the road while shifting. However, he quickly got the hang of it -- and except for turning the windshield wipers on when attempting to signal a turn – we did quite well with our car rental for the next 3 days.
Driving from the Queenstown airport to the St. Moritz Hotel only took 15 minutes, and we were able to check in by 12:30. A friend had recommended we stay here, and we were impressed with the Swiss style architecture combined with modern NZ lines. The lobby is intriguing with black and white colors, including cow hide pillows around a large fireplace. The hotel is rated as 5 stars and we decided to splurge when I was able to get a $176 US rate on Hotels.com. However, we discovered this was a back room with no view and when I expressed my disappointment, the front desk quickly upsold us to a lakefront suite with kitchen for an additional $70US per night.
The suite was wonderful, but we were slightly dismayed to discover the hotel is above an old apartment complex which is in front of the lake – so there is no pure lakefront view. Instead you look over the roof of the apartment and laundry hanging in the backyard. Not exactly what I would expect from a 5 star hotel. However, the service was fine, and we had a wonderful anniversary dinner at their beautiful restaurant, Lombardi. We also enjoyed the old-fashioned hot tubs while watching an orange-pink sunset above the stunning mountains. Finally it was convenient to leave the car in the $10NZ per night hotel garage, and take the short walk down the hill to the lake and town.
The setting of Queenstown takes your breath away – it is that beautiful. In fact, they say the town was named such because it was beautiful enough for the queen. Huge mountains rise up on every side of Lake Wakatipu – which is said to breathe, because the water rises and falls every 5 minutes due to unusual atmospheric pressure. An old steamship, the TSS Earnslaw, still plows the waters providing tours for visitors. A very steep tramway climbs the mountain behind town to the Skyline Restaurant and panoramic view. The beautiful Queenstown Gardens with ancient trees, flowers, and fountains is on a small peninsula opposite the beach. People relax on the white pebble beach soaking up the sun (a few daring enough to swim in the frigid glacier water), and there are countless restaurants all serving fresh fish, lamb, rabbit, and the famous green-lipped clams.
We discovered that the food and wine prices at all the restaurants were almost identical regardless of whether it was fancy or casual. Therefore on the first evening, we ate at Prime, which had great views of the lake and where I indulged in the green-lipped clams with a coconut Thai sauce washed down with a glass of sauvignon blanc. Mike had salmon with pinot noir. If we had arrived earlier, they did advertise an early bird dinner for $19.50NZ – which was the best deal we saw.
We found the food prices in NZ to be comparable to the US – not a great deal, but not overly expensive (based on our exchange rate of .69 cents US to the $1NZ). Wine by the bottle was quite expensive, e.g. $60NZ for Riesling!; however wine by the glass prices were also similar to the US, so we adopted this method. Indeed, we were able to get a glass of 2008 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc at Lombardi’s for $14NZ (approx. $9 US), which is a good deal for such a legendary wine. Our dinner at Lombardi’s the next evening was excellent – with an incredible view, attentive service, and some of the best food we had during the whole trip. I had the lamb and Mike had the local venison –both with 2008 Earth’s End Pinot Noir, which was fruity, easy-drinking, and enjoyable.
Queenstown was a perfect location to take daytrips to the wineries. We wished we could have stayed there for several more days, so we would have had time to drive to the West Coast and visit Milford Sound, The Fiordlands National Park, and try out some of the incredible golf courses. Mike told me that NZ has more golf courses per capita than any other country in the world. Oh well….a good reason to plan another trip! The following blog entries highlight our winery visits.
Friday, February 19, 2010
(Feb. 10, 2010) Next stop was Mudbrick Winery where we were greeted by 4 servers holding beautiful trays of pink rose (see photo). It was a lovely site, with the sun causing the pink wine to shimmer and dance in the glasses like hundreds of jewels on a tray. We were invited to take the glass of 2009 Mudbrick Rose and proceed to our private lunch (starting around 2pm) on the covered patio. The view of the vineyards, harbor, surrounding islands, with the Auckland skyline in the distance was breath-taking. Furthermore the windows opened to lavender and rosemary gardens, which reminded me of being in Provence.
The lunch was incredible – Rod had told us it was $120NZ per person with the 4 wines. After the rose, which was served with olives, warm bread, and rosemary dip, we had fresh oysters on the half-shell with their 2009 Mudbrick Riesling. It had a beautiful nose of white peach, good texture, and just a touch of sweetness (around 20gpl), with a nice acid. For my main course, I had the snapper which paired beautifully with the crisp bright 2008 Mudbrick Reserve Chardonnay. It had very little oak; crisp acidity and good concentration with a long finish. Mike had the lamb which was paired with the 2007 Mudbrick Cabernet/Merlot which was a medium-bodied wine with both red and black fruit and a spicy finish. The meal lasted for almost 3 hours, including fabulous desserts (I had the cream brulee with lemon), and awards for best papers. It was a perfect way to end the conference – in a celebratory mood on the enchanting island of Waiheke.
I would have like to visit more wineries – especially the very famous Man of War Winery that had won so many medals, but we were sleepy after such a long and lazy lunch. Therefore we caught the ferry back to Auckland and landed just as the rain descended, forcing us to stop and buy an umbrella in order to walk back to the hotel without getting drenched. Even though we had an invitation to join the Italians for a late dinner at an Italian restaurant in Auckland (which would have been fun), we declined and spent the evening in our room and the hot-tub relaxing. After 3 days of non-stop wine and gourmet meals we needed a break. Besides, our plane departed at 10am the next morning to Queenstown, so it was probably a wise choice.
(Feb. 10, 2010) Next stop was Cable Bay Winery, which was in an impressive modern style building with an amazing hilltop view of the ocean. They also had an outdoor sculpture garden with unique modern pieces, and a famous gourmet restaurant. The vineyards on the hillside were surrounded by tall hedges to protect them from the winds. I had never seen this layout before, and was told it was a lot of work to keep the very tall hedges trimmed. No wonder the wines from this island are so expensive – lots of work in the vineyard, and small production quantities.
After viewing the sculpture garden, we were invited into the tank room where we met with the winemaker, one of the owners, and tasted through 4 wines. The first was the 2008 Cable Bay Viogner, which was made in a dry style, but still had the faint apricot and more viscous body of viogner. It was nice, but had a bitter finish and would probably have done better with food. Next was the 2008 Cable Bay Chardonnay, which was my favorite. It was delicate and lemon and tart apple, but also had good texture, a long finish, no ML and very little oak. Very refreshing and elegant. This was followed by a 2007 Cable Bay Syrah, which was fruity, but rather light. Most people said this was their favorite of the tasting, and I had to admit that it was good, but I prefer a bigger style syrah. We ended with a 2006 Cable Bay Cabernet/Malbec, which again had the green edge. It probably would pair well with a big charred steak, but wasn’t that pleasant to drink on its own.
I asked for more detail on how they made the syrah, and the winemaker said it was hand-picked/sorted at 2 tones per acre; destemmed; and then went through a 2 day cold-soak. They sometimes start fermentation in tank with natural yeast, but usually add commercial yeast to make sure it keeps going. Ferment temp is 30 – 32C and they do pumpovers 4 to 8 times per day until the wine is ½ complete. They also do ML in tank and then a very long extended maceration of 10 to 30 days, protected by CO2. They only use the free run juice from the tank (no pressing), and employ a unique process of spreading the must along the walls of the tank overnight to get the last portion of free run. Aging is 12 months in French oak, 40 to 50% new.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
(Feb. 10, 2010) Next stop was the Goldwater Vineyard, which is the oldest on the island. Both the viticultralist and winemaker met with us and provided a walk through the vineyards and a tasting of 3 different wines. They have 20 acres on 2 meter by 1 meter spacing primarily with cane pruning. They achieve around 2 tons per acre and produce 2400 cases. They are known for their Bordeaux varietals, but also produce chardonnay, which was my favorite. For the 2008 Goldwater Chardonnay, the winemaker told us she uses natural yeast with barrel ferment and sur lies aging. The results are much more like Burgundy than chardonnay from other New World Countries. They are lighter, delicate, with a very high acid, but good concentration.
We also tasted the 2005 Goldwater Merlot and the 2005 Goldwater Goldie, which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cab Franc. This latter wine is their flagship wine, and I preferred it to the merlot, but found both wines had an edge of greenness to them, which was not apparent on the Gimblett Gravels reds from Hawkes Bay. The winemaker said they used a similar process for both wines, with a cold soak of 2 to 3 days, innoculate with selected yeast, and ferment in stainless at 25C. They used a gentle sprinkler type system for pumpovers. Fermentation was followed by a 3 week extended maceration in tank protected by gas. She also did ML in tank, and then transferred to 30% new French oak barrels for 18 months aging; bottled unfiltered.
The winery had a small charming tasting room, a tire swing for kids, and a restaurant/conference center. It was a delightful place to visit, with a great view of the ocean, and friendly service. The wines were rather expensive – around $50 for Goldie – but apparently that is the case of most wines from Waikehe Island.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
(Feb.10, 2010) The conference organizers scheduled an optional field trip to Waikehe Island the day after the conference ended. It appeared as if everyone signed up for it, because there were more than 60 people who sat down for the 3-hour gourmet lunch we had late that afternoon. We caught the 9am ferry to the island, and everyone was delighted with the bright sunny day, and the amazing turquoise blue of the water as we approached the island.
Two large tour buses were waiting for us as we disembarked from the ferry and drove us to the Fossil Bay Vineyards owned by the university. As we drove along the charming windy roads over gently rolling hills, I felt as if I had been transported back to Hawaii. Large colorful hibiscous bushes, flowing red bouganvilla, and small white sandy beaches greeted us around every bend. The only thing missing was palm trees. Small charming shops sold colorful items, and I wished we had time to stop and shop. The island is 25 kilometers long, and is known for its excellent restaurants and more than 35 wineries.
We had a very informative tour of the Fossil Bay chardonnay vineyard and a glass of chardonnay from the 2008 vintage. It turns out that the soil of the island is clay loam and they do not irrigate their vines. Rainfall is around 900ml per year, and they are almost as warm as Hawkes Bay. Summer temperatures are around 32C, and it rarely freezes during the winter. The main issues are humidity which brings on rot and downy mildew. They also struggle with birds – both starlings and wax eyes – and therefore, every vineyard on the island was completely netted. This vineyard used 8x6 foot spacing, cane pruning, and had 3 clones: 6, 9, and Mendoza, on different rootstock. Since it is a university vineyard, it is a learning laboratory for wine science students. They ferment the lots by clone and vineyard section, but each team of students is allowed to experiment with yeasts, fermentation temperature/vessel and oak aging regime. Therefore, the final blend tastes different each year. Before leaving, we walked up the hill to take photos at a breathtaking overlook of the island, surrounding water, and a skyline view of Auckland in the distance.
Monday, February 15, 2010
(Feb. 7, 2010) Another happy occasion to travel to a unique wine country – New Zealand. This was my second visit – the first occurring in 2003 – and I was looking forward to returning to sample some excellent wine and cuisine. The event that brought me back was the 5th International Wine Business Conference. Academics from around the world attend this conference every two years in a new wine region. The last conference was in Sienna, Italy – and is described in the 2008 portion of this blog.
We arrived in the capital, Auckland, on Sunday morning, Feb. 7th after a 12 hour flight from Los Angeles. It is a 21 hour time change from the west coast of California because of crossing the International Date Line. However, we found that we barely had jet lag, because I slept 8 hours on the plane in a coach seat courtesy of Ambien. When we arrived at 7am, it was 10am in California the previous day….so it wasn’t that difficult to adapt.
The weather was sunny and warm in Auckland – in the mid 70’s during our 4 days here, with an occasional light shower. The city is clean and friendly, with a shiny harbor on both sides. They call it the City of Sails because of all the beautiful sail boats on the bay. We caught the Super Shuttle ($37NZ for 2) to The Quadrant Hotel which we had booked on Hotels.com for a good rate ($87US). The hotel was modern and clean, with a beautiful marble white floor and walk-way along a Zen rock garden. They gave us room 1808, which was small, but came with a nice compact kitchen and a small balcony with a lovely view of the harbor. I was impressed with the hotel service, and would stay here again. When they discovered our luggage had been delayed by one day, they upgraded us free of charge to a room with a washer/dryer.
We wandered around downtown Auckland and eventually found our way to the Waterfront Restaurant where we had a late breakfast and enjoyed the sunny weather while watching the sailboats. We also did a little shopping and then rested in our room until it was time to walk the 4 blocks to the Business School at University of Auckland where the welcome wine reception was held at 5pm on Sunday evening. The business school is in a very impressive new building with modern architecture and black walls. Most intriguing was a huge chunk of the local jade that graced the entrance. We were told to touch the stone for good luck, and that it served as the “soul of the building.” This unique NZ jade is revered by the Maori’s, who are the original inhabitants of NZ.
The wine reception featured 7 wines from around NZ, as well as some excellent appetizers of which my favorite was the huge tempora prawns. We started with a Lindauer Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc which was refreshing and unusual. It didn’t have the usual catpee aroma associated with most NZ sauv blancs, but smelled more like a sparkling Riesling with some floral notes and green peach. On the palate it was fuller than I expected with med++ acid and a tart green apple finish.
Next was a 2007 Fossil Bay Chardonnay made by the university wine science students. It reminded me of a big, blowsy, fruity California Chardonnay – NOT the delicate white wine I was expecting of NZ. My favorite of the tasting was the 2009 Michelle Richardson Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough. It had the classic dusty note of the region with high acid and passion fruit. Very elegant! After that we had two pinot noirs, which were huge, dense and bursting with raspberry fruit. The first was the 2008 Montana Terroir Series Corbett’s Legacy Pinot Noir from Waipara, and the second was a cleanskin (no label) which they called a 2008 Incognito Black Label from Central Otago. It was supposedly made by one of the top suppliers in the area.
Approximately 65 professors from 14 countries came to the conference, with many bringing spouses. My husband, Mike, came as well, and we happily joined a large group of around 20 people who were headed to find a restaurant with no reservations. We walked down the hill from the university to the harbor and were pleased with Cin Cin Restaurant in the Old Ferry Building took us in and gave us a private room. New Zealand is known for its excellent hospitality and service, and we found this every place we visited in Auckland. They offered us a choice of fresh snapper, NZ duck, or lamb. As I was craving fresh fish, I ordered the snapper, and it was exquisite with the 2008 Neuodorf Riesling from the Nelson region. This turned out to be one of my favorite wines of the trip, and I can still taste the bone dry, complex notes of lime, green peach, diesel, and an electrifying acidity that sent tingles of pleasure along my spine. We also ordered a bottle of the 2006 Nevis Bluff Pinot Noir from Central Otago, which was a big fruity, chewy wine which paired perfectly with the duck.
I suppose I should pause here and provide a brief overview of the wine regions of New Zealand. On the North Island, which is warmer and more tropical than the South Island (which is closer to Antarctica), there are 4 major regions: 1) Hawkes Bay is the largest, and is also considered to be the warmest. They are known for crisp fruity chardonnay and intense merlot and syrah from the Gimblett Gravels vineyards. It is about 200 miles south of Auckland. 2) Kumea River is 30 -40 minutes north of Auckland, and is warmer and more humid. Despite this, they manage to make amazing chardonnay, which constantly wins global awards. I visited this region on my last trip to NZ. 3) Waiheke Island, which is a 40 minute ferry ride across the harbor from Auckland, and one of the most charming wine islands I have ever visited. It is known for Bordeaux varietals. See separate blog posting on my daytrip here. 4) Martinborough Region on the southern tip of the North Island outside the town of Wellington. It is famous for pinot noir. I visited here in 2003 and was very impressed with their complex savory pinots.
The South Island also has 4 major regions: 1) Marlborough is the most famous, and is located in the northern part of the island. It is world-renown for its distinct dusty passion fruit sauvignon blancs which put NZ wines on the map. At the same time, they also make a lighter, more delicate pinot noir. I visited here in 2003 and stayed in a wonderful cottage in the vineyards. 2) Nelson –to the west of Marlborough, which produces similar varietals, but with a sharper acidity and cleaner edge. They also produce some excellent dry Rieslings. 3) Waipara Region – on the east side of the island near the town of Christchurch, which is known for pinot noir; and finally 4) Central Otago which is the most southern vineyard in the world, and is known for its big dense chewy pinot noirs with depths of fruit and intense concentration. See separate blog posting on my visit to Central Otago.
The next 2 days in Auckland were taken up with the wine business conference, and there were fascinating papers from around the world. We had another NZ wine reception that Monday evening where I was blown away by the 2007 Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Merlot. It was a very concentrated, textured dark berry with complex spice notes and fine tannins. It was so big and fruity, I thought it was from Napa! This turned out to be the best Bordeaux varietals wine I had on my visit. We also tried the Bilancia Syrah 2007 from Hawkes Bay. It had delicate ripe fruit, but was missing the massive body most people expect of Syrah – especially those from Australia. We also tried the 2008 Discovery Point Dry Riesling, which I enjoyed so much that I returned for a second glass. Very refreshing. Finally, they served a 2007 Auntsfield Cob Cottage Chardonnay, which was bigger and fruitier that others, but with some good complex notes of hazelnut.
That evening we had a celebration dinner at the Harbourside Restaurant. It was a perfect evening, with balmy weather and a lovely mauve sunset across the harbor. I started with a fresh green salad, which I greatly enjoy ordered in NZ because everything tastes like it was picked that day, and they keep the salad dressing simple and to a minimum. This was followed by a John Dory fish, which was moist, buttery, and absolutely divine. For our table of 10 people, we ordered 2 bottles of dry Riesling and 2 different pinots, but unfortunately I didn’t write down the brand names. However, they were all delightful.
The conference ended on Tuesday evening, and we had the traditional grand celebration dinner in the Spices Restaurant of the university. It has a lovely view of the harbor, and everyone brought a wine from their country. As usual, I wanted to taste every wine there, but it was impossible. Some interesting standouts were a sparkling wine from England; a chardonnay from Queensland in Australia; and an unusual wine from Puglia made of the Nero de Troie grape – huge, inky black wine with depths of complex anise and chocolate notes. I brought the 2005 Clos de Bois Marlstone from Alexander Valley. It is a massive Bordeaux blend with plenty of earth and dark muted fruit. It is one of my favorites, and received good reviews from the Europeans who tasted it. Even the Italians – who in past years have insulted the fruity Napa cabs I brought - liked it!