Taste of Spring

A bountiful harvest of blissful wines from the Southern Hemisphere awaits with simple or splurge-worthy selections. By Virginia Philip

As much of nature awakens in the spring, life in the vineyard comes alive.  The vines in the Northern Hemisphere are just awakening from their winter rest and flexing their branches for the next season.  The cold, dormant months of January and February are finished.  Pruning and tying down are completed, new plantings are planned, and posts and trellis systems are mapped out and installed.  March brings new plantings and some weed control.  April is the month where bud break occurs, yet there is still the danger of a late frost.  May welcomes in the green of the cover crop on the ground.  It is tilled into the soil, providing nutrients and mulch.  We wait with hope for a great harvest to come.
Yet, in the Southern Hemisphere, the cycle of the vine is opposite to our time schedule, and therefore, dramatically different.  In wine growing regions such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, and Argentina, harvest is already underway by late January and February — and by March, in most cases, finished.  The 2014 vintage becomes a reality, and it is shaping up to be a good one!  Availability to drink some of these wines could be as early as the fall or winter of this year.  While you wait, try some wines from previous vintages.  Perfect for spring drinking, here is a list of some goodies to look forward to.

Torrontés is by far the most important white grape varietal grown in Argentina. It thrives in the wine regions from the north to the south, while consistently taking on similar unique characteristics. The grapes of this dry white were produced and grown in Mendoza, located in the western central part of the country. On the nose, the distinct aromas of potent white flowers will prevail, while notes of lemon zest, ripe kiwi, and green apple will follow. On the palate, the wine is dry, crisp, and light bodied. The tropical flavors of mango, papaya, and white peach dominate with just a hint of mineral on the finish.
Recommended Serving Temperature:  42 to 45 F.
Recommended Food Pairings:  As an aperitif or with shellfish, goat cheese, green salad. Drink within one year.

The Malbec grape originates in the southwest of France. Over the last several decades, it has found an even better home in Argentina. Most of the Malbec planted and consumed by the world comes from the Mendoza region of the country. This production of Malbec in the much further south, but cooler climate region of Rio Negro, is somewhat of a rarity. This full-bodied red has fruity aromas of black cherry, blueberry, and black raspberry with a touch of earth. The mouth feel is round and lush with flavors of ripe blackberry, red currant, and dark chocolate with a hint of pepper spice on the finish.
Recommended Serving Temperature:  60 to 65 F.
Recommended Food Pairings:  Meats, burgers, pizza.
Drink within 2 to 3 years.

This pioneer winery of Marlborough was started by Ross Nelson in 1992.  The unique grape varietal literally translates from German to “spicy Traminer.” Indigenous more to France’s cool climate region of Alsace, this New Zealand version puts on a great show of its own. The intense aromas of rose petal, lychee nut, ripe pineapple, and ginger spice suddenly grab your attention. On the palate it is rich and lush with a favorable amount of residual sugar and bright acidity.
Recommended Serving Temperature:  45 to 48 F.
Recommended Food Pairings:  Shellfish, cheese, light meats, such as pork or chicken, spicy foods.
Drink within 2 years.

Pinot Noir takes on a life all its own in this country.  A cross between California and Burgundy, the wine bounces back and forth with earth, mineral, and “Jolly Rancher” fruit flavors.  Sour cherry, wild raspberry, and pomegranate mingle with green herbs and minerals.
Recommended Serving Temperature:  55 to 58 F.
Recommended Food Pairings:  Tuna or salmon tartare, mushroom risotto, lamb. Drink within 2 to 4 years.

For a Splurge:

“Le Sol” translated from French means “the soil” — appropriate when one considers the significant impact of the stony soils of the Gimblett Gravels Vineyard.  The soils keep growth and crop of these old clone Syrah vines in check and provide warmth in the fall — all critical factors in developing the enormous character and presence this wine has.  Deep and dark with purple hues, there are aromas of sweet blackberries, complemented by subtle hints of bark, cocoa powder, and freshly cracked black pepper.
Recommended Serving Temperature:  60 to 65 F.
Recommended Food Pairings:  Meats, game.
Drink within 5 to 10 years.

The Viognier grape originates from the Northern Rhône Valley in Southern France. It is made in small quantities, even in its homeland. Now over the past few decades, vines have been yielding small quantities of this precious grape in a few New World wine-producing countries. The aromas on the nose are of ripe apricot, honeydew melon, and tangerine rind with a hint of baking spice. On the palate it is dry, but has flavors dominated by apricot and white peach. This crisp refreshing white is not aged in oak and is fermented in stainless steel.
Recommended Serving Temperature:  48 to 50 F.
Recommended Food Pairings:  Thai, Mexican, curries and most other spicy cuisines from around the world.
Drink within 2 to 4 years.

The Neyen winery was founded in 2002 on the site of one of Apalta’s first vineyards.  The Rojas family purchased the property in 1973 — they knew that the 3,300-acre property they had owned for more than 30 years was uniquely special and created Neyen to showcase this remarkable vineyard.  In 2012, they partnered with the Huneeus family, proprietors of Quintessa in Napa Valley.  Together they’ve brought this hidden gem to the States.  Made from an even blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère, this wine is complex with aromas of blueberry and blackberry fruit with floral and black pepper notes, toasted oak, and vanilla. On the palate, it has silky and concentrated tannins with loads of dark fruit and black pepper on the long, well-balanced finish.
Recommended Serving Temperature:  64 to 68 F.
Recommended Food Pairings:  Ribeye steak, churrasco.
Drink within 4 to 8 years.

Hamilton Russell Vineyards is one of the most southerly wine estates in Africa.  Located in the beautiful, cool, maritime Hemel-en-Aarde Valley appellation, it is just behind the old fishing village of Hermanus. The estate specializes in producing highly individualized, terroir-driven Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Both are widely regarded as the best in South Africa. This full bodied, minerally wine has classic length and complexity. There are prominent notes of pear, yellow apple, and lime fruit brought beautifully into focus by a bright natural acidity and a long, dry finish.
Recommended Serving Temperature:  48 to 55 F.
Recommended Food Pairings:  Shellfish, lobster, sea bass, snapper. Drink within 2 to 4 years.

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