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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Pairing Kiwi with Wine

And no, the authorities in Aotearoa frown very seriously on the consumption of the Kiwi bird, but this particular Kiwi has an affinity for and appreciation of good wine, preferably from her homeland.

And it has been a good week for the Kiwi and wine, as well as the Kiwi wine  of the Kiwi's friends. (Which makes up for leaving a gift bottle of wine behind last week, but I do hope the gifter enjoyed it and thought of me for at least a few sips of the bottle.)

Saturday, while at Yongsan, I noticed banners advertising a wine tasting at the Dragon Hill Lodge so phoned a military buddy to meet me there. For those who have never lived in Korea, the local wines range from atrocious to undrinkable. Koreans have a sweet palate and no history of wine making so the result is usually a cloyingly sweet cordial that has little resemblance to wine. I'm sure they could make spectacular wines as they have wonderful grapes but it would require an excellent winemaker to come over and do so, preferably partnered with knowledgeable vineyard managers who know how to achieve the best grapes for making the best wines.

Side note: The Kiwi is surprisingly knowledgeable on the subject, having grown out of her late-teen affinity for Asti Spumante, a sweet sparkling wine preferred in those days by those with aspirations to elegance but no understanding of class. She has since worked at and managed some of the best bars and wine bars in New Zealand and Australia, learned about wine at the shop of one of New Zealand's foremost experts (who brought in other experts regularly) and spent whenever possible on vineyards, both tasting and tending grapes.

So the nastiness that Koreans mislabel wine just will not do for this gal.

There are other wines available in Korea, and a much larger selection at a much better price each time I return here but, as with anywhere, its those that are produced in huge quantities that are mostly available. So the chance to expand my knowledge and taste some unknown drops was not one to be sneered at. I happily paid $18 for a ticket and another $5 for a perfect tasting glass, and it was time to have fun learning.

And what fun it was! Aside from the wine, I enjoyed time with old friends, reconnected with recently-made friends and made a few new ones while on a roll. (One gentleman sidled up behind me to ask, "Is there an event that involves alcohol in this city that you don't go to?" He'd been on the Craftworks Brewery Tour the previous week and hasn't been in Seoul long enough to know that it would take a few thousand cloned Kiwis to attend every event that has alcohol. Maybe more.)

I talked up those few New Zealand wines that were on the tables, though none of them approach the standard of our best; discussed wine-making and tourism and Seoul and Kim Jong-il; ran out of business cards to hand out and met a vivacious fellow journalist whom I hope to work with in the future. It being the day of the Marine Ball, which was being held in the hotel, I also got to admire some buff, handsome men-in-uniform and thank them for their service. (Offering to buy them a drink didn't really work under the circumstances.) And, of course, drank a little wine, and found a lovely Zinfandel Port. (Port being far more difficult to come by here.)

Then, on Tuesday, I attended the 2011 SIWA and Diplomatic Community Bazaar at the Seoul Grand Hilton. I intend to write a separate post on that but, having heard tales from earlier events, planned to get there as early as possible and head straight for the New Zealand table as I'd heard our Embassy sold good Aotearoa-made wines but they always went quickly.

That event was also improved when I arrived to catch the shuttle to the hotel (about a 30-minute ride) and found my new journalist friend from Saturday also there, along with another friend of hers I'd met at the tasting. Great minds do think alike, as she pointed out.

Once at the bazaar and checked in with the relevant people, I was off to find my compatriots and buy some good wine.  I walked away with a Babich Pinot Noir and a Saint Clair Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, both of which await a special occasion or a whim. I was also sorely tempted by the possum/merino scarves and gloves but decided they probably wouldn't survive my vagabond lifestyle too well.

Then this morning, Wednesday, in keeping with the week's wine theme, I was informed that the wines from two vineyards whose owners I know well and have been involved with had won trophies in the Air New Zealand Wine Awards 2011. I'm happy for both pairs of vintners and  feel proud to have personally been part of the making of one of the winning wines, or at least the nurturing of the grapes.

During a long-overdue return to Aotearoa from Nov. 2010 through May of this year, I was fortunate to spend time living and working with friends on Tussock Ridge Vineyard in Central Otago. The vineyard's label is  8 Ranges for the eight separate ranges you can see surrounding it.

As you can see from above, it was a magical place to be, and each day I learned more about grapes and vineyard management and all the many factors that must come together to make a great wine. It's a small vineyard with only a small output, but the wines are superb.

The judges at the wine awards obviously agree, and the 2011 Pinot Rose made with the grapes I helped prune and tend took the gold.

I had hoped to help harvest also, but the weather did not cooperate and I had a date with a motorcycle and good friends in the U.S. I had also wanted to work the harvest at another vineyard close by owned by other friends, but again the weather had other ideas. But I was happy to hear that one of the wines from Maori Point Vineyard also won an award.

Well done all involved! I know what a team effort it was and wish I could be there to celebrate with you.

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