When we were invited to do a tasting of New Zealand wines and interview with winemaker Peter Jackson, we were expecting to be part of a much larger group. Instead, it was just the two of us, Jackson and his publicist at a bar in Downtown Los Angeles.
By the way, this Peter Jackson is not the film director. He’s pretty good-natured about sharing his name.
“I grew up in Australia,” where, he added, there was a menswear company known as Peter Jackson. “I’ve just been cursed my whole life.”
When it comes to New Zealand wines, most people immediately think of sauvignon blanc, and there’s a good reason for that. The variety accounts for around 80 percent of all grapes grown in New Zealand, although Jackson added that there is a growing demand for pinot gris and pinot noir, as well as chardonnay. Almost all of the grape growing is done in the state of Marlborough, which is at the southern tip of the island country.
What makes New Zealand wines distinctive
What makes a New Zealand sauv blanc so distinctive, according to Jackson, in the bright acidity and citrus.
“There’s a raciness and freshness that’s pretty hard to replicate,” he said. “You know you’ve got a wine that’s packed with flavor.”
Jackson recommends Asian noodles, fresh seafood, salads, and salty cheeses.
“There’s nothing better than fresh mussels,” he said. “It will hold up well with delicate white meat.”
We tasted the 2016 Crowded House sauvignon blanc, and Michael noted cut grass and some gooseberry on the nose. It had a dry finish and citrus flavors, minerals and acids. The 2017 Catalina Sounds sauv blanc had a more delicate nose and a quieter profile. There was, of course, citrus and some gooseberry, too.
Jackson said that pinot noir is getting to be an up and coming grape in New Zealand. It hadn’t done well until recently.
“They were planting the wrong clones,” Jackson said.
But nowadays, growers seem to have found the right clones, and are planting it more on the hillsides. Jackson makes his with native ferments.
“I can’t remember the last time I used yeast on a red,” he said.
We tried two Catalina Sounds pinot noirs. Michael noted that the 2015 was a slightly savory wine, with dry red and black fruit. The 2016 was very similar, but with a hint of spice.
Jackson said that he’s become very fond of his adopted country, where the people are quite humble and friendly.
“It’s absolutely one thing I love about New Zealand,” he said. “We realize that we’re all in it together. What’s good for you is going to be good for me.”
So, if you can’t find Crowded House or Catalina Sounds at your local wine store, try looking for a New Zealand wine, in general. They’re pretty tasty.