Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Sophia's 1st Birthday Wine: 2004 Te Whare Ra Gewürztraminer

After a sad trip home for my mother’s funeral, I was elated to be back in Los Angeles to prepare for our Sophia’s 1st birthday bash! As such, last week was an incredibly hectic week…whew! On Sunday we celebrated her birthday with 20 or so close friends and family members. I had a really good time, and I believe everybody else did too despite the fact the function room’s air conditioner performed poorly in trying to stymie the summer heat.

At home after the party, tired and spent, and after putting our Sophia to bed, my wife and I decided to open a bottle of beautiful wine that carries a special meaning to us. We visited New Zealand in 2004 and had the chance to spend 4 nights in the beautiful Marlborough wine country on the South Island. While there, we "paid homage" to many wineries. Some are internationally well-known such as Cloudy Bay, Villa Maria, Hunter’s, Mud House, and Allan Scott. There was one small, family-owned winery that stood out as being unique and artisanal, though somewhat lesser known. I wish it remains a lesser known gem of the region, for my own selfish reasons.

The winery’s name is Te Whare Ra, which means “House in the Sun” in local Maori language. It is located in a small, charming town of Renwick. I can still picture in my mind that cloudy, rainy day when I drove into its driveway, thinking “Is this a winery or did we just trespass onto someone’s private home?” The facility and its tasting room are unexpectedly home-like (wooden, 2-storey home with a large garage, if I recall correctly). It was like visiting your aunt's countryside home, I guess. Never judge a winery by its tasting room!

Te Whare Ra claims to be the oldest boutique winery in the region and it is run by a husband and wife team, the Flowerdays. The couple apparently know what they are doing and have extensive wine lineage and background. For all I know, they are the geniuses who managed to squeeze the terroir out of their vineyards and into the bottles!

The wine I love is their 2004 Te Whare Ra Gewürztraminer. When I tasted this wine at their tasting room on the 2nd floor of the winery, it stood out among their other offerings of riesling, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. Unfortunately, with hefty airline overweight fee in mind, we could only afford to carry 2 bottles of this extraordinary juice and 1 bottle of the 2004 riesling back with us to LA. When we opened them at home, I simply couldn’t get enough! I hunted them down locally for quite a while before I gave up and emailed Chris de Wagt, the winery’s manager, to ask where and how I could get my hands on their wines in the USA. After several phone calls, I was able to get them through Garagiste in Seattle. By far, Garagiste is the only retailer/importer I know of that offers Te Whare Ra’s wines on a limited basis from time to time.

TN: 2004 Te Whare Ra Gewürztraminer (13.8%, US$16)

At about 55 – 60F. Light gold-yellow color. Focused nose of pineapple, white cranberry, tropical fruits, and white flower. A very fruit-forward nose. Quite viscous on the palate for a light-colored wine. Medium bodied (from the 13.8% alcohol?). Limey, grapefruit-y, with orange bitters. Bright acidity. Tastes like the wine didn't go through malolactic nor touch any oak. Finish has an orange bitter taste to it. I like this wine for its purity of taste, it's like I could taste the grapes out of the vine. This wine was a labor of love, and I would consider it “artisanal” and unique, not to mention a great bargain too!

4 stars (vg!)

Oh, did I mention that New Zealand was where we “got” our Sophia? I guess for this reason alone Marlborough will forever be a special place for us.

Side TN: 2004 Te Whare Ra Riesling (12.5%, US$16)

At about 55 – 60F. Light gold-yellow with straw green. Ripe pear, white peach, and ripe green plum. In the background, very noticeable floral nose (of edelweiss or of chrysanthemum?). Medium bodied. Soft and smooth on the palate. Slightly more viscous and "creamier" than a classic Mosel riesling (i.e. 2003 German vintage excluded). Very elegant and well made.

3+ stars (g - vg)


toki said...

She is A Star! What a beautiful girl you have there : )

~ Phyll said...

Thanks! Yes, she is the Star of my life.

toki said...

Had a Seresin Estate 2003 Pinot noir, Marlborough in HK. Good and bold wine over in New Zealand....

MarshalN said...

Looks like daddy!!!

Toki, you really have lots of expensivo habits :)

~ Phyll said...

I love NZ's pinot noir too, especially those from Central Otago, the southernmost wine growing area.

Yep, she's daddy's girl alright :)