Anne Krebiehl: her take on the New Zealand Medal Winners tasting
As the men and women of the beach volleyball teams fought it out in the preliminary matches on Horse Guards Parade below us, another measuring up took place at the Penthouse of New Zealand House: The New Zealand Medal Winners Tasting.
While the promise of the excellent view from the penthouse drew many - so much so that there seemed to be a scrum around the Pinot Noir bottles - the wines certainly managed to hold everyone's attention, despite the buff beach volleyball bodies in skimpy dress. As occasional cheers from the spectating crowd floated into the Penthouse, I was trying to match the varietal line-up of 99 bottles with Olympic disciplines and pick out the performers I would put on the podium:
Sparkling Wines = Gymnastics: both female and male gymnasts were clearly present: the slender but very fruit-driven Lindauer Blanc de Blancs NV overperformed (especially given its £11.99 price-tag) with an apple-opulence on nose and palate, gentle mousse and a surprisingly long finish, dosage and tart finish as poised as a pretty young gymnast on the balance beam. On the male side, Quartz Reef Méthode Traditionelle NV was as disciplined and toned as an all-round-artistic gymnast, showing slightly more autolysis and, after taking some time to open up, gave a very elegant performance.
Riesling = Javelin: this simile came easiest since the Riesling-acidity sliced through the palate like the precise, distant trajectory of a well-thrown spear. Seifried 2011 from Nelson, savoury with hints of fern fronds and ripe pears and citrus zest packed quite a little, well-judged punch while Greystone 2011 from Waipara Valley convinced with full-fruited, honeyed sweetness. Toi Toi Reserve 2010 also flirted with the podium, due to its lovely texture.
Pinot Gris = Weightlifting: here muscle and weight were evident. Some contestants came across as heavy-set, rather phenolic and not very nimble, some had smoky overtones but lacked tone. Yealands Estate Pinot Gris Awatere Valley 2010 stood out for elegance, with a lighter, apricot-scented edge and pleasing zing. Greystone Sand Dollar Pinot Gris 2011 was a little rounder but also managed to preserve a slender silhouette.
Sauvignon Blanc = Beach Volleyball: the parallels between grape variety and Olympic discipline are evident: on the surface it all seems very fun, essentially always a little frivolous with style often triumphing over substance, which is not to say that it does not take true sportsmanship: A huge number of contestants were predictable and stuck to their traditional billing of pungent, passionfruit and pineapple exuberance - some with gusto, concentration and length like the 900 Grapes Sauvignon Blanc 2011 from Marlborough, others donned greener colours and more vegetal notes. But there were some very elegant, even restrained moves of calculated subtlety: Jackson Estate Stich 2011, Craggy Range Avery Vineyard 2011 and Astrolabe 2011 were in that camp.
Viognier = Rhythmic Gymnastics: a lone contestant here, but one destined for the podium: Millton's Riverpoint Vineyard Viognier 2010 was svelte, lovely and inspiring with its suggestion of varietal perfume, an acidic backbone, a touch of creamy oak and inherent poise. Gold medal!
Pinot Noir = Athletics: in this category, there were lightweight sprinters and some well-proportioned long-distance runners, often with just a pretty, confected but soon waning outfit while some of the star performers we know and love did not turn up. I would have to watch more of Cambridge Road Pinot Noir 2010 from Martinborough and see how it fares once it has digested more of its oak, but it was intriguing with some earthy layers. Fromm La Strada 2007 from Marlborough bucked the confected trend and remained a true varietal and honest, mature and un-drugged contestant. Surveyor Thompson Pinot Noir 2009 had some of Central Otago's wild thyme aroma and a lovely, completely non-butch elegance that would qualify it as a decathlete. Athletes arriving from Waitaki are ones to watch: slender, elegant and almost tender with an aromatic quality: both Dr John Forrest Collection 2009 and Ostler's Caroline 2010 fit the bill and will no doubt be seen in future competitions.
Syrah = Fencing: again there were male and female contestants confronting each other with accentuated pepperiness and in the best cases showing beautiful cherry fruit and perfume, Vidal Legacy Series Gimblett Gravels 2009 was one such wine. The most sumptuous and aromatic fencer, albeit with a broader frame and clad in more armour was the Elephant Hill Airavata Syrah 2009 from Hawke's Bay. This would be a fencer for special occasions, peaking only in years to come but showing great promise. En garde!