Nelson's reputation well-earned
During the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand last year the 25 wineries that make up Nelson's Wineart group held an international competition of their own - this one based on the aromatic wines for which the area has become best known.
This year the group has done it again, but forgotten about the opposition from Italy and the United States, who also played a World Cup match in Nelson, held a blind tasting and selected its own "First XV."
They have even had specially made a wine carton that can accommodate three extra three bottles, which suggests that the selection of Nelson's First XV will become an annual event.
Nelson probably owes its reputation for aromatic whites to Austrian winemaker Hermann Seifried, who in the 1970s began producing and earning a reputation for his riesling and gewurztraminer, more latterly for pinot gris, and now for gruner veltliner, which are regarded as the aromatic, or highly perfumed white wines.
But they are not the only varieties grown in Nelson, which is essentially split into two distinct sub-regions - the alluvial Waimea plains around Nelson and the Moutere Hills, which are based on clay gravels. Both produce aromatics and the hills some of the country's finest sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir, unfortunately varieties long since claimed by other areas as those that they do best.
Which left only aromatics up for grabs, as Tim Finn, of Neudorf Vineyards, in the hills, observed when Nelson sought to make the connection by holding an international aromatics symposium back in 2007.
It was a smart move and one which has now firmly linked Nelson with aromatic wines - firmly enough for Steven Spurrier, writing for Decanter, the British wine magazine, to declare that "Nelson is home to New Zealand's finest aromatics".
Other so-called authorities have made similar observations.
To reinforce the aromatics link Wineart has also continued to stage tri-annual international symposiums, the next in February. The focus will be on riesling and gruner veltliner and the special guest will be Markus Huber, the wunderkind of Austrian winemaking.
But getting back to this First XV, grouped according to variety: Waimea Estates 2011 Gruner Veltliner, Kaimira 2009 Brightwater Gewurztraminer 2009, Tohu 2011 Single Vineyard Gewurztraminer, Te Mania 2011 Gewurztraminer, Kahurangi 2011 Dry Riesling, Richmond Plains 2011 Riesling, Rimu Grove 2011 Riesling 2011,Waimea Estates 2011 Classic Riesling, Waimea Estates 2009 Classic Riesling, Seifried 2011 Winemakers Collection Sweet Agnes Riesling, Anchorage 2012 Pinot Gris, Rimu Grove 2010 Pinot Gris, Blackenbrook 2012 Pinot Gris, Sea Level 2011 Home Block Pinot Gris, Trout Valley 2012 Pinot Gris.
The pick of the crop:
Te Mania 2011 Nelson Gewurztraminer, about $21
A big bold wine jam-packed with the characters which give the variety its distinctive bouquet, taste and identity - rose petals, Turkish delight and exotic spices. Medium-dry.
Trout Valley 2012 Nelson Pinot Gris 2012, about $15
It is not just the price that makes this second label wine from Kahurangi Estate a very smart buy. A beautifully rounded mouthful of stonefruit with a lick of honey and spice. Off-dry.
Waimea Estates 2009 Nelson Classic Riesling, about $23
This lovely wine has already won more medals than a Russian general and now, with the benefit of time in the bottle, is developing beautiful honeyed toast characters. The perfect choice for a summer aperitif. Medium-dry.
Waimea Estates 2011 Nelson Gruner Veltliner, about $24
The second edition of this Austrian newcomer from Waimea has a peppercorn nose, a whiff of herbs and stonefruit, and spicy finish. Dry.
The Southland Times