King of Gewürz, Bang for Buck Reds

King of Gewürz, Bang for Buck Reds

One of the great joys of this profession is finding individuals who are involved with wine beyond what makes apparent sense. Enter Nick Nobilo, the new king of gewürztraminer. Nobilo is one of the most recognizable names in New Zealand wine circles. But since Nick’s family sold the 40-year-old business to Hardys of Australia in 2000, Nick has marched to his own drummer into the warm, humid Gisborne region to found a winery called Vinoptima. It makes only one wine—gewürztraminer—that sells for about $50 per bottle. “It is the most underrated of the classic vinifera whites,” he said. “It is capable of great complexity and depth. As the wine market matures, aromatic whites are coming on, and gewürztraminer will be at the pinnacle of that movement.

I quickly accepted an invitation to meet him for dinner at the home of Ontario agents Jack, Ian, Marit and Andrew Hanna, because a) gewürztraminer is also dear to my heart, and b) I was anxious to hear about the progress of Gisborne gewürz. I was blown away by a couple of examples—none of ever drifted onto these shores—when I visited in the mid-’90s. Gisborne, by the way, bills itself as the City of First Light, being the easternmost larger centre closest to the International Date Line. It is also one of the sunniest places in New Zealand, and one of the most humid nearer the ocean. It can also now claim to be the New World Capital of gewürztraminer.

The slightly drier climate and heavier clay soils of an eight-hectare vineyard 26 kilometers inland were just what Nick Nobilo was looking for as his gewürz haven. He planted several clones on different rootstocks, processing each separately before combining for one finished wine. The first vintage in 2003 is maturing into an incredibly fragrant, slimmer, honeyed and layered gewürz. The Vinoptima 2004 Gewurztraminer **** ($50, coming via is bigger, richer and fatter—very impressive but needing two years to knit. The wines are pricy but gewürz fans will get the idea, and, with a small enterprise like this, Nick Nobilo is betting there are enough such fans worldwide to sustain his dream.

From opulent, expensive whites to cheaper, delicious reds, here are three juicy numbers from Saturday’s release at Vintages. Stocks were plentiful across the GTA as of this morning. L.A. Cetto 2004 Petite Sirah ***1/2 from Baja, Mexico ($9.95, Vintages) is a deep ruby-purple whopper with huge blackberry, plum pudding and licorice flavours in a full, open, fleshy structure—a bit hot but impressive. The South African Porcupine Ridge 2004 Syrah **** ($14.95, Vintages) has been a great buy for three years running combining classic northern Rhone smoke, brine and leather with ripe cherry fruit, chocolaty oak and sweetish, velvety texture. And jumping up a notch but still very good value, try Condado de Haza 2003 Crianza **** ($24.95, Vintages), a second property of Pesquera’s Alejandro Fernandez in the Ribera del Duero region of Spain. I have become a bit jaded about this overexposed “Pesquera” enterprise but this dark, savoury tempranillo with very lifted, complex floral, leather, olive and blackberry flavours caught my attention with its power, elegance and excellent length.

And, oh yes. Don’t bite at The Transylvanian Vampire 2003 Pinot Noir * ($10.95, Vintages). It’s soapy, simple and sour. Not even recommended for Halloween hijinx.