“Battered scallops or oysters and a bottle of Albariño wine – you’ll be in Heaven,” – that’s the appetite-nudging recommendation from Kono’s Whenua Matua Vineyard Manager, Jonny Hiscox.
 
Amid 35 hectares of Kono’s grapevines, nestled in the gently rolling hills of Upper Moutere, near Nelson, Jonny and his small team planted a single hectare with Albariño grape vines in 2011.
It’s a truly boutique-sized planting of just 2525 vines, and the first batch produced from their fruit in 2014 under the Aronui label, has already won awards.
 
Just down the road, Neudorf Vineyards owners Judy and Tim Finn brought the Albariño vines to the valley seven years ago. Their first commercial production of Albariño went out last year, produced from just two-hectares of vines.
 
Judy’s idea of a truly divine pairing with Albariño wine, is clams – the little rounded shellfish many of us know as ‘cockles’ – flavoured with chilli and washed down with Albariño that’s been “chilled to within an inch of its life,” she says.
 
Waimea Estates is the third and only other Nelson vineyard producing Albariño wine, with just under two hectares planted in the vines since 2009. Viticulturist and general manager Ben Bolitho describes its taste as “ocean fresh” with aromas of white peach, jasmine and the seaside. It’s exquisite, he says, when paired with freshly-shucked oysters.
 
No matter what your favourite seafood dish, these three artisan wine-makers agree; Albariño is a wine that tastes as though Mother Nature created it especially to be enjoyed with seafood. So, what better place to experience one’s first tasting of the artisan-grown Albariño, than in Australasia’s largest fishing port – Nelson, where the waterfront looks across Tasman Bay to the beautiful beaches of the Abel Tasman National Park.
 
Nelson and nearby Motueka are home to the two largest fish processing companies in New Zealand. While exporting is the industry’s major component, fresh seafood for the family dining table is here and available in abundance - whether you’ve booked an evening’s fine dining in Nelson’s charming, tree-lined inner-city; ordered a hearty, hot, newspaper-wrapped meal from one of the ‘local favourite’ fish and chip shops, or you’ve rented a holiday bach tucked into one of the idyllic bays stretching along the picture-postcard coast of the Abel Tasman National Park.
Even if you’re many miles from civilisation and getting back to the city requires a boat-ride, seafood is just beneath the waves for the keen boatie, and Judy Finn’s favourite clams are but a dig-in-the-sand away for the kids, armed with a bucket. (Include fresh chilli in your holiday pantry, along with the Albariño!). And, if you’re just not a hunter-gatherer or you’re here ‘out-of-season,’ local seafood companies have done all the harvesting for you, vacuum-packing the region’s shellfish -  from mussels and clams to oysters, plus locally-harvested salmon. All are plentiful in Nelson’s supermarkets.
 
Just like the fare from the oceans, the Albariño grape originates from the sea-salty climes of coastal Spain, and Portugal, too. Nelson vintners recognised the geographical similarities, and quickly found Albariño to be a hardy little grape with thicker skin; quite disease resistant and resilient enough to withstand Nelson’s autumnal rains which tend to arrive right before harvest time. It clearly flourishes, too, on the sprawling Waimea Estates’ Richmond Plains, where the climatic conditions and the soils have given it “a lovely fruity quality,” says Ben.
Waimea Estates’ Albariño took away the Pure Elite Gold award at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards in 2015, and that’s just one of a number of awards and accolades their 2014 vintage has earned already, including two silver awards.
 
Albariño wine has a lot of potential, especially for Kono, according to Jonny, because Kono is also “very much a seafood company,” farming green-lipped mussels and oysters in the region.  That potential was recognised last year when the Chief Judge at the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show declared Aronui Albariño 2014 the competition’s ‘Wine to Watch.’ It was awarded a gold medal at the same event, and at the Trans-Tasman Awards in 2015, Aronui Albariño won the ‘Best New Zealand Wine’ title.
 
Come winter pruning time, the Albariño vines are the one crop that prompts Jonny to get out his own pruning shears and join two of the vineyard’s full-time staff among the rows.
 
“We want to carefully nurture that potential ourselves.”

© -2016 – Victoria Clark
 

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