edited by Sue Courtney
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Waipara, New Zealand
Wandering through the garden one late afternoon earlier this week, I noticed the first blossoms on the loquat tree. Loquat is what I call an exotic fruit. 'Exotic' because it is a little uncommon. Although the trees grow well in Auckland and seem to fruit prolifically, I have never seen the fruit for sale in the markets nor have I heard much about them as I do with other tree crops such as apples, pears and plums.
The bright yellow plum shaped fruit start to ripen from mid spring with the main season being mid to late October. It really is a race to get to the ripe fruit before the birds. The fruit tastes slightly tart to sweetish and when I eat them straight off the tree they remind me of the flavour I find in some new season chardonnays - somewhere in the acid spectrum, somewhere between lemon, mandarin citrus and pineapple.
Loquat has a relatively thickish skin and a relatively thin (~5mm) fleshy layer around one to three big seeds. I had always imagined the fruit could be related to the lychee, for the peeled and seeded loquats are about the same size as canned lychees and lychee has similar sized seed pods in the centre of the flesh as well.
But loquat is nowhere as pungent as the lychee fruit and from pictures I have seen of lychees on the tree, the outward appearance only resembles loquat in size. However the loquat blossoms are sweetly pungent making them one of the most fragrant garden scents of mid-autumn. And the flowering season seems to herald the cold snap.
It was starting to drizzle, fine light drizzle, not worrying enough to get a coat for the day was still warm. I smelt the loquat blossom. It had a lemon scented fragrance. "Mmmm, this reminds me of Riesling", I thought. So of course it seemed like a good idea to open a few Rieslings to see if the fragrance could be related to the blossomy scent that some Rieslings get. It was also opportune to open Riesling, as I'd bought some fish for tea.
The Fiddler's Green Waipara Riesling 2002 definitely had a blossomy scent. But was it loquat? I raced outside in the dark (it was now evening) to pluck a few blossoms from the tree. Yes, the blossom scent in the wine was now unmistakably that of loquat blossom, though we had to hold the tiny bunch about 10 cm from our noses otherwise the scent was too pungent, musky and overpowering.
I liked this wine with its lemon and lime peel aromas and its hint of blossom, though at first the aromas were quite shy. It's ripe and zesty in the palate, full and rich with lots of citrus and a sweetish, floral finish. This is wine that fools you with its power for its starts so delicately but finishes so strongly. There's a touch of residual sugar (well, 14 grams per litre) to balance the crisp acidity into an off-dry style.
This is yet another excellent Riesling from the North Canterbury area of Waipara, the region where several of my perennial favourites (Pegasus Bay, Main Divide, Melness and the old Robard and Butler Amberley - renamed Corbans Amberley) also come from. It is obviously a region eminently suited to the production of this grape.
Fiddler's Green Waipara Riesling 2002 has a good future ahead of it if past vintages from this label are anything to go by though this. The first vintage was a 1997 which I tried last year - it was drinking very well. Barry Johns of Fiddler's Green suggests a cellaring period of 3-5 years from the bottling date of November 2002. Find out more from the Fiddler's Green website
Fiddler's Green Waipara Riesling 2002 went well with the fish, which on this occasion was gurnard fillets washed and dried, coated with seasoned flour and pan-fried in lemon butter. To make the lemon butter I sliced a thick-skinned Meyer lemon and sauteed the slices on each side in sizzling melted butter until the yellow skin colour of the lemon became enhanced. The slices were then placed on top of the fish while it too was pan-fried in the sizzling butter. Just before cooking was finished, I added some sprigs of parsley to sizzle until its green colour was enhanced. The fish was served with the parsley and lemon atop the fish.
There were five Rieslings in this tasting. As well as the Fiddler's Green there was Peregrine Central Otago Riesling 2002, Murdoch James Martinborough Riesling 2002, Vidal Estate Marlborough Riesling 2002 and Lawson's Dry Hills Marlborough Riesling 2002. I liked the wines in the order listed. Neil, however, preferred Vidal Estate the best followed in order by Peregrine, Lawson's, Fiddler's Green and Murdoch James - although tasting the second day he elevated the Fiddler's Green to top position too. It just goes to show that subtle nuances of the grape can be more or less appealing to different people.
The only other Riesling in the tasting to conjure up the pretty loquat blossom fragrance was the Murdoch James.
Researching loquat in New Zealand I found that records show that James Busby, New Zealand's first viticulturist and horticulturist, received loquat plants from the Sydney Botanical Gardens in 1842, along with peach, apple and olive. He planted these in his gardens at Waitangi in Northland (north of Auckland), near New Zealand's first wine producing vineyard that he also planted.
According to this encyclopaedic page on loquats from Perdue University in Indiana USA, the loquat flowers attracted interest from the French and Spanish perfume industries in the 1950's. Some experimental work was done in extraction of the essential oil from the flowers or leaves. The product was appealing but the yield was very small.
The loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) is a memeber of the rose family, Rosaceae. Perhaps this accounts for its fragrance?
© Sue Courtney
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