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Wine of the Week for week ending 11 March 2001
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Stonecroft Zinfandel 1999
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

This week's Wine of the Week celebrates an historic occasion in New Zealand's vinous timeline - the release of the country's first commercial Zinfandel.

Alan Limmer of Stonecroft Wines has been pretty much of a pioneer in some aspects of the New Zealand industry so it is not surprising that he is the producer of this historic wine.

Label of the Stonecroft Zinfandel 99

Loyal followers of Stonecroft were alerted to the forthcoming Zinfandel in the 1996 newsletter which said "We have just received three new imported vines after 18 months in quarantine - namely Zinfandel - yes NZ's first Zin is on its way, Cinsault and Mouvedre. We only received 2 or 3 cuttings, so the next few years will be spent bulking up material and assessing trial batches of wine".

It didn't seem long before we got to taste the Zinfandel, for a tiny quantity was made in the now, much heralded, 1998 vintage. What wasn't given away for the 1999 Hawkes Bay Charity Wine Auction was bottled into 375ml bottles and given away, yes given away, to loyal mail order customers of Stonecroft. "The wine is too rare to sell" said Limmer. And so the bottle had 'For Friends of Stonecroft - not for resale" on the label.

And now the 1999 Stonecroft Zinfandel is released. The latest newsletter says "After bulking up the surviving two vines from quarantine, we now have a small plot of producing Zinfandel. The future of Zinfandel looks promising - if you can stand the stress of growing a grape that falls apart at the first sign of a dubious weather map!".

I tasted the wine at the release tasting last week. It is a bright plummy red colour of medium to deep intensity. Cherries and spice on the nose and lifted sweet fruit in the palate - intense berry fruit character of raspberry and cherries, and spice. There's good acidity. "A long acid structure is one of the hallmark's of Zinfandel" says Alan. In summary, it is a lifted fruity wine with a touch of spicy leather on the long finish.

"It's not the style I wanted to make" said Alan. "It's not a 14% alcohol porty-type of wine", he said of the wine which was aged in one year old French oak barriques. He reiterated the difficulty in growing the grape with its uneven ripening and the bunches falling apart at first sign of rain. He is vigilant in the vineyard, removing any rot as soon as it forms. "It drives you crazy" he said.

So where can you buy a piece of NZ's history. Well, you probably can't. Although it only costs $25 a bottle, it is limited to one bottle per 12-bottle case for mail order customers only. No wine is going into the New Zealand trade and none will be exported for sale. Needled to say, I ordered my case of Stonecroft wines and my own piece of NZ's vinous history.

Check out the Stonecroft web site for further information about Stonecroft wines.

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