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Put to the test

What attracts critics and wine drinkers to a new winery that's worthy of long-term interest? It's a good question, and one not easily answered. However, an answer can be found in the terroirist philosophy that a true wine, complete with faults, is more enjoyable than a technically good one.

This may sound like fatuous nonsense at worst, or romantic blather at best, but it is the only honest way to evaluate wine in a way that makes sense to you, if you are a drinker in search of long-term satisfaction and interest, or to your readers if you are a critic. In part it is related to the people making a wine and the relationship they have with the land on which their wine is grown, and in part on your immediate reaction to the wine itself - does it feel and taste as if you could sit down with a bottle over a good meal?

No amount of technical tasting or show-judging can define precisely what makes a bottle of wine fit for the sit-down test. Experience helps you to identify them, but not the experience of winemakers intent on production and intellectual tasting standards. Rather, it comes from the experience of drinking, where your focus is on sensuality, sustained pleasure and reaffirmed satisfaction.

Winemakers who make such wines are often those who enjoy drinking wine without reserve. They'll turn up for dinner with a bottle of wine that is not necessarily their own, but one they deem worthy of a friend's table. They also understand the difference between a good bottle and a prizewinner.

As you've probably gathered, this column is an exhortation to more drinking, to gaining the experience that will improve your pleasure and your ability to form lasting relationships with wineries that look like being reliable sources for good bottles in the future.

Which takes us back to the terroir, that wine character that is bound to the land that grew it. This, too, is almost impossible to identify in one simple phrase, because it also relies on understanding and experience. Wine, like poetry, is not easy to intellectualise, but with practice identifying a good bottle is as easy as pie. You just know.

Email: keith@sommnet.com

TRY THIS PUKEORA ESTATE 2006 SAN HILL PINOT NOIR

Warm, convivial, aromatic pinot noir with strong feral sensibility and elements of sound structure. Feels slightly gruff but suave, and has a real buzz of intelligent flavour - varied, subtle and persuasive. A distinct step up from the 2005, without losing any of the character that attracted attention to that wine. FROM: the Winery at 208 Pukeora Scenic Rd, RD 1, Waipukurau. FOR: about $20.