Held every three years and coming immediately after the Pinot Noir conference, it could be assumed the Nelson Aromatics Symposium might be a poor cousin to the main event. This is not the case, and rising above the blow-out from hard partying at the Pinot Noir 2013 final dinner, the atmosphere in Nelson was incredibly bright and positive for the attendees, even though many of them were suffering the effects of sleep deprivation. I consider the Aromatics Symposium as good as the Pinot Noir event, if not delivering in some ways more focus and greater value. This triennial event is a must to attend.
For 2013, the theme was an examination of the emerging Gruner Veltliner variety, looking at New Zealand examples with a reference to the benchmark wines of Austria. In the same vein, a look at New Zealand Riesling along with Austrian Riesling would offer an interesting comparison. The international guest speaker was Markus Huber, acknowledged as one of Austria’s leading winemaker lights, specialising in Gruner Veltliner as well as Riesling in his family vineyard in the Traisental region of Austria. His keynote address gave an information-packed presentation on Gruner Veltliner as grown in his homeland, from an overview of its place in the Austrian wine scene, its history, growing and performance in different regions and soils, its production and styles, to a description of the flavours. Such was the detail that many New Zealand winemakers gained insight and inspiration to further their efforts, and stated so. The value and importance of Huber’s should not be underestimated.
The Riesling tastings began with a flight of two New Zealand Rieslings, different from the mainstream, amidst six Austrian Rieslings. To me there was a clear difference in the wines from the two countries, and the Austrian wines very different among themselves too. The Austrian Rieslings had the common feature of bright acid linearity and cut with a sense of minerality and power. The New Zealand wines were not specifically chosen to be emulations of the Austrian wines. The second Riesling tasting was of four pairs of Nelson wines, each pairing consisting of a 2011 vintage wine with an older release. I was impressed with the quality of the younger wines, though the audience found, as I did, much more accessibility, character and enjoyment in the older wines. Being well-established, Riesling styles and quality seem much more settled, and it was obvious that Riesling performs especially well in the Nelson district.