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Nick Nobilo: Gewürztraminer is ‘the best’ of NZ whites

Gewürztraminer is “the best” of New Zealand’s white varieties with its ability to age comparable to Riesling, but its potential is largely overlooked, believes winemaker Nick Nobilo.

Nick Nobilo

Part of the Nobilo wine family, which has a winemaking history stretching back some 300 years, 2016 was Nick Nobilo’s 56th vintage in New Zealand.

He was the first winemaker in New Zealand to use new French oak for the maturation of red wines, the first to produce an oak fermented Chardonnay, and commercial quantities of Pinot Noir and Gewürztraminer in 1973.

A vocal supporter of Gewürztraminer, Nobilo founded his Ormond vineyard in Gisborne in 2000 under the Vinoptima name, specialising in the variety.

But despite his confidence in the variety, it is yet to make a significant mark on the market outside of New Zealand.

“For me it’s the best of the white varieties,” said Nobilo speaking at a masterclass on New Zealand’s aromatic white varieties in Nelson, organised by New Zealand Winegrowers.

“I still live in wedded bliss after 50 years with Gewürztraminer and it’s just a shame that it doesn’t have the following in the market place and interest. I don’t know whether it’s the name but people have not adopted Gewürztraminer, but its time will come – believe me. Maybe I’m not going to be here but like everything its time will come. So we are waiting.”

Gewürztraminer currently accounts for 242 hectares in New Zealand, just 0.5% of production and 0.1% of exports, with the majority of vines planted in Marlborough, Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay.

On raising the grape’s profile Nobilo said: “We need to communicate the variety Gewürztraminer, and also New Zealand, because outside of Alsace in France not many countries produce Gewürztraminer as well as we do. I might be biased but that’s my belief.”

Nobilo also shared his belief that acidity “doesn’t matter” in the making of Gewürztraminer, asserting that it was the balance of phenolics, alcohol and residual sugar that was most important.

Vinoptima Reserve Gewürztraminer Gisborne 2004

“Unlike Riesling, which relies on acidity, Gewürztraminer relies on phenolics,” he said. “That’s the back bone. When you look at Gewürztraminer it’s a white grape trying to be a red, and that’s where the phenolics come in. It’s important that the flavour that’s just under the skin is extracted in the winemaking process. Skins are the most important part”.

Nobilo also stressed that Gewürztraminer was capable of ageing, a trait for which it is not often given credit for, presenting his own Vinoptima Reserve Gewürztraminer Gisborne 2004 at the masterclass.

Comparing its ageing potential to Riesling he said: “If it’s made well it will keep for a long time. 2004 was an Indian summer, full ripeness, 26 brics and reasonably good acidity. 5.8, which is good for Gewürztraminer. It had skin contact for about 20 hours to get these phenolics out, cold. I cool down to about 0 degrees, drain the free run juice out and then gently press the remaining skins for about five hours. That’s what I call the elixir. You get the real concentration of the Gewürztraminer character coming out. Then blend the two together.”

Meticulous in his approach, each harvest Nobilo weighs the weight of grapes coming off of each individual vine in order to track its productivity, and rather than using a Brics meter, Nobilo tastes the grapes to determine the best picking time.

“It’s all about incremental improvements, and I believe it’s now happening in Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc,” said Nobilo. “That’s where New Zealand has an advantage over traditional countries that have to adhere to certain rules. We have that freedom.

“What we are seeking to do you won’t see for another 10 to 15 years. It’s getting better and better. Look at Pinot Noir. I made the first commercial Pinot Noir. It was a good wine in its time and there are some magnificent examples of what New Zealand can do, and it’s going to get better and better.”

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