Thursday 8 March 2012

Amnesia: Cowrie Bay New Zealand Chardonnay

I'm sitting at the kitchen table, gloomily unscrewing a bottle of Cowrie Bay New Zealand Chardonnay, and my wife says, 'Didn't you drink that the other day?'

'Well, yes,' I say, defensively. She has her head angled in such a way as to let me know that I'm doing something wrong.

'I thought you didn't like it.'

'No, I didn't,' I reply, quite truthfully. It looked all right at the time, in a dully corporate sort of style (which was, naturally, why I bought it) but it tasted of bananas and chewing gum and gave me a headache.

'So why are you drinking it again? Is it something to do with Sediment?'

This hasn't occurred to me as a reason why I might be tackling a second bottle of something I didn't enjoy the first time round, so I say, 'Yes. That's why I'm drinking it again'. She ratchets up the disapproval by narrowing her eyes. This takes us to a new level of threat, after which she can start asking questions like Is that the second bottle today and Have you made a start on the bathroom? Luckily, the phone rings and she goes off to answer it, shooting me a parting glance heavy with incredulity. I now have to find something to say about it, or look like a man who doesn't know why he's sitting at the kitchen table, drinking a wine he doesn't like.

I stare at the Cowrie Bay. It occurs to me that I might be drinking so much these days that I can't remember any more what I'm drinking, that the whole week has become a Lost Weekend in which I experiment repeatedly with already over-familiar wines in a completely senile and circular fashion before forgetting whatever it was I might just have learnt and going out and re-acquiring the wine I have only recently consumed and reached an unfavourable judgement upon. It's possible. I have recently started reading novels while burdened by a chimerical sense of familiarity, only to discover (usually with my wife's assistance) that I have actually been re-reading them.  

On the other hand, living like a goldfish has its advantages, especially if I can pare my sensory and intellectual experiences down to about five items, never have to go in search of anything new and never get bored. Except that on this occasion, now my memory has been jogged, I can recall that Cowrie Bay tastes of bananas and gum. So what amnesia overwhelmed me at the point of purchase? Dr. Freud tells us that there are no mistakes, only the promptings of the unconscious mind, so what was my unconscious trying to tell me when I involuntarily grabbed a bottle of wine I didn't like, at a price I did?

'It can't have been very good, otherwise you'd have remembered,' says my wife, suddenly close by again.

Years ago, in the late twentieth century, I did try and keep a wine diary, presumably in anticipation of this dreadful day, but I never wrote anything more revealing in it than Red: rough; or Red: extremely rough and soon gave it up. A friend of mine - I don't think it was PK, although I may be wrong about that, too - told me once about finding someone else's wine diary, which turned out to be as inconsequential and uninformative as mine was, and this did cheer me a bit. Unless he'd found my wine diary and forgotten it was mine when he told me about finding it, which is also possible.

Anyway, the Cowrie Bay Chardonnay is sitting there in front of me, so I pour a slug, bracing myself for the worst, only to find - to my amazement - it tastes quite different from the way I think I remember it. Yes, there are some horrible grace notes of custard and melon and artificial sweetener, but there is also a bit of bite underneath, a bit of steeliness, which makes the whole experience really quite appealing.

'You know, this isn't bad', I say. My wife shoots me another glance, then the phone starts ringing again.



  1. Always good to revisit a wine, even if it is a Chardonnay :)

  2. New Zealand produces stunning Chardonnay, very little of which is exported.
    Unfortunately this Cowrie Bay is not one of them. I've not heard of it in New Zealand. it sounds like one of those virtual wines crated for a supermarket chain. Bulk wine of variable quality is bought by the litre at the cheapest price and 'dollied' up.
    Some of the best NZ Chardonnay still comes from Gisborne but the weater can be variable there. the most consistent examples come from Hawkes Bay and a very good, well-made example with real barrel ageing, some barrique maturation and malolactic cost about NZD20 to NZD30.
    Beware the Unwooded styles. Its a marketing gimmick to save costs and meet price points.


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