Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The kids are alright

Some things are best left in the realms of childhood.  Things like stubbed toes, skinned knees, loose teeth, nosebleeds and knickerbockers are afflictions that remind me of a time where I tore around the streets of Takapau either barefoot or on my Raleigh Twenty sporting the latest 80’s fashion according to those gigantic Butterick pattern books my mother used to covet.  However one part of my childhood I’d rather forget was reawakened this morning when I woke up with an ear infection.  My sisters and I were cursed with ear infections when we were little and it drove my mother mad, “they’ll grow out of it” Doctor Broderick used to say, but today the pain was as raw and piercing as it was when I was seven.  Eating hurt, sleeping hurt, even sipping a glass of wine hurt - not good, especially when you have a column to produce. 
from left: Gary Duke, head winemaker for Hunters Wines, Vic Williams, Jane Hunter and Competition Organiser Terry Dunleavey.
But while my ability to cope with being crook has not improved with age, the good people at Hunter’s Wines are justifiably chuffed that their rieslings have done the exact opposite.  A set of three Hunter’s Marlborough Rieslings from 2004, 2007 & 2010 have earned the top prize at the Royal Easter Wine Show, taking the inaugural Heritage Shield.

The new category at the Royal Easter Wine Show has been introduced to identify and reward wines that have the proven capacity to develop grace and complexity over time.  For the first time in New Zealand, this national wine competition offers a guide to consumers and wine lovers about cellaring potential of such wines.

“New Zealand Rieslings have always had lengthy cellaring potential and it is very pleasing that this new award recognises wines made in a style that consumers can cellar confidently” said Gary Duke, Chief Winemaker at Hunter’s Wines.

Hunter’s have been making Riesling since the winery’s inception in 1982 and this award is a seal of approval and shows confidence in New Zealand wines ageing potential.  Quality not quantity has been an adage that Hunter’s have endorsed for 30 years, taking out over 160 Gold Medals and 30 trophies for its wines over the years.
For Goodness Sake…
Those of you who enjoy the delicate, rich, clean complexity of the signature beverage of Japan will be saddened to hear that many of Japan’s premier sake breweries have disappeared in the wake of the tragic multiple disasters that rocked Japan in March.  This ancient alcoholic beverage is brewed using just rice and water, yet the results come in a smorgasbord of styles.  Although here in New Zealand we do not consume a great deal of sake, I certainly cannot contemplate drinking anything else when I go to a Japanese restaurant – so the thought of one of my favourite tipples becoming harder to find, or more expensive to enjoy – is a tad worrisome.
The destruction to the sake industry has been extensive in terms of damage and loss of life.
According to Decanter.com, the worst-hit breweries are located in Miyagi prefecture, the epicenter of the earthquake, as well as in Iwate and Fukushima – the location of the seriously-damaged nuclear power plant.
Among the list of badly-damaged breweries are Suisen from Iwate prefecture, which was entirely destroyed with the loss of some 11 employees, and Hakurakusei in Miyagi prefecture, which was not hit by the tsunami but was destroyed by the earthquake. There are over 100 sake breweries in the three prefectures, many of which produce some of Japan’s highest quality, aromatic, elegant sakes. 
The damage to the breweries is just one part of the challenges ahead for Japan’s sake industry, with the real challenge in 2011 being planting and tending the rice fields.  There are also serious concerns that the nuclear fallout will affect the water supply so vital for sake production.
Hands up anyone who’s ever nervously stood in a wine shop trying to pick a bottle to take to a dinner party?  Hands up anyone who’s spent far too much time and way too much money on said bottle?  Your choice will of course say screeds about you personally.  Too cheap and you’ll never be invited back.  Too expensive and you risk appearing arrogant & snobby.  Hands up anyone who’s been left gutted because their precious bottle got shoved to the back of the breakfast bar while the hosts served their own cheaper (and often nastier) wine.  What does one say?  “Umm, thanks for dinner, now can I have my wine back please?” Or for the less patient, “You peasants!  Can you not see that I spent my last dollar choosing the perfect wine in order to impress you all with my impeccable taste and slick sense of style?  And you reward me by not even having the decency to open it!  So you can take your Tasmanian ocean trout and kumara crumble you cretins, and jam it up your jacksie!” 
Clearly it’s good manners to front up with a bottle of wine but it’s bad manners to open it yourself and extremely uncouth to take it home with you. So how to deal with this dilemma?  The first rule of scouting and social drinking is ‘be prepared’.  This means, for example, that if you bring a warm bottle of white wine – no matter how pricey and rare - then it serves you right if your hosts choose to hang on to it and serve one from their own fridge.  So if it’s white, chill it or lose it.  If it’s red,  you could cut the foil and pull the cork before you leave home and tell your hosts that you’ve been letting it breath for a couple of hours “so it should be ready to drink right now”. 
You could also mention (as you hand your bottle over) that you can’t wait to try the wine because it was given to you by your late nana (bless her) and it was her dying wish that you drink it the next time you went out for dinner.  Just remember to sniff, wipe an imaginary tear and cross your chest when your glass is poured.  The key is to ensure that your bottle is opened and consumed by you during the course of the evening and not by your host’s weeks later over their Friday night fish and chips.
However if you can’t help but bring along a cheap (and possibly nasty) bottle, make sure it’s hidden in a bag so you can take it to the kitchen yourself and in secret agent style, swiftly swap it with someone else’s.
Four of the best
Tuatara APA Hop Head Ale (500ml $8)
Gorgeous orange/amber hued with a healthy, foamy head and delicious aromas of citrus, lifted hops, herbaceous notes and tangy, intense flavours make it the perfect partner for spicy pork kebabs.  Find a store closest you on www.tuatarabrewing.co.nz
Hawke’s Ridge Hawke’s Bay Tempranillo 2009 $30 (4 stars)
A saucy Spanish number from the inland Maraekakaho district of Hawke’s Bay.  It’s very good and dangerously drinkable.  Sweet, spicy oak merges with ripe plum and cocoa flavours to create a red that’s fresh and vibrant yet ribstickingly comforting and satisfying.  Visit www.hawkesridge.co.nz for more information on where to buy.
Mud House Swan Central Otago Pinot Noir 2009 $36 (4 and a half stars)
Opulent red fruits, cocoa, spicy, earthy flavours wash over the palate finishing with damson plum and black tea notes.  This is one lovely pinot with impressive length of flavour and fantastic cellaring potential.  Buy from fine wine stores or via www.mudhouse.co.nz
Church Road Reserve Hawke’s Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2010 $30 (5 stars)
This is what gets me excited about sauvignon blanc – when winemakers throw gorgeous things like wild yeasts and barrel fermentations, lees stirring and the like.  This wine has sweet almond, passionfruit, white peach and white pepper, fleshed out with honeydew melon and it’d take a whole ‘nother paragraph to describe the rest but I absolutely love it, and I implore you to try it.  Demand it from your local fine wine store.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Bay of Islands Beauties

Bay of Islands Beauties…
Michael & Barbara Webb of Cottle Hill Vineyards
Cottle Hill has an idyllic setting which sets an indelible stamp on your memory and I almost missed it entirely due to an address typo on the Northland Wine Trail flyer.  Situated on the corner of State Highway 10 and Cottle Hill Drive on the outskirts of Kerikeri, its cute potager garden filled with corn, herbs and vegetables and sweeping balcony overlooking acres of carefully tended vineyards makes you ache for it to be a restaurant.  But for owner Barbara Webb they’ve decided from experience that they’re much better to focus on their core business of being a winery.  “We’ve done a couple of weddings and big parties and that’s great because we think it’s a great venue for it, but we’re not going full-time into food”.  Barbara and her husband Michael sailed into Kerikeri on board their 35ft packet yacht Sprig from San Diego California back in the mid 1990’s.  “We fell in love with the Bay of Islands and were inspired to get into the wine industry after a road trip to Hawke’s Bay and seeing what was going on down there.  With vines sourced from Joe Corban our vineyard was planted in 1996 and we started making wine that same year” says Barbara.  In the ground they’ve got Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Chambourcin and Dolcetto plus they make a syrah from fruit grown closer to Kerikeri.  Made in a deliberate “old-world style” according to Barbara, the Cottle Hill 2010 Chardonnay has delicious butterscotch and grapefruit aromas, loads of white peach and creamy, leesy flavours fleshed out with vibrant acidity and great persistence of flavour. 

Barbara and Michael planted all sorts of other varieties in the early years, however after much experimenting and replanting they feel they’ve hit on the right combination of fruit for the future.  This part of New Zealand is notorious for having a climate that acts as atmospheric root burst to most plants, including grapes.  “We are lucky in that the early part of the summer was really dry and that kept growth in check, but we’re constantly out there leaf plucking and trimming – the vines just grow like weeds up here” laughs Barbara. She hand over a glass of their famous Dolcetto, and I instantly fall in love with its soft cocoa, mint and lavender aromas and supple, plummy, juicy flavours on the finish.  “Everyone told us we couldn’t grow pinot up here, but we love pinot so we put some in the ground and it’s done incredibly well” shrugs Barbara.  “We just trust our instincts and it seems to work”. 

A few minutes away on Wiroa Road is the world class cellar door and restaurant at Marsden Estate.  Back in the 1990’s Marsden and Cottle Hill were the only wineries in Kerikeri and not being trained winemakers meant the first few years consisted of experimentation and trial and error.  Today Marsden Estate, under the cool-hand Luke approach of owner/winemaker Rod MacIvor is one of Northland’s most highly awarded producers.  “One thing we have to remember up here is not to let things get too ripe” says Rod as we tuck into a heaving plate of juicy Asian prawns, “because of the climate if we go for higher sugar we inevitably lose acidity that creates distinctive wines.  Some Northland whites have a history of being a bit flabby, but we know how to fix that now, in fact we’re learning all the time”.  Rod remembers 1998 “which was just nuts, an incredible year, but a lot of the wines just tipped over too quickly because we were seduced by these huge sugar levels.  But we’ve got the experience now to exercise restraint”.   
Sauvignon Blanc has Rod really excited, “we have a different style up here, its super tropical and really juicy” he says, but I think the boutique varieties like Chambourcin will end up becoming Northland’s signature.  Chambourcin is a red hybrid that’s only been around since the early 1960’s, but it boasts brilliant resistance to fungal disease making it an ideal grape for Northland’s humidity.  “Chambo’s also great eating ” offers Kelvin Mowat from Pukeko Vineyard down the road who’s come to join us at lunch, “I was taking bunches down to the local lunch bar in Waipapa and they were selling heaps every day”.  Chambo aside, I recommend trying the Marsden Estate Cavalli 2008 $25.  Named after the Cavalli Islands, it’s a delicious, juicy blend of Chambourcin, Pinotage and Merlot that cries out for roast lamb.  

L-R Kelvin & Christine Mowat with a fan
After lunch I follow Kelvin up SH10 to Pukeko Vineyard, a 7 acre block he owns with his wife Christine with 4 acres of grapes and 3 acres of miniature ponies, an odd combination, but undeniably cute. “I bought the place 3 years ago when it was an overgrown kiwifruit orchard.  The plants were skyscraper high, untended for over 6 years so I just got a bulldozer, pulled them all out, rolled them up and burned the lot – but we still get kiwifruit plants popping up amongst our vines even now” he says handing me a glass of syrah.  It’s solid, pepper-driven and fleshed out with plum and violet notes and it’s very good.  Prepare yourself for pukeko’s everywhere – hats, t-shirts, stuffed toys, ornaments and umbrellas even, but if merchandise isn’t your thing don’t fret, his sauvignon, chambo and chardonnay will provide plenty of entertainment for your tastebuds. 

Hang a left into Puketotara Road and you’re at the home of Bruce and Sue Soland, owners of Fat Pig Vineyard.  Sporting a goatee, black t shirt and black wraparound sunglasses, I’m not surprised to learn Bruce was born a Westie and he worked on vineyards as a kid before spending 20 years as a golf pro.  Opting for a life back amongst the vines he purchased an old kiwifruit orchard in 2003 and converted it into a vineyard which now produces Syrah, Pig-o-gris (also known as ‘cougar juice’ according to Bruce), Char-boar-nay and Sow-Blanc.  If you need a touch more fortification you could give his Wild Boar Port a go, or if something more delicate calls, try the hugely popular Runty Rosé. 
Bruce Soland of Fat Pig Vineyards
The cellar door is rustic and raw, and yes there is a pig (named Jenny Craig) that I don’t get to meet, but I can certainly smell.  “We have our own wine and food fest up here, which” he whispers “is really just a rage up.  We have a big marquee housing all the vineyards in the area, 5 chefs cooking and a fabulous band – it’s just awesome”. 

Four of the Best

Marsden Estate Syrah 2009 $36 (4 stars)
Strong, masculine spice and dusty, earthy, peppery notes herald the arrival of a rather delicious syrah.  Beautifully balanced, with just the right amount of cedary oak and juicy plummy, berryfruit notes, this is one red that oozes personality and charm.  www.marsdenestate.co.nz
Redwood Cellars Old Mout Scrumpy Cider ($16x330ml 4pk) 
Recently repackaged with the tag line “we think it’s pretty good”, I think the team at Redwood Cellars are on the money.  This scrumpy has solid apple fullness, generous alcohol (8%) and clean, vibrant, tangy length of flavour.  Pronounced ‘Old Moot’ it’s definitely a new favourite.  www.oldmoutcider.com
Pukeko Vineyard White Tail Pinot Gris 2010 $22 (4 stars) 
A super-cute pinot gris that shows jazz apple, pear and quince flavours combined with crunchy acidity and fantastic length of flavour.  Crisp, clean, elegant and totally drinkable.  pukekovineyard@xtra.co.nz or 0274933458