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.
THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
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.

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