edited by Sue Courtney
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Waiheke Island, New Zealand
It was Waiheke Island Festival Day.
The radio announcer's voice sounded cheerier that the weather report he was delivering on the late dawning, low grey cloud, misty Saturday. "There's a wind warning in place from Bream Head to Cape Colville. Seas moderate to rough. In the Hauraki Gulf, winds easterly 15 knots rising north easterly 20 to 25 knots. Overcast with drizzle. Humid. Today's high, 27 degrees Celsius." It was raining at my place and it was definitely humid.
The tickets stated that in the unlikely event of a cancellation, it would be broadcast on Newstalk ZB. I listened. Only bowling events were read out. The visit to the island in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf was definitely on so items for the daypack were gathered. Tickets, hat, suncream, bottled water, picnic blanket, showerproof nylon jacket, brolly and camera. We were off, via our friends place to make up a foursome.
We arrived early at Fullers Ferry terminal in downtown Auckland and were amongst the first onto the boat. A window seat on the broadside would be fun when we reached the open channel. It was. As the catamaran ploughed through the swell, waves crashed with vociferous force but without any hindrance to speed and 35 minutes after leaving, we arrived.
During the voyage we planned our route and as we'd be arriving at lunchtime, food would be the decider. Peninsula Estate with crayfish and whitebait on the menu, easily won. We'd then travel to Goldwater Estate and Saratoga, and lastly to the multi-winery venue at Church Bay.
But it was bedlam at the bus terminal and the bus we boarded couldn’t go anywhere for a while. It seemed that buses might be the bane of the day.
Eventually we reached our first stop, Peninsula Estate, on an awesomely situated north east facing clifftop on the western side of the island. But from the road drop off point there was a kilometre long driveway that went up a steep hill, down the other side and up an even steeper hill. We wisely waited the 15 minutes for the next shuttle so we could enjoy the stunning view when we got there.
Now with festival glass in hand, glass filled and food ordered, things were looking bright. The slick crew of the Great Catering Company showed teamwork at its best as they fed the waiting few.
A crisp, spicy strawberry/cherry Rose wasn't the best match for the divine BBQ'ed crayfish tail with avocado, sour cream and fresh chili sauce. The youthful chardonnay bottled the day before was better. The whitebait fritter should have been divine but it was smothered in a powerful sauce. However a BBQ'ed lamb fillet with an accompanying taste of the rich, spicy and leathery Peninsula Estate Zeno Syrah 2001 certainly appeased the palate.
The wind was strong. Someone put a sun umbrella up over one of the wine barrels that was doubling as a table. It tried to take off and so it was time for us to take off too.
The route to Goldwater meant a stop in the village to change buses. The guys popped along to the shops to replace the suncream that I had somehow left behind and we needed it now that the wind was blowing the clouds away. As Kay and I were waiting we noticed a full bus pass without stopping and about 10 minutes later two buses arrived to pick up the masses. Choc-a-block they left. More full buses followed. However buses going the other way to Church Bay were empty so we crossed the road and took the next one that came along.
What an awesome place the Church Bay venue is.
It was not busy when we arrived and perfect for wine tasting and chatting to various owners.
Kennedy Point Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2004 was fresh and vibrant then from under the counter came a delicious and juicy Kennedy Point Waiheke Island Syrah 2002 laced with new French oak, exotic spices, red fruits and a sweet ripe finish. Just 2 barrels of the Syrah were made.
Christensen Estate had a wine called Feather White made from a blend of Cab Sauv, Cab Franc and Merlot. With the colour that Swiss winemaker Herb Friedli called 'Eye of Partridge' but to me was more like a gold/bronze onion skin colour, this 11.5% alcohol dry wine was well structured and juicy with good fruit weight. It reminded me a little of pinot gris in some respects with its dry palate, slightly oily texture and a spicy finish but the aftertaste was fresh berry fruits. It was absolutely gorgeous for the occasion.
We discovered Ridgeview Estate Pinot Gris 2004, Waiheke's first. It was fermented in tank and aged in older oak which gave a creaminess to the creaming soda, pear, apple and stonefruit flavours on a spicy backbone with an off-dry finish.
By this time it was time for another snack. I went for the Noodle box with wok cooked Udon noodles, shitake mushrooms, tofu, vegetables & fresh herbs and followed this with Vanilla bean ice cream topped with fresh berries. Both dishes had a suggested match of Rosé or Pinot Noir. I chose Weeping Sands Rosé 2004, which worked with the noodles but screamed at the icecream.
More people were starting to arrive, spilling out of the buses and into the demarced area. Queues at the food tent formed and snaked out of the marquee. Evidently Goldwater Estate had run out of food early and the masses were hungry. We decided to stay at Church Bay. Lots of different wines, better than being at one winery and we had more variation than the guests of other wineries in their corporate tents.
By now Neil was sipping on a tasty Cable Bay Waiheke Island Chardonnay – I didn't note the vintage, it could have been the 2002. It was juicy, yummy and beautifully ready, so great for the day.
I was set to discover the island's reds. Via Nelson. Mudbrick Nelson Pinot Noir 2003 was a totally awesome number, smooth, savoury, velvety and deliciously drinkable. This is pinot noir the way it should be. Made from Waimea fruit, it carried 14.2% alc and sells from Mudbrick for $40 a bottle. There are many other $40 pinot noirs around that are not as good as this.
Next I found Fenton Estate 'The Matt' 2002, a beautifully ripe, juicy, rich concentrated wine with cigar box, plums, lovely oak and structure. It was made from 41% Cab Sauv, 41% Merlot and 18% Cab Franc. Fenton got my vote for best decorated tent. From the boat of fire doused with ice to keep the wine cool, barrels of floating roses and rosemary twigs, to the flax carpet, cane furniture and striking artwork.
But when it came to best Waiheke wine (for me on the day) it was undoubtably that from Peacock Ridge. I'd been impressed by the wines before at a blind tasting in March last year but never found out more.
Peacock Ridge tent, Peacock Ridge wine and friends at the Church Bay venue.
Soft, ripe and ready to drink was the Peacock Ridge Reserve Merlot 2002 with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Malbec in the blend. It allured the eye with bright red black hues of inky depth and tempted the nose with its smoky oak and berry aromas. Then it fulfilled the palate with its luscious juicy berry flavours on a creamy texture with smooth ripe tannins and characteristic Merlot traits of leather, cigar box and plums. Beautifully balanced with 13.5% alcohol and a reasonable price for a top flight Waiheke red, at $37.50 a bottle.
Wine of the Week
Owner Jon Ewer, who does his own viticultural work, was determined that his first crop Cabernet Sauvignon would be ripe so he hung it out on the vine as long as he could. It reached a whopping 26.5 degrees Brix. The result is a lovely rich robust wine with a deep black red colour, great varietal definition of cassis and blackcurrant on the nose, very dense pure concentrated fruit in the palate, big grippy tannins and spicy oak. But everything is in balance and the ripe juicy fruit tames the tannins beautifully. This is a wine of longevity.
Quite understandably it is great with food too. I took a bottle home because by now the queues for the food at the festival were going to be intolerable for me to stand in.
Instead I got hooked into the sultry sounds of Sade's Smooth Operator , as sung by the Mermaids with great instrumental backing by a solo guitarist with beat box ... a smooth operator ... that is this wine.
The Mermaids continued singing, we continued the pleasures of the vine.
We left Church Bay in time to catch the 6.45 ferry back to Auckland as still more people were arriving. The venue was nearing capacity. Most of the festival goers were staying on to hear the star attraction, Goldenhorse, playing at 7pm.
So there was no hassle for the bus and the ferry was waiting.
Back at home we matched the Peacock to duck, left over from the previous nights dinner. Would the Peacock strut its stuff as well as it did on the island? Absolutely. And how would it face off to duck? They made great partners on the wine and food matching stage.
The following night the wine we poured the wine into large capacity glasses and Neil cooked up steak and lamb on the BBQ. And to my surprise the wine also went with a Basil Pesto flavoured Feta cheese in the accompanying salad. We finished off the matching with a soft creamy Edam.
The wine develops some chocolatey traits after being opened and recorked overnight and in the big glass a fragrance of wild berries, cassis and violets becomes more pronounced.
David Evans of Passage Rock makes the Peacock Ridge wines and the Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec / Merlot / Cabernet Franc was aged for 14 months in hybrid barrels that have American oak stave and French oak ends. It carries 13.5% alcohol and costs $35.
Will these Peacocks be first crop phenomenon wines or will this be a winery to watch? With the right conditions, I say definitely the latter.
Find out more from www.peacockridge.co.nz.
Find out more about Waiheke Wine and download a map of the island by clicking on 'Map' in the left hand menu at www.waihekewine.co.nz.
© Sue Courtney
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