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Wine of the Week for week ending 31 Jul 2005
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Stonyridge Larose 2002
Waiheke Island, New Zealand

Funny thing, wine. Funny how people react to the smell and taste of a particular bottle of wine when they don’t know what they are drinking. Like they did with the wine I put in front of a few wine-tasting mates the other night. With 'Wine Options' style questions of course.

The first poser was, "Is this wine made from Bordeaux varieties, Rhone varieties or classic Italian Varieties?"

Earl had elected to answer the individual question. "Bordeaux", he said without much hesitation. His answer was locked in.

"What do you think?" I asked the others.

"Rhône," said Steve.

"Rhône," said Bill.

Earl started to shift uncomfortably in his chair. He smelt the wine again and had another taste.

"It smells so unusual," said Steve, something I can’t put my finger on. "Though I like what I'm smelling," he added.

"I admit, I've got a cold," said Bill.

"Why did you choose Bordeaux varieties, Earl?"

"It smells so strongly of capsicums," he said.

"Capsicums," I exclaimed.

I couldn’t smell capsicums, something I associate with green under-ripe Cabernet Sauvignon, or Sauvignon Blanc. I thought it a complex-smelling wine, continually evolving. And I could smell violets. Definitely violets. But everyone is different and if the aromas smelt like violets to me and capsicums to Earl, then, so be it.

Earl relates capsicum to Cabernet Sauvignon, too. It's a good correlation, because his answer was right.

After sorting out the wine came from Australasia, the next question was just where. Could it be from the North Island of New Zealand, or from Coonawarra or Margaret River in Australia?

While Earl and Bill were positive it was from the North Island and already shifted into the Hawkes Bay camp, Steve veered in a different direction.

"This is better than any New Zealand wine I've ever tasted," he mused. He swirled, sniffed and sipped again, thought a little longer, then opted for Coonawarra. I think he was wishing there was more in his glass.

I usually find mint in one form or another in Cabernet-dominant wine from Coonawarra and that nuance was not revealed to me. I was into rich, ripe, red and black fruits with cedary oak and massive earthy tannins that continued to evolve. The more I tasted it, the richer and more intense it became. It seemed so different to the very first taste I had when the wine was decanted into a jug then back into the bottle for serving now - two hours later. Before it seemed softer, with creamy oak and abundant red fruits. No mint then either.

"It is from the North Island, New Zealand", I said.

So what could it be? We had already established it was from the vintage of 2001 or 2002, so the options were the trophy winning Trinity Hill Gimblett Road Hawkes Bay Cabernet Sauvignon 2001, the trophy winning Villa Maria Single Vineyard Omahu Hawkes Bay Malbec 2002 and the cult Stonyridge Larose 2002 from Waiheke Island.

The guys quickly eliminated the Malbec and from the remaining two options, chose the Trinity Hill. Wrong!

The reason I had the Villa Maria Malbec as one of the options was because of the high Malbec component in the Stonyridge Larose, which was what they actually had in their glass. It is made from a blend of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Malbec, 11% Petit Verdot, 8% Merlot and 4% Cabernet Franc.

We supped the dregs in our glasses, then the next wine was poured and the night went on.

Back at home I poured another taste of the Larose to try. It was undoubtably a wine of great longevity and I decided I wouldn’t open another bottle for a while.

It would be 3 nights later when the firmly replaced cork was pulled again to accompany a juicy fillet steak, with a garnish of herbed mushrooms, for dinner.

Tonight the wine was purple black in colour, inky and dense. It seemed darker than before. I could smell the winey fragrance awash with violets and rose petals from about 18 inches away then, while holding the glass to my nose, the opulent cedar and juicy purple plum fragrances come through too. Creamy textured in the palate, the tannins had softened and chocolate had emerged to join the intense blue-black fruits to balance the well-structured cedary backbone that had an earthy richness and savoury depth. But once again as the wine evolved in the glass, the tannins seemed to become stronger, reminding you that you are really committing vinfanticide by drinking this wine so young. Then the heady voluptuousness of the wine wins over and liquorice, from the concentrated fruit, emerges.

I could taste the Malbec and my thoughts were whisked back to that day in November 2002 when I tasted the wine from barrel. The Larose was blended by that stage but there was also a barrel of Malbec from the Vina del Mar vineyard ,which was going to be bottled as such. A wine that was so voluptuous, so sexy, it made me quiver with ecstasy.

Stonyridge Larose 2002 lives up to its reputation and more. This is real wine. A man's wine. A womens's wine. A fine wine lover's wine. The bottle was finished. Now it was me wishing there was more.

Stonyridge Larose 2002 carries 13% by alcohol and you can buy it from the Stonyridge Vineyard on Waiheke Island and at various retail outlets as listed on their website. If you are not on the en primeur buying list, then expect to pay $120 or more. It also comes in magnums at $250 a bottle from the vineyard.

© Sue Courtney
24 July 2005

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