At about 5am the other morning, having awoken early and unable to get back to sleep, I saw a group of stars winking at me through my curtainless window - a small cluster of stars shining brightly in the sky's last gasp of darkness. They slowly sidled behind a tree, occasionally peeped in the window from behind a branch, then they were gone.
"They have to be Matariki," I thought.
Matariki, Pleiades, or the Seven Sisters as they are more commonly known, rise in the New Zealand's dawn sky in early June. By the beginning of September they are in the sky for half the night. And at 5am on September 1st they were low in the due north sky, which is why I was able to see them from my pillow.
With sleep going the way of the stars, I lay there thinking of the wines I had tasted the day before, among them a selection of 30 New Zealand syrahs with the highlight being the Matariki Reserve Syrah 2001. It was the one that I wanted to have a big glass of at the end of the day.
Matariki Reserve Syrah 2001 is inky red-black in colour with red hues glowing from the deepness. It's a big wine but age becomes it. With inviting smoky oak and spice aromas, well-integrated tannins, liquorice, red and black fruits, sweet spicy oak, chocolate and mocha flavours, a chocolatey oak finish and a rich succulent spicy aftertaste, it is a very smart wine and delicious now.
Last November, when I tasted this wine and a bunch of others from the Gimblett Gravels region in Hawkes Bay with a few Rhône syrahs thrown in for good measure, this was savoury-smelling and somewhat European-tasting. But vanillin oak stood out on the nose and the voluptuous fruit stood out in the palate, so it could only be from New Zealand in the context.
Ten months more development has seen this wine develop beautifully with terrific integration of fruit, oak and tannins and a flavour that seduces the mouth with its softness and lusciousness.
It's not too many of New Zealand's 500-odd producers that have an aged wine on their books, but Matariki is one of the few. For Matariki Wines, the Matariki Reserve Syrah 2001 is still their current release.
Matariki is the wine brand of John and Rosemary O'Connor, who produce wine from the Gimblett Gravels sub-region of Hawkes Bay. With vineyards in Gimblett Road itself, they were one of the first growers on the old river bed soils after buying land there in 1981. John, who had studied wine in Germany, recognised the potential of the barren land where nothing really grew and where sheep wandered aimlessly looking for a grass to eat. He knew the stony soils would be ideal for grapes. He managed to persuade a farmer to sell him some land. Some of that land he later sold as word got out that Gimblett Gravels was the place to be. The rewards of the sale went into building the business.
John's focus is in growing grapes so the wines he made in the early years were sold off. But in1997 the Matariki wine brand was born.
Matariki is a distinctly New Zealand name and of great importance to the Maori with the rising of Matariki signifying the start of the Maori New Year. Consequently Matariki, the wine company, is totally involved in the June festival that celebrates the rising of the Matariki stars.
Matariki Reserve Syrah 2001 is, however, a star in its own right. It was matured in French oak, about 40% new, for almost two years. It carries 13.5% by alcohol and costs around $39.95 a bottle. It's drinking beautifully now but still has plenty of life ahead of it.
Find out more from the Matariki Wines website - www.matarikiwines.co.nz.
© Sue Courtney
4 September 2005