When you are invited to the Waiheke Island Wine Festival as a media guest you have to go. You just have to go. Youíd be a fool not to. After all, the festival was great last year
(see here) and this year, by all accounts, with all the wineries now at one venue, was going to be even better. Besides, the media guests travel on a special media ferry to the island then on a special media bus to the festival venue where there's a special media tent to make your base. The twenty participating wineries have selected some of their 'best' wines for you to try and there's the special media lunch with gourmet delights that you donít have everyday at home, catered by several of the wineries. You can be part of the crowd too if you want, taste samples at the winery tents and jive to the music with everyone else. Then when it's time to go, you donít have to queue up with the crowds to catch the ferry back. So you have to go. You just have to go. Youíd be more than a fool if you didn't. You'd be a total idiot.
We didnít have anything else on so I accepted the invitation.
The day dawned still and clear, the cicadas buzzing in excitement. As the mist slowly dispersed in the valley below and the dew dried off the lawn, I knew it was going to be a hot one. Sun cream. Check. Sun Hats. Check. Water. Check. Tickets. Check. Neil and I were ready.
The wind tangled my hair into knots as I stood at the front of the open air top deck of the catamaran as it charged through the sparkling blue waters to the island. The cord around my neck, with media guest pass attached, flailed out behind me, twirling, twirling, twirling until I thought I might be strangled. I turned around, untwirled the cord, stuck the pass inside my shirt and down my bra. Now I could enjoy the full force of the wind even more. I held my arms out wide, as Rose did in Titanic, closing my eyes. I was flying in the wind.
The crowd at the beautiful Isola Estate in the Onetangi Valley was pumping to the sound of Don McGlashan and his band when we arrived. Many people had arrived before us and more and more people arrived after us, traipsing past our tent to find a possie for the day. Many looked longingly at our set up. I felt special.
The food was fantastic, the highlight to my eyes being the Peninsula Estate Crayfish Tails.
After having eaten, though, I was also very smitten by Stonyridge Smoked Ostrich sliced thick and served with a creamy aoili-type dressing. But nothing could be faulted in the food department, like Goldwater Hot Smoked Duck and Mushroom, Mudbrick Rack of Lamb with a Sundried Tomato Crust, Te Whau Smoked Salmon and the Te Motu Charcuterie Platter with an array of tempting goodies. Clifftops Lodge and Cook School provided the salads and accompaniments including fresh beans and tomatoes topped with pesto. Totally delicious food.
"I had better do some work," I thought, so with notebook in hand, I started to taste. The wines were cool to start with, which was good and I tasted through the whites and the Syrahs before lunch.
A fresh little Obsidian Waiheke Rose 2005, dark spinel in colour with cherry berry scents, good weight and substance and a lingering strawberry flavour was a refreshing start to the day. It's a dry style made from Merlot (92%) and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Ridgeview Waiheke Pinot Gris 2005 is full of fresh, young oaky scents, the oak quite dominant in the palate too. It's peachy and Chardonnay-like with a spicy note to the lingering finish. From just an acre of Pinot Gris, only 95 cases are made.
Passage Rock Waiheke Viognier 2005 was a contrast with its fresh, ripe apricot nuances, a touch of peach, lifted acidity and a spiciness to the creamy textured, perfumed finish with hints of musk as it lingers. They've toned down the oak on previous years and it is crisp, fresh, more-ish. Amazingly Neil and I separately chose this as our first choice to accompany lunch. It was good with the crayfish too.
Stony Batter Road Works Sauvignon Blanc 2004 is showing some aged sauvignon characters with the melon-like fruit dominated by mellow oak and mealy influences from aging on yeast lees.
Stony Batter Roadworks Chardonnay 2003 is golden-hued with mellow oak and wild yeast-influenced aromas and huge, leesy, mealy, malolactic flavours filling the palate.
Te Whau Waiheke Chardonnay 2004, with fresh spicy oak, tropical fruit, a creamy leesy influence, a long, rich aftertaste and excellent length, is a beautifully balanced, elegant full-bodied style with some developing to do. Just 70 cases made.
Mudbrick Reserve Chardonnay 2004 has fresh, creamy oak and stonefruit aromas and youthful, crisp spicy oak and chilled stonefruit flavours with a slightly citrussy note to the full-bodied, mealy finish.
Peninsula Estate Oneroa Bay Chardonnay 2005 seems like a fruity, lightly oaked style with a crisp, citrus and apple note, but more oak becomes apparent on the dry, peachy finish. Good length too. Nice and summery.
Goldwater Zell Waiheke Island Chardonnay 2004 is ripe, full-bodied and creamy with a lovely marriage of malolactic and yeast lees characters and an elegance to the rich, creamy, peachy finish. It has excellent length and there's a touch of citrus as it lingers.
Cable Bay Waiheke Chardonnay 2004 is young, crisp and fresh with more 'coming together' to do. It's long and tasty with a mealy backbone, lots of lemony, leesy influences and a savoury oak finish.
Passage Rock Waiheke Syrah 2005, a just-bottled but not-yet-released wine, is going to be a super star - mark my words. It's deep plummy red with opulent aromas of creamy vanillin oak and blackberries leading into a dry spicy palate with bitter chocolate, cedar, cigar and violets. There's a lovely spicy undercurrent and a long, creamy, chocolatey finish. It distinctly shows the varietal characters of Syrah along with silky tannins and delicious, ripe fruit.
Kennedy Point Waiheke Syrah 2004 is lifted and fragrant with slightly leathery nuances on the front of the dry, floral, peppery palate. The dry texture becomes quite juicy and silky as the wine takes over the mouth and the aftertaste lingers with a touch of cherry and a smidgen of chocolate. With its richly fragrant finish, I wondered if it had Viognier in the blend. It does. Two percent.
After lunch the wines were becoming a little hot sitting on the table in the tent. I guess no-one else cared as it seemed I was the only one still making notes. Everyone else was, well, drinking, while I was still spitting. Call me crazy if you want, but I love winetasting. It's my idea of fun. But my notes would be quite scant unless the flavours were intense and rich.
Peacock Ridge Reserve Merlot 2002 was as good as ever. I loved it last year and this year it was even better - juicy and succulent with creamy oak, hedonistic fruit and huge tannins - still plenty of life ahead of this wine.
Peacock Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec / Merlot / Cabernet Franc 2002, one of my top wines of 2005, is still a huge wine with masses of cassis, leather and creamy oak. It has big tannins but more refined tannins than the Merlot, and it is becoming quite chocolatey too.
Te Motu 2002, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, provided lots of oral pleasure. It's an elegant wine with very fine tannins, integrated cedary oak, vanilla, a touch of cigar and a mellow berry fruit finish. The Bordeaux influence is very apparent.
Cable Bay Five Hills Merlot Malbec Cabernet 2004 has a deep clear ruby colour, the result of the addition of Malbec to the blend. It's fragrant and clean with plum and cedar aromas and creamy oak flavours, richness of flavour and leathery tannins with a nuance of mint and cigar on the finish. A bigger wine than it looks.
Weeping Sands Merlot 2004 is a slightly leathery youthful wine with lots of plum and cherry fruit.
Goldwater Woods Cabernet Merlot 2004 is light ruby garnet with rich, dry tannins and a soft, juicy finish.
Miro Cabernet Merlot Franc Malbec 2004 is delicately fragrant with cedary oak, fine tannins and cigar box on the finish. Not bad at all.
Christensen Estate Lonely Cow Merlot 2004 is an earthy style that reminds me of a milking shed. With creamy sweet oak and soft juicy tannins, it is very approachable.
Kennedy Point Merlot Malbec 2004 is quite leathery with dry tannins. Malbec's earthiness and floral characters add interest to the finish.
Fenton Estate Matt 2002, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, with upfront blackcurrant and cedar, was the only wine I tasted to show overt notes of Brett, a yeast thing that imparts a barnyard, sweaty saddle, horse-poo character. It spoiled the finish.
Luna Negra Malbec 2004, made by Stonyridge, can only be described as opulent. Dense in colour with blackberry hues, the flavours are rich, ripe and powerful with plum and blackberry fruit, creamy oak and a wild berry, floral overtone. It has initial impact and the fine tannins provide a more delicate finish.
Kennedy Point Malbec 2004 is quite succulent with sweet fruit - made to charm the pants off.
Mudbrick Shepherds Point Vineyard Merlot 2004 is a juicy, user friendly style with ripe red berry fruit, creamy oak, chocolate and mocha. I tasted the components in barrel last year, now they've been blended and I'm not disappointed. I canít wait for its official release.
Te Whau Double-Barrel Merlot 2004, a tiny production wine that just yielded 48 cases, has vinous rich aromas of plum and cedar. In the palate the tannins are huge, grainy, just a little chunky at this stage and the cedary oak is forward. There are hints of chocolate, a touch of herb and a long, rich, earthy, smoky finish. It's very tight wine but give it another year and it will be fantastic.
But only one wine can be chosen as Wine of the Week and this week it is another wine from Te Whau.
Te Whau 'The Point' 2004, the flagship wine of this producer, is made from a blend of 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 8% Malbec.
Although not opaque in depth of colour, the clear ruby red is rich to its core.
The fragrant cedary oak aromas are infused with cassis and plum and the fruit is mellow and integrated in the mouth, beautifully balanced to the oak. But what makes this wine stand out is the suave, beautifully refined tannins that give the wine excellent mouthfeel during the attack and finish and the finish is amazingly long. While it's not big in colour, the flavour is all there in the mouth.
Kim Goldwater from Goldwater Estate had joined me at my possie next to the tasting table, the spittoon now on the ground between us as no-one else was using it. We were tasting the wines together to the sound of Dave Dobbyn belting out "Loyal" and other Dobbyn favourites.
I said to Kim how much I liked The Point.
"That's the Waiheke tannin structure," he said.
It's the stucture that has made the most lauded wines from Waiheke, that is Goldwater 'Goldie', Goldwater Esslin Merlot and Stonyridge Larose, challenge the model they copied from Bordeaux, so Kim knows what he is talking about.
Later I found Tony Forsyth of Te Whau Estate, at his tent. He explained the winemaking technique for The Point. There is no fining, no acid adjustment, no pectin or added tannin. They donít over extract and donít work the cap hard. They work with beautifully ripe fruit and every step of the winemaking process is gravity fed, so there is no pumping.
The wine was matured for 18 months in French oak of almost equal percentages of new, one and two-year old barrels. It was bottled in November 2005 and carries 13.5% by volume. It is sealed with a cork and costs about $45 a 750ml bottle. 520 cases were made as well as 3 imperials, 9 double magnums and 48 magnums. Found out more from the Te Whau website.
Tony generously gave me a bottle to try at home, with food.
"What food do you suggest," I asked.
He bought over the Te Whau menu and suggested two dishes.
Rare Seared Cervena Tenderloin with wok-fry asparagus, beetroot and orange, and Juniper and Thyme-rubbed Lamb Rump with Grilled Polenta, red onions, flat mushrooms and garlic with a Thyme cream.
We can do that, I thought. I had the juniper berries. Pak 'n Save sells venison (cervena) of all cuts and lamb is common. Asparagus, however, at this time of the year, was not.
Venison sirloin was rubbed with oil, salt and pepper and seared on the hot barbecue plate, as were the lamb fillets that had been marinated in crushed juniper berries and fresh lemon thyme leaves with a little oil to help the process.
Polenta was made, with the addition of a little parmesan and crushed garlic before being chilled and cut into wedges for grilling on the BBQ, as were the flat mushrooms and the red onion.
For the beetroot and orange without the asparagus, the beetroot was grated and cooked in a frying pan in a little butter, then the peeled orange (or in this case, tangelo) segments added.
The venison with the beetroot and orange was a resounding success, a beautiful match to the wine, the sweetness of the orange and beetroot beautifully complementing the wine's natural acidity while the bloody flavour of the venison bought out even more vinous richness.
The lamb, as it turned out, tasted gamier than the venison, but with the mushroom and onion, it matched the earthy character of the wine nicely.
As for the polenta - well I've never been a fan of this corn meal stuff, but coat it with pan-fried grated beetroot and orange, and itís a definite hit.
The Waiheke Island Wine Festival is one of the great days on the Auckland Events Calendar. I was glad to be part of it and to relive one of the best wines the following day.
To find out more about Waiheke Wine and download a map of the island, go to www.waihekewine.co.nz.
To see the gallery of festival photos from the official website, go to www.waihekewinefestival.co.nz.
© Sue Courtney
12 February 2006