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Wine of the Week for week ending 28 May 2006
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Cottage Block Ruahine 2004
Hawke's Bay, New Zealand

With the Hawkes Bay winemakers in town for the Hawkes Bay Charity Wine Auction preview tasting on Monday, and the Hot Red Hawkes Bay road show on Tuesday, it is hardly surprising (to me) that a Hawkes Bay wine is featured as Wine of the Week. After all, the other wines I tasted were Australian and these only qualify in exceptional circumstances.

I wrote about the Charity Auction preview in the newsletter I sent out last Wednesday , so now it is time to talk about the Hot Red Hawkes Bay road show.

With 25 producers in the room and over 130 wines to taste, notes could not be taken in detail and while I didnít taste every wine in the room, I tried to taste at least one from every producer and where it was warranted, more.

I did, however, taste every Syrah in the room and was surprised at the diverse ranges of styles. The gold and recent trophy winning Vidal Soler Syrah 2004 ($39.95) really stood out. But it was being pushed very hard by the Esk Valley Black Label Syrah 2004 ($29.95) made from Cornerstone Vineyard fruit. Oak plays a supporting role without overpowering the gorgeously varietal fruit and spice. Bridge Pa Louis Syrah 2004 ($44.95) was a big wine with an aromatic spice box nose and sweet fruit underpinned by firm acidity that carries the finish. In comparison, the fragrant, peppery, Bridge Pa Syrah 2005 ($27.95) had a lot of evolving to do. Te Awa Syrah 2004 ($29.95) had the most fascinating aromas reminding me of Indian spices and incense. Mission Reserve Syrah 2004 ($22.95) was juicy and succulent with subtle pepper, soft tannins and a musky fragrance to the finish. I've seen this on special for as little as $18.95 - it was definitely the best 'Value for Money' Syrah, without a doubt.

There were very few pinot noirs in the room, which is to be expected, however the Crab Farm Pinot Noir 2003 ($30) was rich with concentrated varietal flavours. Sileni Exception Vintage Pinot Noir 2005 was a good rendition of a Hawkes Bay Pinot, but at $74.95 a bottle, I don't think so.

As for other varieties, Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Tempranillo 2004 ($29.95) was a fascinating wine - big, black, rich and creamy with smoky oak, juicy fruit and underlying herbs. It was interesting to find out that this had 12% of Touriga Nacional in the blend.

But with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon being the most planted grape varieties in Hawkes Bay, it seemed right that I should spend some time looking at varietals and blends of these grapes.

I loved the Craggy Range Sophia Merlot Cabernet Franc 2004 ($49.95) - pure concentration, rich powerful flavours, beautiful tannin structure and a succulent fruit sweetness carrying the finish and no Brett, as there has been in previous vintages.

Montana Tom 2002 (50% Merlot, 45% CS, 5% Malbec) is to be released in August ($135). It had a powerful cedary oak aromas and a concentrated palate, big tannins and very oak bound at this stage. It probably needs years more in the cellar but for the price, I was disappointed.

On the other hand, the I loved the Corbans Cottage Block Ruahine Cabernet Merlot 2004 ($35). This voluptuous full-bodied blend with its smoky backbone, good tannin structure and spicy oak on the finish, was like a poor man's Tom.

Sacred Hill Brokenstone Merlot 2004 ($59.95) continues this label's great pedigree. It has everything you want in Hawkes Bay merlot, and more. But Sacred Hill Helmsman Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 ($59.95) throttled me with its overpowering tannins that it is exhibiting at this stage of its life. It needs a big glass if it is going to be drunk any time soon.

Squawking Magpie The Nest Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 ($39.95) is 100% Cab Sauv and a very good example of what this grape can do when the conditions suit it. Powerful and concentrated with excellent balance of tannins, fruit and oak.

Villa Maria excelled as usual and the not-yet-released Villa Maria Reserve Merlot 2004 is going to be a super star.

But only one wine can be Wine of the Week, so it had to be a wine I could try again, in less-hurried surrounding, in a big glass, with good company and food. It turned out to be the Cottage Block Ruahine Cabernet Merlot 2004.

With winter pouncing like a possum onto the last juicy orange on the tree, I was reminded of the serving temperature of wine. What a stupid statement "serve at room temperature," is. Just like you can't drink whites wines at non-air conditioned room temperature in midsummer, you cannot drink robust dry red table wines at non-heated room temperature in the winter. Wines that are too cold taste unbalanced and pronounce the acidity, especially in cool climate New Zealand wines where acidity comes naturally and doesnít have to be added.

There are several ways to warm a bottle of wine and the best way is to be prepared by bringing the wine from its box in the garage on the cold side of the house into a warmer place well before you want to drink it. In my house I have a space on a shelf in the cupboard that runs off the hot water cupboard. This is also where I keep my salt, tea towels and so on. Itís not overly hot and brings the wine gradually up to drinking temperature. The wine can be decanted and sit in the warm kitchen while you are cooking dinner. However for last minute warming, heating the bottle in the microwave or submerging into a sink of warm water will also raise the temperature of the wine. Sixteen degrees Celsius is the preferred temperature and it might take some experimenting to know how long to set your microwave for, or how long you have to submerge the bottle in the water for, before you get it right.

Cottage Block Ruahine 2004, when served at the right temperature, is warming to the eye as well as the palate. The rich, deep plummy red colour is opaque in the core of the generously sized glass, graduating to a deeply translucent crimson red on the edge. It smells of cigar box and creamy, vanilla-laced cedary oak with hints of chocolate and nuances of juicy dark currants. And the taste, well it's rich and satisfying with firm, velvety-textured tannins, dark berry and currant-like fruit and beautifully proportioned smoky cigar-box-like oak. There's good acidity underpinning the wine and on the finish the fruit comes forth in waves while the aftertaste is long and creamy. There's a touch of fruit cake spice too.

This is a rich, full-bodied red and on its own the tannins can be quite powerful, so it really should be served with food to enjoy at its utmost. Tannins in red wine are well known for cutting through fat, which is why a soft, creamy cheese works well. Tannins are also counteracted by the juices of a rare cooked piece of fillet steak. Sear thick pieces of steak on both sides in a hot pan and cook until not quite done to your liking. Remove the steak to a plate and place in a warm oven to sit (and continue cooking) while you make the sauce. Deglaze the pan juice with 3 to 4 tablespoons of the wine. Add a teaspoon of sugar and a small sprig of fresh rosemary and cook right down until about one tablespoon of liquid is left. Add a tablespoon of cream, stir to heat through and serve over the steak. For a vegetable accompaniment, a creamy potato and onion bake works well. Arrange alternate slices of potatoes and onion in a small glass casserole dish, season well and generously top with cream. Bake covered in a moderate oven until potatoes are tender then remove cover so the top can brown. For greens I canít think of anything better than snap frozen baby minted peas.

Cottage Block Ruahine 2004 is made from a blend of 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot and 22% Cabernet Franc grown in vineyard in the Gimblett Gravels and Te Mata sub districts of Hawkes Bay. The individual components were aged in French oak, 49% new, for 12 months prior to blending. Expect to pay around $33 a bottle.

Cottage Block is a brand of Corbans, which is now owned by liquor giant Pernod Ricard. More information about this wine can be found on their website.

© Sue Courtney
21 May 2006

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