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Wine of the Week for week ending 27 August 2006
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Foxes Island Pinot Noir 2004
Marlborough, New Zealand

When I saw the fillet of venison at my favourite butcher, Maxi Meat Mart at Pine Hill on Auckland's North Shore, I couldn’t resist buying it because quite honestly, I'm such so sick of beef, lamb, pork and chicken, that we eat week in, week out. Venison is a bit of a treat and $30 a kilogram (on special), it really was a treat. And the perfect excuse to do a little wine and food matching with pinot noir.

Googling for a fillet of venison recipe led me to the Scottish Food Guide's Fillet of Wild Venison with a herb crust and rowan jus. Rowan, I found out by further googling, is a tree that produces orange-red berries. I don’t know the tree as it doesn’t grow in these parts but it is found from the central part of the North Island and further south. However I decided to use cranberry sauce instead. This, of course, was ideal, as the bittersweet fruit is also an ideal accompaniment to many pinot noirs.

The meal sounded exciting, gamey flavours of venison to match the gamey, savoury flavours of pinot noir, a herbal crust to match the oft-found herbal notes in pinot noir, and the bittersweet fruit often found in pinot noir.

Two wines were opened, one young and one old, to see how the food would match.

The older wine was Martinborough Vineyard Martinborough Pinot Noir 1991, a fully mature wine that is on a plateau that it is not ready to descend from yet. I'd tried this wine from a magnum in December last year at the 25th Anniversary of Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir. This was a well-cellared 750ml bottle and proves yet again that New Zealand pinot noir can age. Exhibiting the translucent colour of a young tawny port still with a touch of ruby, it smells gamey and savoury and the taste is so winey. There's no obvious fruit, just lovely, mellow winey flavours, old school desks, silky tannins, a hint of spice and a gorgeous macerated cherry-like fruit sweetness that lingers on the delicate anise-infused finish. It still has some acidity and could continue on this plateau for ages. However the food really overpowered the wine at the stage of its life.

The younger wine was Foxes Island Marlborough Pinot Noir 2004, a wine that impressed me at a stand-up, move from table to table, trade tasting in May. "Smoky aromas backed up by rich cherry fruit, soft rounded tannins, vanillin oak and a long silky finish with fruit sweetness to the savoury aftertaste," was my note from then. But like at all these tastings, impressions are just fleeting, just a moment to taste and savour before moving on to the next wine. Now I had the opportunity to re-taste the wine and then taste it alongside food.

So the long-drawn out tasting note is as follows

Foxes Island Marlborough Pinot Noir 2004 has translucent ruby garnet hues, much lighter in colour extract than many NZ pinot noirs being produced these days. The smoky, gamey, savoury aromas hint of cedar and the earthy, savoury flavours, that have that hard-to-describe pinot allure, tantalise the tastebuds. There's vanillin oak, a touch of anise, a herbal undercurrent and mellow bittersweet fruit that is reminiscent of cherry and the cranberry in the sauce for the venison meal that accompanied the wine. The wine flows across the palate beautifully with its firm, silky textured tannins, while medium acidity adds a hint of spiced orange that lifts the peacocks tail on the drawn out, silky finish and indicates this is a very ageworthy drop. Sealed with a screwcap, it sports 13.5% alcohol by volume and costs about $40.

Winemaker John Belsham knows how to coax the Burgundian traits out of New Zealand pinot noir. Dial up the Foxes Island website - - to find out more.

With some modifications to the original recipe, to match the New Zealand style of pinot, the Foxes Island Marlborough Pinot Noir 2004 was an exciting combination.

The original recipe called for thyme, parsley and oregano. I substituted the oregano with fennel fern to add the slightly anise taste that was apparent in both wines. The pink peppercorns are best omitted, unless you are matching the meal to a New Zealand or Rhône syrah. A few strands of orange zest in the sauce adds a more acidic edge that matches beautifully to the especially in the younger wine.

Here's what you will need for 2 to 3 people….

Approx 500 grams of venison fillet, washed and dried with all silvery sinew removed
2 frozen slices of wholemeal bread
1 tblsp. each of fresh thyme, parsley and fennel fern - I used orange scented thyme
Freshly ground pepper & a light pinch of salt
Olive oil
3 tablespoons of whole berry cranberry sauce
1 small glass red wine (preferably pinot noir)
A few strands of orange zest

Pre-heat oven to 200 C. Line roasting tray with foil & brush with oil.
To prepare crust, combine pieces of wholemeal bread in blender with herbs and seasonings and whizz to make breadcrumbs.
When crumbs are totally thawed, mix in a little olive oil with the breadcrumbs so they combine
Lay venison on tray, brush with oil & gently press on breadcrumb/herb mixture to cover the top & sides of the fillet. Drizzle with a little more oil.
Roast quickly in a hot oven for about 10 to 12 minutes, uncovered, for medium rare, depending on the thickness of your fillet. It will finish cooking as you rest it while you make the sauce.
Remove from oven & pour off any residue juices from the cooking into a saucepan.
Cover the fillet loosely with sheet of foil, to rest.
Add cranberry jelly, orange zest and wine to the saucepan and bring to the boil to dissolve the jelly.
Cook for about 5 minutes to reduce and concentrate the sauce.
Add any more venison juices that have accumulated while the meat has been resting.
Slice the venison fillet and serve atop the jus.

Not only did Foxes Island Marlborough Pinot Noir 2004 match beautifully to the Venison Fillet as a main course, it was also pretty darn nice with the leftovers that were used made into a thin crusted Venison, Brie and Cranberry Pizza the following day.

© Sue Courtney
20 August 2006

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