Where would kiwis be without Sir James Wattie? He's the man who, in 1934, created what was to become New Zealand's biggest household brand name for canned and frozen fruit and vegetables. Now, over 70 years later, despite competition from overseas heavyweights, despite being acquired by Heinz in 1992, the Watties brand remains at the top. It's no wonder really, as it's a brand people know. Our mothers bought Watties, their mothers before them. The Watties name has been staring out of our cupboards at us since we were old enough to open the door and scan the labels for that distinctive tin of Watties Baked Beans.
Watties Tomato Sauce - remember the slogan - "It must be Watties" - well, of course it was, because, like, when I was a kid there were only two types of tomato sauce -Watties and home made. And despite now being part of Heinz, sentiment makes us choose Watties, keeping the brand firmly at the top in its field. It's not only Baked Beans and Tomato Sauce that have kept Watties at the top. There's the diversification of their product range. Look what you can buy now - all those lovely Italian sauces and Asian cuisines. Ouh lą, what would our grandmothers think?
There are parallels with Sir James Wattie and another man, Ivan Yukich. Yukich was a Yugoslav immigrant to New Zealand and not long after his arrival, planted his first grapevines, in 1934. He called his vineyard Montana, the name in his language that meant mountain, after the mountainous Waitakere Ranges in Auckland that formed a backdrop to the vines. He created a brand that was to become New Zealand's biggest, although it would take years and another generation with his savvy son Frank Yukich at the reins, to do so.
Watties started up in Hastings and expanded to Gisborne just over twenty years later. He would later expand to the South Island too. Montana started in Auckland and expanded to Gisborne over thirty years later. In the 1970's they too would expand to the South Island, when they started the first commercial planting of the modern era in Marlborough in 1973. It was a momentous occasion in the history of New Zealand wine. Montana became synonymous with Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Montana became New Zealand's leading wine brand and as it secured other brands to bring diversification into its fold, it became New Zealand's leading wine company, and it has never looked back. Of course today Montana is owned by an overseas liquor giant, Pernod Ricard, but for many of us, Montana is like Watties. It is a sentimental and trusted favourite.
Watties and Montana came together after a tasting of half a dozen gewurztraminers, including the stunning Montana Terroir Series Riverpoint Matawhero Gisborne Gewurztraminer 2005. What better to match to Gewurztraminer, than a little Thai? And Watties made it so easy to do so.
Watties has helped me (and I am sure many of you out there) to become lazybones in the kitchen. But there are times when we need to be lazy, well perhaps not so much, 'lazy', but when pressed for time, the convenience of a packaged sauce really helps. I mean, how long would I have to stand slaving over the stove to make something like the Watties Thai Coconut, Chilli & Lime stir fry sauce in their Wok Creations range? Well, to be honest, if I had to make it from scratch I probably wouldnt bother. This was the sauce I was going to use for the meal to match to match to the Gewurztraminers, after tasting.
Top wine of the tasting, you've guessed it, was that Montana wine. And not just any Montana wine - as there were two in the tasting, but one that came from the famed Matawhero site, a site that is famous for the Matawhero Gewurztraminers that created a benchmark for followers of this style, in the 1970's. Montana bought the Matawhero vineyard after it came up for sale in 2001, eventually pulled out the virused stock and replanted it with disease-free clones.
How many times does a vineyard that produces first crop fruit excel? Amazingly quite often and it's happened again as Montana's Terroir Series Riverpoint Matawhero Gewurztraminer 2005 is a single vineyard wine made from first crop fruit from the replanted vineyard and crafted by winemaker Steve Voysey.
Pale gold in colour, clear and bright with aromas that are tantalising from the outset, the heady fragrance reminds me of exotic spices, lemon bread, rose petals, honeysuckle, violets and musk. The sweet scent of the wine prepares the palate for a sweet sensation of a whole array of clean, pure, lifted fruit such as red apple, tangelo and fresh lychee, that flow across the palate on the luscious, slightly oily texture. There's white pepper and hints of ginger flower on the finish together with a touch of apricot, an indication of a touch of botrytis with excellent length and a clean, balanced aftertaste. It's a wine that whispers "sweet nothings" all the way through.
I talk about sweetness - but this is not sweet in the true sense of sweet wine, rather, with its 29 grams per litre of residual sugar, it is 'medium' styled wine. And with the food it was sensational.
I only had one chicken breast in the freezer, so this was thawed and thinly sliced and cubes of pumpkin were used to pad out the meal. The peeled and cubed pumpkin was microwaved to soften (and speed up ther process), then pan-fried in a little rice bran oil until just on the verge of cooked. Sliced spring onions and the slices of chicken were added to stir fry until the chicken was just cooked - and being so thinly sliced this didnt take long. The sauce was added with a little water and after one or two minutes more of cooking, the meal was ready. It was served with Udon noodles and whole baby green beans for colour.
The sweetness of the wine cut through the mild heat while the spiciness of the wine complemented the spiciness of the food. A perfect match, if there is such a thing.
Montana's Terroir Series Riverpoint Matawhero Gewurztraminer 2005 carries 13% alcohol by volume and is sealed with a screwcap. It costs about $25 a bottle and should be reasonably available.
Find out more from the Montana Riverpoint web page.
© Sue Courtney
3 September 2006