At the Wine New Zealand trade fair back in October, there were so many producers to see and so many wines to taste, with must-go-to seminars interspersed, I had to plan my day in a methodical way. So I concentrated on sauvignon blanc followed by other whites on the first day; pinot noir and syrah on the second day and a catch up of new producers I had missed on the third day. Other wines, especially stellar, Bordeaux-inspired reds, kind of got neglected.
"I'll come back and taste the red later," I would sometimes say, then, at the end of the day I was like a flea in a fit, as I tried to fit all those promises in.
One of those pledges was to Miro Ozich of St Jerome Wines, an Auckland producer that, like many other Auckland-based producers, has extended an arm to other regions to pad out the portfolio. I stopped at the stand on the white wine round and had tasted a juicy 2006 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, a classically varietal 2004 Gisborne gewurztraminer and a fat leesy 2003 Gisborne Chardonnay. But I definitely wanted to taste the flagship red, the 1999 St Jerome Matuka Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot blend that was made entirely from Auckland fruit grown at the St Jerome vineyard in the Henderson hills. I've loved the rich tones of the predecessors to this wine, although the last one I had tasted was the 1995, which I tasted back in 2001.
"I'm back," I said, arriving at the stand in a fluster as the clock stuck six to say the fair had closed and a voice came over the speakers asking for the hall to be cleared. "It's the last wine of the day. I'll be able to taste the flavours all the way home, " I added.
So Miro, the winemaker, in his generous way, poured a glassful of wine. But the big pour rather phased me as I only wanted a taste.
"I can't drink that. I've got a motorway full of traffic to negotiate," I exclaimed. So he tipped most of it out so I the wine could undergo the sniffing, swirling, sniffing, sipping and spitting ritual that I had been practising all day. Trouble was, the wine needed more time than was available and it definitely needed a bigger glass than the ISO tasting glasses that the trade fair provided. Because, although it was a new release, it was a 1999 wine after all, and it really needed some coaxing.
"Take this," said Miro, handing me a bottle. Try it at your leisure.
That leisure was this weekend just past and the wine was consumed over two nights.
St Jerome Matuka Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1999 showed a dense colour with some brick hues creeping into the black red, but no pinks or purples that the younger wines on the table with this wine, displayed. The aromas were a little funky, earthy and cedary and the taste soft and mellow with well-integrated cedar and little primary fruit to speak of. It had an earthy, savoury richness and liquorice, a character I associate with concentrated ripe fruit, came through as the wine opened up. I loved the vinosity and concentration of the wine, I loved the way it flowed across the mouth and I loved the satisfying aftertaste that it left behind. The food to accompany it was fillet mignon - fillet cooked with bacon and mushroom, served rare. The earthy, meaty tastes worked a real treat.
The second night, however, the wine had really turned into a different beast. Meaty tannins, with just a little bit of grip on the finish, provided plenty of structure. Cassis fruit had now emerged, pushing its way through with violet jam and juicy black plum. Smoky cedary oak played a supporting role and a flash of citrus on the finish let you know the acids are there to preserve this wine for the long haul. Liquorice again emerged on the succulent aftertaste but this time this concentrated character was joined by hints of rose petal and musk. The food match tonight was simply a cheddar style cheese. The cheese cuts through the tannins and makes the wine seem creamier.
In summary, this is a stellar red that is mellow, cedary and savoury with structure and length and if I hadn't seen the bottle, it would be easy to confuse with a quality wine from Bordeaux. But it comes from Auckland, New Zealand from the quality 1999 vintage in the region, and offers incredible Bordeaux-like drinking for a fraction of the price. And that price will be about $40 a bottle ($38 on the website). But to make the most of this wine, I recommend decanting to allow the contact with oxygen reveal some of those gorgeous intricacies that were simply not showing up on the first glass, that first night.
St Jerome Matuka Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1999 is made from a blend of predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, in the ratio of about 60 to 40. It was aged in new French oak for two years, then bottle aged a further five years before release. It carries 13.5% alc by volume and is sealed with a cork.
St Jerome a have a website - www.stjerome.co.nz, where you can order wine online or contact them to find stockists. You also be able to read the story behind the name, St Jerome, the patron saint of the Ozich family.
© Sue Courtney
19 November 2006