When you get an invite to a wine tasting and it's at the talked about Clooney Restaurant in Freemans Bay in Auckland City, you have to go, you just have to go. For me, who hardly goes to restaurants in the city any more - not for an evening of eating and drinking with the overhead of taxi fares from my outpost of an abode, it was an added extra and a chance to see what people love and hate about the place. You see, as well as having some excellent reviews, Clooney has had some pretty terrible reviews too.
Of course, when you go to a wine function, it's different circumstances from normal but it still gives some idea of the quality of food, the service and the ambience.
It's a big space in a converted warehouse, with high ceilings and semi-intimate dining offered by long strands of black beads that thinly disguise as 3-metre high curtains while circular dining tables seat four on a curved booth-like bench seats and two on bucket-like chairs. There is lots of black.
I could imagine Clooney really rocking it out on a busy Friday or Saturday night, rocking to the early hours of the next morning as well. It was 3am when my friends were finally asked to leave the other week. They have these cosy little spaces that, when you are finished dining, you can get really comfortable in for a few after meal drinks.
But I was also here to taste wine and try it with a selection of Clooney's food. The occasion was a Palliser Estate tasting.
Palliser is one of the early Martinborough wineries. The first vines were planted in 1984. Original investor Richard Riddiford became Managing Director in 1991 and winemaker Allan Johnson joined that year too. They now have 85 hectares of vineyards in five Martinborough locations and grow Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris.
Palliser is long established in New Zealand terms. They have spent years trying to get their varietals right and the tasting of current release wines showed that there is excellence across the whole portfolio.
Any one of the wines could have been my Wine of the Week but the honour goes to the Palliser Estate Martinborough Pinot Noir 2005.
Palliser Estate Martinborough Pinot Noir 2005 is a deep garnet red with purple flashes in the dark light of the restaurant, deep in colour and translucent in its opacity. Tasted after the second label, Pencarrow Martinborough Pinot Noir 2005, there's immediately a bit more oak on the powerful and concentrated nose with some of that earthy, smoky bacon character that I love so much coming through. Later a hint of chocolate wafts out of the glass too. In the mouth the oak is spicy and on the first taste the youthful tannins are dry. I love the way wine exhibits its Martinborough origin with it savoury richness and earthy depth. There are red fruits, a touch of tamarillo and red guava with sweet cherry flavours pushing through and again that hint of chocolate. It's savoury and sweet at the same time, the tannins become smooth and silky and the finish is lifted with hints of clove-like spices.
The wine is made from a blend of the older, own rooted 10/5 pinot noir vines and newer plantings of the popular Dijon clones. It was a light cropping year in 2005 with small berries which account for the concentration and intensity of this wine. It was matured in French oak for 12 months, it has 14.2% alcohol by volume and is sealed with a screwcap closure. It has an RRP of $47 a bottle.
Clooney gave two choices on the special menu to match to this wine. There was a seafood selection, a choice which I think would have been better with one of the other wines. The other match was much more pinot inspired. It was "twice roasted duck leg with glazed beetroot risotto and a black cherry, Valhrona balsamic and lavender jus". This, of course, is what I chose. The bright coloured beetroot risotto was sweet and earthy at the same time and perfect with the wine while the Valhrona (chocolate) added richness and texture. I love duck leg and this one was cooked beautifully, the meat pulling easily off the bones. Yes, an inspired pinot match, perfect with the Palliser Martinborough Pinot Noir 2005.
Also tasted on the day were the following wines - all from Martinborough grapes and all except the bubbles have screwcap closures.
Palliser Estate Methode Traditionelle 2003 ($42). The yeasty-rich nose is fragrant and floral and in the mouth the bright, spicy, zesty fizz is warm and full-bodied with a rich, bready, fragrant finish. A blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Pencarrow Sauvignon Blanc 2006 (13%, $20) has a vibrant passionfruit aroma with a sweet summer herb overlay and in the oily textured palate it's full of juicy tropical fruit and apple underpinned with citrus. With a touch of sweetness of the finish, it's a deliciously appealing and pungent style.
Palliser Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2006 (14%, $26) is not so vibrantly aromatic as the Pencarrow sister and it's much drier to the taste with hints of tangelo, apricot and honeysuckle underpinned with vivacious summer herbs. There's a toastiness coming from the aging on yeast lees and the finish is full-bodied, rounded, mellow and fragrant.
Pencarrow Chardonnay 2005 (13% alc, $20) has smoky figs on the nose and toasty oak, figs and melons in the palate with a touch of vanilla and cedar and a crisp, yet fleshy finish.
Palliser Estate Chardonnay 2006 (13.5% alc, $34) is full of smoky, barrel-ferment scents with a hint of grilled peach while melons are to the fore in the palate. It's a bold style with emphasis on the fruit and a long smoky finish with a hint of butterscotch and a sweet grilled peach and pineapple aftertaste. A very well-balanced and satisfying wine.
Palliser Estate Pinot Gris 2006 (13.5% alc, $27) is golden hued and honey scented - the honeyed sweetness on the nose carries through to the rich, bready palate with lemon honey, tropical guava, a hint of pineapple sage and hints of vanillin oak. Ripe, rich, soft - a very exciting Pinot Gris with fabulous length and a little bit of floral spice pleasing the mouth as it lingers.
Palliser Estate Riesling 2006 (12% alc, $27) smells honeyed and rich yet the taste is crisp and zesty with sweet grapefruit and tangelo. Tropical fruit adds sweetness but there is clean, crisp, balancing acidity and a lemon honey richness to the finish. It has 7.9g/l residual sugar and approx. 8g/l total acidity.
Palliser Estate Autumn Riesling 2004 (12.5% alc, $24) is bright golden hued with honey and raisin on the nose and a honeyed palate with a touch of spice. It's a medium sweet wine with orange juice acidity balancing the finish. Soft and easy - it will be a very good match for Asian food. It has about 27g/l residual sugar and approx. 7g/l total acidity. This is the first medium Riesling that Palliser has made and it's good value in a 750 ml bottle.
Pencarrow Pinot Noir 2005 (13,5% alc, $24) - a concentrated wine with red fruits, cherry guavas, soft velvety tannins, a savoury undercurrent and even a hint of rose petal coming through with musky spices on the finish. It's a gutsy wine with a nice balance of sweet and savoury and excellent value for the price.
Palliser Estate Noble Chardonnay 2005 (12% alc, $28) is deep gold and fragrant with hints of cedar, honeyed peach and botrytis richness. It's thick, rich and spicy with honey, apricot and zesty underlying acidity and excellent mouthfeel and length. A decadently sweet wine, it comes in a 375 ml bottle.
Find out more about Palliser Estate from www.palliser.co.nz.
© Sue Courtney
11 Jun 2007