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Wine of the Week for week ending 23 Sep 2007
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Puriri Hills Reserve 2004
Clevedon, New Zealand

A few weeks ago I wrote about an exclusive blind wine tasting that my wine tasting group, the Exclusive Bremertons had of some of New Zealand's most expensive red wines including three wines from Puriri Hills, an up-and-coming cult winery in Clevedon, south of Auckland.

My top wine of the tasting that day was the Puriri Hills Reserve 2004, a blend of 46% Carmenere, 36%, Merlot, 11%, Cab Franc and 7% Malbec. I didn't review the wine as my Wine of the Week back then because it was such a stellar and outstanding red, I thought it deserved a little more attention, it deserved to be consumed from a designer Bordeaux-style glass and to be tasted with food.

Well, today I had that opportunity when the Exclusive Bremertons went on a field trip to Puriri Hills. And just before we arrived, we saw one of the reasons that this is a remarkable place for growing grapes. Rain had accompanied us almost the entire length of our 50 minute trip, but after leaving the motorway and driving east towards Clevedon, the clouds parted to reveal blue sky and by the time we arrived at Puriri Hills, the rain and clouds had been left behind.

Puriri Hills is east of Clevedon, near the coast and from their elevated positions on the moderately sloping property, the winery and the house have commanding views of the Clevedon Estuary and the inner Hauraki Gulf towards Ponui Island.

Judy Fowler, originally from Virginia USA, now calls Clevedon home. And into her home we were welcomed where wine tastings were taking place today. But this was no ordinary wine tasting. This was a glamour event with nine wines opened and food, especially prepared to accompany the wines, playing a key role.

There was a fillet of beef poached in red wine, a deep earthy mushroom risotto and a panforte to show that her stellar red wines can compliment sweetness.

Puriri Hills Merlot Rose 2006 was the perfect wine to prepare the palate for the journey ahead. Salmon pink in colour it's spicy, plummy, earthy and rich but most importantly, dry.

Four 'estate' wines followed, the 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 and showed the aging potential and evolution of fruit, which was youthful and striking in the 2005, and harmonious and integrated in the two older wines. Cedary French oak, earth and leather, sweet fruit, spice and underlying savouriness and most importantly - and a key factor in the drinking pleasure - the silky tannin structure that the four wines exhibited. Wines of harmony, wines of flow, with the food complimenting the earthiness and enhancing the fruit.

Then the 'Reserve' wines were decanted and tasted and the promise that the wines made in our previous tasting was well and truly delivered.

We started with the Puriri Hills Clevedon Reserve 2002, which I hadn't tasted before. I was astounded by its colour, beauty and youth - and the complexity and subtlety it had garnered with age.

Then came the wines I was waiting so eagerly to taste again - Reserve 2004, Reserve 2005 - which Bob Campbell MW recently rated 97/100 and top NZ red in Gourmet Traveller Wine magazine - and 2005 The Pope, which both Craig Thomson from kiwiwinefanclub and Bill Hird from the Exclusive Bremertons rate as the best New Zealand red ever made.

And indeed 2005 The Pope is mesmeric, elegant, subtle and sensual with silky tannins, a purity of fruit and a complex depth. A sleeping giant at this stage of its life.

The Reserve 2005 is powerful and heady, more aromatic than The Pope, smooth and silky, long, rich and fragrant with tight dry tannins and a concentrated power.

But it was the Reserve 2004 that pushed all of my buttons. Judy admitted it was her favourite too.

Puriri Hills Clevedon Reserve 2004 is a vibrant purple red colour, saturated right to the rims and the deep savoury aroma is complex and intriguing - it's meaty and spicy with marmite, dried herbs, rose petals and later even a hint of chocolate. Ripe, rich and creamy to the taste, almost voluptuous, with a Bordeaux-like cedary, savoury, leather, spice and tobacco backbone, it's young, it's tight but it has so much potential with power, length, spiciness and sweetness.

I especially loved the mushroom risotto as an accompaniment. It coaxed a red and black fruit richness out of the wine.

Later, when I tried this wine at home, chicory notes emerged and hints of wild roses with wild red berries and increasing chocolate on the finish. A beautiful wine with harmonious silky tannins and an aftertaste that is all warmth and pleasure.

Puriri Hills has a fantastic library of wines, and amazingly all are still available, although the 2005's, with such fantastic reviews, are selling out fast.

All Judy wants is 1,000 customers who love wine and want a case each year. You need a case to open a bottle every so often and see how these complex wines evolve.

Puriri Hills is open for tastings on weekends. There's a $10 tasting fee - but wow, these wines are amazing and it's worth it.

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© Sue Courtney
16 Sep 2007

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