A break away from the desk and a much needed divorce from the key board saw us heading east this weekend to overnight at Whangamata, one of the North Island's 'hot spot' holiday beaches at New Year, but decidedly quiet in mid September. Our round trip from Auckland took us east over the spectacular Coromandel Range (although shrouded in low cloud with 200m visibility most of the way this time), and back through the narrow
Karangahake Gorge. And on our return journey, in the midst of the narrow, winding, river-carved gorge that's dotted with old gold mining relics and walking trails alongside the river and through old railway tunnels, we prospected and discovered a lode.
It was the Ohinemuri Estate Winery, a winery and tasting room so far off the beaten track in a place that is inhospitable for growing commercial volumes of grapes, you wonder what it is doing there. But owners, German-born Horst Hillerich and his wife Wendy fell in love with the property when they discovered it back in 1989 and made it their home. The jumble of Latvian-style buildings is nestled into the steep sloping hill. Grapes are sourced from Gisborne and Hawkes Bay and trucked to the winery where Horst crafts his wines.
Inside one of the buildings is a modern café/restaurant with a courtyard setting for outdoor dining, and just inside the door, and down a few steps, there's a dedicated tasting cellar too.
We found a table in the courtyard, one of only two that was not marked 'reserved'. Lucky we had arrived a little before midday, before the lunchtime rush, to grab one of the last outside tables and so make the most of the rare appearances of the sun.
A tasting of the range of four wines, $5 per person, refundable on purchase of wine, were presented at the table by the host for the day (Horst and Wendy were away) - it was service over expectation. The bottles were impressive too. They were adorned with Karangahake Gorge scenes.
Ohinemuri Estate Reserve Patutahi Chardonnay 2005 is a crisp, juicy, oaky style with a rich, creamy texture, a nutty complexity and plenty of apricot stonefruit characters. This golden coloured wine was served quite chilled. It has 14% alcohol and costs $28 a bottle or $8 a glass to drink there, or $24 a bottle take away.
Ohinemuri Estate Patutahi Riesling 2006 pressed all my buttons with its tropical fruit aromas and juicy, ripe, tropical fruit flavours with passionfruit to the fore and underlying orange and pineapple. It's crisp, clean and lightly honeyed, a perfect lunch time wine with just enough sweetness to round out the edges. It has 11.5% alcohol and costs $23 a bottle or $6 a glass to drink there, or $19 a bottle take away.
Ohinemuri Estate Matawhero Gewurztraminer 2006 is dry and spicy with flower and orange zest aromas and crisp, dry, oily flavours - and like many Gewurz's of the Gisborne region, it is in the typically more austere mould with moderate, rather than overpowering pungency. A medium-bodied wine with a spicy kick to the finish, it has 13% alcohol and costs $26 a bottle or $7 a glass to drink there, or $22 a bottle take away.
Ohinemuri Estate Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2006 is in the only Hawkes Bay wine currently in the range. Deep cherry red, opaque and bright, with fragrant, rose and carnation-like peppery aromas, it's very, very dry with slightly grippy tannins, fruit cake cherry sweetness, a hint of blueberry, a touch of anise and lingering spice. A medium-bodied style with a lingering floral spiciness to the savoury, meaty finish, it has 13% alcohol and costs $29 a bottle or $8.50 a glass to drink there, or $25 a bottle take away.
We chose the Riesling to accompany our meals.
My 'Toasted Pine Nut and Marinated Mushroom Risotto' ($15) was so delicious, I'm already wondering when we'll be travelling the gorge again so I can go back for repeats. Neil had a 'Warm Chicken and Bacon Salad' ($16.50) and my friend Helen had 'Creamy Seafood Chowder' ($15) - it was so crammed with scallops and prawns and other seafood delights, it almost made her swoon.
This Riesling was perfect with the chowder and worked well with the chicken salad too - but the surprise match was the risotto because the Riesling's acidity cut right through the creaminess, and in fact worked much better than the tasting remains of the Syrah.
Riesling from Gisborne is pretty rare - Millton Opou Riesling perhaps the only one that anyone knows. This Ohinemuri Estate Patutahi Riesling 2006 is in similarly sweetish though less overtly honeyed style. It's sweetish, lightly honeyed and opulently fruity with an ever so lightly nectar-like texture which leaves a pleasing mouth coating layer to all the nooks and crannies of the mouth, while the bright, ripe fruity flavours supported by the underlying acidity last for an age. There's a hint of botrytis there too, I'm sure.
After I read the background to owner-winemaker Horst Hillerich, it's not surprising that this Riesling is the way it is. After all he trained in the Rheingau region of Germany, a place that's known for it's naturally sweet Rieslings that are supported by perfectly balanced acidity. What is different, though, to this Riesling, is the two months in oak. But I can't taste any oak flavour at all.
I'm glad we stopped, because I was totally impressed - both with the wines and the food.
While suitable for families, if you are travelling with large troops of kids you can send them with a supervising adult through the round trip gorge and tunnel walk while the adults head up the hill to Ohinemuri Estate and imbibe.
Ohinemuri Estate is open 10am to 5pm from Wednesday to Sunday all year round, and is open every day (except Christmas and New Year's Day) in the 'high summer' period.
Find out more from www.ohinemuri.co.nz
Now check out last week's Wine of the Week, the Puriri Hills Clevedon Reserve 2004, a blended red from jsut south of Auckland.
© Sue Courtney
24 Sep 2007