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Wine of the Week for week ending 4 Nov 2007
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Auntsfield Hawk Hill Pinot Noir 2006
Marlborough, New Zealand

I have a penchant for tamarillos. They were one of the most memorable fruits from my childhood. The 'tree tomatoes' as we called them then, hung like huge, blood-stained tear drops from the neighbour's tree. The tree was always laden and we were always given basketsful. The taste was tart yet sweet and tangy yet fruity. There's was a certain piquancy about them and if they were a little unripe, they would put a grimace on your face and send shudders down your spine. We used to cut them in half, sprinkle sugar on top and scoop out the flesh with a teaspoon. But when they were just ripe, they were delicious and juicy and didn't need the addition of sugar at all. You'd bite off the top, spit the astringent skin out, and suck out the juicy, black-red flesh.
Today there are several varieties on the market, including low acid yellow ones. But I still prefer the bittersweet tamarillos of childhood. I love to poach them too, or to make tamarillo and mint jam.

So when I was staying at Vintners Retreat in Marlborough this past weekend for the Marlborough Wine Weekend and saw poached tamarillos on the breakfast table, I just had to have them. Spooned over Greek yoghurt, with copious amounts of the poaching liquid, the taste was tamarillo heaven.

What does this have to do with wine? It's to do with finding my adored tamarillo flavours in pinot noir. It's a flavour I first came across in the savoury, well-structured Martinborough pinots noirs of the late 1980's and when combined with smoky bacon oak, I would swoon.

I found it in some of the Marlborough pinot noirs this weekend but none were so obvious as in the Auntsfield Hawk Hill Marlborough Pinot Noir 2006. This clear, bright, deep ruby-hued wine is sweet yet savoury with aromas and flavours of tangy, bittersweet poached tamarillo with ripe black cherry and an infusion of anise. Silky textured with well-balanced ripe tannins and delicately smoky French oak, it's juicy to the taste with richness and complexity and a finesse to the aftertaste that goes on and on.

It's the third time I've tasted the wine, but perhaps tasting it on the Auntsfield property, lying on the grass outside the historic wine cellar that dates back to the 1870's, made all the difference. Tasting it where it was grown, tasting it near where it was made.

"We've focussed on elegance and texture," says winemaker Luke Cowley, who worked alongside Mike Just in the winery. Mike Just knows how to coax something extra special out of his ferments. "It's a feminine wine," said Ben Cowley, who lives on the property and looks after the viticultural needs. I wondered what he meant by the word. Audrey Hepburn is feminine, so is Dolly Parton, so is Ellen DeGeneres - or is she masculine?

Auntsfield Hawk Hill Marlborough Pinot Noir 2006 costs about $45 at full retail and is distributed within New Zealand by Negociants. It is sealed with a screwcap and has 13.5% alcohol by volume.

This 2006 is a contrast to the Auntsfield Hawk Hill Marlborough Pinot Noir 2005, which is deep, denser and more earthy and gamey with more apparent 'polished' oak. 2005 was a cooler, later year and the French oak barrels had more toast. This more concentrated coloured, perfumed and aromatically spicy pinot is brooding in the palate with a fleshy juiciness, a leathery smokiness and hints of tamarillo on the long savoury finish where there's a flare of acidity that extends the length.

But there was another wine that was simply stunning. Unfortunately it's not yet priced and it won't be released until early next year. It's the Auntsfield Heritage Pinot Noir 2005, which is made from the best nine barrels from the 2005 vintage. I tasted it at the 'Southern Valleys' tasting on the first day of the Marlborough Wine Weekend where the wine got a 'delish' rating. So it was great to taste it again at the vineyard. It's rich, creamy, chocolatey and savoury with subtle spice, dried herbs, smoky bacon, cherry, plum and yummy poached tamarillo . It's a dry wine with firm but fleshy tannins, a smoky complexity and a delicious succulence to the lasting finish.

This wine is special because it's made exactly 100 years after the death of David Herd, who was Auntsfield's first winemaker. The pewter label makes it stand apart in a lineup of bottles but what makes it extra special as a wine, is not only its delicious flavours, but also a drop of the original Auntsfield Brown Muscat wine from the 1905 vintage. Keep an eye on the Auntsfield website for news of the pending release of this wine. However it will only be available only to Auntsfield's 'wine club' members and it will be a ransom wine - i.e you have to buy 11 other bottles.

The other thing you need to know about Auntsfield is that they are running vineyard and tasting tours in January, February and March next year and you will end up at the historic cellar for the tasting. "It will give people the experience of the colonial side of Marlborough winemaking," says Ben.

© Sue Courtney
30 Oct 2007

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