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Wine of the Week for week ending 9 December 2007
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Askerne Gewurztraminer 2006
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

A few years ago when I visited Hawkes Bay, Askerne Vineyard was one stop that I wanted on the itinerary. This is because Kathryn and John Loughlin, owners of Askerne, make one of my favourite Hawkes Bay wines, the Askerne Hawkes Bay Gewurztraminer. In fact last year's 'gewurz', the 2005, one of the three shortlisted for my 2006 Gewurztraminer of the Year.

Now I've tasted the newly released Askerne Hawkes Bay Gewurztraminer 2006, which is released over a year after vintage, and I've fallen in love all over again.

It's light yellow gold with a hint of oiliness to the appearance and has a classic, gorgeous, spicy, rose petal aroma and a smooth, oily texture. The sweet rose petal muskiness reminds me of the Cecile Brunner 'sweetheart' rose that grows along the front fence. It's joined with exotic clove and cardamon spices and a sprinkle of white pepper. It's reasonably dry with richness and weight and plenty of zesty lift to the long and deliciously pungent aftertaste. I just love it.

Looking at the technical notes for the wine and finding that the wine has seven different clones of the Gewurztraminer grape, whisked back to the Askerne Vineyard the day I visited in October 2004.

"This is the ultimate fruit salad vineyard of New Zealand," said John as he carefully manoeuvred the car between the rows of the grapevines. "There are six clones of gewurztraminer, 4 different clones of chardonnay and 5 different clones of sauvignon blanc including some new experimental clones that we have just planted".

He said he was keen to try assorted clones of his favourite grape varieties as they introduce different flavours and complexities to his wines. The local nurseryman, a member of the Grapevine Improvement Group, lets him know whenever something new and interesting arrives.

Comparing the notes of the 2005 and 2006 vintages, it appears that a new clone of Gewurztraminer has arrived, as the clonal count has increased to seven and the 2006 vintage notes are the first time that clone 11 is mentioned. It joins the primary component of clones 456, 367, 1106 and 1148 with smaller amounts of clones 12 and 14.

When John and Kathryn bought their land on the bank of the Tukituki River in 1993, they initially decided to concentrate on white varieties, because at the time John's late father owned Waimarama Estate a little further upstream and was focusing on Bordeaux-style reds. However when Mr Loughlin Senior sold Waimarama Estate to Japanese interests, red wine grape varieties were added to Askerne's mix.

The land, which was originally half the size it is now, had previously been a Texel stud farm with apple orchards on either side. Now they've acquired one of those orchards, and the apple trees have succumbed to vines.

They originally planted Sauvignon Blanc, because that was what was available. Then Semillon and Gewurztraminer were planted, the latter which has been added in "bits and pieces" as the different clones became available.

Askerne Hawkes Bay Gewurztraminer 2006 was predominantly grown on the vineyard's lower stony, silty, sandy terrace, where the Tukituki river flowed in 1920. Part of the pick was crushed and destemmed and given skin contact. 85% of the juice was tank fermented and 15% was fermented and aged in seasoned French oak barriques. The finished wine has 13.5% alcohol, 8.5 grams per litre of residual sugar that places it in the 'medium' category, and low acidity that's just 4.8 grams per litre. It's sealed with a Diam super critical cork and has an RRP of $22 a bottle.

Can you believe that this weekend I found half a bottle of this wine, the remainder of a tasting at the end of October, when I rated the wine five stars. Amazingly it hadn't deteriorated. If anything it was richer and more powerful with the pungent character of the perfumed scent even more compelling. It reminded me of Cecile Brunner rose petals that have dried and concentrated their mesmerising musky scent.

It was the perfect opportunity to try the wine with the Char Sui pork that I had been inspired to cook after seeing how easy it was to prepare on a television cooking program the night before. The notes say the wine is the perfect match for Asian foods particularly Thai, Sichuan and Cantonese. Well, the Chinese Five Spices in the Char Sui together with the sweet and savoury pull of the soy and Worcestershire sauce (that I used as a substitute for hoisin sauce) and honey worked a treat.

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© Sue Courtney
3 Dec 2007

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