It's been an ambition of mine to take my MG sports car to every wine region in New Zealand. Now I believe I've just about achieved it because this weekend the MG went to Waiheke Island.
The idea of taking the car to Waiheke was to drive some 'off the beaten track roads' with like-minded people in the MG car club and to combine both my pleasures, we'd stop at a vineyard for lunch.
The original itinerary has us driving the loop road to visit Fort Stony Batter on the eastern end of the island, Passage Rock Wines for lunch and Wild on Waiheke for a spot of beer tasting. Then there would be free time to explore the western end of the island at leisure until the ferry trip back to the mainland. I was also keen to wander around Oneroa Village. It's such a cutesy village but I was always admiring it from the window of a bus.
Then just a couple of days before the trip I had an email from Matt Allen, the vineyard manager at Man O' War Vineyards. "I've heard you are coming to the island. Would you like to taste our wines?".
Would I? Absolutely.
It wasn't out of my way at all, in fact the Stony Batter fortifications are within the 4500 acre Man O' War Farm, which, as well as sheep and cattle has vineyards here, there and everywhere and olive groves. So we made a deal. I'd stop and taste the wines while the others crawled through tunnels and dark places, something I didn't want to do any way. They would also get to drive their sports cars within the farm, right to the Stony Batter fortifications, rather than having to walk the kilometre or so from the locked gate. A win-win for everyone. A wine-wine for me.
Just a couple of hundred metres inside the gate is Man O' War Vineyards new office and workers' accommodation block. The spacious lounge and dining area, was perfect for our wine tasting. The large windows on the northern side gave glimpses of the road through flax and other native bushes, where an occasional hiker would pass by, with views to the Hauraki Gulf beyond. The western window was flanked by a hillside olive grove and looking down the corridor to the south, through a glass door, was Ponui Island separated today from Waiheke Island by a belt of shimmering turquoise blue. On Ponui is another 1500 acres of Man o' War Farms, including a 15-acre Pinot Gris vineyard.
Winemaker Matt Lay had also taken time out on a Labour Weekend Sunday to join the tasting. I met Matt three years ago, when I visited the winery, on Man O' War Bay Road, in
February 2005, only then the brand was known as Stony Batter. They changed the branding from Stony Batter to Man O' War not long after that visit. While Stony Batter is a geographical feature on the farm, Man O' War is actually the name of the farm and so the label more represents what is happening on the whole property, including Ponui. Back in 2005 I learnt there were 72 individual vineyard sites on the property, of varying size, grape variety, soils type, slope and aspect. Now there are 96. It certainly makes Man O' War Vineyards the largest producer by far, on the island.
The wines are outstanding. I have praise for them all - the vibrant but textural Ponui Island Pinot Gris 2008 (tank sample), the weighty textural Sauvignon Blancs, the rich mouthfilling Chardonnays, the Cabernet-based reds and the spicy Syrahs. Apart from the Pinot Gris, there were two of everything - the white label wines that come from mostly younger vines and the black label 'super premium' wines that take the best fruit from the older vines with winemaking enhancing the stylistic complexity.
But there was one wine that particularly stood out. It was as good as any Waiheke red I have ever tasted. It was the Man O' War Ironclad 2007, a blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Cabernet Franc, 10% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot.
Like a black cherry in colour, opaque and shiny with a crimson edge to the hue that led into the most gorgeous, deep, sumptuous, concentrated aroma. It is the kind of wine that offers the utmost appeal and enjoyment from the aroma alone - the kind of wine you can keep on smelling, inhaling the sensuousness that comes from within. You can smell the oak barrels, the savoury complexities and the winey fruit scents.
Deep, rich and savoury in flavour with leather, spice, tobacco, cigar, concentrated cherry, cassis and boysenberry, some floral violet-like notes evolving, beautiful oak complexity and mouth-coating, but not teeth-coating tannins, it is concentrated and powerful with a finish that goes on, and on, and on. The fruit sweetness was balanced perfectly by the savouriness. I couldn't believe how good this wine was. Just simply delicious.
The Matts gave me the remainder of the bottle to take home and tonight we had it with food - a simple pan-grilled, medium rare, scotch fillet steak. A perfect combination that further enhances the fruit sweetness of the wine, perhaps bringing some chocolate into play.
This is outstanding wine and at $48 a bottle, it is a bargain price in the realm of the nation's top quality reds. I'd like to see it in a blind tasting with other big names, including those from Waiheke and Clevedon as well as Hawkes Bay. In my opinion, this will definitely do well. I rate it five stars, gold medal standard. Evidently Bob Campbell rated this 94 when tasted in as a tank sample and it's since been awarded 96 in Gourmet Traveller Wine. Neal Martin rated it 93 when he was in New Zealand tasting for Wine Advocate. It was one of his most highly rated Cabernet-based reds.
Check the Man O' War website for more information and to find out where to buy. I can tell you the wine is available in all Waiheke outlets and with Eurowine as New Zealand distributor, it's also available in some fine wine stores and restaurants as well.
* Wine Trade Online has many of the Man O'War wines available for online purchase - click here to check out the range.
© Sue Courtney
27 Oct 2008