When you are north of Auckland in Matakana Wine Country and driving along Takatu Road towards the Tawharanui Peninsula, you can't miss the steeply oriented grapevines and the eye-catching Mediterranean-styled building at the top of the first hill. This is Bruce and Linsey-Ann Taylor's Contour Estate and the luxurious-looking residence is actually a home and a winery joined together by garaging and storage for vineyard necessities. The two-hectare vineyard, established in 2004, is unique in Matakana as it is totally dedicated to the production of hand crafted, ultra-premium syrah.
The Taylors settled on this particular site after several years of searching for the ideal place to plant grapes. They chose Matakana for its temperate climate, its red iron-rich clay loam soils and its proximity to Auckland.
While the search went on, Linsey-Ann completed courses in viticulture and winemaking at the Eastern Institute of Technology in Hawkes Bay. The couple has also been attending the annual New Zealand Syrah Workshop, where winemakers share knowledge about this increasingly important grape variety.
They planted three blocks, all with different sloping aspects that result in different timings of the ripening of the grapes.
They released their first syrah from the 2006 vintage, from very young vines. It was made with 100% new French oak that was rather dominating when the wine was young - but the fruit showed potential and the wine evolved nicely with time in the glass.
But now I've had a sneak preview of the 2007 and although the emphasis is still French oak, a portion was matured in American oak as well. The latter adds a softer, sweeter creamy flavour.
Contour Estate Reserve Matakana Syrah 2007 is a deep, dense purple-flushed red. The bright berry aromas are embellished with rich creamy oak, spice and hints of old fashioned roses. The scent alone is utterly appealing and the taste delivers too. It's a full-bodied red with juicy purple berries, abundant vanillin oak, cake spice, supple rounded tannins and a velvety plushness to the long savoury finish. It leaves a lingering red fruit aftertaste with hints of chocolate.
The grapes were harvested in two picks between April 7th and April 10th 2007 with vigilant inspection of the handpicked fruit before they were destemmed and crushed prior to fermentation. The wine then spent months on its own lees in new barriques and a total of 14 months in oak altogether. There's 13% alcohol stated on the label and the cork closure is a DIAM . The wine costs about $35-$38 a bottle.
Bruce and Linsey-Ann are immensely proud of this second vintage and now, having tasted this wine, I can see why.
I tasted it blind in a line-up of six, including two previous gold medal winners - Villa Maria Cellar Selection 2006 and Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels 2006 - and this wine narrowly held its own to get my vote for top wine of the tasting. However I have to admit that in the blind tasting, I picked the Contour Estate as a Hawkes Bay wine. Syrah in Matakana is only a tiny percentage of this tiny region's plantings, but I'm wagering you'll be hearing more about Matakana Syrah in the very near future if the Contour Estate is a representative example.
Contour Estate is at 139 Takatu Road, Matakana. They open 11am to 4pm on weekends and public holidays throughout the summer (November throught March). Check out the Contour Estate website for more information.
Linsey-Ann recommends food with a touch of bite and says the wine is ideal for all meat, game and spiced dishes. However her Barbecued Duck and Caramelised Fig is her signature dish that is designed around this wine and served to guests during the summer months. This is her decadent recipe.
Figs: Finely slice four figs per person - dried figs will do however fresh figs are even better. Cover with 350 ml of Syrah and leave for 12 hours. In a saucepan melt 40 gms of butter and add 90 gms of raw sugar. Mix until sizzling (5-10 mins) add a pinch of salt, pepper and a teaspoon of Piment d'Espelette. Slowly add the figs and the wine and stir over heat until the mixture caramelises.
Duck: Place one duck breast per person on the BBQ grill skin side down and cook slowly allowing the fat to cook off and the skin becomes crispy. Flip the breast over and cook another 3-5 minutes.
Serving: Slice duck breasts thinly and serve with a covering of the fig mixture. Accompany with a crisp green salad and a bottle of Contour Estate Reserve Syrah.
© Sue Courtney
3 Nov 2008