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Wine of the Week for week ending 25 September 2011
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Ake Ake Merlot 2009
Northland, New Zealand

It's one thing going to a winery and tasting wines while you're chatting with the winemaker. If he or she is amiable and the surroundings attractive, you'll no doubt walk away with a bottle or two. But what does the wine taste like when you're in another place, like at home, when you are opening the wine to have with dinner? Does it live up to your expectations?

When it came to the wines from Ake Ake Vineyard in the Bay of Islands, the wines tasted at the winery showed lots of promise mostly right across the range. But the restaurant wasn't open and I was intrigued how the gutsy reds would match to food. So bottles were procured and during the weekend a food and wine tasting fest took centre stage. Food for red wine – lamb shanks, spag bol and grilled steak. Interesting actually because winemaker John Clarke is a vegetarian. But I'm not. I told myself if a wine stood out in the tasting and matched one dish superbly, it would be the Wine of the Week, but this wine matched not just one dish, but all three. Quite versatile, I think you would agree.

Ake Ake Northland Merlot 2009 is a dense, bright crimson/purple/red. The bouquet offers up plenty of interesting nuances of cake spices, plum and cherry fruit, liquorice and vanillin oak. Indeed that creamy vanillin oak is a feature in the palate, which is medium bodied with well balanced spice, raspberries and cherries. It's a ripe, sweet-fruited wine with a dry finish and some pleasing savoury notes coming through. The texture is smooth and rounded and the finish lingers nicely without intruding. With six months in American oak, there is a vanilla and spice sweetness that balances a momentary herbal edge. Alcohol is 13% and the closure is a Diam cork.

John explains that the fruit for this wine didn't come off his own vineyard but from one further north near Kaitaia, called Henwoods, which is on a geological formation known as the Waitapu Kauri Sands. It's evidently ideal for Merlot and the proof is in the taste.

A great little Merlot for $20 at the cellar door in the Bay of Islands. Check out the website for current opening times. And if you are thinking of making up a case to buy, I recommend the popular 2010 Chambourcin, a tasty 2011 Pinot Gris Chardonnay blend and a new Rosé-styled wine called Vin de Soleil that's made from a blend of 60% Chambourcin and 40% Tempranillo – all estate grown, it's going to be a little summer ripper.

© Sue Courtney
18 September 2011

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