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Wine of the Week for week ending 21 February 2012
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Sileni The Plateau Pinot Noir 2009
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

Trade tastings are interesting. You get to meet the winemakers or the winery reps, you chat to your colleagues and it's a great place to get a vibe for a wine. But it is not the best place to assess wines and heaven forbid, give a score to. That's because you are walking from producer to producer tasting by varietal, or tasting through the complete range of producer's wines. In the latter scenario the wine before may not have even been the same variety.

A superb wine could make the next wine in your glass seem worse than it actually is. On the other hand, a wine that follows a poor wine could give the impression that it is better than it really is. But that's wine tasting! It's all subjective, it's all about time and place, it's about the company, it's about the food or lack of it, etc, etc. And at trade tastings, it's about what the winemakers / winery reps tell you too.

At the Hot Red Hawkes Bay last year I did the rounds, focussing firstly on Syrah. But then I decided to taste Pinot Noir. I don't really think of Pinot Noir as a staple Hawkes Bay grape, and of course it isn't. But there was a handful of Pinot Noirs on show although not every Pinot Noir in Hawkes Bay was represented. Hey, some of the Pinot Noir growers weren't even at the tasting.

Junction Wines from Central Hawkes Bay gave me an impressive debut tasting of their two Pinot Noirs, and I wrote rave notes about the Junction Body and Soul Pinot Noir 2010 a wine with terrific concentration, impressive bittersweet red fruit, fine silky tannins, a sweet mushroom complexity and persistence length. It showed oodles of promise although at $39 a bottle it has a lot of price point competition.

Then I wandered across the room to taste Sileni The Plateau Pinot Noir 2009. A year older but so deep and savoury with pinosity and concentration I never would have expected, a little chunkier maybe, with a succulent ripe aftertaste for me to muse over. And at an RRP of $30, a little more price appealing.

I made a note I'd like to taste these wines again and the opportunity to retaste The Plateau arose at a recent impromptu wine tasting. And tasted alongside a gold medal winning Pinot Noir from Central Otago that could only be described as a blockbuster, the Sileni radiated elegance and finesse. And this time I was able to concentrate more intensely on the tasting.

Sileni The Plateau Pinot Noir 2009 is garnet red with moderate intensity and quite smoky and earthy smelling with nuances of stewed spiced tamarillo - it's my favourite bitttersweet red fruit and I'm seduced already. It's a big, deep, brooding, savoury wine with a gamey undercurrent and a spicy infusion. With its silky tannins it has subtlety and finesse with a long, expansive and lasting finish. And with steak and a salad with lots of herbs including Thai basil and chives, there's an appealing aromatic nuance revealed in the wine that is actually rather exquisite.

The hand picked grapes were fermented in small open top tanks with regular hand plunging, then put into barrel when it remained for 10 months. Just 12.5% alcohol, such a surprise. I loved the wine and rated it 5 stars.

Recently rated in Cuisine magazine's Pinot Noir line-up, it scored 4 stars and Best Buy, it's a wine I think that's getting better and better in the bottle.

Although the recommended retail is $30 a bottle, it's priced at $27.99 a bottle from Sileni's online store. Also in fine wine stores and selected supermarkets, it is sometimes on special and the price may drop as much as $10 a bottle.

Intrigued as to the location of the Plateau Vineyard, as all references I could find, including from Sileni's own website, were rather vague, I asked Sileni, "Where is the Plateau Vineyard?'" The answer is that it is near Maraekakaho, about 300 metres up Kereru Road, on the south side of the Ngaruroro River. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are grown here and the lodge on the property gives its name to the Chardonnay. It's just over 30 kilometres inland in a straight line from the coast and the 100 metre above sea level contour runs through the vineyard. It's obviously a cooler river terrace site that's perfect for Pinot Noir in the right season and 2009 was one of the seasons. Terrific wine. Leave your preconceptions behind and try it.

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© Sue Courtney
14 February 2012

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