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Featured Restaurant
posted January 27th 2007 features the Vine Dining series.

The Wine Bar at Ransom Wines
Valerie Close
North of Auckland

Phone: 09 425 8862

It's not far from the big smoke to the burgeoning Matakana wine district north of Auckland City. It's just 20 minutes drive on a good day from Orewa, the current terminus of the Northern Motorway, to the first stop on the Matakana Country Wine trail, Ransom Wines. And when the motorway extension opens up, it will be even closer. Of course, if you head up there on a busy day of the holidays, it could take hours. But the day I made my journey the traffic was flowing freely and there weren't any hassles.

Ransom Wines really should be your first stop if you are doing 'the trail' from Auckland, because it is safer to turn left into Valerie Close from State Highway One than to turn right across the traffic on your way back. You can also make Ransom Wines your focal destination if you want a drive out of the city for a lazy lunch in the country, or if stopping there for a tasting, order some nibbles to give your stomach some sustenance before the day ahead of tasting Matakana wines.

Ransom Wines was the third cellar door to open in Matakana, opening at Easter in 1999. Quite minimal to begin with, with tastings held downstairs in the winery, the current tasting room was opened when the building was completed in 2001. It's a stunning building and received an award from the Institute of Architects. It also gained fame as the fictional Mercy Peak winery in the television show of the same name.

Robin Ransom makes the wines and Marion works with her team at the cellar door to design and make the dishes that go so well with the wines.

The Ransom Wine Bar is light and airy with lots of glass to let the light in and give the diner a dress circle view of the vineyard and surrounding countryside where light and shadows change depending on the weather and the day. The day I visited was no exception. It was a dreary, dismal morning, something we've had too much of in the early part of this summer. But soon the low clouds rose like a curtain at a theatrical performance to reveal a pastoral scene beyond the rows and rows of grapevines and the rays of the sun filtered through like spotlights.

On a good day you can dine at tables on the grass, or take advantage of the large dining patio where the windows open up completely on one side and a louvred roof can also be opened.

The menu is fairly simple. You can order dips, a selection of nibbles, a cheese platter, or the new 'Tasty Tapas Treats', for just $12 per person, or a more substantial Wine Taster's Platter for $17 per person. The cheese platter and the Tasty Tapas Treats have been designed to match a tasting tray of five Ransom Wines. This, to me, is the ideal way to enjoy the wine and food together.

Having enjoyed the Vineyard Platter last year, and the Cheese Platter with matching wines the year before, this time we ordered the new addition to the wine bar menu, the Tasty Tapas Treats. Five portions of tasty nibbles are served on a tray that's been crafted from an old wine barrel and lined with grapevine leaves freshly plucked from the vines. It's a complete wine and food matching experience because each individual food portion has been designed to be the ultimate compliment to one of Ransom's wines.

The platter is shown in the picture to the right and the dishes are described from right to left .

Feta and ricotta courgette roulade, soft cheese garnished with herbs and wrapped in a slice of grilled courgette matches to Ransom Pinot Gris 2006, a fresh, crisp wine with a delicately fruity aroma, flavours of pear, apple and feijoa, and a warming vinous texture that worked beautifully with the food.

Italian bread sticks called grissini with a wrap of coppa (cured pork) are matched to the light-bodied, watermelon coloured Ransom Vin Gris 2006, a juicy, fresh, blush style wine made from a blend of cabernet, merlot and syrah. The syrah adds a subtle spicy kick.

The richly flavoured, creamy, house smoked juniper berry salmon and chardonnay mousse has a strong flavour and needs a powerful wine. Ransom Barrique Chardonnay 2004 fits the bill perfectly. It's smells of butterscotch and vanillin oak and is smooth and slippery in the palate with spicy oak, grilled peach and citrus fruit and a dry savoury finish. The textures of the wine and food work well.

Ransom Mahurangi 2004 is a blend of the red grapes from the vineyard. It's medium-bodied in style; dry, savoury and not overly fruity but a resounding success with crostini topped with a roasted red onion tapenade and a slice of Puhoi Bohemian blue cheese. The food brings out a sweetness in the wine.

A gorgeously creamy Mahurangi duck liver and kumquat brandy pate, made with Robin's home made brandy, is served with the deeply coloured, intensely flavoured and utterly memorable Ransom Dark Summit 2004 made from a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and carmenere. This red is the flagship wine and though quite young, the creamy pate cuts through the solid structure for a taste sensation. This pate is also quite delicious with the pinot gris - if you have any left to try it with. Smoked mushrooms (a little too smoky for me) are served on the side.

When you see the platter, it doesnít look much, but this is sensation value at $12 per person, or $24 for the double platter (pictured) and I have to say it's incredibly filling. I wanted to try the Sweet Treats, but I just didnít have room. Wines to match are an additional $8 per person for the flight of five.

Ransom Wines are open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm. Open on Mondays in the summer school holidays. Bookings are recommended, especially on weekends.

Copyright © Sue Courtney
January 2007

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