Being an experienced hand in the winemaking stakes, Brian Bicknell knew the style of wine he wanted to make, even though he was well-entrenched as winemaker at the ground-breaking and going-places Seresin Estate. Mahi Wines was established in 2001 with the purpose of making food-friendly, textural wines that spoke of site and place, rather than up-front, fruit forward styles that expressed grape essence which is more typical of Marlborough. The Mahi focus is on the produce of single vineyards, and the understanding and sensitive handling to ensure that the wines were made as naturally as possible, with minimal guidance by the winemaker. This was facilitated by the purchase in 2006 of the former Daniel Le Brun winery in Renwick. Mahi then had a home and a place of its own where Brian’s craft and work could happen.
The opportunity of trialling the Mahi wines with some of the best food in the country was offered at a lunch with a selection of Mahi wines matched to Logan-Brown fare designed by Shaun Clouston. It was a fascinating event. Here are my thoughts on the matches:
Canapes on arrival: Black bean and ham hock soup, and Spanish onion and goats cheese tart, served with Mahi ‘Ward Farm’ Pinot Gris 2011. A beautifully refined and elegant wine with plenty of stonefruit detail and nuances, the vinosity and drive a feature of the mouthfeel. The soup was surprisingly restrained in flavour, the salty black bean and ham in harmony, but this possessed richness and fatty texture. Here the acid cut and drive of the wine was a foil. The tart was also subtly flavoured, and the detailed stonefruit and honey matched the detail of the food, again the acid of the wine providing cleansing cut.
Next was the Rabbit and pistachio terrine with apple and Calvados, matched with the Mahi ‘Twin Valleys’ Gewurztraminer 2011. An excellent terrine, with chunky, hearty textures, its richness moderated by the freshness of the apple and associated Calvados. The wine being a new release, was tightly bound and restrained in flavour, more crisp and racy, rather than oily or showing degrees of unctuous texture. The briskness of the wine countered the terrine fat and firm texture, rather than meeting it on terms of richness. It would have been interesting to see the 2010 vintage of this wine with the dish in this respect, but the 2011 was a workable pairing.
A Logan-Brown classic next, Paua ravioli with coriander, basil and lime beurre blanc, served with two wines, the Mahi Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011 and Mahi ‘Boundary Farm’ Sauvignon Blanc 2010. The paua lent layers of seafood nuance to the rich pasta and buttery sauce. An array of herbal influences gave a piquant balance to the main body of the dish, making it complete in itself. I felt the elegant and slender Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011 was rather overwhelmed by the creaminess of the dish, though the acidity seemed to enrich and enliven the butteriness. Interestingly, the ladies dining thought this wine the better match, due to fine fresh and racy cut through the rich sauce and dense texture. I preferred, along with the other blokes, how the power, concentration and oak-textural nature of the ‘Boundary Farm’ Sauvignon Blanc 2010 handled the dish based on its own personality, being sufficiently serious in flavour and densely concentrated. I’d imagine the ladies may have thought this wine ‘bludgeoned’ its way through the ravioli and the sauce. The herbs in the dish connected with the detailed herbaceous elements of both wines. A success therefore, for both wines and their matching.
A similar scenario unfolded with the next course of Pancetta wrapped monkfish with celeriac, tiny capers and celery hearts which was served with the Mahi Marlborough Chardonnay 2011 and the Mahi ‘Twin Valleys’ Chardonnay 2010. Again both wines were crisp – steel and minerally as seen in the Marlborough expression, where the ‘Twin Valleys’ was weighty and layered with complex oak interactions and more fruit extract and grip. The fish was reasonably firm, but exquisitely moist, with the nutty celeriac and smoky, fatty bacon as the significant flavour elements designed to connect with the Chardonnay fruit and oak profile. The ‘Marlborough’ Chardonnay tended to get lost in the weight, texture and layers of flavour of the fish. Again, the ladies enjoyed the contrast and refreshing cut of this wine. However, both ladies and gentlemen agreed on the similar weighting and parallel texture and flavour intensity of the food components and ‘Twin Valleys’ Chardonnay. With this second wine, there was much more interplay of flavour nuances of the food, making it the preferred match, and a great one, for me the highlight of the lunch.
The final course was Free range pork belly with soft polenta, lentils and truffle pear salad, matched to the Mahi Marlborough Pinot Noir 2010. Pork belly and Pinot Noir is a combination that always seems to work by default. Here, Logan-Brown built all the nuances of flavour and soft textures into the dish to connect with the floral, fruit and fungal detail of the variety and the velvety, smoothness of the structure of the wine. The wine is one that grows in fruit concentration and stature with each sip. As it did so, it came to meet the food on all its levels and across the range of flavours. Acid and tannin against the pork texture and fat. The smooth polenta, though a little light in character, nevertheless interweaving with the silky extraction. The light vegetable and nuttiness of the lentils connecting with the dried herb undercurrent and oak of the Pinot Noir. The truffle exoticism needed some secondary wine development to cap the match off, but the wine being a 2010 was still too primary. But again, a very, very good pairing.
It takes a very experienced and imaginative chef to create a menu to match wines properly, and this is what Shaun Clouston did here. Each of the food course and wine pairings were very successful. The degree of success is in the eye of the beholder, and at this event, there seemed to be gender differences operating, as well as personal interpretations. Brian Bicknell made the task of matching easier and more interesting too. The Mahi wines, while relatively restrained and subtle in fruitiness, had plenty in them, the single vineyard wines in particular having great depth, layers of detail and flavour and considerable textural qualities. These are attributes that work well with fine food. www.loganbrown.co.nz www.mahiwine.co.nz