The finale of the ‘Wines From Martinborough’ vintage experience for the international media visitors was a showcase of mature Martinborough wines match to a seven course dinner created by innovative chef Kent Baddeley at Parehua Country Estate. The dinner was a treat as many of the wines came from dwindling cellar and library stocks from the participating wineries, and any meal by Kent Baddeley is going to be interesting, exciting and delicious, as well as potentially polarising and controversial. Kent in his self-effacing manner described how the ingredients came together in his mind and were thus presented on the menu more or less in list form. His skill is in the art of transforming the resource to culinary wonders. The dinner was titled in an understated manner: “Just another night in the Country”. Here are my thoughts on the wines and food:
On arrival, guests were served the Palliser Estate Methode Traditionnelle 2005 (18.5+/20), beautifully subtle with fine bready autolysis, and still youthful. A wonderful start to the evening.
The first course consisted of a Fresh Bluff oyster, Lemon verbena gel, Witches froth and Canadoro saffron cous cous. The wines served were a Te Kairanga Sauvignon Blanc 2007 (17.5+/20), soft’ lush, minerally rather than bean or asparagus-like in flavour, and the Palliser Estate Riesling 2006 (17.5/20), soft and gentle, but still lively with toasty development. The wines showed well for their ages, the Riesling with some development ahead possible. Neither of the wines quite provided the ‘cut’ to match the oyster, but the flavour intensity of both wine and ingredients were well-matched.
The Riesling theme was explored further with the next course. The Nga Waka Riesling 2004 (17.5/20) showing good aromatics through a taut, near-austere palate, and the Vynfields Classic Riesling 2003 (18.5+/20), bold with honey, beeswax and toast characters on an unctuous, richly textured palate. The food to match was Pork cheek, Pork belly, Puff paste, Coleslaw and Apple juice. Interestingly, the Nga Waka had the acidity and crispness to counter the fatty meat, whilst the Vynfields had the richness to match it. Riesling always picks up on delicate herb, vegetable and apple flavours. A curious, workable match by way of individual components rather than as a whole.
The next food course was a sensation of seafood flavours and textures. Swordfish, Crayfish sausage, Ricard and feijoa crayfish bisque, Fennel relish, Crayfish dust, Caviar. The firm flesh of the fish and sausage were there to meet the power of the Chardonnay wines head-on. Concentrated bisque and piquant herb notes were analogous to the secondary flavours of the wines. The caviar was a little left behind in the mix. The wines were the Ata Rangi ‘Craighall’ Chardonnay 2005 (18.5-/20) with its elegant and concentrated stonefruit and mealy nose, just not quite together on the palate to be outstanding, and a Nga Waka ‘Home Block’ Chardonnay 2002 (18.0-/20), the first ‘Home Block’ ever made. Signs of getting a bit earthy on nose, but with wonderful presence and richness on palate, fully mature now. One could sense that Kent Baddeley magic…
On to the reds, a trio of heavyweight Pinot Noirs, an Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2004 (17.5+/20) moving beyond the dried herb, cooler notes that have dogged many wines from this vintage, back to a purity and freshness of integrated berries and earth. The Kusada Pinot Noir 2006 (18.5/20) was ripe, dark, sweet, luscious and structured. Still young and vibrant. Also the Dry River Pinot Noir 2006 (18.5+/20) even darker, even richer, more luscious and more spicy. The flavours of ripe dark-berried fruits and spicy oaky cedar spread across one’s palate, as did the food course. Quail, Artichoke, Celeriac, Morel, Foie Gras, Cavello nero as words do not do justice to the richness of the flavours. The quail was intricate; so were the Pinot Noirs. Layers of flavour and little surprises everywhere – just like the wines! The best matching set of wines to an outstanding food presentation.
Then on to even heavier, heavyweights. The magnificent Martinborough Vineyard ‘Marie Zelie’ Pinot Noir 2003 (18.5/20), quite huge really, dense and fully structured on this showing. This had great density of ripe, warming, dark berry and oak flavours. The Te Kairanga ‘Reserve’ Pinot Noir 2003 (18.0-/20) more elegant with a crisp, refreshing line through the palate, providing liveliness and tension, the fruit a little restrained. And an Escarpment Pinot Noir 2001 (18.0-/20), the first vintage of this made, I found showing more than desirable earthiness rather than truffle and forest floor character. I was worried by the level of development, but there was no denying its elegant style that any self-respecting Pinot Noir should have. Raved about by other tasters. The size of the wines and complexity demanded hearty, robust fare from the kitchen, and it was very comforting to have classical comfort fare in the form of Wild hare, Root vegetables, Hare stock made with Pedro Ximinez, Oxtail stew juice, and a Licorice strap smeared to the side of the plate. The wine needed such food and the food needed big wines. They were there for each other.
The next food course was cheese and fruit in primary, unconstructed form. Teleggio freeform cheesecake, Dried peaches, Fig vincotto syrup. Served alongside Dry River ‘Craighall’ Syrah 2006 (19.0+/20), youthfully rich, purpley-peppery with sumptuous finesse and freshness, together with a Kusada Syrah 2006 (18.5+/20), full, spicy, gamey, but with clear-cut cassis and black pepper. The wines were too fine and intense for such a broadly raw and unmade cheese, and the dried fruit overwhelmed by the power of the wine. For me this was an intellectual match that ended up a clash.
The final combination was the talking point. An entertaining embarrassment for some, but a clever, surprisingly workable construction for others. The phallic-looking Pickled smoked jalapeno, Chocolate brulee, Warm Kahlua, Autumn berry jelly with the wobble-factor. Hard to penetrate, then after tasting a rush of heat, needing masses of ice-cream to cool the palate. It was wise to taste the Escarpment Riesling 2005 (18.5/20) first. Still very fresh, honied, toasty and medium dry, the sweetness seeming more. With the jalapeno, obliterated….