Memories of C.J. Pask’s early days are clear in my mind. The tale of Chris Pask, a top-dressing pilot saw a section of land from the air, now part of the Gimblett Gravels, as particularly suitable for grapegrowing, so out he went and bought it. Chris planted his vines in 1981, and I recall his 1985 and 1986 Cabernet Sauvignon wines being awarded 5-stars in Cuisine magazine. I opened my last bottle of the 1986 just last year; finding it drinkable and attractively mellow if a little rustic. We’ve come a long way since then, of course. Then Kate Radburnd joined up as winemaker in 1991, this being quite a coup, as she was a star winemaker for George Fistonich at Vidals. The rest is history as they say. Kate became an owner and as the company grew, Wellington investment man John Benton came on board to help the process. All the while, C.J. Pask has consistently made benchmark and ‘down the middle’ Gimblett Gravels wines without fuss, moving forward and progressing, thus cementing its place as one of the cornerstone producers in Hawke’s Bay.
On arrival was a welcoming glass of ‘Declaration’ Methode Traditionnelle 2007 (17.5+/20), 77% Chardonnay and 23% Pinot Noir, the wine spending 4 years on lees. Very dry and still tight, less influenced by bready than previous releases, but possessing a rounded, fine texture that allows it to slip down seamlessly, this has the depth to age well, say 4-5 years, An aperitif wine that will step up to the mark in any occasion, here served with little West Coast whitebait fritter mouthfuls, subtle, but distinctive, and moreish as such canapés are.
Chardonnay has always been the prime white variety for Pask and Hawke’s Bay, unfazed by changing fashions. It’s on a come-back at present. The ‘Gimblett Road’ Chardonnay 2009 (17.5/20) is centred around fruit freshness and crisp acidity and as such very versatile with food. If it’spower, concentration and complexity you’re after, you need the ‘Declaration’ Chardonnay 2009 (19.0/20), big, bold, densely mouthfilling with masses of ripe citrussy fruit, nutty, buttery oak and extras to make it a complex, traditional style. The former wine was a better match for the Pan fried snapper on parsnip puree with sauce vierge. Perfectly cooked fish, moist, but with excellent textural integrity and that slightly earthy root vegetable to add richness to the fish. The Gimblett Roach Chardonnay a balance in weight and flavour in all respects, and the acid cut to work with any seafood. Then I enjoyed the ‘Declaration’ on its own for sheer character!
Since the first release of 2000, Pask’s versions of Syrah are very expressive of the Gimblett Gravels with their black fruit flavours and propensity for density and structure. The ‘Gimblett Road’ Syrah 2010 (18-/20) manages to speak more of fruit, with pepper and spices along with florals, and is supple and bright rather than brooding. Elegant, but with structure, and beautifully long in palate line. Again, I was wowed by the ‘Declaration’ Syrah 2009 (19.0-/20) as a stand-alone wine. Dense black fruits, with ripeness as indicated by liquorice, black pepper and Asian spice flavours along with oak toast. Yet very finely textured in mouthfeel. The latter wine was the best match for the Venison cutlet, smoked totato ratatouille and gnocchi. A hearty cut, cooked rare, with waves of char and smoke, this was a dish with strength of texture and flavour, matched superbly with the ‘Declaration’ Syrah. Simply sensational.
There are various manifestations of Merlot varietal character, from sweet and plummy to tobacco and earthy. Pask’s style is towards the more savoury and earthy rather than pretty and fruity. This is no doubt soil expression. The ‘Gimblett Road’ Merlot 2008 (17.5+/20) is medium-bodied and classic in red berry fruit and plum aromas and flavours, along with textbook tobacco notes and a touch of dried herbs, indicative of a cooler year. About as elegant and slender as a wine can be for balance with food. The ‘Declaration’ Merlot 2007 (19.0/20) is remarkably youthful, still bright and showing vitality of sweet, energetic fruit. Dark herbs, tobacco and earth with deep ripe plum, liquorice and iron-earth, immensely concentrated and inspiring in structure. An outstanding wine for sure, but it was the lighter wine that was my preferred match with the Fillet of beef with BBQ short rib ravioli and pommes anna. The ‘Gimblett Road’ wine did not overpower or try to vie with the beef flavours, rather it supported the meat, and the wine’s fruit sweetness and acidity adding extra dimensions of juiciness and succulence to the food. The beef course was in itself a hearty and satisfying dish with varied textures and a balance between richness and soak-up pasta and flour components. Very astute design work by the kitchen, this packed with flavour, but allowing the wines to play their part.
Arguably the flagship wine style for Pask is their Cabernet/Merlot/Malbec blend. It’s what Hawke’s Bay is all about, and the wines reflect on the greatness of Bordeaux. That’s why Chris Pask planted in the beginning. Wines at different ends of the scale were served. The ‘Gimblett Road’ Cabernet/Merlot/Malbec 2009 (17.0+/20) quite gentle and elegant in scale, supple, very approachable, freshly fruited with black berries and underlying tobacco, all integrated with the tannins. Bottle –age was the feature of the ‘Declaration’ Cabernet/Merlot/Malbec 2004 (19.5/20), massively rich, dense, ripe and layered with game, smoke and secondary complexities. Powerful but lush, and still with excellent acidity and tension, this is magnificently presented, starting to drink well now, but another decade ahead is possible. The Guyere and provolone cheese soufflé was an interesting finale and match. The soufflé retained the full personality and flavours of the cheeses, allied to soft textures and warmth making a unique cheese course, altogether not half-baked, if you excuse the pun. I would have preferred to have the firmness of the cheeses here to match the tannins and grip of the wines, and this was not quite the match for me. The soufflé in itself was excellent, and indeed the idea typically imaginative of Rex Morgan. www.boulcottstreetbistro.co.nz