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Sileni Estates & Plum Cafe – Taste Sensations

By October 18, 2010No Comments

It was a fun night with Sileni Estate’s winemaker Grant Edmonds in typical witty form. He bills himself as not being a public speaker. But his dry humour surely makes him one. His openness about how Sileni Estates operates and how he approaches his winemaking with subtlety in mind makes him an interesting man to listen to. In the same way, David Fenwick and chef Nick Stratton at Plum Café are open and up-front with their food. Classical, clean flavours reflecting good produce, unadulterated or pushed too far. Cuba Street has benefitted with the new team at Plum. It was inevitable that Sileni and Plum should collaborate in a wine and food matching exercise. In these tough times, keeping the price reasonable was an aim. Thus, attending was a pleasure. Here are my thoughts on the pairings:

Sparkling wine is the latest category that Sileni Estates has entered into. Value and affordability were attributes to attain. Thus, a glass of Sileni ‘Cellar Selection’ Sparkling Brut NV (16.0+/20) met us on arrival. This Chardonnay-based bubbles was uncomplicated fare, fresh and light, off-dryish and undemanding. However, it came into its own with the Tempura prawns with wasabi mayo. Delicate, coated prawns, maybe a little understated in the seaside department. The mayo was mild and creamy, but with a little kick. The wine provided cut and creaminess and it all came together. A nice working match, rated at 3.0+/5.
Course One
Sileni Estates was drawn into the Sauvignon Blanc scheme of things with its exporting programme. The variety accounts for two-thirds of the production with its 300,000 cases. The top wine is the Sileni Estates ‘The Straits’ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (18.0/20), benchmark Wairau styled wine with full, pungent, passionfruity aromatics. On palate, its restraint and steely, mineral tightness kept the fruitiness in check. It will unfold in the next 12-18 months, and all the better for it. The food match was Seared calamari on a rocket, feta, caper and lemon zest salad. The calamari was well-handled by the wine’s acidity, but the flavours of the salad – herbaceousness in the leaves and capers were in total accord. The lemon zest was echoed by the acid, while the feta gave piquant highlights. This was a 4.0+/5 match.
Course Two
Many people would say New Zealand’s best Chardonnays come from Hawke’s Bay. Grant Edmonds has had extraordinary success with the varirty and this label over the years. The Sileni Estates ‘The Lodge’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2008 (17.5+/20) seemed forward with its light golden colour, soft, buttery MLF aromatics and flavour. But there was sufficient citrus, stonefruit and mealiness to complete the picture, and good acidity for tension. Plum Café’s House smoked salmon with grilled baby leek and salsa verde was sensational. Rich, flavoursome fish, the smoking perfect without dominating, and the leek and salsa the foil to the oiliness. A complete dish in itself. Texturally, the match was fairly compatible. If oak toast replaced the buttery malo, there would have been a greater similarity in flavour. I rated the match 3.5+/5
Course Three
Pinot Noir is truly established from the Wairarapa south. Anywhere north raises eyebrows, as it did a dozen years ago when Sileni decided to plant the variety inland from Hastings. The Sileni Estates ‘The Plateau’ Hawke’s Bay Pinot Noir 2008 (17.5-/20) is straight-forward dark berried wine, with real backbone and structure, making it sufficiently firm to match almost any red meat dish. Those subtle nuances that lift the variety into the sublime are yet to come. Maybe vine age will help? In the real world, it was an excellent pairing with the Grass-fed beef fillet with potato gratin, caramelised onion and red wine jus. A near sensational dish in its own right, and texturally very compatible, the salty seasoning of the beef gave a lift to the linear palate of the wine, which in turn moderated the richness of the dish. A 4.5-/5 rating on the match.
Course Four
The Sileni Estates ‘The Pacemaker’ Hawke’s Bay Cabernet Franc 2008 (18.5/20) must be one of the best expressions of this variety bottled in this country to date. Lovely, ripe, dark berry fruits with plum notes, cassis and spices on liquorice, pepped up by a little sweet oak. This has put on weight over the last half year and is great drinking now. I would have preferred to have seen this wine alongside a red meat dish such as the beef in the previous course, or a venison or lamb cut. The Braised pork belly on white bean puree with a lentil and mustard jus was just a little too soft and fluffy, the wine a little too angular, and the food too enveloping for it all to meet together, whether in harmony or contrast. A 3.5-/5 rating for the pairing.
Dessert Course
Every once in a while if conditions permit, wines under the ‘Exceptional Vintage’ nomenclature are released. Grant considers his best-ever sweet wine yet to be the Sileni Estates ‘Exceptional Vintage’ Pourriture Noble 2009 (18.0-/20), made from Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay with around 130 g/L rs, to me still unformed, with hints of its potential just showing. Subtle stonefruit, citrus fruit and honey, lifted by a touch of VA, and a refined, steely palate, tight, but surely destined to become glorious. It was an interesting match with the Orange blossom pannacotta with chocolate, almond and confit orange zest. The subtleness of the componentry was dominated by the almond. If not for that, the wine’s restraint and the delicacy of the dessert could have been stunning. As the flavours of the dessert built up, however, the almond flavours became more compatible. Chef Nick Stratton must have banked on this happening? A 4.0/5 for the match.

Plum Café, 103A Cuba Street, Wellington. Tel: 04 384-8881

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