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The Four SIRS at Ancestral

By February 5, 2013No Comments
As one of the Summer of Riesling promotions that are sweeping the country, ‘The Four SIRS at Ancestral’ was one that could not be missed. The Four SIRS are four South Island Riesling Stalwarts who figure among some of the best producers of Riesling wines in the country. They have banded together in a joint promotional exercise to further the virtues and diversity of what they consider to be the most noble of white grapes. Andrew Hedley of Framingham has long been one of Marlborough’s Riesling leaders working with vines up to 30 years old, and he’s pushing the boundaries building in weight and texture. Andrew Greenhough can be figured as one of the Nelson district’s best winemakers, and he too has access to old vines from his ‘Hope’ vineyard, as well as fruit from the special ‘Apple Valley’ site. Edward Donaldson from the famous Pegasus Bay winery in the Waipara Valley has long had one of the best Rieslings in New Zealand in his portfolio, and his family too, is making increasingly complex examples. And finally, the newcomer, Max Marriott of Auburn Wines in Central Otago, a specialist Riesling-only producer, has made some startling and strikingly superb sub-regional wines that have captured the drinkers’ attention.
The Four Sirs held a four course wine and food matched dinner at Ancestral, the contemporary Asian restaurant on Courtenay Place in Wellington. Ancestral, where the talented sommelier Stephen Wong has charge of the wine list, has a growing reputation for some of the best and most exciting Asian cuisine in the city, if not the country. Stephen and Ancestral are strong supporters of the Summer of Riesling movement, and thus it was most appropriate that the inaugural ‘Four SIRS’ dinner was held at this establishment. www.ancestral.co.nz
No need to strong-arm these folk into loving Riesling
The Riesling Wines and the Food Courses
Four courses were served by Ancestral, and with each course were two Riesling wines. I took the method of tasting the wines on their own first, then with the food, to see how well the match worked. I must admit that being of south Chinese descent, my preference is for mild flavours, rather than for the hotter and spicier foods as found in the more northern cuisine, so I found the heat more distracting than many other found. Nevertheless, the dishes were very well received and enjoyed, but I personally found the matching exercise a rather difficult one. Here are my comments on the wines and how they worked with the meal.
  • Framingham ‘F-Series’ ‘Old Vine’ Marlborough Riesling 2011 & Pegasus Bay ‘Bel Canto’ Waipara Dry Riesling 2010 with Rare seared beef – grain-fed sirloin with sweet and sour onion, crispy garlic and ginger mousse
The Framingham ‘F-Series’ ‘Old Vine’ Marlborough Riesling 2011 (18.5-/20) looked fresher and tighter. More youthful than last showing at the Nelson Aromatics tasting, seemingly more restrained with its funky reductive flint and smoke complexities, allowing the citrus fruitiness speak more clearly, and with a degree of purity. Lovely harmony and a soft textural weight behind it. The Pegasus Bay ‘Bel Canto’ Waipara Dry Riesling 2010 (18.5/20) was very pronounced on bouquet with lifted floral notes. Again with complex funky reductive elements as well as honied and late-pick/botrytis (?) showing clearly, adding layers of richness. Yet, this is elegant and refreshing, with that slight spritz and tingle, with lively acidity.
The dish quite subtle with firm meat textures, seemingly cured-like with dryness, mild and the garlic showing. I felt the Framingham had less interaction with the meat, both wine and food retaining their integrity, the wine coming across a little fresher. With the Pegasus Bay, the wine became toned down in its richness and flavour, but appeared juicier and more zesty. My preference for the latter, but there were strong backers for the subtlety of the Framingham match.
  • Greenhough ‘Hope Vineyard’ Nelson Riesling 2011 & Pegasus Bay Waipara Riesling 2010 with Steamed dim sum – pork and prawn dumplings with pea coulis and truffle lobster emulsion
Trying the Greenhough ‘Hope Vineyard’ Nelson Riesling 2011 (19.0-/20) again, after the Nelson Aromatics event, the class of this wine is obvious. Very refined and elegant, pure apple and citrus fruit aromas and flavours on a palate with lovely zestiness and cut, with linearity and subtle power. This is a wine that will age well. Following was the Pegasus Bay Waipara Riesling 2010 (18.5/20+), a richer, broader wine with aromas of limes, honey and gentle botrytis, a little richer and lush, still with plenty of acid life. Some exotic tangerine and jasmine characters, as Waipara wines show. This is restrained decadence and quite delicious in a fulsome and friendly manner.
The dim sum quite classic in flavours, meaty with pork and sweet from the prawns, larger than the norm, and the coulis smooth and subtle, but fired up by the addition of droplets of chilli oil. The Greenhough held its own, the cut and intensity shining through the dumpling, though the heat and spice was a little accentuated. The higher residual sugar and rounder, broader flavours and textures of the Pegasus Bay were more in tune with the dumpling, though less lively, but the wine took away some of the heat from the chilli, and overall, this was the preferred match for most.
  • Auburn Lowburn Central Otago Riesling 2012 & Greenhough ‘Apple Valley’ Nelson Riesling 2012 with Scotch fillet of pork – with goji barbecue sauce and cucumber & grapefruit salad, served with steamed rice
Two wines moving together up the apparent sweetness scale, but both with excellent acidity, freshness and cutting balance, and showing finesse of style. The Auburn Lowburn Central Otago Riesling 2012 (19.0+/20) discernibly sweet, but with beautiful poise of lime and floral fruit with a suggestion of minerals, and a little spiciness emerging with each sip. And the Greenhough ‘Apple Valley’ Nelson Riesling 2012 (18.5) still very tightly bound and unforthcoming on bouquet, but more expressive on palate with obvious concentration and clarity of apple-like fruit that possesses some real lusciousness. Delicate detail here with honeysuckle, and the wine grows in mouthfilling flavours, and an intriguing savoury acid nuance.
A food course that was a meal in itself, the tender pork strips stir-fried and served amidst the salad. Again heat and spice emerges to be a little more pronounced than the previous dish, and needing the rice to balance the richness and intensity of flavours, as well as the increasing heat. Here, the Auburn seemed very harmonious, and indeed not lost with the food, the sweetness of the dish enhancing the residual sugar of the wine. The Greenhough enveloped the food, and softened the combined mouthfeel, while the apple, lime and honey flavours of the wine became more prominent, the liveliness of the wine preserved. Both wines were very engaging matches, and successful, and it would be difficult to pick one wine over the other as being better.
  • Framingham ‘F-Series’ Marlborough Riesling Spatlese 2012 & Auburn Bendigo Central Otago Riesling 2012 with Free range gong bao chicken – wok-fried with Sichuan pepper, dried chilli, cashew nuts, spring onion and dark rice vinegar
Discernibly different levels of sweetness and opulence in this pairing, the Framingham ‘F-Series’ Marlborough Riesling Spatlese 2012 (18.5-/20) a wine of restraint, the aromas and flavours showing a balance between subtle lime and florals with reductive minerally nuances. Quite complex, the savoury funk countered by the sweetness and honeysuckle notes. Very much in line with Mosel spatlese on the drier side of richness. The Auburn Bendigo Central Otago Riesling 2012 (19.5+/20), a personal favourite, and scored 20.0/20 before by me, seemed a little shy compared to last tasting, but the greater richness and near unctuous texture still in wonderful counterbalance with the acidity. Honied flavours predominant, but with interest and detail too. Lovely depth and drive, and a noteworthy length, with substance as well as elegance. This is still a baby.
The final food course was the most substantial, featuring the chicken, quite slippery, salty and rich with the dark vinegar flavours while still with sweetness from the meat and the sugar in the cooking. A lot more fire in the dish, too much for me, but others really enjoying the spice and heat. Good freshness and nutty nuances present, with a little textured crunch, but needing the steamed rice to tone down the chilli. I found the wines were overwhelmed by the chilli in and on the chicken. The Framingham had a textural presence and the drier nature stood apart, but this was a positive preservation of its character. The greater sweetness of the Auburn mollified the heat more effectively, but the nuance was lost. The matching was not a success for me due to the power of the dish, though others found it much more agreeable.

The Four SIRS are complete wine aficionados, and following the meal, they brought out and served a number of other wines, mainly reds, that they considered interesting and/or enjoyable. Included were a Californian Pinot Noir, a Nuits-St-George burgundy, a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, a Sudtirol Lagrein and a polarising Georgian orange wine! If this is what is going to be repeated next year, then The Four SIRS dinner at Ancentral is a must on the calendar for next year!

The Four SIRS also conducted a masterclass tasting at Ancestral for Wellington wine trade in the afternoon. My reviews of the wines can be seein in ‘Tasting Reviews’ of this website by clicking here

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