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Waiheke Island Wine Expo 2011

By May 24, 2011No Comments
It was a very impressive showing of high quality wines which also demonstrated individuality, at the Waiheke Wine Exposition 2011 in Wellington. The old stereotypical image was of ultra-expensive, rationed-out, Bordeaux varietal-based wines that needed plenty of cellaring, placed in the Auckland market as a priority. The truth is very different nowadays. The wines are realistically priced, and for the most part comparable to similar wines from Hawke’s Bay, and parallel to the range that Pinot Noir sits in. The quantities are still relatively limited, but distribution is sought on a national and international basis for the wines. And the range of varietals is surprisingly broad; the wines from Sauvignon, Pinot Gris, Viognier and Chardonnay, with the Bordeaux varietals very successfully supported by Syrah and now a smattering of odd varieties such as Montepulciano. Stylistically the diversity is very pleasing, from ‘drink now wines’ to those worthy of keeping, and each label has its own signature.
In today’s tough times, there is so much to be said for banding together for strength, and the Waiheke Island wine producers have certainly done that. The small size of the island has meant that the 30 growers of only 216 hectares have found it mandatory to work together to promote their cause and make inroads in the market. And they have done it well, in such a fashion that the producers in the other growing regions should note. To safeguard the authenticity and quality, the ‘Certified Waiheke Island Wine’ has been implemented. Wines conforming to the criteria and standards bear a distinctive sticker.
Here are my brief impressions of what I tasted, the producers listed alphabetically:

While Cable Bay also has wines from Marlborough and Central Otago, it is the Waiheke Island wines that are the heart of the operation. Neill Culley is a most experienced winemaker and his styles are very contemporary. The Cable Bay Pinot Gris 2010 has excellent weight and texture, the Cable Bay Chardonnay 2008 knife-edge with its complexing sulphides and packed with toasty oak to match the fruit depth. It was the Cable Bay Syrah 2009 that seduced me with its succulence.

One of the rarer labels and also one of the boldest with its pricing is Destiny Bay. Michael and Sean Spratt have strong views on marketing too. The 2007 wines while lighter than the 2008s can also be beautiful, as the Destiny Bay ‘Destinae’ 2007 showed. At the other end of the spectrum in richness, ripeness, density and opulence is the Destiny Bay ‘Mystae’ 2008. The range is lavishly oaked. The ultra-premium ‘Magna Praemia’ was unavailable but carries the mantle of most expensive N.Z. red wine at $275.00 a bottle. I couldn’t imagine it not delivering…

The Hay Paddock is a Syrah specialist, established by industry stalwarts Chris Canning and Byran Mogridge. The Hay Paddock ‘Harvest Man’ Syrah 2008 is silky textured with spicy oak featuring with decadence. More complex and layered in funky nuances is The Hay Paddock Syrah 2008 which is yet to be released. Watch this space…

Making great strides from its irregular first releases, Man O’ War has an outstanding range. The Man O’ War ‘Gravestone’ Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon 2010 is oh-so subtly nuanced making it a wine of beautiful fascination. The Man O’ War ‘Valhalla’ Chardonnay 2009 is another ‘take no prisoners’ style, with great depth of complex nutty and reductive notes and power. My picks are the Man O’ War ‘Dreadnought’ Syrah 2009, packed with pepper and spices, and the elegantly brooding Man O’ War ‘Ironclad’ Bordeaux Blend 2009. Superb, especially the latter two.

I’ve known Barnett Bond of Miro from his days at the Royal Easter Show Wine Awards way back, and he’s obviously picked up on quality parameters. His partner Cat Vosper led me through the very ageworthy and classically structured Miro Cabernet/Merlot 2008 and Miro Syrah 2008. Adding in 5% Viognier, the Miro Syrah/Viognier 2009 was juicy, lush and slippery. As something different, try their Madame Rouge ‘Original’. (aperitif, or is it a digestif?) Made from Merlot at 18.5% alc., and ultra-plummy.

One of the most realistic and reliable producers is also one of the most innovative. I’m a fan of the superbly-made Obsidian wines that are classically elegant, yet have great presence. The second tier Weeping Sands is great value. Beautifully fragrant and primary is the Weeping Sands Merlot 2009, as is the Weeping Sands Syrah 2009. The Weeping Sands Montepulciano 2009 is developing structure and complexity of flavour now. Also great values are the Obsidian Syrah 2008 and ‘The Obsidian’ 2008 Bordeaux Blend, both very serious and sophisticated with years ahead of them.

David Evans’ Passage Rock is a star among the Waiheke labels, with show stopping success. Decadence marks the Passage Rock Viognier 2010, while reserve and restrained richness is the hallmark of the Passage Rock ‘Reserve’ Cabernet 2008. While the Passage Rock Syrah 2009 delivered all the black fruits, pepper and spices you could ever need, the Passage Rock Reserve Syrah 2010 went another step up in richness and sweetness. The Passage Rock Reserve Syrah 2008 went up yet another step again in dimension and opulence. Sensational stuff.

David Evans also makes Connie Festa and Rob Meredith’s Peacock Sky wines and they could be seen as the polar opposite in style, being wines of sheer finesse and subtlety. The delicately refreshing and gently creamy Peacock Sky Chardonnay 2010 and the soft, ethereal Peacock Sky Rosé 2010 from Cabernet Franc can be a welcome change to blockbuster wines. And the supple, approachable and delightful Peacock Sky Merlot/Malbec 2009 is a wine for all seasons and all palates.

Well-known Auckland restaurateur Antonio Crisci liked the vineyard he saw on Waiheke so much he ended up buying it. You can’t mistake the Italian focus with the Poderi Crisci wines as the labels fly the Italian green, white and red colours of the flag. Made from Merlot, the Poderi Crisci Rosé 2010 is watermelon-fresh and thirst-quenching. I loved Antonio’s comparison of the Poderi Crisci ‘Viburno’ 2008 with Chianti Riserva. It is a hearty, sumptuous and well-structured ‘Super Tuscan’ blend of Cab. Franc and Merlot. Tops is his Poderi Crisci ‘Reserva’ Merlot 2009, plump with backbone and a good lashing of oak. The Poderi ‘Agrumetto’ is an excellent substitute for limoncello, and his Poderi ‘Aquavita d’Uva’ a clean distillate that has a touch of class.

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