Tuesday, November 22, 2005

bacchus would approve

San Martino came and went. I didn't make any wine this year which is a sad thing for many reasons but especially so on November 11 because it is the day of tasting the new wine.

Legend has it that San Martino cut his cloak in half to share with a drunken man who had fallen down and was cold. It is also celebrated as the summer of San Martino in places since it can coincide with warm autumn weather sandwiched between spells of cold and damp. Unsure, but I like them both and, either way, it goes hand and hand with a party and there is always wine involved.

Instead, I celebrated late at a tasting of Matariki wines on Thursday evening. It was fitting as Matariki (Maori for mother of the stars in the constellation Taurus) symbolizes the mystery of nature. The appearance of Matariki coincides with the beginning of spring and the rituals of fertility and planting. The visibility of the stars is often associated with the prosperity of the season that lies ahead. When Taurus fades from view, the season is over and the harvest is complete.

It was a good complement of wines. And good company. My only problem with tastings is that I get incredibly hungry (likely due to the fact that I tend to think of wines in terms of what I would eat with them). For me, this seems to best describe wine. It works to evoke more of the feeling I get when I drink it and, oh yeah, it also assists with remembering my preferences. So goes the tasting notes infused with recipe and food references.

We started the tasting with the Blanc de Blanc 2002. It is a lovely 100% chardonnay sparkler, very simple with yeasty warm bread rolls and a faint lemonade on the nose. I would be tempted to have it with my favourite cream pasta (lemon cream asparagus fettucine and smoked salmon) or with an array of appetizers. Light, not too acidic and cleansing.

The Aspire range of wines are what Alister, the winery representative/speaker for the evening, referred to as "lifestyle wines". The stuff of everyday drinking (responsibly, of course) and he has got a point.

Perfect for pizza, the Aspire Syrah was a lovely drop. It drew rave reviews from all in attendance and value for money (being high on the student winedrinker's criteria) at $17, you certainly couldn't go wrong. The purpley red wine had a great dried herb, blackcurrant, peppercorn nose underlined with an almost medicinal note (maybe licorice). It is a mouthful as well with nicely balanced tannins/toast and a little cherry jam on the finish. As we discovered later on there was a little merlot blended as well so this was interesting to note. Go gourmet with the pizza and make some incredibly simple combinations. Anchovy, black olive and eggplant would be good. Not a bad match for a home-made pork sausage (on a bun smothered in marinated roasted peppers) either.

The Aspire Chardonnay was also a good wine, definitely living up to its accolades. I got tangelo, stone fruit, light butter/ toast. Nice. I am thinking about a tomato based seafood pasta. Spaghetti con le cozze. In a wide saute pan, heat some garlic and thinly sliced red onion in a bit of butter and olive oil, even add a little diced bacon if you like. When sizzling, fragrant, and the garlic is soft, add a splash of white wine to "deglaze" the pan if there are any little brown (not burnt) bits, and to evaporate the alcohol Add a tin of diced tomatoes and juice (or whole, breaking them up with a wooden spoon). When this is bubbling along nicely, dump in scrubbed fresh greenlip mussels (no cracked shells and none that won't stay closed when pinched). Say 12-14 good sized ones. Cover and let them cook until they open. This should only take a few minutes. Discard any that do not open. Have the pasta boiling, it takes a few minutes to put this sauce together (maybe only a few more than it takes to cook the pasta!) and it is full of flavour. Also going to try the chardonnay with Pasta Carbonara. I think the light oak will compliment this nicely but if I feel like splurging, would definitely go for the Reserve Chardonnay. I don't believe in adding cream to a carbonara. so, the Reserve, with its mouthwatering tropical and stone fruit, creamy richness (butterscotch, hazelnut) and well balanced cedar-y oak aromatics would suit the bacon, egg and parmigiano reggiano/pecorino romano in the sauce well. Sipping on its own wouldn't be a bad idea either.

The Aspire is a terrific wine range and although I am not keen on Sauvignon Blanc, I have to admit it was textbook. With mostly Marlborough fruit (the remainder from Hawkes' Bay), the aromatics just jumped out of the glass. Lovelycitrusylime, lemongrass, fresh gooseberry, and slightly vegetative (faint tinned asparagus), it has sufficient length and flavour to reward the nose. I don't know if it is just me, but I could imagine that, during a second glass, I could see it getting a little sour ( I am going to get a bottle to trial this theory). As for food, I wasn't overly inspired but if I had to make a recommendation, I think simple would be best. I remember reading that Sauvy was the new fish and chip wine or a good match anyhow.. something I'll be trying when I get out to Port for fish again.

I have to say it again, the Aspire range does offer good value for money. And the Cabernet Merlot was no exception. Black cherry and savoury (maybe a slight tobacco note), it has a good tannin backbone that would be perfect for a steak. Either secret recipe barbeque sauce or black bean marinade (best cheater marinade as far as I am concerned) would make the tastebuds sing. And even for brasato di manzo al Barolo (braised beef in Barolo). Not an everyday dish, but then, Barolo isn't an everyday wine. And since I can't afford to drink regularly.. I can't justify cooking with it. Ah someday. In the meanwhile, I think this would be an acceptable substitution.

Matariki also has an Estate Syrah that was very good. The rich red 2001 had great spice and sandalwood aromas. There was also a bit of cigar smoke and maybe tar (hey, it was one of the last wines) wafting out of the glass. Lots of complexity and definitely one for a special occasion. Rack of lamb encrusted in herbs.. bring it on. Really a nice bottle.

And then there was Quintology..

This is one of few red wines that I have ever distinctly and immediately got vanilla or vanillin notes out of the glass. Port also came to mind. Really concentrated aromas. Still quite complex, in its youth (or a little younger) it would have been something, there are definite signs that it is getting on in age. I wouldn't keep it too much longer. Another definite match for meat. Maybe something more rustic though.. stewed goat in tomatoes (pasta con agnello e cipolle) would be absolute yum.

Overall, I have to say there is never a bad expereince in participating in a wine tasting. I have had bad wines. And admit to going against a lot of popular opinion in saying so on occasion. Likewise, I love some wines that never get a nod from the wine gurus of New Zealand (what IS wrong with them?!) To answer my own question, absolutely nothing. It is most important to find what you like and learn to recognize it. Then there are no bad choices.

Is that justification for my opinion as well? I hope so because I am off to another tonight.

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