Thursday, December 15, 2011

New and Old at the Cat Club

I’ve been catching up with the Cat Club people for around two decades, meeting at least annually to taste wines with them. They are the most down-to-earth, up-front and unassuming people in the world who love living on the edge of the city, and with nature nearby, the relish simplicity. And that’s how they like their wines – without any pretension. SWMBO and I were invited to be guests at their Christmas function, and it was a fun affair with honest humour and hearty food. A moist, tender and flavoursome ham took my fancy…

We shared our wines with the people around us, and quite a few really made an impression. I haven’t had a taste of the South African NV Pongracz Methode Cap Classique for a number of years now, but it’s always been a classy Champers look-alike, offering exceptional value. Sometimes it is a bit aldehydic, but this evening it was spot on, balancing freshness with complexing autolysis. Another bubbly also showed a touch of class, a 2001 Hartz Barn ‘Black Bead’ Barossa Sparkling Shiraz, still unyielding, but based on ripe fruit without any oak excesses. I suspect it could have handled a little more bottle-age, but it was delicious for its restraint.

Possibly my wine of the night was a 2011 Hunters Marlborough Rosé, most likely made from Pinot Noir, and seemingly off-dry and an amazing purity and depth of fruit flavours. Thirst-quenching, but simultaneously rich with exotic red floral notes. And another impressive wine was the 2008 Vynfields Reserve Martinborough Pinot Noir, wonderfully concentrated, but becoming smooth and silky in texture as the tannins are just beginning to soften. The ripeness of fruit without being overcooked was ideal. Still needing a lot more time was the 2005 Te Mata Awatea Cabernet/Merlot served from magnum. A great year in The Bay for sure, and this was powerfully and tightly concentrated. Initially shy, it blossomed to show dark plums, liquorice and Asian spices with great length.

Our contribution to the evening included some N.Z. Cabernet/Merlot blends a quarter of a century in age. We were not expecting too much out of these 1986 wines, as they never achieved the ripeness they get nowadays. But they were surprisingly drinkable and in reasonably good condition. The 1986 Venture Vineyards Gisborne Cabernet/Merlot was a 50/50 blend from the ‘Sunvale’ estate, the wine aged 9 months in French puncheons. I think they were growers for Corbans, who made the wine. Past its best by a long shot, but still clean, and mellowed out to blandness, with nothing such as stalkiness sticking out. Unfortunately the 1986 Coopers Creek Cabernet/Merlot was not entirely clean. I’ve seen this before a few years ago, and a bit of grubbiness showed then too. The wine has a robustness and liveliness from proper extraction and good acidity. I think the fruit was from the Auckland area.

I really thought the 1986 Matawhero Gisborne Cabernet/Merlot was exceptional last time I saw it. It had developed seamless milk chocolate characters, and this bottle had too, but not with the richness of the earlier bottle. This was a tad drier. Made by the ever-thoughtful Hatsch Kalberer. The 1986 Ngatarawa ‘Glazebrook’ CabernetMelot was drinkable, but just had an unbalancing sourness to the fruit expression. A hint of leaf, quite acceptable, and good acid, and not dried out by any means. Alwyn Corban was a leader then and is still a force in Hawke’s Bay today.

The highlight was a wine that was out of balance – overly oaked at the time no doubt, and still the case today. 25 years ago, it would have been even easier to be seduced by new oak. 1986 Villa Maria Reserve Cabernet/Merlot, im a 60/40 ratio, fruit all from Auckland. Aged 14 months in 100% new 500 Litre barrels. The sweet and spicy oak still prevalent today, but looking more obvious because the fruit had faded away. A little leafy hint and still some acidity. Tannins present and again a little obvious, adding to the dryness. But still quite drinkable and actually enjoyable!

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