On the occasion of Arbitrageur’s inclusion in Cuisine Magazine’s 2011 Top 50 New Zealand restaurants - http://cuisinerestaurantoftheyear.co.nz/ - Chef and Owner Chris Green has created a food and wine match of some brilliance (see menu in prior blog entry).
Until July 16, Arbi runs some wonderful Villa Maria wines with a 4-dish menu of deceptive simplicity that challenges the wines without riding roughshod.
Our wine man Steven Wong made the following comments on each dish:
On the ‘apéro’
A refreshing aperitif match, salty but clean, tart but soft: allows anchovies & almonds to shine
A tense, balanced match: acidity, alcohol, sugar, each keeping eachother in check. Two veins: mineral & orange blossom
On ‘le main’
Dark intense flavour of wine enhances gamey spike of duck & sweetness of root veg makes wine fruitier whilst bringing out the food’s savoury complexities
On ‘le dessert’
Full fruit of the dish - coupled with caramelized sugars stays perfectly with the fullness of the late harvest
At $75.00 per person, this food and wine experience is of excellent value and high adventure
Villa Maria Star Grazing menu runs lunch and dinner through 16 July, 2011
It takes good people for a restaurant to get on to Cuisine Magazine’s list of New Zealand’s top 50 eateries.
It needs a tight band of colleagues, working hard, enjoying the experience every day, ‘doing-the-do’ (in the vernacular), to appear in the company of the 49 other establishments featured - of which 6 are in Wellington.
Ultimately though, without the wonderful custom we derive from the city centre, we’d not be what and who we are. Our clients do many things in the CBD but they come to Arbitrageur because they love good food and good wine (usually taken together!), and, that’s what we ‘do’ for them.
We thank them all.
Elegance, finesse and terroir expression ruled the day during Larry and Chris’ long lunch, celebrating Escarpment’s 2009 Single Vineyard Insight wines.
I myself didn’t make my mind up about the 2009 vintage in Martinborough until very recently. Certainly, based off what I had seen over the past few months, it a stylistically polarising year - lighter in fruit concentration and power than the very ripe and intense wines from 2008s hot dry summer, but showing more elegance because of the cooler year’s longer, milder season. The calm warmth from January to early-February in 2009, much like this year, was a key inflluence, according to Helen Masters of Ata Rangi. Her 2009 Estate Pinot Noir was a good example of the difference between 2008 and 2009; carrying an extra layer of finesse and perfume, an ethereal extra dimension in exchange for dark rich fruit. Ma Maison and Dry River were similarly more elegant in 2009 than 2008, again with less dark fruit, less power, and lighter tannin.
On that same day, Larry and I tried his 09 Escarpment Estate Pinot Noir at the Te Muna winery. It was different to the other 2009s, with more than a little of 2008s power and dark fruit, depth and concentration. I was intrigued, but the day’s schedule required us to press on. I left the 2009 question unanswered in my mind, until four weeks ago, when I finally had a chance to try the 2009 Insight Pinot Noirs and the 09 Kupes. They were not what I was expecting based off the style of the Escarpment’s estate 2009 - reticent, closed and restrained, light on fruit and somewhat austere. I would have liked to have been able to shelf judgement until the chance to retaste them with time in bottle arose, but as with all of these cult wines, the wait comes with a risk that you might miss out on an entire vintage. So it was a great relief to see them all showing so expressively last Thursday at the long lunch. The wines had recovered, and expressed both vintage and site - graceful wines, lighter on fruit but no less classy, more precocious but at the same time already showing immense complexity at this early stage.
As a set, these 2009 Pinot Noirs seemed to me a lot more transparent to terroir than the 2008s which spoke of the vintage’s warmth more than the nuances of site. No more than medium bodied, with earthier tannins and a more sateen palate. The fruit was less anchored to the bones of each wine than the corresponding 2008s, seemingly likely to take flight at any time. The acidities, while high, were integrated structurally and flavour-wise, transitioning well into the cooler fruit spectrum. Pahi and Kupe were fruit forward wines; boysenberry and tamarillo for Pahi, raspberry and cherries for Kupe; both calendered with a deft touch of sweet oak. The Kupe, louder and more concentrated; Pahi, more generous and voluptuous. Both were edible wines; but not my favourites for the day - that would ultimately be decided by way of prolix conversation between the beautifully balanced, Burgundian Te Rehua, and the exotic, yet austere Kiwa.
Te Rehua was a composition of automnal colours; reds, umbers, golds and browns - expressive, finely poised and seductive. It inhabited that perfect confluence between the warm fruit of Pahi, and the more challenging, woody, earthy tides rising out of Kiwa. Nothing dominated in this wine, not the plummy fruit, not the spice; unlike in Kiwa, where the prevailing note was an intriguing pine smoke nose wrapped in violets - a character which appears to some degree every year the wine has been made, but especially in 2009. This vineyard provided 75% of the fruit for Martinborough Vineyard’s now-famous 1998 Reserve Pinot Noir, and yet it has the fewest outright fans at this early stage of its life, if ratings are anything to go by. If Te Rehua has an automnal palate, Kiwa is the representation of dusk in winter - mineral and brooding, with an urgent resolute smokiness adding life to its otherwise silent, barely lit, dark fruit. I could not help being drawn to the wine’s mysterious, hypnotic melancholy. This is a wine I would buy to keep and revisit when I possessed the mental constitution to unravel its riddle; while Te Rehua is one I would serve at dinner.
Despite my initial misgivings about the 2009 vintage’s cellar-worthiness, I think these four wines clearly help punctuate the conversations we are having about the existence and nature of New Zealand’s Pinot Noir terroirs. We have bought our allocations for the year of these wines and as I see them now resting happily next to their 08 and 06 brethren, I am glad we did.
... just in case, click here for Te Mata's well put together www site
When one thinks Cabernet Sauvignon in New Zealand, it invokes one of a small range of responses - Waiheke, Hawkes Bay, and for some people, the colour green.
With the price of Waiheke Cabernet what it is, and Wellington’s nonchalant lack of affinity to the island (unlike our northerly neighbours in the town of many harbours), Arbitrageur’s wine lovers often gravitate towards The Bay.
Although Gimblett Gravels district has taken centre stage for most of the past decade, and not entirely without reason for there have been some spectacular Cabernet Sauvignons given life off the Gravels (Sacred Hill’s Helmsman 2007, anyone?), there are other areas which produce excellent elegant ripe Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines (Te Awanga’s Elephant Hill Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2008 springs to mind), including a winery which has been there from almost the beginning - Te Mata Vineyard.
If there was a roster of New Zealand’s First Families of Wine, Te Mata would be a firm candidate to represent Hawkes Bay Cabernet.
Over the years, they have produced a string of amazingly complex, structured, and elegant wines; initially from the Awatea and Coleraine vineyards and over the past two decades, under those same labels although they are now blends across their estate’s vineyards. In a blind horizontal of 1986 Left Bank Bordeaux, the 1986 Coleraine served as a ringer and showed respectably well against all but the super-seconds and first growths (the exuberantly flamboyant Mouton-Rothschild stole the show, as expected!) 1988 Coleraine still held its depth and dark colour in a recent tasting, and the 1991 Awatea has always been one of the great value-priced Cabernets of New Zealand’s history (although it is a bit less affordable at auction now). The crown jewel, in my mind, is still the 1998 Coleraine, with its brooding tannins, immense concentration and power, and depth of flavour.
BUT, enough reminiscing, this morning, Guillaume and I pulled the Awateas and Coleraines in the cellar together into a long vertical of New Zealand’s First Family of Cabernet. We have on the board 1990, 1993 and 1994 Awatea, 1988, 1990, 1998, 2003, 2006 and 2007 Coleraine. These wines are hard to come by, and will not stick around long.
Chris Green’s menu has three excellent dishes to go with these wines, the Tournedos Rossini, Aged Entrecôte, and for a limited time, a Châteaubriand steak. I already have my name on a bottle of that 1998 Coleraine. I suspect Guillaume does too!
The Escarpment new release lunch is going swimmingly darling. Larry McKenna is in full and fine voice on his latest babies – and they are indeed special – and Greeny is a-fluster watching every morsel of food plated.
The dining room is emitting that wonderful energy you feel when things are smooth; service is spot on (not rushed or forced), the dance between the front-of-house and kitchen teams is in step (yesterday both wanted to be the male!), the music is just right, and, it’s cozy but not too. Days like this make the business all that more enjoyable – and it’s only lunch time!
Greeny has gone with a very earthy range of dishes for the Escarpment menu – wonderfully creative antipasti, corned beef and root vergetables, finished off with a collection of the most beautiful French cheeses (yippee. We can now buy them unpasteurized – more on this is future blogs ).
We’ve known Larry for many years and have always admired his absolutely fascist-like approach to quality (but always delivered in that g’day mate sort of way … don’t be duped!) and it shows year-after-year in his releases. Some vintages may be better than others for reasons out of a winemaker’s control but you can never doubt the relative quality of what is in a McKenna bottle.
Maybe I can convince our Wine Man Wong to review the wines poured today in our next blog.
Graduation season is upon us and dinner is fully booked. It is a special time for Arbis as we get the chance to introduce a new generation to the place and it’s secrets, especially the wine cellar and the concept of enjoying alcohol with food (one of our crusades!).
Vive la table!