Bellevue Estate “Tumara” 2004 Pinotage (Stellenbosch) – Chocolate, big fruit, smoked chocolate, and thick, sludgy structure. OK, if you like tar. (2/08)
Southern Right 2006 Pinotage (Walker Bay) – Big, explosive fruit that presses and shoves its way onto the palate. Dark berries and smokier chocolate notes are paired with the usual unfortunate furniture polish aromas, but here they’re more subversive than irritating, and seem to drift all the way into the background with food. I rather like this, though it’s no good as a cocktail. (2/08)
Diemersfontein 2003 Pinotage (Wellington) – Dense and ultra-ripe pinotage, with little of the varnish and bitterness but lots of the strident, concentrated berry fruit (mostly blueberries and dark cherries, though there are crushed blackberry seeds in there as well), given a thick and oppressive layer of chocolate and new wood. I understand the desire to do this to bad pinotage, but it seems like there was a pretty nice wine here, and the overt internationalization seems a waste of good raw materials. It’s a very good wine for those who like this style. I don’t. (7/07)
Tasting notes from the Boston Wine Expo. These were difficult tasting conditions, where speed and distraction were the norm rather than the exception. Thus, notes are brief at best, somewhat superficial, and cannot in truth be otherwise.
Louisvale 2006 “Unwooded” Chardonnay (Western Cape) – Clean apple, clementine and tangerine. Decent. (2/07)
Avondale 2006 Chenin Blanc (Paarl) – Concentrated red cherry, blood orange with slightly noticeable residual sugar. Quite intense, with good acidity. Flavorful New World-style chenin. (2/07)
Springfontein 2006 Chenin Blanc (Walker Bay) – Green peach and white linen. Simple and soft. (2/07)
BWC 2006 Sauvignon Blanc (Stellenbosch) – Gooseberry and thyme with a grassy undertone. Simple, fair. (2/07)
Avondale 2006 Rosé (Coastal) – Clean strawberry & raspberry leaves. Simple & fun. (2/07)
Amira 2004 Syrah (Coastal) – Bitter blueberry, dirt, and stems. No good. (2/07)
Vriesenhof 2003 “Enthopio” (Stellenbosch) – Rich, roasted frut and burnt soil with spice and crispness. Mostly pinotage. Both good and interesting. (2/07)
Morgenster 2001 (Stellenbosch) – Chocolate, cappuccino, black cherry, blackberry, and soft greenness. Low-tier potential at best, but it’s probably at its best now. It’s unquestionably better after a few hours of air. (2/07)
Muratie 2003 Shiraz (Stellenbosch) – Cassis, black cherry and strawberry. A big-fruited, simple-minded wine. (2/07)
Springfontein 2005 Pinotage (Walker Bay) – Red cherry and raspberry with pine tar and a great acidic tingle. Ripe and quite good. (2/07)
Springfontein 2005 “Estate Reserve” (Walker Bay) – Herbs (mostly thyme), underripe but boisterous fruit, light tannin, and a soupy texture. Bleah. (2/07)
Springfontein 2005 “Ulumbaza” Shiraz (Walker Bay) – Big blueberry fruit, light spice, mild tannin and good acid. Everything’s front-loaded here, but it’s good in that idiom. (2/07)
Avondale 2006 Cabernet Franc (Paarl) – Rosemary, rough black earth, blueberry and pointy acidity. Eh. (2/07)
Avondale 2006 Pinotage (Paarl) – Soft, with big strawberry, apple, and medium-ripe plum with some tannin on the finish. Moderately OK. (2/07)
The care & feeding of kaka
A steady rain drums against the window. It encourages us to roll over and go back to sleep – one of the lesser-known benefits of vacation rain – refreshing our tired and weta-troubled minds. Eventually, Ernie comes downstairs to do some laundry, and we emerge from hiding just in time to greet some new visitors.
On the patio, perched first on a chair and later on the end of a nearby picnic table, are a quartet of inquisitive kaka; big, brown and a little bit shiny, with colorful streaks visible each time they spread their wings.. They’re clearly no strangers to our lodge, and Ernie encourages us to offer them some food. Their fierce-looking, sharply curved beaks give pause, but as I hold out a morsel of bread, I realize there’s little cause to worry; the boldest of the four sidles towards me and gently plucks the food from my fingers with the most painstaking delicacy. He then grabs the bread with one claw, nibbling in approval.
We retreat to the kitchen and return with more options. An apple proves unpopular, and a bit of garlic- and rosemary-infused ciabatta leads to one bird taking an exploratory nibble, dropping the rest on the ground, and noisily squawking about the insufficiency of our cuisine. Eventually, however, the food leads to inter-avian squabbling, and we retreat inside while the now-angry birds chase each other around the surrounding trees.
Bivalves and beer
We waste a bit more time, waiting for the rain to let up (which it eventually does), then stroll back into town for lunch at one of the two Stewart Island establishments that could legitimately be called restaurants. The South Sea Hotel, however, is not just a restaurant and lodging, but also a (or rather, the) pub, an all-encompassing booking agency for many of the island’s activities, and an oft-identified meeting place for those activities. In our three days, we’ll see most of the island’s inhabitants here again and again, enjoying a brew and bantering in a vaguely Scottish-influenced patois that’s virtually indecipherable to outsiders.
Service in the hotel’s casual dining room, separated from the occasionally noisy bar by a series of open and swinging doorways, is rushed and casual, but the food is as good as it is simple; no pretense, no adornment, just (mostly) local ingredients and a few basic techniques. A bowl of seafood chowder is rich with mussels and fragrant lemongrass, while a plate of terrific fries accompany some Stewart Island oysters…a bit out of season, but worth the experience nonetheless: light, creamy, and more texturally akin to oyster-flavored marshmallows than to any other oyster within my experience. The wine list is OK, but the only by-the-glass options are from the lower end of the Montana stable, and so I ask our harried waitress to choose a beer for me. She returns with a pint of Tui, a North Island brew that is unquestionably the darkest IPA I’ve ever seen (they do know what “pale” means, right?), with an apple-y, almost sweet taste. It’s good, despite a slightly thin finish, but there’s an illicit cider pregnancy somewhere in its ancestry.
If the South Sea Hotel is a multi-service establishment, the Stewart Island Post Office is practically a self-contained town. It’s got mail, a check-in desk for the island’s remote airport (a shuttle runs between the two) that recycles a scale they’d otherwise use for packages, a storage area for backpackers, a miniature book store, a few shelves of local food products, and the facility in which we’re interested: greens fee collection and club/ball rental for the local golf course. We stuff a few choices from a rather motley and battered selection of clubs into some rather tattered and moldy bags, and begin our hike.
A cut below
A sweaty man with a machete approaches us. Bits of vegetation cling to the honed edge of the machete, and the bright midday sun sparkles on his sunglasses (and the beads of perspiration that surround them).
“Martin?” We eye the machete warily.
“Yeah. I’ll be right up. One more row.” He retreats, putting blade to leaf with a practiced vengeance. We shrug, return to our lunch, and wonder if he might not prefer to shower before he joins us. But hey…his giant knife, his call.
Nibbles and sips
We’re sitting on the restaurant patio at Stonyridge Vineyards, nibbling on a fantastic assortment of appetizers – raw tuna, green-lipped mussels, fairly decent local cheeses, slab bacon, something that may or may not be prosciutto but possesses all of its qualities – and waiting for someone from the winery to join us for lunch and a short tasting. Proprietor Stephen White was supposed to be our guide, as he was last time we visited, but he’s caught in a net of red tape on the mainland, trying to acquire an Indian visa, and so we’ve been passed to the actual winemaker of record.
Stonyridge is widely considered the best of Waiheke Island’s ever-emergent wine industry, though there are some relatively new contenders…and, as one might expect, a few naysayers. The dominant complaints seem to be that the wines are too expensive (or at least too expensive for the value they represent), and the always-classic “the wines aren’t what they used to be.” We’ve returned after a few years’ absence to see if we can justify or refute any of those complaints, though of course our experience is no substitute for years of careful tasting.
With our platter of goodies, we sample a few glasses of wine from the café’s rather extensive (Stonyridge-produced) wine list:
Stonyridge 2003 Riesling (Marlborough) – Crisp green apple, ripe melon, quartzy minerality and great acidity. A little underripe on the finish, but there’s striking fullness and length to this wine, plus a gorgeous balance; the minor sin of mild greenness can be forgiven. It’s not a delicate riesling, however.
Stonyridge 2004 Chardonnay Church Bay (Waiheke Island) – Balanced and soft, with oak-infused stone fruit. Pretty, but…well, chardonnay is chardonnay, and it takes a real effort to distinguish one from another. It’s pleasant, but no more.
A sizzling slab of flavorful and wonderfully rare beef arrives, accompanied by a decidedly Provençal-styled variation on ragout. Just as I’m threatening my ex-cow with the steely blade of a knife, winemaker Martin McKenzie appears tableside. Without his machete, praise Bacchus.