Dogged by worldly wisdom.
The Dog Star (in the constellation of Matariki) is in the ascendant, and this week we have been privileged to ruminate upon the Great Dog wines, special pinots noirs of the house of Palliser founder, Richard Riddiford; wines so personable as to be named after deceased dogs of his hearth, his heart and his hale friends. Greater love has no man than he lay down his wine with his best friend’s face on the label!
Few people I know qualify for the appellation “raconteur”. Two of them are Negociants NZ head Clive Weston and Richard Riddiford. When they gather fellow vintellects together to assay the latest releases of Pencarrow and Palliser, food and conversation are central to the purpose. At special times, when the stars align, there is the presence of a Great Dog.
Thus, as the Auckland weather turned almost Wairaraparian, some of us, fortunate souls, made our way to Euro restaurant for an invitation Great Dogs lunch. Sir Richard, as I have fallen to calling our host, was, on this occasion, restrained. Not by a collar and lead, but perhaps by a mere wimper of decorum. His stories of women and dogs, were pressed only softly from his lips, as we placed ours around the Zerrutti glasses from which bounded the Great Dog pinots.
From the start, I must acknowledge that the Euro service and food were focussed, and better than I recently reviewed in Cuisine Magazine (as always dining anonymously). You call it frankly, as you see it on the day. Today was a good day. A dog day afternoon.
Palliser has shown the discipline and sense to stick to a handful of varieties which respond well to the Martinborough terroir, rather than taking the Star Trek approach..
The first gob-smack was the bubbly. That’s an inadequate, cursory term when discussing one of our most impressive méthode traditionnelle wines. It first struck me at the Postmaster’s Residence in Arrowtown many years ago (perhaps the 2000 vintage?) and has become a fast favourite. Brioche. Elegance. The delightful balance between corset and curvaceousness, backbone and flesh. It sells at the price of a cheap Champagne, but is better – classy and sassy with body to boot. I see it has dropped off that restaurant wine list these days – wrong move!
A swirl-and-spit through the Pencarrow and then Palliser range produced a few conclusions – the commonality was length. The Great Marco himself might attest that length does influence attraction. Both ranges displayed this, but the Palliser triumphed. What is “length” really? It is the flavour that stays with you the entire length of Jervois Quay. It is the molecular weight, the substance of the wine, the settling and the signature. It is what makes one or two glasses enough. Sometimes.
The 2010 Palliser Pinot Noir (around $54 at the wine store) was the epitome – its Black Forest cake was complete with even an aromatic crème fraîche component on the nose. Firm spine, tongue-touch tannin, brambles and sticky pan jus, all encircled by a swirling cloak of black cherry. The 14 percent alcohol did put the boot in, just a bit at this early stage of life. At half its price, the Pencarrow 2011 Pinot still had some concentration and was good value, but the comparison is opera singer versus Top Model contestant.
Moving right along to SBW – sauvignon blanc wine – for just $7 more in the shop the Palliser kicks the Pencarrow off the field. If you want a good value SB, there are better buys than the Pencarrow at $20. However the 2012 Palliser (retail up to $26) is a stunner. Its velvet texture, banana passion tropicality, civil crispness and length of flavour elevate it supremely. Only a handful of NZ sauvignons compete – Clos Henri, Nautilus, Graywacke, Staete Landt, Auntsfield and Villa Maria’s reserve range among them.
For Chardonnay, the medium weight, ripe nectarine Pencarrow (2012) is excellent value at $20. The now rare quality of patience will be needed to taste the best of the rich, smoky, nutty and taut 2011 Palliser Chardonnay (around $40). It has hints of butterscotch and orange blossom. Both the Palliser Riesling and Palliser Pinot Gris from 2012 are true to variety and in the top tier.
And so to the dogs.
Only one, the current release 2011 Great Paloma, is now available. At $108, a bottle costs more than the dog did. A nervous energy lies beneath the bouquet of ripe strawberries and poached rhubarb; with a slim brush of tannin nuzzling the tongue, it is savoury with well-balanced oak – almost elegant enough to be feline.
If Paloma is nimble like the fox, The Great Harry (2006) is now a bit of a lazy dog, smooth and easy with big, dark flavours in the realm of cassia and old oak bookshelves. The full bodied 2008 Great Walter sings a higher note, with a youthful astringency, fine tannin and wonderful length.
The Great Marco (2009) was unintimidated by the concentrated black garlic paste that accompanied Euro’s succulent, rare venison loin. It strode on through the Worcestershire jus and emerged victorious, with well-rounded and integrated dark fruits, warm alcohol and comforting heather and spice. Considering the level of new oak (60 percent) during its 16-month maturation, it is remarkably friendly even now with its structural components (tannin and toasty oak) well cloaked in concentrated fruit. It sets a tough benchmark for judging whether to splurge on Paloma for some future celebration, and certainly leaves a hint of regret that Marco is no more.