Bet­ter all the time

Hun­ters and Trin­ity Hill both make great wines but, John Saker is pleased to re­port, they’re not con­tent to rest on their lau­rels.

The Dominion Post - Your Weekend (Dominion Post) - - Drinks -

Thank God for winer­ies that aren’t con­tent for a good thing to re­main a good thing, but do ev­ery­thing they can for it to be­come a bet­ter thing.

The lat­est re­lease Hun­ters Miru­miru NV, which I’ve tasted on a cou­ple of oc­ca­sions re­cently, is the best it­er­a­tion yet of this con­sis­tently fine Marl­bor­ough meth­ode tra­di­tionelle sparkling wine.

This year marks the 30th an­niver­sary of Hun­ters be­ing in the bub­bles game. The win­ery is rightly proud of its work in this area. It’s not core busi­ness (that will al­ways be sau­vi­gnon blanc), but it’s ob­vi­ous the wine­mak­ing team and CEO Jane Hunter her­self get a lot of kicks from the sparkling pro­gramme.

The com­mon threads over the three decades have been Jane Hunter and con­sul­tant Tony Jor­dan, an Aussie with an im­pres­sive bub­bles pedi­gree (he es­tab­lished Do­maine Chan­don in Aus­tralia and worked for Moët Hen­nessy for 21 years). It was at Jor­dan’s be­hest that the move was made around seven years ago to use more oak and build more com­plex­ity and tex­ture into the wine.

The Miru­miru NV is a blend of all three cham­pagne va­ri­eties: chardon­nay (which dom­i­nates), pinot noir and pinot me­u­nier. Fresh crois­sant scents, yel­low flower flavours, el­e­gant mousse and re­mark­able per­sis­tence are all part of a so­phis­ti­cated pack­age.

And at $29 a bot­tle, I’d also rate it one of the top value meth­odes in the coun­try.

Ev­ery bit as in­trigu­ing is the evo­lu­tion that is oc­cur­ring at Hawke’s Bay’s Trin­ity Hill with its flag­ship syrah, Homage, which was first made by Trin­ity’s found­ing wine­maker John Han­cock in 2002. The wine’s name is a salute to the fa­mous Rhône Val­ley wine­maker Ger­ard Jaboulet, who died a year af­ter Han­cock worked a vin­tage for him in 1996.

The cur­rent Trin­ity Hill wine­mak­ing team, War­ren Gib­son and Damian Fis­cher, see Homage as an in­ter­roga­tory ex­er­cise. New ideas and tech­niques are put to each new vin­tage; the an­swers come back an­nu­ally in bot­tles bear­ing the Homage la­bel.

The newly re­leased Trin­ity Hill Homage 2015 ($130) sits on a pedestal with its di­rect pre­de­ces­sor, the very hand­some 2014. Both wines are beau­ti­fully struc­tured, largely the re­sult of fer­ment­ing some fruit as in­tact whole bunches. This re­sults in tan­nins that have am­pli­tude but not heav­i­ness. It also lends a par­tic­u­lar light­ness and flo­ral­ity to the wine’s aro­mat­ics.

The Homage 2015 is a smash­ingly good syrah – a whis­per of pep­per, red and dark fruit flavours, a fine acid dance step, the build­ing block to de­velop well. Trin­ity Hill has upped the stakes yet again with this wine. And that’s a very fine thing.

It’s of­ten said a restau­rant needs 40 seats to be vi­able, yet the newly opened Rita seats just 28. One so­lu­tion is to en­sure ev­ery ta­ble is turned at least once each evening, and to this end the own­ers have in­sti­tuted a reg­i­men of two sit­tings, one from 5.30pm, the other from 7.30pm. So you prob­a­bly need to book.

Rita’s other dis­tin­guish­ing fea­ture is its tiny set menu which, like the stag­gered sit­tings, may also seem like a colo­nial hang­over, yet is to­tally in line with an in­ter­na­tional trend to­ward sim­plic­ity: Flat Iron, cur­rently the toast of Lon­don, of­fers just one steak, five sides and one dessert.

Co-owner and chef Kelda Hains, al­ready known to Welling­ton’s en­tire cor­po­rate lunch­ing com­mu­nity from her other restau­rant Nikau, here al­lows her cre­ativ­ity even fuller rein. The menu be­ing so small, she is able to change it con­stantly ac­cord­ing to what’s sea­sonal and best. Some­what frus­trat­ingly, they don’t even sup­ply a writ­ten menu.

Like any good cere­bral chef, Kelda em­beds a story within her dishes. She’s in­spired here both by her his­toric Aro Val­ley set­ting (what has now been con­verted into a bi­joux dolls house be­gan life in 1910 as a work­ers cottage) and by the Ki­wiana cook­ing of her grand­mother Rita, a large graphic quote from whom (“This heav­enly place”) forms the sole art­work over th­ese grace­ful sage green walls.

In many cases the Ki­wiana ref­er­ences are oblique, and in some dishes – such as raw mack­erel mar­i­nated in but­ter­milk with beet­root and red cab­bage – they are to­tally ab­sent.

FOH and co-owner Paul Schrader (also widely known from Nikau) had to prompt me to recog­nise Maggi onion soup pow­der and sour cream dip in the ap­pe­tiser we or­dered as a $3 sup­ple­ment – a parsnip cro­quette filled with smoked onion and Mount El­iza un­pas­teurised ched­dar, served on Di­jon mus­tard crème fraiche.

But when two steam­ing soup bowls were placed be­fore us, the main course that had sim­ply been de­scribed as “pork” straight­away re­vealed it­self as quite the posh­est boil-up I’ve ever ex­pe­ri­enced.

The broth had mor­phed into a heav­ily re­duced con­sommé, while the pork was now of­fered both lightly poached and heav­ily roasted, yield­ing nuggets of crack­ling. Th­ese dough­boys had been revved up with horse­rad­ish and the wa­ter­cress here, nat­u­rally enough, was emer­ald green. And never be­fore have I fished fresh shi­itake mush­rooms from a boil-up.

The clue to dessert was a dash of DYC Malt Vine­gar added to the Ital­ian meringue, a blob of which topped a mar­vel­lously dense but smooth plinth of ki­wifruit sor­bet. To the side was a dol­lop of whipped vanilla cream. Yes, you guessed it: pavlova!

Given the lack of stor­age space in a dolls house, a Lil­liputian wine list al­most seems in­evitable. But never mind, this tiny jewel box, crammed with daz­zling names like Fel­ton Road, Te Mata, Seresin, Mount­ford, Black Es­tate and Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola, blinds the diner to the re­stricted choice. A glass ($15) of the Mount­ford Chardon­nay from 2010 meant we were prac­ti­cally drink­ing li­brary stock, still brim­ming with fruit and oak but now over­laid with mealy com­plex­ity.

Re­plac­ing space-greedy wait­ers’ sta­tions is a nifty in­no­va­tion: lit­tle pull-out draw­ers at the side of each ta­ble, from which you se­lect your own cut­lery.

The big draw­back of a small set menu re­vealed it­self early in the piece, when my guest re­coiled at the prospect of mack­erel.

But from her con­jurer’s hat our server drew a veg­e­tar­ian op­tion which pleased ev­ery­one: fresh young en­dive leaves, Jerusalem ar­ti­choke slices roasted un­til crisp, hazel­nuts and the mildest, smoothest, least goaty chevre you could imag­ine.

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