This is where I draw the line

The lat­est pinots from Cen­tral Hawkes Bay are so good, they’ve made John Saker re­draft his map. The over­all qual­ity was im­pres­sive and top hon­ours go to this hand­some pair: Junc­tion Body and Soul Pinot Noir 2011 $42 Puke­ora Es­tate Ruahine Range Pinot Noir

The Press - Your Weekend (The Press) - - Drinks -

Iused to have this imag­i­nary line ex­tend­ing across the North Is­land, some­where just south of Eke­tahuna. This was my pinot plim­soll line – north of it pinot noir could not thrive, or so I thought.

From time to time, I’d taste a pinot from this sup­posed no-go zone and feel I should re­con­sider. Many of these wines were re­mark­ably good. And many were from one place: Cen­tral Hawke’s Bay.

And now, af­ter tast­ing through the cur­rent crop of pinot re­leases from this “lit­tle pinot re­gion that could”, I’m no longer re­con­sid­er­ing. That line has mi­grated and now sits well north of Te Aute.

The Cen­tral Hawke’s Bay wine re­gion con­sists of a hand­ful of bou­tique la­bels form­ing a very loose clus­ter around the town­ships of Waipawa and Waipuku­rau. Col­lec­tively, their plantings cover 43 hectares and of that, roughly 40 per cent is made up of pinot noir.

De­spite their prox­im­ity in nomen­cla­ture and ge­og­ra­phy, in a wine sense, Cen­tral Hawke’s Bay and Hawke’s Bay are dif­fer­ent worlds. This is borne out by the for­mer’s suc­cess with pinot noir, a grape that hardly reg­is­ters fur­ther north.

Be­hind that suc­cess are a num­ber of fac­tors, cli­mate be­ing a sig­nif­i­cant one. In part be­cause of al­ti­tude, Waipuku­rau sum­mers are cooler than sum­mers on the Here­taunga Plain. There’s an even greater dif­fer­ence in the summer night tem­per­a­tures be­tween the two places, im­por­tant for acid and flavour re­ten­tion in pinot.

Soil is an­other one. Cen­tral Hawke’s Bay soils are a mo­saic of in­trigue, not least be­cause of the pres­ence of lime­stone, which has a sto­ried affin­ity with pinot noir. Two winer­ies (Lime Rock and Puke­ora Es­tate) are planted on slopes rich in lime­stone.

I saw a dis­tinct kin­ship among the 11 Cen­tral Hawke’s Bay pinots I tasted blind re­cently. They fea­tured more red fruit notes than dark, of­ten with an at­trac­tive savoury edge. And they shared a struc­tural fi­nesse, with long min­er­ally acid­ity that gave them lift and ten­sion. Show­ing some at­trac­tive bottle age, this wine of­fers red cherry and dried spice fruit notes laced with mush­room and truf­fle. Still­ness and ten­sion sit to­gether; the fin­ish is long and fine. Lovely lifted per­fume of dark cherry and spice usher in a lively, com­plex mouth­ful. Cherry and blood or­ange flavours, with a touch of earth­i­ness, are corseted by a fine line of acid and tan­nin. A pinot with length, life and class.

I also rec­om­mend: Lime Rock White Knuckle Hill 2013, Man­gao­rapa Pinot Noir 2014, Lau­re­gan Sin­gle Vine­yard Pinot Noir 2014 and Lime Rock Wines Pinot Noir 2014.

Inor­mally ask why a restau­rant is called what it is called. It of­ten gives some clues as to what makes the owner tick and what they are try­ing to achieve. But there was so much go­ing on at Duo, I com­pletely for­got. Later I checked the web­site and it sug­gested a shar­ing of food and cul­tures.

Duo is tucked into the ground floor of a mul­ti­storey build­ing fac­ing Ha­gley Park. It’s not an easy or ob­vi­ous place to find, but a help­ful and su­per­con­fi­dent billboard on the foot­path at the Hereford St in­ter­sec­tion helped us find the way. “Qual­ity food, global beers, award-win­ning wines, world-class spir­its,” the billboard gushed.

Duo had it all. In­side was much more invit­ing than the apart­ment-build­ing frontage look. There are bar stools and ta­bles, or­di­nary ta­bles and chairs, and the booths sec­tion we were steered to that is right un­der­neath a wall cov­ered in the street art stylings of a friend of the owner.

I was kind of glad we got the booth in the mid­dle of the dip­tych of Beauty and the Beast, be­cause sit­ting un­der the grotesque “beast” im­age wouldn’t be my pick for great am­bi­ence.

Duo calls it­self a mod­ern Asian eatery and prom­ises ad­ven­tur­ous, yet au­then­tic dishes.

The din­ner menu backs up the ad­ven­tur­ous side. It’s tight and split into light meals, which could be used as starters as we did, mains, desserts and side dishes. This is a se­ri­ous mish-mash of flavours and cuisines.

Take the most ex­pen­sive item on the menu – the $32 con­fit duck leg. It comes with steamed buns, Korean bar­be­cue sauce, Chi­nese hoisin sauce and crushed peanuts. You can also get Ja­panese katsu chicken in a burger with Korean gochu­jang sauce, Asian slaw and cheese. Cheese! Oh and French fries.

My Thai beef cheek and po­tato mas­saman curry came oddly – but not oddly for Duo – with rice pa­pery, chewy Chi­nese pan­cakes.

First we tried Duo’s pork and prawn dumplings and crispy egg­plant starter dishes. The dumplings were ex­cel­lent and beau­ti­fully pre­sented, six in a line sit­ting on a pool of chilli vine­gar sauce and with spring onions, roasted peanuts and black and white sesame seeds sprin­kled over the top. This was a great start.

The egg­plant dish is one of their most pop­u­lar and we could see why. The aubergine slices were a light, crunchy tem­pura-style bat­ter, all hot and crispy, with a melt­ing, del­i­cate in­ner. We loved the sticky in­tense sweet­ish sauce that came with them.

But there was a mys­tery here too. The owner, a per­son­able Lucy Lu, rushed over and said the wait­ress had for­got­ten to tell us that mixed with the egg­plant were strips of fried con­gee (rice por­ridge). “Some­thing dif­fer­ent to try,” she said.

We found a few and they tasted blandly of noth­ing, as ex­pected. It fits with Duo’s mix-it-up phi­los­o­phy, but this should have been sign­posted on the menu. It left us won­der­ing if they were run­ning short of egg­plant, or it was too ex­pen­sive in win­ter?

A Mon­go­lian lamb stir-fry had an ap­peal­ing charred flavour from a hot wok and a solid cumin back­ground. A few small fried chillis gave iso­lated heat hits. Veg­eta­bles in the mix in­cluded onion, pep­pers, mush­rooms and car­rot. It was a good fry up, if a lit­tle salty.

But over-salt­ing prob­lems re­ally hit the Thai mas­saman curry. Such a shame, be­cause the beef cheek chunks were per­fectly ten­der and the co­conut sauce looked promis­ing, with a hint of le­mon­grass in the back­ground, but everything was dead­ened by the heavy-handed salti­ness. And I love salt.

Duo’s desserts fur­thered the crazy mix with an oat­meal cookie ice cream sand­wich, a sago pud­ding, a rasp­berry brownie with a choco­late sauce – there’s a big tweak – and an ice­cream sun­dae. But we skipped a sweet end­ing.

Duo is quirky, a lit­tle mixed up, a lit­tle gaudy, yet it’s friendly and wel­com­ing. Putting aside the curry’s salti­ness, the food was en­joy­able and it’s a pleas­ant spot to dine on the edge of Ha­gley Park.

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