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 Press - Your Weekend (The Press) - - 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.

Faced with two ex­tra six-foot plus teens to feed, one of them a vis­it­ing No 8 for the Nel­son Col­lege First XV, we were look­ing for some­where cheap and cheer­ful.

Hello Viet­nam fit­ted the bill. We re­ceived a friendly wel­come, and a large cor­ner ta­ble with a lazy Su­san ac­com­mo­dated our party of seven. The res­tau­rant looks a bit ster­ile from the out­side, with the two ex­te­rior walls mostly glass, and inside some neon blue ceil­ing lights give the im­pres­sion of a souped-up Subaru, but the nearly full room was warm and wel­com­ing. Al­though set off its own car park just be­hind Ric­car­ton Rd, it could have been a fancy res­tau­rant in Saigon.

Hun­gry teens means quick ap­pe­tis­ers are a must and we didn’t go wrong with fresh spring rolls, fried spring rolls and crispy squid. The lat­ter is a fam­ily favourite and Hello Viet­nam does a su­pe­rior ver­sion. As we later sur­mised, some­one in the kitchen was a fry mas­ter and the servers knew the im­por­tance of get­ting those dishes on the ta­ble as soon as they left the fryer. The squid was per­fectly light and crispy and the squid was ten­der.

I wish the fried spring rolls (six in an or­der) had come with let­tuce and fresh herbs to make inside-out rolls as they of­ten do in Viet­nam, but they were tasty and crunchy. I washed them down with a Viet­namese 333 beer and was in­wardly proud that when I or­dered it by its Viet­namese name, “bababa”, the wait­ress knew what I meant. My wife loved her Viet­namese iced cof­fee with con­densed milk and all the kids got light and re­fresh­ing iced lemon.

The large fresh rolls (three to a serv­ing) were filled with pork, shrimp, ver­mi­celli noo­dles and let­tuce but would have fresh herbs for more punch.

The rest of our meal was a mix of kid-friendly fare (fried chicken nib­bles with gar­lic and bar­be­cue pork fried egg noo­dles); old Viet­namese favourites (sweet and sour fish fil­lets, stir fried beans with gar­lic and spe­cial fried spring rolls and grilled pork on rice ver­mi­celli) and a cou­ple of dishes we had never tried be­fore (lemon­grass and chilli tofu and the spe­cial beef pho).

The bowl of ver­mi­celli noo­dle salad with spring rolls and grilled pork looked beau­ti­ful but, again, I missed the punch of fresh herbs that of­ten el­e­vate this dish from good to great.

Pho is the na­tional dish of Viet­nam and the spe­cial beef ver­sion fea­tured parts of a cow I usu­ally avoid: tripe, ten­don and other un­recog­nis­able or­gans. It was served with a plate of bean sprouts to add but, once again, I missed the big bas­ket of fresh basil, co­rian­der and mint that usu­ally come with pho in Viet­nam. The broth was deeply flavoured al­though I missed the dis­tinc­tive tang of star anise. I was game, but I couldn’t get the tripe down – but the ad­ven­tur­ous teens did. I usu­ally stick to thinly sliced beef and brisket in my pho and I prob­a­bly will again.

The sweet and sour fish was ex­cel­lent: the ten­der fish fil­lets were light, crisp, fresh and de­li­cious with juli­enned cap­sicums and car­rots and thin threads of red onion in a light sweet and sour sauce. But the sur­prise star of the night was the lemon­grass and chili tofu. The aro­matic lemon­grass was in­fused through­out the tofu which once again was fried per­fectly and the chilli/gar­lic sauce was pow­er­ful with­out be­ing over­whelm­ing.

Even bet­ter, the kids were not in­ter­ested in hoover­ing up any leftovers, as they had with every other dish, and I got a de­li­cious lunch out of sim­ple tofu and rice the next day.

I love Viet­namese food so I’m happy to keep search­ing and wel­come sugges­tions, but for now, Hello Viet­nam is a con­tender for the tasti­est Viet­namese food in Christchurch.

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