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.
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.