Fine food and Hawke’s Bay views at the Top Rank and Rated Wines Dinner

Surrounded by vineyards and with spectacular sea views with Cape Kidnappers in the distance, it is hard to imagine a more attractive and appropriate setting for our third New Zealand dinner. Elephant Hill had finished harvesting grapes only a few days before 42 people searched for their names around one long table.

It was obvious to me, as I met guests at the door, that most were knowledgeable wine enthusiasts who planned to enjoy themselves.

Both syrahs were enhanced by an inspired dish of venison, celeriac, black garlic labneh and coffee-glazed walnuts.

We started with a glass of Hunter’s NV MiruMiru Sparkling Rosé from Marlborough matched with a deliciously plump Bluff oyster garnished with an XO sauce. I explained that the wines would be poured in brackets and that everyone was invited to vote for a favourite.

The first was a bracket of three chardonnays. The 2019 Isabel Estate Wild Barrique Chardonnay from Marlborough was an elegant opener that won strong support for its silken texture and savoury complexity. The 2018 Church Road One Tuki Tuki Chardonnay from Hawke’s Bay is a new release positioned above their Grand Reserve and under the flagship, Tom.

The third wine, the 2019 Elephant Hill Salomé Chardonnay also from Hawke’s Bay impressed with its Burgundy-like characters, intensity and balance. It narrowly won top honours, although the vote may have been influenced by the fact that Elephant Hill’s CEO, Andreas Weiss, was a dinner guest. The wines were matched with organic chicken breast, pea, garlic, cos lettuce and parmesan, which flattered all three wines.

The next dish was whole yolk and Matangi beef cheek ravioli. The chef had cleverly cooked the egg yolk which magically remained soft. It was a very tasty dish and a good foil to a flight of three pinot noirs from three different regions.

The 2019 Luna Estate Pinot Noir from Martinborough was a concentrated wine that may have gained intensity after frost reduced quantity by 30%. A gutsy, fruit-focused wine. Mountford’s 2018 The Rise Pinot Noir from North Canterbury, from the steepest slopes of this tiny quality-focused Waipara winery, scored top vote by a comfortable margin. A seductively aromatic wine with an impressive peacock-like layering of flavours on the finish. The Grasshopper Rock 2018 Earnscleugh Vineyard Pinot Noir from Central Otago displayed elegance and subtle power.

Bob Campbell MW looking forward to a fun evening. (Photo: The Real Review)

A bracket of two Hawke’s Bay syrahs followed. The 2018 Radburnd Syrah from Hawke’s Bay is a new label from, celebrated winemaker, Kate Radburnd, which demonstrated purity and power in a high-energy wine that shows great finesse. That was followed by the iconic 2018 Trinity Hill Homage Syrah also from Hawke’s Bay, a powerful wine clearly built for the long haul. The two wines scored equal points. Both were enhanced by an inspired dish of venison, celeriac, black garlic labneh and coffee-glazed walnuts.

The final bracket featured two Hawke’s Bay blended reds with a similar amount of cabernet sauvignon supported by a lesser amount of cabernet franc and merlot. The 2015 Paritua 21:12 from Hawke’s Bay is owned by a Chinese company and much of its production goes to China, which results in a lower profile than the Te Mata 2019 Coleraine also from Hawke’s Bay, perhaps New Zealand’s most iconic red wine.

I added a third rather controversial wine, the 2017 Pegasus Bay Bel Canto Dry Riesling from North Canterbury. It was a fitting climax to the evening and an appropriate match to a wonderful cheese dish. The Paritua won the vote, although as one of the guests pointed out, Coleraine is a long-distance runner that needs at least a decade to reveal its many charms.

The real hero on the final bracket was three outstanding cheese dishes by Craggy Range Sheep Dairy: cheddar rarebit mushroom, Pecorino gougère and blue cheese brown sugar compressed plums. My congratulations to chefs Jason Brown and Sabrina Faes.

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