ames and Annie Millton of Millton Vineyards and Winery in Gisborne toured through the North Island celebrating their 30th vintage with degustation lunches and dinners at USSCo Bar & Bistro in Gisborne, Boulcott Street Bistro in Wellington and The Engine Room in Auckland.
I joined them for the Wellington leg of their journey with a menu specially designed by Rex Morgan of Boulcott Street Bistro to compliment a selection of current and vintage Millton wines. (Rex also very graciously prepared meat-free alternatives for courses three and four.)
As we settled in for our five course degustation menu the 2014 vintage was underway in Gisborne, having started five days prior. James had been frantically texting and calling for updates all morning. As we were preparing to dine, his team were picking Pinot and at least outwardly, he seems completely calm about this.
For each course James introduced not only the wines we were there to celebrate, he also introduced the grape variety as he saw it through is biodynamic lens, since Millton are the oldest biodynamic producer in the Southern hemisphere and the sixth in the world.
And now for the food and wine, here we go:
Course one: King Tarakihi with Cloudy Bay clams and ceviche dressing with Opou Riesling 2013 and 2007.
Riesling is sweet, silky textured and represents the element of air.
The 2013 Riesling was medium sweet with the delicacy of honeysuckle and white florals. Fresh, youthful and sweet. Made in a spatlese (late harvest) style the juiciness of the wine is well balanced by the firm acidity. By comparison the 2007 still shows some white floral delicacy but has definite petrol and diesel notes. It’s far more golden than the lemon colour of the 2013 with a sweet, extra ripe character, it’s rather delicious. The Cloudy Bay clams cut through the acidity in the 2007 wine resulting in an uber silky pairing.
Course two: Crayfish raviolo with lemon butter fumet with Opou Chardonnay 2013 (barrel sample), 2012 and 2002
Chardonnay is acorns, forest floor and honey, representing the element of earth. Or Pooh and Piglet in the Hundred Acre Wood.
Each of the Chardonnays were made in a similar style: put in new French barriques and left to ferment.
2012 was described as the worst vintage in 29 years and the wine was dominated by oak in the glass, however, it retained its youthful approachability. If Chardonnay is acorns and honey, the 2012 has too much of the acorns and not enough of the honey. Making for a sharp, astringent wine that was a bit tough going on its own. This became a very happy wine when paired with the creamy crayfish raviolo though.
With the 2002 six bottles were brought down, two were amazing, three were showing some oxidative development and one was past its best. The sad number six was given to Rex in the kitchen to help the dessert along. I was one of the lucky ones who got an amazing bottle. The wine started out with a lot of forest floor and decay, again the acorns were stronger than the honey. But the food pairing helped to dial down the astringency and dryness in the wine, while amplifying the honey. This is such a good pairing. I believe my reaction was to request a bucket of the stuff.
Finally came the cloudy 2013 barrel sample. Unfined and unfiltered. James likened it to taking your child to kindergarten – you’re sad, nervous, happy all at once. He talks about leaving it unfiltered as filtering a wine takes away some of its life energy. I would fully support that decision as it definitely brought joy just as it was. The wine shows sweet vanilla character from the oak and plenty of honey for a truly tasty drop that pairs beautifully with more autumnal savouriness found on the palate. That this was one of the best vintages in years is unsurprising. One to keep an eye on.
The 2013 was promising, but the 2002 was my favourite by a mile.
Course three: Pulled pork burger with honey glazed vegetables with Te Arai Chenin Blanc 2013 and 2005. Pulled pork and Chenin Blanc
Chenin Blanc is the left handed Virgo with zero tolerance for chaos. It can be anything but needs and loves order. It’s the water element. Juiciness, delicious sourness, that makes you want to salivate.
The younger 2013 example has a shy nose with a waxy, lanolin palate. A touch of florality and an interesting aroma akin to the pits of a passionfruit. Mostly the wine is about the texture with an oily quality and a healthy thread of acidity.
With the 2005 the wine is sweet and luscious to the point of verging on being a Riesling. The wine is sweet and honeyed. Shows the decadence of a late harvest wine with plenty of candied fruit and just a touch of lanolin. And all this from what was a ‘shitty’ vintage.
Course four: Oriental seasoned chicken, wilted greens and manis mayonnaise with Riverpoint Viognier 2013 (barrel sample) and 2011.
Viognier is the savoury, salty, umami character. It’s traditional home is the Rhone Valley, the same as the Adventures of Asterix, where Obelix dines on wild boar and washes it down with Viognier.
With the younger Viognier, the 2013, the nose opens with rose petals while the palate shows overripe mango and a tangy saltiness. Texturally the wine is full bodied and silky. The sweet delicacy mingles nicely with more savoury soy sauce and parmesan qualities.
There’s not much difference between the ’11 and the ’13 in terms of sweetness or expression. A good Viognier is a good Viognier. The older Viognier has more in the way of exotic mango with peach and nectarine stone fruits. Time allows an elegant, spicy sweetness to come through on the wine. Salty and ripe, fresh and youthful, a beguiling gummy candy quality and a vein of salty savouriness running through it all that really makes you salivate.
Course five: Creamy blue cheese panna cotta with poached fruit and pistachio biscuit with Riverpoint Gewurztraminer 2013.
Gewurztraminer is the deep, spicy unctuous character of baked kumara that’s weeks old and needs to be used. It is not delicate and overwhelmed by lychees. 2014-03-08 15.32.56
James described his experience with Gewurzt as something he avoided initially – as in the Art of War, you should never stand on the shoulders of giants. And in New Zealand Matawhero were the giants of Gewurzt, or at least Denis Irwin of Matawhero Wines was. When Denis retired his tenure, James sourced cuttings from the likes of Dry River and others who had the old original ‘GT’ clone.
The 2013 Gewurzt was savoury and subtle with a bit of roses and the sweet spiciness of honey glazed grilled carrots and caramelised kumara. The spice comes through a lot more with the food pairing. Definitely not the potpourri explosion I’m used to.
Here’s to another 30 vintages – Cheers!