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Wine of the Week for week ending 16 September 2001
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Firstland Reserve Cabernet 1999
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

Firstland Reserve Cabernet Label There are some vinous occasions that remain firmly embedded in one's memory and I am sure my introduction to this delicious Firstland Reserve Cabernet 1999 will be one of them.

It was a pitch black evening. The rain of earlier in the day had succumbed to light drizzle. With gumboots two sizes too big, I made my way with the other guests to the banks of the Mangatawhiri River - banks that only the day before were submerged beneath the waters of the swollen river. Mud oozed from the ground beneath my feet.

There was a marquee that protected the cheeses and the pistachio nut tarts and the already poured glasses of wine from the elements. Beyond that, a bonfire was roaring, emanating heat on this cool early spring evening.

The wine was served and when we were all sipping and talking, poet Sam Hunt appeared to entertain with his lilting voice and his clever lyrics. There was a poem about rain and a poem about wine too amongst the many.

The drizzle subsided. After the poetry we stood around the fire, fascinated by the flame and the sparks that crackled into the black sky above. The wine in our glasses tasted good. It was warming. It was wonderful with the food. Was it just the effect of the occasion? Perhaps.

I took a bottle home to open in the light of day. I poured it into a Riedel stem designed for wines of this type. It looked good, it smelt good and what's more it still tasted good.

The colour was a fairly opaque and deep 'black cherry' red, fairly opaque but with bright carmine rims.

Chocolaty oak emanated from the glass together with baked berry scents and spices.

Then flavours of rich cassis, wild 'just-ripe' blackberry and plum, warm oak, a hint of licorice and spice, a texture that is tending towards velvety and a creamy finish with crisp pepper and fine sweet tannins.

There's a touch of sweet leather too and a sweet meat-like nuance of a rare fillet steak then after a while the chocolate richness and peppery spice are the flavours that linger most prominently in the mouth

The Firstland Reserve Cabernet 1999 was crafted by winemaker Mark Compton from a blend of Hawkes Bay cabernet sauvignon and shiraz - an unusual blend for New Zealand winemakers. The 78% cabernet sauvignon component was harvested from the Firstland block on Bob Newton's Cornerstone property in the Gimblett area of Hawkes Bay. The 22% shiraz component comes from the nearby O'Connor property, a property that has produced gold medal Syrah two years in a row for the O'connor's own Matariki label.

The grapes were harvested in March 1999 and transported to the de Redcliffe winery in Mangatawhiri where they were fermented in stainless steel then aged for 12 months in new and one year old French Sequin Moreau and American Demptos barriques. It was bottled on 31 August 2000 and had a year maturing in bottle before release.

The wine is available only in restaurants and specialist wine stores and costs a very reasonable price (these days) of just NZ$30. Look for the tall - and very heavy - Bordeaux style bottle with the understated Firstland logo and the crooked label that has the writing shown in the photograph above.

It is not available in supermarkets. Check the Firstland website website for more information.

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