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Wines of the Week for week ending 7 April 2002
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Church Road Reserve Merlot Cabernet 1998
Church Road Reserve Chardonnay 2000
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

When the MG Car Club announced they were changing the venue from Taupo to Napier for their annual Easter combined Auckland and Wellington clubs' rally, it sounded like a good excuse to visit to the Bay. It had been some years since we had been there for a good look around.

I was particularly keen to go on the rally's 'Scenic Trial' because apart from getting to test the car on some of the Bay's back roads, the finishing point was the Church Road winery.

We duly arrived, hot and thirsty, after two and a half hours of cruising with the top down in the Hawke's Bay sun.

The grey windowless building facing the road, emblazoned with the Church Road logo, was nothing like I had expected. The stunning entrance that features in the Church Road winery promotional material is the entrance to the function facilities at the opposite end of the building. Perfect for the wedding that was to take place there later that day.

The place was packed. The outdoor wine garden restaurant had people relaxing under the shade of the trees and the large patio umbrellas. The tasting room was full of people too.

Tony Prichard Tony Prichard

I was keen to re-taste the new Church Road Reserve wines I had tried in Auckland when Tony Prichard, the Church Road winemaker, came up in February to show the new releases. He has been with Montana for about 20 years and with Church Road since it started in 1990.

"I'd like the taste the Reserve Chardonnay 2000", I asked one of the several people who were so busy behind the counter. "I don't think we have that for tasting", she replied. "How about this special cellar door release?". It was the Church Road Cuve Series Chardonnay 1998. Creamy and tasty.

We also tasted the Church Road Cuve Series Pinotage 2000 - a seriously dark and meaty wine with ripe berry fruit.

And then the glorious Church Road Reserve Merlot Cabernet 1998. This was one of the new releases I had tasted in Auckland. The bottle the wine was poured from today was almost empty. Perhaps it had been open for a while for the wine seemed so approachable.
This is a 75% merlot, 13% cabernet sauvignon and 12% cabernet franc blend, the components of which spent 18 months in oak, two thirds new.
It has an excellent colour of dense red and rich, chocolate oak aromas with berry, plum, leather and savoury meats. There's upfront fruitiness in the mouth with a lovely richness and ripeness and a warm spicy French oak layer, solid but very fine tannins, bright plum, cassis and leather and interesting savoury complexities. There's that leather hallmark of merlot and a lift of citrus on the finish that has great length.
Prichard says he has put a lot of effort into this wine to manipulate the tannin structure. There's no added tannin, however. This is a wine to put away for the next couple of years. Cellaring will reward. "The best red wine we have ever made", says Prichard. I thought it was pretty darn nice, too.

But Prichard's favourite hobbyhorse is the aging potential of New Zealand chardonnays. And this is the style of chardonnay he aims to make - one that will age. Like the Church Road Reserve Chardonnay 2000. Made from Mendoza clone fruit picked at a ripe 24 brix, two thirds saw new French oak. There was no malolactic fermentation, though. It's a bright lemon gold colour with soft aromas of poached peach, summer hay and spicy mellow oak. There's good mouthfeel in this warm toasty leesy wine with well balanced stonefruit and lifted balanced acidity. It's a rich, complex, mealy style with a long, dry, finish in which a touch of toasted pineapple lifts the lingering integrated fruit & oak flavours. Drinking very well now, I like this a lot.

So I'm back in the tasting room. "So tell me why isn't the Reserve Chardonnay 2000 on for tasting?"
"It's just been released", I was told, "and we have to sell out of the 1999 first".

"Can I buy a couple of glasses, then?". No was the answer as they wouldn't be able to sell the rest of the bottle.

So, the only way to taste it was to buy a bottle, which we did. I wanted Neil to share in this wine I had enjoyed so much. We took it out into the garden restaurant and ordered a cheese platter. It really hit the spot. The remainder of the wine we took out to dinner. There seem to be very few BYO restaurants in Napier but Sawadee on Marine Parade had that license. I have to say the Church Road Reserve Chardonnay 2000 went very well with "Tom Kha Gai", a coconut chicken soup with mushrooms, kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, galangal and lemon juice.

Both these Reserve wines cost $29.95 at the cellar door. They are available nationwide.

© Sue Courtney

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