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Wine of the Week for week ending 16th March 2003
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Saints Noble Semillon 2002
Gisborne, New Zealand

It's the last weekend of summer, the last weekend before daylight saving time ends. And so with 18 other cars with the MG marque representing 50 years of MG motoring, we set off on a five day round trip of the North Island's East Cape.

How the coast had changed since I last toured there in what seems a lifetime ago. So much of the coastline is now inaccessible to the tourist. 'No Camping', 'Private Property' and 'No Beach Access' signs dotted the route from Opotiki to Cape Runaway.

There were some beautiful bays along the way however and even the odd vineyard. At Te Araroa, which is 160 kms from Opotiki and 173 kms from Gisborne, we stopped at Pohutu Lodge which has what is possibly New Zealand's most remote as well as its most easterly vineyard.

Here we sampled wines while taking in the tranquil view over the Bay. I loved the Pohutu Lodge Syrah 2000, a blend of Gisborne and Te Araroa grapes. It's a wine that is full of lively red fruits with good varietal peppery spice and a firm long vanillin oak finish.

As we continued our journey, we passed more vineyards in Tolaga Bay.

Arriving in Gisborne late afternoon on the third day for the overnight stop it was too late to do any wine tasting. But at least there were plenty of vineyards to see. And driving around the area we could see that the 2003 harvest was well in progress with many vines already stripped of their grapes.

Montana owns about 75% of the vineyards in Gisborne and they are clearly identifiable by huge signs. Suddenly we passed the Saints Vineyard. 'Stop', I said to Neil who had the wheel for this part of the journey. 'This will make a good photo for my Wine of the Week'.

I have chosen the Saints Gisborne Noble Semillon 2002, a rich, sweet wine, that smells of apricot honey and beeswax and is full of sticky honeyed flavours. There's a hint of oak that adds complexity and enhances the spiced orange and ripe peach fruit.

I first tried the wine last October, a pre-release sample and fell in love with the wine. I tried the wine again earlier in the week and it was truly delicious. Now, as I'm typing this, we're sipping on the remnant of the bottle as we watch the Melbourne Grand Prix from our 4th night pit stop on the eastern shores of Lake Rotorua.

Accompanied with the salty creamy flavours of the Waimata Gold Camembert, also from Gisborne, it's a delicious combo to sip on the last lazy Sunday afternoon of summer, which is already hinting Autumn with its coolish breeze.

The 375ml bottle hadn't deteriorated from having its cork stuck in it and travelling over some very bumpy roads.

But when I checked the back of the bottle I found the grapes were sourced from the nearby Patutahi vineyard, a short way away from the Saints vineyard but on the same clay soils. Oh well, once upon a time all the Saints wine came from the Saints vineyards.

Saints was featuring a lot on this trip. In remote areas like Hicks Bay where we spent the second night stop, the wine list was virtually all Montana wines. The only one that had taken my fancy was the Saints Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2002, a perfect example of how what was originally a vineyard designation has turned into a brand. Saints Sauvignon Blanc 2002 is from the first crop from a new vineyard in the Awatere Valley. The crisp, pungent and ripe passionfruit flavours were simply terrific. I could see why it was awarded the Best Dry White Wine at the Sydney International Top 100 the weekend before. The full-bodied white was a very good match to both the Chunky Fresh Vegetable Soup starter and pan-fried Terakihi fish main.

The Saints Sauvignon Blanc was easily the best wine available that night and by the time I had given people tastes here and there, several bottles had been purchased and consumed by our group.

The Saints branded wines seem to be widely available, often featuring in supermarket promotions. How much of the Saints Sauvignon Blanc 2002 is left after trophies in the Liquorland Top 100 and Sydney International Wine competition, I've no idea - it is bound to run out soon. But the Saints Gisborne Noble Semillon 2002 is a fairly new release and at about $17 a half bottle, this is a well priced sweet wine that is worth grabbing a bottle of to try.

© Sue Courtney
9 March 2003

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