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Wine of the Week for week ending 25 March 2001
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Obsidian Vineyard 'Island Red' Waiheke Merlot Cabernet 1999
Waiheke Island, Auckland, New Zealand

Waiheke Island in Auckland's Hauraki Gulf has long had a reputation for producing some of the country's most expensive red wines but now, as more vineyards come into production, so do - thankfully - some more affordable wines.

And I've found one that, at its price, rivals some of its more expensive neighbours.

It is a wine made by one of Waiheke's newer producers, 'Obsidian Vineyard', and named Label of the Obsidian Island Red Island Red 1999 Waiheke Merlot Cabernet. It is a blend of about 2/3rds Merlot and 1/3rd Cabernet Sauvignon with a splash of Cabernet Franc.

1999 was an excellent growing season on Waiheke and for Obsidian Vineyard in particular with some new vines on their 9-hectare vineyard producing fruit for the first time. The total crop, at 22-tonnes, was almost double that of the previous year's 12-tonne harvest.

The grapes were vinted as separate batches from different sites of the vineyard, then transferred to barrel for maturation.

Twelve months later, when the barrels were assessed, the decision was made to use only the very best fruit for the premium Obsidian label, to have the first wine at the highest level they could possibly achieve, and from the remainder, the declassified fruit, Island Red was born.

There's a cerise glow to this richly-coloured wine and it smells appealing with its creamy, berry aroma tinged with cedar.

Sweet creamy fruit flavours fill the mouth and I immediately think what a soft approachable wine this is. But there are rich, earthy tannins in this wine, characteristic of the Merlot fruit that dominates at first in the palate with plum, leather and chocolate box flavours. It is a well-concentrated, creamy textured wine with a smoky cedar and red-berry, redcurrant fruit flavour giving a lift to the pleasurable taste that lingers in the mouth for ages.

I tried this wine over 3 days to see how it would age and as we poured out the last of the wine on Sunday night, I wished there was more.

It was a superb combination on the first night with plump, juicy lamb cutlets served slightly rare with a redcurrant sauce, while a couple of days later it also went well with a juicy sirloin steak that had picked up smoky flavours from the BBQ it was cooked on. However, I have a warning - do not drink this wine with an accompaniment of deep-fried Camembert cheese.

This is going to be a great wine for the forthcoming New Zealand winter while those who wish to cellar the wine can expect to see some complexities emerge over the next two years.

The Obsidian Island Red 1999 Waiheke Merlot Cabernet sells for $25 ex-cellar door on Waiheke Island and by mail order, while the recommended price in retail is $26.50 a bottle. It is not available outside New Zealand but is reasonably available within. The Glengarry chain has picked up the wine to sell in its Auckland outlets and it is also available in selected fine wine stores throughout the country and in some supermarkets in the South Island.

The superb premium label, simply called Obsidian is available outside of New Zealand however, with bottles exported to the UK, the EU countries, USA, Canada, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. The 1998 Obsidian is the current release. It is drinking well now but my hot tip is for the 1999 Obsidian, due to be released in the middle of this year. It is a totally super wine, one of the best I tried at a recent line-up of Waiheke wines, showing off the extra good ripeness achieved in 1999. It has amazing flavour and richness yet is soft and integrated with subtle creamy oak. Plums dominate the flavours then redcurrants emerge. Ripe fruit tannins make a statement then creamy berry fruit lingers. This is a totally gorgeous, concentrated, intense wine, with great length. I scored it 19/20 and look forward to tasting it again when released. It will cost about NZ$45 - $50.

For further information on where to find the wines in your area or to add your name to the e-mail list, contact Lindsay Spilman by e-mail.

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