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Wine of the Week for week ending 17 June 2001
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Pleiades 'Maia' Merlot Malbec 1998
Marlborough, New Zealand

Image of Pleiades label Three days of walking around the New Zealand Wine Trade Fair last year, led me to the stage where I just had to find a seat and rest. The man at the Pleiades stand had a chair. "Do you mind if I sit down", I asked.

"Not at all" came the friendly reply. "Would you like to try one of my wines".

"OK, why not", I said for it was the Wine Trade Fair after all. "Who are you anyway?". I'd not heard of 'Pleiades' except as the tiny constellation, also known as 'The Seven Sisters', that shines bright in our summer sky.

"We're new". Well that was obvious.

I sipped on the wine. It was delicious. "Hey, this wine is pretty good", I said. "Tell me about it. And most importantly, is it available?"

And so for about 15 minutes, while my feet recovered and I found some new found energy, I chatted to Winston Oliver about his wine, the Pleiades Maia 1998.

It is a blend of 85% Merlot and 15% Malbec and is the first wine produced from his Pleiades Vineyard in the upper Waihopai Valley in Marlborough. Here, the aspect is more elevated than the Wairau Valley, which means cooler winters but hotter summers.

Maia is known as the first-born star in the Pleiades star cluster in the sky, so Maia was the name given to the first-born wine from the Pleiades vineyard in Marlborough.

It's a densely coloured wine, deep red with a blackish core.

Immediately the nose is appealing with at first some licorice than later creamy berries. It's a full-bodied dense wine in the mouth with raspberry and blueberry fruits, a touch of licorice and tar and soft to medium dusky tannins. Smoky oak adds to the intrigue with vanillin spice emerging. Have some more and there's a touch of chocolate too.

It finishes well with fruitcake richness and some lively acids that give a lift, leaving the palate feeling fresh.

So that was then and this is now when I'm trying the wine again. There's a leather character on the nose, leather so characteristic of Merlot. And the raspberries of before are heading into plum territory. But everything else is there - the licorice, the richness, the acidity and the fruit cake spice. Plus an earthy connotation, perhaps the Malbec saying 'hello'.

And the finish - it's very long, creamy and satisfying.

The wine is made by traditional techniques, with natural fermentation and minimal intervention. It has been aged in oak, of which there is some American influence, and which 30% is new. It was left in barrel for a year before bottling.

Last September the wine was brand new to the market. I couldn't find it anywhere. Then last month I caught up with the agent so I asked about the wine. 'It's due for re-release on the 1st of June", he said. Great, now at last, I can write it up as 'Wine of the Week'.

It is going to retail for around the NZ$32 mark and it should be available at whichever wine stores decide to pick it up. If you cannot find it, then contact the distributor, Michael Jemison, e-mail for instructions.

Now, if you are into stargazing and want to know exactly where Maia is in the Pleiades group - check out this link for a neat photo of the cluster of the jewel-like stars.

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