Mahurangi has the X Factor. It’s true. You will know that if you watch X Factor NZ. The girls were whisked to Rarotonga, the boys to Sydney, the over 25s to Queenstown and the groups to Mahurangi. Yes Mahurangi. I guessed the groups would draw that straw because it’s less than one hours drive from Auckland. No air fares to pay. Still there’s no denying the beauty that was vividly displayed on our television screens. The mansion that featured was close to the cliff top on the edge of Mahurangi Regional Park with stunning views out over the bay.
Mahurangi is a name to remember, not only for the regional park but also the east and west peninsulas, the inner harbour oyster farms and the river that’s steeped in history, where upstream is Warkworth town. But most importantly for this blogger, there is the Mahurangi River Winery and their rather delicious Chardonnay wines.
Late last year I visited the Mahurangi River Winery vineyard to write a story for my local newspaper. Owners Shelley Trotter and Gary Heaven invited us to stay on for lunch in the restaurant and I chose snapper on a lemon risotto. The wines opened for lunch were a Chardonnay and Syrah. I chose the Chardonnay of course, the 2010, and it was, to my surprise, a terrific match to the seafood. We were sent us home with a trio of the Chardonnays: the 2009, 2010 and 2011. All barrique fermented in French oak, I finally got around to tasting them last night.
Mahurangi River Winery Field of Grace Chardonnay 2009 has a light glossy gold colour and a tantalising aroma reminiscent of freshly baked meringue pie – all pasty, citrus and cream. Full-bodied, mealy, sweet-fruited and savoury, this creamy mouthfilling wine has a perfect touch of citrus and a tropical fruit brightness – a soupcon of pineapple adds to the allure. Oak makes itself known, but in such a harmonious way. Sill evolving and will continue to do so, it was top choice with last night’s dinner of pan-sizzled pork cutlet accompanied with creamy potato and leek casserole, baked grated carrot and boiled cauli and broccoli. It worked well with everything and maybe it was that touch of pineapple that made the wine and pork combo so striking. Alcohol volume is listed at 13.6% and the bottle has a cork.
Mahurangi River Winery Field of Grace Chardonnay 2010 is a little more golden in colour with a bouquet nutmeg and subtle baking spices, then peaches and smoky oak too. If I thought the 2009 was full-bodied, this is even more so! Voluptuous, curvaceous, cosy and warm with a bold leesy savouriness to the flavour and a ripe fruit sweetness that is more in the peach spectrum. The fruit is interwoven with butter caramel and a fresh citrus character adds a zesty vibrancy to the finish. But it is the mealy character that is the lasting memory. Yum, yum, yum – a caramel lover’s delight. When I had the snapper and lemon risotto at the winery restaurant, it was the lemon in the food that harmonised so nicely, but with the pork meal last night, the match didn’t really work. Alcohol volume is listed at 14.5% and the bottle has a cork.
Mahurangi River Winery Field of Grace Chardonnay 2011 is lighter gold than the other two and it’s immediately obvious to me that it is more youthful, tighter, nutty, austere. While the bouquet is restrained, the taste is delightful. Creamy yet flinty with obvious malo characters, oatmeal, fresh apricots and a nutty, nougat-delicious finish with fine caramel layers. Stylish, Burgundian-like, with exciting freshness – it didn’t go with the pork but I close my eyes and imagine it with seafood – I’m thinking crayfish and drooling. Alcohol volume is listed at 13.5% and the bottle has a screwcap.
The wines are listed on the Mahurangi River Winery website, www.mahurangiriver.co.nz, at $39 a bottle.
The 2009 was the star for me on the night, the 2010 dangerously gluggable and the 2011 – well, it reminds me of the top Chardonnays the Auckland region can deliver and I’d love to see this alongside the likes of Villa Maria Ihumatao, Kumeu River and West Brook Ivicevich one day.
Winemaker Warren Knudsen took over from the 2012 vintage. Ex Villa Maria he has already convinced Shelley and Gary to switch to screwcaps and I’m excited just thinking about what tricks he has learnt about Chardonnay production that he might apply here. Lots to look forward to.
Meanwhile the singing X Factor contenders finish up at Mahurangi on TV3 tonight, but the X Factor remains in these Chardonnay wines.