Sight, taste | New Zealand wines

A visit to Waiheke Island’s Stonyridge Vineyard.

Waiheke Island, a 30-minute ferry ride from Auckland, New Zealand, is an oenophile’s paradise. The island’s rolling hills are home to 35 wineries, foremost among them Stonyridge Vineyard, a picturesque panorama of grapevines and olive trees. Founded by Stephen White in 1981, Stonyridge produces Larose, one of the most expensive red wines in New Zealand (NZ$240-NZ$500 per bottle).

“Nobody thought Waiheke would be good for wines. They thought that the soil would be too salty, being an island. But [Stephen] really believed in what he was doing and here we are today, one of the most famous wineries in New Zealand,” said Audrey Cauet, cellar door manager of Stonyridge.

A wine tasting at Stonyridge is an opportunity to sample Larose, the wine that put Waiheke on the map after its third vintage, 1987, was hailed as the best Bordeaux style blend in New Zealand. Larose is so popular that Stonyridge offers a subscription service via the Larose VIP club: members get first rights to the winery’s limited Larose vintages.

The 2006, a point of pride, is still talked about. It came in first at a blind tasting of 387 cabernet sauvignon blends held by Winestate, Australia’s largest wine magazine. Consider the competition: Stonyridge Larose 2006 bested Chateau Latour 2006, Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2006, and Chateau Lafite Rothschild 2007. “I always say that I wish I were there that day,” said Ms. Cauet, a French national who now calls New Zealand home. “The judges must have asked themselves what they were doing, choosing a New Zealand wine over a French wine. But it was all about the taste, not the packaging or the location.”

The 2014 vintage (NZ$360), just released in November, is a combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Carmenere. “It’s still a little bit tight. It’s a wine that needs time to open. On the nose, it’s a bit shy. You don’t get too many aromas. But when you drink it, it’s an explosion of flavor in your mouth,” said Ms. Cauet. “Having so many varieties in the same wine brings a lot of layers. Every sip gives you a different impression. It’s very elegant and smooth.”

Ms. Cauet attributes the flavor of Stonyridge wines, in part, to the use of a traditional Bordeaux basket press. “Stonyridge is the only vineyard that still does this. It’s a very long process compared to the stainless steel process used now but it’s very important for the quality of the wine to have contact with the wood and to have a very slow pressing.” Visit stonyridge.co.nz for more information. – SLM


INCIDENTAL INTELLIGENCE

Philippine Airlines now offers flights to Auckland, New Zealand, via Cairns, Australia. The introductory price for a roundtrip business class ticket is US$2,700 on the Manila-Auckland route. High Life was part of the inaugural trip sponsored by the flag carrier.