Situated in Matakana, just north of Auckland, Ascension Wine Estate specialises in boutique wines: unusual varietals and a rich aged port, about which more later. My best friend, Becks, lives in Auckland, and the fact that she personally doesn’t like wine didn’t prevent her from arranging a trip to Ascension when I visited her in October.
After a delicious lunch in Ascension’s restaurant, Osteria, in which I was pleasantly vindicated in my hunch that Pinotage would pair well with wood-fired salami pizza, I settled in at their cellar door for a tasting – $10 for five samples, which I was free to select from a range of about ten.
For those unfamiliar with wine-tasting, it goes a bit like this: a small sample of the chosen wine is poured into the glass, to be admired, sniffed, and sipped. Yes, you can spit it out if you want (which is a good idea if you’ll be doing a lot of tasting and don’t want to get too tipsy), but I normally prefer not to, so it’s probably just as well that I wasn’t driving. Wines are typically served starting with the lightest whites and progressing to the fullest-bodied reds, finishing with a dessert wine if one is on offer.
I began with a glass of the off-dry, aromatic ‘The Rogue’, produced from a rare vine known as Flora which was once thought to be related to Pinot Gris but recently shown to be a relative of Gewürztraminer. The Gewürztraminer was definitely there in the subtle aroma of lychee, but I could see how the connection to Pinot Gris would have been made, especially the crisper, drier Pinot Gris that isn’t widely consumed in New Zealand.
Their Viognier, ‘The Vestal Virgin’ was up next, and while I haven’t sampled enough Viognier to be particularly acquainted with it (because, after all, boutique varietal), I thoroughly appreciated the again off-dry and aromatic white, this time with notes of apricot and blossom, and with a long, lingering finish.
Their methode traditionelle, ‘The Glory’ (noticing a theme with the names?) was lively, fruity and yeasty, a definite celebration in a bottle, and then, having sampled the Pinotage with lunch and knowing that, to put it bluntly, I can get Merlot anywhere, I elected to sample the Rosé, ‘Bellarosa’. Rosé is another wine that isn’t widely consumed in New Zealand, but if this crisp, slightly-sweet wine with a hint of strawberries and raspberries is anything to go by I’m definitely adding it to my summer drinking list.
And finally, although I’ve never been a port drinker, I tried their port, ‘Fortitude’. Aged for twelve years, it was Christmas in a bottle, and the one I chose to take home with me (my wine-buying budget is limited, and one bottle is all I can usually allow myself at cellar-door prices). Marmalade, raisins, chocolate, sweet, and rich, rich, rich, the unopened bottle is now tucked away waiting to cap off Christmas dinner with my dad.
If you’ve never had the opportunity to experience a wine-tasting (and I don’t often), then I’d thoroughly recommend it. The people who run tastings are passionate about their art and forgiving of the inexperience of the novice. In New Zealand, budget about $30-$50 per bottle if you want to purchase anything you sample, and if you have to travel to get to the winery then please, please either spit or delegate a sober driver. And if you want to read more about Ascension Estate, or purchase any of the wines I’ve talked about, visit http://ascensionwine.co.nz/ .
Always drink responsibly. One standard drink of wine is approximately 100ml (3.3 fl oz). The New Zealand Ministry of Health recommends that women consume no more than 2 standard drinks a day, and no more than 10 standard drinks a week, and that men consume no more than 3 standard drinks a day and no more than 15 standard drinks a week (note that this is slightly lower than the limits recommended by the World Health Organisation). The World Health Organisation recommends that women abstain from alcohol during pregnancy. In New Zealand the legal drinking age is 18. Do not drink alcohol if you are under the legal age to do so in your country. It is illegal to drive while under the influence of alcohol.