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a weekend of surprises

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Wine and shakes - a weekend of surprises

JOHN SAKER

Last updated 05:00, November 23 2016

Elephant Hill Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2014.

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Elephant Hill Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2014.

What a weekend. It began on Friday night in Hawke's Bay, with old guys talking about old wines. Joe Babich and John Buck are two pillars (Babich in the unadorned Doric mould; Buck more flowery and Corinthian) of New Zealand wine. Both treated us to tracks from the wayback stack.

Their real oldies were the goodies. Joe's  Cabinet Merlot 1990 was an unexpected delight – hanging in beautifully, still pitch-perfect. John's Coleraine 1995 offered up that classy insistence we've come to expect from this national treasure.

They and their bottles spoke to us from the past, the way only wine can do. Beside Joe at the tasting sat his charming, Budapest-born wife Judit, who arrived in this country 60 years ago as a refugee of the Hungarian Revolution. Old Europe was in the house, a gentle reminder of where it (great wine, that is) began.

Te Mania Pinot Noir 2015.

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Te Mania Pinot Noir 2015.

The next day, the Hawke's Bay Wine Auction marked its 25th birthday in style. I love this event, because it brings a wine region together in such a beautiful way. The wineries give generously, then the public responds in kind. Big hearts and fat wallets combined to raise an extraordinary $180,000, all of which goes to the region's Cranford Hospice. I don't think there's another New Zealand wine region that can outdo the bay for parochialism – the people love their local vino up there.

There's a lot to love, too. I wrote recently about the bay's renewed chardonnay energy. On this trip, there were constant reminders over and above the Joe & John show of just how well Hawke's Bay reds perform after a few years in the cellar.  The Pask Declaration Cabernet Merlot Malbec 2010 (fresh, stylish cabernet) and the Cypress Terraces Syrah 2008 (minerally, persistent) were two that impressed.

Sunday afternoon it was back to Wellington for Budburst, New Zealand's first-ever festival of natural wines. "Chapeau" to the organisers – what an outstanding event. It was a happy, noisy, engaging scene. Wine and learning had equal currency. I'm sure punters came away from it more clued up and impressed by what natural wines have to offer.

And that night … we got socked by the 7.8. My home office looks like a bomb site still (the result of a shelving collapse). But the stories I'm hearing of winery damage in Marlborough and elsewhere are truly shocking. My heart goes out to all of them.

TRY THESE:

Elephant Hill Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2014 $35 – This Te Awanga-grown wine is superb, with its white peach and fresh green flavours, presented against a gently resistant texture. Sancerre-like, and so good with oysters. 

Te Mania Pinot Noir 2015 $25 – This organically-grown pinot is excellent value. It brings together sweet berryfruit flavours and more savoury, rustic notes, well-supported by lively acidity. Try it with a chorizo risotto.

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