Thai Duck Curry – The Perfect Match

And the wine… well Schubert Pinot Noir of course, the consummate duck curry wine!

Duck and pinot noir are gastronomic soul mates and cannot think of many duck dishes where pinot noir does not pair reasonably well, perhaps more in terms of western cooking with roasting and braising methods. There are perhaps some exceptions in Asian cuisine like Peking Duck where a slightly sweet German Riesling or similar goes well, and in fact riesling can work quite well in the realms of Alsace style dishes, also Asian flavours say where the duck is braised in soup.

In this instance, the flavours of the Chinese roast duck with its infusion of star anise, garlic, clove and smoky flavours, along with the gentle spiciness and warmth of the curry on the palate, a pinot noir with good succulence of fruit and spicy warmth, and that probably means from the new world, is the perfect match.

Specifically, the current offering of Schubert 2008 Block B, tried and tested with Kai Schubert at our table, might well be tricky to find now as it recently cleaned up in the London wine shows being awarded the International Trophy for best Pinot Noir at Decanter World Wine Awards and also the International Wine Challenge Trophy for Sustainability.

Putting this in to perspective, there were pinot noirs from 19 other countries including France, Italy, Australia, the USA, Chile, Austria and Germany, so no small achievement to come out on top of the pack.

Decanter’s expert judges described the winning wine (2008 Schubert Block B) as: ‘Forceful, with vibrant, succulent fruits and sweet strawberry and loganberry flavour. Fine concentration and a fresh splash of acidity on the palate. Very long and sleek.’ My tasting note below is a bit longer than that, but I do tend to waffle on a bit.

Schubert’s 2008 Marion’s Vineyard Pinot Noir also made it in the overall Top 10 list of all pinot noirs entered from around the world, and I have to declare it was in fact the Marion’s Pinot Noir that first caught my attention about six years ago when I attended the New Zealand Pinot Noir Celebration and met Marion Deimling, Kai Schubert’s partner.

Actually, I have Phyll Patton at Ata Rangi to thank for introducing me to Schubert wines, as originally I had asked her if she would drive me around Martinborough and Wairarapa on a morning, to get a better understanding of the geography and terroir before a regional winemaker’s lunch that was part of the program.

There are some wine writers that do not care for walking through vineyards or even believe in the concept of terroir however for me it all starts in the vineyard and personally how a vineyard looks and a vignerons approach to viticulture is everything, more so if they are using organic and biodynamic practices.

Phyll rang me to apologise she was completely swamped with journalists at the winery and couldn’t get away, and asked if I would like to met Marion, who was happy to do the tour for me, adding “She’s a really lovely person and I think Schubert is doing great things”.

To put this in to context, Ata Rangi is arguably one of the most profound pinot noirs on this planet, and if Phyll says they are “doing great things”, you should take this onboard!  Determined not to join the hordes of wine writers sniffing and gargling their way around wineries or go near any cellars, moreover my inquisitiveness now heightened, I took up the offer.

So, Marion drove me around for several hours and we talked soils and geography, making our way through the different Martinborough terraces and valleys, and most importantly discussing the significance of the ancient Ruamāhanga riverbeds, the main river that runs through the Wairarapa.

The character of a river is generally determined by the landscape through which it runs and New Zealand’s rivers are very diverse in origin, some Alpine glacial and braided into vast river plains. Others like the Ruamāhanga, were fast-flowing through hill country and carved out deep gorges and cliffs, leaving escarpments of stony sub-soils and terraces with deep alluvial soils and top soils of loess (in parts) and silty river loam known colloquially as Tauherenikau silt loam.

These escarpments and terraces are where vines flourish, soaking up the nutrients and minerals from these ancient formations and there is a distinctive smell and taste of minerals and an earthiness in Martinborough and Wairarapa pinot noirs.

Marion drove beyond the borders of the Martinborough region to their vineyard in East Taratahi, essentially ‘Block B’, to which on a terrace next to the Ruamāhanga River they have planted from 1999 onwards, 8 different clones of pinot noir, including the newer Dijon clones, specifically 115, 667, 777, 114 and 113.

The significance of the Block B plantings is relative and somewhat crucial in understanding the characteristics of the other Schubert Pinot Noir and vineyard site in Martinborough, ‘Marion’s Vineyard’ which is made from a selection of predominantly two pinot noir clones; Pommard and the ‘Able’ clone, the latter a fascinating story that you can read more on Attack of the Clones

If we go back to the comments of the Decanter judges, “Forceful, vibrant, succulent fruits…Fine concentration”. To me these are hallmarks of the Martinborough and Wairarapa pinot noirs that set them apart from other regions in New Zealand. There is a distinctive element of earthiness and concentration to the wines and the tannins are noticeably more chewy, or firmer throughout the whole wine and metaphorically Chambertin-like, rather than Vosne Romanee.

Talking with Kai Schubert on his specific sites, he attributes much of this concentration and structure of the pinot noirs to naturally extremely low yields due to the general harsh weather conditions – late frosts, fierce winds, significance temperature differences, which in the summer time can be hot days (30 degrees) yet plunges to cold nights (5 degrees) which keeps the fruitiness and acidity in the grapes.

The prevailing cool winds from Northwest are bone-chilling dry moreover, it is usually very dry from January till May allowing for a longer ripening time accumulating more complex flavours with harvest around early to Mid April, which translates to October in the northern hemisphere, significantly later than when they harvest in Burgundy. Such dry conditions also mean there are minimal problems with vine disease including botrytis, and makes organic and sustainable practices more feasible.

Kai adds the lower yield is not only due to having less grapes, but the grape bunches and berries are relatively smaller with a different ratio between skin and juice (more skin per juice unit). Furthermore, because of the harsh climate the grapes also develop a thicker skin which means more flavours and colour however most of the flavours are in or just under the skin, so it is necessary to have employ a cold soak (maceration) pre-fermentation and leave on skins for 3 weeks post-fermentation.

He surmises, “In a way, this all compensates for our relatively young vine age along with our high density planting the vines compete for soil, producing less grapes and the roots growing deeper gaining more complex and considerable depth flavours even though the vines were planted only in 1999”.

In my summation, I am glad that I made the (right) decision to go for a drive with Marion, and she is ‘A really lovely person’. She probably thought I was a pretty difficult customer though, turning down her offer to taste their wines back at the winery after our tour.

I had actually liberated a bottle of Schubert Marion’s Pinot Noir 2004 the previous night at the excellent Wellington restaurant, Logan Brown, taking my mum out for dinner. That said, it took as considerable effort to convince our waitress that we were worthy of Riedel Burgundy glasses, then realized that problem was Matt and Lynette Donaldson from Pegasus Bay winery and gaggle of winemakers were at another table with a sea of Burgundy glasses, to which I rectified the situation.

The 2004 Marion’s Pinot Noir we enjoyed over dinner was a revelation and having tried successive vintages of their wines ever since, I can attest they are consistently compelling pinot noirs imbued with intense fruit, earthy minerality, invigorating tension and Schubert are arguably making some of the most complex pinot noir in New Zealand, if not the world.

I might add, in a significant blind tasting held in Germany, their Block B Pinot Noir 2004 outclassed one of the Burgundies most coveted wines from a great vintage, 1999 Comte de Vogüé “Musigny Grand Cru”, a wine that sells for tens times the price of Schubert!

And on a final note, why did it take so long to write up Schubert? Well, after six years I could plead journalistic paralysis. Or maybe it was something inside of me that did not want to give away the secret, when you discover something so good, rather than blast it out all over the place, let people discover it for themselves. And maybe I was being selfish in the knowledge the price will, and should double, ayet will still be one of the great wine bargains of the world.

You can catch Kai Schubert in Asia at the Burghound in Asia – Singapore event, April 8th and 9th, visit www.burghoundinasia.com

My tasting notes

Schubert Wines Block B Pinot Noir 2008Schubert ‘Block B’ Pinot Noir 2008 – Wairarapa, North Island, New Zealand

Intoxicating nose, intense compote-like smell of mulberry, blueberry, blood plum and black cherry oozing pinot noir fruit with a lifted sweetness to the aroma that draws you into the glass then taking on intriguing savoury nuances with tamarind paste, tamarillo and balsamic notes, and a profusion of earthiness – baked black earth, and flinty, gun-smoke, cold iron, like volcanic black beach sand on a winters day.

As it breaths out there is an intense spiciness to the bouquet – five spice, black pepper and cardamom being swirled in a hot wok. Gorgeously rich, plush and silky palate entry, engulfing the mouth with a rush of sweet and sour dark cherry, blueberry and poached blood plums then a surge of invigorating acidity and piquancy of red currents and juniper berry.

There is a thread of spiciness running through the wine imparting a warm glow that lingers with the seamless yet chewy, earthy tannins and barely perceptible oak, all coming to attention with crunchy acidity.

Touchstone full-bodied pinot noir – an Antipodean Grand Cru – moreover a wine of extraordinary price/quality rapport that will age easily for decade – even longer if you can lay your hands on one of their rare magnums.

Footnote: I revisited this wine four times over 6 weeks using the faultless wine preservation winesave, read Must Have Wine Accessory of the Year and can affirm that this wine maintained all its nuances, if anything it improved over this period.

Schubert ‘Marions Vineyard’ Pinot Noir 2006– Wairarapa, North Island, New Zealand (tasted June 2009)

Heady nose of syrupy poached blood plums and ripe black cherry with cloves; some dried fig and prune nuances and a hint of liquorice and yet despite the enormity of the bouquet or suggestion of a very ripe and full-blooded wine it seems quite harmonious and there is a balancing savouriness and herbal quality with fresh rosemary and lavender, perhaps with a hint of youthful mint and anise and peppery spiciness, with a late charge of metallic, gun metal flintiness.

Powerful palate entry with a torrent of sweet and juicy plumy rich fruit saturating the mouth amongst exhilarating acidity and an intense spiciness – invigorating stuff! There are layers of plush fruit, unctuously textured with the richness counterbalanced by the powerful acidity and some earthy, black tea tannins with incredibly length and power to the back palate with lingering dark berry fruit and a warm and tantalizing spiciness and marked of clove spice.

Equally lingering and adding a wonderful complexity is an earthiness and railway iron, rusted steel, backed earth, minerality and savoury bitter nut nuance. This is full-bodied pinot noir and yet still beautifully elegant and softly textured with a fabulous warmth and richness; the perfect wine to convert “pinot noir is too light” sceptics. Tasted the following day, it had lost none of its power and looks set for a good 10 years in bottle before reaching its best, although a hedonistic and thoroughly enjoyable experience now. One of the most profound pinot noirs from New Zealand I have tried.

Schubert ‘Marions Vineyard’ Pinot Noir 2005 – Wairarapa, North Island, New Zealand (tasted March 2008)

Enticing perfume of black cherry and red rose petal, although changing to a more piquant aroma of persimmon and tamarillo, breathing out to an even more meaty, savoury sauvage look with black olive, funky-cheesy elements, gamey, blood sausage, also a dark soy character amongst clove spice, and the aromas just keep growing in the glass, dried thyme, bay leaf, lavender fields and a pronounced gravelly, iron rocks and granite minerality. Crunchy, lively palate entry with an explosion of sour red berry fruit and tamarillo charges across the palate with racy steely acidity, fleshing out towards the back palate with darker chocolaty nuances, BBQ meats and charred timbers.

There is an underlying earthy, forest floor and minerality right through the wine and lingering on the finish with a warming spicy glow of star anise, checked by the cold interplay of steely acidity and fine, chewy, and savoury, black tea flavoured tannins lurking with a noticeable grip towards the end. One got the impression this was a brooding monster of a pinot noir, super-concentrated with loads of dry extract from extremely low yields and the sort of steely structure that brought to mind the Le Chambertin vineyard. With all this coiled up power I decided to revisit the wine the following day, having decanted off a half a bottle and placed in the fridge.

The following day it was still brooding, and it was not until the evening of the third day, after several hours in the glass that it opened up fully, indeed growing in the glass, metamorphosing from its seemly initial tight structure to a monstrous, gobsmacking glass of pinot.  Clearly this wine has many years ahead of it and follows what I now realise is a consistent style of this producer; impressive structure, indelible steely acidity, pronounced minerality iron ore like nuances – a serious Martinborough Pinot Noir that will no doubt rise in the ranks of the New Zealand pecking order, moreover I think I may have uncovered one of the pinot noir bargains of the world.

Visit Schubert website www.schubert.co.nz

Schubert Wines Importers in Asia
Hong Kong – Wines Connection Limited www.wines-connection.com
Japan – Asahiya Wine Cellar www.asahiya-wine.com
Malaysia – Vintage Cellars (M) Sdn. Bhd. http://www.vintagecellars.com.my
Thailand – Bangkok Fine Wine Co. Ltd. bfwparry@loxinfo.co.th
Singapore – Wine Harvest Pte Ltd – madeleine.tan@wineharvest.com.sg

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By Curtis Marsh | Produce | Related to: , , | 2 comments

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2 Comments to Thai Duck Curry – The Perfect Match | Comments Feed

  • Lakisha says

    You’re the gerastet! JMHO

    May 4, 2011
  • […] Thai Duck Curry – The Perfect Match – And the wine… Schubert Pinot Noir of course, the consummate duck curry wine! […]

    July 30, 2013
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