Man O War arose from an atypical story. A family (whose names remain mysteriously absent on the winery website), intent on saving and preserving a portion of Wieke Island in New Zealand, purchased 4500 acres of land on the eastern end of the island. It was this parcel of land that was first discovered by both Polynesian explorers 700 years ago and, many years subsequently, by Captain James Cook on his famous voyage. The Royal Navy eventually used the indigenous trees to build masts for their ships, which ultimately gave the area its name.
Extreme Individuation Within Vastness
Waieke Island is off the coast of Aukland in northern New Zealand. Aukland is generally not known for producing high quality wines from local grapes, but wineries such as Man O War are prompting many to revisit the possibilities of the region.
The vineyards in this remarkable 150 acre slice of the 4500 acre property are comprised of over 90 individual hillside blocks. The soils are volcanic and clay loam, and the site placement, particularly for the reds, is fairly dramatic, with vines reaching down very steep clay hillsides that shelter the vines from the area’s strong winds.
Syrah, like Pinot Noir, has a precipitous ability to reflect the site and climate where it is grown. It is far more transparent than Cabernet Sauvignon, even though so much new world Syrah has been shamelessly manipulated into over extracted fruit bombs, often with astringent alcohol levels.
How pleasant it is, then, that this Syrah gains its pleasure and personality because it embraces its transparency rather than puffing itself up into a distorted steroidal form. It is also this careful and respectful approach to the grape that gives this wine a unique sense of place unlike anywhere else in the world.
The aromas begin spicy, richly adorned with meat, white pepper and cloves. This particularly unique dried clove character becomes part of the wine’s signature when you eventually take a sip. A delicious Syrah with a balance of acidity, density, aromatic complexity and length that comes from letting things be rather than extraction and power. Ironically, this wine is far more potent than any of those monster Syrah/Shiraz potions that unfortunately dominate critical interest in North America. But its potency is deeper and more understated – something you might drink when reading James Baldwin. Brooding but beautiful. Uniquely New Zealand and undeniably more exciting than any of the Pinot Noir’s I’ve tasted thus far.
$50 at BCLDB (from the VIPWF)