Mission: To respond thoughtfully and responsibly to my experiences of drinking and dining at restaurants with regard to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one who respects the crafts of the chef and sommelier and who seeks to understand their choices in the kitchen and cellar and grow in knowledge. In this, I will seek to be fair, reasoned, direct and constructive and aim to keep my ego in check on our mutual journeys through the worlds of food and wine.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Saint Clair Wines at Stoked. Fierce!

Menu and Saint Clair
August 10th 2015

One of those evenings where the company and food totally outshone the wine. 

Yin-How's wine dinners are always good fun and we generally get lucky in getting selected to attend. so when the notice for a Saint Clair winemaker dinner came through the inbox, we snapped at it. We have been drinking Saint Clair wines for a good number of years now. Their Sauvignon Blancs are traditionally well made and eminently drinkable both as a crisp pick me up after a day at the office or as a starter to a boozy evening of Chinese cuisine and party. One of our favourites. 

It has to be said that parking at the Stoked is getting increasingly difficult, and tonight was no exception - lots of Beamers and Mercs and other snazzy cars taking up the spaces. I dropped off Lenglui and friends and headed back up the road to park up and walk back. Gets a bit embarrassing when you see your contemporaries getting dropped off by their drivers whilst you are plodding your way to the venue. There is also a hint of occasional lording it as they mention they saw you walking. There you go - we've all of us reading this made it far more than most of the world's population can ever imagine. And some made it billions more than others. Is all relative, n'est-ce pas?

Entering the Stoked felt like an IWFS dinner - pretty much all the usual suspects had equally signed up for the dinner and parked on a table that stretched pretty much the length of the restaurant! Though there were a few faces from elsewhere on the wine dinner circuit, and it was fun catching up with them. Though all they seem to want me to do is sing Chinese songs. I generally refuse these days - not everyone wants to hear a white man singing well loved Chinese songs quite badly. 

Yin-How was quick to point out the absence of elevator music and indeed the music (when it could be heard above the cacophony) was nicely judged and upbeat. 

Trio of Canapes
We were seated in the private room at the back, though when the doors are open then everyone is in one room. I got handed a large glass of the St Clair Sparkling by the lovely Ying, which was electric and fiercely acidic with seemingly little in the way of fruit.  A real cheek stinger, like having a dab of after shave but on the inside of the cheeks. The canapes helped tame the acidity and render it more user friendly. Of these, the tuna was very tasty and had great texture, whilst some finely diced cucumber on what felt like day-aged bread also tamed the sparky fizz. Missed the third canape. Though the bread rolls were wonderfully crusty and delightful with the truffle butter. Which again helped to tame the electric fizz. 

Yin-How called the evening to order and introduced Saint Clair senior winemaker Hamish Clark. Hamish spoke well and knowledgeably, though perhaps a shade long for some people's level of patience. Always difficult to judge how much to say. Seems he started working life as a CSI developing DNA databases and ended up making wine. Go figure. He also shared that Saint Clair is 100% family owned which is becoming increasingly rare and the winery harvested its first grapes in 1978.

The Vicar's Choice was gooseberry green, good whack of alcohol, lacks acidity. Firm and fair light to medium body, reasonable finish. Lacked the balance we are used to with previous incarnations - low acidity gave a flabby-ish feel to the fruit. I blended it with the sparky fizz - it worked! The overly acidic fizz boosted the flabby first SB and resulted in a sparky Vicar about which we could sing some praises!

Sashimi of Amaebi and Avruga Caviar
First course was a stunning meld of zip, goo and mouth melting prawn that set off buzzers and bells like a manic pinball machine. The fruit crunch of a perfect grape contrasted with the soft firm mush of a ceviche style sweet prawn topped off with caviar zip and swimming in a sharpish sweet white wine jelly. There was also a drizzle of Olive Oil to line the mouth to receive this amazing blend of tastes and textures. Gunk, crunch, sweet, prawn - so much going on in the dish. Really tasty. Would definitely come back to Stoked for this. 

Some more wine madame?
The Vicar (both blended and unblended) didn't quite work with the dish. Both wer ezippy in their own ways and seemed to fight with each other rather than support. Perhaps if the wine gains a bit of bottle age and the spark fades will it be a better partner. On this showing, it was all Rocky Balboa - whack you in the chest with a big hit of alcohol and put some hair on it.

We were presented with two SBs to sip with the Steamed Grouper - the 2014 Marlborough and the 2014 Pioneer Block 2 (though it may have been 3 - some confusion due to differing info on differing bits of paper). Doc wine said the Marlborough retails for about NZ15 at home. On the night it was clean and balanced, not much of a nose at first. Not much at second either, really…  Got green grass flint and minerality, lot of stone, sleek finish. An easy drinker - ordinary, but solid and more balance than the Vicar. Winemaker Hamish said we should be looking for guava and nectarines. Nope - missed these. 

Block 3 has a bigger nose of greengage and gooseberry and a little zap of honey with a slightly grippy throat but a long lingering finish of crisp apples and citrus. Better balanced than the others and the table preference for drinking.  But it needed to be cold - once it warmed a bit in the glass it lost its tongue and saliva puckering crisp acidity. Friend Molly liked it. We see it as being a match with early course Chinese cuisine - four seasons salty crustacean style. We bought a case.

Steamed Grouper and Jumbo Asparagus
The Steamed Grouper was perfectly poached, and the meat was excellent - slightly sweet but with that briny hint of the sea and tighter texture of meat that suggested wild rather than farmed. Someone remarked that labelling the Asparagus as Jumbo was a bit optimistic, though it was wonderfully crunchy and bitter but not unexpectedly killed the wine - asparagus always does, it just makes wine taste metallic and bitter. It was the sauce that brought the dish together - a ginger citrus lemony lime buttery creation that was a total delight on its own and totally cracking with the fish. Here, the asparagus came in with a vegetal hit to take the edge off the citrus and add balance across the ensemble. This one worked and totally rocked. 

It's a hard life in the tropics...
Unfortunately, the wines didn't really work with the dish. There was too much acidity going on in both the wine and the citrus ginger that it became a battle as to which had the better acetic level. The Marlborough gave total GAAAAHCK in the throat as it reacted with the citrus and butter - felt like the throat was having the toilet brush treatment. The Block 3 fared slightly better, with the leaner wine easing the ginger and citrus to let some floral notes poke through. Though a good Chablis would have knocked the dish into perfection. So it goes - we know for next time. 

The Pinots came out after a brief intro from Hamish. The first was the 2013 Block 14 - light cherry nose, medium texture, which I found a bit harsh on the finish. Didn't see the alcohol content, but must have been a bit on the high side. Quite fierce overall, not desperately friendly.

The second was the 2012 Omaka - not much immediately apparent on the nose, lean and a bit austere in taste and texture, and still at least 3 years too young to drink. Very frisky, not in balance. Similar in finish to the Block 14, something not quite….  proper. Not to say the wines were bad, just not much out of the ordinary and missing something in terms of being something I would buy and happily consume. One for the Orcs from the Lord of the Rings movie rather than the elves. Maybe.

The Double Duck
The double Duck came out and was excellent - perfectly done, great skin, tasty meat and brilliant jus, though the Breast was better than the leg on the night. It was also drenched in some vinegar sauce which (of course) didn't sit well with the acidic Pinot. But then neither of these Pinots really gave much to the dish even though as Hamish said the pairing with duck is traditionally a match from the gods. Not tonight, old son. They just came across as harsh, and clearly needing time. Though the Omaka did show some class when supped with the remains of the bread and truffle butter - it enhanced the cream and the butter cut away the harsh acidic finish. There you go.

People were getting up and getting nicely raucous, clinking glasses and calling for more booze to cheer friends and neighbours. What booze remained in the bottles made it to thrusting glasses thanks to the standout service of the wine staff at Stoked. I notice one gets less fussy about what is in the glass when there is a need to raise it to some long lost friend (though long in this context can be about three to four weeks). It became a big noisy party, so from this perspective the Saint Clair wines did their convivial job. 

Cheers back!!
The evening ended with a delightful Longan Parfait - cold ice cream and crunchy crisp longan, with passion fruit giving zap and the cold frozen mousse-like parfait giving a smooth butter creamy chew for everything to swim in. Totally lovely and lively blend across textures and sour fruit and milky cream tastes. Come back to Stoked for this one too. 

Longan Parfait
So - excellent food (though generally cold - we were the farthest from the kitchen so I guess that explains this one), average wines, excellent company. All of the food was pretty standout, especially the fish with its ginger lemon sauce.  

Cheers three!!
The wines I found generally disappointing. The reds were a bit mean and fierce, and the whites were lean and green though we did buy the SB Block No 3. Yin-How gives great discounts when you buy on the night. Saint Clair is our house wine and our normal go to for taking to the Chinese restaurants. Though not the 2014 vintage at this point - they all need time to let the massive green even out. We'll revisit the Vicar next year at sale time, though whether he will take us to church remains to be seen. Didn't quite get us there on this night.

Peace and lurve!!


Trio of Canapes
Saint Clair Bubbles Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc NV

Sashimi of Amaebi and Avruga Caviar
Sweet Spot Prawn with White Wine Jelly and Shiso Cress
Saint Clair Vicar's Choice Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Steamed Grouper with Jumbo Asparagus
with Ginger Citrus Sauce
Saint Clair Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2014
Saint Clair Pioneeer Block 3 Sauvignon Blanc

O you cheeky boy...
Duo of Duck Leg Confit and Roasted Duck breast
served with Braised Belgian Endive and a Framboise Vinegar Sauce
Saint Clair Pioneeer Block 14 Pinot Noir 2013
Saint Clair Omaka Pinot Noir 2012

Longan Parfait
with Passion Fruit and Vanilla Ice Cream

Coffee or Tea
Petits Fours


  1. i think the Omaka Pinot is a balanced wine but needing time in the glass and longer in the bottle. Give it two or four years now and it should sing, as for me it ticked all the boxes but as a baby. The matching with PIoneer Block SB tended to distract too and there is some nice minerality in that number. I really have never got into Sparkiling SB either. Cheers and thanks,
    Lower brix levels for Marlborough 2014 tended to mean greater green notes http://www.hunters.co.nz/news/vintage-report ,

    1. Cheers Stephen, appreciate the comment and info on brix levels. Gives a useful context for the wines.