As I’m up to my ears in wine all week, I don’t make a habit of visiting producers on my days off. But a long standing invitation to taste the wines made by one of my students, Alex Perez, at Tantalus Estate on Waiheke Island proved irresistible. With relatives visiting from New York and a sunny Auckland day in store, we took the ferry across the harbour.Tantalus Estate occupies the site that was once Saratoga Estate, nestled alongside fellow wineries Te Motu and Stonyridge. The property covers just over 8 hectares with around 4.5ha of the total under vine. The new owners have done a lot of work ; under-performing sauvignon blanc vines becoming sculptural chandeliers and newer and better clones of syrah and cabernet sauvignon planted. Alex Perez, originally from Argentina, is in charge of making the wines. A man of many talents (certified food scientist, brewer, winemaker) he seems to be taking the wines along a restrained, classical path; nothing unconventional and experimental but instead focussing on creating wines that are subtle (maybe the Cachet Chardonnay an exception) and benefit from cellaring. Alex is also involved in the beers produced onsite at the winery’s Alibi Brewery.
This was a relaxed tasting and I was conscious that my overseas visitors probably didn’t want to stand discussing the finer points of clonal selection. My notes are brief.
2015 Pinot Gris : baked pear and apple, restrained with a touch of saline grip on the finish. Very lightly phenolic adding texture and interest.
2015 Cachet : chardonnay made in a style a world away from the sulphide, lean wines that have dominated the scene in recent years. 50% new oak adds a rich texture, and contributes hints of butterscotch and creme brulée. Ripe nectarine and peach. A big full throttle wine.
2014 Evoque : merlot dominant with cabernet franc, sauvignon sand malbec in there too. Silky, liquorice and plum. well structured with fine powdery tannins. Length.
2014 Ecluse : cabernet dominant with cabernet franc, merlot and malbec too. My favourite of the wines; the nose has developing notes of iodine and graphite, the aroma lifted by fresh blackcurrant and redcurrant. New oak contributes another layer of interest, the tannins fine and powdery.
2014 Voilé : 100% syrah. Floral and restrained. Not overtly black pepper-ish but with a delicate gentle aromatic. Some red plum and violets, powdery tannins. Attractive.
The website suggests the restaurant is the headline act and much is made of celebratory head chef Paul Jobin. Dishes such as “Puhoi Valley Chèvre Parfait (Beetroot Dust, Buttermilk Kalamansi Espuma, Cabernet Sauvignon Vinegar, Almond Shards) gives an indication this is a place focussed on serious dining, and on the day we were there it was fully booked. I popped my head through the door and it looked as though it was populated by Auckland’s beautiful people, this confirmed by the shiny helicopter that dropped in amongst the vines late afternoon to collect a party of diners.
Tantalus is a slick operation. But it would be a pity if the snazzy venue and high end restaurant eclipsed the great wines being produced. The ambitious pricing (the reserve reds around $80) and impressive packaging shouldn’t detract from the excellent quality of these charming wines.