• The Listener
  • North & South
  • Noted
  • RNZ

Saintes by Praised

My life is enriched by stroppy women, practical, opinionated individuals with remarkable strength of character who have had an enormous beneficial influence. They have just been joined by another: the wonderful Sainte Anne.

Sainte Anne, as is appropriate for a holy woman, is enclosed. Not literally behind the walls of a nunnery, or even the walls of a vineyard as the name Clos de Ste Anne implies. Yet this particular saint is as geographically trapped as if the fences around her hillside vineyard in Manutuke were tall, medieval stone walls a la Burgundy.

Clos de Sainte Anne is the inspiration of Gisborne wine producer James Millton, he of the holistic view of viniculture who has provided leadership in organic wine production since well before green was the identifying colour of New Zealand wine. He envisaged this steep hill site west of his winery as an ideal holy place in the vinous sense - a terroir that could stamp its character emphatically on the wines it produces.

Millton has named these wines Clos de Sainte Anne in honour of his wife. And I suspect that Annie - like the stroppy women in my life - has had the same influence on him. Anybody tasting these wines, as the great Hugh Johnson did recently at an alfresco luncheon at the foot of the vineyard, can tell what a fantastic tribute they are to Annie and the place where they are grown.

Johnson, one of the gentlemen of wine and the leading wine communicator of his generation - arguably the greatest single influence on the recent surge of wine interest in the English-speaking world - was mightily impressed by the Clos de Sainte Anne wines. He said that the pinot noir, syrah, chardonnay and viognier were "truly fine wines", and expressed surprise at just how good they were.

Those of us who have been impressed by James Millton through 20-plus vintages were not surprised, we were simply satisfied by his achievement, and the remarkable wines in our glasses.

Email: keith@sommnet.com

TRY THIS MILLTON 2005 CLOS de Ste ANNE CHARDONNAY

This voluptuous yet subtle beauty is one of the greatest pleasures on offer in New Zealand. It smells as silky rich as it feels, and the flavours are like the hum of insects on a summer evening - too numerous to identify individually yet en masse they deliver a sighing satisfaction that is idyllic. This winery has always been notable for the harmony of its wines, which this deeply sophisticated chardonnay epitomises while extending its status to match the best of the world's great whites. From: the winery, www.millton.co.nz, or high-quality retailers. For: $45.