John Hawkesby

John Hawkesby is a wine writer for Canvas Magazine.

A master in the world of wine

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Stephen Bennett is pleased to see New Zealanders are not only appreciating their own wine, but, are becoming more familiar with styles from other countries. Photo / Thinkstock
Stephen Bennett is pleased to see New Zealanders are not only appreciating their own wine, but, are becoming more familiar with styles from other countries. Photo / Thinkstock

Ask Stephen Bennett any question about wine and expect an answer so long you've time to leave the room, wash the car, mow the lawns and walk the dog - come back and he'll still be answering your question, oblivious to the fact you have been absent. This is not a criticism or even a cheap shot ... the Master of Wine is bursting with enthusiasm, knowledge and experience that comes from almost 25 years' involvement in the New Zealand wine industry as merchant, educator, writer, taster and producer.

Bennett is also widely acknowledged as having one of the best palates in the business, a fact he puts down to having drunk "copious amounts and styles of wine from all over the world at a relatively early age".

In 1994, aged just 25, he was the youngest Master of Wine in the world. These days he concentrates on importing Italian, South American and Spanish wines into New Zealand. "We specialised in those areas because the rest of the field was already covered."

Bennett is pleased to see that as well as appreciating their own wines, New Zealanders are now becoming more familiar with styles from other countries.

"When we started, over 10 years ago, it was hard to see many imported wines on restaurant lists ... that's now changed."

But Bennett is unequivocally committed to local wines, to the point of directing a lot of time, energy and expertise towards producing a range himself, for which, as you'd expect, he has firm convictions and exacting standards.

"All of my wines are dry and kept on lees. [A winemaking process that adds complexity and structure to the finished wines flavour]. I want to make wines that capture the purity and sense of place."

With this in mind, he sources grapes from growers all over the country whose fruit suits his style and seeks to make premium wines at an affordable price. With his Kairos label, for small-batch artisan wines, usually no more than 300 cases are made from premium grapes and these are given an individualistic, wild ferment style.

The wines provide value for money and Bennett puts his considerable skill where his mouth is. I did have a second question for him but I forgot what it was.

Recommended

2009 Kairos Fait Main Martinborough Pinot Noir, $45
French for "by hand", the Fait Main label indicates the precision and care taken to make a Burgundy-style pinot that relies on finesse rather than forward fruitiness for flavour and style. A succulent and savoury wine with subtle texture and lovely dry tannins.

2010 Kairos Wild Ferment Waipara Riesling, $26
A riesling with plenty of "funk" and attitude. It is tingly on the tonsils with wafting mandarin and citrus fruit flavours and a rich dry finish. This wine is full of character and bound to age gracefully. Superb.

- NZ Herald

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