Do wines taste better drunk from a glass while meandering among the vines from which the grapes were grown? I think so, but then I am hopelessly sentimental. Throw in the vineyard labrador, a perfect day and a breathtaking view, and what's in the glass takes on mythical proportions.
Given that the eastern end of Waiheke Island boasts some of the most pristine bays and beaches with rugged cliffs and rolling hills, you would think that any winery there couldn't miss. You could be right.
Captain James Cook supposedly first sighted the island in 1769, but the venerable swashbuckling sailor failed to realise the winegrowing potential of the area. That came 224 years later when the Spencer family planted the first vines.
Take a helicopter ride and the aerial perspective is astonishing. Vines snake their way as far as the eye can see - including on some seemingly impossible slopes. Since those tentative plantings in 1993 there are now 90 carefully selected and developed individual pockets for grape-growing, each chosen for the unique and appropriate qualities. At Man O'War Wines, meticulous design ensures that the distinct soil profile and microclimate of each block is used to best advantage with different rootstocks, clones and planting densities selected to match the specific terroir. Consequently there is now a wide portfolio of wines on offer including sauvignon blanc, sauvignon semillon, chardonnay, syrah, cabernet franc, merlot, a Bordeaux blend and a pinot gris grown on neighbouring Ponui Island where, says vineyard manager Matt Allen: "The harvest is controlled by the tide."
There are two collections to Man O'War wines. The White Label (cheaper wines) is designed to express fruit vibrancy in a classical, uncomplicated style and leans towards earlier drinking, while the flagship Black Label range includes Gravestone sauvignon semillon, Valhalla chardonnay, Dreadnought syrah and an Ironclad Bordeaux blend. These wines have layers of complexity, structure and ageing and are named to reflect their history and exceptional sense of place.
Had Captain Cook seen the future he would have gladly swapped a barrel of rum for some of Man O'War's fine wines.
2010 Man O'War Pinot Gris, $25
Grown on a single hilltop vineyard at the northernmost end of Ponui Island - one of the most isolated winegrowing locations in the world. Intense, luscious and ripe with lots of juicy citrus flavours and a hint of natural spritz.
2008 Man O'War Ironclad, $46
Much-lauded by authoritative British magazine Decanter as an arresting, head-turning Bordeaux blend. Merlot-dominant with cabernet franc providing an earthy nose, floral touches courtesy of malbec and petit verdot and cabernet sauvignon in the mix for good measure. Complex and complete.