Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Wine

Christmas is usually my favourite family time. My family are unashamedly 'foodie' and Christmas Day often gets a theme for the menu and special wine from the cellar.

Actually nothing is different this year apart from one small matter, in that I'm pregnant and can't swing into the selecting of wine with quite as much enthusiasm as usual.

I'm still a Sommelier though and a proper, geeky wine enthusiast so my tasting (smelling and spitting) will continue.

I'm looking forward to dinner tomorrow despite the lack of that frisson of excitement emanating from those special bottles.

Merry Christmas

Friday, December 19, 2008

Two Very Fine Wines

Out at lunch the boys seemed unable to restrain themselves from selecting wines from the expensive end of the list.

The Bell Hill Chardonnay 2005 from North Canterbury had already been talked up by Chris before it even hit the stemware. He'd enjoyed it at the same establishment not so long ago and it had proved to be the lingering memory of that lunch. With a $75 mail-order-from-the-vineyard price tag this is a serious foray into serious Nu Zillund wine. The Aussies have been hiking the prices at the top end of the market for a while but we've been remarkably reticent over here. Not so with
Marcel Giesen and Sherwyn Veldhuizen, the owners and wine growers. For all the swagger and expense this is exciting stuff.

It leads in with melon and guava, a tropical fruit spectrum under flinty iodine all leading to marzipan softness. "More Montrachet than Mersault" says Rich. Great concentration and fine acid with rocking lemon-y balance on the palate and a slight graininess emanating from oak still resolving itself into the fruit. As it sits cereal notes appear until all I can get is Apricot All Bran. It sits some more and the breakfast aspect morphs into pudding. The sweetness of apricot crumble. Butter and oats. For all this apparent softness it's a big wine and quite raw boned. A solid German fraulein. Not inelegant but very natural. Hewn. a 2 bottle wine

The red was another revelation and a very special wine. Craggy Range 'My Selection' Pinot Noir Te Muna 2003 was blended by the late Doug Wisor, a winemaker for Craggy Range before his tragic death in a kite-surfing accident. As such it takes on a bitter poignancy, not that that should detract from the wine itself, rather it adds a layer of regret that such a talent should have been taken so young.

With 5 years in the bottle this is definitely in its best window right now. The glinting garnet colour of blood still shot through with a little purple and only slight fading at the rim. The concentration if not the profile is reminiscent of Dry River although it puts me in mind of a quote from the back of an Ata Rangi bottle.
"Maximum Power without maximum weight, like a well-engineered back pack". And in colour it looks like an aging Ata Rangi. The aroma is heady. Red fruits and rhubarb with a sheen of bacon fat. The palate super-plush, an almost waxy character, red licorice. After the bacon fat dissolves the wine blooms into greeness leaving sweet pineapple mint, anise, camphor and bayleaf. This is a Pinot that grants me understanding of the 'perfumed' descriptor. Gentle, sensitive, fragrant, quixotic.
a 2 bottle wine

Friday, December 12, 2008

It is one of the strange laws of ordering wine in restaurants that certain indicators will sway a client towards one particular wine despite their never having encountered that wine before.

The laws for Pinot Noir at Christmas functions seem to dictate that it must not exceed a $90 price tag, but neither must it fall below $80 either. This being some nominal indication of the right level of quality. They also appear to dictate that the wine must hail from Central Otago, this being the only place that any self respecting Aucklander will consider as the birthplace of PineNwah.

With this in mind, and having been blind-sided by a price hike of the wine that was serving in this particular catagory, I had to search out a Central Otago Pinot that would fit the bill. This is my least favourite part of wine-list-writing. It is wine as business and commodity and shuns the romance that I would prefer.

Two wines were called to attention. The right price, the right provenance.

The Nanny Goat Central Otago Pinot Noir 2006 is a strange beast. Untypical to say the least and displaying a sexy, feral mushroom and barnyard funk to the nose. A Pinot Noir of horse manure overlaying plummy red fruits. A little bit obscure but silky and structured nonetheless.

The Wild Earth Central Otago Pinot Noir 2007 is upfront with a sweet caramel hint to the nose and plenty of muscular dark blackberry. Certainly less complex but a straightforward hit of fruit and flesh that will please whilst wearing a silly hat.

I sound cynical. I guess I am. I console myself with the fact that at least the Wild Earth doesn't display the sappy aspect that puts me off so many of his brothers.

And despite my preference for the Nany Goat's varietal charms a brief tasting with the crew confirms the Wild Earth as the more pleasing of the two. So Wild Earth it is.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Wooing Tree Pinot Noir 2006

Apparently this is the de riguer Pinot du jour at restaurant hot spots about town. It has a coterie of awards from all and sundry and and endorsement from Parker.

It smells like sap, stem and bramble. But mostly sap and has the ubiquitous Central Otago power in the nose. The palate is tart and grainy. Not my cup of tea. a 1 sip wine.

But this does rather fly in the face of other learned opinion.

Monday, December 1, 2008

2008 Kiwi Wine Fan Club Wines of the Year

The lovely people over at Kiwi Wine Fan Club have announced their 9th Annual wine awards. The writing is in depth and prolific (definitely puts my posting ability in the shade), although they did let me put my two cents in.

As they put it
our rules of engagement for these awards are loose and ad hoc" and "All errors are on purpose."

There's no denying this team their quirky approach to scoring wine but neither is there any denying their huge passion, enthusiasm and obvious talent.

Read all about it here

Saturday, November 29, 2008

So Hard to Know

Viognier is a tricksy grape. Sometimes it can be so heady as to be overwhelming and sometimes, like this time, it can be so evasive as to be unknowable. The Millton Clos de St. Anne Gisborne Viognier 2006 wasn't giving up much. Closed down and hiding and hinting. Dry and spicy on the nose with bay leaf and cinnamon and just a touch of caramel sweetness there was little in the way of floral perfume or ripeness. The palate had some good, glycerol weight backed up with apricot and lemon but after half a glass Rich gave up, put some cling film on the glass and went to bed. Frustrated.

Night two. Well sunny afternoon really and finally the wine fills out. The expected ripe fruits and flowers appearing like springtime. In some ways it's too little, too late and the mineral dryness of the palate just doesn't evoke the nose. Milton are masters of the varietal white but for me the 2006 Viognier is too shy. a 1 glass wine.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Rich Riesling at Reasonable Price

The Main Divide Waipara Valley Riesling 2007 is a good drop for these frugal times. At around $20 retail (and possibly less bought in case lots) this would be on my list for Christmas cheer. Made with fruit purely from the Waipara Valley it's a weighty style of Riesling despite its lovely low 11.5% alcohol. It smells like stonefruit and green apples set against the backdrop of typical Waipara salty tang. Whether that's the terroir or some judicious lees work I can't be sure but Waipara Rielsing has a common thread of weight and salt that sets it apart from its Marlborough cousins.

The palate continues in a stone-fruity style, minerality providing freshness rather than the Marlborough zippy, acid citrus tones. Off dry, balanced and terribly agreeable this is one to snap up and then wash down at Christmas with the Ika Mata. The fat, pineapple nose a dream pairing with the fish and coconut
. a 4 glass wine.

Carrick Pinot Noir 2006

This Central Otago wines smells lush without even a hint of the sappy note that dominates others of its ilk. It's earthy without being dirty or even slightly barnyard-y and the fruit tends wild and dark. Rich is drinking it and enjoying it although he's telling me tales of a super-premium from Carrick (everyone in Central is doing it, doncha know) that was magnificent. A serious wine. A crowd pleaser. A serious crowd pleaser and a 4 glass wine.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Fromm a Winery I Admire

The Fromm Dry Riesling Marlborough 2007 had me stumped last night. I think my nose is having some issues because everything smells like apricots. Initially the aromas seemed fat with peaches and a matchstick tang in the background and, without knowing what I had in front of me, I was confused. A wee sip shattered the blowsy first approach with its white lightening purity and bone tingling acidity. Unmistakably Riesling now.

A fat nose of peaches with a matchstick tang but a fatness that blows off after a while and resolves itself into apple blossom and lemons with that flinty, struck match character lurking underneath. Becoming sharper and more piercing with each breath. The palate is very long, linear and pointy. Not so much austere as peremptory.
a 1 glass wine (too intellectual to be fun).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tasting in Situ

The trip to Marlborough was lovely, the itinerary beautifully considered and, if the Marlborough sunshine had come out on both rather than just one of the days we were there, it would have been magical. Unfortunately standing above the Awatere terraces with Awatere fruit savvy in hand lost some of its lustre due to a stinging breeze and brooding sky. More gothic than bucolic.

The wines in focus were from the Constellation portfolio which tend towards the more commercial end of the spectrum but that does not in any way diminish the obvious passion, energy, knowledge and enthusiam of the winemaking team we met. This is Marlborough Sauvignon that is going out to meet the world, specifically the U.S. market and as such needs to be made in volume.

We had a thorough run through of their Drylands wines (plus some Selaks) at the winery and I tried hard to keep my prejudice against commercial styles stop me from dismissing the wines out of hand. These are all good wines that speak to where they come from.

Drylands Dry Riesling Marlborough 2007
Rapaura fruit. Lime, mandarin, orange blossom and jasmine with a warming cinammon background this is under 5 grams residual sugar and the palate has strong citrus elements without displaying huge tension or poise. Pleasant commercial style that shows a little flint in the palate and medium length.

Drylands Pinot Gris Marlborough 2007
10 grams residual and using yeast from the Rhone and a slow ferment this is a rich, yeasty style. Quite savoury witha citrus palate, oily but not luscious it's more quince, pear and pear skin.

Drylands Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2007
Passionfruit, grapefruit, sweat and green apple at a year in the bottle the acids are beginning to flatten out.

Drylands Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2008
Aggressive grass and white flower, peach and grapefruit pith. The palate is juicy acidity and lip-smacking un-ripe peach. More delicate than the 2007 at this stage but finishing with a wierd hint of cheese twisty.

Selaks Founders Reserve Oak-Aged Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2003
This was something of a treat. Not available but lurking in a corner of the winery. Deep yellow gold and wearing its age well. Creamy vanilla and redcurrent leaf nose leading into a banana, passionfruit palate hemmed in by hints of asparagus. Honey and nuts. Savoury lemon-honey on toast. Complex and developed but with every sign of living much longer.

Drylands Chardonnay Marlborough 2006
White nectarine, honey and white peach given charcater through barrel ferment this ends with a lees-y, weetbix softness and is undeniably moorish.

Drylands Pinot Noir Marlborough 2006
Red fruits with leather and baking spice. Good structure with mouthcoating, slightly grippy tannins and a long strawberry and rasberry fruit finish.

Drylands Merlot Marlborough 2006
Deep garnet colour with elegant nose. A fruitcake, log-fires and plums wine. Smells like it and tastes like it. The tannins are grippy and drying without the plump-ness that warmer climates can bring.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


I'm finally going to get aquainted with Nu Zillund's most famous wine region. It's a flying visit of a day and a bit but I'm excited. Living in the Hawke's Bay last summer gave me a different appreciation of that region and it helps (when you're a visual learner) to be able to visualise the lansdscape where the grapes are grown.

I guess I should take my camera..

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Out of wine sorts

I've been feeling at odds with my favourite tipple and it's coalesced into a hiatus in imbibing (but not, it appears in verbosity). I've been scratching around in piles of wine notes looking for inspiration and stumbled across a quote from Eric Asimov which appeared months back on January 25, 2008 in the New York Times online.

He says
I prefer oddball, idiosyncratic lists that can’t contain the passion and individual tastes of the sommelier." (Read the rest of the article here)

It's a comforting thought that someone likes wine-lists that run to the left of centre and especially so when I look at the list I'm creating and see those little known gems that might just languish there if I don't spend my nights cheerleading and championing.

The summer list is almost done. It doesn't have this wine on it but this is definitely something that gets the juices flowing.

I sipped the Fromm Clayvin Marlborough Chardonnay 2004 at Euro Bar a wee while back and it was a developed, harmonious drop somewhat at odds with the brash, waterfront location. It smelt like lemons and wet leaves with the oak influence giving just the merest suggestion of cloves. Integrated, fragrant and delicious. a 4 glass wine.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Bits and Bobs from the Notebook.

Another eclectic collection of tastes that have been lurking in my notebook including a standout Gris. It's frightening but I might be coming around to Nu Zillund's new favourite summer tipple.

Te Whare Ra Toru Marlborough 2008
An off-the-wall blend of Gew├╝rztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Gris (the Toru in the name means 'three' in Maori) in an off-dry style. It's tempting to think that blends such as this are the result of left over juice being given a marketing spin but there's definite care taken with the style and it works. Fruit salad in a glass. Lime pith and sherbet. Tempting and engaging. a 2 glass wine.

Wither Hills Wairau Valley Pinot Gris 2008

Honeysuckle and a little toasty oak. There's minerality, weight and mealiness in the mid palate. A little beauty that hopefully won't get undermined by the grocery chains heavy discount rotation. Charming. a 3 glass wine.

Martinborough Rose Martinborough 2008 (500ml bottle)
Rosehip florals, lots of fruit and flavour with a lovely creamy palate backed up by some come-hither spices. The wee 500ml bottle is a lovely touch. a 3 glass wine.

Weeping Sands Syrah Waiheke 2006
Pink peppercorn and blue fruits abound in the nose with the palate playing fine, refreshing acidity against really dark berry berries. There's an element of warming coffee bean amongst the cool limpidity. Serene rather than ballsy. a 3 glass wine.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Potty for Pinot

I'm rather missing the zeitgeist here with this statement. It's no secret that Pinot Noir is being drunk in abundance and "Sideways" came out in 2004 so I'm about 4 years off the pace but a couple of things conspired over the past week to have me thinking that Pinot-love has ratcheted up another notch, here in Nu Zillund at least.

Whilst at lunch last Tuesday (being treated to the Vidal wines) a restaurant industry peer commented that, last summer, Pinot Noir outsold every other varietal. The summer usually has Kiwis reaching for the ubiquitous Savvy or a fashionable Pinot Gris and whilst there's no mistaking Pinot Noir's a contender in the fashion stakes it came as a surprise that it would oust the whites whilst the sun shone.

Then my lovely Dad (who gets Cuisine magazine delivered and hence receives it before the shops) got in touch to share the results of the magazine's Pinot tasting. As he so eloquently put it "Cuisine goes a bit gaga over the standard of 2007 Pinot Noirs". And he questioned "have they gone ott and developed nu zillund one-eyed-ness on our nouveau #1 grape?".

Talking over some of the results I'm still unsure, and Cuisine have certainly been lavish with their praise. 29 wines awarded 5 stars. That's 29 "2 bottle wines".

That's a lot! the sup-position jury is still out on this one.

Friday, October 24, 2008

an absolute steal

It's easy to get carried away by the thrill of the new. And it's easy to be impressed by lavish wineries that cost millions. Forward thinking, techno-savvy winemakers and glamorous packaging. Or at least it's easy here in Nu Zillund where the gravitas of time and tradition has less sway than it might. Often a winery's best vintage is the most recent vintage as technique and understanding grow and in light of all this it can be easy to disregard a phrase like

"New Zealand wine since 1905"

This is the tag line for Vidal. A Hawke's Bay winery that's part of the Villa Maria group but proud of their independence and heritage. And a winery that really over-delivers with elegant wines full of strucure and harmony.

A tasting of their Reserve range earlier in the week highlighted just how thoughtful and well made these wines are. I realise I'm waxing lyrical but the Vidal Reserve Hawkes Bay Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 caused even more tactiturn types than myself to certain flights of fancy.

With 6 years in the bottle this is just starting to come into its own exhibiting bewitching complexity. The aroma is intoxicating, showing a dusty pencil quality which overlays rich black cherry fruit and game. The flavour is defined, structured and balanced with satisfying black plum, cassis and earth. Classic, classy, elegant. a 1 bottle wine.

and at $40 recommended retail..... an absolute steal.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Notes burning a hole in the notebook

Apparently it takes a little longer than I declare to get around to writing up notes.

This was a little off the wall collection of samples from Procure.

Ostler 'Blue House Vines' Riesling Waitaki Valley 2008
The Waitaki Valley in North Otago is only just starting to have a collection of vineyards to call its own and has a climate and growing season that is quite distinct from Central. At 11.5% this is all super fresh lime and minerality. Sharply defined the palate shows a unique combination of stonefruit reigned in by taut, tight lemony acids. A lively riesling with heaps of personality. a 2 glass wine.

Alana Estate Sauvignon Blanc Martinborough 2008
Very shy for a sauvignon fresh off the blocks, wafting a little peach skin but not much else. The palate is fruit sweet, perhaps some nettle characteristics but lacking varietal typicity. a 1 glass wine.

Two Rivers of Marlborough Convergence Sauvignon Blanc 2008
A commercial, correct, varietal style. A safe sauvignon with broad appeal. Peaches backed up by a gunflint and a plump palate. a 1 glass wine.

Elephant Hill Viognier Hawke's Bay 2008
Chargrilled apricots in the aroma make this a less delicate expression than it's 2007 predecessor. It is refreshing and spicy showing good acidity but without an ethereal floral component at this stage of development. Nonetheless a pretty and pure expression of Viognier. a 3 glass wine.

Ostler 'Caroline' Pinot Noir Waitaki Valley 2006
Dark, brooding and a little bit feral this Pinot evolves in the glass. The fruit is wieghty blackberry, mingled with licorice and the savoury, gamey elements appear before resolving into limestone minerality, earth and lemons. Complex but lacking balance with the barnyard notes drowning out the fruit. Perhaps even the slight horsehair whiff of Brett? a 1 glass wine.

Elephant Hill Reserve Syrah Hawke's Bay 2007
Smoky, bloody and opulent. A flowing palate of fine tannins and dark fruit. Still developing but enticing now this is Hawke's Bay Syrah at its layered, generous best. a 1 bottle wine.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

More tastings and some super cheap plonk

The samples and the lovely people that tout them keep flowing through the door and I have some lovely notes on wines from small producers such as Ostler in the Waitaki Valley and Alana Estate of Martinborough which I will write up tomorrow. There are more and more producers out there making wines that are full of personality and that are far from the commercial cookie-cutter. Even the new big-kid-on-the-block, Elephant Hill, is using its state of the art winery to produce really interesting wine.

In an aside however. Rich chanced upon two outrageous bargains at our local New World. The Patutahi Gewurztraminer has often tickled my fancy but it's usually priced in the high 20s. To find it for (the almost criminal) $14.99 is a steal. Ditto the Cottage Block Ruahine 2004. Also at $14.99 and smelling classic, well made and far too elegant for the reduced price tag. Bargains to be had! If this is the fall out of recession then I'm happy for now....

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Nelson Wineart

This afternoon the winegrowers of Nelson rolled in to town under the nelson wineart banner, showing off the 2008 releases to the trade. It's a fine notion to brand these very boutique wineries together and there were some impressive wines to taste.

In no particular order (other than the order I tasted them in).... here are the stand-outs.

Anchorage Sauvignon Blanc 2008 was approachable and fresh with an interesting 'supressed golden syrup' character on the nose and the Anchorage Pinot Gris 2008 was varietal in a firm style with a creamy, pineapple palate. The Anchorage Chardonnay 2007 was showing in intriguing combination of ham, cloves and pineapple and their Pinot Noir 2007 has a soft, round aroma of Christmas pudding with dusty, smokey tannins giving a dry, elegant finish.
Overall I liked the style and approach of the Anchorage wines almost to a man.

Kahurangi Estate have impressed me in the past with their Riesling and the current Kahurangi Reserve Riesling 2007 is no exception showing remarkable poise and balance. It manages to be both luscious and refreshing, which is a neat trick if you can manage it, and as one colleague put it "is everything you look for in a Riesling". The Kahurangi Nelson Gewurztraminer 2008 is a lively style with beautiful lychee character overlaying exotic green peppercorn. It's fresh and floral and refreshing rather than oily and supple but none the worse for that.

Rimu Grove stood out with a line up of very concentrated, ripe wines. Their Rimu Grove Pinot Gris 2008 has a super ripe beurre bosc pear and feijoa nose leading into a palate that hold its 12 grams residual sugar well through weight and concentration. The Rimu Grove Chardonnay 2005 was a confusing mix of charcoal and coffee mixed with stonefruit and lemon and in the mouth was at once taut and buttery. Intriguing but not moorish. The Rimu Grove Pinot Noir 2005 showed intense weight and ripe fruit whilst still retaining typicity. A flamboyant boysenberry nose belying a dry mushroom and earth palate.

And finally Moutere Hills threw a curve ball with a bone dry Pinot Gris. Hard to take at first, this is an intellectual style of Gris. The Moutere Hills Pinot Gris 2007 has had special Alsace yeasts imported to give it a distinctive style, something others found medicinal but the more charitable would term savoury manuka honey and tea-tree in the aroma led to a tightly drawn palate chracterised by lemons and minerals with nutty undertones. Sparing, concise and perhaps a little attenuated but intriguing all the same, this should show better in time.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Tasting Time

It's mad tasting time out there in the restaurant trenches. Summer is approaching and summer is traditionally the time when liquor seems to flow a little more freely. Summer is also host to the Nu Zillund Christmas, a time when plonk of all descriptions flows like a river through the bars and restaurants and out to sea (eventually, I guess).

Here in the relative quiet of Spring we prepare. The Savvys are (mostly) in and new releases of other flavours are showing up also. So many wineries in Aotearoa and all involved in a friendly tussle for a piece of the pie. How to choose? In tastings of course. Some are elaborate affairs with many bells and whistles to coax you into stocking this wine or that. Others are simple. A wine, a winemaker, a twinkle in the eye.

As was yesterday when Glenn Thomas, winemaker of Tupari Sauvignon Blanc, showed up with a pair of vintages. A splash in the glass, a little story. I was quite impressed.

Tupari Sauvignon Blanc Awatere, Marlborough 2007
A little deeper colour in the glass due to the extra year of bottle age and from 10% barrel ferment for 6 months. A suave, steely, mineral nose that mixes orange blossom, white fruits and peaches. Lees work gives a creamy mouthfeel to underpin the slate and stonefruit of the palate. Grown-up and food friendly.
a 3 glass wine

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Matariki Wines and Chinese Food

An impromptu dinner organised by the effusive and charming 'King of Spain' saw Rich and I eating at Canton Cafe last night in the kitchen upstairs. Not only was I unaware that Canton Cafe had an upstairs but I certainly wouldn't have picked it as a place conducive to extensive wine tasting. However in our bolt hole away from the frantic pace of the main dining room and with winemaker Rod McDonald pouring from Matariki Wines extensive portfolio we had an informal and, at times, hilarious tasting.

My notes were hastily scrawled as the 'lazy suzy' whizzed plates (and sometimes glasses) around and as such are truncated at best. Rod also brought a few old world wines for the sake of compare and contrast.

Matariki Sauvignon Blanc Hawke's Bay 2007
Shy, creamy nose of banana and guava and an enveloping palate displaying lemons, minerals and a herbal tinge. a 3 glass wine

Domaine Vacheron 'Les Romains' Sancerre 2006
Creamy lemon, delicate with soft acids and a leafy aspect. a 3 glass wine

Matariki Chardonnay Hawke's Bay 2005
Showing great bottle development this leads with grilled nuts and grapefruit and the palate rounds out to ripe nectarine with only a background of 'old fridge' starting to come in to play. The citrus and stonefruit characters are quite forward still with a biscuity, buttery weight in the mid palate. a 4 glass wine

From this point my notes are nothing more than a few words and may take a little help from Rich to piece together. More later

Monday, October 6, 2008

Women in Wine

It seems a refrain played at least once a year in one or other of our local print media and is touched on countless times across the globe.

That wine is 'a male domain'.

The findings of these articles are never as colourful as they should be and I've never personally encountered any prejudice as I stumble my way as Sommelier.

Nonetheless I was charmed by this collection of Women Wine Writers on the Web (as I review the wine writing I follow and discover it is a male domain).

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Italian Connection in Clevedon

Vin Alto Pinot Grigio Clevedon 2006

(Heaving a sigh of relief..)

Finally. A dry Gris. A food friendly Gris. A Gris made with eyes firmly on Italy hence the Grigio in the title. But it's more than that. This is a refreshing wine to enjoy with lunch. Unashamedly fresh.

Greeny straw in the glass and green apple on the nose. A palate of peach skin and nashi, pineapple and hay make this simple without being simplistic. There's some lovely underlying minerality and crisp acidity which is gentle yet fresh. Approachable, defined and varietal.
a 3 glass wine.

(and might I add that my resident Pinot Gris detestee rather likes this).

Sunday, September 28, 2008


I was very blessed on Thursday (yes the slightly squiffy day of the Riedel tasting) to be invited to lunch with Martin Shaw from Shaw + Smith Wines. I've long been a fan of their elegant chardonnay so an opportunity to meet the winemaker and eat some excellent food paired with these Adelaide Hills wines was a gift.

Of the three wines available to the New Zealand market the Chardonnay was still the standout although the cool climate Sauvignon Blanc had more than one local restauranteur wondering aloud if Nu Zillund patrons were ready for Ozzie Savvy on their winelists.

Shaw + Smith Chardonnay Adelaide Hills 2007 is a remarkable combination of exhuberance and restraint. It manages to sit defiantly in the New World stylistically without sacrificing fine citrus elegance. The winemakers handling of oak lends a smoked cashew element to a creamy palate without ever dominating the lovely grapefruit and lemon core. Lovely and lovely.
a 1 bottle wine.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

is it seem-ly

or seam-ly to admit to a certan drunkeness given that I've spent the entire day with wine on my mind and palate.

I've tried just the right Pinot Noir out of just the right glass, and ditto with the Cabernet. God bless Mr Riedel.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Untypical Pinot Gris and Classic Chardonnay

The TW Gisborne Pinot Gris 2007 is remarkable for many reasons.... Mainly though it is remarkable for being quaffed with so much verve by Rich, who professes to hate Gris. The TW is also an oak aged Pinot Gris and as such has more of a Chardonnay-Viognier swing about it...

Brilliant gold and spun sugar. Honey, orange flower and apricots in the air with fullness and vanilla on the creamy palate. Very full without being typically oily from low acid and residual sugar. There's a baking spice element to the finish but whether that originates in the barrel influence or from the variety itself isn't obvious. It's a good food style of Gris for all the un-typicity and went very well with an octopus salad.
a 2 glass wine (but that was all I was allowed as Rich scoffed the rest).

Fiddlers Green Waipara Chardonnay 2006 deserves mention for its out and out yuminess, which doesn't in the least bit compete with its almost quaint old world/old school style.

Green flecked gold tells the story of a youthful Chardonnay just about to hit its straps. The fig and quince nose overlays a lovely cashew and meal character which itself overlays a sexy, pongy clay minerality. The palate is classic and refined with fine green olive acidity
and tangelo. Balanced and elaborate.
a 3 glass wine (but only because...)

Friday, September 19, 2008

silly tasting note generator

I'm sure everyone but me has already seen this but hey... It made me giggle
For example

Hopped-up but equally complex and stunning Chenin Blanc. Throws out dried berry, hopeless honey and hopeful prune. Drink now through whenever the cows come home.

What would that be? Hopefully at least a 2 glass wine.. Possibly more

Silly Tasting Note Generator

Search Out Stonecroft

Sometimes affection for a wine is predictated by a love for the place it is grown and the philosophy of the winemaker.

Mostly I try and divorce myself from these fuzzy emotions and concentrate on what is in the bottle as my guests at the restaurant won't have the advantage of tasting the wine through rose (or golden or garnet or violet) tinted goggles.

Luckily for me, although I was hopelessly, romantically swayed by the rustic, boutique cellar door manned by the family itself (well their son) in the first instance I am sure that the wines deserve affection for themselves. In particular the Stonecroft Old Vine Gewurztraminer 2007 which was just as intoxicating as it should be. Weighty, oily, soft and full with the lightness of rose petals and honeysuckle and dappled light on a gravel driveway. The winery remarks " moody and multifaceted" and I agree.

It's not widely available but search it out. Good Gewurztraminer is such a joy.
A 4 glass wine.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Awa Valley Chardonnay 2006

Greenish gold and smelling of fresh figs, geen apples and pandan leaf this is a pleasant, sunny Chardonnay hailing from Kumeu.

With vinyards so close to the lauded Kumeu River Chardonnay it isn't surprising that this is so eminently drinkable. There'e a whiff of oyster shell about the nose and something in the palate that puts me in mind of Macon. A hint of smokey minerality entwined with grapefruit and and beautifully integrated oak. Piquant, developing and subtle with just enough finesse.

A 3 glass wine.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

3 Pinots in a Row

We started with the Koura Bay Blue Duck Awatere Pinot Noir 2005 as I'm about to list this beautiful, silky wine and wanted the troops to try it. It's not the current release but Sal from Co-Pilot had found some cases of the 2005 stashed away and it seemed criminal not to snap them up.
Composed, dignified and self-assured but with a spicy twist the Blue Duck is revelling in its time in the bottle. Dark fruits, dried flowers, a little gamey flutter and a lovely allspice kick make this a delicious mouthfull. All balanced and in accord with no flavours trying to steal the show.
a 5 glass wine.

The Mudhouse Swan Reserve Central Otago Pinot Noir 2007 is another newbie on the list and is settling into my entry-level glasspour slot.
Fairly opaque and rich in the glass with an intriguing nose of damp earth and minty pennyroyal this doesn't play the usual Central Otago cards of chesty, fruit-forward style. Black cherry, musk and tree moss balanced against strains of dark chocolate keep things interesting. I have a feeling that this wine isn't one to age and there's a definite lack of structure at the back but for brooding flavours now this gets a big tick.
a 2 glass wine.

Millton Clos de St. Anne Naboth's Vinyard Gisborne Pinot Noir 2006 is so different from the other two Pinots they barely seem like relations and yet all are good, varietally correct examples of type.
A delicate perfumed nose and a haze of unfiltered purism in the glass speak to a Pinot Noir made with an eye to Chambolle-Musigny. Garnet red and softly see-through with a lightness of rasberry fruit and lavender escaping the Clos de St. Anne is gentle. There's no grip and certainly no swagger just supple finesse.
a 4 glass wine.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Bannockburn competes

I somehow ended up with two Bannockburn, Central Oatgo Pinot Noirs from the 2007 vintage in glasses side by side tonight.

Felton Road Pinot Noir Central Otago 2007
Gravel with little fruit at the start despite being open for hours. A little swirling gives black fruit and damp earth. A true forest floor pinot with a slate and mineral quality. In the mouth there are blackberries, a hint of sap and more grainy earth. Long, serious and wide this is too hot and too young.
a 2 glass wine

Mt Difficulty Pinot Noir Central Otago 2007
Initially all this was prepared to give was sulpher (I'd be reckless with this and a jug) but after vigorous swirling we coaxed morello cherry and lemon dishwashing detergent from the glass. The palate has nice vigour and verve to begin with but fell flat, lacking the bright, acid lift of the Felton Road. Not bad but not interesting.
a 1 glass wine

Monday, September 1, 2008

'The White' of the show

at Wine NZ this year goes to the Alan McCorkindale Waipara Viognier. But right now my palate feels like it has had acid poured all over it and all I'm good for is bonjela and an early night.

More later

Friday, August 29, 2008

Arcane language

I strive, when talking or writing about wine, to avoid the kind of terminology that so many people find off-putting. I don't want to befuddle anyone or make their eyes glaze over.

Most people, when dining out, simply want to know if they have made a 'good' choice. And if I've done my job well and written a good list then the answer should always be "yes, that's a lovely wine". Matters of personal taste come into it also so whether or not that is a lovely wine for them may take some delving. And so there we are back at the matter of terminology.

I've noticed that most people find my anthropomorphising of wine slightly comical but I didn't think it was confusing until last night when I was beating up on a somewhat insipid Pinot Gris. The Ned Pinot Gris Marlborough 2008 is an inoffensive drop, somewhat like a cliche of a washed out blond. Pretty but uninteresting. Pleasant but with little conversation. Saying just one thing. In this instance fresh enough and thankfully shy of the often ridiculous alcohol levels her dry sisters have in Nu Zillund. But ultimately, for me, a 2 sip wine. But my colleagues didn't get it, perhaps I should go back to lists of fruit and flowers. It seems I must try harder to avoid arcane language.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Church Road Cuve Series Chardonnay Hawke's Bay 2004

Sometimes you have to back yourself even when those around you are very unsure.

I can understand the reservations that stemmed from the peculiar smell that wafted off this Chardonnay. It put me in mind of the smell of wet clay which is, well, poo-ey. But the palate was enough to convince me that the Cuve Chardonnay was misunderstood rather than off. The palate was seamless and fine, long and elegant and then that smell would flutter out. It put me in mind of a tastefully dressed beauty letting off gas which is a fitting human image for a wine that is less than ice-queen-like in its poise and grace.

Tasted today, 5 days after opening, the wine has lost none of its grace but the stinky nuances are diminished to a background mineral complexity.

A roasted hazlenut and clay mineral character on the nose and an attractive straw colour suggest the Cuve Series Chardonnay is still developing despite 4 years in the bottle. The palate is sophisticated, mixing sourdough, lanolin, lemon and grapefruit together in a seamless fashion with a background of smoke, sawdust and just a hint of vanilla. Seriously classy with enough humanity to prevent it from feeling rarified. Just like a lady 'delicately' blowing off....
A 5 glass wine (after some serious decanting)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Cable Bay New Release Tasting, August 2008

With a mixture of light-filled, seaview-filled winery; charming, self-effacing winemaker and delicious degustation lunch Cable Bay Vineyards on Waiheke put on the kind of show that made it hard not to like their wines. But, winemaker Neil Culley's mantra of "imagination, interest, evolution and restraint" was fairly hard to resist also and led to liquid that pushed buttons in all the right places.

Cable Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008
A mixture of Omaka Valley and Raupara fruit brings both restraint and weight to this Sauvignon Blanc. Meyer lemon, a little feijoa and a peach skin texture lift this wine from safe and give it a nice breadth and the wine finishes with clean grapefruit and coriander flavours.
A 2 glass wine.

Cable Bay Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2008
Fruit from the Brentwood vineyard in Raupara this is delicate and full of petals. At 7 grams residual sugar it isn't cloying and instead offers up pink smoker lollies and baking spice before falling a little flat on the back palate. Made in a 'drink now' style this is pretty and appealing.
A 2 glass wine.

Cable Bay Waiheke Island Chardonnay 2007
The 6th vintage of this wine has lent winemake Neil Culley the confidence to pick earlier knowing that careful handling and technique in the winery will bring the Chardonnay closer to a restrained style that will evolve in the bottle. Many small parcels of fruit were brought together to construct the wine and the result is elegant and full of interesting nuances. Oatmeal, white peach and soft, fluffy nougat on the nose belie the complete lack of malolactic fermentation (apparently the malic acids are metabolised in the growing process on warm and sunny Waiheke). The piercing palate is also a surprise but demonstrates a Chardonnay in need of time in the bottle.
A 4 glass wine.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Happy, Stressed Sommelier

It's lovely to try, taste, (spit), drink, talk about wine... It's wonderful to have a job that lets you do that all day.

I'm swimming in samples and wine notes but I've got a headache from the endless financial figures and from doubting my palate. I want to write a beautiful winelist. One with enough safe, go-to options for the timid (and too timid to ask advice) but with enough quirky, boutique finds for those that can and will. One that spans the globe and showcases the best of home. And one that inspires celebrations and memories.

So happy and stressed and happily (some might say), tipsy-ly stressed.

Here's one I can't decide on

Domaine Georges Michel 'La Reserve' Marlborough Chardonnay 2005
Tinned peaches and savoury cashew nose with the vanilla sweetness of new french oak. The palate has classical nuances of Chablis-like undergrowth alongside ripe stonefruit and a grainy lemon finish. Long but a little too intellectual.
A 1 glass wine

Thursday, August 14, 2008


I was lucky enough to have wines from this delightful little winery put in front of me the other day. It's a wonderful thing when you're introduced to an established winery that you've managed to miss until the liquid in the glass turns your head.... as Vynfields does

Vynfields Pinot Noir 2006
Blueberry, Christmas plum and fragrant violets. More grip in the mouth but still so youthful with enough slip in the tannins to give a suggestion of silk.
A 5 glass wine

Vynfields Reserve Pinot Noir 2005
Wet leather. Tauter and with more sinew than the 2006 this is dry and spicy and although obviously related to its younger sibling is less perfumed and more savoury.
A 4 glass wine.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Other Birthday Wine

I've put off writing about this wine as I was afraid that I wouldn't do it justice. Notes are hard to make at the best of times and nigh on impossible when you're out for dinner and so the lingering impressions I have of the Bell Hill Pinot Noir 2005, whilst potent, are patchy.

The big wow factor for what, I think, is the best Nu Zillund Pinot I have ever drunk was the bathrobe-y plush tannins. Almost springy in their mouth-coating-ness, this really epitomised the 'iron fist in a velvet glove' in a way I haven't found in other local Pinot Noir. Complexity derived from an intensely varietal palate of floral perfume, game meat and wet earth was carried through to an enveloping sense of controlled power in the finish.

Special, expensive, intensely celebratory.

A 1 bottle wine (if you could get your hands on one, they only made 560 odd in 2005)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Alluviale 2005

There were other wines in the birthday round-up. None of them as evocative as Orton Gewurztraminer but all of them wonderful, memory defining drops. As the clock struck midnight and I entered my 34th year we toasted with the Alluviale 2005.

This second wine from the Blake Family Vineyard is Blake Family all over. On opening it is taut, direct and masculine merlot with kauri-dust-like tannins amongst the berry fruits. Shy of sweetness but not austere the palate balances (Gimblett) gravel minerality and blackcurrant flower. Serious tasting and in need of time and air.
A 3 glass wine

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Birthday Wine

Birthdays call for extravagant, memorable wines. They do not, unfortunately, call for note taking in amongst the fun and frivolity. Luckily I had the willpower and foresight to save a little of the Pyramid Valley Growers Collection Orton Vineyard Hawke's Bay Gewurztraminer 2007 to try just now.

If you're not familiar with Pyramid Valley and their dedication to small family blocks around the country through their 'growers collection' then I would recommend them to all.

Mike and Claudia Weersing have preserved little pieces of history by making wines from tiny family blocks that would otherwise go into making up the juice from contract fruit (or not get made at all).

The first and last vintage of this Gewurztraminer, the reasons for which are best explained by the back label which reads:-

In memorium: this unique acre of 30 year old vines was one of New Zealand's first plantings of Gewurztraminer. Once proudly tended by our friends John Orton and Kerrie Cleverdon, this parcel was summarily ripped out by new owners, who deemed so small a block "impractical". We have bottled this wine unclarified, undiminished, as testament to the wisdom of old vines

Not a bad drop to mark 30, odd, years.

Hazy, unfiltered saffron gold. Sunshine and spice. 14.5% but carries it well (as an older dame should). Stonefruit salad and ham hock (sounds weird but very yummy, imagine that great 70's flavour comination of ham and pineapple and you're almost there). Bone dry, so the spicy caraway and ginger notes dominate the palate along with lavender and lime and it all ends up generous and powerful and suggestive which makes me a little bit sad...
A 6 glass wine (how many glasses are we getting out of a bottle these days?)

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Helen Hunt

of Pinot Noir.
The Crab Farm Hawke's Bay Pinot Noir 2004 is a classic ruby colour but opaque in the glass and the aromas are intriguing; mulberry, red licorice, plum, sweet bayleaf and nutmeg. Balanced, plush tannins distinguish the palate, set against some lively acidity this is a wine of structure and harmony. After some time in the glass strains of milk chocolate mingle with a lingering suggestion of gritty baking spice. At 4 years of age this is mellowed, resolved and graceful. Faceted if slightly flawed. Not beautiful but not unattractive and refreshingly modest.
A 4 glass wine.

Clever and Quirky

Wino Sapien led me to this sweet little test via Wine Woman and Song. Sweet, silly and varietal. I just had to show it off too.

What kind of wine are you?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Brown Brothers Dolcetto and Syrah - from the sublime to the ridiculous

Everyone makes mistakes and this was one. Unfortunately my 'knowledge and expertise' didn't protect me from buying this Australian Lambrusco-esque monstrosity. My ongoing wine adventurer quest often sees me reaching for the more esoteric reaches of the wine shelf and I like Dolcetto, the sweet little grape of Piedmont in Northern Italy, which usually makes a wine similar in body and tannin to New World Pinot Noir. I have had it on my wine list and had no qualms in recommending the Italian version.

This is not like that.

It smells like raspberry jam and tastes like it. Or more precisely like very sweet, iced raspberry tea (iced as the label recommends chilling so I'm 'drinking' it cold, and tea as there is a little fuzzy 'tannin' peaking through). If I was being kind I say it bears a passing resemblance to the varietal flavours of Shiraz, but I don't think I need to be kind and despite only clocking in at 10% this still manages to taste alcohol heavy.

I'm a bit horrified that this gets to be regarded as wine. A quick (post purchase) check of the Brown Brothers website reveals that they are quite open about the "Grandma's lolly jar" like flavours and the 76g/L residual sugar. What, if anything, this has to do with Dolcetto is not so apparent. A 1 (begrudging) sip wine.

Actually I take that back. A little more investigation has revealed that the residual sugar for the 2005 vintage of this wine was revealed but the details for the 2007 vintage only talk of stopping ferment to retain "a little natural sweetness". If this doesn't have a huge dollop of sugar thrown at it well then I really am a monkey's uncle.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Maison Leroy Richebourg Grand Cru Cote de Nuits 1990

In my line of work and hailing from the parochial, hick-country that Nu Zillund can, on occasion, be; it can be easy to miss the times you are drinking something rare and expensive. My 'Sommelier' status notwithstanding it's nigh on impossible to keep up with all the names of the Burgundy Grand Cru unless you're exposed to them often, and I'm not, often enough.

Maison Leroy Richebourg Grand Cru Cote de Nuits 1990
Tart cherry along with layers of loam, moss and hints of smoky bacon. The after-taste starts out racy then builds into sweeter strains as the diaphanous tannins coat the mouth with a patina of blackberry and sweet cherry. A 2 bottle wine (see Hugh Johnson scoring system and yes I know you shouldn't drink 2 bottles of wine but this would be worth it).

A short note for a long, big wine. Long finish. Big price. Worth it.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Terres Fumees Petit Manseng Cotes de Gascogne 2006

This smells like the sea or a deserted beach and it's salty and tangy and a lot like daisies. Whilst the nose is ephemeral and playful; the palate is all clean minerality. Tangelo and sparkly silica. And for all that, the (high) acid isn't mean in the mouth but somehow manages to be rich. This is beautiful in its simplicity but unavoidably short and it almost seems a crime to drink it at this time of year. A 2 glass wine (I'd be trying to pick up that green thing that keeps skating in and out of the glass).

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Close but not quite

I wanted something textural, something a little bit different. I was thinking Vouvray, Nu Zillund Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Viognier. Somehow I bought Sauvignon Blanc again. Still, the Fairhall Downs Small and Smith Family Estate 2007 seemed to fit the bill; elevage in a mixture of stainless and seasoned French oak, fine lees for 4 months and unfined this is care-full Savvy.

Greeny straw with wafts of blackcurrant leaf, dried mint and minerals this promises a real departure from typical Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. The palate is grainy and a little bit shocking in the way the first bite of a Braeburn apple is shocking. Malic acid and a prickly sensation. There's also apricot, fennel and juniper and a definite sense of wet twigs reminding me of the undergrowth notes that appear in Chablis. For all this the wine is still developing and at this stage seems a bit tight. Spritzy and developing. a 1 glass wine.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Alan McCorkindale Sauvignon Blanc 2007

Sometimes you buy wine to please yourself and sometimes you buy wine to appeal to someone else's palate.

When faced with the rows and rows of wine on a rare Saturday night off it's so tempting to throw money out of your wallet and secure something lovely, special, celebratory and fine, in keeping with the ethos that (erudite food writer) Nigel Slater espouses when saying that you should never buy a bottle for yourself that you wouldn't take to a friend - as why would you treat yourself less well than others you love?

Having said that.... I know the predilection of my winsome Sonj for a fruity Sav. Nothing too complicated, too acidic, too sweet or too...... interesting. So you makes your choices and you pays your money.

When we first poured a glass and sat down to gossip I have to admit that this wasn't my cup of tea. It seemed blandly Sauvignon without, even, a belligerent nose leaping out of the glass. Hours later and with a glass still left in the bottle and some time for contemplation it seems a different beastie

Nothing much to speak of on the nose until you really shake it up when it starts to get a little like really sour kids-made lemonade, green melon and hawthorn. Subtle though and hardly 'bursting through'. The palate is textured citrus. Lemons of all sorts, pith and zest. With such a dominant character I can't decide if this is one dimensional or compelling in its focus. A 1 (or maybe 2) glass wine

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Surrendering to the thrill of the new

(n.b. I stole the title and some phrases for this post from here)

In a drinking culture that eagerly awaits the next vintage of Cloudy Bay, Dry River, Palliser Estate or whatever, there's something equally bracing about surrendering to the thrill of the new: the sense of occasion elicited when chancing on a wine you've never heard of before, especially when that wine, after the first whiff, displays attention grabbing aromas and promises a distinctive palate.

Add to that the frisson that comes with finding said wine far from the salubrious surrounds of an upmarket wine emporium, but rather hiding away in a late night convenience store.

Anchorage Sauvignon Blanc Nelson 2006
The straw yellow colour is speaking to the age of the wine and extra time in the bottle gives this an initial whiff of sweat, hay and green capsicum. This seems grown up and harmonious, without Sauvignon Blanc's usual adolescent overtures.There's also a definite trace of gunflint. It tastes of grapefruit, green bean and honey and the palate is broad ending with a peach skin texture although when colder it develops a Camembert aroma and a similar creamy texture in the mouth.A 4 glass wine.

I love the fact that screw-cap closures are extending the life of our normally short-lived Nu Zillund savvy. At 2 years bottle age and with the 2008 vintage Sauvignon Blanc almost on the shelves this is delightful, different and definitely showing well. Maybe we shouldn't be so hasty to offload the older aromatic whites...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Scoring Wine

Passing judgements on wine has been very much on my mind recently as for better or worse the wines I taste and enjoy are the ones that will make an appearance on our wine list.

Everybody is at it! Cuisine runs tastings every month and those purple and gold stickers sell wine in Nu Zild in the same fashion as scores out of 100 sell wine in the U.S. I'm in the team that feels a kind of hopeless horror at the use of the 100 point score and the gradual Parkerisation of wines globally. So when my lovely father sent me a copy of Michael Cooper's article detailing, amongst other things, Hugh Johnson's suggested alternative I was so rapt with its apt-ness I just had to reproduce it here.

English writer Hugh Johnson suggests an alternative to the 100-point system, which you can use at home. The minimum score is one sniff, with a step up to one sip. Two sips indicate faint interest. One glass means tolerance, even general approval. Four glasses mean the wine tickles your fancy, and two bottles mean it's irresistible.

This seems, by far, the most winning system of assessing the merits of one wine over another. I love its beautiful simplicity and irreverence and I have more than half a mind to put it in to practice.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Mystery Wines

I realise that there are more wineries in New Zealand than I could possibly keep track of but this latest round of tasting threw up some intriguing question marks.

Bascand Estate Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2007
From a Waipara winery comes a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Not that mysterious. The wine itself is subtle and classic. Green apple and grass. Limes and tropical fruit. A safe savvy nose and a rounded palate complete the picture in a wine that isn't angular but somehow isn't pretty either.

Bascand Estate Chardonnay Marlborough 2006
Hints of butter from 70% malolactic fermentation make this a texturally rich and nutty mouthful. Over-ripe nectarine and popcorn. Sunny tasting and at a great price point. This would only sit at around $45 on my pricey winelist.

Bascand Estate Pinot Noir Marlborough 2006
Soft red fruits and an earthy perfume form the nose with a suggestion of something feral underneath (sweaty horse-trek). An uninhibited nose that's more than a little promising. Then a simple palate, left waiting for nuances that never come. The taste of stone-fruits that I would expect from Chardonnay make an out of place appearance. Nectarine amongst the strawberry. Ending with bayleaf this isn't delivering at the moment.

Now here's the real mystery.

Waiau Estate Gimblett Gravels Hawke's Bay Syrah 2006
This new (to me) winery is somehow getting Syrah fruit of the Hawke's Bay gravels which leaves me at a bit of a loss. That's not easy land to get hold of and I wouldn't have thought that many would be giving away fruit from the variety tipped as the great red hope of the Hawke's Bay. There's a link to Hatton Estate but I'm not sure how.
Jammy at first with meaty undertones. Sweet, fresh blood and violets. Delicate blueberry and blue flowers. A bewitching feminine style for all the bloodiness. A frilly Victorian bodice ripper with a whiff of apricots.

This is prepossessing Syrah and a mystery worth solving. If anyone has any notions?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Big, bold and desirable

Despite a considerable absence of 'buttery' Chardonnays being made there is still (at least in my experiences and going on requests in the restaurant) a good portion of the drinking public that loves this style of wine.

It's hard for me to see the appeal as often they tend to sacrifice balance in the name of swaggering, unctuous texture. Still, there's room in a considered list for lots of alternatives and, in New Zealand at least, Chardonnay made from Gisborne fruit usually delivers these bold flavours.

TW (Tietjen Witters) Chardonnay Gisborne 2006
A very golden glassful with a heavyweight, savoury nose of grilled nuts, weet-bix and super-ripe, squishy apricots. On the palate the concentrated style takes on a syrupy grapefruit character. It's mealy, voluminous and bold with not so much 'butter' as vanilla icecream. For all this it's only 13% and a good example of an ample wine that doesn't go too far.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Possible Pinot

Kaituna Vineyard Canterbury Pinot Noir 2006
Clean, lifted nose of bright red fruits. Bit tight. Slight minerality underlayed by something slate-y and medicinal. Dried herbs and iodine. Bit alcohol heavy.

Kaituna Valley Bone Hill Pinot Noir 2006
A more generous approach than its brother. The nose is more forward and giving. Red cherry and coffee tinges and the palate is weightier without being rich. Still firm with smoky oak curling around the edges.

Murdoch James Estate Pinot Noir 2007
Soft red fruits and sweet briar fill up the nose over the classic 'stinky' aromas common to the Martinborough style of Pinot. The tannins are still grippy at this stage but promise silky things in this developing wine. A perfumed style but masculine, aftershave scents of cedar. Refreshing.

We're a bit short of Pinot Noir on the list and there's a definite desire to list some lesser known examples. Of this line up the 'Bone Hill' impressed with a kind of suave depth despite being very youthful. The Murdoch James is a definite as it has flair and comes in at a price that few Pinot Noirs can match without sacrificing style and typicity.

A good day at the 'coal face'.

Friday, June 27, 2008

'O' Chardonnay 2004

I remember a time when I thought the Montana 'Initial' Series (of which the 'O' - Ormond Chardonnay is one) was the pinnacle of wine-making chic.

That time was 1996 - or so - and that is a long time ago in my wine education. But I do remember the frisson of excitement at having something so exclusive to sell in the restaurant. And the innovative labels, with their minimalist design, were something new and different in a sea of busy, European-harking-esque Nu Zillund bottles.

So... How does it stack up today? 12 years on. With me older, uglier and (not much ) wiser

'O' Ormond Estate Gisborne Chardonnay 2004
The tropical fruity Gisborne flavours have been kept in check in this fairly savoury beastie. At 4 years bottle age this is giving up grilled nuts on the nose and first impressions scream lanolin and banana. It's doing a sweet yoghurt dance around the primary fruit which finally, after much warming up, turns out to be grilled pineapple.

Holding its own!!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

And so it begins...

We're writing a new wine list and I'm tasting every day. Wine reps and distributors are bringing wines and I'm furiously taking notes and asking opinions of my colleagues and well.... I guess... passing judgement.

It's a funny situation when I think about it as wines promoted to the high end of the market are likely to have been made carefully and with not a little love. And so none of these producers would have set out to make an 'average' wine. And yet some wines sing and others don't despite the care and attention lavished on all.

But wine notes in these situations tend to be blunt, less given to lists of fruit and flowers and more concerned with stating the personality of the wine and its aptitude to line up.

William Thomas Marlborough Chardonnay 2005
16 months old French oak. Winemaker - Will Hoare, assistant at La Strada. Quite sweet citrus nose. Orange peel, floral, savoury cashew. Grainy palate. Mendoza clone. Refreshing, persistent, clean finish. Pretty yet refined.

Domaine Jaquairy Pinot Noir Central Otago 2003
11 months French oak. Clear garnet red (not over extracted!). Forest floor and white truffle. Spicy, feminine style

Lindis River Pinot Noir Central Otago 2005
Beguiling nose. Red fruits and high acidity. Refreshing. Red liquorice. Quite linear.

Lindis River Pinot Noir Central Otago 2006
Warmer smelling than the 2005. Fruits tending darker and better mouthfeel. Spicy and rich but oak still prominent. Needs time to integrate. Coffee background.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


What a glorious texture the Henschke 'Louis' Semillon 2005 has. It manages that trick of having fine and fun, refreshing acid along with a weighty, waxy palate. It's all very ripe fig...... and very ripe fig and then some. A bit of kero and that beesewax-y texture wrapping it all up along with the weird aromatics of mothballs. Sounds bad, but tastes amazing!

So good now but if you can wait on the wine for 5 years (or even 10) then the whole Arabian Oasis awaits. Figs and dates and warm honey and warm sand and warm exotic nights.

Hewitson 'Lulu' Viognier 2006

Funky, savoury, almost ham-like nose totally belies the floral perfumed palate. This is a wine of contradictions. At around 2 years bottle age I'd expect less freshness and more unctuous weight. But, despite a golden colour in the glass, this viognier has a zesty, lemon youthfulness mingling with the rose and acacia perfume on the tongue. Contradictory indeed.

Friday, June 13, 2008

jumping at bargains

Just scored the Old Coach Road Sauvignon Blanc from Foodtown for $10.99 and thought that this would be perfect as a late night tipple. I've always kinda admired this Seifried supermarket label as it produces real quality from Nelson grapes at a quarter of the price but with just as much verve and zip.

The Old Coach Road Sauvignon Blanc 2007 is lovely and ripe and definitely more at the tropical end of the Sauvignon spectrum. A generous mouthful and although Sav wouldn't usually feature at this time of year; the lovely cold, clear afternoons can make a buxom Sav just the wine. This one is a full straw gold colour yet has a delicate nose. It jumps into a palate of pawpaw, mandarin citrus and a touch of classic gooseberry with a bit of wild mint in the background. Refreshing without being racy. Sound and agreeable.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Updating the list

It's that time of year when the Sommelier's mind turns to updating the wine list. Many of the new vintages are beginning to be released and there's natural attrition happening as popular varietals like Pinot Gris start to run out. Also, with the colder weather comes smaller numbers and a chance to breathe and take stock.

In order to shape the new list it's necessary to reflect on what has sold well and try and predict the trends to come.

Champagne is a tower of strength. The fact that French wine authorities are expanding the boundaries of what can legitimately be called Champagne indicates the huge worldwide thirst for this status, style and taste - New Zealand Methode's deliciousness notwithstanding. Not that local bubbles have a hard time selling.

Riesling continues to under-perform. Or rather, it continues to not sell as much as we'd like, despite a haphazard popularity. Sauvignon Blanc seems to have lost out with even it's die hard fans to the flossy, johnny-come-lately Pinot Gris (That is the ratio of middle-aged, striped suit wearing business men who order Sauvignon Blanc as the 'starter' at lunch is dipping). Viognier experienced a surge during the summer but seems to be back in a lull. And Chardonnay. Well Chardonnay is a funny one as there's a part of the public out there that wants it 'buttery' despite most winemakers giving up on the full MLF. (I had one gentleman who wanted "a white wine for red wine drinkers").

Pinot Noir sells itself, especially if it's from Central Otago (especially if it's from 3 year old vines on a slope of a hill in the valley and at the bargain price of $38 per bottle................ trade, or better yet if it's got a nice dark colour and a plummy flavour...............................a bit like Merlot.......................................).Syrah has firmly implanted itself in the public's mind and it's seldom that the Syrah/Shiraz question gets asked any more. If anything we could do with more Syrah on the list. Bordeaux style blends have spent far too long out in the cold and seem to be making a slow return to favour. And all the fun 'other red' varietals get a look in too as finally we start to see the breadth of wines here in New Zealand that other countries have enjoyed for years.

So that's the state of play.

What to do next?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Jacob's Creek Riesling 2007

Some time back, in these pages, I told myself off from being so dismissive of 'supermarket wine'. Some wineries (in that instance Villa Maria) manage to produce consistent, varietally correct wines at low prices which hit the mark when the budget is tight and/or it's just a mid-week dinner.

To be fair we only bought the Jacob's Creek Riesling to play a part as cooking wine in the Oxtail Stew that's featuring at tonight's dinner party. And I'm only drinking it now because I'm too greedy to wait for the Verdejo we're having as an aperitif to chill.....

So what is sub $10, mass-produced supermarket Riesling like?

Sugar wafts up on the nose dominating any fruit flavour that might be lurking underneath and after the initial shudder of introduced acid (?) fades the over-riding impression is of..... cooking apples. Lemons and scary not-for-eating cooking apples. It's a short and narrow wine, flat of structure and plain of song. Cooking apples. Is it.

Rich reckons it's redeeming feature is so confidently asserting the flavour he remembers of cooking apples. I think it's verging on undrinkable. But that can't be right as I'm drinking it. I'm not much surprised that Riesling is a poor cousin to other aromatic whites if this is most peoples introduction to it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Stonier Reserve Pinot Noir 2001

Almost ancient by New Zealand standards, this Pinot Noir is yummy and exhbiting all the fun secondary characteristics that Nu Zillund Pinot seldom gets the chance to develop. How is it that Australia can hold on to its Pinot Noir whilst we slurp ours up in their infancy revelling in their "depth and weight" and completely ignoring the velvety, stinky nuanced creatures they may become?

Right, Rant over.

Orange-y red tending amber at the rim. The Stonier smells initially of stewed rhubarb and wild strawberries. But those forward red fruits give way to savoury, gamey characters of hay, dust and leather. The tannins are beautifully Pinot, all velvety, veloury, bathrobe-y comfortable. A delicate hug.

Pyramid Valley Hille Semillon 2006

Pale gold flecked with green and an exotic nose of figs and lemongrass. The layers of this wine recall the complexity and fragrance of Thai food and the palate is alive with flavours of the east. Lemongrass and coriander dominate the front of the palate which is rounded out by green coffee bean and pandan ( the vanilla of the east). The savoury aspect from the pandan is further fattened with tonka bean in the persistent length of the wine, giving it a breadth that the nose doesn't suggest. Multifaceted and more than a bit elusive.

An exotic Asian dish of a wine (in more than one meaning of "dish").

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Blind Tasting

I had a wonderful weekend of wine geek-dom facilitated by my friends at Kiwi Wine Fan Club which is better explained by Craig's description on the website of the same name. Suffice to say it was a marvellous conceit. Ten Chardonnays. Five Australian and five local tasted blind in an effort to rank and file.

I've not shown huge promise yet at blind tasting and this event was no exception. My tasting notes are lucid enough but my ability to separate the ten contenders into Australian vs Kiwi was, without exception, pitiful. I got one right, picking the Giaconda 2004 as an Australian wine (but not actually picking it as the Giaconda; opting instead for the Leeuwin 'Art Series' 2005).

We were called upon to pick our 'top five' and this exercise had a surprise in store for the wine I picked for first place was revealed to be a wine I have traditionally not had a lot of time for, labelling it "overpriced and over-hyped". The Penfolds 'Yattarna' Chardonnay 2005 is certainly expensive at $125 but it, to my mind, it more than held its own in rarefied company.

Brilliant greenish, pale gold. Huge presence on the nose with oyster shell and creme fraiche. The wine explodes in the mouth yet at the same time seems elegant. A seemless integration of citrus, floral and smokey bacon notes make this wine beguiling in more boisterous company. A wine that oozes class.

I have to confess that with 'Grange' in mind I was not expecting such multifaceted restraint from Penfolds flagship Chardonnay and it's certainly not what my taste memory told about it from the past vintages I'd tried. Accordingly I picked it blind as a Kiwi wine; the Kumeu 'Mates' Chardonnay 2006 (I also picked the Kumeu 'Mates' Chardonnay 2006 as the Giaconda Chardonnay 2004 so shows how much I know).

Perhaps, along with much of the New World, the winemakers at Penfolds are searching for subtlety. A refreshing change but a revelation that could cost me a lot of money.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

My new favourite game

I'm not sure why but the wine adventurer voice in my head is getting more vociferous. Shopping for wine is always a pleasure but it's getting to be something of an extreme sport also... I can't go past the challenge of a bin end sale and I keep coming home with wine I know nothing about or wine, as in this case, that could be well past its prime. The Wirra Wirra Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2002 at only $21.00 could have been a disaster waiting to happen. Inexpensive Chardonnay from the New World doesn't have a great track record for aging well and the buttery monsters that Australia has been famous for producing tend to go flabby and 'old fridge' in no time flat; even acres of new oak can't keep all that butter from splitting. Still, the cool climate of the Adelaide hills region does produce some of the more elegant wine coming out of Australia.

Deep yellow gold with an aroma of marmalade on hot buttered toast. I felt like a hint of 'old fridge' was hiding underneath the orange zest but then it was gone and I haven't found it since. The palate is layered. Charred caramel and wholemeal. Ripe grapefruit and last of the summer nectarine. Tobacco flower and a leesy almost yoghurt like creaminess at the heart of the wine flowing around a wild funkiness (10% indigenous yeast). So grown up and definitely not overgrown it finishes with caraway spice. Mellow, ample, supple and distinct.

AND this got better and better the more I let it sit in the glass. It loved being room temperature and just kept giving. (Jeez I'm waxing lyrical I know but I'm falling in love with what I thought was a mistake, or perhaps I'm drinking too fast).

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sexy German Riesling

What on earth do you do with a tasting note that reads:-

sexy, spicy, lemony ?

That's all I have written down for the Markus Molitor Riesling Kabinett 2006. That, and a big tick in the margin, by which I know that this was one of my stand out wines from the European Wine Experience.

This brings home to me the futility of trying to taste so many wines and have any sense of how they were; apart from fleeting impressions and 'big ticks' to indicate desire to try again. Other, better, more organised souls may have developed a system to attack such events and emerge with notes intact but I, quite clearly, have not.

So lets extrapolate....

I know that the vines that produce this wine grow on very steep slate slopes in the middle Mosel and that the elevage of the wine was managed with lots of care and hands on attention including a long period on fine lees. I remember the smell of the wine evoked the sexy reaction with the balance of sugar and acidity pushing aromas out of the glass and that the palate gave me warmth and spicy tingles with an over-riding sensation of Meyer lemon.

A nose of apricot, lemon and pear, a palate of ginger, fennel and lime zest underlayed with slate. Sweet but sexy with it. Balanced, layered, racy and very fine.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The european wine experience

With a little fast talking I managed to receive a trade entry to a tasting of over 150 wines on Saturday at The Langham Hotel.

Well to be fair I am in the trade and I did do some serious tasting with half an eye to the wine list. But mostly I was interested and excited to try some lesser known European varietals and expand my knowledge and tasting memory.

I also donned my -very- grown up hat and spat. Something that would have been an anathema in times past but I seriously wanted to try as much as possible and I was cautious not to get drunk or reach palate fatigue too quickly.

And that takes some doing.

I've read about the trials of wine judging before but it can be hard to conceive that trying 100 wines in a day would be a hardship. I've been to large tastings before myself but usually they have been convivial affairs when I spat about 'half' the time and only really wanted to try a couple of wines in the whole room.

So this was something different.

I was also feeling out of my depth as Rich has had much more exposure to pricey European wines (and the mind that can remember hundreds of football facts seems pre-disposed to retaining things like tricky Burgundian vineyard names and vintage variations) so I was relying on him to steer me past the dross.

We tackled the whites first, we found ourselves in need of a break quickly, we ate cheese, we re-tackled the whites and ate more cheese and needed another break. It was hard going and it quickly became apparent that we needed to fly past certain tables and push on as palate fatigue loomed before we even approached the red wines.

We approached the red wines. We needed some air. We re-tackled the red wines and ate some cheese and needed some more air and then I gave up and had a Viognier and a glass of Ruinart. I'm not sure I did the reds justice.

There were definitely some stand outs from the day. Wines that are still lingering in my head.

A sexy, spicy Mosel Riesling counterbalanced by a lean one from Alsace. An off-the-wall Chablis and a cracking Vouvray. Some generous yet quirky wines from Languedoc-Rousillon and a Pinot Noir masquerading as a Malbec despite coming from the hallowed ground of Burgundy.

I'll gather my thoughts and notes.....

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Elegant Tropical Fruit

What does an elegant tropical fruit look like?

When I think of tropical fruit it calls to mind Chiquita Banana with a fruity head-dress. It's blowsy, bright, loud, lush and redolent of big, brash flavours.

There's no mistaking the whiff of the tropics in the Coopers Creek Swamp Reserve Chardonnay 2007 but somehow it's elegantly done....

Ripe melon and guava tempered by subtle vanilla and a sweetly sexy palate with enough lemon tang to keep everything balanced.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The other half of the haul

I'd been meaning to try the Elephant Hill Syrah 2007 for a while. We'd driven past the winery every day over our summer in the Hawke's Bay and had worked with one of the winemakers for a bit.

Upfront and 'in-yer-face'. Violet in the glass. Vivid and deep. White pepper and blueberry, blackberry and cocoa with a touch of menthol and sandalwood. Supple with a slight bloody-ness. Generous and approachable but not simple. Pleasing very Hawke's Bay, very Sweeney Todd Syrah.

Long wet weekend

The rain is a constant companion which lends itself to quiet tipples and roast dinners.

And so the weekend was given over to such indulgences. Thanks to the lovely wine shop up the road I had access to an interesting selection. I find it hard to go past a Chenin Blanc and my fondness for the variety is not subject to international boundaries although I was surprised to see one from Australia. The Dowie Doole McLaren Vale Chenin Blanc 2005 was a revelation, although there was something of an Australian Riesling about it... Still from 70 year old vines this is definitely a contender.

Brilliant greeny straw colour. Oyster shells and melon on the nose. Taut and terrific. Overall impression is of crisp autumn. Leafy and slatey. Bayleaf, rosemary and pine combined with green melon, green wood and a slightly smoky character. The beginnings of lanolin overlaying green apple. Still developing, despite displaying interesting characters now. Crisp, modest and intricate.

Friday, May 2, 2008


I've just been prompted by Rich to note this wine down and I don't blame him really. We've enjoyed the Villa Maria Keltern Chardonnay 2004 a number of times over the years. One wet night in Rotorua stands out ( and that was back in 2006 when the wine was fairly young). The 'Keltern' is like a glowing beacon that proves just how good Villla Maria wines can be. Everything, from their standard supermarket range to the elite single vineyard wines (of which Keltern is one) is consistent and well made with occasional flashes of brilliance.

We lucked onto this bottle in the same bin-end sale that offered up the Pinot Blanc and it was "everything and more". The notes are slim but evocative..

Mersault-like almond on the nose. Figs on the palate. With tingling acidity and blow-you-away baking spice.

A very short description of a very evolved, complex wine and utter proof that Nu Zillund can make gorgeous Chardonnay that doesn't tend towards 'old fridge'.


There's such an interesting texture about the Jules Taylor Pinot Gris 2006 but I feel like I'm stealing wine notes because that's exactly what it says on the back of the bottle. Let's plough ahead anyway....

Deep straw gold with a hint of 'onion skin' brown. Interesting texture. The wine starts off suggesting oiliness but then rearranges itself in the mouth as the palate finishes long and clean with shiny citrus underpinned by incense smoke. The ubiquitous pear flavour of Pinot Gris is still apparent with a suggestion of savoury straw. A bit like 'pandan' (the vanilla of the east), which is a savoury aromatic flax, combining with guava and tingling a spiced mandarin finish. REALLY interesting texture.