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?)