Joelle Thomson's online wine guide

Young wine talent shines

His name is Dion Wai, he works in Auckland’s newest restaurant precinct and this month he won the NZ Sommelier of the Year award – a return trip to Paris, hosted visit to Champagne Louis Roederer and the kudos of the award, which was designed to champion professional wine service in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Sommelier of the Year Awards are now in their third year and run at the New Zealand School of Food and Wine (NZSFW) in Auckland.

It’s good to see these awards make a comeback to New Zealand after a long gap between drinks. I judged the country’s annual wine service competition in the late 1990s in Auckland, held under different ownership and management and was sorry to see that competition bite the dust. It would be helpful to New Zealand’s hospitality scene to see the talent at the top trickle down into the mindset of staff waiting tables at this country’s cafes and bars, no matter how humble or how community oriented the venue.

Even a country as close as Australia has undoubtedly got its service sorted to a far higher level than New Zealand, in terms of speed, efficiency, general courtesy and humour.

It’s great when waiting staff are informed, able to serve drinks elegantly and know how to open a bottle of wine with confidence, regardless of its closure – screw capped bottles can be opened with every bit of care and attention as cork-sealed bottles. But what really rocks in wine and food service, for me, is eye contact, a menu and a little positive attention; it’s about the customer rather than the chef, the mixologist or the barista.

What makes service good for you?


Fast facts: NZ Sommelier of the Year Competition

“The calibre of people entering under 30 years was extremely high this year and the competition included four women, which reflects the growing interest amongst women in pursuing careers in professional wine service,” says Celia Hay, chair of the New Zealand Sommeliers and Wine Professionals Association (and founder/director of the NZSFW).

Wai works full time at Baduzzi for restaurateur Michael Dearth who also owns The Grove restaurant. He is also currently finishing his degree in hospitality management at AUT and is a student in the Court of Master Sommeliers certification programme.

The annual competition also includes a junior sommelier award, sponsored by Misha’s Vineyard in Otago. The awards are held under direction from Master Sommelier Cameron Douglas.


Wellington tastings diary

Spring has sprung, the rain has cleared,  the wine is ready to be poured at our World of Riesling tasting at Regional Wines & Spirits in Ellice Street (by the Basin Reserve), Wellington.

Here’s what’s in store or in our upstairs tasting room, to be precise:

Thursday 13 October, 6pm to 8pm: The World of Riesling
Thursday 17 November, 6pm to 8pm: Cellar busters: How to start a wine cellar for under $100
A tasting with cellar starter packs on sale afterwards
More details to follow on each of these accessible tastings.

(More) surprising wines to cellar

  • Choose wines with high flavour compounds (flavours, tannin, acid)
  • Store them in a temperature controlled space
  • Lie bottles with corks on their sides
  • Buy high quality wines sealed with screwcaps

Screwcaps. They may be a deeply unfashionable topic but 15 years on from their launch, screwcaps are providing a more effective closure for wine than cork, both for the short term and for those special bottles to cellar and open in the medium and long term.

A retrospective tasting of Marlborough Chardonnays in August this year was a dramatic demonstration of how fresh eight year old Chardonnay can taste from screw capped bottles.

The wines were from Nautilus in Marlborough and were tasted at the Pullman Hotel in Auckland.

Chardonnay is often eclipsed by Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand, which can be understandable since Sauvignon now makes up 85.6% of this country’s wine exports, while Chardonnay lurks in the other 14.4%. But still,  it is staggering to taste the high quality and youthful freshness of eight year  old New Zealand Chardonnays, such as these wines.

The first vintage of Chardonnay at Nautilus was 1989 and winemakers Brett and CJ are keen to demonstrate the consistency of their Chardonnays as a strong thread for this Sauvignon Blanc dominant winery (and wine region).

The top Nautilus Chardonnays tasted in August this year were, in my view, from 2009, 2014 and 2015. This trio showed higher acidity, which accentuated the freshness, balance and length of flavour in these wines.

This tasting was not primarily to highlight Chardonnay, screw caps or cellaring potential, but rather to introduce a new Sauvignon Blanc to the Nautilus range. But that’s another story. It’s also a story about a wine sealed with a screw cap, as over 90% of New Zealand’s wines are today.

More to come.


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