The Herald on Sunday archive
Published wine columns, August 2010 and prior
Highs to be found outside supermarket shelves
Last week’s column began on new a low note – the infuriatingly futile
search for something interesting in a wine bottle on a supermarket wine shelf.
And since I’ve found those poorly stocked shelves to be wanting, it seems only
fair to share where I do find good wines, in all price brackets. This week it
was Scenic Cellars. Just as the name implies, Scenic Cellars has chocolate box
views - of Lake Taupo. A New Zealand tourist town is an unlikely location for
any great retail experience, bar a good sheepskin rug, but with its constantly
high traffic flow, Taupo is just right for Scenic Cellars’ success with its
1700-plus wines online – and even more in store.
The wines here move so swiftly that the store’s owners have taken a punt
on some of the wildest, weirdest, most out-there wines on Earth. Few wine
lovers – even dedicated oenophiles - will have heard of the Spanish white,
Albarino, and the Sicilian red, Nero d’Avola, and even fewer still will ever
have come across Greco di Tufo and Aglianico, but a single sip of these unusual
Italian vinos will have you hooked.
The friends I tasted the Albarino with all loved its full bodied style
and flavoursome, lingering, dry finish. It’s a Spanish white from Galicia in
Northern Spain’s Rias Baixas region (Galician
for the "Lower Rias
" area). Some say
Albarino is actually Riesling by another name, brought to Spain long ago, but
as a Riesling fanatic, I don’t think so. It’s far less fruity, far drier in
taste and far more like Chardonnay.
As for Greco di Tufo, that’s even weirder. As its name implies, Greco di
Tufo is originally from Greece. It’s currently grown in Southern Italy, most
importantly around the southern coast of Calabria. Plantings of Greco here are
low but respect for the grape – and the peachy, dry white wine it makes – is
And thanks to great wine retailers like Scenic Cellars in Taupo, wines
like these are now available to New Zealanders. We are residents of one of the
smallest, most far-flung wine drinking markets in the world, but as miniscule
as we are in the wine drinking world, we appreciate variety. So, ditch the boring
diet of blandness from the supermarket wine aisle and support the local
independent wine store near you – or hook onto www.sceniccellars.co.nz
Wines of the week
2008 Terredora Campania
Aglianico was originally
brought to Italy by Greeks in the 6th century BC and this version tastes gamey,
savoury, light on fruit but with big staunch tannins. Terredora has been at the forefront of the wine
renaissance in Campania, Southern Italy since the 1970s.
2008 Valminor Rias Baixas Albarino $29.90
It’s rare to find such a deliciously different, crowdpleasing white with
a full body and aromatic taste – especially from the north of Spain. Try it.
2009 Terredora di Paolo
Greco di Tufo $28.90
Since few New Zealanders
have heard of Greco di Tufo, it’s tempting to liken this southern Italian white
to a Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. But in fact it’s entirely different to
both, with peachy aromas, a dry taste and tangy finish.
First published in The Herald on Sunday's Detours magazine, 30 August 2010.
Supermarkets need to change how they sell wine...
Every few months I am asked
to recommend a list of great wines available in supermarkets and every few
months I say the same thing: there are fewer good wines available in
supermarkets now than there were last month. Shelve any notion of ‘greatness’
The problem is not just lack
of variety. It’s unsustainably low prices. It’s all the bland boring wines at
eye level and all the interesting ones at foot level or out of reach on the top
shelves. And it’s the disingenuous excuses of inexperienced wine buyers in
supermarkets who, when challenged about why their best wines don’t sell, come
up with the incredibly unthoughtful suggestion that people just don’t seem to
reach for those bottles. Which begs the question: it couldn’t possibly have
anything to do with the fact that most people can’t see those bottles, would it?
Even in the United Kingdom –
where minimum prices per bottle of wine are said to be on the way for
supermarkets – there is far greater variety of wine available across all prices
and easily able to seen in supermarkets. The first time I ever set foot in
Tesco’s in Covent Garden (in the early 1990s) I was gobsmacked to see a bottle
of Taittinger NV Champagne at about UK25 pounds sitting right alongside a
bottle of Bulgarian Sauvignon Blanc at about UK3. I opted for the latter. It
was surprisingly good. A few weeks later my boyfriend at the time suggested we
splurge to celebrate having jobs, and back we went for the Taittinger.
Imagine if there was a
minimum price per bottle in supermarkets here. We’d thank our lucky stars – or
at least the largest wine companies in the country – when big name bubbles,
Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noirs actually get cheaper rather than pricier each year in supermarkets. But
continuous lowering of prices is not sustainable. Large wineries might be able
to weather the price erosion of some big brands some of the time but small
wineries can’t, so that automatically narrows down the range available in supermarkets.
It also limits any new wines from large companies, which need time to build a
brand. It also narrows down the profitability of even those with relatively
good economies of scale. This carnage has to come to an end. Nobody wants to be
quoted – yet – but the sooner the New Zealand wine trade stands up to
supermarket wine buyers, the better off we’ll all be. There might not be as
many $6 bottles, but there will be far more variety of wine at $8, $10 and even
– for those willing to push the boat out – at $15 or $20.
Next time you’re in the supermarket wine
aisle, look below – and above - eye level. And make it a goal to buy two different
bottles; at least one of which you
haven’t tried before. Variety is not the flavour of the average supermarket wine
aisle these days but it is the spice of life.
And there is extremely good,
extremely well priced wine on the internet…
Wines of the week
2009 Yealands Sauvignon
Another double-gold medal
winning white and one with bone dry flavours of fresh picked herbs and a flinty
undertone – in other words, deliciously refreshing. www.yealands.co.nz
2008 Yealands Awatere
Valley Gewurztraminer $24.95
Quantities of this
luscious wine are small but the favours are high on old fashioned rose and
Turkish Delight radar with a spicy finish. www.yealands.co.nz
2008 Saint Clair Pioneer
Block 16 Awatere Pinot Noir $32.95
Awatere is the new Marlborough – and since this once tiny viticultural
sub-region now has more vineyards than the entire Hawke’s Bay, it’s worth
paying attention to. Block 16 is a single vineyard of top tasting Pinot Noir;
lithe in style and incredibly young, so pour into large glasses hours before
you drink it. From Saint Clair cellar door in Marlborough or buy online:
First published in The Herald on Sunday's Detours magazine, 23 August 2010.
Half proves less can be more...
Half bottles of wine are rare in New Zealand and when a nine year old
one from Sicily came my way last month, I was a little cynical about how
wine-like its contents might be, since half bottles usually age quicker than
standard sized ones. It’s a rare wine that proves the exception, as this near
perfect nine year old did.
The empty evidence is sitting in front of me now. It proves that $7.50
can sometimes go a long way. It’s just a shame there’s barely any of the
luscious 2002 Centare Nero d'Avola left since I was silly enough to share mine
with two others, making it our cheapest glass of outstanding wine each this
year, at $2.50 apiece. The current 2006 Centare half bottles cost a little more
at $10.90 each. So it’s better value to buy a standard 750ml bottle at $18.90,
from Phil Clarke at A Touch of Italy. Over the last decade and a half, Clarke
has been amassing the biggest range of Italian wines under one roof in New
Zealand at Sovrano in Pakuranga, Auckland. If that’s too far away, use mail
Another of Clarke’s Italian reds is a slightly pricier bottle.
Barbaresco is not only a great name for a dinner party red, it’s also a town in
Piedmont, Northern Italy. And it’s the name of a wine made there from the
Nebbiolo grape; Nebbia being Italian for fog - something Piedmont sees a lot
of. The two most famous wine towns there are Barbaresco and Barolo and while
the former are usually considered poor cousins to the great Barolo, many of
these deceptively light looking reds are utterly, deliciously
These wines remind me of another trio that came my way in recent weeks
from Black Barn winery in Hawke’s Bay. Winemaker Dave McKee is experimenting
with grape varieties that are relatively off-beat in this country. He and Black
Barn marketing man, Francis de Jager, sent me their Sangiovese and
Montepulciano (both traditionally Italian) and a Tempranillo, which is traditionally
Spanish. These grapes are mainstream in their home countries whose climates are
far drier – not to mention a lot warmer – than New Zealand. So it’s a challenge
working with grapes like these in our land of the long white cloud, even in
warm Hawke’s Bay. Hence none of them come cheap. The Sangiovese is $32 while
the others are each $48. My pick was the Black Barn Tempranillo; the most
chocolaty, big bodied and best Kiwi Tempranillo I’ve tasted yet.
Wines of the week
2004 Mirafiore Barbaresco $31
Barbaresco is generally the more affordable wine made from Italy’s
greatest red grape, Nebbiolo, and while this one looks
light, it has
great structure and a lingering floral finish. From A Touch of Italy, phone
(09) 273 3701 or www.touchofitaly.co.nz
2009 Black Barn Tempranillo $48
Black Barn is one of just a handful of Kiwi wineries spear-heading
diversity in New Zealand vineyards with grapes like Tempranillo, which makes
this full bodied red so chocolatey sweet and soft. www.blackbarn.com
2008 Centare Nero d’Avola $10.90
Less is always more in a decent half bottle of wine since its flavours
develop faster in the smaller space; this lovely licorice-like red over
delivers on taste and has just the right amount for one person. From www.touchofitaly.co.nz
First published in The Herald on Sunday's Detours magazine, 9 August 2010.
Clive Paton didn’t know it at the time but when he was slinking off for
a red wine at a nearby hotel while his mates swilled beer at the local pub in
their student days, he was laying the foundations for his future career.
Not his first career as a share milker, but his life changing one as the
winemaker and founder of Ata Rangi wines.
Ata Rangi means new beginning and he needed one when he was working as a
share milker in the southern Wairarapa and read a report saying Martinborough
was deemed a suitable wine region by experts. As soon as he could, he checked
Martinborough out and, after a day trip there, decided on a piece of land, quit
share milking and within two months had moved onto the site that is now home to
Ata Rangi wines. Today Paton is New Zealand’s top Pinot Noir maker. It’s easy
to dispute such a claim when there are so many good New Zealand Pinot Noirs,
but Ata Rangi’s is, without doubt, the most consistent in this country because
it has the longest track record of unwavering high quality.
Paton is a rare kind of person, having grown up in a semi-rural
household with wine on the dinner table regularly. In his family, the wine was
mostly fizzy, low alcohol, sweet Italian Asti Spumante. Smirk you may but
there’s a reason Asti tastes so great to young people; it is one of the most
pure, grapey tasting wines on Earth, but that’s another story. It worked its
magic on Paton’s young palate, giving him a passion for real wine at a time when
most Kiwis were living on a limited alcoholic beverage diet of beer, shandy and
‘sherry’ (locally made imitations bearing very little resemblance to the real
thing). Paton’s father had fallen for the charms of red wine when he was a
soldier in Italy during World War Two, which was why there was real wine in
Seven lucky years after he began Ata Rangi, Paton met his his long-term
partner in life and business, Phyll Pattie. Together they are a quietly
determined, down to earth team – with Paton’s sister, Ali, also now part of the
winery. Of all the Pinot Noirs that keep coming my way from Martinborough, from
Central Otago, from Marlborough and even from some of the so-called ‘cooler’
areas of Australia, Ata Rangi Pinot Noir rates the highest on my consistency
radar. Try it.
Wines of the week
2008 Selak’s Winemaker’s
Favourite Central Otago Pinot Noir $22
If you missed National Roast
Day yesterday – 1 August – team up this gorgeously accessibly priced Central
Otago Pinot Noir, with its savoury tang and fruity zing. It’s a great combo
with roast lamb. www.selaks.co.nz
2008 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir
Just as winemaker Clive Paton could feel the Muscat grape in the Asti he
grew up with at family mealtimes, he gives Ata Rangi Pinot Noir a consistent feeling
silky, velvet smoothness and spicy fruit flavours which linger in every sip. www.atarangi.co.nz
2008 Wooing Tree Pinot Noir $42
Not only a seductively named Pinot Noir but a bright big bodied one from
Central Otago where, yes, there is an actual tree after which this new wine is
named. From Caro’s, Glengarry’s, Herne Bay Cellars, Milford Cellars, La
Barrique, Hamilton Wine Company or www.wooingtree.co.nz
First published in The Herald on Sunday's Detours magazine, 2 August 2010.
Time to make a change...
Fabian Partigliani was clearly nervous as he told the smallest media
group in the country – wine writers - about the biggest change to Montana
Wines in the last decade. If you don’t count the advent of screwcaps, which now
seal at least 90 out of every 100 bottles of the company’s wines, then the
change from Montana to Brancott Estate is their boldest move in the past 10
No wonder Partigliani was nervous.
It fell to him as the head of the company to decide on the change, then
to announce it. In telling wine writers first, he ran the risk of early dissent
in the ranks of his staunchest media allies, while also hoping to garner their
support. He got support, but also a few murmourings of disquiet. When
announcing ‘Brancott’ Estate would appear in place of ‘Montana Wines’, in an
identical font, George Orwell’s Animal Farm sprang straight to mind. Would this
transition of different information be so smooth that we might soon ask
ourselves if ‘Montana Wines’ ever existed? I wondered.
Some suggest this is just another New Zealand company throwing the baby
out with the bathwater, to go upmarket. And our young country’s sports teams,
big companies and well known brand owners do seem adept at throwing away a
finely-honed identity as soon as it becomes… well, finely honed.
Since the announced name change last month, Partigliani has been
criticized for taking to long – it was a two year process - to decide on what
one marketing commentator said was a blindingly obvious branding opportunity.
Thank god we don’t all run our lives according to the whims of that
commentator. If an important change isn’t considered, it can hardly be worth
worrying about, can it?
Fortunately, Partigliani and the ‘Montana’ team took their time deciding
on the change, which was triggered by confusion in a fast growing export market
– God bless America; North America, that is. Those living in the land of the
free are not quite brave enough to imagine a place called Marlborough nor
anything called Montana outside their own Marlboro Man cigarette brand and
State of Montana, hence their confusion over Montana Wines from Marlborough.
Any misgivings about this change have been put to rest, for me, thanks
to wine industry elder statesman, Terry Dunleavy, who suggests the new single
global name is an opportunity for a repositioning. He has a good point. Those
who consume Montana Wines know they are reliably high quality, despite their
big brand, low price status. From $10 up to $45, Montana consistently over
delivers. As do this week’s outstanding wines from another of this country’s
oldest wineries; Babich. It’s a little known fact that Babich Wines in West Auckland was once known as Pinot Vineyards.
The name was changed to Northern Vineyards, then to Babich Wines; because the
‘Pinot’ the winery had access to in the first half of last century didn’t grow
easily. It was a big upheaval, changing names, recalls Peter Babich, but it
hasn’t affected the taste of what’s in the bottle, just the perception of those
who pay close attention to labels.
Wines of the week
2008 Montana South Island Pinot Noir $15
The words ‘South Island’ on the label of this soft, spicy red wine are
another way of saying its grapes come from more than one region; the total is
tastier than each separate part. www.montanawines.co.nz
2008 Babich Winemaker’s Reserve Pinot Noir $30
This spicy medium bodied Marlborough Pinot Noir is a top quality South
Island red from New Zealand’s second oldest family owned winery. From
Glengarry’s or www.babichwines.co.nz
2007 Babich The Patriarch $60
This top red is named after winery founder Josip Babich, whose family
created this wine in his honour. It’s an elegant tribute, with flavours of
blackberry nudging their way through the big bodied, spicy, lingering taste.
From Glengarry’s or www.babichwines.co.nz
First published in the Herald on Sunday, 25 July 2010.
Trimming down is never far
from conversation at this time of year but it’s usually waistlines we’re
talking about - not wine. For the first time ever this year, though, New
Zealand winemakers trimmed down severely, picking seven per cent fewer grapes
than last. A whole 19,000 tones fewer grapes were harvested this year. It
sounds sizeable, but it’s not huge in global terms - New Zealand still makes
less than one per cent of the world’s wine. Still, like every other winemaking
country in the world right now, this one makes more than it can currently sell.
Trimming was needed to recalibrate New Zealand’s wine glut.
The biggest cut this year
was four per cent fewer Sauvignon Blanc grapes harvested, compared to last
year. So, Marlborough had the biggest reduction followed along by Hawke’s Bay,
Gisborne, the Wairarapa, the Waikato (yes, strangely enough, there are
winemakers there) and Auckland. The only regions to harvest more grapes this
year were Waipara and Canterbury. Central Otago stayed static.
There are other ways to
trim when it comes to wine, and, for me, consuming less means consuming better
wine but pouring less of it into my glass - and finding lower alcohol wines. The best low alcohol wines are
made that way rather than stripped of their alcohol (and therefore much of
their flavour) after they’ve been made.
One chilly Sunday night
last month after a late afternoon run, I craved a cool, crisp glass of wine. The only question
was: which one? In the drink-me-now rack were a couple of French Rieslings from
Alsace (from 2004 and 2006) that, frankly, I'm dreading pulling the corks on.
Not only do I run the risk of them being corked, they just might not be as
great as they should be for wines of their pedigree, breed or whatever other
intimidating wine jargony word some would throw at them. And rather than be
disappointed by high priced wines that I've aged for rather too long, I chose a
bottle of just-opened New Zealand Riesling, which I knew tasted extremely good
– the 2008 Villa Maria Reserve Riesling over delivers massively on flavour for
its $22 pricetag. Serve it with your choice of salty nibbles and two glasses of
its 10.5 alcohol equal about one and a half of a standard Chardonnay or even
Sauvignon Blanc; most of which nudge at least 13% or more. For less money and
equal deliciousness, check out winemaker
Tamra Washington’s Yealands Riesling featured this week; if that doesn’t make
your mouth water, it’s time to move onto even lower alcohol Rieslings… more to
Wines of the week
Within your means
2009 Peter Yealands Riesling
This is the best Yealands
Riesling made yet, with its low 11% alcohol and succulent lemon and lime
flavours. It would be unlucky and unlikely to see this wine at its recommended
$19 but if you do, it’s worth every cent, thanks to Tamra Washington’s light
winemaking touch. www.yealandsestate.co.nz
2008 Villa Maria Reserve Marlborough Riesling $23
When many of the world’s top wines cost four times’ this amount – and
more – Villa Maria’s Reserve Riesling is an absolute bargain offering
outstandingly quality, gorgeous apple, lime and lemon grass flavours – and a
lowish 11.5% alcohol. www.villamaria.co.nz
2009 Villa Maria Private Bin Riesling $19
This very accessibly priced Riesling is often far less than $19 too,
providing beautifully balanced, intense lemon flavours that are just off-dry.
Every sip lingers…
First published in the Herald on Sunday, 18 July 2010.
It usually takes very little to persuade me that daytime is the best
time to taste wine – our palates are always fresher in the morning than in the
afternoon or evening - but Marlborough winemaker Sam Weaver has another reason
to draw wine writers together on this year’s mid-winter Solstice. It’s a root
And we all know what root days are, don’t we?
If you’ve even heard of a root day, you’ll probably also know it’s a regular
feature on the biodynamic calendar, which Weaver adheres to – more or less. He
follows “the more logical aspects” of biodynamics; the most extreme form of
organics. Biodynamics was founded by the late Rudolph Steiner, whose ideas
waver from easy to understand to downright kooky sounding.
Today we’re tasting Weaver’s new wines on a root day rather than a
flower day, leaf day or fruit day, all of which feature routinely on the
biodynamic calendar. They are based on lunar cycles; which dictate the best
days for the development of those parts of the plant. Weaver finds root days to
be consistently good for wine tasting.
We all know our taste buds are dull when we’re tired, stressed or having
an ‘off’ day, but followers of biodynamics see a clearer pattern than mere
The UK supermarket chains, Tesco and Marks & Spencer, have been using the
biodynamic calendar to decide which days to taste wine on for the last few
years. It’s still early days, but their tasters have gone from cynics to
biodynamic believers; in 2009 Jo Ahearne of Marks & Spencers said she was
'completely blown away' by the consistent differences she saw between tastings
held on root and those held on flower days. The book, When Wine Tastes Best, by
Maria and Matthias Thun, explains how the biodynamic calendar is based on the
lunar and solar cycles, star constellations and planetary movement. Back on
Earth, on this root day, I’m tasting three of Weaver’s Pinot Noirs. The wine
with the X-factor, for me, is called Abyss Pinot Noir and is hard to find,
being made in miniscule quantities. It’s named because the grapes grow on vines
which edge out to an abyss, overlooking the Omaka Valley in Marlborough. Root
day or not, the 2008 Churton Abyss Pinot Noir tastes extremely good just after
midday on 21 June, 2010.
Wines of the week
2008 Churton Marlborough Pinot Noir $44
Winemaker Sam Weaver aims to pick his grapes on fruit and flower days on
the biodynamic calendar because, he believes, they are optimal for top tasting
wine – this elegantly structured, savoury flavoured Pinot Noir is the result.
2008 Murdoch James Blue Rock Pinot Noir $26
Here’s liquid proof that price needn’t determine quality. Of two very
differently priced Pinot Noirs, this silky smooth velvet version won out over
the far higher priced wine with its super smooth structure, spicy taste and
2009 Brown Brothers Cienna $16
And now for something a little less serious - Cienna (pronounced
‘See-en-a’) was an instant
sell-out when first made five years ago as a trial wine. Its low alcohol
(6.5%), light fizzy style and sweetness make it the perfect vinous rival for
RTDs. The Cienna grape is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Spainish
Sumoll. From supermarkets.
First published in the Herald on Sunday, 11 July 2010.
There we were at a friend’s dinner table talking about strange events we
had been to – square dances, evenings devoted to singing sea shanties, that
sort of thing - when a trip to a gay cowboy line dancing bar in San Francisco
sprang to mind. There was no wine there, but the strangeness of the place reminded
me of the wines I’ve been tasting this month.
It all began when my old friend, Chris Carrad, brought over a ‘cosmic’
wine for tasting; the grapes in it were grown on soils treated with acupuncture
for the earth. A couple of weeks later, a Kiwi winemaker blind poured me a
Marlborough Pinot Gris (a wine style I usually can’t stand), only to find it
tasted more like a French roussanne (which I happen to like). That was followed
by a bunch of biodynamic, no-sulphur-added Rhone Valley wines that tasted like
earth and high-cocoa chocolate. Add to this bunch of earthy, chocolatey,
out-there wines the alternative new F-Series range of Marlborough’s Framingham
winemaker Andrew Hedley, and what do you have?
“Daft idea wines” is how Hedley describes some of his wild-yeast fermented,
late-sulphured wines, made from only the ripest portion of the vineyard,
flouting conventional winemaking methods at every turn. They’re made in a
hands-off fashion. Ferments are wild; yeast in the atmosphere does its thing
when it’s ready rather than Hedley adding a commercial yeast. Some are packaged
in 500ml bottles, which doesn’t change the taste. Others have no sulphur added
till the last minute, which does noticeably change the taste. The first six
F-Series wines include a Sauvignon Blanc, a Pinot Noir, two Rieslings, a
Gewurztraminer and a Viognier. Quantities range
from 250 bottles to 140 cases for each wine and, yes, you will taste something
vastly different to usual.
These wines are about indulging Hedley’s wine preferences; making what some in
the UK wine trade call ‘real wine’; made with little interference by the
winemaker. The real wine thing is clearly arriving in New Zealand, albeit in
strangely weird dribs and unusual drabs, as the F-Series Gewurztraminer and the
other two outstanding wines of this week show. Each one leaves an indelible
imprint of unexpected but deliciously different flavour in your mind and mouth.
WINES OF THE WEEK
2009 Kairos Sauvignon Blanc $33
“I wanted to make a wine that tastes
like a special moment – that’s what Kairos is about; it means ‘the moment’,”
says Master of Wine Stephen Bennett, who let indigenous yeast in the atmosphere
ferment this first Kairos Sauvignon, which hints at a fruity aroma before
veering off in a bone dry, savoury direction. From specialist wine stores or
Bennett and Deller, phone (09) 378 9463.
2007 Esk Valley Winemaker’s
Reserve Syrah $60
“This wine is as natural as
they come,” says winemaker Gordon Russell, who let fermentation occur
spontaneously, added minimal sulphur and reduced oak in this black coloured,
spicy Hawke’s Bay red. Just 170 cases were made. Worth the high bottle price? I
2009 Gewurztraminer VT $39.99 (500ml)
Gewürztraminer is hard to sell but its fans will adore the honeyed taste
of this one; only the first 20 per cent of each row of Gewurztraminer vines was
used to make it. Winemaker Andrew Hedley’s aim was to create “a Gewurztraminer
on steroids”. Only from the winery: email@example.com
First published in the Herald on Sunday, 4 July 2010.
If you have ever set foot
inside the supermarket, only to forget what you went for in the first place,
you’ll know how it feels to gaze blankly like a rabbit caught in the headlights
at the ‘fresh’ vegetables, wondering what you are there for. Pondering the
possible causes of short-term memory loss, I searched for what can only loosely
be described as a ‘range’ of Rieslings.
Above the eye-level shelves
of Pinot Gris sat a lonely trio of Rieslings so high they were hard to reach.
But reach I did, up to a wine with a piece of writing so small it almost
disappeared into the silvery greyness of the label: “Many wine lovers believe
this classic variety is the one that best demonstrates the true potential of
New Zealand wine. This Riesling is crafted by some of those enthusiasts.”
No self respecting riesling
lover would describe the 2009 Montana Reserve Waipara Riesling as being on the
riesling ladder’s top rung, but it has so much going for it - bone dry style,
freshness that’s rare in white wines and pure lime flavours – it puts forward a
convincing case for why Riesling has exceptional potential in New Zealand. As I
stashed a bottle in my empty basket, and tried to fathom why I was at the
supermarket, another white sprang to mind.
Sauvignon Blanc is aromatic
like Riesling but it does not age well, as Riesling does.
Patrick Materman, chief
winemaker of the largest wine company in New Zealand, hopes to change that by
making a Sauvignon Blanc that does age well for years after it’s bottled. I’ve
been following the fortunes of ‘Icon’ – the working title of the wine – and
while it’s early days, I’m impressed it’s a recognisable Sauvignon Blanc rather
than a meaningless style departure; as some Kiwi ‘savvies’ are. As anyone who
has tried to age Sauvignon Blanc for more than two years knows, it loses its
fresh fruity zing and turns into something more akin to asparagus in a tin.
Materman is far from alone in wanting to turn the tide on this trend and he –
and others at Pernod Ricard NZ – aim to create a wine that retains its fruit
purity for years. They have made a trial wine and will release the first
commercial one in October 2011. If the idea of drinking Riesling or aging
Sauvignon Blanc seems like the vinous equivalent of eyeing up an old fashioned
sedan when there’s a perfectly modern Mazda on offer, all I can say is: classic
design always wins out over bland reliability. And that supermarket jaunt
turned out to be a fruitful journey after all.
WINES OF THE WEEK
2009 Montana Reserve Waipara
This North Canterbury zingy
white often sells for less than its recommended retail and its fresh flavours
match Thai food beautifully. www.montanawines.co.nz
2009 Stoneleigh Marlborough
Full marks to winemaker
Jamie Marfell for coaxing the best of Marlborough chardonnay into each bottle
of this zesty fresh white, which reminds me of tropical fruit salad. www.stoneleigh.co.nz
2007 Luis Canas Crianza
is rare as hen’s you know whats in New Zealand, but that’s no reason to ignore
its staunchly savoury, full bodied style, which suit cold winter nights. From
La Barrique, Mairangi Bay Fine Wines and Moore Wilsons in Wellington, or email:
First published in the Herald on Sunday, 27 June 2010.
A West Auckland wine importer
issued a challenge this week. Couching his
question in the friendliest of terms, he sent a box of quirky French reds in
for tasting, asking: “If a wine has no sulphur added, does it mean it has no
sulphur at all?”
Regular readers will understand instantly why I felt another
preservative-free wine column coming on, but fear not. This week’s column is
actually about syrah and grenache. Before we get to that, the answer is: No.
All wines contain sulphur because it’s a natural by-product of fermentation. To
carry the theme further, one of those French reds was described as ‘naked’ by
wine importer Paul Mitchell because the wine has no added sulphur and was not
subjected to the standard winemaking practices of fining and filtering. Both
are controversially said to ‘strip’ wine of flavour and character, though they
also stabilize it from refermentation by removing all residual solid matter
(grape skins, pips et al). Click onto the website of this dark, brooding red – www.vinedemio.com
- and winemakers
Sebastian and Zoe Vincenti Barthelemy explain that they adhere to ‘passive
winemaking’. Like a small but steadily growing number of winemakers around the
planet, they want their wines to taste natural rather than worked, which
accounts for why the ‘naked’ wine - 2009 Domaine de Fondreche ‘Nature’
Cotes-du-Ventoux – tastes so earthy.
Is it good? I thought so, as did three very different male wine
drinkers, who all liked it for being big, bold and black as the cloudy,
moonless night on which we tasted it. This wine tastes as dark as 70 per
cent-cocoa chocolate too, thanks to the intensity of the syrah and grenache
grapes it’s made from. And lest ‘passive winemaking’ sounds like vinous child
neglect, its makers kept this wine on its yeast lees (dead yeast cells, post
fermentation) for six months longer than necessary, as a protective measure
against oxidation. It’s biodynamic winemaking, of course. Your average run of
the mill reds all contain added sulphur to prevent oxidation. As do most of the
dried fruits and nuts we eat. The amounts are miniscule and true allergies are
My pick of the reds Mitchell sent in for tasting was the 2007 Domaine
Vindemio Regain, below, and the 2009
Saint Cosme Cotes-du-Rhone is a close rival. All are good go-to winter reds. They
all over deliver. If I had $20 to my name and was charged with buying a top
French red, these would be my first, second and third choices. Sadly, for the
one-stop shopper, they can’t be found at the local supermarket. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
and get on
the list for his old-fashioned snail mail newsletter, which opens doors of flavour
to another world of wine.
Wines of the week
2009 Saint Cosme
Meet the taste of France in your glass this winter in this outstanding syrah – aka ‘shiraz’. Winemaker Louis
Barruol’s family have been in the same spot in the Rhone Valley since the 1400s
and are one of the best in the Gigondas area.
2007 Domaine Les Aphillanthes Cotes-du-Rhone $19.95
Lots of complex, structured flavours join forces in each sip of this
chocolaty, dark red blend of grenache, carignan and mourvedre grapes, made by
2007 Domaine Vindemio Regain Cotes du Ventoux $19.95
Winemaker Jean Marots uses a traditional trio of Rhone Valley grapes
here, with grenache in the lead and syrah’s savoury, peppery flavours in the
star supporting role. It’s biodynamic, fermented and aged in concrete tanks –
and surprisingly complex. www.vindemio.com
First published in the Herald on Sunday, 20 June 2010.
How we present ourselves
says a lot about us to other people, and the same applies to how wines are
presented to us, to judge by the nakedly ambitious wine marketing of champagne,
organic wines and pinot noirs I’ve tasted this month.
When it’s wearing the
badge of Bio-Gro organic certification, a wine is expected by its makers to
sell its socks off – as Two Gates Omahu, in last week’s column, hopefully is.
And when a bottle is labelled champagne, pinot noir or even ‘big woop’, it is
also expected to sell in a heartbeat.
Under normal circumstances, a wine called ‘big woop’ would send me running in
the opposite direction, but this one-litre shiraz is a top drop of dry red wine for a swift glass with dinner each night.
And since truly dry reds from Australia at this price have become something of
a rarity in a market saturated with cheap, sweet shiraz, dolled up as ‘dry’
wine, this delivers on quality and price.
A new Central Otago pinot
noir is more elegantly dressed by far, made to honour the late fashion designer,
The wine is the 2008 Soho
McQueen Couture Pinot Noir, which arrived on my doorstep half-consumed after a
tasting - supplies are short but quality is high, thanks to winemaker Grant
Taylor; one of this country’s top pinot noir makers. Taylor is better known
from winning the top gong from the International Wine Challenge in London for his 2000
Gibbston Reserve Pinot Noir. Skip to now and he has planted his own grapes in
Gibbston, from which he makes Valli Wines and this one-off bottle of liquid velvet.
Speaking of top wine
experiences, champagne is never far from my mind. Fortunately it was close to
my mouth too, on the chilly morning of 1 June when six icy cold bubblies were poured into
tiny champagne flutes by the dapper visiting Frenchman, Francois Hautekeur. This former engineer loved wine
so much he swapped careers to work for Veuve Clicquot. This month he visited
New Zealand to show and tell how well old bottles of Veuve age, when stored
well. The oldest was from 1953 and ready to be consumed without delay. My
choicest bubbly was from 1990 but I’ll happily settle for a glass of fresh,
yeasty, deliciously pure tasting liquid gold – Veuve Clicquot NV – any time.
Like all champagnes, its price is a tad OTT, but this wine lives up to its good
Wines of the week
Within your means
2008 Big Woop Red $19-21
If the name hasn’t instantly wooed you, the price, quality and quantity
certainly will. This large litre bottle will keep you well supplied for mid
winter all week long with its soft juicy red plum flavours captured in a bone
dry style. Available from Duff and Finns in Pukekohe and La Barrique stores in
Auckland, phone (09) 638 5000.
2008 Soho McQueen Couture Pinot Noir $50
One of my favourite ever
gifts was a handmade dish with OOTI
(‘only one that’s it’) engraved on the back, which could also apply to
this limited edition wine created to commemorate the late Alexander McQueen’s
unconventional fashion style. Winemaker Grant Taylor has made this silky, soft as a velvet
pillow pinot noir, capturing black cherry flavours which linger with every sip.
Veuve Clicquot $84
Each whiff reminds me of
fluffy, freshly baked bread I walked to the dairy each Sunday morning as a
child to bring home for lunch. And each fresh sip smells like a cool champagne
cellar with its crisp, coolness and exotic yeasty aromas.
First published in the Herald on Sunday, 13 June 2010.
Perox...gen... shortcut decanting to go, please
It’s not quite the shortest
day of the year but a wine called ‘Solstice’ has already featured on these
pages. Readers with long memories will remember the French cosmic wine,
Solstice, from last month. It not only has a hippy name, it puts the ‘hi’ in
hippy by going the extra ‘organic’ distance and remaining completely
sulphur-free and, what’s more, it’s actually drinkable. Any cynicism you’re
sensing here is purely pragmatic.
Sulphur is used in all wine in miniscule quantities to halt oxidation,
which is inevitable, unless the wine is made by God and has enough tannin,
natural grape sweetness and alcohol to hold its own. Call me facetious but the
fact is, it’s really rare for winemakers not to use sulphur and emerge with a
drinkable wine. Besides which, sulphur is a bi-product of fermentation, which
gets reabsorbed into wine as it ages. But I digress.
I’ve just been sent a
sulphur-neutralising wine spray. It’s called SO2GO. And it neutralises free
sulphur in wine, reducing headaches, rashes, sinus problems and nausea for
sulphur sufferers. It is unlikely that you or I react to sulphur.
Like most allergies,
allergic reactions to sulphur dioxide (aka SO2) are suffered by a very small
minority of people.
The difference in taste
after spraying SO2GO into wine is a different matter altogether. It’s like the
difference between filtered water
(after spraying the wine) with tap water (before).
A friend and I sprayed a
fresh acidic young Marlborough riesling, a slightly too-earthy mid-priced Rioja
and a basic bottle of fruity shiraz. Each wine tasted, respectively, softer,
cleaner and more spicy after receiving a single squirt of SO2GO. The
recommended dose is two squirts.
I then sprayed a cheap
Italian montepulciano, a low-priced chianti and a slightly too sweet but
supposedly ‘dry’, high priced viognier. Each wine tasted better again after
being sprayed, as did the gold-medal winning Marlborough pinot noir that’s
rapidly disappearing before my very eyes right now.
Before leaping onto an
anti-sulphur campaign, it’s important to realise that if wasn’t for sulphur
dioxide (SO2) in wine, we’d all be staring down the glass at yellowy brown
oxidised whites and muddy, nail-varnishy tasting reds.
For those unlucky few who
really do suffer sulphur allergies and adverse reactions, SO2GO is now
available in New Zealand, thanks to Ian Isaacs and his partner, who import it.
SO2Go is, says Isaacs, a measured food-grade solution of Hydrogen Peroxide,
which saturates wine with oxygen; neutralising free sulphur. It’s colourless,
flavourless and, Isaacs assures me, “totally harmless”. It won’t dent the bank
balance dramatically, either, at $7.90 for a spray, which lasts up to four
bottles. Email Isaacs at: email@example.com
Wines of the week
2008 Nederburg Manor House
Nederburg Winery has been
around since 1791 in South Africa and for at least a couple of decades in New
Zealand, where its name may conjure up memories of old-fashioned dusty reds.
Lay those ideas aside, pull out your favourite red wine glass and pour a splash
of this new wave of bright, fresh South African red into it.
2008 Kingsmill Tippet’s Race
Central Otago winemakers Phillip Horn and Donna Abrams made this
outrageously good southern riesling from grapes grown in Bendigo, where the hot
summer and chilly winter result in piercing fresh flavours of kaffir lime,
which linger after every sip. www.kingsmillwines.co.nz
2007 Two Gates Gimblett
Gravels Hawke’s Bay Omahu $55
Grape varieties are not on
this front label; just the word ‘Omahu’ and two powerful badges of pride -
Bio-Gro organic certification and Gimblett Gravels regional classification.
This staunch young red is still a baby and needs decanted into a wine decanter
– any jug will do the same job – for a couple of hours before drinking, to
soften its dark black fruit taste and bring out the mellow spice flavours of
merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon in the wine. www.twogates.co.nz
or email firstname.lastname@example.org
First published in the Herald on Sunday, 6 June 2010.
Que Syrah, Shiraz...
The air is cool, the shiraz
is dark and I am falling in love with the muscle and power of Australia’s most
famous and commercially successful wine all over again. Shiraz, shiraz, shiraz.
If I wasn’t tired of it before a week of devoting my mouth and mind to shiraz,
I certainly should have been afterwards. Instead, shiraz tastes to me like the
first throes of a love affair; irresistible, intense and addictive. The week of shiraz was at
Tasting Australia. And this year there’s a bittersweet tang of global wine glut
hanging in the air like sour grapes.
The winemakers of McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek and the Adelaide Hills
are surprisingly optimistic, proudly asserting their shirazes possess ‘cool
climate spice flavours’. Whatever it is, they taste less like fruit jam and
more like wine than many Ozzie shirazes.
Is great shiraz the Dan
Carter equivalent of the wine world, my boyfriend asks as I plunge into another
a glass of big, smooth, young Australian shiraz?
Not a bad analogy, I think,
savouring every dark red drop of St Henri Shiraz that passes my lips (see Wines
of the Week).
Unlike Dan Carter - who is
as popular as ever - Australian shiraz has taken a massive hit in the last
year. Sales in its biggest market, the UK, fell from 21.2 per cent to 20.4 per
cent (Nielsen data). Combine that with the country’s massive wine glut and
things don’t look rosy.
Several Australian winemakers at Tasting Australia estimated their
over-supply of grapes this year at about 400,000 tonnes. In total, this year’s
Australia harvest looks like nudging 2 million tonnes of grapes; nearly a
quarter of which will not be required. Little wonder Aussie winemakers are a
tad anxious. It makes New Zealand’s wine glut look like a glass of spilt
sauvignon blanc – a very tiny spilt glass.
There is light in the dark Australian wine tunnel. I see it at one of
Australia’s tiniest wineries in McLaren Vale, tasting a shiraz made by top
winemaker Steve Pannell. The 2006 S C
Pannell McLaren Vale Shiraz has a minimal 10-15 per cent new oak only - very
restrained. “We don’t want to make jam with alcohol,” says Pannell. “We want to
get away from the simplicity of wine.”
Surprisingly, I hear the same mantra at one of the world’s largest
wineries in the Barossa Valley, Jacob’s Creek – the place Wyndham Estate wines
are made. Jammy flavours, high alcohol and lots of oak have reigned sovereign
in Barossa reds but winemaker Nigel Dolan wants to make subtle shiraz rather
than knock-your-tastebuds-around wines. This is good news for Kiwis. His
Wyndham Estate Shiraz Bin 555 is the number one selling shiraz in New Zealand
at about $9 a bottle. Dolan is experimenting with quirky new ways of presenting
shiraz too. And what irks him more than anything else is the assumption that
there are only two speeds in the wine industry – small and caring or big and
uncaring. “That’s nonsense,” Dolan tells me, midway through five Wyndham
Shirazes, each one clearly made with TLC. “I work every day with people in this
large winery, people who really care and pay every bit as much attention to
detail as the small boutique wineries.”
The proof is in the bottles below.
Wines of the week
2007 Wyndham Estate Bin 444 Cabernet Sauvignon $17
structure and gorgeous dark fruit flavours of blackcurrant and boysenberries
fill ever mouthful of this luscious red, which begs to be poured into a large
glass, left for a couple of hours to open up, then enjoyed. And a large glass
can be half filled rather than over-filled to the brim - gives the wine some
room to move.
2006 St Henri $70
The 2006 St Henri tastes like
landing on a velvet pillow feels. I want to savour every silky, subtle, smooth
sip of this complex red. It’s still very youthful with dark chocolate and rich
plum flavours behind a veil of spice and black pepper. It’s been aged in old,
large oak barrels, which enhance its softness.
George Wyndham Shiraz Tempranillo $23
dismiss this wine just because the word ‘tempranillo’ doesn’t ring any bells.
This outstandingly red is made mostly from shiraz with 30 per cent being
‘tempranillo’ – a Spanish red grape that’s taking hold big-time in Australia,
where the hot climate and Italian immigrant culture provide the perfect
combination for successful Aus-Spanish wines.
First published in the Herald on Sunday, 30 May 2010.
“How bad could they be?”
Chris Carrad asked himself, when he was planning to import some of the weirdest
wines on the planet to New Zealand.
The wines come from Domaine
Viret in France. And the reason this West Auckland wine retailer had doubts
about the wines is that they are unfined, unfiltered and – most bizarrely of
all – unsulphured.
Are these wines made by
mavericks? Absolutely. Whether we understand it, loathe it or merely accept it,
sulphur in wine performs the vital role of preventing oxidation. Try as they
might, organic winemakers who attempt to make quality sulphur-free wines
usually have no luck. I’ve tried many sulphur-free wines over the last decade
and a half, but these are the first I’ve ever actually enjoyed because they are
the first that are not oxidised and therefore drinkable.
It has to be said here that
sulphur is not
detectable in the
vast majority of wines we drink. And levels of sulphur in wine have significantly
declined, as a general rule thanks to screwcaps – which guarantee an air-free
environment in wine bottles, so less protection is needed for the wine.
The lack of sulphur in Viret
wines both piqued Carrad’s curiosity and made him cautious. He decided to take
the plunge and import them to New Zealand on the strength of just one Viret
wine, which he’d loved; Renaissance. It’s a typical French Rhone Valley ‘GSM’ –
a blend of grenache, syrah and mourvedre grapes, hence the GSM acronym.
Due to the lack of sulphur
in Viret wines, they are perfect for those who react to sulphur in wine. It would be extremely rare for
sulphur to cause fatal ill-effects but it can make wine drinking unpleasant for
asthma sufferers. These wines are completely safe on that score, though there
is a hitch. They pack a high alcohol punch. Renaissance has 14.5 per cent
alcohol, so I was surprised to feel great the day enjoying three large glasses
Alain and Philippe Viret not
only make sulphur-free wines, they do it using Cosmoculture. Also described as
acupuncture for the earth, Cosmoculture involves stone circles, planetary
beacons and homeopathy in the vineyard. It has more in common with biodynamic
winemaking than anything else, not least because it defies a 100 per cent
logical explanation. The Viret duo developed and have now trademarked ‘Cosmoculture’
as their stamp of au natural winemaking. And If you’re thinking ‘so far, so
same old banter about reducing one’s carbon footprint’, I can only suggest you
try Domaine Viret Renaissance. It’s so big in flavour, so radically rustic yet
deliciously different, it begs to be poured and savoured by red wine fiends
WINES OF THE WEEK
WITHIN YOUR MEANS
2007 Taylors 80 Acres Shiraz
As always with good Aussie shiraz, this big red is gutsy but soft, juicy
but dark and, thanks to its newfound 100 per cent carbon neutrality production,
it ticks a few green boxes too. Check out its environmental street cred’ at www.taylorswines.com.au
2006 Domaine Viret
This wine needs to be
decanted into large glasses, a jug or decanter, prior to drinking its rich,
juicy sweetness, which intermingles with cocoa flavours and staunch tannins. Available at The Wine Circle, www.winecircle.co.nz
and Rumbles in
TEST THE WATERS
2007 Millton Te Arai
Vineyard Chenin Blanc $25
Chenin blanc is the alternative white wine for chardonnay lovers and this
biodynamic version is a consistent star with fresh zingy apple and honey
flavours and a bone dry finish. www.millton.co.nz
First published in the Herald on Sunday, 23 May 2010.
White's right at Kumeu...
Sitting here in the sun at
Kumeu River Wines, it’s hard to believe it’s even autumn, let alone on the
brink of winter. The air is thick and warm, the wine in our glasses is like a
summer holiday too – each sip lingers in the mouth and memory long after it has
been swallowed. And the only real clue it’s not mid-summer is in the colour of
leaves on the carefully trained vines across the road at Mate’s Vineyard. This
famous piece of land was named after the late Mate Brajkovich, whose wife,
Melba, runs Kumeu River Wines today with their four adult children: Michael,
Paul, Milan and Marijana.
The story of these four
winemaking siblings is not new but, thanks to their collective passion for
great chardonnay, there is a new twist in the tale. Today we are tasting that
new twist. We are a larger group
of Auckland wine writers than usually bothers to turn up to a tasting and we
are checking out four very different wines. All are made from the chardonnay
grape. This is our chance to understand the differences between the chardonnays
that have made this tiny winery a big name in the wine world - hence the good
turnout of tasters.
So, here we go. The first
wine we tickle our taste buds with is 2008 Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay, $36.
It was the pinnacle of the Kumeu River tree but had to cede that position to Mate’s Vineyard Chardonnay
which first came along in 1993.
Three years ago, the family
introduced two more chardonnays, each an expression of the vineyard in which
its grapes were grown. Now there is Coddington Chardonnay and Hunting Hill
Chardonnay. Previously these wines were blended into the estate chardonnay. The
difference in taste between the four wines is huge but the geographic distance
between where the grapes in them are grown is extremely close. I’m torn between
which wine is best. Bigger isn’t always better but like the autumn sun that
sprinkles its gentle warm rays into this tasting room, Mate’s Vineyard
Chardonnay has presence without ever being too big for its boots.
WINES OF THE WEEK
2009 Tohu Unoaked Chardonnay $20
Wines labeled 'unoaked' have a tendency to polarize people – the prefix
'un' really is a detractor for most of us - but this wine has such gorgeous
crisp citrus flavours that it’s all the better for being a fruity style. It’s
luscious, fresh and crisp - just as I would hope from a high quality chardonnay
that hasn't seen a lick of oak. www.tohu.co.nz
2008 Kumeu River Mate’s
Vineyard Chardonnay $50
This is the pinnacle of the
Kumeu River chardonnay tree with its rich, caramel aromas and flavours
supported by a tight core of lingering citrusy freshness. It ages well too, but
tastes so good now, why would you want to keep it more than a couple of years?
If budget is no limit, buy by the caseload and enjoy gradually to watch its
flavours evolve in the next couple of years. www.kumeuriver.co.nz
2008 Kumeu River Coddington
Coddington Chardonnay easily
slides onto my top 10 New Zealand dry whites list with its silky mouthfeel,
full body and beautiful balance of bright lemon fresh flavour and soft texture.
First published Herald on Sunday 15 May 2010.
EARTH'S END MOVES TOWARDS ORGANIC...
Cue the celebration bubbly
this month because it marks 16 years since I wrote my first wine column; even
if it’s not a round number, it’s a good excuse to drink bubbles. This month
also marks a first, as I discovered while sitting inside a volcano in south
Auckland. In the literally thousands of tastings I’ve been to in the last 16
never been to one where the bottle’s weight was more important its contents.
There’s always a first time. It was at the launch of CEMARS at Villa
Maria Wines HQ; built inside an old volcanic crater. If you’ve never heard the
acronym before, join the club. Aside from the winery staff, nobody present had
heard of CEMARS. It stands for Certified Emissions Measurement and Reduction
Scheme. And Villa Maria Wines has become accredited to it this year.
As I watched the eyes of my colleagues glaze over at the mention of
another carbon footprint reducing stamp of approval, I wondered if I would
remember what the letters stood for. And if I even wanted to be enlightened
about what this bizarre acronym has to contribute to the planet’s well-being?
Part of me felt it would be better if we all just made a concerted effort to
grow our own vegetables, recycle more and stopped buying rubbish for $4 from
the local $2 shop. And yet schemes like CEMARS are proving vitally important
for New Zealand wine exporters because UK supermarkets are moving towards
compulsory carbon emissions labeling on wines they sell. To be accredited to
CEMARS, Villa Maria winery staff needed to measure emissions from their
vineyards, the manufacture and transportation of their packaging, composting,
road travel and air travel; domestically and internationally. And in the 12
month lead up to accreditation, every plane trip any Villa Maria staff member
made was measured.
The comparatively small, Mount Edward Wines, has just gained full
Bio-Gro certification for its winery just outside Queenstown. Two of its three
vineyards are also certified Bio-Gro, and this year will see the first
certified organic Mount Edward wines.
Will they taste better than before? Maybe, but not necessarily. So, why
bother with all the hard work that Bio-Gro entails?
It’s a mindset and a philosophy, explains winemaker Duncan Forsyth. And
along with Mount Edward founder and co-owner Alan Brady, he is motivated by a
desire to do right by the planet. Not that they are home and hosed with
organics yet. The biggest challenge, Forsyth says, is in applying the
principles they’re using at work to their home lives – “No more Draino as a
quick fix to a blocked drain!” While he confesses to a certain pride for having
walked this far down the organic path, he won’t be preaching any eco-gospel
just yet –“There are still a few loose stones lying around our glasshouse.”
WINES OF THE WEEK
2009 Villa Maria Single Vineyard Ihumatao Gewurztraminer $30
Seven hectares of Bio-Gro certified gewürztraminer grapes are grown
inside the Ihumatao volcano; home to Villa Maria’s national HQ. This is an intense,
luscious, full bodied white; slightly off-dry. Serve chilled.
2008 Mount Edward Central
Otago Riesling $25
Wines like this confirm my
suspicion that the best rieslings are at least as good as the top pinots from
our southernmost wine region; it’s super refreshing qualities include a
lingering lime taste. www.mountedward.com
2008 Earth’s End Central
Otago Pinot Noir $26
This slinky smooth, soft but
dark fruit-flavoured pinot noir has ‘drink-me-now’ stamped all over it. www.earthsendwine.com
First published Herald on Sunday 9 May 2010.
TOP WINTER REDS NZ$15-20...
Our red wine guide will ensure your
winter wine drinking is tasty and affordable.
Winter and red wine may go together like Italian restaurants and bowls
of pasta, but finding good wine among the mountains of supermarket mediocrity
can be harder than persuading a Sicilian not to pay their ‘taxes’ to the Mafia.
Armed with inadequate knowledge can land you in more sour grapes than
you bargained for.
The global wine glut means there are bargains to be had, but it can be
tricky knowing which ones to take a punt on – and which ones not to touch with
a barge pole. Steering clear of bottles adorned with animals on the label is
one rule of thumb, but then how do you choose?
This guide will help you navigate towards top tasting bottles without
the price tag to match. For this story, I sniffed, swirled, drooled longingly
over and – in the worst cases – happily spat out each of 47 different wines, in
a quest to find the best 10. All were tasted with their identities concealed.
Of the 47 wines tasted, 34 came from New Zealand; seven from Australia; five
from Italy and one from Spain. They arrived in response to an invite to put
their tastiest $15-$20 red wines forward, specifically for this story.
Enjoy this top 10 but when venturing over to the low priced stands at
your local supermarket, remember two things: cheap doesn’t always mean cheerful
and knowledge means more pleasure for the palate.
TOP RED OF THE TASTING $15-20
Carchelo C $17-18
If its striking, stripy packaging doesn’t get you, the dark chocolate
taste and full body of this Spanish red will. Pronounce it ‘car-chell-oh’ and
expect mocha flavours because this is made from one of the world’s most
chocolatey tasting grapes – monastrell (aka mourvedre). Here, it is blended
into this silky smooth red with Spain’s great red grape, tempranillo (the
backbone of great Rioja). Winemaker Joaquin Galvez Bauza included smaller
amounts of syrah, cabernet sauvignon and merlot to give upfront fruity appeal.
Available at specialist wine retailers nationwide and Bonita Tapas Bar on
Ponsonby Road and Tabou restaurant in Kingsland, Auckland.
2008 Cosmo Red $19-20
To call this wine quirky is a tad understating the case – it’s made from
the quirky – and secret - combo of four different red grapes grown in Gisborne
– a place better known for whites. Winemaker James Millton is a biodynamic guru
in the wine world. And it follows that he’s an adventurous winemaker, hence
this unusual delicious blend, which is full-bodied, fleshy, fruit-driven but
complex. At the time of writing in late April, sales were moving swift and
fast, so if you see the 2009 instead of this 2008 Cosmo, grab it. www.milltonvineyard.co.nz
2008 Rolling Shiraz $19-20
This winning wine is always good and was the runner-up red of this
tasting. It comes from the Central
Ranges in New South Wales, Australia, whose warm location accounts for its
plump, fleshy, warm fruity flavours. The rise and fall of the hills around the
lower reaches of the vineyard inspired the wine’s name. Widely available.
2008 Farnese Sangiovese $17-18
This stunning red wine bargain is made
entirely from Italy’s prolific and sometimes unreliable sangiovese grape; which
is the mainstay of Chianti and deliciously spicy in this red. Like most good
sangioveses, this is medium bodied with pretty out-there tannins, making it a
challenge for those accustomed only to Kiwi reds. Team it up with a steaming
bowl of tomatoey pasta and all that rusticity is softened beautifully – or just
check it out with your favourite cheese for company. Available at specialist
wine stores or A Touch of Italy, www.touchofitaly.co.nz
2007 Cent’Are Nero d’Avola Sicilia $20
Outstanding Sicilian red that breaks new
ground in high quality winemaking for southern Italy. This is made from the
nero d’avola grape. Nero being black; Avola being a town in south east Sicily,
hence the name. It’s one of my personal faves, thanks to close acquaintance
with it; also known as buying and drinking this spicy youthfully tasty red as a
go-to everyday wine. Available at specialist wine stores or A Touch of Italy, www.touchofitaly.co.nz
2009 12,000 Miles Cabernet Franc Malbec Merlot $20
Carterton winemaker Christine Kernohan named this wine in honour of her
Scottish homeland. And, yes, it is a surprise to see this particular red blend
emerge from the Wairarapa - which is better known for pinot noir than for the
more challenging classic Bordeaux grapes trio of cabernet franc, malbec and
merlot. And yet these red grapes
combine deliciously to make this smooth textured red with its flavours of wild
2009 Villa Maria Private Bin Merlot $19
Merlot has long been eclipsed by pinot noir as New Zealand’s big red
wine hope but many winemakers – especially in Hawke’s Bay – still hold this
noble red grape in high regard. This wine shows why. It’s a youthful red with
pretty strawberry and raspberry aromas, which lead in to a full bodied style.
2008 Sacred Hill Hawke’s Bay Syrah $20
New Zealand now has its own tri-ennial syrah symposium and it’s held in
what is currently home to our country’s top syrahs: Hawke’s Bay. This big
bodied syrah comes from the Bay
and has classic cracked black pepper flavours and a savoury aroma. It over-delivers
on taste for this price. www.sacredhill.co.nz
2007 Taylors Eighty Acres Shiraz Viognier $19
When most large wineries have long left family hands, Taylors Wines is
celebrating its 40 anniversary of making wine – and remaining
family owned and operated. This red was an immediate stand-out in the tasting,
thanks to its deep dark colour and soft fruity flavours. Viognier is a white
grape. And though it sounds counter-intuitive, its inclusion with shiraz
enhances dark colour and fragrant aromas. It’s worth mentioning too that this
year Taylors Eight Acres wines became 100 per cent carbon neutral (ISO 14044
compliant Life Cycle Assessment).
2008 Lindis River Pinot Noir “1912” $20
Last but not least, this is the sole pinot noir to make the grade for
this tasting. It’s also the only South Island wine in this top 10 line-up,
which is hardly surprising, given that most red grapes need far more warmth
than New Zealand’s south can offer. This is a light bodied red with cherry flavours
and a silky finish. www.lindisriver.co.nz
TASTING CREDIT: Thanks to my tasting coordinator, Douglas Wallis, who
unwrapped the wines, poured them and concealed their identities for this story.
First published Herald on Sunday 23 May 2010
KINGS OF THE HILL
We’re sitting at the top of a sun-drenched vineyard looking out to sea
over heavily laden pinot gris vines, which have just been harvested. Yes, you
read right. These vines are heavily laden and the harvest here is, officially,
complete. Winemaker and vineyard owner Gabrielle Simmers is doing her bit for
the New Zealand wine industry this year – making less wine.
In case your head’s been firmly in the sand, you’ll have seen several
stories about plummeting New Zealand wine prices overseas, but as a quick
glance at supermarket wine aisles here also reveals, there are plenty of
bargain buy sauvignon blancs to be had right now. Winemakers are trying to move
stock from 2008 and 2009 before their 2010 wines come out. And guess what? Many
of the best sauvignons to drink right now are from 2008. A couple of years down
the track, these wines actually taste softer, rounder and simply better. So buy
up while the prices are down.
This year winemakers like Simmers are intentionally producing less, in a
bid to help rectify the over-supply. Admirable as her efforts are, she will
need to be joined by far larger wineries for them to translate into less wine
all round. Simmers has also dramatically changed how she’s making her second
vintage of &Co wine. Along with hired seasonal workers, she has
hand-harvested her grapes this year. She wants better grapes to work with and a
better wine as a result. Of her 8.8 hectare block of vines, 8.1 hectares are
sauvignon blanc and 0.7 is pinot gris. Rather than cash in on the cash cow that
is pinot gris, she’s going to blend it into her sauvignon blanc. This could be
a great use of pinot gris – which has proven its mettle as a wonderful
‘filler-in’ when blended with thoughtfully chosen other grapes. Seresin
Estate’s ‘Chiaro Scuro’ (‘day-night’) is a top example of an unconventional
white blend; riesling, chardonnay and pinot gris were co-fermented rather than
blended together – the result is delicious. Simmers plans to follow tack.
Her sentiments are echoed by Steve Skinner; winemaker at the new
Elephant Hill winery, 10 minutes away on the coast at Te Awanga.
Skinner is a dab hand at
syrah and, it turns out, at cool, crisp sauvignon blanc. He pulls out two to
taste. The steely fresh 2009 Elephant Hill Reserve Sauvignon Blanc is
interesting, but the 2008 Elephant Hill Airavata Sauvignon Blanc is my pick.
It’s modelled on the late French sauvignon fanatic, Didier Dagenau’s sauvignon
blanc. It’s barrel-fermented and just 300 bottles were made. Airvata sells only
at the winery. As I sit at the top of &Co’s vineyard that night, looking at
the lights of the Bay, I’m stricken by these crisp, minerally sauvignon blancs,
which bear more than a passing resemblance to good sancerre in all ways but one
– they are far more affordable. The job Simmers and Skinner have begun is far
from complete but it’s a flavour journey I’m glad I’ve embarked on.
WINES OF THE WEEK
WITHIN YOUR MEANS
2009 &Co $20
Hawke’s Bay is better known for full bodied wines than light, minerally
fresh seaside sauvignons like this one – which is on my must-drinks list for
its thirst quenching qualities. Winemaker Gabrielle Simmers breaks interesting
new ground for Hawke's Bay's cool by the sea climate wines with this lovely
TEST THE WATERS
2008 Elephant Hill Viognier
It’s drier than most,
fresher than most and even has less alcohol than most viogniers; with 13.5 per
cent and a white peachy style, this is outstanding. www.elephanthill.co.nz
2008 Elephant Hill Hawke’s Bay Reserve Syrah $45
A great new red that packs
an elegant punch of blackpepper flavour, with lively red plums and great
weight, thanks to winemaker Steve Skinner and the vines he’s caretaker of at Te
Awanga in Hawke’s Bay. www.elephanthill.co.nz
First published Herald on Sunday 2 May 2010.
Last week I wrapped up by
saying we can all drink expensive wines if we share the cost because enjoyment
isn’t always proportionate to volume. But after half a day clambering up Mt
Taranaki’s formidable northern slopes, volume was exactly what I required.
Fortunately, a little bit goes a long way after a big walk, especially when the
wine is riesling and the drinker is me.
The 2008 Spy Valley Envoy
Riesling won’t win any prizes from me for its over-designed bottle but the
contents prove again that Marlborough is underrated as a top riesling region.
And this wine was far from perfect. Its colour was yellower than it should be
at two years old and its flavours were developing quickly in the glass –
hinting that it needs to be enjoyed soon. Even so, this is a deliciously good wine. As are two new rieslings from John Forrest, who adores
riesling above all other wines he makes, but laments having to focus on wines
that drinkers more easily understand.
To help aid that
understanding, Auckland restaurateur Nicola Richards from Monsoon Poon, has
colour coded the rieslings on her wine list. She has 13 rieslings on the
list and four categories of colour coding: dry, medium dry, medium sweet and
sweet. Richards is the first New Zealand
restaurateur I’ve heard of who is brave enough to publish a wine list saying
riesling is ‘the finest white grape in the world’. But she is far from alone in
Martinborough Vineyards winemaker Paul Mason says a restaurateur in
Brisbane reported to him last month that they had tripled riesling sales because of an explanation about it on
the wine list.
“I’m a big believer that
explanation is needed for riesling. The old hangover is that riesling is sweet
but that’s not the reality. The trend is towards drier rieslings,” Mason told
me, as we tasted three vastly different rieslings last month. He now publishes
the style of Martinborough Vineyards rieslings on the back labels - Jackson
Block is ‘dry’; Manu is ‘medium’ and Bruno is ‘medium/sweet’.
Are these small steps too
late to help riesling’s proportionate decline?
National vineyard statistics
might say ‘yes’. In 2002, there were 529 hectares of riesling planted
nationwide against pinot gris’ paltry 232 hectares. Today the situation has
reversed. Both grapes have grown in quantity, but it’s a sorry state of affairs
for riesling. Winemakers complain constantly to me about how wine drinkers
“just don’t get riesling but love the insipid ‘charms’ of pinot gris”. Which is
why riesling has risen to 934 hectares nationally against pinot gris’ whopping
‘grey’ interloper may have overtaken riesling but it will simply never have the
same vivacious, outgoing personality, let alone the ability to be, as John
Forrest puts it, the yin and yang of the wine world.
WINES OF THE WEEK
2008 Forrest The Valleys
Brancott Riesling $22
John Winery owner John
Forrest is a riesling fan, accounting for why he released this two year old
wine now rather than sooner. It’s flavoursome, refreshing, thirst quenching,
succulent and clean. And the relatively low 11 per cent alcohol adds appeal. www.forrestwines.co.nz
2009 Martinborough Vineyard
Riesling Jackson Block $25
Stunning wine – thanks to
the grapefruit character, the beautifully balanced acids, the ripe fruit and
the all-round ‘drink me now’ taste. This will age well, if you have the
2008 Waimea Estates Bolitho
Nelson riesling is an unsung
star, as this lively, light-bodied, thirst quenching wine shows. www.waimea.co.nz
First published Herald on Sunday 18 April 2010.
The pinot challenge
If you’re wondering why good
pinot noir costs a lot more than good shiraz, good cabernet sauvignon or good
gewürztraminer, you’re not alone. Even if gewürztraminer isn’t in your top four
favourite wines, the principle still stands - pinot noir is out of kilter with
most other wines in its price to quality ratio.
The biggest wineries in this
country – and some of the smallest ones - are trying to make the cheerfully
affordable pinot noir to end all cheerfully affordable pinot noirs, but it’s
just not happening. And is it really possible?
While the bunch of
affordable New Zealand pinots is growing by the month, I have yet to try one
with the X-factor. The price-quality gap simply isn’t as wide when it comes to
chardonnay, shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc.
The reason is partly pinot
noir’s instability in the vineyard. It mutates and degenerates easily, says
Master of Wine Jancis Robinson, in her Guide to Wine Grapes. Then again, it’s
not exactly the easiest wine to make, as every honest pinot producer will tell.
In the last month I’ve had a
vast number of pricey pinots pass my lips and even at a high level, the
price-quality ratio just doesn’t stack up. The priciest pinot poured into my
glass last week was from Central Otago, was $95 a bottle and tasted good… but
not twice or more as good as a $36 or a $45 pinot noir I tasted. The 2008
Borthwick Estate Pinot Noir at $36 was easily my wine of the week. Every sip
took my breath away as it improved while sitting in the glass.
The week prior, I tasted
nine pinot noirs ranging from $30 to $50 a bottle. Three stood out. Again,
their prices varied wildly. Some of the worst were the most expensive; not
necessarily due to greed but – I’m hazarding optimistically – because pinot
noir is a tricky beast.
It’s not that all these
bottles were sent to me. About a third were sent in. Another third were tasted
at wineries, which I travelled to. The last third were brought to me by
winemakers, who pour a small quantity before moving onto the next wine writer,
retailer or marketer. There was a week last month where I had a $250 pinot noir
followed by an $85 wine and three at $65. The best wasn’t the priciest.
At the risk of sounding
contradictory, I likesome lower
priced pinots. The Marlborough 2009 Mount Riley Pinot Noir is a soft and silky
bargain at $22; the fresh and fruity young 2009 Sileni Cellar Selection Pinot
Noir from Hawke’s Bay is good value at $22 and the new 2008 Huntaway Central
Otago Pinot Noir has appealing juicy flavours at $24. The key is to enjoy them
in isolation; don’t compare them with higher tiered pinots.
The best way to get your lips around top shelf pinot noir is to pool
resources; $15 multiplied by four will nearly buy a bottle of Escarpment’s
‘Insight Series’ Pinot Noir – Pahi, Te
Rehua and Kiwa are each $65 a bottle. And what’s an extra $1.25 each to
enjoy one of the best pinots in the country? You may not get to drink as much by sharing, but enjoyment isn’t
always proportional to volume.
WINES OF THE WEEK
2008 Borthwick Estate
Wairarapa Pinot Noir $36
Winemaker Paddy Borthwick
was one of the first to grow grapes on Dakin’s Road in the North Wairarapa and
this pinot noir is the silky, smooth, full bodied star in his line-up. www.borthwick.co.nz
2008 Palliser Estate Pinot Noir $42
Palliser Estate is one of the first wineries on the drive into
Martinborough – and one of the region’s oldest, producing outstandingly
consistent whites and this velvety smooth pinot, which improves with every
2008 Kupe by Escarpment $65
Larry McKenna’s Kupe Pinot
Noir is the pinnacle of Martinborough pinot noirs with its ripeness, structure
and satin mouthfeel. It will change the perception of Kiwi red wine for many.
First published Herald on Sunday 11 April 2010.
Italy is the most diverse wine nation on Earth...
Hands up if the words
“Italian wine” conjures up images of cheap Chianti in a wicker covered bottle?
If your hand is still by your side, you’re in the happy minority who know
there’s more to Italy’s vino than cane-covered wine bottles that make kitsch
looking candle holders once the contents are dispensed with.
It’s bizarre that Italian
winemakers are not more vocal about the quality and diversity of their wines.
Italy’s winemakers export
more wine than anyone else on Earth. Italians drink more wine than anyone else
on the planet. And, as of 2008, Italy made more wine than anywhere else -
nearly six billion litres.
Add to these statistics the
thousands of different grapes grown in Italy and the country can only be
described as a wine giant.
Bored with Bordeaux,
Burgundy or bland pinot gris? How about a glass of marzemino, sagrantino or
vermentino in its place?
Italy is the place to look
for these and other delicious vinous curiosities. And at Church Road winery
in Hawke’s Bay, winemaker Chris Scott has been experimenting with the Italian
grape, marzemino - a late ripening red from Trentino and Lombardy, in northern
Church Road Marzemino is made with grapes grown on the Matapiro Vineyard
in Hawke’s Bay; 40 minutes’ inland and 300 metres higher than most vineyards in
the region. I like this wine a lot. It’s been aged in old oak, which comes
through in the aroma and taste. And at least as promising as the taste is that
it offers a more varied wine diet than we otherwise have access to.
The wine diet is Australia is vastly more varied than here, thanks to
the proliferation of post-war Italian settlers who have done what all good
Italians do wherever they go – grow grapes and make wine. This means wines like
fiano, lagrein, nero d’Avola, vermentino and sagrantino are finding their way
into the mainstream and the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show (www.aavws.com
) is now so celebrated, it’s
almost no longer ‘alternative’.
Most of us could be
forgiven for not having heard of pigato, negrara or negroamaro – let alone nuragus, ciliegolo or gaglioppo - but next time you’re tiring of the same old pour, check out Church
Road marzemino or the wines of Prodotti d’Italia and A Touch of Italy. It’s a shame they
not widely available but you can buy them online at www.pdi.co.nz
touchofitaly.co.nz. And you’ll barely find a cheap Chianti in sight.
WINES OF THE WEEK
2007 Cent’Are Nero d’Avola $22
The ‘black grape of Avola’ (‘nero d’Avola;) is named after its hometown
in southeast Sicily and this peachy, full-bodied red is the best of its type in
New Zealand. From A Touch of Italy. www.touchofitaly.co.nz
2007 Church Road Cuve Marzemino $30
Blind taste your friends on this weird and wonderfully dark coloured
Hawke’s Bay red, made from the Italian marzemino grape - pronounced
‘mars-ee-mean-oh’. From Church Road cellar door in Hawke’s Bay or via mail
order email: email@example.com
2007 Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz $32
This full bodied shiraz is hot off the wine press – well, it’s new in
wine stores right now. Launched a month ago in New Zealand, this luscious
Aussie red is from an outstanding vintage and it clearly tastes like it; ripe,
rich, refined. If the budget allows it, buy half a case and try to resist the urge to tuck in all at once. This
will age beautifully.
First published Herald on Sunday 4 April 2010.
Vintage 2010 and recession wines...
A late summer camping trip near to the small seaside town Raglan yielded an unexpectedly tasty surprise. We were looking for a white wine and, while my camping buddy wanted a quick purchase, I wanted a tasty one. Scanning the shelves,
I spotted the best bargain in store tucked away at foot level: 2006 Corbans
Waipara Riesling – a delicious four-year-old wine bargain at $14 and a wine which inspired this
story - it was a 2006 Corbans Waipara Riesling. Like the other wines here, it does not bear a star rating. I am not affixing star or numerical ratings to any of these recession
buster wines. They stand on their own merits, which are numerous – as you will
Here are my top 10 wines under $15 as at March 2010.
2009 Roy's Hill Chardonnay $15
For fans of top shelf Hawke’s Bay chardonnays, it will come as no
surprise to find my pick of sub-$15 Kiwi chardonnays also comes from the sunny
Bay – and a particularly warm corner of it, too. Winemaker Kate Radburnd is
fussy about the grapes she uses in this lovely full bodied, vibrant citrusy
chardonnay. Its relatively low 12.5 per cent alcohol adds to its appeal. If you
can find a better tasting chardonnay for this price or less in New Zealand
right now, tell me. www.cjpask.co.nz
2009 Corbans Homestead
Waipara Riesling $14-15
If there’s only one wine you
ever buy a few by the case or half case to let it ‘age’, make it riesling and
make it a wine from North Canterbury - if you’re fixated with Kiwi wines. This
outstanding white improves no end after even a year in bottle – but it’s also
delicious now, with its lemon, lime and apple flavours. I adore this wine now
but give it time and the flavour evolution in the bottle shows why riesling is
one of the greatest grapes in the world.
2009 Five Flax Riesling
“All our South Island Rieslings are based on grapes from North
Canterbury now,” says Montana’s new chief winemaker Patrick Materman,
excitedly. His enthusiasm echoes that of every riesling maker in North Canterbury.
This stunning, low priced wine ages extremely well for at least five years in
the bottle – not that it’ll last that long when you’re looking for a low
priced, top tasting white. Best of all, it usually costs far less than its
recommended retail price. How do they supply so much flavour for so little
2006 Tegole Toscana Piccini
You can blink but you can’t
miss the bright yellow label of Tegole, which means ‘tile’ – as in, the
terracotta coloured tiles of Tuscany; where this Italian red comes from. It’s
made from the sangiovese grape; the main ingredient in chianti – but this wine
is more appealing than most chiantis at this price in New Zealand right now.
It’s soft fruity style, savoury flavours and medium body make it a great match with
tomato-based pasta. The letters IGT on the botlte stand for Indicazione
, denoting wine from a specific region in Italy.
2008 La Mura Nero d’Avola
Even if it wasn’t usually
reduced to $11-12 (which it often is) this is crazy good value - especially as
it’s come all the way from Sicily. The words Nero D’Avola refer to the single
grape variety in the wine; ‘the black grape (nero) of Avola’ – a town in South East
Sicily. This grape is grown all over Sicily and has such soft, peachy flavours
that if you taste it blind at the right temperature, you could think you are
drinking white wine. The tannins are soft too, so this can stand a little
chilling, on a steamy hot day. What more could you want in an everyday red?
From Countdown, Foodtown and Woolworths. www.pdi.co.nz
2007 Penfolds Koonunga Hill
Cabernet Shiraz $15
My old wine writer friend, Peter Forrestal, lives in what he loves to
call the most isolated city in the world; Perth – and he reckons this is the
best Koonunga Hill red since 2001. I agree. It’s driven by the redcurrant, red
berry flavours innate to ripe cabernet sauvignon grapes. Shiraz plays the
supporting role with its powerful peppery flavours. And even though this wine
has had a longer journey to us in NZ than it did to Forrestal, it costs even
less here than in Oz. Go figure. www.penfolds.com
Montepulciano D’Abruzzo $11-12
Now I know it’s not the most
descriptive word but wow! Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is made from the Montepulciano
grape in Abruzzo
It’s used in other Italian wine regions, too, but seems to find its softest,
fruitiest expression in wines like this stunning value red. The $12 price tag, full bodied style and spicy
flavours verging on black pepper are all drawcards. As is its wide availability
at Countdown, Foodtown and Woolworths. www.pdi.co.nz
2008 Penfolds Koonunga Hill
Blind tasting after blind
tasting reveals this Australian shiraz as a constant star and when the price is
revealed, that’s even more telling – it costs far less than many wines that
taste nowhere as ripe, rich and full bodied. Not that big flavour is
everything. This consistently outstanding shiraz also has elegance and finesse,
as its 13.5 per cent alcohol reveals. Too many shirazes are pushing 15 per cent
alcohol and more but this wine delivers more flavour and less likelihood of a
headache afterwards. www.penfolds.com
2008 Montana Classic Pinot
This is the lightest red in
the line-up and it’s a simple pinot noir, to be sure, with soft light cherry
flavours… when you need a lunchtime or late afternoon red at a great price,
here’s the wine. A stunner at this price and often available for around $9 –
which is great buying.
Bernadino Spumante $9.99
Now don’t go getting funny
ideas about Bernie... This wine is an oldie and a goodie because it’s such an honest expression of the
delicious and rarely seen muscat grape, which makes up 75 per cent of the blend;
muller-thurgau is the remaining 25 per cent. Together they combine deliciously. If you haven’t tried it recently, don’t knock it.
Buy, chill, pour into a jug with freshly picked mint, add ice cubes, pour into
flutes. Break open the salted nuts. Drink. Now, isn’t that nice.
The ultimate taste test...
A chef I once knew warned me never to trust a cook who doesn’t taste
their own food while they’re preparing it: “How else can you know whether it
needs more or less flavour?” he
complained, fanatically dipping his (clean) spoon into a sauce, in his quest to
make the best. He went through a lot of spoons on his journey to perfection and
his food always had an x-factor.
A trip last week to an incredibly windy vineyard in the Awatere Valley,
Marlborough, reminded me of my chef friend. No sooner had I stepped off the
minibus than I found myself taste testing some of the most emaciated looking,
wind-beaten red grapes I’ve ever seen.
We were standing on “Pinot Hill”. It’s a tiny, challengingly wind-beaten
slice of Montana’s massive 380 hectares of vines in Marlborough. It’s one of
the most picturesque vineyards in the region but its sensitive pinot noir vines
are living rough, battered by wind
blowing in from the sea, which glistens on the horizon less than two kilometres
The grapes here vary from red,
juicy and almost ripe to green, acidic and nowhere near ripe – on the same
bunches. Fortunately, it was nowhere near picking time when I was taste testing
from this cool hilltop vineyard.
The Awatere is generally cooler than the rest of Marlborough. The characterless town of Seddon is its gateway. Over
the last decade it’s grown from just another sub-region of Marlborough to
bigger than Hawke’s Bay, in terms of vines planted. Awatere has 6000 hectares of
vines; Hawke’s Bay has 4,945 hectares. Walls of manicured vines wind their way
through terraced wedges of land in the dramatic Awatere Valley.
I’m enjoying the brighter, fresher, more restrained flavours of
Awatere-grown wines compared to fruitier styles from the rest of Marlborough. On another trip I tasted gorgeous ripe riesling in
Awatere, so it was a shame to hear that Montana’s Awatere riesling vineyards have
shrunk by two thirds to be replaced by sauvignon blanc. “Riesling wasn’t as popular as we’d hoped,” laments
winemaker Materman, adding that there is a silver lining to this sad loss. That
riesling vineyard was relatively small. And these days he gets riesling from
Waipara in North Canterbury.
Taste Waipara riesling
grapes on the vine and you get a sense of what the wine will taste like in
years to come, with a bit of bottle age, says Materman.
That foresight is at least
one of several good reasons that, after 20 years of winemaking for Montana, he
is now chief winemaker – the head chef, so to speak, of the largest wine
company in New Zealand.
Wines of the week
2008 Montana Reserve Waipara
Montana’s new Marlborough
man in charge, chief winemaker Patrick Materman, is a fervent riesling fan.
Using grapes grown in North Canterbury, he’s made this vibrant limey white big
on taste and low on alcohol – it’s a modest 11.5 per cent. www.montana.co.nz
2007 Montana Reserve
Marlborough Pinot Noir $29
The pinot noir grapes in
this wine were grown in the southern valleys of Marlborough’s massive Wairau
Plains. This is a youthful red with lively acids, which will benefit hugely
from being cellared for a couple of years – or decanted for a couple of hours;
a large jug will do the same job of softening the wine as a decanter. www.montana.co.nz
2009 Stoneleigh Marlborough
Sauvignon Blanc $20
It’s a reliable old name but
a brand new vintage of this well known sauvignon blanc, which is deliciously
driven by zesty bright fresh flavours rather than a tutti
First published Herald on Sunday 21 March 2010.
Vintage 2010, New Zealand
If you thought
New Zealand wine makers would harvest a record breaking number of grapes this
year, you’re in good company. But the only record the 2010 harvest will make is
In a trend reversal akin
to Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologising
to aboriginal people for years of bad treatment, the 2010 New Zealand wine
vintage is expected to shrink back slightly – for the first time ever. And
industry leaders say it’s a good thing too.
Our vineyards have grown
to 34,000 hectares this year from 32,000 hectares last year. But the global
wine market is challenging. Prices of New Zealand wine in some markets have
dropped, due to over supply. While news of a smaller vintage may sound
dramatic, the downturn is negligible, with a pre-vintage report expecting the harvest to be
between 265,000 to 285,000 tonnes of grapes, compared to 285,000 last year. And
the prospect of a slightly reduced vintage means quality can be the key, as it
needs to be.
It was a hot topic at this
year’s Pinot Noir 2010 conference in Wellington, where every international
guest speaker, writer and wine commentator agreed damage had been done to Kiwi
sauvignon blanc’s falling prices. The same must not happen to this country’s
pinot noir, which costs more to grow and produce than sauvignon blanc.
In recognition of top local
pinot noir, a new award was given to two wineries at Pinot Noir 2010. Ata Rangi
winery in Martinborough and Felton Road winery in Central Otago were both
presented with the new “Tipuranga Teitei o Aotearoa” award; which is Maori for
Great Growth of New Zealand. Owners from both wineries said their land was the
reason they won the award - great wine begins in the vineyard and all that
jazz... and as Clive Paton from
Ata Rangi winery said, as grapes on this country’s best vineyards dig deeper,
taking more character from the earth, our pinot noirs will get better.
They are not like burgundy,
nor do they taste like it, but top Kiwi pinot noir is improving rapidly, as
those who drink them can see, smell and taste every time they raise a glass to
their lips. Costly it may be, but one or two great glasses of pinot noir are
far more satisfying than five or six average ones any day.
WINES OF THE WEEK
2009 Boundary Vineyards Kings Road Pinot Noir $24
Boundary Vineyards wines are more likely to appear on the wine list in
cafes, bars and restaurants than on supermarket wine shelves but if you beat a
path to your nearest specialist wine store, this full bodied South Island red
should appear. It’s outstandingly good value at sub-$25.
2008 Hawkshead Pinot Noir Bannockburn $45
Denis Marshall and Ulrike Kurenbach debunked the trend in Otago when
they set up their Hawkshead Vineyard in Gibbston on what was once part of the
substantial Waitiri Sheep Station. Their pinot noirs express the
relatively cool Gibbston climate with fresh, light fruit flavours but this wine
comes from the warmer Bannockburn region, not far away in distance but miles
apart in style – with its substantial body and juicy black cherry
2008 Locharburn Central
Otago Pinot Noir $35
Vineyard owners Chris and
Jenny Hill launched their first Central Otago pinot noir in 2007 from their
vineyard at Locharburn, on the shores of Lake Dunstan in Central Otago’s
Cromwell Basin. Their winemaker Carol Bunn has created this tasty new red with
cherry, raspberry and wild herb taste. It’s easy to see why it won a silver medal
at the 2009 Bragato Wine Awards. www.locharburnwines.co.nz
First published Herald on Sunday 14 March 2010.
Another day, another tasting
“Busy time on the wine calendar?” a friend asked, as I headed off to the
fourth tasting in as many days, wrestling my way past half a dozen boxes of new
wine samples stacked up in the hall. Yes, it’s busy. It’s only the eve of the
busiest time, though. Vintage is about to hit New Zealand winemakers, who will
soon be too busy biting their nails, burning the midnight oil and nervously
peering into bins of freshly-picked grapes to taste wine with me. In the
month leading up to what – for the first time ever – will not be another
record-breaking vintage (the tonnage of grapes harvested in New Zealand this
year is forecast to drop, slightly), winemakers have been
showing their wines at festivals, winery concerts and tastings – often at
Clooney restaurant in Auckland. Here, I tried the most delicious gewuzrtraminer
I’ve had this year when Barbara Lawson unveiled The Pioneer wines; made in
honour of her late husband, Ross Lawson - Marlborough winery owner, grape
grower and founding member of the New Zealand Screwcap Initiative.
The first of the new trio to touch my lips was the 2009 Lawson’s Dry
Hills The Pioneer Sauvignon Blanc, $30. Winemakers Marcus Wright and Rebecca
Wiffen made this explosively tropical, fleshy and full bodied sauvignon blanc.
The Pioneer range also includes a gewürztraminer and a pinot gris – which is
better than most; flavoursome and full bodied. I can’t think of a better way to
spend a busy afternoon than tasting the adventurous winemaking that went into
these wines – which are made from standard everyday grapes but taste
WINES OF THE WEEK
2009 Lawson’s Dry Hills The Pioneer Gewurztraminer $32
Lush, full bodied, intensely concentrated gewürztraminer with a rich
core of flavour. Winemaker Marcus Wright fermented half of this wine in barrel,
which adds volume, weight and texture. www.lawsonsdryhills.co.nz
2009 Vavasour Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc $20
Another year, another accolade for this outstanding sauvignon blanc,
which always springs to mind as one of my ‘final meal’ wines; its flinty fresh
flavours are perfect with Bluff oysters (a must on a dream ‘last meal’ menu).
2009 Brightwater Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc $20
Sunny Nelson was home to the grapes in this appropriately-named bright
and zingy new sauvignon blanc. www.brightwater.co.nz
First published Herald on Sunday 7 March 2010.
How to... avoid bad wine
“Wine to be avoided” might not get your taste buds salivating but it’s
the only accurate way to describe the two worst wines to pass my lips this
year. At the time of writing, in mid-February, I’d just tasted two hideously
corky tasting wines in the past 24 hours.
One suffered from traditional cork
taint (aka ‘TCA’ – trichloranisole), the other tasted flat, dull and dusty.
Both showed it was timely to share tips for avoiding bad wines.
1) Musty, dirty, damp smells usually indicate wine is “corked”. Don’t
drink it. Put the cork back in the bottle and request a replacement.
2) If wine sealed with a plastic ‘cork’ tastes dull, plastic-like or
flavourless, it is either oxidized or tainted by its synthetic seal. Request a
3). Nail varnish aromas show wine has high “VA” (volatile acidity),
which wrecks wine’s taste. Don’t drink.
4) Bottles where the wine has fallen below the neckline indicate leakage
and probably oxidation. Drink up – or pour it out, depending on the taste.
5) Wines that taste bad usually are bad. Trust your judgment.
And while we’re on faults, cork taint has all but fallen off the wine
discussion radar in this country’s print media, due to the widespread use of
screwcaps and better quality cork compared to even five years ago. But ‘corked’
wines do still exist. They taste feral, dirty and musty and should not be
consumed - unlike this fresh trio of vibrant, screwcap-sealed summer whites.
WINES OF THE WEEK
2008 Ara Composite Sauvignon
Clean, bright, fresh new
Marlborough white with gorgeous gooseberry flavours that linger in every
2008 Mahi The Alias Sauvignon Blanc $29
While everyone is waxing lyrical about sauvignons so acidic you can
barely put them past your lips, I’ve been loving this soft, smooth, wild-yeast
fermented wine from Marlborough, recently released by winemaker Brian Bicknell.
2008 Church Road Cuve Chardonnay $27
Very youthful, creamy white wine, which is deliciously full bodied,
enormously tasty yet restrained. Lovely Hawke’s Bay chardonnay. www.churchroad.co.nz
First published Herald on Sunday, 28 February 2010.
THE JOURNEY TO YOUR GLASS...
Whoever said that great travel is about the journey rather than the
destination obviously hadn’t flown into Hawke’s Bay on a steamy mid-summer day
aboard a small plane.
A trip to this ‘fruit bowl of New Zealand’ this month reminded me that
arriving is definitely the best part – and not just because it allowed me to
step off the small plane. Hawke’s Bay is one of the most beautiful and rapidly
changing regions in this country. A decade ago it was level pegging with
Gisborne in the annual number of grapes harvested. Today, its winemakers pick
nearly double the number of grapes their Gisborne counterparts do. Its
vineyards have grown from about 3,500 hectares a decade ago to nearly 5,000
hectares today and it’s the country’s second largest wine region after
Marlborough. It is also home to many of the largest, flashest, newest wineries
and some of the most obscure, priciest wines in the country. But for every
large winery there are at least another 10 small ones struggling to survive and
thrive. Te Awa Winery is a case in point. Once part of the dress circle of the
Bay’s red wine circuit, Te Awa was sold by its founding family, lost its
winemaker and its wines faded into obscurity over the last half decade. With
little to no information flowing from the winery over this time, it’s been easy to forget Te Awa was once famous
for its blockbuster reds. Made mostly from merlot with a just-right proportion
of cabernet sauvignon, they had an x-factor. And I’m happy to report, having
just tasted my way through the entire range of Te Awa reds, they still do.
Their journey to your glass may have been a slow one up to now but expect them
to arrive on wine lists and shop shelves near you soon.
Wines of the week
2009 Left Field Chardonnay $25
2004 Te Awa Boundary $40
2009 Spy Valley Marlborough Gewurztraminer $19
Always one of this country’s top gewürztraminers with its old fashioned
red rose aromas and flavours. www.spyvalley.co.nz
First published Herald on Sunday, 21 February 2010.
A marriage, John Steinbeck once wrote, is like a journey – the certain
way to be wrong is to think you can control it. The late Pulitzer Prize-winning
novelist was married three times and travelled through Russia, Tel Aviv and the
United States, where he died in 1968. He obviously knew how to throw caution to
the wind instead of trying to control things - which seems like good advice for
Valentine’s Day, with one exception: alcohol consumption. For once, I’m
planning to ditch my usual bubbly drinking mantra (“a little too much is just
enough”) and exercise some restraint so I can enjoy the day, the evening
and the wine... And on moderation,
last weekend’s annual Church Road Winery concert pushed the point home
extremely effectively with its designated driver scheme. Concert-goers who are
designated drivers wear a wristband, which prevents them drinking alcohol but
sees them given free soft drinks all evening. Unlike many over-indulgent
outdoor concerts, Church Road’s has a fun and sophisticated vibe. It helps that
the wines are universally excellent, priced affordably and that BYO is not
allowed. Couple this with good music and it’s the ultimate summer combo. I hope
your Valentine’s combination today is as
WINES OF THE WEEK
Vega Barcelona Brut Reserve $20
Play Cupid with this bone dry bubbly from Spain, which has low alcohol
(11.5%), loads of fresh citrusy flavours and is new in this country. firstname.lastname@example.org
Remy Cuvee $55
Top new fizz from New Zealand’s only bubbles-dedicated winery; no 1
Family Estate in Marlborough. It’s full bodied and creamy, thanks to the pinot
noir and chardonnay (20 per cent) grapes in the wine. www.No1FamilyEstate.co.nz
2007 Homage Syrah $90
Woo your red wine lover with this outstanding new Hawke’s Bay syrah,
which is smooth, soft and peppery, thanks to its makers, John Hancock and
Warren Gibson. www.trinity
First published Herald on Sunday, 14 February 2010.
comedian Dylan Moran once joked that the trickiest questions always come from
children - “Dad, what do you call the space in between the bench and the
kettle?” is a favourite. It might be a toughie but the tricky question that
takes the (gluten-free) cake for me is: “Where can I get vegan wine?”
around New Zealand wine makers and importers for vegan vino turned up just four
- all from Pegasus Bay in North Canterbury. Winemaker Lynnette Hudson says
Pegasus Bay 2008 Bel Canto, 2008 Riesling, 2008 Sauvignon Semillon and 2007
Pinot Noir are all vegan. They were made without
the use of any animal-derived ingredients in the process.
Lake Wanaka winemaker Nick Mills says since taking over the reigns at
Rippon Vineyard six years ago, he’s used isinglass (a fish by-product) to “fine” a white
wine and “super-duper free range organic eggs (his mother's)” to “fine” pinot
noir. Of the 50 odd wines he’s made, three may be vegan. Fining and filtering wines removes solid impurities like
grape skins, stems and pips, and can also adjust tannins. Not all winemakers
“fine” and “filter” nor do they all use animal products to do so. When they do,
isinglass (from fish), gelatine (from cows and pigs), egg whites and caseins
(milk protein) are used, as is the non-animal product, bentonite; derived from
clay. Once the “fining” is finished, only very minimal traces of these products
remain in the wine, arguably no traces at all. The following three wines
probably aren’t vegan but as Dylan Moran would say – and I wholeheartedly agree
- “Who cares?”.
OF THE WEEK
Cypress Terraces Viognier $22
new viognier (‘vee-oh-nee-ay’) that’s aromatic, bone dry and full bodied from
Gus Lawson in Hawke’s Bay.
Muddy Water Dry Riesling $29
Canterbury winemaker Belinda Gould is a talented riesling maker, as this
stunning wine shows with every bone dry, limey flavoured sip.
Rockburn Central Otago Pinot Noir $40
winemaker Malcolm Francis is a dab hand at coaxing the brightest fruit flavours
out of Central Otago pinot noir – as this luscious new red shows.
First published Herald on Sunday, 7 February 2010.
the dweeby movie character Miles made merlot a don’t-go-there red, it was
perfectly acceptable to admit openly to liking merlot. Not any more. Merlot is
out. Pinot Noir is in. And it’s all thanks to the grumpy, unsociable,
under-employed wine snob Miles from the film, Sideways, whose debut in 2004
heralded a global reversal of merlot’s popularity. His words: “Just don’t make
me drink merlot!” have seen this once revered red become about as popular as a
lump of cow on a vegan’s plate.
to 2004, merlot was actually growing in New Zealand. The growth wasn’t fast - 1249
hectares of merlot in 2003 rose to 1487 in 2004 – but it’s swifter than
today. Merlot has shrunk slightly
back to 1371 and predictions have it there’ll be an extra 15 hectares of merlot
in the ground next year. Growth like that is hardly going to make breaking
news. The silver lining is that, thanks to a few dedicated merlotphiles – Judy
Fowler at Puriri Hills in Clevedon, Kate Radburnd at CJ Pask in Hawke’s Bay,
among others – New Zealand merlot is better than it used to be, sometimes cheaper
too. Radburnd’s newest ‘entry level’ (in price) Roy’s Hill Merlot is a
fantastic red at $17. There’s nothing even vaguely dweeby about this wine, its
maker, its new look label – or even the fact that it’s merlot.
OF THE WEEK
Roy’s Hill Hawke’s Bay Merlot $17
Bay winemaker Kate Radburnd named this high quality, low priced, full bodied
merlot after Roy’s Hill, which overlooks C J Pask vineyards.
Vidal Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay $20
$20 is usually a stretch, it’s one worth making for this high class, full
bodied but crisply subtle chardonnay, which shows again that Hawke’s Bay is a
top chardonnay region.
Goldridge Barrique Fermented Marlborough Pinot Noir $22
based Goldridge winery used grapes from Marlborough to make this young, soft
pinot noir. www.goldridgewines.co.nz
First published Herald on Sunday, 31 January 2010.
of the most annoying traits in old friends is their memories. Love them, loathe
how they recall embarrassing moments with crystal clear clarity, decades down
the track. One of my oldest friends loves regaling ournew friends with memories of
the bag-in-box wine we shared when living in Dunedin, in the early ‘90s. We
weren’t students but could have been with our low incomes, high alcohol
consumption and staunch immunity to imperfect living conditions. Our outside
toilet, paved with frozen ice, was nothing compared to the bad wine. I wasn’t
happy with it, so moved onto cheap, not very cheerful bottles, then onto London
where I discovered Champagne, Bulgarian chardonnay and South African sauvignon
blanc all on the same day. It’s a rare person who recalls the world’s greatest
wines as their first. Auckland winemaker Judy Fowler is such a rarity. She fell
for wine and a man in one fell swoop at university in the States, in the ‘60s.
Knowing nothing about wine was no barrier to realising the wines his room mate
plied her with were amazing - many were Bordeaux First Growths, setting a
standard she has aspired to ever since. Today she makes a trickle of top reds
from her tiny hillside vineyard in Clevedon, South Auckland. There are few
grape growers in the area and Fowler is the only one who makes and bottles her
wines on site, using a quirky range of grapes grapes like carmenere and
cabernet franc as well as cabernet sauvignon, merlot and malbec. Her aim to
make a world-class red blend is a lofty one, which she puts down to an old
friend, an unusual wine collection and her memories of both.
OF THE WEEK
2004 Puriri Hills
Clevedon Estate $36
merlot-based red blend from Clevedon, south Auckland. This wine’s big sibling,
the 2006 Puriri Hills Clevedon Reserve $70, will be out soon. Buy from www.puririhills.co.nz
Manor House Shiraz $17
African shiraz from the big-name winery, Nederburg; once well known and now
having a quality renaissance with its wines.
Greystone Riesling $24
luscious, light riesling has zingy, intense lime, lemon and green apple
flavours, which linger with every mouthful.
First published Herald on Sunday, 24 January 2010.
the last decade I’ve been living in a world pinker than I ever could have
imagined. It happened completely by mistake. Initially I dressed my baby girl
strictly in blue, yellow and green… anything but predictable pink. But by the
age of three, she was in pink from top to toe and before I could figure out how
or why, I was surrounded in pink wine too – from Portugal, Australia and New
Zealand. Having once taken a bottle of the world’s most successful pink, Mateus
Rose, on a very special (and successful) date, I knew pink wine had surprising
power. Last decade its energy was reignited with the relaunch of Mateus. One
minute we wine drinkers were moving away from bland wines; the next, we seemed
to be swinging back. Or were we? The surprising thing is, pink wine is better
than before. Three years ago an outstanding pink was born on a London park
bench when Bill Rolfe and Tony Hancock were sharing a sandwich and lamenting
the lack of delicious wine at affordable prices. They decided to stop moaning
and start making a wine that fitted the bill. Unlike much of what passes for
‘rose’, Pink Elephant wine is actually a light red with more body, flavour and
appeal than most pinks (from The Wine Circle, Huapai, Auckland, phone (09) 412
2258). If you’re intent on buying locally made, check out this week’s colourful
trio. As my daughter, Ruby, says, there’s only one thing better than plain pink
– hot pink.
WINES OF THE WEEK
Rockburn Stolen Kiss Rosé $21
but lovely soft, strawberry-like Central Otago pink. www.rockburn.co.nz
Gladstone Vineyard Rose $22
delicious full bodied Wairarapa pink is made from a flavoursome three-way blend
- cabernet franc, merlot and malbec. www.gladstone.co.nz
Waitaki Braids Waitaki Valley Pinot Noir Rose $25
deep ruby colour of this lovely southern wine delivers flavours of fresh
raspberries, strawberries and loganberries in every sip. www.waitakibraids.co.nz
First published Herald on Sunday, 17 January 2010.
doesn’t even begin to describe the newest wine ‘regions’ in New Zealand.
They’re tiny in size, they’re on the cusp of being warm enough to ripen grapes
in and barely anyone associates the Cheviot Hills, Hakataramea Valley or
Waitaki Valley with vineyards. Not that experimentation is a bad thing. Without
it, Marlborough sauvignon blanc would only be a pipe dream.
then Marlborough is a memorable name... unlike some of the bizarrely similar
names some winemakers are afflicting us with today.
seems highly unlikely, for instance, that people in New Zealand, let alone
outside it, are going to remember that Waitaki, Waipara and the Wairarapa are
actually different wine regions. As a result, these ‘regions’ are unlikely ever
to roll off the tongue with the comfortable, familiar ease that, say
Marlborough, Chianti and Burgundy do.
Wai – I mean, why – not use the less specific names of North Otago
(instead of Waitaki); North Canterbury (instead of Waipara) and a variety of
names for the diverse Wairarapa? Wider regional names allow for the natural
growth in New Zealand’s sunrise wine industry; growth that has to take place in
diverse, forgotten little corners of a land full of local names beginning with
WINES OF THE WEEK
2009 Bouldevines Marlborough
Talk about a
too-drinkable riesling from New Zealand’s largest wine region, Marlborough.
This exceptional wine is vibrant, fresh and zingy.
Envoy Marlborough Riesling $29
stunning Marlborough riesling with luscious lime and apple flavours in an
off-dry style, so chill this wine lightly before drinking.
Mt Beautiful Cheviot Hills Pinot Noir $34
silky, velvet smooth, cherry-ish pinot noir comes from the first vineyard in
the Cheviot Hills, North Canterbury.
First published Herald on Sunday, 10 January 2010.
Happy New Year...
only three days in to the new decade and already I’m deluged with a downpour of
Vicious rumours of a global wine glut must be true.
In the last decade,
New Zealand wineries have nearly doubled from 331 wineries in 2000 to nearly
600 today (577, to be precise). The deluge on my doorstep includes labels I’ve
never heard of as well as rare, rave-worthy, impossible to find wines - do you really
want to hear
about 2001 Ornellaia, 2003 Charmes Chambertin, 2009 Chalmers Vermentino or 2008
Misha’s High Note Pinot Noir? I loathe lists, so won’t wax on. This list
excepted, many so-called ‘wineries’ are nameless, faceless brands rather than
new ventures run by people with passion but there are exceptions. Aside
from those mentioned, winemaker Brett Bermingham is one. This pinotphile is now
dedicated to making Opawa Marlborough pinot noir and pinot gris. Both are too
drinkable. If three days isn’t long enough to recover from the end of decade
party on 31 December, try a little hair of the you know what with these
OF THE WEEK
Spy Valley Unoaked Chardonnay $17
might sound as if this wine lacks something. Far from it. This is all the better for its lack of oak with fresh,
vibrant, citrus flavours. It’s stellar taste and value.
Opawa Marlborough Pinot Gris $22
means ‘smoky river’ - a great description of a misty Marlborough morning. Opawa
is also a tributary of the Wairau River, which leads us to the free draining
gravels on which the grapes in this wine grow. Every sip is fresh, juicy and
subtle – elusive and available from specialist wine stores or www.nautilusestate.com
Opawa Marlborough Pinot Noir $25-28
a girl could write about all the good pinot noirs at this price, I’d be doing
little else all day. This soft silky pinot noir is a gorgeous, true-to-type
First published in the Herald on Sunday, 3 January 2010.
END OF AN ERA...
been a rollercoaster of a year and as I fight through the barrage of pinot gris
bottles barricading my desk, I’m surprised to realize I’m looking forward to
drinking (as well as tasting) some of them. Pinot gris has never rocked my
world but Kiwi pinot gris has moved up so many rungs on the drinkability ladder
in the past 12 months, the best are a force to be reckoned with. The biggest
local wine success story this year is better still - pinot noir caned all other
wines at the 2009 Air New Zealand Wine Awards with its gold medal haul. Even
before the gongs were announced, it was obvious pinot noir had improved beyond
New Zealand winemakers’ wildest expectations. Today it’s possible to buy
outstanding pinot noir for less than $30 - which is a stretch, but if you’re
going to dig deep, surely the end of the year is the best excuse. To complete
the trio of good wine news in 2009 is the environmental pulling up of socks.
New Zealand wineries are using less herbicides, less pesticides, less
polystyrene, more cardboard and more thought in how they make and package wine.
Yealands Estate in Marlborough is now using a bottle that’s 89 per cent lighter
than a standard bottle; generates 54 per cent less green house gas emissions
and uses 19 per cent less energy to produce. Even if plastic doesn’t spin your
wheels, its fully recyclable, eco-friendly export packaging is worth
applauding. I’m farewelling this topsy turvy year with some top local wines.
OF THE WEEK
Full Circle Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc $17
its packaging doesn’t seduce, then the vivacious wine inside this new
recyclable plastic bottle surely will, with its fresh, minerally flavours.
Fox Junior Marlborough Pinot Noir $28
Junior is winemaker John Belsham’s new baby, and is a soft, smooth and
seductive pinot noir with great length of flavour. www.foxes-island.co.nz
Mt Beautiful Pinot Noir $33
is a place called Mt Beautiful and this pinot noir is worthy of its name,
thanks to winemaker Sam Weaver, who made this silky soft red. www.mtbeautiful.co.nz
First published in the Herald on Sunday, 28 December 2009.
Voting with your feet...
A friend of mine can’t say no to shoes: high heels, low priced, sexy
sandals, thigh huggers – if they appeal one second, they’re in her wardrobe the
next. It’s only natural she has to keep the rest of her budget as trim as her
thighs but the disparity between her shoe spending and wine allowance isn’t
doing her taste buds any favours. She spends $11 on a bottle of wine; the
equivalent of cheap jandals. A splurge for her is $18 a bottle, so she was
speechless when I raved about a top new chardonnay – Church Road Tom, $70 a
bottle. Is every drop worth every cent? The winemakers thought so. They made
200 cases but there are only 170 cases left as they needed to get acquainted
with it, they joked at Tom’s launch at Clooney restaurant last month. It was
the second time I’d tasted this bone dry, mouth filling white and it’s getting
better. Most wines don’t last as long as shoes but the pleasure far outweighs
the pain of breaking them in. Here are some ways to stretch the shoestring
budget over Christmas.
WINES OF THE WEEK
2006 Church Road Tom Chardonnay $70
Church Road winemaker Chris Scott crafted this bold but bravely subtle
new Hawke’s Bay chardonnay, which is named after pioneer winemaker Tom
McDonald. It’s full bodied, creamy and citrusy in taste.
2008 Curio Bendigo Vineyard Central Otago Pinot Noir $30
Great packaging is one of the appeals of this spicy young Central Otago
2009 &Co Sauvignon Blanc $21
Gabrielle Simmers has just made her sauvignon blanc from a Hawke's Bay
hillside, where the climate is more temperate than hotter Bay areas. She boldly
goes where few have before – using a crown seal to eliminate cork taint
possibilities. Bravo. That’s just the closure I need. www.kemprarewines.co.nz
First published in the Herald on Sunday, 13 December 2009.
Great new whites...
Clouds cast an
eerie shadow over Auckland in early November, making me long to hot foot it out
of the city sooner than you can pour me any liquid consolation, but since that wasn’t an option on a
particularly palid day, I headed to The Grove for lunch instead. New wines from
the sun-drenched shores of Lake Dunstan, Central Otago, saved my mood. The
pinot gris, riesling and gewürztraminer from Misha’s Vineyard are in their second
year - Misha and Andy Wilkinson live in Singapore and employ Kiwi winemaker
Olly Masters to make their heady wines. They’re heady because they pack a high
alcohol punch - the pinot gris is 14.8 per cent and the gewurztraminer is 14.3
– making the riesling relatively restrained at just 11.9 per cent. It’s also
the queen of this aromatic white trio. The Grove’s fresh slivers of salmon
tasted great with the riesling. And that low alcohol is just what I crave at
this time of year. The pinot gris was flavoursome, though I still struggle with
this variety’s relative lack of personality – especially compared to the subtle
power of riesling and gewürztraminer. All three wines brightened Auckland’s
insipid, overcast spring. Thanks, Misha.
WINES OF THE WEEK
2008 Misha’s Vineyard Limelight Riesling
2008 Misha’s Vineyard The Gallery
Light rose aromas lead into a light, fresh
white with sweet spicy flavours in a dry style. www.mishasvineyard.com
Curio d’Auvergne Vineyard Wairau Valley Gewurztraminer $28
about gewürztraminer is present and counted in each glass of this intensely
spicy, dry-ish white wine with its old fashioned rose aromas and Turkish
First published in the Herald on Sunday, 6 December 2009.
I in paradise? The sun is shining, my glass is half full and I’m sitting at a
table with four men serving me outstanding food and wine while we watch the
shadows play on the curvaceous foothills of the Southern Alps. The vines next
to us are hugging a hillside in the Hakataramea Valley, inland from Oamaru.
It’s the only vineyard in this new wine region. And as I bring another sip to
my lips, my eye catches the words Et in Arcadia Ego – Latin for ‘I am in
Paradise’ on the bottle. Owner Antonio Pasquale, an Italian immigrant, has
planted grapes in this obscurely beautiful place and chosen unusual contenders
- ‘arneis’, viognier and dolcetto mingle with better known gewürztraminer,
pinot gris and pinot noir. It’s early days for his Hakataramea and Waitaki
vineyards but the wines are promising and mostly white with a little pinot
noir. Time will tell what works but for now, Antonio’s ‘arneis’ tastes like
WINES OF THE WEEK
Pasquale Arneis Hakataramea Valley
‘arneis’ is the first from Antonio Pasquale and is outstandingly fresh and
savoury in taste. It’s bone dry and a good match for the picholine curry bread sticks. www.pasquale.co.nz
Village Riesling $20
call for late ripening grapes – like this light, fresh and limey riesling.
Enjoy with the pecan pumpkin pie. Email: email@example.com
Invivo Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc $22
This year’s freshest, newest local wines are
pouring onto shop shelves led by
sauvignon blancs like this one, which puts its fruitiest flavours
forward in a summery, zingy style.
First published in the Herald on Sunday, 28 November 2009.
Where his media profession goes, Leighton Smith claims he’s tough as nails - “You can
hate me and my politics and I’ll withstand it”, he told journalists at his wine
launch. “But you can destroy me instantly if you don’t like my wines,” he
“I now understand
why winemakers are so sensitive. I’ve joined the ranks.”
It’s a good move
on his part, joining the winemaking ranks. His mentor, Enzo Bettio, was one of
the first to make wine from Clevedon, south of Auckland, where Smith is now
based. Bettio no longer makes wine there but remains a believer in the region’s
winemaking potential. Smith’s Clevedon Hills wines sell online at www.vinalto.com
The arneis is
one of the best New Zealand white wines I’ve tasted this year.
OF THE WEEK
Hills Arneis $30
The arneis grape
was rescued from near death in the 1980s in its northern Italian home,
Piedmont. It’s hard to believe it nearly died out – because it makes such a
deliciously dry, gorgeously refreshing white.
Marisco Thorn Pinot Gris $23
new pinot gris comes from Brent and Rosemary Marris and has a hint of pink
colour, with spicy soft flavours.
Montana Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc $17
instantly recognizable, tropical white won gold last week at the Air New
Zealand Wine Awards and it marks 30 years of Montana Marlborough Sauvignon
First published in the Herald on Sunday, 15 November 2009.
'CRAZY' WINES - James Millton is
never short of an idea or three when it comes to grape varieties and wine
styles. And his latest labels, bottles and wines show once again that he thinks
outside of wine’s usual holy trinity – at least here in New Zealand – of
sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot gris. The first of his new range off the
bottling line is called the Les Trois Enfants – an unlikely trio of white
grapes, which is a biodynamically made blend of gewürztraminer, viognier and
muscat. It’s good but not as tasty as its red sibling, Crazy by Nature – featured below. This is a
brave red made from two red grapes with a dash of the white viognier to lift
the flavours to new heights.
WINES OF THE WEEK
Boundary Vineyards Tuki Tuki Chardonnay $20
Drink this wine
lightly chilled to best enjoy its fresh, full bodied, zingy chardonnay
flavours. It’s a good match for Paul Jobin’s Sicilian asparagus dish – featured
2007 Cosmo Red
Crazy by Nature Gisborne $20
of staunch malbec with soft syrah and a small splash of white viognier to add a
soft perfumed peachy taste to its savoury aromas. Drink with Paul’s asparagus
2008 Millton La
Cote Gisborne Pinot Noir $20
talking. This tasty, affordably priced new pinot noir over delivers with soft,
sensuous and silky pinot flavours. Reminds me of a beautiful beach, a pink
sunset and the right friend for company.
First published in the Herald on Sunday, 8 November 2009.
SOUTHERN QUEEN - A postcard of rolling hills
in the world’s most southern wine region asks: where has Mark Mason been for
the last decade? The answer is: Central Otago. Some of us always knew the
Hawke’s Bay ‘wine farmer’ would resurface, only it was surprising how long it
took for him and his first reds to emerge. Mark’s putting all his energy into
pinot noir, which is brave, given that change is the only thing a Central Otago
winemaker can rely on. Changeable spring frosts and changeable summer heat mean
a roller coaster ride of quality and quantity each year. Yet Central Otago
pinot noir grows in popularity, plantings - and awards. This month a Central
pinot noir won the International Wine and Spirit Competition’s Bouchard –
Finlayson Trophy for ‘Best Pinot Noir in the World’, but that’s another story.
Have we seen the very best Central Otago pinot noirs yet? I don’t think so. But
it’s delicious riding the red wine waves of change on the journey.
WINES OF THE WEEK
2007 Quest Farm Central Otago Pinot Noir $40
Mark Mason’s new
Quest Farm Pinot Noir is soft, spicy and succulent with cherry flavours shining
2008 Framingham Classic
Marlborough riesling maestro Andrew Hedly woos riesling lovers a little
more every year with this lovely refreshing white. www.framingham.co.nz
2008 Esk Valley Winemakers’
A top chardonnay from
winemaker Gordon Russell, who harnesses flinty, floral flavours here. It’s a
good match with this week’s Fijiian kokoda recipe.
First published in the Herald on Sunday, 18 October 2009.
THINGS - What’s
the most impossible thing you can think of? Flying pigs always spring to my
mind but the Queen in Alice Through the Looking Glass beats me hands down - she
thought of at least six impossible things every day, before breakfast. A long
held wine impossibility is good Marlborough pinot noir. Compared to Central
Otago’s fruit bomb pinot noirs, North Canterbury’s full bodied pinot noirs and
Martinborough’s boutique pinot noirs, Marlborough has slidden down the list but
its good winemakers are clambering back up. A trio of pinot noirs in miniature
proved the point to me, earlier this month. It included Nautilus Estate pinot
noirs made from clone 666, clone 777 and the ‘Ata Rangi’ clone). I liked the ‘Ata Rangi’ clone best but it was a
close-run thing. Check
out the tasting with winemaker Clive Jones: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nKXCrZdyxI
I can think of at
least three more impossible things already.
WINES OF THE WEEK
2009 Esk Valley
Marlborough Riesling $23
Marlborough riesling to wear the Esk Valley label and a welcome dry style
departure for winemaker Gordon Russell. Lightly chilled it will be a lovely
light match with the coconut milk panna cotta. www.eskvalley.co.nz
2007 Saint Clair
Pioneer Strip Block Pinot Noir $33
Marlborough Pinot Noir $40
This soft, silky
smooth Marlborough pinot noir is proof the whole is better than the sum of its
deliciously different parts. www.nautilus.co.nz
First published in the Herald on Sunday, 18 October 2009.
FRESHEN UP WITH WHITE WINES... It was more than just great wine I saw when visiting Seresin Estate in
Marlborough last month. It was free range chickens roaming among the vines and
golden brown cows batting their eyelashes at me as I walked past their paddock,
next the vines. The absence of pesticides and herbicides was noted. Owner
Michael Seresin has gone biodynamic. Biodynamics is the brainchild of the late
Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner, who believed a farm, garden – or vineyard
for that matter – should be a self-sustaining entity. Hence the animals and
their ‘output’ are essential to that cycle. Steiner also founded schools and
eurythmic dance but it was top biodynamic wines, which wooed Seresin to follow
suit. Next time a great wine is in order, pour Seresin Chiaro Scuro into it.
WINES OF THE WEEK
2007 Seresin Estate Chiaro Scuro $60
After being picked the grapes in this wine are all fermented together
. This means
chardonnay, pinot gris and riesling have to at least try and get along during
the frenzied fermentation. And they do. Zingy riesling cuddles up to big bodied
chardonnay and even pinot gris adds a much wanted je ne sais quo to this blend.
Available only from www.seresinestate.co.nz
2007 Tomasi Poggio Al Tufo Vermentino $34
Now we’re talking. Good vermentino is unbeatably refreshing, dry and
lemon-like in taste. Its usual home is Sardinia; this excellent vermentino was
made in Maremma, just south of Tuscany. www.touchofitaly.co.nz
2008 Garofoli Verdicchio $20- $22
Alternative Italian white wine, pronounced ‘ver-deek-ee-oh’, from
central Italy. Fresh, zingy and dry as a bone. www.touchofitaly.co.nz
First published in the Herald on Sunday, 11 October 2009.
SUNDAY, 4 October 2009
FIVE BEST BUBBLES… ONE FOR EACH YEAR
The moment of truth had arrived. The blingest looking
bottle of bubbly I’ve ever seen was about to be tasted. The best champagne
glasses were carefully cleaned in hot water, minus soap because it flattens
fizz. The just-chilled champagne was poured. Its luminescent bubbles
looked like glitter beading off the sides of the glass, when the youngest voice
in the house piped up - “It looks pretty but does it taste any good?”
My nine year old daughter has an uncanny knack of
hitting the nail on the you know what. This bottle did indeed look pretty.
Scantily clad in a dainty gold foil encircling half the bottle, it looked
amazing but was that to the detriment of its taste? Not a bit. The 1999
Piper-Heidsieck Millesime Rare is a decade old now and just coming into its own
– it’s almost understated in taste, given the packaging and the price tag (gasp
- $400). If the celebration budget is unlimited, this great wine will satisfy
on every count. Raise a glass this week to the Herald on Sunday and also to New
Zealand winemakers for achieving $1 billion in wine exports - a year ahead of
schedule. New Zealand Winegrowers CEO Philip Gregan reckons $1 billion of wine
exports equals five bottles every second. I’ll drink to that – choose from
these best bubbles – one for every year of the Herald on Sunday’s first
WINES OF THE WEEK
1999 Piper-Heidsieck Millesime Rare $400
Rare in name and in taste. The bottle is beautiful but
the wine even more so. Pinot noir adds mouth filling body, with chardonnay
contributes lemon freshness. If you’re lucky enough to drink it, do the whole
bling thing and enjoy with salmon blinis.
Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve $99
A single silky sip hooked me on this robust, muscular,
yet fresh bubbly. Its yeasty flavours and lemon finish make it great with
Pol-Roger NV $99
I fancy this wine rotten. Every time I try Pol-Roger,
it comes up trumps – tasted blind or label showing. Its zingy citrus and fresh
bread aromas are delicious with salt and pepper squid.
Australia’s Perle is a relative newcomer to the
sparkling wine world. Fresh, bright flavours of lemons, limes and grapefruit
linger with every sip. It’s great with seafood but beautifully fresh on its own
as celebration fizz.
Selaks Winemakers Favourite Methode Traditionnelle $20
The Herald on Sunday’s not the only one celebrating a
milestone this year - Selaks turns 75 years old and this bubbly celebrates a
decade of effervescent life with its zesty, citrusy flavours. It’s great with
salt and pepper squid.
HERALD ON SUNDAY, New Zealand 29 September 2009
JUDGING BY THE COVER
If anyone can explain why so many great wines hide
behind innocuous looking labels, let me in on the secret. I’m not talking about
truly awful labels; such as a top Central Otago riesling that’s screaming out
for a new look. I’m wondering why already passable labels get the makeovers
their dire looking counterparts actually need. Last month, winemaker Gordon
Russell relaunched his redesigned Esk Valley wines. This otherwise
self-deprecating winemaker is refashioning riesling, rose and sauvignon blanc –
and taking Esk Valley’s best red, The Terraces, to new heights. The packaging
of his wines is completely secondary to the quality of the wines themselves –
as it should be. I like the new Esk Valley look because it leads me to the most
intriguing aspect of these wines – the delicious contents of the bottles.
WINES OF THE WEEK
2009 Esk Valley
Hawke’s Bay Verdelho $23
Once famed, now
mostly forgotten, verdelho is the key ingredient in Madeira – the wine named
after the island. Precious little is made elsewhere, so this is a rarity. It’s
bone dry with floral and orange aromas. Drink with the salmon.
2009 Esk Valley
Marlborough Riesling $23
The first Esk
Valley riesling made with Marlborough grapes, this is drier than usual with a
succulent zing. A great match with the salmon.
2006 Esk Valley
The Terraces $130
Credit to Gordon
Russell for bravely discarding cabernet sauvignon from this exciting red, led
by malbec and merlot. Its spicy fruit flavours come from cabernet franc’s
perfumed supporting role. Drink with the beef.
HERALD ON SUNDAY, 21 September 2009
HEAVENLY RED PINOTS
There’s only one
thing worse than red wine infused with chocolate – and that’s someone gullible
enough to believe it’s true. I’ve always been a sucker for great chocolate
though, so an April Fool’s Day prank this year had me going till I realized my
hedonistic hope of the perfect wine to drink with chocolate was still some way
Chocolate and wine. Wine and chocolate.
No matter which way round they’re
enjoyed, they don’t taste good together. Chocolate’s bitter, creamy richness
cancels out wine’s fruitiness. But God loves a tryer, so I’ll keep working on a
heavenly way to match these divine flavours. In the meantime, coffee is the
best liquid heaven with Paul’s chocolate creations. And next time I hear of a
chocolate-infused red, I’ll think yeah, right.
Wines of the week
2008 Waitaki Braids
Pinot Noir $60
This seductive red is
the result of Steve Cozens’ passion for South Island pinot noir combined with
Michelle Richardson’s smart winemaking. Every sip has a wow factor.
2007 Main Divide Tehau Waipara Pinot Noir
Drive up the road from Waitaki to North
Canterbury to find this succulent, plummy pinot noir, made by Matt Donaldson
and Lynette Hudson from Pegasus Bay winery.
Marlborough Pinot Noir $40
winemaker Sam Weaver goes his own way with this stunningly spicy pinot noir
that’s led by savoury flavours – and refreshingly delicious for it.
HERALD ON SUNDAY, New Zealand,13 September 2009
A FINE WINE…
A friend took me to
task last week for subscribing to the priciest wine magazine on the planet –
‘What are you subscribing to The
World of Fine Wine for when you hardly ever drink fine wine?’, he asked,
pointedly. It’s true I rarely drink first growth Bordeaux claret, aged port or
grand cru white burgundy but I do drink fine wine. Fine wine today comes in all guises, shapes and
sizes – from Awatere sauvignon blanc, Australian dry riesling and vermentino to
Sicilian nero d’avola, great red burgundy and wonderful barolo. The finest
thing about The World of Fine Wine is its lack of pretension; ‘fine’ is just
another word for great taste, regardless of where a wine is from, what it’s
called or how much it costs. And speaking of fine wine, I’ve been drinking
champagne every day this week, in the quest to find the best for you. Watch
Wines of the week
Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc $20
herby, intense sauvignon blanc. This is a perfect partner for scallops.
Marlborough Rapaura Series Pinot Noir $24
cherry flavours and a savoury finish make this Marlborough pinot noir way too
Estate Raupo Marlborough Pinot Noir $40
Raupo is a
treasured native New Zealand flax, which makes this wine honoured to bear its
name. Big on body, flavour and character, this is best decanted before drinking
and tastes even better the next day.