Joelle Thomson's online wine guide

Category: North Canterbury (page 1 of 2)

Blast from the past… buy wine from Peg’ Bay and Dog Point’s cellars

One of the most frequently asked wine questions is this: Can I cellar this wine and what will it taste like in 10 years’ time?

This month two New Zealand wineries have put their money where their mouths are and opened up their cellars for the public to buy 10 year old wines.

Pegasus Bay in North Canterbury and Dog Point Vineyards in Marlborough have done the cellaring for us so that we can taste well cellared wines and track the progress of flavour over a decade. It’s an interesting – and tasty – concept.

Lest this sound like a marketing ploy, the wineries in question have chosen one of the best vintages of the past decade and are not flogging off second tier wines, but their flagships. And they’re damned good too, as I have been finding out while tasting samples.

Both wineries make maverick styles of wines at prices people can afford and – for those of us who personally know the makers – they also have a deep love of the great wines of the world, which inspire their styles.

Why keep it

Now that wine is New Zealand’s fifth biggest export earner (and rising), it’s only natural that we would, could and, perhaps, should start keeping some of the best bottles made here. Not everything has to be consumed right now. It’s fun, decadent and delicious to have a small wine cellar. My own dwindled a tad when I relocated from Auckland to Wellington 18 months back because I was trying to rationalise everything I owned, so I shared, drank, swapped and gave away many old bottles. But it’s growing again and these two wineries have a growing place in it because I know their wines can age reliably well – and taste even better five or 10 years down the track.

It’s been great to retaste Dog Point Section 94, Dog Point Chardonnay, Dog Point Pinot Noir, Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir and Pegasus Bay Riesling (all from 2007), but it’s far from the first time I have tried and enjoyed old wines from these two producers.

If you want a wine cellar…

By the way, if you want to cellar wine, then the team at White Refrigeration makes custom-built cellars and consultations are free. If you can convert that unused wardrobe, spot under the stairs or spare space into a wine cellar, why not?

The cellar wines available

2007 Dog Point Vineyard Pinot Noir

2007 Dog Point Chardonnay

2007 Dog Point Section 94

2007 Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir Aged Release

2007 Pegasus Bay Riesling Aged Release

My top picks

2007 Dog Point Section 94

The 2007 Dog Point Section 94 shows Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc in a bright new light – it’s 10 years old and incredibly fresh, no doubt the high acidity preserves it, as do the dialled up flavours and long finish. Here’s a succulent and complex Sauvignon that says more about the place than the grapes grown there, which were 100% barrel fermented, which adds beautiful bells and whistles to this Sauvignon.

2007 Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir Aged Release

It’s a delicious treat to revisit this North Canterbury Pinot Noir’s silky, fresh and complex flavours – every sip taste of black cherries on speed and the zesty acidity (which is Pinot’s hallmark) makes every mouthful linger. It drinks well now and still has many years up its lovely sleeve yet.

How to get them

Dog Point Vineyards… is selling cellared wines now in 6-packs through the Dog Point Vineyard Library Wine Club. Membership is free and includes information and preview offers.

More information at

Pegasus Bay Wines… is selling cellared wines from August via three different channels – at the winery cellar door, via mail order and at some specialist wine stores.

More information at



Cellaring wine

If you’re going to drink old wines now, then it only stands to reason that new ones should go straight into the cellar… or under the stairs, if that’s the place you store tasty treats. Try stashing these for 5 or 10 years.

2015 Pegasus Bay Riesling 12.5% ABV

This is the brand new outrageously good Riesling from New Zealand’s king of spatlese styles – Mat Donaldson, winemaker and eldest son of the Peg’ Bay winemaking dynasty in North Canterbury. Mat is a man on a mission to progressively produce Rieslings that taste ever so slightly drier in style and this is an elegant step in that direction. Concentrated lemon zest, ripe mandarins and fresh peach all combine in this great new wine. (And yes, it is Mat – with one ‘t’.)

2016 Palliser Estate Riesling Martinborough 12% ABV

Dry, deliciously lemony with zingy freshness to burn. If you like this wine now, check it out in 5, 10, or 15 years, depending on your willpower. I have regularly enjoyed many Palliser Estate Rieslings up to 15 years old and been consistently impressed by its freshness and intense flavours.

A first for NZ… vin doux naturel from Canterbury

Its name is French for naturally sweet but there is plenty that is man made about vin doux naturel wines, which have their fermentation stopped by a process called mutage.

This is the interruption of the fermentation by adding alcohol to wine when it is only part-way through its transformation from juice and grape sugars to wine and alcohol. The result is an intensely aromatic fortified wine, in this case to 17.5% ABV.

To the best of my knowledge, this is the first one ever to be produced in New Zealand and it is made by maverick North Cantabrian winemaker Guy Porter, whose whites push all sorts of tasty boundaries, including a flor yeast-influenced nutty dry white and, now, this sensation. He also makes a VDN from a blend of Gewürztraminer, Muscat and Riesling but this is my fave because I enjoy the balance of crisp acidity that Sauvignon Blanc offers in this wine:

2016 Bellbird Spring Mute L’Alouette North Canterbury

This is one bottle to stash, to enjoy, to marvel at – “wow” was my reaction when poured some at an impromptu tasting last week in Auckland. This fortified Sauvignon Blanc is modelled on southern French vin doux naturels and offers a beautiful new take on the Sauvignon Blanc theme from the thoughtful winemaking of Guy Porter at Bellbird Spring, one of the smallest wineries in New Zealand – and a name to beat a track to for anyone looking for delicious whites and tasty Pinot Noirs.

Forage North Canterbury for food… humbling

We are luckier than we think.

Greetings from the sunny South Island of New Zealand where I have just spent 36 hours foraging for food, fishing in Kaikoura, harvesting wild edible greens and generally feeling humbled by Mother Nature’s seemingly endless supply of uncultivated food. If you look for it, you will find it.

Food is all around us, even in cities, as my own little patch of communal garden in Wellington’s ‘eco valley’ (also known as Aro Valley) show, but more on that in another blog.

The one is all about an event called Forage North Canterbury.

It’s the first year I have been to Forage North Canterbury, but the event is now in its third year and is gaining momentum, says food grower Angela Clifford, who founded the event. She describes Forage as a serendipitous relationship between a food movement and the local wine industry in North Canterbury’s rolling foothills of the Southern Alps. She also pays tribute to Kate McMillan and Melany Wright, two local women who she says were intrinsic to the start of Forage, due to their love of nature and its bountiful supply of food, sometimes in the most unexpected places.

Clifford also founded The Food Farm, which supports her assertion that the Forage event is a natural extension of the lives of those living in this rural region. The farm is 16 acres of vegetables that she owns with her life partner Nick Gill, a local viticulturist. It is also home to ducks, chickens, pigs, sheep and cows. There is no vineyard on site. The couple do make wine, however, under the tongue in cheek brand, Tongue in Groove, which they co-own with four other locals in North Canterbury. This region is significantly warmer, drier, sunnier and more sheltered than the Canterbury Plains, which spread out from Christchurch city, 40 minutes’ drive south. Prior to wine grapes being planted here, North Canterbury was home to experimental fruit and vegetable growing and some vineyards are still full of asparagus, which spreads like tasty wildfire each year.

But like many rural regions, the area is also home to wild fruit trees, wild mushrooms, such as porcini, and also to truffles, as well as being close to kaimoana (seafood). Blue cod, gurnard and perch all made an appearance on our fishing lines and our plates because the sea is nine kilometres east of the State Highway 1, just over the Teviotdale Hills, which provide much needed wind protection from the strong sea breezes.

There are wild deer, pigs, hare, rabbits and goats, some of which appeared (in a relatively minor way) on the table at this year’s Forage North Canterbury dinner. But the star attraction in most  dishes was wild greens, which tasted exceptionally fresh, crisp and, very often, very lemony – despite which, no lemons were harvested or used in the meal.

“Tonight’s meal is a snapshot of what happened today; it’s staggering how much produce we can get because there’s just so much wild food we can eat. If we just look for it, it’s there and there’s no need to go hungry,” said James Stapley, chef at  Bistro Gentil in Wanaka, and one-time chef at Pegasus Bay winery when it first won restaurant of the year from Cuisine magazine well over a decade ago. The winery’s restaurant has gone on to win the same accolade many times. It’s easy to taste why.

Stapley’s dish at Forage was slivers of fresh blue cod, caught by five of us earlier that day in Kaikoura. The explosive fresh taste of the dish came from the wild greens while its pretty appearance came from tiny purple flowers that he and I picked on the rugged beach at Kaikoura, prior to our lunch of fresh crayfish sandwiches served with 2009 Pegasus Bay Bel Canto Dry Riesling, brought by Edward Donaldson, who captained his own speed boat to take us fishing for Forage.

Other teams scoured the countryside for wild mushrooms, buckets of small, tart and incredibly tasty wild cherries, miniature wild plums ranging from pale green to red to deep purple, with flavours as varied as the colour. There were flowers and green leaves wrapped inside miniature bites of fresh mullet and a sensational dish of fish with the intensely earthy taste of truffle, which was crumbled over it.

About 70 of us attended Forage North Canterbury this year, including a handful of New Zealand’s top South Island chefs who gave their time in exchange for the privilege of being involved. While it took time out of their more lucrative lives, the privilege of taking part more than rewarded them, said chef Stapley, who enjoyed his second year at Forage.

After we had foraged for food and brought the spoils back, we were treated to aged Rieslings from the cellars of local wineries such as Pegasus Bay (where the Forage dinner was held), Terrace Edge, Tongue in Groove, Mount Brown, Bellbird Spring, The Boneline, Greystone, Black Estate and Crater Rim wineries. I think all wineries have been included, but email me, if I have missed someone. This region is known for its earthy Pinot Noirs and a growing amount of Sauvignon Blanc, but it has a long history of producing outstanding dry, medium and luscious Rieslings, all of which can age for decades and remain fresh in flavour.

With the exception of olive oil, salt and pepper, all ingredients used in the meal had been freshly foraged that day.

Two things surprised me: the discovery that I am a natural forager is one. Perhaps it’s not altogether surprising when I think back to my grandparents’ vast vegetable gardens, but it felt validating to walk along the beach with Stapley after we had been fishing, and to collect wild plants with someone else who clearly sees great edible potential in the natural world around us.

The concept of living off seasonal, unsprayed and unpolluted produce is one that’s close to my heart and my hands – I have just been allotted a segment of communal garden in Wellington’s ‘eco valley’ (also known as Aro Valley), an eight minute walk from the front door of my apartment.

Forage North Canterbury has left me feeling humbled to reconnect with the land and with Mother Nature’s seemingly endless supply of more than  we need, despite our questionable treatment of the world around us. We are luckier than we think.

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