September tastings…

How did that happen? September is looming which means the year is nearly three quarters of the way through and that our second Wellington Wine 101 gig is about to kick off on Wednesday 14 September from 6pm to 8pm. Places are selling but there is still room for these outstanding three-night tastings, which cost $40 per night; a total of $120 to taste well over $1000 worth of wine. Now that’s what I call good value.

First of all, we have a big smooth red tasting…

Shiraz Matazz with Joelle Thomson

Thursday, September 1, 2016 from 06:00 PM to 08:00 PM
Venue: Upstairs Tasting Room, Regional Wines & Spirits. Bookings online or call, details here: Regional Wines & Spirits.

Wine 101 with Joelle Thomson

One booking gets you three tastings on Wednesday 14, 21 & 28 September. 

Bookings online or call, details here: Regional Wines & Spirits.


Wines of the week… 17 August

Let’s just say it’s already been a surrounded-by-new-bottles kind of week because it’s only Wednesday and here we are with a best of the bunch blog. It’s no wonder, really. Not only is New Zealand wine one of the first things we see at the supermarket, it’s the sixth biggest export earner for this country – a significant rise from ninth biggest this time last year.

The following wines were tasted alongside a range of other comparable wines, which were all from New Zealand and all relatively new, with some very recently bottled, as the two 2016 wines show.

Chardonnay of the week

2014 Domaine Rewa Central Otago Chardonnay 14% ABV 

Domaine Rewa Chardonnay is made from grapes grown on a 5.5 hectare vineyard at Pisa, a short drive north of Cromwell in one of Central Otago’s most sun drenched grape growing sub-regions. This Chardonnay highlights what I believe is the strong potential in Otago for high quality whites, due to this wine’s rich flavours, full body, fresh vibrant (high) acidity and balanced creamy softness. Lingering flavours of ripe citrus, nectarines and white peach add to its appeal.

Biodynamics is a philosophy of growing plants sustainably, which includes, among other things, planting, pruning and harvesting according to the phases of the moon. It also includes no systemic sprays, such as herbicides, fungicides, insecticides or pesticides. 

Top Pinot Gris

2016 Jules Taylor Marlborough Pinot Gris 13.5% ABV $23.99

There’s a reason Jules Taylor Pinot Gris keeps appearing on the wine lists at the Gypsy Tea Rooms and The Elbow Room – two small but busy neighbourhood wine bars in Auckland. This Pinot Gris consistently rates highly (with me) for its intensely fresh flavours of subtle white fleshed fruit, such as white pears, white peach and lychees. It’s dry with refreshing crispness and a medium body, all giving it a strong lead on many of its competitors. This is a very good wine with 3 to 4 years time up its sleeve, but why wait? It tastes great now.

Disclaimer: I select the wines for both the Gypsy Tea Rooms and The Elbow Room wine bars in Auckland.

Sensational Sauvignon 

2015 Alluviale Sauvignon Blanc Semillon Hawke’s Bay 13% ABV $23.99

Hawke’s Bay winemaker Ant McKenzie bought the highly revered Alluviale brand earlier this year (2016) and has launched this wine recently, which brings his love of Bordeaux’ best to bear in this dry, fleshy, crisp white wine, which is pale in colour with intense aromas of lemon grass, lime juice, green apple and brie, thanks to the 14% portion of barrel fermented Semillon, which is nicely balanced by the crisp 81% Sauvignon Blanc and the 5% Muscat Blanc, which adds an aromatic je ne said quo. Not only stunning wine but outstanding value for money.

Best orange wine

2015 Aurum Organic Amber Wine Central Otago 13.5% ABV 

Lucie Lawrence is a French winemaker who married a Kiwi viticulturist and settled in Central Otago where she makes a trickle of the region’s best Pinot Noirs – and dabbles with 60 cases of this orange Pinot Gris. It was fermented with wild yeasts on skins (hence the orange hue) and bottled unfined and unfiltered. The wine is bone dry, with high (but balanced) acidity, and a light creamy influence adding softness. If rose is your thing, try this adventurous organic amber wine.

Best newcomer 2016

2016 Jules Taylor Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc $ 23.99 13% ABV

Juicy, fresh and brand spanking new, this intensely tropical tasting Sauvignon Blanc shines the spotlight on the freshest wines on the market in this country right now – 2016 whites. It’s a super fresh sunshine-in-a-glass style of wine with tropical fruit – pineapples, papayas – a medium body and long finish. What’s not to like.

Top Central Pinot Noir

2013 Domaine Rewa Central Otago Pinot Noir 13% ABV

Pinot Noir is the grape that occupies 80% of Central Otago’s vineyards, and this one is made from a single vineyard at Lowburn, just north of Cromwell. All the grapes in this wine were hand harvested and destemmed prior to fermentation, which keeps the dark fruit flavours to the fore while 8.5 months in French oak softens its youthful vibrancy so that each sip is a silky experience. A delicious newcomer made in small quantities, which puts the country’s southernmost wine region’s best foot forward.



The man in the van

Tony Laithwaite is a dab hand at building sustainable businesses for unknown wine producers and New Zealanders are the latest to gain from his unconventional approach

This story was first published on 11 August 2016 on Good magazine’s great site here: good magazine competitions

When it comes to running a business on the smell of an oily rag, Tony Laithwaite knows more than most; he began selling wine from the back of a van 40 odd years ago, and has now built up a multi million dollar business.

This year, he arrived in New Zealand to do it all over again; only this time, the sales will be online rather than out of a van.

It all began when five idealistic French wineries chipped in UK200 pounds apiece, funding a young and wine-passionate Laithwaite into a van that he could drive around France, pick up their wines in and transport them back to the UK; where he sold direct to consumers.

He is now one of the most powerful wine merchants in the world, was on the 2012 Sunday Times Rich List in the UK and yet remains a staunch advocate of the small guy. Laithwaite has built a reputation as a champion of the underdog wine producer, favouring small producers because he views their wines as more characterful than their mass produced counterparts.

“Our customers love tiny producers and don’t seem to like big brand wines,” says Laithwaite, who suggests that this makes New Zealand ideal for new brands.

He has come to the right place. There is no shortage of small, unknown wine producers in this country, which is now home to approximately 700 local wine companies, the vast majority of which are small. Many of them are so tiny that they cannot operate as sustainable business entities without one of their owners working in another, unrelated day job in order to fund their wine business.

It’s a mindset that Laithwaite can relate to. When he first went into wine, he planned to do it for the love and hopefully make enough money to survive. Things panned out rather more successfully for him and his wife-business-partner, Barbara, to whom he credits a high degree of the success of the company.

Since its early days as a direct retailer, Laithwaite’s Wines has morphed into an online wine store in the United Kingdom, which sources wines from as far flung places as the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Hungary, Moldova and Romania to Georgia, Turkey, Italy, Canada and Chile, among many more well known wine countries.

With New Zealand now in the mix, Laithwaite plans to give a bunch of small Kiwi wineries a much needed shot in the sales arm.

All wines will be sold online direct, which cuts out the middle man and the associated costs in one fell swoop. Yes, there are other online wine stores, but few have the significant global reach that Laithwaite’s Wines does.

It is the ultimate in sustainable wine production, says the British born Laithwaite, who now has close to a million customers across many markets around the globe and is the world’s biggest direct to consumer wine merchant.

“This means that wineries that want to grow—and that have the infrastructure and capabilities to grow—can. Some of the wineries we started working with 30 years ago used to be tiny in size, but now they’re major players in the international market, wineries like Hunters, Forrest, Seifried, Wairau River and Babich. It’s also important to discover and support the new wineries of New Zealand. We recently started working with Mount Edward in Central Otago, Two Rivers in Marlborough and Te Motu on Waiheke Island and I’ve every confidence our customers will love these new wineries as well.”

Laithwaite suggests that it’s one thing for New Zealand wine producers to make environmentally sustainable wines, but if their businesses are not also sustainable, then what’s the point?

“Reputation is what’s important and it rarely comes overnight. Keep overheads down, win medals, run a friendly, unflashy cellar door, tend your customer list as you do your vineyard… and get out there,” he says.

Small business owners cannot afford to stay home, he adds; “Travel hard, sell your wares. Next week a collection of our Kiwi winemakers will make their annual trek to our shows in the UK to meet new and old customers who will be just dying to taste their latest releases.”