Seeking northern - and some southern - comfort... top South Island whites by Joelle Thomson, posted 18 May 2013 - click right "Dominion Post column"
Which Pinot Noirs really do deliver, despite their astronomical price tags? Here is the top 20 (well, 21 actually) from Martinborough southwards... Posted 8 April 2013 - click right
Emperor's New Clothes - or a promising white hope? Two views on New Zealand Gruner-Veltliner... Posted 9 April 2013
Where does Grüner Veltliner fit into the New Zealand wine scene? wonders whether
it’s really going to be TNBT, or merely dressed in the Emperor’s New Clothes?
As invitations go, mine to attend the three yearly
Aromatics Symposium in Nelson this year was extremely welcome; not least
because crisp, cool climate whites sounded like just the antidote to a week’s
worth of full bodied reds at the Pinot Noir 2013 event in the sunny capital.
And it was sunny.
When Wellington’s weather god turns on the golden rays,
there are few places to rival our capital city.
Over the ditch in Nelson, it wasn’t half bad either when
it came to sunshine but there was precious little time to worry about the
weather. We were here to listen to one of Austria’s best white winemakers,
Markus Huber, talk about Grüner Veltliner.
If Gruner has yet to make its way into your wine glass –
let alone your consciousness or your wine list - you’re not alone.
Plantings in this country are so small that it has yet
to make a formal appearance in the New Zealand Wine Institute’s (aka ‘New
Zealand Winegrowers’) annual statistics. But as Austria’s signature grape
variety, it is extremely important there – and possibly on the decline, so many
Austrians are keen to champion it here in New Zealand. Among them is Nelsonian
ex-pat Austrian, Hermann Seifried and his second generation winemaking family,
Chris and Anna Seifried. Further south, ex-pat Austrian Rudi Bauer – winemaker
at Quartz Reef in Central Otago – is also a champion of the little known Grüner
But is Grüner Veltliner really going to be TNBT here?
(If you’re not an anagram expert, that’s code for The
Next Big Thing.)
of Kiwi Grüner Veltliner alongside its Austrian counterparts showed marked
differences in taste, despite extremely similar data in terms of alcohol
levels, sugar ripeness in the grapes, acidity and pH.
why the disparity in taste?
That Austria has been home to Grüner Veltliner for hundreds of years might have
something to do with it. The winemakers there have not only had generations of
time during which to learn to work with it, discovering the best fit in terms
of soils and climatic zones, and the grape itself has gotten accustomed to
growing in that environment. It’s a different story here in New Zealand.
to welcome in new grapes with open arms – and minds – but that necessarily
means employing a philosophy of discovery rather than wholehearted agreement
with every new style. I have yet to taste a bad New Zealand Grüner.
to find a bad New Zealand wine these days; our wines are so clean, fresh, crisp
and well made, we have an industry to be justly proud of. But I have yet to
taste a Kiwi Grüner which resembles one from Austria in terms of its je ne sais
factor of ripe apples but fresh crisp acidity; a sometimes low alcohol and an
unrelentingly dry, medium to fullbodied style. It’s early days. I can’t wait to
taste new versions of Grüners from this country; nor to see how they taste in
another couple of years’ time. Their journey is our journey. We have yet to
arrive, as North American wine blogger, Alder Yarrow, so saliently put it: “New Zealand Grüner is a work in progress.”
"New Zealand Gruner Veltliner has a long way to go before it can gain any sort of recognition abroad. At the moment, most wines struggle to even present true varietal character. Most, I fear, are being made the same way as Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc, which, if you ask the Austrians, is exactly the wrong way to treat the grapes."
Alder Yarrow | VINOGRAPHY
Originally published in Drinksbiz, April 2013.
Does wine count as a nutritional food source? It's a good question... click The Dominion Post column, right, to find out
Posted 30 March 2013
A tribute to Alex Corban...
do retired winemakers go?
If Alex Corban is any indication, it’s not half bad. He lives in the ‘Pinot’
wing of a Havelock North rest home, amongst a sea of grapevines in the arid Hawke’s
Bay landscape... Read more in The Dominion Post, click right.
The Gruner vibe... 4 March 2013...
Austrian Kiwi connection - click right on Dominion Post...
Wine of the week, 4 March 2013...
An ironic Sauvignon tale...
John Forrest Collection Sauvignon Blanc $30
It might sound ironic when a New Zealand winemaker says it was a challenge to make a Sauvignon Blanc but this is no ordinary Kiwi white wine; it's his top shelf Sauvignon; made from a half acre of
stony vineyard land with no subsoil, so the grapes are smaller and there are lower overall cropping levels. Both these factors accentuates the freshness of the Wairau
River's stony land - as does the use of a yeast in fermentation which is usually reserved for Chardonnay. This is a lovely wine with intensity, body and a very long finish.
A new Sauvignon launch this week...
This luscious beauty from Forrest Estate, above, is not the only new Sauvignon Blanc style from Marlborough; watch this space for more on Pernod Ricard's big new white wine, which has been in gestation for several years now. More to come this week...
"Where can I find a great Cinsault these days?"
Readers ask and Joelle answers in her weekly wine column and musings on top vinos to drink... Click Dominion Post, right, posted 22 Feb 2013.
Pinot Noir 2013... Pinot musings by Joelle
Is this the most beautiful vineyard in the world? Posted 23/1/13
Pinot Noir 2013 from Monday 28 January - Join fellow pinot lovers at the public tasting, Wednesday 30
Pinot Marquee in Odlins Plaza in Wellington, New Zealand. Bookings at www.pinotnz.co.nz
Call me a hedonist, but I chose a front row seat in the stately new tasting room at Rippon Vineyard (pictured above) to marvel at the mirror-like lake, the snowcapped Buchanan mountain range and the miniature Ruby Island; named after a runaway gold miner’s daughter who holed up there in the late 1800s to escape an arranged marriage.As well as marvelling at the vast landscape, my fingers made screeds of notes on the 78 new pinot noirs poured; wines which reflect the respect with which winemakers in the deep south treated their pinot noirs from 2010 and 2011. Not every wine was perfect but, in general, the evolution in style of Central Otago pinot noirs is undeniably in the right direction: less oak, more delicate fruit taste.In Rippon Vineyard’s case, the wines are elegant, thanks to the thoughtful touch of biodynamic winemaker Nick Mills, who carries the torch his father ignited when he first planted grapes here in 1976. These days pinot noir rules the southern red winemaking roost - rather than the Siebel and Albany Surprise grapes that Rolfe Mills once planted - and, thanks to a wild bunch of winemakers in Central, there is a wider range of pinots emerging than ever before. But while Wanaka and Central Otago have the most pinot noir grapes planted in this country; a diverse range of styles and the biggest scenic wow factor, they are far from alone in pumping out impressive wines. North Wairarapa and North Canterbury are, in my opinion, this country’s most unsung pinot noir regions.In two days’ time, this country’s biggest wine event, the three yearly Pinot Noir 2013, begins in Wellington. For the first time, its focus is on distinguishing regional differences between Central Otago, Marlborough, North Canterbury (aka Waipara), Nelson, Martinborough and Hawke’s Bay.
It may sound like a contradiction in terms, but the strongest string to New Zealand’s red wine bow is, ironically, the lightest red wine in this country’s arsenal: pinot noir. It’s a deceptive type of lightness; an iron fist in a velvet glove.
Pinot Noir 2013 - It’s all of ours for the tasting this week at Pinot Noir 2013 - New Zealand's biggest wine gig, from Monday 28 January to Thursday 31 January in Wellington, New Zealand. www.pinotnoirnz.co.nz
The Wild Bunch...
My new book, published by New Holland NZ is about 18 movers, shakers and ground breakers in New Zealand wine.
Order your copy
The Wild Bunch is in NZ bookstores, RRP $39.99 or for international orders:
About my new book, The Wild Bunch
The 18 quietly powerful individuals featured in The Wild Bunch are a group of philosophers, modernists, scientists, hedonists and party animals, who have revolutionised our burgeoning New Zealand industry. Each of these movers, shakers and groundbreakers shows the perseverance, ingenuity and sheer dedication that it takes to make great wine. They have propelled New Zealand onto the world stage – a hugely commendable feat given the youth of our industry. I interviewed each of these individuals - as well as many others who know them - to tell the stories of the people behind the labels; many of whom built wineries from scratch with little capital, a decent amount of knowledge and a huge degree of passion. Their pioneering spirits have seen the New Zealand wine industry grow swiftly from being relatively small and unknown around the world to being the enormous export earner it is for New Zealand today.
Central Otago's Top 5... Pinots under $40
Feature in my column in The Dominion Post - click right
Wine of the week, 6 November 2012
2010 Lochar Estate Pinot Noir 2010
This multi-award winning wine comes from grapes grown
on 16 hectares of prime real estate in Central Otago on its small vineyard at
the foot of the Pisa Range. This relatively warm area in a region generally on
the edge, climate-wise, gives warmth and generous body to the lifted red cherry,
redcurrant and fresh plum aromas in this youthful Pinot Noir.
Smooth in texture and mouth feel, thanks to judicious
use of new oak – 35%, which works well here – it is medium bodied. This is impressive
for a region that is often challenged with being cool climate.
Available: from specialist retailers.
First published in
The Dominion Post, 9 October 2012
Touring in Northern
Home to high
fashion, slow food, 550 kilometres of mountains and the greatest Italian wines,
northern Italy has something for every hedonist (including The Four Seasons Milano, which began life as a convent in the 1459; pictured left)...
“Rome is notorious for pick pockets, so take care when
you change trains,” a friend wrote when he heard I was arriving at daybreak.
As if. I’d been to Italy three times, travelled
Argentina, southern Portugal, backpacked in Thailand and survived
a walk alone on a Turkish hillside (not good) and a game park in South Africa
(admittedly, in a vehicle with a flat tyre, but still). I’m always careful with
my wallet. I’m always careful when I’m travelling fullstop.
The worst thing about this trip, I thought, would be arriving
in Rome and immediately having to leave to go north; my third trip there and
still no chance to check out the Roman Forum, tour the Colisseum properly or see
the Vatican city.
They weren’t to be blessed with my feet nor my wallet this
Vinitaly beckoned and I had to hotfoot it north to
join 139,999 others in the relatively small city of Verona; usual population
350,000. If an Italian wine fair sounds like gelato on speed, think again. Queues,
air thick with cigarette smoke and more wines than you can imagine under a
single umbrella or, in this case, under eight soccer field-sized stadiums on
the outskirts of Verona. I was there to learn, which was easy with so much vino
on hand. Then it was time to tour Italy’s north.
Pictured right: Tomassi; home to the world's largest oak vat and great Amarones, it is still in family hands today.
The first stop was Piemonte which
means ‘at the foot of the mountains’, but that’s no guarantee anyone’s going to
see any peaks. The most famous local grape is ‘nebbiolo’, named after the fogs
– ‘nebbia’ – which shroud...
Above: Piemonte from La Morra
... this mountainous, hilly region most of the time. The day we arrived was
a rarity. Bright skies drenched the vines in sunshine; ancient villages shone
like sparkling hilltop jewels and grey roads ribboned the hallowed slopes, which
are blanketed in vines.
As our rental car roared its way up the hill to the town
of La Morra, Piemonte’s mountains suddenly came into sight, racing along the
horizon like a jagged jetstream before merging into a fluffy cumulous cloud. It
was hard to tell where mountains ended and clouds began, but who cares when
you’re surrounded by 550 kilometres of mountains encircling the region. My
host, a Master of Wine, was thrilled by the weather; “My first trip here was
overcast,” he said dryly, “And most of the time that’s what it is here; this is
As luck would have it, we could clearly see famous towns like Barbaresco from
La Morra but we were heading to the town of Barolo to taste Mascarello
Monprivato; one of the greats.
If you’ve tasted northern Italian wines before
and wondered what all the fuss is about but you’re still interested, the only
thing to do is: visit. The wines here are a far cry from nearly anything Italian
found anywhere else. More’s the pity. Barbera, anybody? If so, expect great
things in Piemonte. Ditto the dolcetto. As with the food, the best wines tend to stay at home in
could get used to these lofty
mountains and the wines their wild foothills inspire, but it’s time for Turin;
home to the world’s slow food movement and, it turns out, the best G&Ts of
my life at the Art Hotel Boston, slightly off the beaten track on the CBD’s
fringe. But I was only
there for a night before going back east to Prosecco land; Conegliano-Valdobbiadene
The name might be unpronounceable but the sparkling wines are cheap as chips
and so good they’re being imitated all over the world. They also match seafood
perfectly. How do the Italians even get fresh seafood in places like this – and
Turin – which are seemingly so far from the sea? It’s a mystery that sprang to
mind again when I arrived half a week later in Milan to test drive a new suite at the Four Seasons Milano.
Left: The Four Seasons Milano... the food there tasted as
if it had just been picked from the garden; carciofi carpaccio (artichokes) and
franciacorta (Italy’s top sparkling wine) were brilliant; as was pasta with
freshly grated truffle and Barolo to match. So simple, so quin`tessentially
Italian and it all tasted better for being served in a 500+ year old building.
Construction on this exceptionally well restored and large hotel began in 1459;
it was built as a cloistered convent in one of the oldest parts of Milan,
today’s crossroads of fashion and top notch shopping; between Via Montenapoleone
and Via della Spiga. Original 15th century frescoes still adorn its walls and
ceilings, despite having been covered over in 1782 when the convent was converted
into a private home. Its third lease of life began in 1987 when it was being
turned into a hotel and an original Renaissance column was revealed during
demolition of cladding. Even if fashion isn’t your thing, this is a top
location to stay in; opposite the entrance to the hotel is a museum.
Italy. The architecture, fashion, food and mind blowing range of wines constantly
take my breath away. Just as I was about to buy a pair of drop dead gorgeous
cream boots during a rare spare moment, I reached into my bag to pull out my
wallet, and realized it was missing.
Oh, well. There’s a first time for
everything. Even for seasoned, streetwise travellers – or those of us who are
silly enough to think we are.
Top spots in
Eat at Il
Ristorante Borgo Antico at Villa Quaranta Park Hotel in Valpolicella;
Luisa, the head waitress is a divine host, the home made pasta is to die for
and the building seeps history from its ancient stone walls as you sip on
Tommasi Amarone; of the world’s great reds. Accommodation next door.
Explore the shores of Lake Garda;
Italy’s largest lake, which borders Trentino, Veneto and Lombady. Highlights:
the Castle of San Giorgio; cable car up Monte Baldo; Peschiera del Garda’s 16
century fortifications and hot springs at Sirmione.
Visit the Arena
di Verona, built in 30AD as a stadium for games and now used as an opera and
tourist venue. It looks like a smaller version of the Colosseum but in far
Stay at the Four Seasons Hotel Milano on
Via Gesu in the heart of Milan; this hotel is a quiet retreat, thanks to its
vast internal atrium courtyard; I went to sleep with my window open and awoke to
birdsong. It is an unbelievably peaceful and quiet place to stay, especially given it's right in the heart of old Milano... It may be a busy hotel for tourists, travellers and businesspeople but it retains a feeling of harmony from its early days a as convent. www.fourseasons.com/milan Drink Mascarello Monprivato Barolo –
one of the world’s top wines; not cheap but you only live once.
Drive to La Morra for panoramic views
of Piemonte; see vines in every
direction - in the 16th Century it was illegal to chop down a nebbiolo vine;
recidivists had a hand amputated.
Eat at Da Gigetto in Miane, north east
Italy; a great restaurant with an Aladdin’s Cave-like wine cellar, built around
a Roman well; about 2000 years old. The well’s damp air keeps the humidity perfect
for wine aging and this is on the way to the Dolomite mountains. Skifields beckon.
Drink Masottina Prosecco – the best of the tidal wave of proseccos.
Visit wineries and taste prosecco; Villa
Sandi in Montello has extensive underground wine cellars, the beautiful Locanda
Sandi homestay and outstanding prosecco. www.villasandi.it
Ski. The Cervinia alpine resort in the
Valle d’Aosta brings new meaning to a ‘top ski resort’ at 2,006 metres high. Others
include Alagna and Limone in Piemonte; and Livigno in Lombardy.
to get there
Pacific offers daily connections from Wellington to Rome or Milan via either
Auckland or Sydney and Hong Kong. For airfares check www.cathaypacific.co.nz
Cathay Pacific’s new Business Class Lounge at Hong Kong
International Airport was renovated last year to double the number of seats in
its Noodle Bar and add a new coffee loft with fresh pastries.
Wing’s Business Class Lounge is open to First and Business Class passengers;
Silver and above Marco Polo Club members and Sapphire and above Oneworld
Wine of the week... 3 August 2012
Sauvignon Blanc $20
Talk about a
bargain – Marlborough winemaker Sam Weaver pushes conventional business boundaries
by releasing his this wine late and this previous vintage is a lovely soft, mellow, integrated dry white with full body and length of flavour to burn. Fantastic value. Buy direct from Churton Wines
or, for Wellingtonians, from Logan Brown, Astoria and other restaurants with good wine lists.
Churton wines, Marlborough, New Zealand, August 2012...
Heading in the biodynamic direction may sound like fence sitting but there's none of that at the top quality Churton in Marlborough; owned by British-born, New Zealand-based Sam and Mandy Weaver, whose Abyss Vineyard is pictured here.
Sauvignon Blanc RRP $26
This wine is
one out of the box in more ways than one; it’s late released every year on
winter solstice after being bottled in February when most other Marlborough
Sauvignon Blancs are on their way to being sold out,; this is also bone dry and is mostly hand-picked, which adds to its intensity of flavour, body and length... every sip lingers.
More to come on Churton in my Dominion Post column in the coming weeks. As we in the print media sometimes say: watch this space.
Winery of the month, March 2012...
This year's Vinitaly was a top reason to explore a little of the world's most fascinating wine country, and who better to meet than Walter Massa, thanks to his excellent UK importer, Master of Wine Michael Palij; these two are doing more than their fair share to champion one of the world's most underrated, least known and excellent white wines, Timorasso.
You may well ask: "What's that?" The answer is: the original Gavi grape. Which means, we're in the north west of Italy where Walter's outstanding 1998 Vigneti Massa Costa del Vento Timorasso was a pristine aged white with hints of an old Alsatian white. Believe it or not. Walter's Timorasso from the DOC of Colli Tortonese is a must try for those who love the acidity of great Riesling, the ageability of Chenin Blanc and
the indefinable freshness of Verdicchio, all rolled into one inimitable northern Italiano bianco - pictured below as Walter, Michael and I taste an aged bottle.
I have a Diploma in Journalism (1989) from Wellington Polytechnic, New Zealand and, for the past 18 years, have combined a love for language and wine; writing about it in newspapers, magazines and 12 wine books. My wine column appears every Saturday in "Your Weekend" magazine in The Dominion Post - New Zealand's capital city's daily - syndicated to The Christchurch Press and Waikato Times. I edit Drinksbiz magazine and teach at the NZ School of Food & Wine. My first wine column was in Capital Times in Wellington, in 1994, after living in London, Edinburgh and the Shetland Islands, where work as a flambe waitress fanned the flames of wine passion.
The NZ School of Food & Wine...
The NZ School of Food & Wine moved from Christchurch to Auckland following the earthquake of 22 February 2011 and it is one of the key places in New Zealand to Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) qualifications; industry standard in the UK. Will be good when New Zealand restaurants, bars, wine stores and the wine industry follow suit. I teach it part time at the school. http://foodandwine.co.nz/Sommelier
Winery of the month... Dog Point, March 2012
Dog Point Winery founders, winemakers, viticulturists and wine lovers... Ivan Sutherland and James Healey, pictured right, at the after party following the 4th Dog Point Vineyard and Logan Brown Classic Kiwi Picnic in Marlborough, New Zealand, on Saturday 10 March 2012. Dog Point wine highlight: 2010 Dog Point Chardonnay - This youthful Chardonnay tastes like it has a long life ahead with fresh vibrant acidity running as a solid core through this full bodied, savoury style, thanks to the wine spending significant time on lees, post-fermentation. Here's a wine that shows the South Island can produce outstanding bone dry white combining the best of New Zealand's vibrant fruit flavours with an innate understanding of great white Burgundy. Best ever DP Chardonnay for me.
Left, Ivan Sutherland blind tasted visitors, including yours truly (pictured) on 2000 Vega Sicilia Unico, 1993 The Armagh, 1991 Ornellaia, among other unblinded wines, of which the 2003 Rene Engel Grand Cru Echezeaux was the highlight.
Central Otago rocks...
This rugged region is home to the southernmost wine region in the world. This is Misha and Andy Wilkinson's Vineyard at Bendigo, Central Otago. Image by Central Otago photographer Tim Hawkins.
Vineyard of the month... Misha's Vineyard, February 2012
Misha's Vineyard, Central Otago January 2012: Bogart (left) leads Ruby down the dusty slate slopes of Misha's Vineyard on the shores of Lake Dunstan in Bendigo, Central Otago, on the eve of the 2012 Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration, on a typically bone dry day in the world's southernmost wine region. Misha and Andy Wilkinson's 57-hectares of vines are planted on slopes which range from hilly to so steep they almost rival Germany's wonderfully precipitous shingly Riesling vineyards lining the meandering Mosel River. Photograph below by Joelle Thomson.
2010 Kupe By Escarpment, NZ $85, posted 4 Feb 2012
Pinot Noir maestro is a grand title to live up to and these days Martinborough (New Zealand) winemaker Larry McKenna has many others to vie for the title with... he is certainly one of this country's masters of the tricky Pinot Noir grape, as this top wine of his new 2010 releases shows already.
If the proof of an ageworthy wine is one that drinks like silk when it's young, then Kupe is a good contender for the cellar.