Wellington wine diary

This year has been epic and we’ve only just passed the halfway mark. Who knows what the world has in store for us next? Here in Wellington (the city I moved back to this year), we have barely finished summer, winter is mild and the wind is virtually non existent. The weather may be uncharacteristically unusual but our wine tastings calendar promises to be unusually outstanding. Here it is…

Rhone reds, Saturday 9 July

12 noon to 4pm, free in-store tasting

GSM, SGM, MSG… Taste Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre from around the world this Saturday in store at our free tasting with Joelle Thomson.


Black beauties – Wednesday 20 July

6pm to 8pm, upstairs at Regional Wines, Wellington 

Take a tour of the world’s big black beauties from Malbec, Mourvedre and Shiraz (and more) from Argentina to Australia.

Bookings online here: https://regionalwines.co.nz/events


Wine 101 – Saturday 13 August

This free in store Wine 101 event is a tasting teaser for our second series of Wine 101 in September with Joelle Thomson.


Shiraz matazz – Thursday 25 August

6pm to 8pm, upstairs at Regional Wines, Wellington 

It’s Shiraz but not as you know it; try a bunch of beauties from off the beaten track with Joelle Thomson.

Bookings online here: https://regionalwines.co.nz/events


Wine 101, Thursdays: 14, 21 & 28 September

6pm-8pm, upstairs at Regional Wines, Wellington

Join Joelle Thomson for 3 nights and over $1000 of wine…

Bookings online here: https://regionalwines.co.nz/events


The World of Riesling – Thursday 13 October

6pm to 8pm, upstairs at Regional Wines, Wellington

It was in this very room that I first fell for Riesling when Raymond Chan revealed the treasures inside Riesling bottles from Alsace to the Mosel to Marlborough. This tasting ranges from bone dry wines to medium dry to luscious liquid gold.

Bookings online here: https://regionalwines.co.nz/events


Cellar Busters – Thursday 10 November

6pm to 8pm, upstairs at Regional Wines, Wellington

Start your own wine cellar for under $100 with our cellar starter packs put together by author and writer Joelle Thomson (yours truly), whose Little Black Book of Wine is the starting point for our Cellar Busters tasting.

Cellar starter packs will be for sale after this tasting.

Bookings online here: https://regionalwines.co.nz/events

Is bigger better for Chardonnay?

Cue the drum roll for a new wave of big buttery New Zealand Chardonnays, which have all the bells and whistles but more balance and acidity than in decades gone by

(PS: Since this blog went live 30 minutes ago, I have added notes to explain that I am not endorsing old fashioned big buttery Chardonnays. These notes are due to comments received, which I address in the first few paragraphs. Now I am off to enjoy a smooth, elegant and creamy glass of 12% alcohol Chardonnay… )

Big buttery Chardonnay rocks and there isn’t enough of it around, right?

It all depends who you’re talking to. Wine critics, makers and many others in the industry are championing restraint in Chardonnay while a vast number of retailers – and wine drinkers – say they want big and buttery. This was borne out by the sell-out numbers at the Big Buttery Chardonnay tasting I led in Wellington last month. To judge by the fact we had to significantly add to the numbers attending, the answer to whether wine drinkers want big and buttery is ‘yes, yes, yes’ (cue Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally). (The tasting was held at Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington.)

I am not saying that old fashioned big buttery Chardonnays are reappearing but, rather, that big, noticeably creamy flavours are making a recognisable comeback in a new wave of balanced, big, beautiful Chardonnays. The four wines in this blog are the tip of a vast number of wines made by thoughtful winemakers who want to champion and promote softness and richness to wine drinkers but to do so at lower alcohol levels (the 2015 Family Chardonnay) with higher acidity (Rod McDonald’s 2015 Trademark Chardonnay) and more restraint (Tony Bish’s 2015 Golden Egg Chardonnay).

For many people, Chardonnay has become a polarising drink. One person’s big and buttery can be another person’s idea of Chablis, if you know what I mean – Chablis is that steely dry Chardonnay from the town of the same name in the north of Burgundy in France. It usually tastes creamy but it’s not the biggest buttery number on Earth. Wine drinkers’ preferences for Chardonnay styles is polarised, as one tasting after another shows, but that’s because the range of Chardonnays made globally is more diverse than ever.

The biggest creamiest Chardonnays tend to come from  warm climates, which is ironic because the creaminess is not due to anything in the Chardonnay grape. It is the result of a winemaking technique called malolactic fermentation, which was traditionally used to soften the high acidity found in Chardonnay grown in cool climates.

Malolactic fermentation is often abbreviated to mlf or malo’. It is the conversion of sharp tasting malic acids (naturally present in grapes and more pronounced in cool climates like Chablis) into softer, creamy tasting lactic acids, such as those found in milk – hence, ‘lactic’.

Butter, cream, yoghurt and milk flavours in full bodied, golden coloured Chardonnays were all the rage in the 1980s when bigger was better in everything from shoes to Chardonnay, but wines like this have fallen from grace with some winemakers and critics because they can lack the balancing acidity that Chardonnay’s already high volume soft, ripe peachy flavours can need.

For this reason, many winemakers have dialed down Chardonnay’s buttery bells but you know what they say about what goes around?

Right now there’s a bunch of big buttery newcomers coming back around. In my view, they are way better than any of the big buttery numbers I personally loved and drank in the late 1980s and early 1990s. A catch up with winemaker Rod McDonald in Wellington last week proved the point.

He was on a road trip to launch his new 2015 Rod McDonald Trademark Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay and 2013 Trademark Hawke’s Bay Syrah.

There were 130 cases made of the Chardonnay (1,560 bottles – not much, in other words). It’s from a single vineyard where the grapes are grown on two separate river terraces at Maraekakaho in Hawke’s Bay. One terrace is 100 metres above the river, which has a significant impact on night time temperatures, dropping them lower than many other areas in the Bay and enabling McDonald to produce Chardonnay with high acidity, which tastes refreshing, reminding me of lemon flavours and that indefinable feeling of smelling rain falling on warm stones, but then its full body (13% alcohol) and rich creamy texture kick in.

This wine was 100% barrel fermented and McDonald uses three to four different coopers (barrel makers). He did not add yeast or sulphur, preferring to let the yeasts lurking in the winery’s atmosphere do the wild thing when they were ready. Ditto sulphur – he added none, preferring to trust that the wine would take care of itself and not need the protection that sulphur can offer, until bottling. He fined the wine with bentonite – a protein rich clay, whose particles attract proteins floating in the wine; these were then gently filtered out. He then added a little sulphur, as is standard practice, prior to bottling.


The 2013 Rod McDonald Trademark Syrah surprised me with its soft tannins because Syrah can be a huge brooding red wine, especially when recently bottled.

“We don’t need to make big and dense Syrahs,” says McDonald, who sourced the grapes from 10 year old vines grown in Hawke’s Bay. This wine is soft but it needs to spend another few years in bottle to put its smoothest foot forward.

There are many perks to writing about wine (late nights, trips to the dentist and lots of free time aren’t among them), but hanging out with winemakers is because the best of them don’t stick to recipe winemaking like glue. They learn the rules, then gently set about bending them as far as they can go. I think the wines below successfully achieve just that.


Try these…


2015 Rod McDonald Trademark Chardonnay – this dry, full bodied Chardonnay has refreshing, zingy high acidity and flavours that remind of me fresh lemons and that indefinable feeling of smelling rain falling on warm stones. It’s rich and creamy with a long life ahead; it will improve for up to a decade (possibly longer), if cellared in a cool dark place where you can resist the urge to open it.

2015 Skeetfield Vineyard Chardonnay – made from dry farmed Chardonnay grapes which are intensely concentrated in flavour, not least due to being 100% barrel fermented, which means this wine has been a labour of handwork and hard work. It delivers big time with rich stonefruit and fresh nutty flavours; winemaker Tony Bish says of this wine that it’s: “Probably one of the best Chardonnays I have had the pleasure to make.”

2015 The Family Company Chardonnay – a big and beautifully peachy new Chardonnay from Gisborne’s Thorpe family; John Thorpe made this soft and smooth Chardonnay, which contains a modest 12% alcohol, although it tastes significantly richer than this low figure implies.

2015 Tony Bish Golden Egg Chardonnay – a babe in the bottle, this is full bodied, dry and flinty tasting with savoury flavours driving its nervy core to a memorable finish.

The Big Buttery Chardonnay tasting I hosted was at Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington, where I will be this Saturday 9 July from 12 noon for a tasting of big reds made from Shiraz (aka Syrah), Grenache and their usual playmate, Mourvedre – a free in store tasting of wines from around the world.






Great white and ruby red… meet the Medoc

One weekend and two days of wine classes meant an indecent number of bottles were opened, but these two stood head and shoulders above many others.

They were served with their IDs concealed at dinner by Stephen Bennett, Master of Wine, who had them as advance samples. They will be released in New Zealand on 1 September through accentonwine.co.nz in Parnell, Auckland, New Zealand, followed by a release to the wider trade in December.

Both retail for less than $40 and come from the Medoc in  Bordeaux.


2012 Chateau Loudenne Bordeaux RRP NZ $34.95, 14% ABV

This great white is made by a first class Medoc producer in Bordeaux and this wine highlights how outstanding and underrated the Semillon grape is; it’s blended here with the better known Sauvignon Blanc, both of which combine to make a dry, full bodied and zesty white, where the high acidity is balanced by a rich, creamy, full body and flavours of intense lemon, ripe apples and hot buttered toast, which linger on the finish.

It offers very good value for money.

Available in New Zealand from 1 September from accentonwine.co.nz


2011 Chateau Loudenne Medoc Cru Bourgeois RRP $40 NZ, 13.5% ABV

This super youthful, bright young, ruby hued red comes from Bordeaux and has pronounced flavours of blackcurrant, blackberry and black cherry with almond, cedar and clove notes kicking in on the palate. It’s a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant Cru Bourgeois (a category that has to be applied for each year by quality minded wine producers). It is dry with high acidity, big smooth tannins and a lingering finish. It’s commanding now and it has outstanding aging potential for up to 10 years, possibly longer  in a cool, dark cellar – or in similar conditions.

Available in New Zealand from 1 September from accentonwine.co.nz


The Bordeaux white above reminds me of a trio of outstanding New Zealand whites, the makers of two consistently shine a fresh light on New Zealand whites by taking Sauvignon Blanc and blending it with Semillon. They are Te Mata Estate in Hawke’s Bay (Cape Crest – a barrel fermented Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc) and Pegasus Bay’s North Canterbury SSB;  barrel fermented, rich in flavour, full bodied, high in acidity, long on flavour and affordable.

The third wine is a rare 100% Semillon from Sileni Estates in Hawke’s Bay, which begs the question: why don’t we make more Semillon in New Zealand these days? Our winemaking, packaging and understanding of vineyard sites has never been better and there has never been less Semillon grown – nor has it ever tasted better. It’s a pretty small production run of Semillon that is made at Sileni but the quality is outstanding and, due to this grape’s naturally high acidity, it has incredible potential to age well too – gaining flavour as it does.