Weekly wine talk with Nik Mavromatis – nature in a bottle

Weekly wine talk is published every Friday on this site – and the occasional Monday too.

Nik Mavromatis is a chef turned sales and marketing manager and lover of Barolo. A man who understands that tannic wines are best left alone for a while and that marketing is as important to the success of great wines as the process of winemaking. Not that he would ever say that, of his own role in the process. Mavromatis is part of the team at Greystone Wines in the Waipara Valley, North Canterbury.

He loves wine, he says, because, unlike beer or other alcoholic drinks, wine offers a singular snapshot each year, which cannot be altered.

“The best, most authentic outcome for wine is to see it as a snapshot of its place and time. If you’re trying to use too much oak or too much of anything, then you should probably make beer. You’d probably make more money,” says the man many refer to as Mav.

Meet Nik Mavromatis of Greystone Wines

This is the eleventh interview on this website based on the famous Proust questionnaire, which originated in 1886 – find out more here.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Raising our two children, Marco and Loukas because I think it changes your life and makes you realise you’re more human and less part of the machine.

What is your current state of mind?

Anxious. The state of the world and dealing with people internationally makes me think that we New Zealanders don’t realise how good we have it, compared to the UK, the US and other places.

The definition of the word anxiety in Greek actually means that your mind is being pulled in two directions and that’s a fairly good description of how I feel right now. I’m living with my wife and kids and the sun is shining but the constant negativity feed from around the world makes me wonder if I should be constantly in a state of worry or is that just a thing put on by the world media? Do we need to know how crazy things are in other places, especially when there are things we can’t change?

What is your favourite part of being involved in winemaking?

I’m more around the consumer front so it’s more around wine and food pairings. I think wine is a great representation of nature in a bottle. If we can make that work with food that is similarly reflective of the place and prepared with care, then that is how we can best show our place in the world.

Do you have a most treasured wine?

There are ones there is an emotional attachment. A bottle of Aldo Conterno Barbera that made my wife and I realise that we loved each other. Then there was a 1995 Roc de Cambes Cotes de Bourg and I was trying to impress a girl when I was a young chef, so went to buy a bottle and spent a lot more than I was intending to. We went out to dinner and thought it was amazing. If I tried it now I would probably think it was horribly over ripe but at the time it seemed amazing.

Where is your favourite wine region?

To visit would be the Southern Rhone. To drink would be Piemonte. The Piemonte food is amazing but I like the pretty relaxed attitude in the Southern Rhone. A late autumn day, eating figs and goat cheese, discovering things like red Beaumes de Venise. I remember going to a café in Tavel and rosé being served by the litre. I think it was 10 Euros for a three course lunch and a litre of rosé. The first course was sun ripened tomatoes with sardines on them with a little green salad and a crusty bread.

When and where are you at your happiest?

Throwing clay on my wheel. I’m quite process driven. I like making things and I like the process.

What do you most dislike in wine?

Oak. You might as well add strawberry flavouring as far as I’m concerned. I like barrels and the fermentation thing but that new oak flavour is something I don’t understand. I don’t understand how someone can bang on about terroir then throw lots of oak at a wine.

What is your greatest fear?

Lots of things. I don’t like holding poultry. Not a big fan of it. Public nudity is another fear.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Food. I think you have to love food to love wine. Food is both physical and cultural; it nourishes us, both body and soul.

What is your greatest regret?

Not believing in myself more when I was younger. I had more opportunities than I thought and often took the safer one. You don’t realise when you’re young and free that you should push things as far as you can. You’ve got pretty much nothing to lose when you’re 21.

What talent would you most like to have?

To be able to sing in tune.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Corked wine. I brought back a bottle of my birth year 1978 Cesare Barolo from Italy and opened it on a special birthday for me and it was corked. That was pretty sad.

What is the trait that you most deplore in yourself?

My flat feet.

What do you most value in your friends?


Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Um. I should learn to use it a lot less.

What is your favourite meal?

Avgolemono. Greek egg and lemon soup. It literally means egg and lemon and it’s got a little bit of rice with left over chicken and you just thicken it with lemon and egg yolks. It’s absolutely fantastic. An  absolute chicken soup for the soul, which evokes childhood memories for me. I think that food tastes richer when it brings us memories of love than having a chef prepare something weird and wacky.

Food has a place in our soul that’s more important than something bright and shiny.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing what do you think it would be?

A bottle of Barolo. Tannic and best left alone for a while.


New top 12 from Gimblett Gravels

Today’s Wine Talk interview will be published on Monday morning

Wine of the week

2019 Esk Valley Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec RRP $19.99

This wine is one of the top 12 from the just released 2019 Gimblett Gravels Annual Vintage Selection and it is the lowest price in the line up, which makes it extraordinarily good value for money, given that many of the others cost triple this and some cost six times more.
A little Malbec goes a long way towards adding depth in both colour and flavour to this delicious wine from Esk Valley’s Gordon Russell, who was the first winemaker in New Zealand to have made high quality Malbec. It’s hard to believe it can be this good at this price.

The new top 12 from Gimblett Gravels Wine Growing District

Warmer, wetter, hotter and drier may seem like contradictory descriptions of one vintage but that’s how Mother Nature rolled in the lead up to the 2019 vintage in the Gimblett Gravels Wine Growing District.

The region’s marketing body has just released its annual Top 12 Annual Vintage Selection of reds from 2019 and if there’s one word that sums them up, it is approachability.

There are 800 hectares of grapes planted in the Gimblett Gravels Wine Growing District, 90% of them in red grapes with Merlot in lead position and likely to remain there for the foreseeable. Syrah has displaced Cabernet Sauvignon while Cabernet Franc and Malbec lag way behind as important ingredients for depth of colour, aroma and flavour.

Gimblett Gravels is the most important region in New Zealand for blended red wines and Syrahs. Not only in terms of volume but in terms of sheer consistency in quality. There have been more good to excellent vintages in the past decade in this region and in the wider Hawke’s Bay region than at any other time in this country’s modern wine history but the 2019 vintage is the best yet for the 2019 Gimblett Gravels Annual Vintage Selection. Warm dry weather late in the season ensured high quality across the board after unseasonable rain earlier on with the second wettest September on record in the region. Late spring brought further rainfall and warmer temperatures than usual along with a significant reduction in yields which were 15 to 20% down on average because of the unsettled weather during flowering. If this all sounds like major challenges for winemakers to contend with, well, it is, but the results are superlative wines to drink now and to cellar for years to come.

The Gimblett Gravels Wine Growing District makes up nearly a quarter of Hawke’s Bay’s entire growing area and is the wider region’s largest respected growing sub region, despite many exceptional reds from other parts of the Bay. While there are many other good to very good wines made from the Gravels, this year’s top 12 wines cement (if you’ll excuse the pun) the Gravels District’s street cred.

Two highlights

2019 Squawking Magpie The Nest Gimblett Gravels RRP $49.99

Talk about a fruit explosion thanks to Merlot’s 58% of this deeply fruit forward wine, underpinned with the excellent structure and smoothness of the two Cabernets; Cabernet Sauvignon makes up 25% while Cabernet Franc makes up 17%. The wine spent 18 months in French oak, 30% new and comes out with an alcohol of 13.9% which makes for a rich but balanced flavourful drop from winemaker Jenny Dobson, who shows her hand at understanding the great classic French reds that this wine is modelled on. It has great length and appealing drinkability.

2019 Smith & Sheth Cru Heretaunga Syrah RRP $40

Elegant peppery appeal with rich warm notes of nutmeg and exotic spice supported by fresh black plum and red berry notes. This wine can age but will also reward decanting and serving in large glasses now, preferably with rich meaty flavours such as mushroom risotto with creamy depth and savouriness to match the wine.

The Gimblett Gravels 2019 Annual Vintage Selection

Blended reds

2019 Elephant Hill Hieronymus RRP $125
2019 Esk Valley Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot RRP $19.99
2019 Esk Valley Great Dirt River Gravels Merlot Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon RRP $70
2019 Mission Estate Jewelstone Antoine RRP $50
2019 Pask Declaration Merlot RRP $50
2019 Squawking Magpie The Nest RRP $49.95
2019 Trinity Hill The Gimblett RRP $40


2019 Craggy Range Le Sol RRP $150
2019 Craggy Range Syrah Gimblett Gravels RRP $39.95
2019 Mission Estate Jewelstone Syrah RRP $50
2019 Smith & Sheth Cru Heretaunga Syrah RRP $40
2019 Squawking Magpie Stoned Crow Syrah RRP $49.95

  • All wines are available now except Elephant Hill Hieronymus, which will be released in May 2022.

Turning zero alcohol wine into gin

It’s not every day that a zero alcohol drink inspires a high alcohol one but the newest gin in New Zealand is out of the ordinary in nearly every way. Salvage yards were walked in search of heritage coloured glass to inspire the bottle design and a winery that is removing alcohol from its wines has produced the new Strange Nature Gin.

The gin was launched in New Zealand this week by Giesen Wines, which distils a grape based alcohol from its alcohol removed Sauvignon Blanc.

The gin contains only one botanical, juniper, for which classic traditional gins are best known.

“The Sauvignon Blanc spirit tastes so extraordinary we didn’t want to disguise it,” says Kyle Skene, distiller and Giesen Group general manager, who spent 18 months trialling and refining Strange Nature Gin, prior to its launch.

The gin was put to the taste test this week at Regional Wines & Spirits where a group of key staff smelt and tasted it. A bottle was later sent to yours truly, so I decided to put it to the taste test with two other keen gin devotees.

We road tested it in stem glasses with plenty of ice, no garnishes and good quality tonics that didn’t imprint their own personalities on the spirit.

The result?

Strange Nature may be made from Sauvignon Blanc but the integration of juniper and the double distillation make for an exceptionally clean tasting gin with refreshing purity of flavour and recognisable Sauvignon Blanc personality, nicely integrated with the distinctive juniper peppery notes.

This is the second Sauvignon Blanc based gin I have tried and by far the best. Strange Nature may be an apt name due to the raw material from which this new gin is made, but this fresh new gin more than lives up to being a refreshing and classic newcomer to the gin market. Its price tag compares favourably with other high quality classic gin styles on the market commanding similar prices.

  • Find out more about Strange Nature Gin RRP $89.99 and buy it here