Transformers – wines to keep

Five of the best wines to cellar

There’s a common (mis)perception that the only wines worth building a wine cellar with are incredibly pricey, usually from Europe and often inaccessibly hard to find, but history reveals that most wines improve after a year or two in the bottle. A large number improve for 5 years and many for a decade – or more. It all depends what flavours you like, how patient you are and how much dosh you want to spend.

The world is changing and so are the wines worth keeping.

Who would have thought a $10 Aussie white (Jacob’s Creek Riesling) or a $20 Sicilian red (Cent’are Nero d’Avola) or a $60 Central Otago Pinot (Bannock Brae) would change positively beyond recognition after 10 years in the bottle. And they were cellared in less than perfect conditions, namely, the humid basement of an Auckland house I shared in Grey Lynn in the 2000s, followed by the draughty cupboard in a dilapidated 1800s Auckland cottage on the cold east face of Arch Hill.

The key to cellaring is to choose wines that can change for the better. This is usually determined by high amounts of tannin in reds, acid in whites or sweetness in botrytised and other late harvest styles. Tannins, acids and sugars are all preservatives.

Then there’s the issue of where to keep them. Most of us don’t have a wine cellar or a house with an underground space that could become one. The answer is to build. This can cost a large amount or a modest one, if it’s in a small cupboard, an unused room or even an insulated garden shed.

Like the wine choice, the physical cellar space can be optimised if  left to the experts, such as those at White Refrigeration;

Here are five top wines that are worth keeping for at least five years, in some cases, far longer. All are available now.

The Central Otago Pinot 

2014 Bannock Brae Central Otago Pinot Noir $60

Many of us wax lyrical about Central Otago Pinot Noir and its fruit bomb flavours but I prefer these wines after 8 or 9 years of leaving them to their cherry fruit and oak/cedar devices. A bottle of 2007 Bannock Brae Pinot Noir tasted last year is a great case in point. I stumbled upon it when moving house and was more than  pleasantly surprised by its earthy rich flavours; I remember tasting it back in 2009 and thinking it was nice but this was a revelation.

The new 2014 Bannock Brae Pinot Noir ticks all the drink-me-right-now boxes – dry, full bodied, fruity and spicy – but it’ll be so much better in another 8-9 years.

The southern white

 2015 Ceres Black Rabbit Vineyard Riesling $22

Central Otago winemakers may have most of their eggs in the red wine basket (80% of the region is planted with Pinot Noir grapes) but this cool southern area is ideally suited to a cool, crisp white wines, such as the Ceres Black Rabbit Riesling (winner of a pure gold medal at the 2015 Air New Zealand Wine Awards), which tastes like succulent limes, fresh crunchy green apples and lemon curd. It’s refreshing and crisp with very high acidity, which means it will age superbly for up to a decade; possibly beyond.

The keeper Shiraz

2010 Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz $40

Originally Bin 28 was named after the Kalimna Vineyard, which Penfolds Wines bought in 1945, but the words South Australia on the front label mean this is a multi-regional blend of grapes from this reliably warm, Mediterranean-style climate. This is ideal for Shiraz, which needs heat to develop its trademark dense dark fruit, spicy, robust tannins flavours, which wines like this one absolute winners –right now, if you like the big-is-best style or in another 15 to 20 years, if you prefer to taste smooth, savoury, earthy and impressively long lived reds, as a bottle I opened from my cellar two years ago showed.

The budget bargain

2015 Jacob’s Creek Classic Riesling $10.59

Bottles this good are rare anywhere in the world. It’s a wonder it doesn’t cost double because of its ability to transform positively for 10 years, which give it the breathing space to taste all about fresh lemons and limes and crisp red apples with notes of honey and white flowers. That’s no mean feat for a wine that costs $10.

The big red

2014 Vidal Hawke’s Bay Legacy Syrah $79.99

It’s a high price but this is from arguably the better of two exceptionally warm, dry years (rarities in New Zealand’s maritime climate); 2013 was the first and the 2014 reds are now proving to have the muscle, the power and the savoury dark spice flavours that can age exceptionally well for up to a decade, perhaps far beyond.

All of these wines were tasted by me in the past six months and all are currently available.

Big buttery Chardonnays in hot demand

Wellingtonians tasted the tip of the big buttery Chardonnay iceberg at a tasting at Regional Wines & Spirits last night, hosted by yours truly.

The tasting was a sell out because Chardonnay’s popularity is on the rise. This white grape has nearly doubled globally since its creamiest peak in the 1980s when there were 100,000 hectares of it planted . Today, there are nearly 200,000 hectares of Chardonnay in the world, according to the new 2015 release of the latest Oxford Companion to Wine, edited by Masters of Wine Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding.

Where does New Zealand sit in relation to Chardonnay? We look pretty static. Chardonnay has actually shrunk over the past decade from 3,779 hectares in 2006 to 3,361 hectares today. This does not seem to bode well for quantity but it could be suggested that the quality and consistency of New Zealand Chardonnay has never been better, to judge by the potential of Kiwi Chardonnays to age well.

Still, in comparison to our other leading white grapes, Chardonnay needs a push. Back in 2006 there were 8,860 hectares of Sauvignon Blanc and now there are over 20,000 and Pinot Gris has risen inexplicably from 700 hectares to 2400, and then some.

This is inexplicable, to me, because Chardonnay has an easy lead on Pinot Gris in New Zealand in terms of character, quality and consistency of style. Not to mention the potential of this country’s top Chardonnays (and some pretty swish medium priced ones too) to age beautifully for up to, and often beyond, a decade in the bottle.

The big buttery Chardonnays tasted at Regional Wines & Spirits, Thursday 9 June

2014 Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay, Auckland

2015 Tony Bish Summertime Gisborne Chardonnay

2013 Pegasus Bay Chardonnay North Canterbury

2012 Villa Maria Gisborne Chardonnay

2012 Shaw + Smith M3 Adelaide Hills Chardonnay

2013 Saumaize Pouilly-Fuse

2013 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay

2015 Esk Valley Winemaker’s Reserve Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay

2011 Louis Jadot Meursault Narvaux




Wine 101: what did we taste?

It’s been a long time (three weeks) between drinks for those who came along to Wine 101 at Regional Wines in Wellington last month (May 2016). Here is the drinks list – the wines we tried total approximately $1100, which cost each person $120 all up, which equates to $40 per night. Pretty good value for such a vast range of wines.

I taught the course. We covered tasting concepts, winemaking geography and even aimed to debunk some of the mystery surrounding wine. The aim of Wine 101 is to provide knowledge, have fun and remove the intimidation that can surround wine.

The three night course saw us travel in our glasses from France’s Loire Valley where we tasted Chenin Blanc from Savennieres, a small appellation controlee (AC – French for legally defined wine production area) to the northern Rhone Valley to Saint Joseph (Syrah) followed by a stint in the Cotes-du-Rhone, taking in Sicily, Spain and Australia on the way to one of the world’s wine giants – Argentina, home to Malbec made from grapes grown in the foothills of the massive Andes mountains.
We then headed back north to try a Barbaresco DOCG from Produttori, a quality focussed winemaking cooperative in north west Italy’s Piemonte region, which takes its name from its geography. Piemonte literally means ‘foot of the mountains’.

We promised to publish the list of wines we tasted over the three night course. Prices and vintages listed are taken from what was available on the store shelves, however, if anyone is aware of any inconsistencies, let me know and I will amend the list.
Grape varieties are in brackets beneath those wines whose identities may not be clear; for instance, it may be obvious to some tasters that Saint Joseph is a 100% Syrah from the northern Rhone but not everyone knows this. And few wine drinkers have heard of Nerello Mascalese from Mount Etna, that active volcano on Sicily.  Nerello Mascalese is a black grape from the chilly volcanic slopes of Mount Etna and it was one of the most popular reds of the course. All wines were tasted with their identities concealed.

All of these wines are available at Regional Wines in Wellington.


The whites

2014 Zephyr Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc $16.95

2013 Dog Point Marlborough Section 94 $35.20

2012 Baumard Savennieres Clos du Saint Yves, France $35.40

2014 Denis Race Chablis, France $26.95

2014 Vasse Felix Margaret River Filius Chardonnay, Australia $29.35

2013 Ansgar Clusserath Vom Schiefer Feinherb, Germany $30.25

2013 Clemensbusch Marienburg Kabinett, Germany $38.25

2015 Mahana Nelson Riesling $23.25

2014 Anne-Laure Alsace Pinot Gris, France $25.80

2008 Umani Ronchi Classico Riserva Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, Italia $34.20

The reds

2014 Allegrini Valpolicella DOC, Italia $32.60
(Corvina, Molinara and Rondinella)

2014 Pierre-Marie Clermette Les Griottes Beaujolais, France $24.55 (Gamay) 

2013 Te Mania Nelson Pinot Noir $23.75

2014 Two Paddocks The Fusilier Pinot Noir Central Otago $75

2013 Giolamo Russo a Rina Etna Rosso Sicilia, Italia $42.10
(Nerello Mascallese)

2013 Saint-Francois Xavier Cotes-du-Rhone, France $18.85

(Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre)

2003 Lopez de Heredia Rioja Alta Vina Tondonia Reserva, Spain $67.25

(Tempranillo 75%, Garnacha 15%, Graciano 10% and Mazuelo 10%)

2012 Montachez Mendoza Malbec, Argentina $29.65

2013 Domaine Equis Saint-Joseph Graillot, France $44.95

2013 McDonald Series Hawke’s Bay Syrah $29.95

2010 Produttori del Barbaresceo DOCG, Italia $57.95

Sparkling wines

Castello del Poggio Moscato, Italia $25.95

(Moscato; aka Muscat)

Riodo Prosecco, Italia $14.95


Dibon Cava $16.95

(Macabeo, Parellada and Xarello)

Cambridge Road The Naturalist, Martinborough $28.50

(Pinot Gris 48%, Pinot Noir 39% and Chardonnay 13%)

2012 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Calistoga, California $59.45


Champagne Perrier-Jouet NV, France $99

Champagne Gatinois Ay Grand Cru, France $54.95


Fortified wines

Lustau Almacenista Oloroso Pata de Gallina, Spain $39.95


Graham’s Fine Tawny Port, Portugal $43.25

(Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo)