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Sue Courtney's blog of Vinous Rambling's

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Welcome to Sue Courtney's web log (blog) of vinous ramblings.  One day I'll update it to proper blogger software but right now I haven't the time to research which blogging software is best, nor do I have the time to teach myself how to use it.  I'll stick to archaic html to record my daily events.  It's my on line journal and an adjunct to my website which is for more formal tasting notes and articles.

You'll find links to other wine blogs on my Vinous Links page.

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Archive: January 1st to January 17th 2007
Jan 17th: James Love
Jan 15th: Matariki Chardonnay and corked NZ Pinot Noir
Jan 13th: Pomegranate and Pink Wines
Jan 12th: Wynns Coonawarra Rhine Riesling 1982
Jan 11th: First Glass Wednesday summary
Jan 9th: Book Review: H ow to Cook a Tart
Jan 7th: West Brook visit
Jan 6th: Gazpacho
Jan 5th: Roasted Peppers and Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
Jan 4th: Fluffy Omelet and Snapper with Sauteed Pears
Jan 3rd: Richmond Grove Riesling
Jan 2nd: Sumac
Jan 1st: The last night of last year
Other Entries

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
January 17th 2007

"Have you tried the wines yet," asked James Love when he telephoned on Monday morning. This is a man with a *loverly* name, you have to agree. He had sent me three wines to try - a mini vertical of pinot noir from the 2003, 2004 and 2005 vintages. They arrived just before Christmas.

"Not yet, I've been on holiday," I replied, promising that I’d get on to it as soon as I could. So last night I made the tasting my highest priority.

James Love is one of Central Otago's newer producers, changing from a farming focus to join the pinot rush at a similar time to many others seeking their fortune in the grape. The stony, 4-hectare, pinot noir vineyard is in the Alexandra subregion of Central Otago, in Hillview Road, on an elevated plateau close to the airstrip. A number of other growers have vineyards here too.

James contracted David Grant of the William Hill Winery in nearby Springvale to make the wines and the first vintage was 2002. Named 'Centago' Pinot Noir it won a silver medal in the Air NZ Wine Awards. A name change to James Love Pinot Noir took place for successive vintages. The 2003 went on to win a gold medal at the Bragato Wine Awards as well as a gold medal in a wine competition in Switzerland. awards for growers rather than producers.

I thought about the growing seasons before I tasted the wines.

2003 was a good year for pinot noir in Central Otago in my opinion. However it came on the heels of a hot 2002, a year that produced intensely coloured, lusciously flavoured, heady, alcoholic pinots. So 2003 was poo-pooed by some people because the wines did not have the upfront seductiveness of colour and taste than those in 2002. But with 2003 being cooler and alcohols lower, I thought that in many cases it allowed more of ethereal pinot noir characters to be displayed.

2004 was 'one of those years' that you don't want history to repeat. With dramatically cold and frosty episodes at each end of the season, harvest was late, too late for some growers in the Gibbston Valley who succumbed to frost in the spring and again in the autumn. If the fruit was ripe it could have been saved, but with some of the vines that I saw when I passed through, veraison hadn't even been completed when the autumn frosts hit. A lighter vintage on average, nevertheless there have been some remarkably concentrated wines, in particular Peregrine and Rockburn, two of my favourites.

2005 started with a frost free spring but yields would be disastrously low - a knock-on effect of the previous season then rain during the fruit set period hammering in the nail. But low yields can result in concentrated wines and that has been apparent in some of wines from 2005 already although many are tightly bound at this stage of their life. They need longer to unfold, to reveal some of the subtle intricacies to the best.

So what about the James Love wines? And how would they match to the meal I had prepared, an array of flavours to tempt different intricacies out of any pinot noir. There was crispy fried salmon fillet cooked in a thyme butter. There was a vegetable side of potatoes, mushrooms and thyme. There was a salad sprinkled with fresh pomegranate seeds and finished with a fresh pomegranate juice dressing. And last there was the cheese course, a creamy piquant blue.

James Love Central Otago Pinot Noir 2003
Deep red, but without any purple hues, it smells of bittersweet red berry fruit - like cherries and guavas and cranberries - together with earthy notes and savoury tones, even a hint of smoky bacon. It's quite mellow already, soft and savoury with that bittersweet fruit, leather, rose petals, mulled wine spices, hints of chocolate and plush velvety tannins add to the full-bodied mouthfeel while the acidity pushes through to bring a zesty flair to the lingering finish. I thought it very good. This wine was best with the potato, mushroom and thyme dish. The other foods tended to enhance the acidity in the wine. It contains 14% alcohol by volume and is sealed with a screwcap, and cost around NZ$33 when it was available.  You can probably still buy it if you live in Antwerp.

James Love Central Otago Pinot Noir 2004
Not so expressive on the nose, but from the savoury tones emerges some sweetish smelling, ripe maraschino-like cherry fruit. It's lighter in the palate too, again those hints of leather and plenty of underlying acidity that expresses itself like chocolate-covered raspberries. The tannins are firmer than in the 2003. And the finish is savoury and just a little mocha-like. However this lighter style with its light berryish flavours is a winner with food. It contains 13.7% alcohol by volume, is sealed with a screwcap and costs about NZ$26. It was perfect with the salmon and played beautifully with the pomegranate in the salad.

James Love Central Otago Pinot Noir 2005
Remarkably, this smells very similar to the 2004, just a tad more spicier and much more expressive, however it is deeper in colour with purple tints to the crimson red hue and it tastes quite different with its nutty oak, dry tannins, an array of oriental spices and earthy tones. Guava and cranberry fruit give way to ripe cherry and plum that emerge to linger on the finish, a deep, dark, savoury finish with a subtle, sexy, musky veneer. The wine has long term potential but right now it needs cheese or something soft and creamy to cut through the tannins. Because of this I added the cheese course to the meal. And with the cheese cutting through the tannins, it was a great success. But the wine was too sharp for the salmon and didn’t work with the potato dish either. It contains 13.2% alcohol by volume and is sealed with a screwcap. Not yet released, anticipated retail is NZ$29.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
January 15th 2007

It was a birthday party yesterday, a big birthday for one of our wine drinking friends.  The weather came right at the last minute, thank goodness.  Everyone took a bottle or two - special wines from their cellars for this special occasion. There were some absolutely delicious wines doing the rounds. I purposely left my notebook in my handbag, though, so can only report on our contribution to the proceedings, because I made specific mental notes.

One was the Matariki Reserve Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2004, a concentrated savoury, barrel-fermented style from a fantastic Hawkes Bay vintage for chardonnay. The wine is developing beautifully and the rich, ripe stonefruit flavours sang to the toasty oak backbone. I highly recommend it.

The other was a New Zealand Reserve Pinot Noir 2000, a wine that was produced for Pinot Noir 2001 - the first pinot noir marketing conference that is now held every few years in Wellington.  The wine was a blend of wines from every participating producer. Unfortunately this was not such a tasty experience. It has lost a lot of colour and tasted thin and weedy - and the weeds were where a wet dog had lain down to sunbake after a dip in a chlorine pool. The cork looked good, but it had tainted the wine. It happens from time to time. It happened this time.   It was disappointing. A $60 wine down the drain.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
January 13th 2007

Have you ever squeezed a pomegranate? I did last night for the first time. It's a sensual feeling as the little orbs of juice explode under the pressure of the tightened palm of your hand and a visual marvel as they dribble out their bright pinky-crimson red juices into the waiting white dish, which gives the best contrast for the vibrant colour. I'd picked up a couple of pomegrantes (imported into NZ from the USA) from the fruit store, picking the oldest-looking and gnarliest ones, as I've heard they are the best. Now I was using the juice and seeds to make a dressing for our meal - a chicken dish, tender fillets rolled in a mixture of flour, ground cumin and ground coriander and sauteed in a little oil. The pomegranate dressing provided a delicious bittersweet contrast to the spices and well as being a perfect match to the two pink wines we were accompanying the meal with.
It was a night of celebration, you see, after some very good news.
"A bottle of bubbles," I suggested. "What's in the fridge?"
There's always some bubbles in the fridge lying in waiting, just in case we felt like popping a cork when we least expected to.
"What about this?" he said. He had just discovered the bottle of Laurent Perrier Cuvée Rose NV that I had received for a Christmas present just over two years ago. It had been in the fridge for almost that length of time, waiting for just this occasion.
"Perfect," I replied.
pomegranate.jpg (32301 bytes)He popped the cork and filled the glasses, the froth rising and falling as the bubbles rapidly popped. Chink, chink.
I know that people say you shouldn’t keep your fizz in the fridge for this length of time, but the wine certainly hadn't deteriorated because of it. It was a pretty pink with a slight strawberry hue. There was lots of foam in the mouth and zesty bubbles tickled the tongue.  It tasted slightly sweetish - just off dry - with a rosehip tartness to the delicate strawberry flavour and a savouriness from the rich yeasty backbone. Everything you expect from classy fizz.
After two glasses, when there was hardly anything left in the bottle, I decided I had better cook dinner. And what better way to find out how pomegranate matches to pink champagne, than trying the combo out.
The juice was enhanced with a squeeze of fresh tangelo (from the tree in the back garden) and a dash of mango balsamic to add a piquant edge. Pomegranate seeds and cubes of watermelon completed the dressing. The chicken was served atop sauteed potatoes and topped with salad greens and the dressing. It was thrown together rather hastily and didn’t look as good as I wanted it, and it didn’t help that when I scattered pomegranate seeds around the edge of the plate they slipped down into the food because the plate was curved. But it tasted so delish. So I'm going to perfect the recipe for presentation, which also means finding a flat plate to serve it on.
Anyway, as pink wine went so well, we finished the dinner with the remains of the Vavasour Rose 2006 from the Awatere Valley in the South Island. Made from 100% cabernet franc, this is easily one of the best pink wines to come out of NZ - I'll write more about this in my Wine of the Week. Later we wondered if anyone had ever made a pink wine like this into fizz.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
January 12th 2007

"I've found a bottle that needs urgently drinking," said Neil yesterday after he had arranged a few boxes of wines. It was a Wynns Coonawarra Rhine Riesling 1982, a wine we had bought years ago - a wine we had actually bought at Wynns winery in Coonawarra on a trip there in 1992. We had forgotten about it. It was badly ullaged, hence Neil's concern.
Wynns Coonawarra Rhine Riesling 1982The cork broke on extraction but Neil managed to get it out in two pieces - thank goodness, I wouldn't want that truffle-smelling cork dropping into the liquid, no matter how much truffles are revered.
The wine had turned an orange-bronze colour, clear with an oily lustre, like a polished piece of kauri gum (a resinous amber-like substance from NZ's kauri tree) with golden orange glints.
Amazingly there was still a hint of riesling character on the nose, not abundant, but a hint once the bottle stink was given time to blow off. It started to smell like semi-dried apricots or semi-dried nectarines. The acidity was still there, a little zingy, a bit like lemon peel, while a hint of honey added sweetness to the dry finish where those apricot/nectarine flavours emerged again. So all was not lost but it would have been better if the cork hadn't failed. It was a little like sherry without the flor character and without the alcohol. But the Riesling character eventually found its way out and took over, leaving that aldehydic character a distant memory.
I had a creamy blue in the fridge and some fresh apricots. How would a piece of creamy blue atop a slice of fresh apricot taste with the wine? Not too bad at all. But I preferred the wine with the cheese on its own, the piquancy of the blue cutting through the mellow liquid. Like cheese on apricot conserve.
"It's getting richer. It's getting oilier," said Neil.
I had to agree as I inhaled the nutty shortbread aromas that had developed.
"We've got to drink more of these old wines," I said.
"Yeah," he said.

Postscript: We googled Wynns Coonawarra Rhine Riesling 1982 and found it had been produced under screwcap, although obviously a different bottling and labelling, as it was described as having ludicrous Gothic lettering. Lettering aside, if only we had been offered that option!!!! We would be drinking heaven rather than a formerly heavenly wine on its way to heaven.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
January 11th 2007

It was the First Glass Wednesday tasting last night and a good crowd of about 70 people turned up to First Glass Wines and Spirits in Takapuna.  Kingsley Wood, the owner of First Glass, has changed the format for January to a rather more affair casual affair than usual.
The night started with three wines tasted blind from bottles hidden inside bags placed at two stations in the room.  The idea was to guess each wine from three options for each wine on a piece of paper, tick the right options, fill in your name, fold up the piece of paper and put it in the empty ice bucket.  A winner was drawn at the end of the night.  I didn't do very well. I only got the Marlborough sauvignon blanc right.  It was the gold medal winning Sacred Hill Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2006, so distinctive, it could not have been from Hawkes Bay or Waipara - the other options.  It was my lifesaver. Because I got that right, I didn't end up as a 'weakest link', which would tell everyone I had all three wrong.  You see I couldn't tell the difference between a Martinborough chardonnay and an Australian chardonnay (it was the Fairmont Waipara Chardonnay 2004), and I couldn't tell the difference between an Australian semillon and an Australian viognier (it was the Stonehaven Limestone Coast Viognier 2004). Never mind, there's always next week.

Then were were a further 10 wines tasted blind, but as people were now seated, they were poured for us. We played options on every wine, some wines having just one question, some more. It was a honesty thing.  You held your hand up for your preferred option.  If you were wrong when the answer was revealed, then you were out until a winner was found from the remaining people, then everyone came back in again.   The questions sometimes spanned two or three wines.

We started this more 'formal' part with two sauvignon blancs, both from Saint Clair.  First was the stock standard Saint Clair Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2006.  This outstanding wine is light and fresh and simply dances across the palate. It's a bargain for $16.99 and such an every day wine too, because the second wine was rich, pungent and full-bodied.  It was Cuisine Magazine's top wine in their recent sauvignon blanc tasting and the Air New Zealand Wine Award's trophy winner, the Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2006. It really needs food to tame its power.

Next up was the Karikari Estate Chardonnay 2005 from Northland. I was in the running for this wine but got the region wrong, plumping for Hawkes Bay from the three options of Marlborough, Hawkes Bay and Northland. "If anyone should have got this right, it should have been you," taunted Kingsley, knowing I had been up at Karikari Winery in early December.  "Yeh, but I had this wine with crayfish," was my excuse. True.  And it tastes different - and a little more oaky - without food.

Te Mata Elston Chardonnay 2005 was the next wine, and it is outstanding.  I may have done this wine a disservice by leaving it out of my Wines of the Year. I went for Margaret River as the region, but as soon as it was revealed that it was from Hawkes Bay, I wrote down 'Te Mata' because it is such a unique Hawkes Bay wine. It has a powerful acid structure, rich creamy flavours, hints of pineapple, Burgundian-like qualities and total class. 

Melness Canterbury Riesling 2005 was another confusing wine. It smelt like gewurztraminer with its bowl of rose petal aromas, but the acid structure of the wine was nothing like gewurz. That's because it was riesling.  I love this sweetish, low alcohol style.  Evidently the Melness brand has been bought by Kahurangi Wines in Nelson.  I'm not sure what has happened to the Melness vineyard near Christchurch.

Two pinot noirs followed, the light-bodied Mt Rosa Saxon Pinot Noir 2003 from Central Otago, and the succulent and rather appealing Wither Hills Pinot Noir 2004 from Marlborough.  The latter wine was fading in colour, but everything was there in the palate, so much better than when tasted in June last year.  Must have been a faulty bottle back then. 

The pinots were were followed by a stinky Italian wine, the Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro Chianti Classico Riserva 2001. It you can get past the Brett (a yeast infection) there are some lovely flavours in this rich, earthy, full-bodied wine, but there was abundant sheep poo on the nose, and the smell of the empty glass further endorsed this farmyard character.

Last were two Aussie shirazes, the soft, sweetish and easy drinking Bremerton Selkirk Shiraz 2004 from Langhorne Creek, and the stellar, cellar worthy Grant Burge Filsell Shiraz 2004 from the Barossa Valley.

The full notes for these wines will be on my Wednesday Roundup page late Friday.  I have to wait to get the prices confirmed because all of the wines are sold at 'special' prices on the night.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
January 9th 2007

howtocookatart.jpg (6485 bytes)I've just finished reading Nina Killham's 'How to cook a Tart' (ISBN 0749933070 Judy Piatkus Publishers, 2002).
It's fiction and it's funny. Anthony Bourdain described it as 'painfully funny', although I wouldn't go that far as it took a long time before audible laughter escaped from my lips. Still, a smile was never far away.
It's a 'light' fun read, or should I say 'heavy' fun read, because the 'heroine' is fat cook, Jasmine March. Food is her life. She uses whipped cream as face cream; she uses truffle oil as perfume.
Jasmine is one person who can cook the most decadent dishes and though they may be laden with calories, who cares when they taste so good and are the perfect matches to the wine that Jasmine has carefully chosen. She knows how to taste wine and she knows what wine to match to her food to bring the best out in both. I felt cravings more than once.
But people did care about the fat laden food. Her daughter for one, but in particular her publisher, who dropped her because her recipes were against the diet-fad trend. And her husband strayed as well, strayed into a diet regime, strayed into an extra-martial affair.
The opening paragraph begins with Jasmine's discovery of her husband's 'nubile lover', dead on her kitchen floor. The next paragraph takes us back to the morning, two months before to the day, when it all began to go wrong.
But Jasmine would triumph in the end - or would she? The way she paid back her husband's adultery was priceless.
The story is told in four or five voices. But there was something about 80% through the story where the ends were never tied up. I had to go flick the pages afterwards, to see if I had missed something, but it was the story that was missing something. Nevertheless it was a good read for a rainy day - or a rainy two days - with chapter after chapter of sensuous food napped with wit and a heavy metaphor seasoning.
You may not be able to stomach the last meal in the book, but as you are reading it, just remember, it's fiction.
Author Nina Killham, a former food writer with the Washington Post and other magazines, is now living in London. She knows her food well. It shows in her writing.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
January 7th 2007

vinousatwestbrook.jpg (32024 bytes)It was a car club outing today and West Brook Winery was the destination. It's one of the closest wineries to Auckland city but nestled in the Waimauku countryside it's far away from the hustle and bustle.  It's almost so far off the beaten track, it's a real destination.  A wine tasting had been arranged and to cater for our group it was held in the cool of the winery.

Anthony Ivicevich , who owns the winery with his wife Sue, hosted the tasting for 30 keen tasters. We tasted seven wines in total for a cost of $4 per person, and got to keep the glass.

Although they grow grapes in their home vineyard, much of the production comes from Marlborough and all of the wines have screwcaps.

West Brook Marlborough Riesling 2005   ($17.95) is starting to develop some fusel notes.  It's an off dry style with granny smith and lemon flavours and a touch of earthy honey.  Served chilled it's a refreshing, zing, zesty drink.

Blue Ridge Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2005 ($21.95), served chilled, is a little restrained on the nose but it tastes rich and mellow with gooseberry, peach and melon flavours over a zesty, citrus backbone with distinctive peasy notes on the long, tasty finish.  With 5% barrel-ferment, it's full-bodied in style and well-balanced.

West Brook Barrique Fermented Marlborough Chardonnay 2004 ($18.95) is golden in colour with creamy vanillin oak and buttered peach aromas and butter, coconut, citrus and stonefruit integrating into the backbone of seasoned oak.

West Brook Marlborough Rose 2005 ($10) is made from 100% pinot noir.  It 's a macerated strawberry colour, it smells of rose and strawberries and the taste is upfront strawberry underpinned by slightly leathery tannins and a citrussy rosehip finish. I found it a little cloying.

West Brook Waimauku Merlot Malbec Rose 2006 ($18.95) is made from the estate's own fruit.  It's a little more delicate and overall much fresher and cleaner with cherry aromas and spicy zesty flavours full of plum and cheery fruit. A perfect light-bodied rose for summer.

Blue Ridge Marlborough Pinot Noir 2005 ($28.95)  is soft and supple with perfumed, savoury smoky bacon aromas and strawberry, chocolate, berry and savoury forest floor flavours with spicy oak and rose petals emerging on the concentrated finish. It's the wine I chose to accompany our picnic lunch.

Blue Ridge Merlot Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 ($24.95) is a rich, robust leathery wine with concentration and depth to the colour and flavour.  There's smoky savoury oak on the nose, berries and plums in the palate, with an earthy richness from the malbec and rose petals on the lingering finish. The potential is clearly there, but the wine will benefit from more cellaring.

Back in the tasting room, where drop-in visitors (not in large groups) can taste the wines for free, I had a taste of the West Brook Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2006 ($17.95).  It's a little subdued on the nose but full of fresh flavoured zingy gooseberry, apple and citrus with a hint of melon and a good dollop of summery herbs.

On the Web:

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
January 6th 2007

Today I made the Gazpacho using the vegetables I roasted yesterday. Making this chilled tomato soup with roasted vegetables adds richness and concentration to the flavour. I think I prefer it this way than when made with raw ingredients. It's not so tangy either and the onion flavours are a little more subtle.

Ingredients were 10 of the roasted tomato halves and two halves each of the roasted yellow capsicums and roasted red capsicums together with one small roasted red onion (or half of a large roasted red onion) and 2 or 3 cloves of roasted garlic with the paper skin removed.  Place in a blender with about 3 inches of peeled and chopped up telegraph cucumber, 1 teaspoon of sugar, 2 tablespoons of good balsamic and a tablespoon or two (depending on your taste) of sweet chilli sauce. Pulse in the blender to a chunky consistency, pour into a bowl and refrigerate until needed. To serve as soup, use equal quantities of the chunky tomato mix and chilled tomato juice. Add extra fresh basil as a garnish.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
January 5th 2007

As the days heat up, the prices of produce are tumbling so tonight I popped into the green grocers on the way home to pick up tomatoes and capsicums for roasting. They would accompany the spicy basil and chicken sausages we were going to have. They turned out to be very tasty sausages too, although a little too salty I suspect.

I roasted more vegetables than I needed as tomorrow I am going to experiment with a gazpacho using roasted vegetables instead of fresh. I'll tell you later how it goes.

peppersandtomatoes.jpg (42994 bytes)Preparing tomatoes for roasting is easy. Choose blemish-free vine ripened tomatoes if you can. I used tomatoes that were bigger than a golf ball but smaller than a tennis ball. Wash them. Dry them. Cut them in half through the equator and arrange them in a baking dish lined with baking paper (which makes for easier cleaning up later) with the cut side up. Sprinkle each halve with salt, freshly ground black or multi-colour peppercorns, 1/4 teaspoon of sugar, a few drops each of good balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, a sliver of two of finely sliced garlic and a basil leaf that has been dipped into the oil.

Pop into the middle tray of an oven that has been pre-warmed to 160 degrees C, bake for half an hour with the fan on, and then for another half an hour with the fan off.

The capsicums were also washed, dried and halved - but this time through the stalk and tip ends. Into each half a few drops each of good balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil went in together with slivers of garlic and a basil leaf. They were arranged on a tray and in the leftover space some red onions and whole cloves of garlic were added. They were put into the oven at the same time as the tomatoes on the bottom oven tray, although they were removed 15 minutes before the tomatoes, cooking 45 minutes in total.

To match the meal I chose a sauvignon blanc, as some of the 2006 vintage sauvignon blancs had been an utterly fantastic accompaniment to tomatoes and salad foods in the last three months of 2006.

Hunters Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2006 was opened first, but I found the wine a little dull and sweaty in character and it wasn't a resounding success with the dish.

Jackson Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2006 was consequently opened and the crisp, zesty, grapefruity flavours were overall more vibrant and the wine was a much better match.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
January 4th 2007

A fluffy omelet to start another beautiful summer's day. Eggs are separated, the yolks go into one bowl and the whites in the other. I bought a hand egg beater last year and its perfect for whisking whites. They didn't take long to grow about 8 to 10 times their size in volume and form soft peaks. The yolks only seemed to double in size and I added a dash of milk as well. Gently folding in the whites is the key to success, I'm told. A little butter in the pan and then the eggs went in. Sauteed mushrooms with a whisper of garlic and copious amounts of parsley from the garden for the filling. No other seasoning was used and none was added at the table. It wasn't necessary.

Christine had left a gazpacho for lunch. I just had to thin it down with tomato juice for serving. "Do you want to try some, Mum?" I asked. I told her it was a chilled soup and gave her a large tablespoonful in a tiny dish, together with a teaspoon. She screwed her face up at the first mouthful and the second, but by the third she was getting used to the tart flavour. Nevertheless, I warmed up some of Chrissie's potato soup instead. That was more to her pleasing.

Their lounge has a grandstand view of the Hauraki Gulf with Rangitoto the backdrop. So after lunch we settled there and watched the 470's yachting championships taking place. The new binoculars they bought themselves for Christmas were great.

I bought fish for dinner, snapper at $31.99 a kilo!!!! Still the only other options were terakihi and tiny fillets of gurnard and the terakihi didn't look as translucent and fresh as the snapper. Seeing the fish cost so much, I thought 'what the heck' and bought a dozen scallops too. It cost a $20 note and some of the new-fangled coins.

What wine goes best with fish? Well it depends on the fish and how it is cooked. I decided to test out several wine styles and chose three pinot gris, one viognier (I only had one), a riesling and a chardonnay. There was a selection of styles and locations. Neil served them blind.

The fish recipe came from a book called 'Slimming with Seafood', produced by the NSW Fish Marketing Authority (ISBN 0 7305 0325 9). I picked it up in Sydney years ago. Not sure if it is still available. 'Ocean Perch and Pear Saute' caught my eye, especially as I had bought some fresh pears. Pears and Pinot Gris would go quite well too, I thought. I had to make some minor adjustments though and as I didn't have any natural non-fat yoghurt in the fridge, I used a full-fat runny cream instead.

snapperwithpears.jpg (22724 bytes)Here's the recipe

Two snapper fillets (about 250 grams)
1 tablespoon butter
1 long green onion (spring onion) finely chopped
1 pear, peeled and sliced
1/8 cup white wine (I used the Bilancia Pinot Gris)
Lemon zest
1/8 cup cream
Salt and pepper (optional)

Melt the butter and gently fry the fish fillet, approx 3 to 4 minutes, turning only one.
Remove fillets to a plate
Saute the spring onion in the pan juices, add the pear slices and cook until tender (but not too soft).
Stir in the white wine, salt and pepper in used, lemon rind and cream. Do not boil.
Return fillets to the pan and spoon the pear saute over. Allow to heat through well before serving.

Serve with green salad and grated carrot.

What a delicious recipe and with the wines it was an utter success. And for the Bilancia Pinot Grigio that was quite neutral in the initial tasting, it brought out characters in the wine that were just waiting to be revealed.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
January 3rd 2007

Summer has finally arrived! It's a gorgeous day and it's going to be hot. Well it is here in Auckland. Evidently they had a very unseasonal frost in Martinborough last night. Frost in January. Who would have thought!

It is back to work on this glorious day for many people, my sisters included, so my daily task of visiting my mother for lunch, has resumed. My sisters leave lunch for Mum and me and it is usually soup. Mum also has ice cream and a sweet sauce to finish. I bought her a Rose Syrup from Heron's Flight Vineyard for Christmas. It smells and tastes like pink coloured Turkish Delight. She quite likes it mixed with chocolate.

Elva had a barbecue tonight in honour of Jane's visit to Auckland and invited folks from the U of A geology department, where Jane and I used to work. I'm usually tasting wine on Wednesday nights but decided to request a leave pass. It was worth it because meeting up with some of these people after all this time was like a blast from the past.

I took a Richmond Grove Limited Release Watervale Riesling 2004.

I always think of Aussie riesling as dry, but this has gorgeous fruit weight to the pure riesling flavours, and even people who don't like 'dry' wine will enjoy this. I know. I tried it on one of those people. He had brought a medium style Marlborough riesling along and when Elva offered drinks, he said he would have a riesling. He said he preferred a medium style but I said, why don't you try this. I gave his a tasting portion. He sipped and swallowed, licked his lips and said, "That's nice. I'll think I'll have a glass of that."

Richmond Grove Limited Release Watervale Riesling 2004 is light golden in colour and full of citrus blossom scents with fruit sweetness to the citrus and juicy loquat-like fruit in the palate with a light toasty complexity that comes from bottle age. It's ripe and clean with richness of palate weight and excellent length. It carries 12% alcohol and costs about $18.95.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
January 2nd 2007

Another lazy morning - it is still the holidays after all. Neil cooked breakfast - scrambled eggs with lots of herbs from the garden. He had found a new nest of eggs in the front garden. Chooks in the front garden, you may exclaim. Well, they are free range and sleep in one of the trees in the back yard, near our bedroom window. They have a house to go to, but prefer to roost in the tree, well off the ground. In the morning, they fly out of the tree and forage in the backyard, then move to the paddocks for more foraging, but they've discovered a way into the garden and now we can't keep them out. Not that they do any damage. After a drought period of eggs, Neil discovered a new nest between the fence and the Paris daisy.

After sitting at the computer for most of the day, seemingly achieving nothing, I said, much to Neil's surprise, "Lets go for a walk." So we donned the cardigans, left the sun screen behind and headed for the beach.

2nd January should have been a busy day at the beach, and it was fairly busy, I guess, but not nearly as busy as expected. The tide was out and the expansive flat area was the playing field for various games of touch, cricket and other ball games, was also the promenade for many walkers. The sunbathers preferred the softer sand up higher.

We had chicken breast, sliced into schnitzel-like slices, for dinner. I liberally doused each schnitzel with SUMAC - a spice that was a new discovery for me last year - and pan-fried each slice in a little rice bran oil.

Sumac is a kind of brownish / reddish / purple in colour - like a brownish/red ochre in some respects - and has a tart/sweet citrussy flavour. When I had it the first time it was a rub on a rack of lamb and went fantastically with the St Johns Road Barossa Valley Shiraz 2005 which, despite its Barossa origin, had a cool climate profile to the flavour. This time I was matching the Sumac coated chicken to Pinot Noir, the left overs from a tasting on the 30th December. It matched deliciously to the two Marlborough pinot noirs, the Aunstfield Long Cow Marlborough Pinot Noir 2004 and the Jackson Estate Vintage Widow Pinot Noir 2005. And even though the Margrain Martinborough Pinot Noir was a little tired, the Sumac seemed to resuscitate the wine. They all got five ticks. Ostler and Pisa Range got four ticks. Lonely Mountain got three. Rimu Grove Nelson Pinot Noir 2004 got two and the Gladstone 12000 Miles Pinot Noir 2005 got one. 

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
January 1st 2007

It was an early start to 2007. Neil and I were staying at my sisters' place (my two sisters share a house) and I couldn't sleep. Never mind the humidity that had me throwing back the duvet cover and sheet, then having to pull them over again when the inevitable prick of cold air had the hairs on my arms raising themselves in alarm. Sleep wasn't helped by the fact that the television set kept switching itself on. "There's something wrong with that television set," my sisters told me later. It was on 'stand by' and I should have gotten up and hit the off button on the set, but that thought never occurred to me each time I hit the off button on the remote, which was firmly embedded in my hand all night. Besides I wanted to watch the ISU Grand Prix of Ice Skating final that was showing on the ESPN channel at 6am.

Neil managed to sleep through all my fidgeting and I managed to sleep through most of the ice skating when it started, missing most of the men's competition. So while the pairs were on, during one of the innumerable breaks (they seemed to occur after every skater), I slipped into the bathroom, showered and dressed, hit the off button on the television set and crept downstairs to the lounge to watch the ice skating there. Neil could now sleep the remnants of the last night of 2006 off, in peace and quiet.

It must have been about 7.30am but the house was quiet as one would expect so early on New Years Day. The kettle was warm. 'They've been up and made a cuppa and gone back to bed,' I thought as I moseyed back to the lounge and flopped into a chair to watch the Bulgarian ice dancers turn on a winning performance. About twenty minutes later a thumping on the deck startled me. It was my sisters returning from an early morning swim at the beach just down the road. Bright and chirpy so early in the year. Good way to start 2007, I guess.

"It was a good night last night," wasn't it, said one of them.

"Mmmmm. Very much so," I thought and reflected.

We'd celebrated at Bev and Graeme's for our annual New Year drinks and dinner, and as usual there was a well chosen selection of everything.

I'd made three plates of nibbles as my food contribution to the meal. One was ricotta cheese in delicate little filo (phyllo) pastry shells - the ricotta toped with slices of strawberry and a grind of black pepper - an absolutely magical match to bubbles - Daniel Number Eight, a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Marlborough. Another plate was a smoked salmon spread on crostini toasts - the spread made from a mixture of 'light' cream cheese and sour cream with chopped up smoked salmon, a squeeze of lemon juice and fennel fern (in place of dill), then topped with a chunk of smoked salmon. This was also delicious with the bubbles as well as matching very well to a 1999 Pegasus Bay Waipara Riesling which had turned quite golden in colour, had garnered a toastiness and lost some of the sweetness I remember it having. It had picked up some slight fusel tones as well. The last plate was crostini toasts topped with a duxelle-like mushroom spread with a touch of Marsala adding an x-factor to the taste. Now these went pretty well with the former two wines, but also were quite a match to the full-bodied and flavoursome Lawson's Marlborough Pinot Gris 2005.

A couple of reds were put out on the counter in anticipation of the impending meal but I thought I'd like to taste the chardonnay we'd bought along, before getting into the reds. We'd taken a Saint Clair Omaka Reserve Marlborough Chardonnay 2000 and a younger backup wine in case it was stuffed, as a Wither Hills Marlborough Chardonnay 2000 we had opened the week before was totally over the hill and ended up being tipped down the sink. But the Saint Clair delivered an impeccable taste of older chardonnay, mellowing but still with a bright acid backbone preserving it from the slippery downhill slope. We all enjoyed a taste of this as we went to the upstairs deck to watch the sun set behind the Waitakere Range for the last time in 2006.

As the guys headed outside to cook the fillet steak on the BBQ, Bev and Jane finished off the accompaniments. There was a bright red tomato and capsicum salad with copious amounts of basil; a green leafy salad endowed with generous slices of avocado; and Jersey Bennie potatoes boiled with mint then coated in a basil pesto.

Now we could break into the reds. Jane had brought the Orlando Jacaranda Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 1996, a wine from a spectacular Australian vintage, while Bev and Graeme's offering was the very un-Australian sounding and un-Australian tasting Casa Freschi Profondo 2002 a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Malbec from the Langhorne Creek area. A stunning wine, rich and savoury, European-like except for its ripeness, quite cool climate in style, my Wine of the Night.

Soon a Mills Reef Elspeth Block 4 Merlot 2002 and a Stonecroft Hawkes Bay Syrah 1996 were uncorked. I didn't taste the Merlot but I'm told it was quite stellar. The Syrah, however, showed beautiful development and although all primary fruit long gone, rose petals floated on a deep pool of silky tannined savoury and spice infused liquid.

Desert was skewers of pineapple, strawberry and mango, with crème fraiche on the side if anyone wanted it. I suggested that the Lambrusco that Elva brought along (producer not recorded) and hadn't been opened earlier, could go quite nicely with the fruit, and it did. Lightly fizzy, very fruity and refreshing, like a sorbet. Then there was the ultra decadent Merlen Magic Chardonnay 2005 from Marlborough. It must have been the winemakers swansong as Merlen Wines no longer exist except in cellars. Pretty gorgeous with the creamy blue. Lastly there was the cake, made especially for Jane's birthday.

It was almost the stroke of twelve when we finished and we raced upstairs to see if we could see the fireworks from the sky tower, but only the top of the sky tower was visible and the occasional spray of firework arced upward. But there were plenty of fireworks on the other side of the upper Waitemata Harbour.

After coffees my non-drinking driver sister whisked us home in the chariot. It was great to be able to stay the night and have a long lazy breakfast with them. The pace had been set for a long, lazy day.

We finally left for home about lunch time, via the garden centre to pick up some plants and pots from the New Years sale.

It was noodle soup for lunch and pasta with ham and tomatoes for dinner. A wine free zone to start the year.

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