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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.

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Archive: March 17th to March 31st 2007
Mar 31st: Wet, wet, wet!
Mar 29th: Jane Skilton MW and Chateau Duhart Milon
Mar 28th: Crawford Farm Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2006
Mar 27th: Harvest going well
Mar 26th: Marchesi Antinori and Solaia
Mar 25th: Stunning Syrah wins Easter's top prize
Mar 24th: Brandied Mushroom Pies and Pinot Noir
Mar 22nd: A couple of stunning Easter Show golds
Mar 21st: Recent wines, including a delicious, new pinot noir
Mar 19th: Taste, Terroir and the Pursuit of Quality
Mar 18th: 'Gold' Chardonnay in a Retro-Styled Jug
Mar 17th: Corned Beef and Cabbage for St Patrick's Day. What the ....?
Mar 16th: Hawks Nest Orchard Block Red
Other Entries

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
March 31st 2007

Wet, wet, wet!

It's been wet, wet, wet - but now it's fine. Thank goodness, the Northland winemakers say with a big sigh of relief. The 'weather event' that hit Auckland and the north was a big one.

Kerikeri was one of the worst hit towns and at Marsden Estate, near the Kerikeri airport, they had 420 mls in 30 hours. "It's been described as a one-in-150-year event," said Rod McIvor, owner/winemaker, when I spoke to him by phone.
Lake & jetty at Marsden Estate. Photo copyright to The water in the little lake that the winery restaurant overlooks, rose to about half a metre above the jetty and lapped around the toes of the vines on the other side. Pinot Gris was the only variety that had been harvested before the rain came and everything was on track for a great harvest, especially for the Chardonnay, at which Marsden Estates excels. Rod is not too worried, though. "We were expecting rain, but not this much," he said. "I've never seen anything like it."
It's two days since the rain stopped and he feels more positive now.  "If this had happened five years ago, it would have been a disaster," he said.  But with heavy investment into good vineyard practices, open canopies, well spaced bunches and organic sprays, he is confident that the grapes will have the flavours where he wants them when they harvest - in the Chardonnay at least.  He hadn't planned to pick the Chardonnay until the 10th of April, anyway, so that will give the vines plenty of time to recover. The weather forecast is looking good so fingers crossed it stays that way.

Ben Dugdale up at Karikari Estate in the Far North said they had 200ml of rain fall in the deluge but fortunately for them, harvest started on March 2nd and they were 3/4 of the way through when the heavens opened. Ben is ecstatic about the quality of the chardonnay and pleased that they have 10 tonnes more than last year. So chardonnay is in, malbec is in, pinotage is in but there is still one third of the Merlot to pick and most of the Cabernet Sauvignon.
Ben says that while a sudden deluge can dilute the flavours of the grapes nearing harvest, it is the weather that follows the rain that dictates the quality. If it stays damp and warm, it will encourage humidity and the grapes will start to rot. That's not what's happening though. Ben has often talked about the high winds that whip through Karikari Estate's vineyards and the south to south westerly 15 knot and rising wind that was gusting when I phoned, was doing the drying out job well. "It’s hot, it's 25 degrees up here and the ground is so dry now, you could roll on it and you wouldn't notice any wet," said Ben. So for Karikari Estate everything is back on track.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
March 29th 2007

Jane Skilton MW and Chateau Duhart Milon

It is not every day I get to taste classed growth claret but I did last night. It was because Jane Skilton MW was guest host at the Winespirit tasting. She wanted to taste the wines blind and dissect them based on what she had in front of her, which was not the bottle or the label. There were some challenging wines in the line up. But was Jane ever phased? Never. And especially not when classed growth claret was poured. But we didn't know what it was, then.

"It smells so Bordeaux," she said. But the taste - the abundant sweet ripe fruit - could it really be from that hallowed region, I thought. It tasted so ripe, so rich, so fruity, so new worldish.
Jane was given a piece of paper with three options stating region and year. When Bordeaux 2003 came up, she nailed it.
"Not quintessential claret, but typical of the vintage in an atypical year," she said. Yes, Masters of Wine just know these things.
It was the heatwave year. Day after day of 40 degree heat and more. The grapes just stop growing at those temperatures. "You'd wither up too," Jane mocked.
That was the year the kiwi contingent and others got cooked at Vinexpo in France when the air conditioning in the pavilion failed. The kiwis haven't been back since.

But back to this Bordeaux wine, which, at this stage, we didn't know what it was.
The colour was dense red black showing a little development with slightly faded rims. On the nose I got smoky oak, mocha, vanilla, chicory, hints of orange peel and musk. Jane said she got baked olive, cedar and pencil box - her key indicators of Bordeaux.
In the mouth I found a big, dark savoury wine with earth, leather and barnyard, plums and ripe black fruits, sweet oak and a nuggety finish. A mouthfilling, rich wine with fine-grained grunty tannins, hints of dried herbs and excellent length. There was a generosity to the wine that didn't leave one wanting.  It was rather a complete wine, in fact.

It was Chateau Duhart Milon 2003, a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot from the Pauillac appellation of Bordeaux, a Grand Cru Classé wine of 4th growth status, and owned by the Lafite Rothschilds.
"Ohhhhhh," Jane crooned when the wine was revealed. I was silently crooning too. What a treat and only $80 a bottle at full RRP. Now, that's pretty smart buying for what some people are saying is one of the best Duhart Milon's ever.  Click here for more about this wine.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
March 28th 2007

Crawford Farm Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2006

On Sunday, when I talked about the Easter Show trophy winners, I said that one wine caught my eye. That wine was Crawford Farm Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2006 and it intrigued me because it was a new name to me. I thought it might be a new label for Kim and Erica Crawford, but that's not the case. It's actually a new branding for part of the Kim Crawford Wines range, a brand that will target the supermarket sector, a brand that will replace the Kim Crawford diamond label that sells in supermarkets now.

I was told that the Crawford Farm was in Marlborough, but that was erroneous information. It's named for Kim's parents' farm in Matamata, which is about 2 hours south east of Auckland. It's only the grapes for the trophy winning wine that come from Marlborough.

Crawford Farm savvy labelGosh, I love the label. That tyre under the tree conjures up memories of childhood. It could have been when we visited someone's farm, like the Crawford Farm in Matamata where this tree and tyre swing actually is. But for me, it's more likely where someone had slung a rope over the bough of a pohutukawa tree at the beach and attached a tyre to make it more comfortable swing than just a bunch of big knots.

"When the truck sprung a puncture it was bad luck for Dad, who had to fix it in the pouring rain, but great luck for us because we got a new swing for the tree behind the house. Nothing went to waste on Crawford Farm," says Kim, on the back label.

As for the wine, it's exuberant, it's vivacious, it's punchy, it's exciting. It's Marlborough savvy, just the way I like it.

RRP is $21.95, but you know these supermarkets, sooner or later it will be on 'special'.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
March 27th 2007

Harvest going well

As I was in Auckland City yesterday for the Antinori tasting (see below) I popped out to Kumeu on the way home. You know, it only takes 20 minutes once you get on the north western motorway in the city, to Soljans Wines, the first stop on the Kumeu Wine trail. Of course, that's not at peak traffic time.

I wanted to talk to Tony Soljan about the Berba Harvest Festival that Soljans are holding over Easter.TonySoljan.jpg (42925 bytes)

"Berba," says Tony, the name rolling off his tongue with what sounds like a southern burr, "is all about celebration". He is of Croatian descent and it is what his Dad and Grandad called harvest.  Now, in conjunction with Soljans' 70th anniversary, and in true Croatian fashion, Soljans will celebrate Berba at the winery on State Highway 16, this Easter. Treading the merlot grapes off the winery vineyard will be a highlight. See

Yesterday Soljans were just preparing for their first intake of grapes from Gisborne. The grapes, that had been picked the day before, left Gisborne at 6am in the morning and still hadn't arrived when I left the winery at 2pm. It's a 6 hour drive by car from Gisborne to Kumeu. For a truck laden with bins of grapes, it takes much longer. Unfortunately I couldn't wait.

Instead of taking the most direct route home, I detoured a couple of kilometres north, to see what was happening at Kumeu River where I had been almost three weeks before for the start of the harvest on March 6th, when the pinot noir grapes were picked.

krivermar07.jpg (54305 bytes)Paul Brajkovich of Kumeu River had told me by email that they would be picking Mate's Vineyard, their premium chardonnay vineyard, today. I turned off the highway into Old Railway Road to see what was happening. I saw the cars, I saw the tractor manoeuvring bins, I saw the nets had been lifted but I couldn't see any people picking grapes. The vines next to the road had been stripped bare.   Nevertheless, harvest in Mate's Vineyard was in full swing.

I got a neat photo, though. I'm sure you will agree. Don’t steal it. It's watermarked with my name.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
March 26th 2007

Marchesi Antinori and Solaia

antinori.jpg (75833 bytes)Went to a tasting of Antinori wines from Italy today. It was hosted by Chiara Cattaneo, red wine maker, who was on a holiday in New Zealand with Christian Zulian, white wine maker. But they took time out to host a wine tasting of some of their famous wines, including Tignanello and Solaia. And indeed these two wines were highlights. But I was most taken by the Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva 2001, a wine made from 90% Sangiovese with 10% Cab Sauv and other complimentary varieties. This is a blood red wine, deep to the core, just starting to fade on the edges, but still intense. The alluring deep fruited aromas envelope the senses with mulled plums, mellow cedar, a hint of earth and dried sweet herbs. Succulent plum and cherry fruit floods the thick textured palate that is awash with plush grainy tannins, sweet earth and mellow oak and there are dried herb and hints of liquorice with a touch of blackberry. Very smart and very long, lovely mouthfeel and flavour, mellow but in no way mature. It has a recommended retail price of $46 in NZ. A bargain!

Tignanello 2003 is a deep red-black colour, opaque to the core. Interesting aromatics, more volatile than any of the others, with cassis, French oak and a little alcohol spirit. A big wine, a little porty in some respects with fragrant spices, liquorice, sweet cherry, cassis, vanilla, hints of blueberry, hints of chocolate and grainy tannins that become quite silky. A lovely, rich, sweet, creamy mouthful with the acidity of the Cab Sauv adding lift and hints of violets and dried herb lingering on the mellow finish that has excellent length. A blend of 85% Sangiovese, 10% Cab Sauv and 5% Cab Franc with maturation in new French oak. NZ$108.  Chiara says "drink now"!  Perhaps I heard wrong.

I was a Solaia virgin before this tasting (at least I think I was) and found the Antinori Solaia 2003 rather intriguing, even despite the fact that Chiara said in her Italian-accented English that she thought the 2001 was better. Only we didn't have the 2001 to compare.
Solaia 2003 is a fine textured looking wine, youthful in appearance with a ruby-rimmed deep black core. French oak is quite dominant on the nose together with leather, fragrant spices and mellow red fruits. The flavour is a stunning combination of violets, cedar, cassis, creamy oak, anise - almost liquorice, with a fine-grained thickish texture and firm underlying acidity with a hint of orange pomander on the fragrant finish with is quite dry and very long.
If tasting this wine blind I would be heading in the direction of Bordeaux because it smells so Bordeaux-like and different to the others. That could be because it's a blend of 75% Cab Sauv, 5% Cab Franc and just 20% Sangiovese with fermentation in new French oak barriques.  A mere snip at NZ$177.00.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
March 25th 2007

Stunning Syrah wins Easter's top prize

The Esk Valley Hawkes Bay Reserve Syrah 2005 took out the top gong at the 2007 Royal Easter Wine Awards last night. A very deserving winner if you ask me as it was the star wine at a tasting of ten Easter Show gold medal wines last Wednesday night and I actually blogged this wine in a summary of this tasting (see below).  

As well as winning the trophy for Champion Syrah and the Champion Wine of the Show, Gordon Russell, Esk Valley's winemaker, received the Royal Agricultural Society Gold Medal as the Winemaker of the Year. This is only the second 'Reserve' Syrah that Esk Valley has produced, the previous one being from the highly regarded 2002 vintage.
The grapes were harvested from the Cornerstone Vineyard in the Gimblett Gravels sub-region, but only 100 cases were made and now the wine has won all these accolades, it's bound to sell out quickly. It costs about $49.

Turned out we tasted two other Trophy winners as well last Wednesday night, the Mount Difficulty Target Gully Riesling 2006 and the Terrace Heights (THE) Pinot Noir 2005. The Terrace Heights has been gathering gold at every showing since its first vintage in 2003. It's been knocking at that trophy door for a while. Now it's opened it.

One wine to catch my eye in the list of trophy winners was Crawford Farm Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2006. Who is Crawford Farm? Turns out it's made by Kim Crawford from sauvignon blanc grapes grown by his parents in Marlborough. Is this the new label for Kim and Erica now that the 'Kim Crawford' brand is owned by Constellation? Something I need to find out.

Other trophy winners were

Vic Williams Selection Marlborough Methode Traditionnelle 2002
Vidal Estate Viognier 2006
Waimea Estates Gewurztraminer 2006
Church Road Reserve Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2004
Villa Maria Single Vineyard Seddon Pinot Gris 2006
Wooing Tree Central Otago Rosé 2006
Trinity Hill Tempranillo 2005
C J Pask Declaration Cabernet Merlot Malbec 2004
Kim Crawford SP Reka Riesling 2006
Omaka Springs Estates Falveys Sauvignon Blanc 2006
(Best export wine)

There was no trophy for Merlot or Merlot dominant blends this year as there were no gold medal winners in those classes.

The full list of Trophy winners and their sponsors is available from

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
March 24th 2007

Brandied Mushroom Pies and Pinot Noir

When I think of food to match to Pinot Noir, I invariably think of mushrooms, because if I haven't tasted the pinot noir I am going match the food to, I know that 99 per cent of the time, mushrooms will work. It's something about the intrinsic earthy nature of the wine that compliments the similar earthy flavours of mushrooms. I also like to use other flavours that I sometimes find in pinot noir, like smoky bacon and thyme, as well as a dollop of pinot noir itself.

So with our bottle of Mount Cass Cellar Select Pinot Noir 2004 ($29) from the Waipara Valley, which I hadn't tasted before, I decided mushroom would be the feature ingredient.

I wanted to make little mushroom tarts, but I couldn't find my muffin tray (because he who did the dishes last time I used it, put it away in an unusual place). I had the pastry out so I decided to make little mushroom pies instead. It's inspired by a recipe I used to make for dinner parties in days long past from the Australian Womens Weekly Easy Entertaining Cookbook. Their recipe for 8 people has a filling made with 2 onions, 1 kg of mushrooms, 2 tablespoons of brandy and 600ml of sour cream. My filling, for just two people, is rather different.  It's made with bacon, spring onions, garlic, mushrooms, thyme, brandy, pinot noir and fresh cream.

Here's how it goes.

mushroompie.jpg (46174 bytes)Melt a tablespoon of butter in a frying pan and add a finely chopped up rasher of streaky bacon. When the bacon starts to crisp add a finely chopped fat spring onion and half a small clove of crushed garlic. When the onion starts to soften, add 2 cups of sliced mushrooms and cook until just soft. Now add two teaspoons of brandy and shake the pan to get the mushrooms well coated. Now add a quarter cup of pinot noir. If the pan is too hot, it might sizzle up too quickly, so add a quarter cup more. Lastly stir in a tablespoon of cream and thicken the sauce with a little cornflour mixed with water. Divide the mushroom filling between two porcelain half-cup sized ramekins. Using a short savoury pastry (ready rolled if you are like me), cut out two circles just slightly larger in diameter than the ramekin tops. From the remaining pastry cut a thin strip, about a centimetre wide, and press this strip of pasty around the rim of the ramekin. Now place the circle of pastry on top of this. Crimp the edges with a fork, cut off any excess hanging over the edges and brush the top of the pasty with milk. Cook at 190 degrees C for 20 minutes.

As expected, this was a resounding success with the wine, which I was finally able to taste while the pies were cooking. We had a little laugh when Neil instinctively tried to unscrew the capsule before realising it had a cork, and when the cork came out we were able to see it was a DIAM technical cork.

In the glass the wine is a Burgundy red colour of medium depth and lovely savoury aromas emanate from its depth. Its full of sweet fruit, souped up tart fruits that are juicy, juicy, juicy and there's a gorgeous spicy character to the wine, like mulled wine spices with a hint of liquorice and orange peel on the finish. The flavours, the gorgeous silky tannin structure and the medium bodied palate weight makes this wine just so yummy.   With the food, the wine seemed even more savoury. We thoroughly enjoyed it while it lasted, but unlike most wines we taste, there is none for a follow-up second day evaluation tonight - for some reason it seemed to evaporate more quickly than usual.

Today I rang Mount Cass Vineyards to find out a little more about the wine because it's not the standard pinot noir they have on their website.  They told me it's a 'reserve' selection and they are actually down to their last case.  Isn't this often the way?  The 2006 has just been bottled and it will have a screwcap closure, not that Mount Cass wanted this but because the supplies of the bottles for cork closures were not in stock and it was going to take 3-4 weeks to get them. Haven't things changed?
On the Web:

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
March 22nd 2007

A couple of stunning Easter Show golds

Who will win the trophies and the overall champion wine at the 2007 Royal Easter Wine Show? The winners are being announced on Saturday night so we will know on Sunday morning - check here for the results. Meanwhile at the Winespirit last night, ten of the Easter Show gold medal wines were tasted, plus a gold medal wine from another show and an Easter Show silver medal wine, just for good measure. It was another evening of absolutely stunning wines - well almost absolutely stunning because one wine did not perform on the night. It had a cork in it and I thought it was faulty, but I was told by the boys out the back that all four bottles opened were the same.

But let's focus on the positives and one of those positives was the Saint Clair Pioneer Block 4 Chardonnay 2005. This is a wine I tipped back in August last year when it featured as a Wine of the Week and since then it's gone on to wine three gold medals. It's a very special wine because it's the first from the Ure (or Waima) Valley, 50 kilometres south of Blenheim, so south of the Wairau Valley and south of the Awatere Valley as well. There was ample oak in this wine last August, which I didn't mind one iota, but I love the way it's now become so integrated into the smooth seamless package. There's butterscotch and citrus on the nicely smoked nose and it's richly fruited with a creamy, spicy finish. Surely stocks of this wine must be running out. It has 14% alcohol and costs about $25.

Wine of the night was the Esk Valley Reserve Syrah 2005. It's such an inky, crimson-edged, lustrous purple black colour, it's hard to comprehend how it can be so profoundly intense, yet more and more Hawkes Bay syrahs are tending towards this alluring colour and intensity. It exudes exotic spices on the nose and in the ripe, creamy palate, it's full of purple fruit with chocolatey oak, liquorice, pepper, meaty tannins and hints of fresh lavender and violets on the lingering finish. Dry, exotic and very moreish, it spent 20 months in French oak, 50% new, it has 14.5% alcohol and costs about $50.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
March 21st 2007

Recent wines, including a delicious, new pinot noir

A round up of wines tasted the last few days, with a delicious, new Central Otago pinot noir to finish up with.

Latitude 41 Sauvignon Blanc 2006
A blend of Marlborough and Nelson grapes, it has quite grassy, peasy, capsicum aromas and it's citrussy and spicy to the taste with a firm underpinning of gooseberry and capsicum with citrus and herbs on the full-bodied finish. It's been fermented and aged in oak yet finishes fresh and clean with good acidity. 12.5% alc. Approx $20. Zork closure.

Saint Clair Vicar's Choice Marlborough Riesling 2006
With tropical fruit and honeysuckle aromas, this is light and fruity tasting with medium sweetness. Tropical fruit flourishes mid palate and it's citrussy and sherbetty on the finish. Not overly complex. A lunchtime style. 13% alc. 9.2g/l rs. Screwcap closure.

Montana East Coast Pinot Gris 2006
A blend of Marlborough and Hawkes Bay grapes, there's citrus and green apples on the nose and it's quite juicy in the palate with nashi pears and a hint of mandarin. It's a non-confrontational, light fruity style with a touch of sweetness and a spicy, slightly peppery, slightly musky rose petal finish and it leaves a clean fresh aftertaste. 13.% alc. 7.5g/l rs. $16.95. Screwcap closure. A good match to the St Pat's Day Corned Beef and Cabbage.

Rosemount Estate Diamond Label Pinot Noir 2006
Deep ruby coloured, it looks like pinot noir but that is where the similarity ends. Soft and smooth with jammy aromas and ripe juicy flavours with a touch of spice, gobs of cherry, raspberry lollies and vanillin oak, it really does sing South Australia, reminding me very much of that regions' quaffy reds. Ok, I'm being a bit mean because there is some lovely purple fruit in there if you really look hard, but it just so overwrought with goopey sweetness. It's the kind of wine pinot perfectionists would despise, but one that people new to red wines would probably love. Besides, people new to red wine don't know what pinot noir is really meant to taste like. Can't find the source of this wine, but past vintages have been a blend of South Australia and Victorian fruit and one year there was some NSW (Mudgee) fruit in there as well.
Avoid cabbage with this wine (or any red in fact), but do try chicken nibbles coated with a lightly spicy southern fried chicken seasoning (out of a packet). The sweetness of the Rosemount pinot cuts through the spiciness admirably. 13.5% alc. About $15. Synthetic cork closure.

Thornbury Central Otago Pinot Noir 2005
Ruby hued of medium depth, it's smoky and savoury with spiced cherries on the nose and earthy and savoury to the taste with smoky bacon, sweet mushrooms and wild thyme. The fruit is tart (morello, red guava) rather than sweet and there's firm acidity underpinning the velvety texture. A medium-bodied wine, the finish is long and savoury with fruit cake cherries and spice leaving a pleasing aftertaste. Such a contrast to the Rosemount and what I call 'real pinot noir'. 13.5% alc. About $25. Screwcap closure.

Mount Dottrel Central Otago Pinot Noir 2005
mtdottrel labelA spicy, tangy, vibrant style of Pinot, deep ruby violet in colour with a slightly, grainy, silky texture, ripe sweet black cherries, tarter cranberries, a herbal, earthy undercurrent and hints of chocolate on the finish which is long and savoury. This is very smart pinot noir - it's complex, it's powerful, it's ripe, it's tasty and it's yum.
A brand new label in a very heavy 'Grand Burgundy' deep punted bottle, it's produced by Chantmarle Vineyard Ltd from a vineyard at Parkburn on the Cromwell - Wanaka Road between Lake Dunstan and the rugged Pisa Range. This must be pretty close to the Amisfield and Rockburn vineyards by my reckoning, mind you there are so many vineyards along this stretch of road now. The website is printed on the label,, so I dialled it up and found out more.
Chantmarle is owned by the McCallum family (now that's a famous New Zealand wine name, but not sure if these McCallums are related to Neil of Dry River fame). They've named the wine for Mount Dottrel, somewhere in that mountain range overlooking the vineyard. Robin and James Dicey manage the vineyard on a day to day basis and award winning winemaker, Carol Bunn, makes the wine at Vinpro. With that combination, it's not surprising that this debut wine is good. It has 14% alcohol and is sealed with a screwcap. Expect to pay about $32 a bottle in NZ. It's exported overseas too. Another step up in level again.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
March 19th 2007

Taste, Terroir and the Pursuit of Quality

This week's Wine of the Week is posted. It's the Dry River Pinot Gris 2006, a delightfully expressive pinot gris and undoubtably the benchmark for this varietal in New Zealand. This and the other wines in the Dry River's 2007 Autumn release, which also includes the pinot noir, gewurztraminer, late harvest riesling and the first late harvest viognier, are reviewed in the article.Neil McCallum Click here to read it.

But there was more than wine with the 2007 Autumn release, there was also the booklet, 'Taste, Terroir and the Pursuit of Quality'. Written by Neil McCallum (pictured), it contains themed articles first published as 'Jottings' in the Dry River Cellar Notes over the last eleven years.

Neil says that the subject of tasting and aesthetics of wine and its place in our culture has an ongoing fascination for him.

These are thoughtful, deep articles and while you can read them online at the Dry River website, the attractive presentation of this booklet would make a nice gift as well as a worthwhile addition to your own wine literature collection. It costs $25.
On the Web:

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
March 18th 2007

'Gold' Chardonnay in a Retro-Styled Jug

As discussed yesterday, from a Kiwi point of view, celebrating St Pat's Day with Corned Beef and Cabbage sounds rather weird, in fact about as weird as drinking jug wine. Both are as American as apple pie. So what better to match your Irish-American inspired Corned Beef and Cabbage with, than American style jug wine? Well, we can do that now, because jug wine has arrived in New Zealand. Just as the Americans are discovering bag-in-the-box wines which were popular here some 25 years ago, this 'jug wine', once so popular in America, is pretty new for us. The nearest I can think of is the flagon, which consumers used to take to wineries or bottle shops to have filled with port or sherry.

goldchard.jpg (37398 bytes)So jug wine has arrived in New Zealand and this debut wine is not half bad. In fact it's pretty good. It is chardonnay in a one-litre jug and its simply called 'Gold'. It's ripe and tasty with spicy oak and juicy fruit. There's stonefruit, mealy characters and spicy oak on the nose and tons of stonefruit, tropical fruit and citrus in the full-bodied palate with spicy oak and a long, creamy, mealy finish.

'Gold' is the brainwave of Phil Jones, an ex-pat American who now lives in Nelson where he produces wines under the Spencer Hill and Tasman Bay labels. And this chardonnay, which is a blend of Nelson and Marlborough fruit, with full malolactic and French and American oak, is very much in the Tasman Bay style.

The wine went down a treat at a family dinner because it is just so deliciously drinkable. As for the packaging, with Marilyn on the label, I guess it depends on your age. When I asked people what they thought, the reactions were mixed.

"It's cool, I love it."
"Great label!"
"I thought it was a bottle of sherry. It's unusual. It's interesting".
"Looks like those old ginger wine bottles."
"Looks like a whisky crock. I wouldn't buy it".

Personally, I like the bottle. When I first saw it I though what a great bottle for a picnic but Phil Jones says it is great to have around the house for an everyday wine with dinner. He says jugs like this were used widely in the American wine industry up through the 1960's, although this is a miniature version with glass sourced from Italy.

'Gold'  has 13% alcohol by volume, it's sealed with a bright yellow Zork capsule and it's well priced with an RRP of $17.99 a bottle. For a litre of such a tasty wine, I'd be happy to pay that.

By the way, it went beautifully with the Corned Beef and simply melded into the mustard sauce. But not so good with the cabbage. That's better matched to pinot gris or sauvignon blanc.

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

Corned Beef and Cabbage for St Patrick's Day. What the ....?

When I think of food and drink for St Patrick's Day, I think of Irish Stew, potatoes and Guiness.  Mind you, the first St Patrick's Day that I actually celebrated in an Irish pub, there was green beer flowing as well and plenty of Irish soda bread to mop it up. So I was rather surprised to see a question on Robin Garr's Wine Lovers' Page discussion forum about what to drink with Corned Beef and Cabbage on St Patrick's Day.

Corned Beef and Cabbage for St Patrick's Day? Never heard of that before.

Then Natalie McLean of Nat Decants, in her email newsletter, mentioned Corned Beef and Cabbage for St Patrick's Day as well.

So has my head been buried in the sand all these years? Or is Corned Beef and Cabbage decidedly North American Irish fare? I decided to enlist the help of Google to find out.

Well, well, well. The Irish Food page doesn't even mention Corned Beef and Cabbage in its list of traditional foods. It is only on American authored websites where this combination appears.
Then up pops the Irish Culture and Custom website and I find what I want. "Corned Beef and Cabbage - the feeding of a myth". The article makes very interesting reading.

It seems that Corned Beef was known in Ireland as far back as the 12th century but only as a delicacy prepared for a king. Beef was not a major part of the Irish diet 700 years ago. Corned Beef reappeared in the literature in the 1600's, as a special dish for Easter, but a costly dish because of the price of salt. Beef was also expensive and when it was eaten, it was eaten fresh.  It was only when the Irish started emigrating to North America in the late 19th century that the Corned Beef tradition became instilled with the Irish in the new homeland. It was because beef and salt were cheap. It's also the reason you don't find Corned Beef and Cabbage as traditional Irish fare. It seems it is only served in Ireland on St Patrick's Day in the touristy hotels. The tourists from North America expect it, you see. But as Bridget Haggerty says in her article, "It's as Irish as Spaghetti and Meatballs".

As for the cabbage - well the Irish do eat cabbage - but it's traditionally served with bacon.

Anyway, I bought my piece of corned beef on my way home from work last night, before I did all this digging, so I'm going to cook it up anyway. I'm going to cook it in water with some brown sugar, vinegar, a piece of carrot, a whole onion, a bay leaf, some peppercorns and some cloves.  But the piece de resistance will be the mustard sauce made from the juices. And in true Irish tradition, there'll be lots of spud as well as the cabbage, which now I'm going to cook with bacon.

We'll be drinking wine not Guiness. As for what wine goes best, I'll tell you tomorrow.

Mustard Sauce Recipe (from Edmonds Cookbook)
Beat one egg with 1/4 cup sugar. Add 1 tablespoon of flour, 1 teaspoon of mustard, salt and pepper. Gradually stir in 1 cup of the liquid that the corned beef cooked in and 1/4 cup of malt vinegar. Cook over low heat until the mixture thickens. Serve over the corned beef.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
March 16th 2007

Hawks Nest Orchard Block Red

A couple of wines from one of Matakana's newish wineries, Hawks Nest, owned by transplanted Tennesseans, Jim and Sandra Daniell. Hawks Nest is on Matakana Road, after Ascension and Matakana Estate heading north. You'll recognise it if you have driven along the road because it's the one with the chimney in the middle of the vineyard. They produce just one wine off the vineyard and another from Hawkes Bay grapes.Hawks Nest label

Hawks Nest Hawkes Bay Merlot 2005 is an earthy, leathery, cedary style, dark and savoury and very much in the French mould to start, then the sweet oak kicks in with ripe plum and berry fruit, liquorice and spice and firm soft tannin. It has a good deep crimson colour, good length and the finish is dry. It had 16 months in oak, has 14.2% alcohol, it's sealed with a screwcap and is well priced at $17 a bottle.

Hawk's Nest Orchard Block Matakana Red 2005, a blend of cabernet franc (60%) and malbec (40%) grown on the vineyard block in Matakana Road, is clearly the better wine. Dark crimson red, ruby-hued, almost (but not quite) opaque, the nose is scented with the appealing fragrance we expect from these varieties, think violets and spice and hints of pencil box cedar. Finely textured with creamy cedar, spice, hints of mint, dusty blackberries and meaty tannins, the earthy depth of Malbec grapes takes the final bow and leaves a scent of cedar and violets in its wake. Absolutely delicious with Sumac rubbed backstrap of lamb. It had 15 months in French oak, 50% new, with 13.2% alcohol, a DIAM technical cork and costs $35 a bottle. You can buy this wine in Tennessee too.

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copyright Sue Courtney 2007