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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.

If you want to make a comment, drop an email to and, if appropriate, I'll post it in the appropriate place.

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Archive: April 16th to April 30th 2007
Apr 30th: Wine in the Glass House
Apr 29th: Wine of the Week - Felton Road Riesling 2004
Apr 28th: Number Two Chardonnay of the World
Apr 27th: Anzac Day Challenge - NZ versus Australia
Apr 26th: Is a bell necessary on a bicycle?
Apr 25th: Anzac Wines
Apr 24th: More dismally low yields
Apr 23rd: Talk about low yields
Apr 22nd: Riverby Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2006
Apr 21st: Clayridge Excalibur Pinot Noir 2004
Apr 20th: Vineyard area
Apr 19th: Highfield leads the field
Apr 18th: Ravishing Riesling
Apr 17th: Saveuring the Pinot Noir
Apr 16th: Guessing the origin of New Zealand Pinot Noirs
Other Entries

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
April 30th 2007

Wine in the Glass House

Brick Bay Wines is the newest stop on the Matakana Wine Trail and here you find a trail within a trail because there is a two kilometre Sculpture Trail which takes you around a small lake, through a stand of native bush and amongst the grapevines. Initially I was quite keen to do the walk but with yesterday morning's rain, a delaminating shoe and threatening clouds overhead, our small group decided to just taste wine instead. Brick Bay Vineyard & Glass House
Brick Bay's tasting room is a rather stunning piece of architecture. It is a glasshouse built on a bridge across the dam end of the lake. Somewhere under the bridge the lake turns into a river and water tumbles down massive boulders on the downstream side. It's light and airy and a wonderful place to relax with a glass of wine and a platter of food and take in the serenity of the property. The glass gives an immediacy to the environment. And when it comes to wine tasting, there can be absolutely no complaints about it being too dark to see the colour of the wine.

There were three wines to taste - all from grapes grown on the property.

Brick Bay Pinot Gris 2006 ($27) is crisp and spicy with a richness of pip fruit and a lightly zesty sweet citrus overtone. Mouthfilling while in the mouth, but it seemed quite short, the reason being that the wine was served too cold. Later I had a taste from a glass that had been poured a while and found a rather appealing aromatic, zesty perfume and the aftertaste lingered for ages. A dryish style, and really rather nice when the chill has gone.

Brick Bay Cabernet Sauvignon Franc 2004 ($19.50) is a light coloured red made in a soft, approachable, medium-bodied style. It's rounded and smooth with hints of chocolate amongst the creamy cedar, red berry fruits, a touch of savouriness and dried herbs coming through on the finish. Ready now.

Brick Bay Pharos 2004 ($29) is a blend of 34% Cabernet Franc, 29% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Malbec with 12 months maturation in oak and a further 20 months in bottle before release.  It's a rich, full-bodied wine with a deep crimson red colour, sappy French oak on the nose and quite rich, grippy tannins at first in the mouth but they quickly morph into a vinous silkiness with a soft nap to the edge. Smoky with hints of tobacco and crisp, juicy red fruits reminiscent of cherry, plum, redcurrants and even a hint of strawberry, all the while the gorgeous creamy oak plays a fine supporting role with an underlying savoury, cedary, Bordeaux-like complexity. 
Two samples of this wine were tasted, the initial taste being from the bottom part of a bottle opened several hours before. The consensus on that tasting was that the wine was ready now. But the newly opened bottle was so much fresher and showed that if it was going to be cellared, it had plenty of way to go.

Brick Bay Wines is in Arabella Lane off Mahurangi East Road, east of Warkworth, north of Auckland. It costs $4 to taste the three wines, with tasting fee deducted from the cost of the wine if you buy. The Sculpture Trail with guide to the outdoor art gallery, costs $10 per person.

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

Wine of the Week - Felton Road Riesling 2004

Sometimes you taste a wine that just blows you away by its exceptional aroma, taste and all round feel of well being and satisfaction that comes after the wine is swallowed. I had one of those wines on Friday night and it was so crisp, clean, fresh delicious with just the right amount of sweetness, I can still remember the taste quite vividly. It was the Felton Road Riesling 2004 from Central Otago.  Read the full review of this wine and three other gorgeous Rieslings tasted alongside it - Melness Canterbury Riesling 2005, Isabel Marlborough Riesling 2006 and Wolf Blass Gold Label Riesling 2006 - on my Wine of the Week page.

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

Number Two Chardonnay of the World

When Earls Reserve Chardonnay 2004 won the Gisborne International Chardonnay Challenge last year there were one or two people I know who were quite surprised at the result. In fact you could say they were 'shell shocked', given the names and track record of some of the 'also rans'. These one or two people were quietly muttering that the judges had made a big mistake. But had these one or two people actually tasted the wine or were they simply going on their own preconception of Landmark Estate, for whom Earls is the premium label? I would say the latter. After all Landmark Estate, which was established in 1937 in Henderson in the West Auckland wine region, hasn't exactly been to the forefront of wine competitions. But Landmark, like many old West Auckland wineries, has undergone upgrade and revitalisation and while they still have vineyards in Henderson and Kumeu, they also source fruit from Gisborne and Hawkes Bay. Then you hear that the winemaking reins have been handed over to Rebecca Salmond and it all starts to make sense because Rebecca's own range of Odyssey Wines are no strangers to wine show golds.

True to their word, the organisers of the Gisborne competition entered the wine into the Chardonnay du Monde (Chardonnay of the World) competition in France, which was judged last month, and what do you know, Earls Reserve Chardonnay 2004 won a gold medal and is listed in Number 2 position in the Top Ten. Those results affirm the Gisborne award in a very serious way. 

Landmark describes this wine as " Made from hand-picked Mendoza Chardonnay grapes, this wine was fermented using French oak barriques for 1 year and underwent partial malolactic fermentation with ageing on lees. This wine has produced an attractive smoothness of ripe fruit flavours of citrus and peach. "

I tasted the wine after it won gold in the Air New Zealand Wine Awards in their 2005 competition. I found a deliciously rich, toasty wine with a luscious, full-bodied creamy palate full of concentrated stonefruit with a sprinkling of nutmeg with the toasty oak perfectly balanced to the lovely sweet fruit that lingers on the aftertaste.
If you can find it in retail, it will cost about $35. Oh, what gold medals can do for prices! 

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

Anzac Day Challenge - NZ versus Australia

The Anzac Challenge on Wednesday night ended up in a win for New Zealand, but that was the consensus result from all the tasters. If it had been my vote, just on its own, I hate to admit but Australia could have won.

I preferred the classy, beautifully balanced Wolf Blass Gold Label Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2005 ($18.99) to the juicy Seifried Winemakers Collection Barrique Fermented Chardonnay 2004 ($23.99). Both very good wines, but it was the coconutty American oak in the Nelson wine that took it into second place.

Two Rieslings were served and they were like chalk and cheese, or as one taster descibed it, like Dame Edna and Hilary Duff. Taylors St Andrews Clare Valley Riesling 2001 ($41.99) was an exceptional example of aged, dry Aussie Riesling, powerful, oily, concentrated, toasty and limey. A classic - and so it should be at the price. Fromm Marlborough Riesling Spatlese 2006 from Marlborough, is light, floral and fruity, a low alcohol Germanic style, in fact it could easily be confused with a Mosel wine so not a good one for wine options. Perfectly balanced, medium sweet, piercing acidity and just 7.5% alcohol. For me this was a tie.

Three pairs of reds, I agreed with the majority of voters here -
The stunning Villa Maria Cellar Selection Hawkes Bay Merlot Cabernet 2004 ($18.99) from Hawkes Bay over the juicy, soft and approachable Grant Burge Barossa Vines Cabernet Merlot 2004 ($13.99);
the Gemtree Bloodstone McLaren Vale Shiraz 2006 ($18.99) over the Mission Reserve Hawkes Bay Syrah 2005 ($18.99)
and the magnificent John Duval Plexus Barossa Valley Shiraz Grenache Mourvedre 2005 ($36.99) over the Kathy Lynskey 15 Rows Reserve Marlborough Merlot 2004 ($47.99).

But on the last pairing of sweet wines, it was the young fresh Aussie that took my preference over the older Kiwi.

Usually Australian botrytised Semillons see oak, but the Margan Botrytis Semillon 2006 ($25.99 for 375 mls) was unoaked. It was fragrant and luscious with beautifully balanced acidity cutting through the waxy sweetness to give it a clean, fresh finish. Just a mere 174 grams per litre of residual sugar. Not for diabetics.

Usually New Zealand botrytised Rieslings don’t see oak, but the Waimea Bolitho Noble Riesling 2003 (43.99) was fermented in French oak, which added a mouthfilling complexity. An even sweeter wine with 181 grams of residual sugar, this is a triple trophy winner with exceptional length.

So congrats Aussie, it was your Anzac Day this year. Can't wait for the next one.
Notes have been posted to my Wednesday Tastings page.

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

Is a bell necessary on a bicycle?

Knock Knock
Who's there?
Isabel who?
Is a bell necessary on a bicycle?

Isabel Pinot GrisWhenever I see the Isabel label I am always reminded of that school ground classic. But today the punch line should be changed to 'Isabel Pinot Gris. Really good wine'. Especially now that the Isabel Pinot Gris 2006 has been released and continues the high standard set by the previous year's vintage.

Isabel Marlborough Pinot Gris 2006 is gorgeously expressive pinot gris, a reflection of the very good 2006 Marlborough vintage. It's aromatic and floral with a mealy, nutty yeast lees influence and hints of lemon sherbet and green grapes and tastes ripe and fruity, soft and fleshy with stonefruit, tropical fruit, hints of feijoa and a core of bright zesty citrus - think kumquat. Quite a dry wine, just 4 grams per litre of residual sugar, but the texture is full and fleshy, there is a vibrant spiciness and yeast lees flavours add complexity to the lingering finish. It's rather exciting and shows that pinot gris can have flavour. It has 13% alcohol and costs $23 at the cellar door.

Do I like it? I answer an emphatic, 'yes'. In fact I give it 5 stars.

The wine was tasted with and without food and it swings both ways. Try it with feijoa (in season now) and you taste the complimentary flavours. But for something out of left field, try the new Heller's brand Bush Tomato and Aniseed Sausages. I thought the sausages might match to pinot noir. They didn't. But they were surprisingly complimentary to this dry pinot gris. 

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

Anzac Wines

It's Anzac Day today, a very important day for all New Zealanders and Australians as we remember our war dead and those who were lucky enough to return home. I made the effort to get up and with hundreds of other people, attended the dawn service at Browns Bay beach. The silence of the early morning, the waves breaking on the shore, thinking about what it would be like at Anzac Cove in Gallipoli 92 years ago, by the time the dawn started to lighten the night sky so many men were dead.

After the service and the laying of the wreaths, the diggers go to the RSA to reminisce. The RSA's are the only place allowed to sell alcohol before 1pm on Anzac Day. I head home for breakfast, then later coffee and Anzac biscuits but I'm thinking about wine.

I've been looking for an Anzac wine to drink. Specifically a wine called Pax Mey, a wine made from Hunter Valley Semillon, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes grown on the Canakkale - Gallipoli Peninsula not far from Anzac Cove. There was some fanfare when this wine was released in 2005 for the 90th anniversary of Anzac Day, but was it just a one vintage wonder. I think perhaps it was.

cpost labelUnable to procure that wine, another Anzac collaboration with links to Gallipoli came to my attention and this one far more appropriate for a Courtney to drink for it was called Courtney's Post, named for one Australia Lieut-Colonel R.E. Courtney, who commanded his troops here. Courtney's Post Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc would be ideal - New Zealand grapes made by Australians. But again, all references were to older vintages.

So now I'm thinking an Austrian wine would go down quite nicely, in memory of my father who spent four years of WWII in a POW camp in Austria, not far from the Weststeiermark wine region. But it's not easy to find Austrian wines in New Zealand.

So I guess the fall back is an Australian or a New Zealand wine, perhaps both. Now here's a thought - Australia versus New Zealand is the theme of the Wednesday wine tasting tonight. That'll do me.

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

More dismally low yields

Further to yesterday's story, Canterbury grape growers are also lamenting reduced crops this year and according to the TV3 news tonight, some growers, like Graeme Lindsay of Tresillian Wines west of Christchurch, haven’t even bothered to pick. Pity because Tresillian won a silver medal at the Air NZ Wine awards and a top Home and Entertaining Magazine award for their 2005 Pinot Gris.

In the Waipara Valley, north of Christchurch, some wineries have yields that are 50% down on last year according to this article in 'The Press'. It's the same story, a particularly cold two weeks in December at the crucial flowering stage, a cold snap that devastated some grape varieties. According to the newspaper article, " One newcomer to the industry was expecting to harvest seven to 10 tonnes of grapes and ended up instead with one to two.".

There is still optimism, however. The overall Canterbury harvest is expected to be up on last year, due to new vineyards coming on stream.,

The TV3 report mentioned that Central Otago is down about 20-30%, Marlborough about 5-10%, while Hawkes Bay will have little change.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
April 23rd 2007

Talk about low yields

Roger Parkinson from Nga Waka Vineyard in Martinborough has said that he expects to produce just 150 cases of Pinot Noir from this year’s vintage, down from 1,000 cases last year and well down on his annual average of 1500 cases. It's the result of one of the most challenging seasons in Martinborough's short wine growing history. Frosts in November followed by the coldest December on record severely impacted crop yields with most vineyards losing about 50 percent of their expected crop, and the worst affected, like Nga Waka, losing up to 90 per cent. As well as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc were affected to a lesser extent.
However a long dry summer resulted in one of the best, and most stable ripening periods for the past decade and winemakers are expecting exceptional quality, powerful, long lived wines from the small amount of fruit that they did harvest. Looks like you'll have to be in quick for your allocation when the wines from the season are released in 12 to 18 months time.

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

Riverby Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2006

It's been such a mild autumn and with the balmy, windless weekend we've just had, as windless as the Louis Vuitton yacht racing course in Valencia, it's been most enjoyable sipping on a fresh sauvignon blanc in the afternoon sun. The screwcap closures that 99% of the sauvignon blanc producers are using are certainly keeping the wines fresh and most of them will still be delicious long after the 2007's start getting released. Australia and South Africa, with earlier picking dates than New Zealand, already have some 2007 savvies on the market. Last year, the first of the local vintage was out by May 1, although vintage was three weeks early last year. But I still wouldn't be surprised to see a race for first to the shops, regardless. It will be one of the big names, let's just hope they do the smart thing and label it 'early release' or something similar. Wouldn't want a repeat of last year's scandal when Wither Hills released their first 'representative' bottling of sauvignon blanc before all the tanks had finished.

riverby troutRiverby is not one of the 'big' names, in fact probably not a lot of people know it in New Zealand, but it's popular on Australian wine lists. Riverby produces single vineyard wines from their vineyard on famous Jackson's Road. The rainbow trout that features on the label used to be abundant in the Opawa River, which once flowed over the vineyard. The river was diverted in 1965 to stop flooding in Blenheim. 

Riverby Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2006 ($19) is pungent and fruity smelling with gooseberry and lime aromatics that carry through to the fresh, focussed palate which is quite dry, a little grassy and lightly oily. It's a wine of richness and power with a bright zesty finish and savvie's typical pungency abounds on the lingering aftertaste.
It was a successful match to some tasty nibbles - feta and red capsicum and peppadew stuffed with ricotta. I even matched it to a slice of plum, a not quite ripe plum as it turned out, but the fruit's slight astringency magically disappeared with a mouthful of this tangy sauvignon blanc.

Riverby is on the web at The wines haven't been updated recently, the important contact details are there.

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

Clayridge Excalibur Pinot Noir 2004

It was another round in a long standing Pictionary challenge last night and the Courtney's came out victorious, I'm pleased to say.  Our hosts had cooked a tasty dinner with some of the juiciest and most tender lamb back straps I've ever tasted - almost as good as the backstraps that came off one of our own lambs. But I was shocked when I heard that they paid $49.95 a kilo for these morsels. $31 for four backstraps! The lamb was certified organic, but does that warrant the extra $20 a kilo over the normal price? The back straps had been rubbed with a herb and lavender mix, then barbecued 4-5 minutes each side and left to rest. So they were medium rare when served.

Clayride labelI took the wine and knowing we were having lamb, I chose a pinot noir. It must have been pretty good because the contents disappeared quite quickly. It was Clayridge Excalibur Pinot Noir 2004, which was originally in the line up for the Pinot Noir tasting last weekend, but was taken out at the last minute as there were too many Marlborough wines. Had it been in the blind tasting, it would have scored 18.5 (gold medal standard) points I'm sure. I didn't taste it blind but it gets the points anyway - unanimously agreed on by all as Wine of the Night.

'Someone's farted in the glass," said someone from the opposing team.
"But it's a sweet one," said that person's Pictionary partner.

Well, I didn't get what they were smelling, what I did get, though, was a deep sensuous aroma, sweet, yes, with smoky oak, dark cherries, spice and freshly harvested white mushroom, the aromas carrying through to the silky smooth palate. Rich and sweet-fruited yet soft, subtle and mellow with hints of rose petal and a long savoury aftertaste, a seriously drinkable wine, a very pretty wine, the belle of the ball. And a fantastic accompaniment to the backstraps especially with that hint of lavender in the rub.

Clayridge is the label of Mike Just and 'Excalibur' is reserved for the top of the range. Deservedly so in this case. It has 13.2% alcohol by volume and is sealed with a screwcap. It costs about $38.
On the Web:  

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
April 20th 2007

Vineyard area

The latest Australian vineyard area statistics are out and it is interesting (I think) to see how the numbers compare to New Zealand.  There are 537 wine producers in New Zealand, according the the year to date figures on the NZ Winegrowers website. Marlborough has the most producers (105) followed by Auckland (91), Otago (87), Hawkes Bay (65), Wellington (57) and Canterbury (50). The figures actually show a slight decrease (because of takeovers, I guess) with 6 producers less than last year. The New Zealand year ends in June. 

There are now 2146 Australian wine producers, 138 more than in 2006. Victoria leads the number of producers (628), followed by  South Australia (563), New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory (432), Western Australia (332), Queensland (109) and Tasmania (81).

In New Zealand, the most widely planted grape variety is Sauvignon Blanc followed by Pinot Noir.

In Australia, Chardonnay is the most widely planted white grape variety and Shiraz is the most widely planted red. Pinot Gris plantings have risen by 91%, with Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Meunier also showing significant increase.

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

Highfield leads the field

Highfield Estate is Marlborough's top cellar door according to 'mystery shoppers' who visited Marlborough's 41 cellar doors during February and March to assess cellar door and staff presentation, service (including telephone) and information level, visitor experience, merchandise and developing loyalty.
According to Customer Care, who carried out the exercise for Wine Marlborough, the results were quite superior with the 41 cellar doors scoring an overall of 86% across all the customer service categories. Evidently such a high score is not typical.
Apart from Highfield, with its distinctive Tuscan tower, the other top rated cellar doors, in alphabetical order, are Bladen Estate, Fromm Winery, Grove Mill, Montana Brancott Winery, Mount Riley, Saint Clair Estate, Seresin Estate, Spy Valley, Te Whare Ra and Wither Hills.

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

Ravishing Riesling

cuisine122It doesn't seem that long since the last Cuisine Magazine was out, but already there's another one and this time the featured wines are 'aromatics'. In this instance that means Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Viognier. Top wine overall is Forrest Estate Brancott Vineyard Riesling 2004, a medium sweet style with 30 grams of residual sugar and 13% alcohol, a wine that seems inspired by the Alsace style. It's sweet and rounded, spicy, savoury and earthy with piercing acidity, hints of clay (think of a potter's workshop) and a lightly toffeed finish. But most fascinating of all is the 'something' that reminds me of lemon cream biscuits - sweet, citrussy and savoury/salty at the same time. It's a single vineyard riesling with weight and length and even though it's up around the $30 price tag, you could buy this wine knowing you could enjoy it now or confidently cellar it well into the next decade.

In the past year or so, Forrest has become one of my favourite Riesling producers because they now produce a range of riesling wines that cover all styles. Their stunning Forrest Estate Dry Riesling ($20) follows a Clare Valley recipe - dry with bracing acidity but enough fruit ripeness to balance it to perfection. The 2004, which also features in the current issue of Cuisine, is the current release, the 2002 has I don’t know how many gold medals and trophies to its name and the 2001, with six years age on it now, is utterly superb - and is available too.
The ethereal Doctor's Riesling 2006 ($20), inspired by the Kabinett wines of the Mosel, is medium sweet with just 8.5% alcohol while the 'ordinary' riesling, Forrest Estate Marlborough 2005 ($19) is off dry with moderate alcohol and juicy tropical and citrus fruit - a classic Marlborough style. To cover all bases, there is the Late Harvest Riesling ($22) in a low-alcohol Auslese style and the sweet-as-sweet Forest Estate Botrytis Riesling ($35) - liquid toffee, marmalade and nectar in a glass.
On the Web:

There are a number of Cuisine tastings on around the country.  You've missed the one at First Glass Wines and Spirits.  That was tonight. As for the rest, I'm trying to find the calendar on the Cuisine website - - but have been unsuccessful so far.

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

Saveuring the Pinot Noir

Last time I discussed matching food to pinot noir, I matched it to mushrooms, which is my fail safe match when I don’t know what the wine's flavours are like. This time, with left over pinot noir like my Wine of the Week, the Chard Farm 'the Viper' Pinot Noir 2005, I did know the wine's flavours, and could cook up food that would quite likely work. I decided to cook duck legs accompanied with a tart cherry sauce.

I was out when this brainwave struck but fortunately, at the supermarket on the way home, fresh Saveur Duck Legs were available and at $11.90 for a packet of two, reasonably priced I thought. A quick detour via the preserved fruit aisle and a jar of Delmaine Pitted Cherries in Juice, on special this week, was added to the basket. I had the ingredients. All I needed was the recipes.

I loved the Italian Duck Legs marinated with salt, spices, thyme and citrus, that I matched to Heron's Flight Dolcetto 2005 back in February (click here).  But because of time constraints (not wanting to eat at midnight), the marinading time was reduced to an hour.  Chunks of almost cooked potato and kumara, that had been boiled on the stove top while the duck was in the oven, were added 45 minutes through the slow cooking period to crispen up in the duck fat. As for the duck, the crispy skin and the citrus, salty, spicy, herbal flavour of the marinade that had penetrated through, was just delicious both with and without the wines.

A Tart Cherry Sauce was the accompaniment. Fascinated by the colour of the juice of the pitted cherries, I poured some into a wine glass.  The pinky purple deep cherry colour was almost identical to some of the wines.

To make the sauce combine 1/2 cup of the cherry juice, a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar, a teaspoon of orange liqueur, the juice and zest of half an orange, 2-3 sprigs of thyme, 3-4 leaves of sage and salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and reduce for 4-5 minutes. Add cup of pitted cherries and simmer for another 2-3 minutes, mashing the cherries into the liquid with a potato masher. Leave to infuse the flavours. Just before serving, reheat and thicken with a little cornflour.

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

Guessing the origin of New Zealand Pinot Noirs

Can we tell where a wine comes simply by tasting the wine? To a degree, yes. Take Pinot Noir, for example. I can usually conclude that a New Zealand pinot noir is from New Zealand, rather than Australia, France or Spain. But to definitively pinpoint the site where the grapes were grown is becoming much harder. And after a tasting a 12 New Zealand pinot noirs from six wine regions, I'd say very hard indeed.

It was a blind tasting and we knew before starting that there were two wines from Central Otago, two from Waipara Valley, one from Nelson, four from Marlborough, two from Martinborough/Wairarapa and one from Hawkes Bay. We knew there was one wine from 2006 and the rest were from 2005 and 2004. Our exercise (which was more like a school exam, according to one of the tasters), was to try and work out the region and the vintage. It was part of our training for wine options, pinot noir the focus because we have tripped up on this one in the past.

When I think about regional distinctiveness, characters over and above the grape's natural savouriness and earthiness and oak spiciness, I usually think of North Island wines tending to have a denser structure, grippier tannins and darker fruit, like plum and red guava more so than cherry.
Marlborough tends to be more red cherries and chocolate while Central Otago exhibits strawberry, red and black cherry and herbals nuances, especially thyme, which is quite a clue.
I often find floral notes in Waipara wines with quite dense fruit and tannins. Nelson lies somewhere between Marlborough and Martinborough, somewhere between the cherries and plums, somewhere between the chocolate and earth.

But this kind of reckoning goes all awry when Central Otago winemakers add stalks to the ferment to bring out a richer structure and more savoury tannins. Wines made with similar clones, ripe fruit and Burgundian winemaking techniques can taste quite similar, despite the region. Yeasts, the type, age and toastiness of oak, plus length of time in oak, have a big effect too.

Point in case, Chard Farm 'The Viper' Pinot Noir 2005 and Pegasus Bay Waipara Valley Pinot Noir 2004. Two wines, two vintages, two regions but two very similar tasting wines. We had correctly picked the Chard Farm 'the Viper' as Otago, but with the Pegasus Bay, that smelt and tasted so similar when tasted alongside, we went Otago too. Then when we compared Chard Farm 'The Viper' Pinot Noir 2005 and its stablemate from a nearby vineyard, Chard Farm 'The Tiger' Pinot Noir 2005, we came to a consensus that latter was Marlborough.

So how are we meant to get the regions right when we compete in the Wine Options competition in June? Perhaps we’ll have to drink wines by label, wines we think might be in the options, like recent gold medal and trophy winners. We'll have to build up our palate memory of the wine, then just wing it and see. Of course, we tried to do that last year, then something rather obscure was put in the tasting on the day. So in the end it might be simpler to spin a bottle or roll a dice. Still, tasting the wines is fun and what we think of as the best labels, do not always perform when you can't see the label.

There were four outstanding wines in the tasting, four wines I had no hesitation giving gold medal / five star status to.

My top wine was the correctly picked Otago wine, Chard Farm 'The Viper' Pinot Noir 2005 - which has been reviewed as this week's Wine of the Week. It's rich, ripe and savoury with a ripe, luscious fleshy body crammed with upfront cherry fruit, cake spice and smooth silky tannins. Winemaker is John Wallace, the grapes come from Parkburn in the Cromwell Basin, the clones are Dijon and the wine spent 11 months in French oak, 20% new.

Pegasus Bay Waipara Valley Pinot Noir 2004 had many similar aroma and flavour traits, only it was a bigger, tighter and noticeably more alcoholic wine. It's full-bodied, ripe, creamy, fleshy and integrated with smooth velvety tannins, a musky floral perfume, macerated black cherry fruit and a deep, penetrating, spicy core. Winemakers are Lynnette Hudson and Matthew Donaldson. The grapes come from 20 year old vines with the original planted clone Am 10/5 plus clone 5, clone 115 and newer Dijon clones, ten different clones in total. Matured in artisan Burgundian barriques (40% new) for 18 months.

Muddy Water 'Mojo' Pinot Noir 2004, also from the Waipara Valley, was one wine I did pick the region correctly on, mainly because of the floral musky perfume that had a nuance of grapefruit. Earthy, savoury, spicy and powerful with dark fruit, hints of liquorice and a gorgeous silky, silky texture this is a wine of finesse with enough acidity to give it edge, and though seemingly lighter than the previous two it doesn’t lack in length. Winemaker is Belinda Gould. It is 70% clone AM 10/5, the rest is a mix of clones from a hill vineyard. Wild fermented with 15 months in French oak, 30% new.

Mahi Rive Vineyard Marlborough Pinot Noir 2005 is a big wine, spicy, savoury, herbal and earthy with an exciting aroma of truffle. It made me think of the top wines from Martinborough. After about 10 minutes a more floral perfume emerged and an array of interesting flavour characters developed in the palate. Spicy with thick velvety tannins, savoury oak and sweet fruit balanced by the acidity, this is a full-bodied, fleshy, generous pinot noir; a deep, satisfying wine. Winemaker is Brian Bicknell - recently departed from Seresin to concentrate on this, his own label. It's a blend of clones 666 & 777 with 15 months in French barriques.

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copyright Sue Courtney 2007