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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: December 1st to December 16th 2007
Dec 16th: Weekend Reading - New NZ Wine Guides
Dec 15th: Wine Blogging Wednesday - Que Sirah Sirah - summarised
Dec 14th: In Praise of Riesling
Dec 13th: Blind Tasting
Dec 12th: Wine Blogging Wednesday - Petite Syrah
Dec 11th: More Pinot Gris - Wines with Kiwi Flair
Dec 8th: Minted Lamb Backstraps and Stone Paddock Cab Sauv
Dec 7th: Life Saving Wines from Bach 22
Dec 6th: An impromptu trip to Matakana and a new cellar door
Dec 5th: The Auswine offline in Auckland
Dec 4th: The perfect gift for the wine lover who has everything
Dec 3rd: Wine of the Week: Askerne Hawkes Bay Gewurztraminer 2006
Dec 2nd: French wine highlights
Other Entries

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

Weekend Reading - New NZ Wine Guides

When I reviewed three of these books below in my local newspaper column a couple of weeks ago, I had some rare responses to my column, but interestingly, both from winemakers.

One said, "In terms of your column, to review books which review wines is an interesting thing to do."

It's an interesting response from a reader and one I've been mulling over for a while. It makes me wonder that if I had written a book, would the authors of these books I am reviewing, review mine?

But what really spurred the feedback was a Michael Cooper quote I took from an interview when I asked him what he thought about the wines specific to the newspaper's readership area. The feedback was because they felt the quotes I had used were contentious and the fact I didn't comment on his quotes was remiss.

I showed the column to a number of friends and respected wine industry colleagues. "What was this issue again?" they said.

The first respondent, quoted above, added, "to review a book, as in a wine, is to comment on it. To clarify its purpose and try to put that is some sort of context- perhaps historical, perhaps philosophical, perhaps cultural. Otherwise, the column is just an advertisement for the book."

That may be so, but when you have a limited number of words, which is always the case in print publications, there is only so much you can do.

So the "reviews" of the books below may purely be advertisements for the books. But then the reviews of wines of this website could in the same way be considered advertisements for wines. But no-one pays me, so …… heck, I don't know.

* * * * * * * * * *

First up is Michael Cooper Buyer's Guide to New Zealand Wine 2008 ($34.99).   cooperbook08.jpg (16528 bytes)This is the 16th edition of the book and the most authorative as well. A whopping 528 pages in length, it is the most inclusive New Zealand wine rating guide 'in print' with 3085 wines reviewed according to the front cover, including 524 chardonnays, 415 sauvignon blancs and 469 pinot noirs.

The format is the same as in previous years, including the necessary guide on how to use the book. There's the latest season's vintage report (2007) covering the 10 major regions; trends in the wine market (did you know kiwis still drink more beer than wine?); where to buy wine and cellaring information. He writes extensively about his White and Red Wines of the Year, which are not necessarily the best wines he has tasted all year, but the ones that fit the criteria of quality, availability and affordability.

Then there are the 'Classics' - Super Classics, Classics and Potential Classics - and another unnamed category for wines not at the forefront in quality terms but benchmark wines of their sort because they have been produced for many vintages, are widely available and deliver good to excellent quality and value.

In the 'Classics', he highlights the wines that have been elevated in status - but there is no mention of the ones that have been dropped. To find out if there are any that have been dropped, it is necessary to compare the current guide with last year's guide, and I don't have a copy of the 2007. In fact the last guide I have seems to be the 2005.

So to the wine reviews, which Cooper rates on a five star rating system, with '5 stars' the best and 'no stars' to be avoided. Quickly flicking through the book, I didn't find any wines less than two stars and a largest percentage would have three stars or above. What would be good, I feel is a breakdown of stars awarded - and also stars awarded by region.

As comprehensive as the book is, there are a number of brands missing, and not all wines from every producer have been reviewed. It must be frustrating for writers of wine guide books to have wines arrive on your door step the day after you close off the document and send the manuscript to the publisher. So there are some current vintage wines missing as well.

Bottom line on this book - If your palate is attuned to Michael Cooper's palate, then this is the guide for you. Basically it's the only printed, comprehensive ratings guide of New Zealand wines, therefore the leader in its category.

joellebook08.jpg (9752 bytes)* * * * * * * * * *

In the 2008 Indispensable Wine Guide ($24.99), by Joelle Thomson, 862 wines under $25 are reviewed and there are plenty of tasty overseas wines as well as local tipples. Joelle's penchant for modern European reds is reflected in her top picks. Chivite Gran Fuedo Reserve 2001 ($24-$25) from Spain is her number one wine. La Mura Nero d'Avola 2005 ($14-$15) from Southern Italy is best value.

Clearly presented and easy to read, wines are star-rated and unusual grape varieties, such as Nero D'Avola, are explained. It's a great buyers' guide for everyday savvies and chardonnays but also for something a little unusual, as well.

* * * * * * * * * *

Peter Saunders first wrote "A Guide to New Zealand Wine" in 1976 and in the middle of 2007, this 25th edition was released. With 480 pages, this is the most detailed review of New Zealand wineries in print. It includes a comprehensive industry overview, then wineries are listed in alphabetical order with winery background and reviews of recently available wines. Wine are not rated by stars or any other means but Peter, whose second name could be 'Frank', tells you in words whether the wines are ready, unfolding or past it. saundersbook07

Peter goes out of his way to find information about new producers, including even dropping me the occasional line to see what I know, so this is the most up to date winery guide in that respect. I also like the inclusion of synonyms for wineries and second labels in the alphabetical listing, which refers you to the main winery entry for that brand. Also of use is the inclusion of brand names that are now defunct.
A solid introduction to the evolution and current state of the New Zealand wine industry precedes the winery listings.
My only gripe would be that some of the wine reviews are rather old - for a book published mid-2007, I'd expect more 2006 wine reviews to be included. There's also the odd typo (which I am notorious for myself), and somehow the map was omitted.

Nevertheless, I consider it a worthwhile industry and winery reference.

* * * * * * * * *

taste book 08.jpg Taste Food and Wine 2008 by Matthew Dukes and Tyson Stelzer was not reviewed in my newspaper column, simply because of space, book availability and relevancy, however with virtual global media, these are not really issues. An interesting book, with only 365 wines reviewed - and for some of the wines actual 'taste' reviews are lacking, but you do learn about the producer's ideals and background.  Wines are split into sparkling, white, rose, red and sweet/fortified section and listed ascending order of price.  They are mostly Australian wines with a smattering of rather predictable New Zealand wines - Kumeu River, Cloudy Bay, Dog Point and Felton Road among them.

I'm not sure if the size of the book is right because with 384 sturdy pages it is rather thick for its narrow footprint. But where this book stands out is for it quirky presentation. Snippets of descriptors (from where I've no idea) head each page, although bear little relevance to the text below. But just flicking through page after page of these 'headers' is fun on its own and shows the authors have a sense of humour.
There's a comprehensive section of food and wine combinations - prepared with more thought than many other guides that usually reproduce predictable same old same old combos. Taste also list foods to avoid.
A "who's who" of top wine producers in the author's opinion has some surprising omissions in the NZ section and also some surprising inclusions.  Similar comments apply to the 'Great New Zealand Pinot Noir Classification".
The book costs (probably) from $25-$29 in New Zealand and it's probably available at one of the wine shops that is listed in the retailers section.
These guys are Internet savvy, so you can read more about this book online. Check it out at

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

Wine Blogging Wednesday -Que Sirah Sirah - summarised

A heads up to Wannabe Wino, Sonodora, who has done a tremendous round-up of the 50-odd particpants in the December Wine Blogging Wednesday. If you want to know what all the fuss about Petite Sirah (PS) is, then click on over there and take a look.   No wonder people say, "PS - I love you".

PS - My own review is below.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Dec 14th 2007

In Praise of Riesling

Riesling is slipping in the popularity stakes, from No. 3 white in 2006, to No. 4 white in 2007 in terms of production and the statistics in the latest New Zealand Wine Grower Statistical Annual show that production in 2007 at 6017 tonnes, is slightly lower than the record 6745 tonnes the year before.  Pinot Gris, on the other hand, leapt from 3675 tonnes in 2006 to 6053 tonnes in 2004.

Talk to any retailer and they'll tell you why - it's because consumers in New Zealand buy more Pinot Gris than they do Riesling. They are speaking with their wallets.   They don't care that critics like Jancis Robinson say, "Riesling is indisputably the greatest white wine grape in the world".  Many consumers simply don't understand the wine that is Riesling. Could it be because they don't know what what they are going to get when they open the bottle? Is it because they don't know whether they are going to get a dry, medium or sweet wine?  Often the label doesn't tell them. Over chill some dry Rieslings and the acidity can be teeth-enamel stripping and bracing, whereas if you let a sweeter Riesling get too warm, which is easy to do at the beach in the summer, the drink will possibly taste flabby. 

Most of the Riesling in New Zealand is grown in Marlborough but in this region, where Sauvignon Blanc dominates, Riesling clocks in as No. 4 white. However, further south in Waipara, Riesling is the Queen.  Now the Waipara Winegrowers have decided to honour their No. 1 white and they'll be doing that next year with an 'In Praise of Riesling' event.

Here in Auckland at the First Glass Wednesday tastings, Riesling lovers are lucky that Riesling is given the respect it deserves. And last Wednesday night was one of the nights of respect and homage to the Riesling, because six local versions were served.

But once again the confused lament of consumers was heard.  "People ask me is this wine dry or medium-sweet," says tasting host Kingsley Wood, holding up a bottle of the 2006 Neudorf Moutere Riesling from Nelson then reading the back label.  "If I haven't tasted the wine, I have to tell them I simply don't know". 

From experience I know that the 7, 8 and 9 per cent alcohol wines are going to be reasonably or moderately sweet.  It's when the alcohol levels are higher that the sweetness level can be a bit pot luck if its not mentioned on the label.  Searingly dry and Australian-like, or like the Muddy Water Waipara Riesling Unplugged 2007, which clocks in at 13% alcohol and has 58 grams per litre of residual sugar, they can be lusciously sweet.

Wine tasted on Wednesday night were

  • Charles Wiffen Marlborough Riesling 2007
  • Whitehaven Marlborough Riesling 2007
  • Neudorf Moutere Riesling 2006
  • The Crater Rim Waipara Riesling 2006
  • The Crater Rim Akaroa / Marlborough Riesling 2005
  • Muddy Water Unplugged Waipara Riesling 2006

Tasters were asked at the end of the Rieslings, to show by hand, which wine was their favourite.  There were a good 80 people in the room, but as all of the wines had a good number of votes, there was no real clear winner.  I think I put my hand up for the second Crater Rim.  Others must have liked it too, because when I checked at the shop today, it had sold out.

Check out all my Riesling notes on my Wednesday Roundup tasting page for 12 December.

I'm also looking forward to experimenting with Riesling over the holidays because I've a challenging Riesling assignment with a deadline the middle of next month. It's the perfect time of year to try the wines out both at summer room temperature and well chilled.

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

Blind Tasting

There's something familiar about the label of the Blind River wines - the clean lines, the illusion of water dividing a background and foreground, and a logo. But more unique is the stylised fish logo, a trout perhaps, with a koru-like tail.blindriver wines

"Where are you exactly," I asked, knowing the actual Blind River that the brand takes its name from is south of the Awatere River in Marlborough. But I found the vineyards are on the northern side of the Awatere River in Redwood Pass Road. In fact I probably passed them when I was in Marlborough for the Marlborough Wine Weekend, when the bus drove along that road to the tasting of some of the Awatere region wines in the marquee in one of Vavasour's vineyards. But the Blind River wines were not at that tasting.

This is a new brand to me but already popular on the other side of the world. And after tasting the wines I can see why.

Blind River Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007 ($27) is bright and zesty with grapefruit on the nose and juicy-sweet tangelo-like citrus in the delicately musky palate with vivacious tropical fruit, underlying herbaceousness and a typical gooseberry pungency. Subtle oak adds richness and texture and power yet it's focussed and linear with its pure, citrussy seam. 10 percent of the wine had wild ferment in French oak, the remainder was cool fermented in stainless steel. It has 13% alcohol by volume, and of course a screwcap.

Blind River Marlborough Pinot Noir 2006 ($37) has moderate depth of purple red colour and is gorgeously enticing with its sweet smoky, savoury fragrance with chocolate and cherry adding to the sexy musky allure. It's sweetish to the taste - more so than I would have expected, but the apparent sweetness melds in beautifully to the spicy savouriness, red fruit and nutty oak of this creamy textured, velvety-tannined mouthful. There's a slight gamey earthy character too and the finish is long and svelte. A very enjoyable Pinot Noir, it states 14% alcohol on the bottle and the closure is screwcap. Interesting looking at the winemaking notes - 15% of the wine had wild ferment in small open top vessels and 10% was barrel fermented with wild yeasts too. After ferments were complete, all of the wine was matured in French oak barrels (35% new), for 10 months and further aged in bottle before release.

The wines were matched to a meal of two halves. On one side of the plate, to match the Sauvignon Blanc, was a basil, tomato and avocado salad.The tomatoes had been sprinked with sugar and the salad marinaded in basil-infused avocado oil and balsamic for an hour before serving.  Super new season vine tomatoes and Awatere Valley sauvignon Blanc are just yum.
On the other side of the plate, to match the Pinot Noir, was the meat - a barbecued venison burger patty and a perfectly charred slice of beef fillet steak. The apparent sweetness of the Pinot Noir makes it a superb accompaniment to these meats and as for those super juicy venison patties, I'll be back to the butcher in Silverdale to pick up some more. 

Find out more about Blind River and it people - owner Barry Feickert, vineyard manager Simon Neal and 'local lad' winemaker, Stu Marfell, from  You'll find the online shop and other stockists (inlcuding in Australia, the UK and the Netherlands) there too.

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

Wine Blogging Wednesday - Petite Syrah

When I looked up the December topic for Wine Blogging Wednesday and saw the focus variety was Petite Sirah, my hopes of being able to join in after a two month hiatus, sunk. Last month the topic was 'Silver Burgundy' - that is Burgundy not grown on the golden slopes (Cote d'Or), but in other appellations such as Cote Chalonnais and Maconnais. Such is my luck, the Drouhin Saint-Veran 2005 crossed my lips exactly two weeks after the November 14th close off.

The month before was Portuguese table wines. Gee I haven't seen a Portuguese table wine for yonks. The last one I tasted was a Quinto de Crasto 2000 back in April 2003. Oh hang on, I could have had a Mateus Rosť since then. No, I think the last time I had one of those was back in 1993.

Petite Sirah is another obscurity, so hard to find in New Zealand. None is grown here, as far as I know, so the wine has to be imported but none of the wine shops I usually frequent, has any for sale. So it is goodbye WBW until 2008. Or is it? hereticps.jpg (20362 bytes)

Along comes John from Boston, someone I spoken to may times in the Wine Lovers Page chatroom. And what wine does he bring to our offline in Auckland last week? A Petite Sirah. Yippee!    (Scroll down for Dec. 5th entry)

Four Vines 'The Heretic' Petite Sirah 2005 is from Paso Robles in California. Much discussion ensued about the correct pronunciation of region. Is 'Roble' pronounced as in 'no bull' or as in 'Father Pedro Bless me for I have so sinned in this city'. Now the latter could make a cryptic crossword puzzle clue … perhaps. Those that seemed to know agreed on the 'Ro Bless' option.

Having got the name sorted out, it was eventually time to taste the wine.

Deep in colour, inky and dense, this dark red, almost black coloured wine is fragrantly scented with rich, sweet, powerful, succulent flavours, velvety tannins, lots of mocha and espresso and underlying well balanced acidity. It reminded me a little of Syrah, but a fragrant, peppery, tarry NZ Syrah rather than a blockbuster creamy oaked, grunty Aussie shiraz. Others in the room said it reminded them of Pinot Noir - but no pinot noir I have tasted, that's for sure. I loved it. Groovy wine with a groovy label which is deciphered on the 4-vines website.

"SCREAM at complacency (merlot). CRUSH conformity (cabernet). LIVE a life less ordinary… BE the Heretic…drink REAL wine(eclectic alternative varietals). Old vine Petite Sirah."

This wine is part of Four Vines 'Freak Show' collection. It has 14.8% alcohol and a cork closure. Lucky we took our corkscrew along to the tasting (just kidding).morrisshdurif.jpg (17263 bytes)

Petite Sirah and Durif are accepted as the same grape in the USA and Durif is certainly more familiar to my palate, especially the Morris Durif from Rutherglen in Victoria. It's the only straight Durif available in New Zealand, according to my Pro Version of

A wine with a little wider availability in New Zealand is the Morris Sparkling Shiraz Durif NV from Rutherglen. Now this full-bodied, bubbly red fizz is a wine I know and like very much and it's passed my lips many a time.  It's made as red wine with oak aging etc, etc, then with secondary fermentation in the bottle, 'methode traditionelle' style. I bought a bottle today, the last one on the shelf at my 'local'.  But I've decided I'm going to wait to pop the cork - and then it will be to accompany the Christmas turkey with all the trimmings - or perhaps even the Christmas cake, because last time I tasted it, this succulent bubbles was full of dark, juicy, slightly porty flavours with creamy oak, Christmas cake spices, chocolate and cherries with a savouriness to balance the fruit sweetness perfectly.

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

More Pinot Gris - Wines with Kiwi Flair

Following up from this week's Wine Of the Week review, here are some of the other Pinot Gris wines from the tasting. The Rimu Grove Bronte Pinot Gris 2007 from Marlborough (reviewed in WOTW along with Rimu Grove Bronte Pinot Gris 2007) was my top wine in the first flight.

This was my top wine in the second flight ....

Lawson’s Dry Hills Marlborough Pinot Gris 2007
A sophisticated, classy Marlborough Pinot Gris with weight and richness. Flowers, ripe pear and apricot fruit tempt the nose and carry through to the rich, creamy, almost oily palate with musky spices and soft acidity. There's a bubblegum sweetness, a nutty richness and wonderful length. Despite the fruit sweetness, it seems quite dry. 20% of the wine was fermented in old oak which has added only texture, not flavour . 14% alc. 5.3g/l rs. 5.2g/l acidity. $23.95.

Not put in the 'flights' because it was a much sweeter wine - and the only medium sweet Pinot Gris out of the 17 wines, the following was tasted with the 'recalls'.

Saint Clair Pioneer Block 5 'Bull Block' Pinot Gris 2007
Made in what they call a 'Vendage Tardive' style' this is deep in colour for such a young wine. Its gorgeously fragrant, fruity, apricot-infused scent is sweet and honeyed and the lightly oily viscous textured, sweet-fruited pear and apricot flavours are mouthfilling and long. Ripe, rich and rounded with lovely fruit. Definitely 'Yum' from the outset. 13.5% alc. 14g/l rs. 5.9g/l acidity. $22.95.

As well there were wines in the tasting that represented almost regions - although nothing from Auckland, Gisborne, or Waipara. These are some of the highlights.

Marsden Estate Bay of Islands Pinot Gris 2007
The grapes for this wine were picked about a week before the torrential rains that fell on Northland in the midst of the 2007 picking season. Rod McIvor was elated about the quality of the fruit and it shows in the wine. It's creamy, leesy and nutty wine with green apple the dominant but very subtle fruit, it has that typically 'neutral' character that consumers love. But it is only 'neutral' to start and gently expands with flavour on the palate where delicate 'just ripe' pear, hints of florals and a touch of lemon join the apple and almonds while loads of strudel spices dance on the persistently juicy finish. Decanting is recommended to coax out the flavours from this initially shy wine. 13.5% alc and seemingly quite dry. $27.

Distant Land Hawkes Bay Pinot Gris 2007
In my notes I wrote, 'the epitome of Pinot Gris texture and flavour' because it has so many of those benchmark attributes that could only be New Zealand Pinot Gris. There's classic pear on the nose with hints of creaming soda and rich, spicy flavours with an earthy, subtle lemongrass note. Crisp, fresh and steely to start with increasing textural richness, a touch of sherbet, tropical fruit and ripe pear sweetness, it's bright and pretty and never overpowering. There's an increasing floral muskiness and a tangelo zestiness and ripe juicy peach joining the pears, with time.
Andy Nicole is the winemaker for this wine and the wine he made last year from exactly the same Dartmoor Valley vineyard for this new brand's sister Lincoln Vineyards label won gold at the 2006 NZ International Wine Show. 16% of the wine was fermented in old oak barrels, which no doubt adds to the complexity and richness without affecting the flavour. Very stylish. 13.5% alc. $20.

Margrain Martinborough Pinot Gris 2007
Creamy and lightly toasty, the rich, caramelised pear and nutty aromas carry through to the palate where baked apple flavours are more to the fore. Dry, textural, talcy and musky with a powerful, zesty and lingering tasty finish which is notable for its high acidity and tingliness, it's very tight in its youth with a gravelly undercurrent. A wine that is obviously made to age, and it should do so with flair, the total acidity clocks in at 7.5g/l which is more what you'd expect from Riesling. It's also bone dry and has reasonably high alcohol at 14.5% alcohol. I like this wine because, although it seems a little phenolic mid-palate, two minutes after the wine has been swallowed, you can still taste the pear and apple fruit, which by this time has been joined by fragrant fleshy peach, honeysuckle and gingery spice. $30.

Blackenbrook Nelson Pinot Gris 2007
When first opened, orange rind/zest aromas give a vibrant citrussy waft of perfumed air that carries through to the bright, vibrant, zesty palate that's full of apple and citrus fruit. This didn't make the recall flight but when I tasted it later it had become rounded and creamy with a spicy undercurrent to the fleshy stonefruit flavours. It's rich in texture with a citrussy verve and incredible length that just lasts and lasts. It has just so blossomed with decanting and time in the bottle and ended up with an 'Exc' rating. 14.5% alc. $25.90.

Clayridge Marlborough Pinot Gris 2007
When first tasting this wine, vanillin oak kind of dominated and although the aromas were infused with sweet florals and it was rich and rounded to the taste, with its oak and mealy richness and savoury barrel-ferment characters, it really came across as rather chardonnay-like. I down-pointed it for that and it didn't make my taste off.
But take it out of the comparative tasting context, put a glass in front of you on its own with food to follow, this wine just totally seduces and 'Yum' was put in the scoring column. Give it a couple of days in the bottle and it becomes lithe and graceful, creamy and soft with a clean, limey seam, hints of apricot and delicate honeyed spices. And with the creamy oak and now more obvious wild yeast characters playing a perfectly poised background role, it seemed was light, lifted and pure yet still had power and impression. It was the most beautiful swan. A dry Pinot Gris with 13.5% alc, it costs about $24 a bottle.

Pisa Range Estate Central Otago Pinot Gris 2007
The first Pinot Gris from this producer, the grapes came from a neighbour's vineyard at Pisa, 10km north of Cromwell. Distinctly Pinot Gris on the nose with pear drop, a hint of apricot and delicately floral and spice scents, flower musk adds allure to the leesy, biscuity, creamy flavours that hint of creaming soda with underlying spice. This is a powerful wine with a 'juicy' factor that is just so more-ish on the crisp, dry finish. Perfect with the food, especially the buttery mashed kumara. 14.5% alc. $27.

I've been thinking more about the comments the Brits have been making with placing the styles of our Pinot Gris wines - if Pinot Grigio to them means a lean, steely Italian style, and Pinot Gris means a rich, oily Alsace style, perhaps New Zealand Winegrowers should put forward a new synonym to the 'powers that be' for our  distinct New Zealand style.  Perhaps it should be Pinot Hima, using a Maori word for grey, instead of the French or Italian? Or maybe Pinot Grizo, using the esperanto, which has no country connotations?  Or maybe just more education because, as  these wines show, there are many kiwi Pinot Gris wines worth discovering.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Dec 8th 2007

Minted Lamb Backstraps and Stone Paddock Cab Sauv

It's unusual to see a wine labelled simply as Cabernet Sauvignon these days because Cabernet Sauvignon has lost favour, somewhat, to other more trendy varieties. It's interesting looking at the Winegrowers's Statistical Annual 2007, which arrived in the post today, to see that Cabernet Sauvignon accounted this year, for just 1.2% of the total vineyard production. And in Hawkes Bay, where most of the country's Cabernet Sauvignon is grown, the hectares dedicated to the grape are decreasing. There's still a healthy 388 hectares, but back in 2000 there was 419 hectares of the vine. Stone Paddock CS 05

Paritua Vineyards Stone Paddock Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 shows how good the grape can be in the right year. This deep dark red coloured wine is rich and spicy with vibrant blackberry and cassis-like fruit, creamy sweet vanillin oak, plush velvety tannins and just a hint of mint. Well proportioned acidity adds brightness and vibrancy while a hint of earthiness adds a savoury undercurrent which really complemented the mint marinated lamb we drank the wine with. The sweetness of the fruit and oak also complemented the sweetness of the minted baby peas that were served with the lamb.

An impressionable Hawkes Bay Cabernet Sauvignon, not only for its rich, luscious taste but also its price - just $23 bottle from The wine, which spent 16 months maturing in French oak, has 10% Merlot in the mix, mentioned on the website but not on the bottle. It has 13% alcohol and sports a screwcap closure. Evert Nizjink makes the wine.

Lamb Back Straps in a Mint Sauce Marinade
The marinade is loosely based on the Edmond's Cookbook mint sauce recipe

Two tops of mint springs - about 16 to 20 leaves in total
1 tablespoon sugar
Boiling water
1 tablespoon balsamic
1 teaspoon EVOO
1 clove garlic
Salt and pepper
Two lamb backstraps

Finely chop the mint and place in a 1 litre Pyrex jug together with the sugar.
Pour about two tablespoons of boiling water over.
Stir to melt the sugar and let the mint steep.
Add the Balsamic vinegar, oil and chopped garlic.
Season lamb with salt and pepper and place into the marinade, turning to get the backstraps coated. Marinade for least half an hour.

Remove the backstraps and sizzle them on the Barbie, coating with the marinade before turning.

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

Life Saving Wines from Bach 22

Did you wear your jandals today? I have to confess I didn't, even though it is National Jandal Day and one of the sponsors, Bach 22 Wines, sent me a pair. Quite honestly, with the sudden drop in temperature, it was just too cold.

National Jandal Day is to raise money for Surf Life Saving New Zealand - see, so a few eyebrows have been raised that a wine company is a sponsor for a campaign to support safe summer on beaches, especially when some beaches have a complete alcohol ban. But Bach 22 wines are all about the laid back Kiwi summer, and having a bevvy at the beach with a few snags on the barbie has always been a part of that lifestyle. Bach 22 wines and Jandals

Bach 22 is part of the Nobilo Group, therefore one of Constellation's brands and there are three wines with the bright, 'look of summer' labels.

My favourite of the tasting was the Bach 22 Merlot 2006 made from grapes grown on NZ's east coast, most probably Gisborne and Hawkes Bay. I liked this smoky, juicy, ripe, tasty, medium-bodied red with its bright breezy wild blackberry fruit and light impression of oak. If you like those slightly sweetish cheap Spanish reds, this is a good home grown alternative.

Bach 22 East Coast Sauvignon Blanc 2007 is full of fresh cut grass and capsicum flavours with underlying tropical fruit, pineapple, lemon and oranges. Refreshing, as savvies always should be, with a long tasty finish.

Bach 22 Gisborne Chardonnay 2005 was reviewed in my blog on May 22nd and honestly it was mush fresher tasting then. Now it's mellow and rounded with citrussy flavours but it won't protest to being well chilled, which is exactly how it should be in the summer.

The people who make Bach 22 are no wine snobs. They see wine as fun and thus use it as the basis for summer drink recipes such as Sauvignon Blanc Spritzer, Sangria Kiwi Style, Tropical Wine Punch , Mexican Merlot Cooler and 'Sunset on the Deck'. They've also have some pretty yummy sounding food matches such as Crayfish and Paua on the Barbie, Scallop and Squid Kebabs, Chicken on a Can and Fruit Kebabs with Cinnamon Cream. Check out the recipes on

Best thing about Bach 22 wines, they can be found for under $10 a bottle. I'm not sure if anything from the sale of Bach 22 wines go to Surf Life Saving, but with all this publicity they are getting as sponsors, perhaps it should.  So if you want to make a donation to Surf Life Saving, click here to find out how.

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

An impromptu trip to Matakana and a new cellar door

An impromptu trip to Matakana yesterday was hastily arranged at the end of the Auckland offline on Tuesday night when John from Boston said he would be interested in visiting Heron's Flight. About an hour's drive north of Auckland City, this is the vineyard that specialises in Italian varieties, growing only Sangiovese and Dolcetto, grapes that seem eminently suited to the Matakana climate. The Heron's Flight Sangiovese 2004, tasted at the offline, had impressed.

So with plans made to head north, I flicked off an email to Bruce and Linsey-Ann Taylor, owners of Contour Estate. The impressive looking vineyard with its Tuscan / Provence styled buildings on top of the hill, is the newest cellar door on the Matakana Wine trail and opened to the public for the first time at the end of November.

 Contour Estate, Matakana

They open weekends only but offered to accommodate our mid-week tasting of their debut wine, the Contour Estate Reserve 2006 Syrah. This is a very young vines Syrah made from a vineyard established in 2004 with 100% new French oak that reasonably dominates the aromas and flavours at this early stage of its life. It's vividly coloured with floral nuances, fine tannins, red fruits, lifted acidity, delicate spices and a hint of tar, which is something that reminded me of some of New Zealand's further north Syrahs. It's a very dry wine but with the generous serving and pauses for conversation, the wine became a little more complex with velvety chocolatey nuances emerging with time in the glass. The wine costs $38 a bottle and tastings are $5 a glass, refundable on 6-bottle buys.
You will find Contour Estate at 139 Takatu Road, Matakana.

I had visited Heron's Flight's new wine tasting facility and winemakers centre just after it opened about a year ago but this was the first time I had eaten at the restaurant, and I was reasonably impressed. You can choose from a light lunch selection at $14.90 or if you are reasonably hungry and a little more flush, the main course meals at $24 each, look quite substantial.

I was tempted to try the Fresh Strawberry and Te Mata Blue Cheese Salad with cos lettuce and lemon and manuka honey dressing and when I saw a plate being taken to the next table, I drooled. But I've never had Snapper in a Tomato and Saffron Broth, so I chose that. It was fishy, as it should be, and tasty, with plenty of ciabatto to wipe the plate clean with.

John chose the Beef Carpaccio Tuscan Style, which wasn't carpaccio in the traditional raw meat sense that is sliced paper thin when lightly frozen. Here, the rare fillet had been lightly seared and cut in thicker than normal slices. He said he enjoyed it immensely.

There is a $10 charge to taste the Sangiovese and the Dolcetto, however tasting of the Sangiovese grape juice and the Ratafia quince liqueur, are free.

Pouring Heron's Flight SangioveseHeron's Flight Dolcetto 2005 ($39) is ripe and sweet-fruited with wild strawberry, savoury oak, hints of leather and a smoky nuance to the scent which comes through on the finish which has a lovely play of sweet and savoury. Although there is lots going on in this wine, it seems ready to drink and I enjoyed it.

Heron's Flight Sangiovese 2005 ($50) seems a much more savoury wine than the 2004 we drank the night before. It's rich and powerful with full, generous flavours, well-balanced acidity and a savoury leathery backbone. It's chocolatey and spicy, layered and complex with a bright berry fruit sweetness to the lingering finish. The oak has been toned down in the 2005 vintage to 50% new and 50% older. It will become rather interesting with some age, but whether it is as age-worthy as the 2004, time will tell.

Open daily, for breakfast and lunch with dinners several evenings a week, Heron's Flight at 49 Sharp Road, Matakana, is definitely worth a visit. Take time to browse through the Wine Library too.

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

The Auswine offline in Auckland

Looking for a BYOW restaurant in Auckland to enjoy a meal with a group of like-minded friends. Let me suggest La Bocca in Parnell, which turned out to be a perfect venue for the Auswine Forum's wine discussers' first Auckland offline.

La Bocca has a private room, a choice of set-priced menus for groups (so there can no squabbling about who pays for what at the end of the meal) and reasonable corkage, which for us was $5 each.

Eleven of us turned up, each with mandatory bottle of wine, to meet people, some of whom others only knew by their Internet persona's. Many people said prior to the offline that the wine was secondary and meeting everyone was most important, but after five minutes everyone knew who everyone else was and wine assumed it's important role. It was the authentic Italian food that turned out to be secondary as bottle after bottle of vinous pleasure was passed round, and the glasses increased from one to two per person once the reds started to be poured.  Despite La Bocca's main course fare on the $50 set menu not being overly red wine friendly, everyone managed to cope.

 boccagroup.jpg (42842 bytes)

There were 12 wines in all and my brief notes - and wine matching where applicable - follow

Te Mata Cape Crest Sauvignon Blanc 2005, a barrel-fermented, mealy, vanilla-edged and funky alternative style of New Zealand savvie from Hawkes Bay  - it was excellent with my sun-dried tomato and goats cheese tartlet. Guidalberto & Heron's Flight Sangiovese
Dry River Selection Gewurztraminer 1990, Martinborough - Deep bronze yellow and full of honeyed apples on first tasting, but it just got better and better in the glass with the intrinsic spicy characters of GW coming through. I put some of this aside in a glass to taste with my veal masala main - and who would have thought, but this sweeter wine worked well with that tangy sweet wine sauce.
Elephant Hill HB Viognier 2007, Hawkes Bay - apricot scented and a rich full-bodied palate with a spicy vibrant finish. Excellent with the smoked salmon on the antipasto plate, but avoid prosciutto with this wine. A press release came out today saying it has won Blue Gold at the Sydney Top 100. It's an interesting intriguing wine and one that people are going to hear a lot more about, I'm sure.
Kerpen Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spatlese 2001 from the Mosel. Long and sweet, poised and elegant with gorgeous purity. Just 8% alcohol.
Ata Rangi Lismore Pinot Gris 2004 from Martinborough. Rich, powerful, low acid with hints of creaming soda perfume. With its high residual sugar and no suitable food to match it with (the smoked salmon had gone) I found it a little cloying. But others loved it.
Herons Flight Sangiovese 2004 from Matakana, north of Auckland. A personal favourite, with reasonable acidity from the wild berry fruit underlying the meaty oak. Lots of layers and power. I wrote about half a page on the aroma alone. St Nesbit
St Nesbit 2002 from Karaka, south of Auckland city. Another stunning red from Auckland joining the likes of Puriri Hills and Stonyridge with an outstanding expression of Bordeaux-styled red - but at half the price of those two. A blend of Merlot (60%), Cab Franc (15%) and Petit Verdot (25%), this tastes sweet-fruited, creamy and voluptuous with a classic, cedary, cigar box nose.
Tenuta San Guido "Guidalberto" 2002 was served blind and I went France, thinking it was Bordeaux, but when it was revealed as Italy, it could only be a Super Tuscan. Lot of Bdx-like characters, cedary and savoury with dried herbs, leather and fruit sweetness. A blend of 45% Merlot, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Sangiovese.
Roccato Rocca delle Macie 2000 - Another super Tuscan style, a 50/50 blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, this was a monster compared to the previous wine. Big, rich, spicy,powerful and massive.
Four Vines 'The Heretic' Petite Syrah 2005 (pictured below) from Pasa Robles in California and carried especially from Boston by John, just for this event. Wow, purple coloured, fragrantly scented and sweet, rich, powerful flavours with loads of spice and mocha. I thought it quite New World Syrah-like, others compared to a big, sweet-fruited Pinot Noir.
Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah 2002 from Hawkes Bay. Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. An amazing, sweet-edged, concentrated beast. My Wine of the Night.
Chasse-Spleen 1996 - carried in hand luggage from England, it showed the refined texture that top qualityJohn from Boston with 'The Heretic' and Craig & Mel from Bordeaux wines can achieve. Smoky and savoury with a delicate floral, violet and dried herb scent, then in the earthy, mellow palate there's hints of leather and sweet vinous complexities and the finish is rather long. Neil gave me a taste of his fillet steak to try the wine with, and it went to an extra dimension with the right food.

So a great night was had by all. Thanks to Craig of for setting the ball rolling on this one.  And if anyone out there wants to come to the next one, well, you'll just have to keep an eye on Auswine and join the group.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealandstrange carafe
Dec 4th 2007

The perfect gift for the wine lover who has everything

They are supposed to be decanters but these 'strange carafes' are more about art than anything else.  The Etienne Meneau sculptures are limited edition (just 8 of each model made) and at about NZ$4,000 (2,000 euros) plus shipping, they are definitely not your everyday wine accessory.  But they sure look good and standing over 60cm high (the wine bottle shows the scale), they would certainly be the focal point of conversation at your next dinner party.

Check out the Strange Carafes blog for pictures of many more -and a video of one of the carafes being filled.

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

Wine of the Week: Askerne Hawkes Bay Gewurztraminer 2006

Alsace is the home of Gewurztraminer but we make some pretty delicious Gewurztraminer here in New Zealand too.  I've not yet tasted anything like the Schoffit Cuvee Caroline, mentioned yesterday (scroll down), however, nor have I seen any kiwi Gewurz that is quite the brilliant yellow colour and brightness of the Schoffit at such a young - or any age. But I'm happy to keep opening bottles to see if anything comes close. Like this week's Wine of the Week, the Askerne Hawkes Bay Gewurztraminer 2006 ($22). Click here for my Wine of the Week review.

Gewurztraminer is one of my favourite food wines and because of its spiciness, it goes so well with my favourite types of Asian fare. I love it with coriander-based dishes, especially fish cakes with fresh coriander (cilantro)  or a coriander coconut curry sauce served over chicken or pork. However this time I tried something new, a Pork Char Sui, which was so incredibly easy to do.   For two people we took one whole pork fillet and marinaded it in a mixture of 1 tablespoon each of soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, tomato sauce and honey together with 1 clove of crushed garlic, 1 tsp of grated fresh ginger, 1/4 teaspoon of sesame oil and 1 teaspoon of Chinese Five-Spice powder.  The fillet was slashed in several places to let the marinade infuse.  When it came to cooking in a slow oven, the fillet was placed on a rack over dish filled with water, which encouraged steaming as well as slow roasting. I coiled the pork fillet on the rack and cooked it for 20 minutes then turned it over and cooked it for 20 minutes more.

Worcestershire sauce was used a a substitute for hoisin sauce, a standard Chinese ingredient for Char Sui.  It's just that I didn't have any hoisin, so the 'Woppity' was used instead. 

The Five-Spice powder seemed to be the key to Gewurztraminer-matching perfection, however.

We also accompanied the meat with a sauce made from soy, honey, orange juice and cinnamon, which was quite sweet - and didn't suit all the wines - but was mind boggling with Johanneshof Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2007, a medium-sweet style. The sauce was also rather awesome over the accompanying mashed kumara and rice.

If you are interested in tasting Gewurztraminer and reporting on the wine or perhaps your favourite Gewurztraminer and food match ever, then check out the Wine Lovers' Page Wine Focus for December 2007. I'll be there.

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

French Wine highlights

Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne - it's not often that I taste wines from these acclaimed French wine regions in the same week. It used to happen long ago - especially in the days of Liquorland Cellarmasters in Newton Road  - then we would have dedicated French wine nights - we'd even have whole nights dedicated just to classed growth Bordeaux. After Newton Road started its demise in the mid 1990's, Newmarket Liquorland became the premier tasting venue and even then where we'd occasionally spend a night tasting only French wines. It sometimes happened at Biss and Thew in Takapuna, though B & T was out in the back blocks and attendance wasn't always that high. Yes, tasting top notch Frenchies regularly was in days long past  .... "so last century".  By the mid 1990's the NZ dollar had so devalued, top quality Frenchies became a luxury item, a rarity on the tasting table unless you paid big, big bucks to attend because the tastings were so expensive to put on. Lucky New Zealand was making quality accessible quality wines with Martinborough Pinot Noir spearheading the quality and we simply ensconced ourselves in Aussie reds.  Did you know that when Jim Barry 'The Armagh' was first introduced into New Zealand, it cost only 30 bucks a bottle - it was cheaper in New Zealand than at the cellar door in the Clare Valley in Australia.   Yes, the Aussies were pulling out all stops to get us to drink their wines , and they succeeded.  And we've been lapping them up ever since.

So it was a real treat to taste some glorious Frenchies at the First Glass tastings during the week, and at ordinary $15 tastings too.

Nov 28 tasting. Phogto by Sue CourtneyFirst of all on the Wednesday night, the Burgundy and Burgundy varieties and Bordeaux and Bordeaux varieties revealed some humdingers that excited the taste buds in a way they hadn't been excited for a while.  Full notes are on my Wednesday tasting page - but these are the highlights.

Joseph Drouhin Saint-Veran 2006 (30) - a chardonnay wine from the Maconais - so refined and steely with amazing textural complexity and length.

Joseph Drouhin Chambolle-Musigny 2005 ($87) - a 'village level' smoky, savoury, tart and tangy  Pinot Noir - but with such expansion of sweet fruit on the palate and pleasing flavours persisted magnificently, I loved it. A real treat. 

Chateau Montrose 2001 ($129)- a second classed growth from St Estephe - a savoury concentrated, Cabernet Sauvignon driven wine of amazing length and totally dry.

Chateau Leoville Barton 2002 ($110)- a second classed growth from St Julien - deeper in colour and more 'Merlot-driven" when tasted straight after the Montrose, the cigar box, plummy fruit, earth and dried herbs had me plumping for Right Bank - I was wrong.

Then on the Thursday night at the special VC Cardholders tasting, my Wine of the Night was Schoffit Cuvee Caroline Gewurztraminer 2006  ($38)from Alsace. Brilliant yellow gold in colour, gorgeous Cecile Brunner rose characters, oily texture with a hint of beeswax and though crammed with sweet fruit, especially apricot, it finishes dry. 

Last but not least, to round up the week, Lanvin Champagne ($40) - without a doubt the best buy in Champagne this Christmas. Creamy and toasty and full of bubbles and just deliciously more-ish.

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