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Welcome to Sue Courtney's web log (blog) of vinous ramblings.  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 2008
Mar 31st: Wine of the Week: Saltings Estate Malbec 2006
Mar 30th: Newsletter No. 51 has been posted
Mar 28th: Lunch with Danny Schuster at One Tree Grill
Mar 27th: Cork or Screwcap - who decides?
Mar 26th: Wine Soaked Pears and Blue Cheese Salad
Mar 25th: Lunch at Heron's Flight
Mar 23rd: Late Summer Sauvignon Supper
Mar 21st: A-maz-ing Aromatics
Mar 18th: A classic food pairing with Dog Point wines
Mar 17th: Celebrating St Patrick's Day
Mar 14th: Te Mata Showcase Tasting
Mar 13th: Sauvignon Blanc - Lost in Translation
Mar 11th: Iconic Dry River Pinot Noir is Wine of the Week
Mar 10th: Two gold medal Rieslings from West Brook
Mar 9th: Syrah on top - 3rd year in a row
Mar 8th: Toast a Wine Woman today
Mar 7th: Self-saucing peach and blue cheese-stuffed chicken thighs with bacon
Mar 5th: The cultest New Zealand Pinot Gris
Mar 3rd: New releases of Cult Wines - Ready, Set, Buy
Mar 2nd: Vinous Street Names
Mar 1st: The rain falls
Older Entries

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 31st 2008

Wine of the Week: Saltings Estate Malbec 2006

Saltings VistaAnother new label is reviewed, this time from the Matakana district north of Auckland.  Could Malbec be the future for some of the region's winegrowers? This tasty Saltings Estate Matakana Malbec 2006 certainly gives the varietal the thumbs up.  It's from the organic and biodynamically managed Saltings Estate which has a moderately steep incline and a panoramic vista over the Sandspit estuary and the mouth of the Matakana River. The wine is lush, plush and gushing with juicy flavour with finely structured tannins and excellent cellaring potential.  It has 14% alcohol, it's closed with a DIAM technical cork and costs $28 a bottle.
Check out my Wine ofthe Week review.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 30th 2008

Newsletter No. 51 has been posted

Click on my latest newsletter - Number 51 - for my mid harvest update.  There's also advice of a challenging Wine and Food Matching Challenge. It's to find a wine to match to apple strudel and the prize is a magnum of Daniel Schuster Omihi Pinot Noir 2006, valued at $225.

I've also posted my notes from last week's First Glass Wednesday tasting. After the tasting the week before (See the Feb 21st blog posting) I wrote about a German kabinett that could have been an auslese. Well, blow me down if we didn't have a wine labelled 'spatlese' that was a dead ringer for a beerenauslese. So if you want to trick blind tasters, the 2005 vintage is the one to pick.

Also tasted was the delicous Dog Point Marlborough Chardonnay 2005 and all of the Penfolds 'Bin' wines from the latest releases.

All of the tasting notes can be found on my Wednesday tasting page. 

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 28th 2008

Lunch with Danny Schuster at One Tree Grill

When it comes to the production of Pinot Noir in New Zealand, it would be hard to argue that anyone other that Danny Schuster (pictured) is the elder statesman of the variety. Danny Schuster - Photo by Sue CourtneyThe history can be traced back to the early 1970's when Danny first visited Lincoln Agricultural College just out of Christchurch in New Zealand's Canterbury region. He and academic colleague David Jackson, were the catalysts for experimental planting of vines at St Helena Wine Estates in Canterbury, including Pinot Noir. Danny made the wines from the several clones that were planted.

"I clearly remember our excitement - I think it was 1976 - on tasting several clones of Pinot," writes Professor Don Beaven in the foreword to 'Canterbury Grapes and Wines 1840 to 2002'.

Danny soon made New Zealand his home and became the winemaker for St Helena Wines, established 1978. The first commercial vintage was 1981 but the subsequent year Danny produced what was to become New Zealand's first gold medal winning Pinot Noir, the St Helena Pinot Noir 1982. He repeated the gold medal win with the 1984 vintage.

Danny left St Helena in 1986 to establish Daniel Schuster Wines at Omihi in Waipara and he is still making Pinot Noir, although he produces Chardonnay and Riesling too. He also travels to Europe four times a year for his consulting role with Antinori and to the USA, where he consults for Stags Leap.

I joined Danny and some other wine writers to taste his wines over lunch at the highly lauded One Tree Grill the other day. Danny emphasises his wines are made to go with food and that is how he presents them on his overseas marketing tours. It was also how he presented them to us. But first we tasted a Riesling over idle chit chat.

Daniel Schuster Waipara Riesling 2006 ($23) is pale straw coloured with lemon-lime aromatics infused with grapefruit, lime peel, honeysuckle and more abundant florals as the wine opens up. It's quite sweet with an earthy phenolic undercurrent and then piercing acidity balancing the sweetness and culminating in a crisp, racy, lime finish. 10.7% alc. Screwcap.
"It's made in a 1960's style," says Danny, who likens this to a lazy Sunday afternoon drink perhaps with a bowl of fruit and Stilton, or to accompany scallops and salad.
I'm not sure about the "60's style" comment, as it seems it's high fashion at the moment with many Waipara Rieslings being made in this lower alcohol, sweet, high acid style. And it works.

There are some rich gold tones to the colour of this savoury smelling Daniel Schuster Petrie Chardonnay 2002 ($32) with oatmeal scents and a varnishy overtone, becoming more honeyed and floral as it opens up. Very broad and just a little oxidative in the palate - but this is what we expect with Danny's wines. A mealy, mellow, fat, broad style, softened with age and garnering some lanolin characters, yet still has a bright citrussy undercurrent with lemony fruit and orange blossom building on the finish. Burgundian in style, perhaps heading to Chablis with its high acid component, hard to pick as Kiwi if tasting blind. Very much a food wine.

Photo by Sue CourtneyThe food match was Kaffir lime lead poached crayfish medallions, grilled fennel, salmon caviar and sauce Bearnaise. I don't know why the grilled fennel was there. It didn't go with the crayfish and it didn't go with the wine. But I loved the combination of the crayfish, Bearnaise sauce and salmon caviar together.

Tasted as a pair were the Waipara Selection Pinots with a venison tataki with pomegranate molasses, micro greens and a slice of manchego cheese.

Daniel Schuster Waipara Selection Pinot Noir 2007 ($45) is translucent red with youthful purple tints, the scent is initially savoury with wild brambles and maraschino cherry. The earthy scent whisks me to the countryside and has a fragrant overtone that carries through to the palate, which is immediately appealing with juicy cherry fruit, a velvety texture, vibrant spices and a bright charming finish. A flamboyant wine, reflective of the excellent vintage.

Daniel Schuster Waipara Selection Pinot Noir 2006  ($45) is just a little lighter in colour than the 2007, with no purple tints. It's softer on the nose and so savoury to the taste with a grainy texture and a winey concentration. There's plenty of underlying acidity which gives lift to the spiced plum finish. It's a wine that is subtle but it has complexity and is the best of the two when matched to the food.

Also tasted as a pair were the Omihi Pinots. They accompanied Rack of lamb with a pumpkin seed and lemon myrtle crust; a Mediterranean quinoa stuffed vine tomato and minted yoghurt raita foam.

Daniel Schuster Omihi Selection Pinot Noir 2006 ($90) is a youthful deep ruby pinot colour. Intensely aromatic with smoky bacon and red and black fruit scents, it's youthful in the palate with grainy tannins and earthy savoury flavours and a broad, expansive finish. A rich, powerful wine and even richer with the food, it's in the more bolshy Waipara pinot style.

Daniel Schuster Omihi Selection Pinot Noir 2004 ($90) is a deeply translucent, slightly orange-tinged red. The aroma is just amazing - a little salty and a little truffley, a touch funky and smoky. It's builds up the expectation but is just a little disappointing on that first taste - steely, and metallic with the truffle the most redeeming feature - but wait - with the food it softens and after the food has tempered the palate, the wine is still divine. It evolves and expands and has a delicate chocolaty sweetness. "There's a lot of acidity in the wine," says Danny, explaining that his wife Mari calls it "nervous acidity". But it was just the bees knees with the lamb. In fact all the components of the food were excellent with both wines. Photo by Sue Courtney

The meal concluded with the Daniel Schuster Late Harvest Riesling 2006.  From the Hull Family vineyard in Waipara, this deep gold coloured sweetie has an aroma that's reminiscent of a soothing mint, lavender and tea-tree oil body cream that I have. A little more dilute than expected - but I reminded myself it is 'late harvest' not fully botrytised - and though sweet with raisin and apricot the dominant fruit, it's well balanced by natural acidity and finishes seemingly dry. Match this wine to the right food and it's a winner. In this case the successful match was a coconut blanc mange with a green tea gelee and a sesame praline. The praline added texture to the slippery texture of the tropical flavoured sweet dessert.

Find out more about Daniel Schuster Wines from

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 27th 2008

Cork or Screwcap - who decides?

While there is still much debate about the pros and cons of screwcaps versus corks, in some quarters it seems the decision on the closure has been made. But not by the producer who, in theory, should have the absolute last word on how their wine is packaged and their closure of choice, but by the bottle suppliers and in some case, the retailers.

Cork is the choice of Waipara winemaker Daniel Schuster as I found out when I joined him and a few other writers for lunch the other day. We started with the bright, fresh, aromatic, citrussy and honeysuckle-infused Daniel Schuster Waipara Riesling 2007.   After the wine was poured, the bottle was placed at the end of the table.

The following wine, the Daniel Schuster Petrie Vineyard Canterbury Chardonnay 2002, was poured from a decanter.

As we progressed through the meal and into the pinot noirs, wines were poured from the bottle by the Sommelier. I asked for alcohol percentage as stated on the label for my records. Then I asked the Sommelier of the latest vintage pinot noir, "Did that have a cork or a screwcap?"

Danny interjected. "All my wines have corks, "he said.

I looked at the bottle of Riesling, then back at Danny, then again at the Riesling and back to Danny with my eyebrows quizzically raised.

"But your Riesling has a screwcap". It was in plain view, for all to see.

"Ah," sighed Danny. "Not by choice".

It seems the glass company has decided to cut down on production of Riesling style bottles for cork style closures - whether they be natural cork or the technical DIAM closure.  Danny couldn't get enough of the cork closure bottles, so he bottled the Riesling for the domestic market with screwcaps. Personally I think it's good that Riesling on the domestic market has screwcap, it's what the consumer largely wants and it does away with the need for a corkscrew. But I also believe the producer has every right to make a choice.

It seems that they do have the choice, but the decision has to be made a long time in advance of bottling because of supply and demand. You can no longer ring up a week before bottling and expect to get the bottle you want if it isn't manufactured for a screwcap.

There is only one glass bottle manufacturer in New Zealand and they are right behind screwcaps. All other wine bottles are imported.

In other situations, it is the retailer that decides - particularly supermarkets with the buying power.  They just don't want corks, not even DIAM technical corks, according to Nelson winemaker Phil Jones of Tasman Bay wines.  

So it seems that in some situations, the decision on closures has been taken right out of the producers hands.

Check back tomorrow for the Schuster tasting notes and the delectable food matches that accompanied the wines.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 26th 2008

Wine Soaked Pears and Blue Cheese Salad

Inspired by lunch at Heron's Flight on Easter Saturday (see below), where I ate a wine soaked fresh pear and blue cheese salad (see picture in my restaurant review), I came home full of enthusiasm to try and replicate it. After all, at this time of year, with half a dozen pear trees in the back yard - and most of those trees in full fruit - which means they are the focal attraction for a large community of birds, the source product is abundant.

Sue Courtney's Pear and Blue Cheese SaladI wasn't sure if Heron's Flight had soaked the pears in wine, or in their unique Sangiovese grape juice, which is intense and rich and heady and fairly sweet, but as I had no Sangiovese grape juice, the soaking medium would have to be wine. But I only had leftovers, so to make it interesting, I mulled and slightly reduced a couple of cups of New Zealand syrah with a quarter cup of sugar, a small piece of cinnamon stick, a few whole cloves and a star anise.

We chose just-ripe pears, plucked straight off the tree. Two pears, skin on, were cut in half, length ways and then into slices. The pip portions and any bird peck blemishes on the skin  were cut out and the slices steeped in the liquid for about 10 hours (from before breakfast time until just before dinner).

The pears were strained from the liquid (which has been preserved for the next batch) and laid on a fine mesh rack so excess liquid could drip out while the salad was prepared. It was a simple salad made with butter head lettuce, a creamy piquant blue and a dressing made from Greek yoghurt mixed with the juice of tangelo. It was built up in layers of lettuce, slices of pear and crumbled blue cheese, finishing with a wigwam of pear slices that were decorated with the yoghurt dressing drizzled and swirled from the end of a spoon. It was wonderful the way the pears had picked up the wine colour and the final result was a combination of light lettuce green, ruby /maroon pears, yellow crumbles of blue cheese and artistically placed white dressing. The was enough piquancy and saltiness from the cheese, with acidity from the dressing and spiciness from the mulling , that this salad didn't need anything else to make it balanced.   It tasted really, really good. And if you mull extra pears, you can serve them with whipped cream for dessert.

Pears and blue cheese are a classic match and the more creamy and piquant the cheese, the better. The combo is also a favourite match to Pinot Gris, and proved to be again with this salad. We tried a couple of red wines, but it just didn't work.

I bought a Cos lettuce tonight on the way home and am making it again tomorrow.
Update: Picture above.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 25th 2008

Lunch at Heron's Flight

Travelling north from Auckland on State Highway One in the weekends is becoming more and more fraught with major roadworks north of Orewa and the traffic lights at Warkworth slowing traffic down at peak times. Then returning south to Auckland in the late afternoon can be more than majorly frustrating with the traffic lights at Orewa abetting the build-up, which sometimes stretches the full 30 kilometres back to Warkworth. There's been a strong campaign urging traffic to travel the alternate western route along State Highway 16, which passes through Kumeu wine country and bypasses Warkworth, which is fine for people who live south or west of the Harbour Bridge and are travelling further north. However we live on the east coast and on a good traffic day it's only a 35-minute trip there and a 35-minute trip back.

As we wanted to visit some Matakana vineyards over Easter we thought Easter Saturday would be a good day to travel, figuring the bulk of the traffic would be filling the roads on Good Friday and not returning until the Monday afternoon of the long weekend. Imagine our surprise when we joined a stop-start queue of traffic about 4 kilometres south of Warkworth. Still, it provided an opportunity to ogle Ransom Wines vineyard, about 3 kilometres south of Warkworth. The nets were still tightly in place. They are not, planning to start their harvest until early next week.

We had an appointment at Salting Estates, located above the tranquil waters of the Sandspit, to meet owners Terry and Maureen Baines and to check out their biodynamically managed vineyard.

herons1.jpg (73917 bytes)Then it was on to Heron's Flight for lunch. I had dined there in December with a friend from the USA and had enjoyed it immensely. So it was time to share the ambience with Neil.

Heron's Flight was established in 1987 and had operated a small café for years with homely Italian-inspired food made with as much produce as possible from the property and other locally sourced products. The café was well hidden from view, down a long driveway and surrounded by vines. But in December 2006, they opened their roadside adjacent Vineyard Restaurant and Winemakers Centre complete with wine library and some of New Zealand's revered museum wines. It's been a popular venue ever since.

Heron's Flight is unique in New Zealand in that they only grow Sangiovese and Dolcetto in the vineyard, which are the wines available for tasting, but in the restaurant, a small wine list reflects the diversity of New Zealand's vineyards and adds variety.

The restaurant, which seats about 100 indoors on busy weekends and more in the courtyard, has a backdrop of grapevines and an outlook over the potager and culinary gardens. It's a relaxing venue with a unique ambience, a place to relax with friends and enjoy the Tuscan-inspired food and the wines. Check out my restaurant review by clicking here.

Oh - and the traffic back to Auckland on a late Easter Saturday afternoon - an absolute breeze. 

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 23rd 2008

Late Summer Sauvignon Supper

It's been a gorgeous early Easter weekend with summer-like weather  - the type of weather that makes you want to sit out side and enjoy a glass of delicious Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.  With vine tomatoes and capsicums still in abundance, I decided to make a couple of dishes using the fresh produce to match to sauvignon blanc. But it proved that what could be thought of, as 'no-brainer food matches' do not always work. It also proved that what works for one sauvignon blanc, does not work for another.

tomatoes and capsicumsI had a penchant to make a rice risotto, so made a little extra to stuff into yellow capsicums, which were then roasted in the oven alongside stuffed tomatoes.

The tomato recipe was from the Edmond's Cookbook, with a stuffing made of breadcrumbs, spring onions, grated Edam, basil, salt and pepper. I cut down on the grated cheese and made up the quantity with goat feta. They were placed in the same dish and baked at 180° C for 20 minutes.

Sauvignon Blancs, from Bouldevines and Seresin, were matched to the food.

Bouldevines Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007 has citrus, herbs and a hint of passionfruit on the nose and a bright, zesty palate with a touch of sweetness imparting a creamy softness. It's fresh and long with bright grapefruit acidity and scintillating summer herbs and hits the spot with it juicy approachability. 13% alc. NZ$21.50. Screwcap.

Seresin Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007 has a youthful herbal scent with an initial waft of B.O. In the bright, zesty palate, upfront lime-tinged citrus gives way to more classic gooseberry and herbs with a touch of apple, tropical fruit and just a hint of tomato on the finish. The palate is long and full with a rounded completeness perhaps from the 15% barrel and partial wild yeast fermentation. 13.5% alc. $25. Screwcap.

What was surprising was that although I regard tomato as a standard match to Sauvignon Blanc, the match with the Bouldevines just got a mediocre 'okay'. It was the goat feta in the stuffing that simply overpowered the wine. The stuffed tomato, however, was sublime with the Seresin, which is much drier and has more complex flavours that can stand up to the strong flavour of the goat feta.

However, the capsicum stuffed with a creamy garlic risotto didn't work with the Seresin at all. It was a contrast of the previous matching with the Bouldevines coming out on top this time. I think it was the sweeter character of the Bouldevines wine that complimented the capsicum flavour.

We also matched the Seresin Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 1997, which was opened to compare to the Seresin Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007 and has been reviewed as part of the Wine of the Week. But neither match worked with the 11-year old wine. Click here to read the Wine of the Week review

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 21st 2008

A-maz-ing Aromatics

The theme of the last Wednesday night's tasting at First Glass was Top Aromatics from Cuisine Magazine (Issue 127, March 2008). Cuisine combines the results of the Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris tasting in this issue, so effectively there are three Number 1 wines. But a tasting at First Glass is never straight forward, so as well as 8 wines from Cuisine, Kingsley and Sam also included the Champion Pinot Gris from the Royal Easter Wine awards, a gold medal winning gewurztraminer and a couple of European aromatics to keep the New Zealand wines honest.

My favourite New Zealand wines in the tasting were both from Johanneshof - Gewurztraminer 2007, (5 stars and Number 3 in Cuisine) and the Pinot Gris Medium 2007 (5 stars and Number 2 in Cuisine). As usual wines were tasted blind, but it did confirm my pick of the Johanneshof Pinot Gris as one of my Wines of the Year. 

Johanneshof wine
Sugar and spice and all things nice
Simply delicious

It also was very excitiing to taste a Kabinett from the outstanding 2005 German vintage.

Weingut Eduard Hauth-Kerpen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett 2005 - Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany
Pale gold in colour, this sweetish wine smells chalky and flinty with lime and a touch of match stick. A stunning example of sweetness / acid balance, it's more like a Spatlese than a Kabinett, but the vintage was very ripe. There's baked apple, lime, toffee, concentrated melon jam and dry earthy phenolics but the overall lusciousness coats the mouth and leaves a feeling of yum. Long, piercing, focused and fantastic cellaring potential, I would imagine. 7.5% alcohol. Cork closure. NZ$26.

As usual the wines were tasted blind and when asked if we thought it was kabinett, spatlese or auslese, I was umm-ing and aah-ing between spatlese and auslese and admit I put my hand up for auslese becuase of the extra sweetness. Gosh, I was surprised to find this was labelled Kabinett. It was such an atypical vintage in 2005.

Check out all my notes on my Wednesday tasting page.

Footnote: I posted the tasting note on the Wine Lovers Page wine forum and Riesling lover David Bueker informed me that there was not much kabinett produced in 2005 that wasn't at least spätlese, if not auslese in its must weight. He says that in both 2005 and 2006 there's no true kabinett to be found.
He also said that Hauth-Kerpen is a producer that is just now experiencing the quality revolution that hit Germany 10-15 years or so ago with the wines are much improved over the last 4 or 5 vintages.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 18th 2008

A classic food pairing with Dog Point wines

It was a wine tasting at home with a difference - a difference for me, that is, in that the wines were not tasted blind. The wines were from Dog Point Vineyard in Marlborough and I had chosen them to match to a classic food pairing of roasted beetroot and goats cheese (my version - see picture below). It was not a sniff, sip and spit affair. It was a sniff, sip, savour, swallow and smile of satisfaction affair.

Roast Beetroot and Goats Cheese by Sue CourtneyThe pairing of roasted beetroot and goats cheese was inspired by a menu from a winemaker's dinner at Lyttleton's London Street Restaurant and Bar. The menu matched the pairing to Pyramid Valley Hilde Family Semillon 2005, a wine I tried at the Marlborough Wine Weekend last year. It is a barrel-fermented semillon with indigenous yeasts and was rather youthful and obviously oak-aged in October last year.

The more I thought about it, the urge to pair roasted beetroot and goats cheese became stronger, so the ingredients were bought. It was the food pairings that determined the wines to be opened. They were …

Dog Point Vineyard Section 94 2006, ($NZ36), from a special block on the Dog Point vineyard. This light honey-gold coloured wine is smoky and just a little earthy with a very subtle steely character and funky wild yeast scents. It's impressively ripe and fruit-sweet in the palate yet earthy, nutty and savoury with sizzling intense fruit reminiscent of tropical guava and kiwi berry and always sauvignon’s distinct pungency. It finishes dry, funky and steely with the satisfying glow of after love. An incredible wine, it's so different, so way out there and on the edge. This wine had full barrel fermentation in older oak with indigenous yeasts and stayed in barrel for 18 months. It has 13.5% alcohol, 5.9 grams per litre of residual sugar and 7.4 grams of acidity with acid and sugar perfectly balanced.

Dog Point Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006 ($43.50), is a purple-tinged ruby red colour, deeply translucent but not opaque. It's very fine smelling, savoury and earthy with smoky nuances, a well-balanced subtle sweetness and a delicate suggestion of herbs. The flavours are lifted with a bright spice-infused savouriness and a gorgeously expansive mouth feel as the flavour (which I detect a slight saltiness to) leaves a lovely light lingering impression as if it has coated the mouth with the finest silk. Tasted again last night, the texture is now more like crushed velvet and the ripe cherry and plum fruit has emerged. It has 13.5% alcohol, no residual sugar and 5.5 grams of acidity.

The goats cheese feta, which was baked in the oven for about 15 minutes, is dry and earthy and just a little salty with a milky sweetness. The roasted baby beetroot, which had been wrapped in foil and roasted at 170 degrees C for just over an hour, were surprisingly sweet as well as earthy with a grainy, almost silty texture. 

The combination of almond topped baked goats cheese atop a slice of roast beetroot on a slice of butter-fried Pane di Casa bread (from Bakers Delight), was a delicious combination. It was outstanding with the Section 94. Interesting with the pinot noir too - though the roasted beetroot on its own was the better match.

Dog Point Vineyard is producing some amazing amazing wines and tasted earlier in the week was the stunning Dog Point Vineyard Chardonnay 2006. It is this week's Wine of the Week. Click here to read it.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 17th 2008

Celebrating St Patrick's Day

"What do you eat on St Pat's Day," I asked my friend Joyce Austin who speaks with the most perfect Dublin accent. "Do you eat corned beef and cabbage?"
"Salty meats are popular, corned beef, ham, bacon, all that sort of stuff," she said with her lovely lilt.
"Really," I exclaimed.

Yes, it seems they are popular. But I learned that they were more 'special occasion' treats.

"So if I was to match a wine to corned beef and cabbage, what would you suggest," I asked, knowing that beer (preferably Guinness) would probably be better than wine.
Red wine," says Joyce. "The Irish like their reds, " said the woman who exports New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to her homeland.

I had tried several different reds when I cooked up corned beef and cabbage for St Pat's day last year and the result was disastrous. There's something in the cabbage that with red wines simply doesn't go. It's makes the wines taste like cabbage water.

"Well, I like Sauvignon Blanc with cabbage," I said, because if one wine goes with cabbage it is Sauvignon Blanc, and the combo with the corned beef wasn't too bad last year. But it seems at this time of the year when it is still cold in Ireland red wine is preferred.

"So what about potatoes?" I asked, think nothing could be more Irish than potatoes. They could be mashed with a pea puree to make them green.
"Potatoes are everyday fare, you want something special on St Patrick's Day," said Joyce.

irishflag.jpg I decided to forget doing something foody - although we might have mashed potatoes and peas, or just for the fun of it we could mould mashed peas, mashed potatoes and mashed carrots in the shape of the Irish flag.

But more importantly I'm going to concentrate on the wine.

Something that would be extra special to wine lovers on St Pat's Day would be a glass of Irish wine. Now this isn't an Irish joke or an April Fool's Day story, it is actual fact because if there is one thing positive about 'global warming', it's the places that are starting to grow grapes for wine. Places you wouldn't believe. For example, Ireland.

And what do you know, there's an Irish Sauvignon Blanc from Lusk north of Dublin. The winegrower is David Llewellyn, regarded as one of Ireland's pioneering winegrowers, even though his vineyard was planted as recently as 2001. He also grows Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer. It's a sideline to his mainstream cider production business.

In 2006, Irish wine writer, Tomas Clancy, tried Llewellyn 's newly fermented Sauvignon Blanc and described it thus: " The wine smells almost miraculous with distinct grassy, green gooseberry notes. It tastes fresh, with clean, lime-like touches and a building sweetness that thankfully was cut short."

Well, it's going to be impossible to find Irish wine in New Zealand, so for St Patrick's Day, what about a New Zealand wine that can be found in Ireland. I'm thinking specifically of one from Joyce's company, New Zealand Boutique Wines. She exports Bilancia, Muddy Water and Woollaston amongst others to the Emerald Isle.

Here's one I've recently tasted -

Woollaston Sauv Blanc labelWoollaston Nelson Sauvignon Blanc 2007 - full of juicy fruit, herbs, a touch of spearmint, chalky tannins, an explosion of hot fruity brightness and great pungency to the finish. A wine of balance and harmony and even though from Nelson it's a classic 'old fashioned' Marlborough style with lots of greens. Perfect for St Pat. NZ$18. 13% alc. Screwcap closure.


Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 14th 2008

Te Mata Showcase Tasting

The  Te Mata Showcase tasting arrived in Takapuna on Wednesday night for one of the last tastings on their 'new releases' tour that started at the Hawkes Bay winery on Leap Year day and then took in venues in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin over the next few days.  I declined my invitation to the grand Auckland showcase tasting, even though there would be mini-verticals of Te Mata Elston Chardonnay and Te Mata Awatea Merlot Cabernet. I thought it would be easier to cruise into Takapuna and park right outside the door of First Glass Wines and Spirits rather than battle the traffic into the city, search for a parking space once I got there, then drive home on a jam-packed motorway in the midst of rush hour.  Besides I knew I would be at the First Glass tasting anyway, to write the notes. 

Te Mata is most famous for its iconic Coleraine, with this 2006 release the 25th anniversary vintage.  But there were ten wines to try first, all current vintage releases except for a rather chardonnay-like Viognier from the 2005 vintage, to start.   The 2007 Woodthorpe Viognier sees a change from 100% barrel fermented to half tank and half barrel ferment, which certainly makes a brighter fresher wine.

I just loved the Te Mata Cape Crest Sauvignon Blanc 2007, which is fully barrel-fermented in French oak, 1/3 new. There's some Semillon and Sauvignon Gris in the blend too. The scent, full of exotic tropical fruits, flower meadows and mealy funk,was simply mesmerising and the flavours were complex.

Te Mata Elston Chardonnay 2007 is such a baby but already expressing class and finesse. I recommend decanting if you really have to drink it now.  I'd say hold until Christmas at least.

Te Mata Woodthorpe Gamay Noir 2007 is a lighter styled red but with amazing structure and depth, it was the absolute surprise of the tasting.

Te Mata Bullnose Syrah 2006 is gorgeously creamy with red and black fruit, peppery spice, silky tannins and massive concentration - but like the Elston, it really needs more time.

Te Mata Awatea 2006 is labelled Cabernet Merlot, but Merlot (38%) is actually the dominant grape. Cabernet Sauvignon(36%) and Cabernet Franc (15%) make up the 'Cabernet' portion and there's some Petit vVrdot as well. With its beautiful fragrance and concentrated flavours, it was my Wine of the Tasting - an outstanding Awatea, the best I've tasted from this label for a while, I'd say.  Looking back through my notes, I always seem to love the Awatea on release.

Te Mata Coleraine 2006 can simply be described as deep, intense, winey and brooding.  Dare I say it, but I was a little disappointed. The fruit seemed to be totally suppressed in the first sample I had and although the tannins were tight, the flavours were actually quite mellow. So I went and sneaked another taste from a different bottle after the tasting and again from the leftovers on the tasting table when I popped into the shop on my way past, yesterday. The nose had opened up beautifully to reveal violets, cassis and lush vanillin oak and though it was tight and grippy in structure, the opulent fruit from the ripe 2006 vintage was much more obvious.

A fascinating tasting and excellent to taste through the whole range, even though for ten of the wines it was a snapshot of a moment in each wine's time.
Check out my comprehensive Te Mata tasting notes on my Wednesday Roundup page

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 13th 2008

Sauvignon Blanc - Lost in Translation

Had to laugh on reading Sideswipe in this morning's NZ Herald. It went something like this.

A foreign language couple from Europe, only in the country for three weeks, asked the host what to bring to a party they had been invited to.
"Oh, sauvignon blanc would be nice," said the host to the husband of the European couple.
"What kind of party is it," exclaimed the wife when her husband said he was asked to bring along 'seven young blondes'.
So, here's my take on some gorgeous, leggy, 'seven young blondes' tasted over the last few months.

Clayridge Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007
Spicy and zesty with tropical fruit and citrus and just a little chilli heat, this powerful, pungent and lightly toasty wine is simply full of flavour with a warm texture, baked golden apples, honey and pungent gooseberry and green bean. Rounded and balanced. Exciting. 13.5% alc. NZ$20.

Drylands Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007
Mouthfillingly rich from the outset with fruit salad, tropical fruit, herbs, honey and toasted apples, there is lots going in this lovely rich powerful sweet-fruited savvy. It has pungency and power and a salty tang to the herbaceous, zesty, long, juicy finish. 13% alc. $NZ20 - but often specialled in supermarkets

Lawson's Dry Hills Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007
A slightly deeper lemon gold colour has been aided and abetted by a smidgen of oak, which adds textural complexity to this ripe, juicy, pungent flavour with hints of grapefruit, cherimoya fruit, a herbaceous, citrussy character and a lemony backbone which keeps the delicious sweet fruit in check. 13% alc. $NZ21.

Matua Valley Reserve Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007
Pungent and tasty with gooseberry on nose and a bright, fresh, zesty palate with gooseberries, herbs and limes. Very dry, quite spritzy with a hot capsicum-filled pungent finish and a hint of B.O. with time. A totally interesting wine with fruit from Wairau and Awatere Valleys. 13.5% alc. NZ$20.

Palliser Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007
Shy on nose at first but sweet pea notes emerge. Tropical fruit and grapefruit-like citrus in palate with underlying sweet summer herbs, a touch of tomato stalk and a bright, vibrant finish with great explosion of sauvignon richness and power and incredible length. Power, power, power. 13.5% alc. NZ$22.

Riverby Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007
Very dry, crisp and fresh with upfront lime and grapefruit peel acidity balanced by a pleasing slippery softness and phenolics adding a slightly grainy 'mineral' edge. Classic gooseberry and bean flavours push their way through and the increasingly pungent citrussy finish is long bright and clean. 13.5% alc. NZ$22.

Wairau River Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007
Bright pungent aromas. Spritzy and zesty with a bright dancing texture. Lemon and lime, hints of apple, lots of citrus acidity, lip smackingly fresh. 13.5% alc. NZ$19.95.

Of course, like my little 'top' icon below, all the wines have screwcap closures.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 11th 2008

Iconic Dry River Pinot Noir is Wine of the Week

There are many reasons why Dry River Pinot Noir from Martinborough is one of New Zealand's icon wines. But the most important reason is because it is simply superb wine.  The newly released 2006 affirms its superiority. It comes after two very hard vintages in Martinborough with the 2004 and 2005 Dry River pinot noirs being lighter and more elegant than they'd been since the early 1990's.  But with the 2006 vintage pinot noirs right across the Martinborough and Wairarapa region showing so much promise across all price points with some absolutely outstanding wines wines being produced here and there, it was with much anticipation that the Dry River Martinborough Pinot Noir 2006 was put to a blind tasting test.

drpn06.jpg (24994 bytes)Oh my gosh, this is a massive wine and on first tasting, almost too big.  But tasting it over two nights for my Wine of the Week and again last night, the way the wine opens up is simply magic. Now sipping on the very last drop as I write this blog entry, I find such mesmerising aromatics with a floral overtone to the concentrated fruitcake cherry scent with a touch of exotic spice wafting in as well as dried herbs. The texture and flavour and pinot noir intensity is profound. It's an amalgam of cherry and red bramble fruits with an earthy gamey savouriness, smoky oak and spice in a silk-lined velvety cloak that unfolds across the palate and leaves behind it an aftertaste that is all pinot noir purity.

I have to say this wine had some competition in the first snapshot tasting that was just a moment in time of the wine's life. Those wines tasted with it were Pisa Range Black Poplar Pinot Noir 2006, Julicher Estate 99 Rows Martinborough Pinot Noir 2006 and the evocatively named Wooing Tree Central Otago Pinot Noir 2006. But as lots more snapshots were taken over the course of two evenings with food, they were spliced together to make a movie and the evolution of the wines was exciting to track.  I rate them all gold medal standard. You will find their reviews on this week's Wine of the Week page. Click here.  

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 10th 2008

Two gold medal Rieslings from West Brook

After spending the morning at beautiful Muriwai Beach on Auckland's northern west coast, it was only a minor detour to pop into West Brook Winery, inland from Kumeu, on the way home.

Photo by Sue CourtneyAnthony and Sue Ivevich and winemaker James Rowan were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed after their one last pre-vintage blow out the night before, which just happened to be the Royal Easter Show Wine Awards dinner. They knew they had a chance of winning the Riesling Trophy with two of the eight gold medals awarded in the Riesling class. I knew they had an even better chance, as having tasted the Trophy winning line-up at the judging (for the voting of Champion Wine of the Show), it was obviously a drier style Riesling. So it was down to two of four wines, according to the gold medal list. Then the moment came at the awards dinner. The drum rolled and as voices hushed, the suspense built up. The sound of the envelope being ripped open filtered through the speakers. Then the announcement, which led to jubilation on the West Brook table as people got up, hugged each other, slapped each other on the back and the contingent made their way to the stage to accept the Trophy. But for which wine?

It was the West Brook Marlborough Riesling 2006. This has the purity of a drier style Riesling with talc and lime scents on the nose. Spicy and zesty in the palate, it has a very definite upfront Clare Valley-like nuance, but then starts to scream Marlborough with its sweet citrussy undercurrent and tropical fruit on the fresh, refreshing and just off dry finish with a little touch of spritzy lime lingering deliciously on the long, clean aftertaste.

I also tasted the gold medal winning West Brook Marlborough Riesling 2007, which is immediately softer and fruitier, full of tropical fruit, guava, sweet citrus and a hint of pineapple with a hint of honeysuckle, a touch of spice and just a hint of graininess to the texture. The finish seems drier than the 2006 although James said the wines are actually very similar in alcohol, acidity, residual sugar and phenolics - which in the excitement of tasting at the winery, I forgot to get exact details of.

Both are beautiful Rieslings, but I can see why the judges picked out the 2006. With that extra year of age it's started to pick up some lovely bottle developed complexities and I can see it getting deliciously toasty and oily with time.

West Brook Riesling is made to a 'style' with the amount of unfermented grape juice left in the wine determined by taste. With moderate alcohol (about 11.5%), high acidity and about 7 to 8 grams of residual sugar, it's a style that works.  They have now won gold medals for nine of the last 10 vintages and Trophies for the 2001, 2002, 2004 and now the 2006.
Check out

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 9th 2008

Syrah on top - 3rd year in a row

Well, the Royal Easter Show Wine Award trophy winners are out and a Syrah has taken out the Champion Wine of the Show for the third year in a row. Is it all becoming a bit predictable that it will be the top chardonnay, the top pinot noir or the top syrah/shiraz that will take out the top gong at a New Zealand wine show? I lamented this with James Rowan at West Brook as we sipped on his trophy winning West Brook Marlborough Riesling 2006 at the winery, the morning after (more on this wine tomorrow).

It seems to be, when looking at the results of the New Zealand shows that allow all wine styles. Mind you, in 2005, Kim Crawford SP Spitfire Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2005 bucked the trend when it took was awarded the overall Champion Trophy at that year's Air New Zealand Wine Awards. It was a stunning wine and obviously got the four overseas judges' votes.

But just look at what Syrah has been doing lately.

Vidal Estate Soler Syrah 2004 - Royal Easter Show Champion in 2006
Trinity Hill Homage Syrah 2004 - Hawkes Bay Wine Awards Champion in 2006
Esk Valley Reserve Syrah 2005 - Royal Easter Show Champion in 2007
Vidal Reserve Syrah 2005 - Hawkes Bay Wine Awards Champion in 2007
Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2006 - Liquorland Champion Red Wine in 2007
Trinity Hill Homage Syrah 2006 - Air NZ Wine Champion in 2007

And now we have
Villa Maria Reserve Hawkes Bay Syrah 2006 - Royal Easter Show Champion in 2008

With nine gold medals awarded in the Syrah class this Easter, and six of those to the Villa Maria Group (Villa Maria [2], Vidals [3], EskValley [1]), Villa Maria's hopes would have been very high. And they must have been elated when it was the top wine from the mother ship that was awarded Champion Syrah.  Then later it was revealed it was also the highest voted wine of all the class winners when the wines had been lined up for each judge to make their vote for Champion Wine of the Show.

All the Trophy wines from Saturday's night presentation dinner were

Daniel Le Brun NV Marlborough Methode Champenoise
Saint Clair Pioneer Block 11 Cell Block Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007
Bannock Brae Goldfields Central Otago Cathy's Rosé 2007
Spy Valley Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2007
Villa Maria Cellar Selection Hawkes Bay Viognier 2007
West Brook Marlborough Riesling 2006
Church Road Reserve Hawke's Bay Chardonnay 2006
Stoneleigh Rapaura Series Marlborough Pinot Gris 2007
Villa Maria Cellar Selection Marlborough Pinot Noir 2006
Villa Maria Reserve Hawkes Bay Syrah 2006
Villa Maria Single Vineyard Omahu Gravels Hawkes Bay Merlot 2006
Church Road Reserve Hawke's Bay Cabernet Merlot 2005
Mills Reef Elspeth Hawkes Bay Malbec 2006
Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Hawkes Bay Noble Viognier 2007

It really was Villa Maria's night.  The Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2006 won the Champion Export Wine Trophy as well.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 8th 2008

Toast a Wine Woman today

Today is International Women's Day, so raise a glass and toast a woman that has something to do with wine. There are plenty to choose from here in New Zealand as women infiltrate all parts of this exciting industry. 

As I write this, with vintage underway, there'll be a woman picking grapes somewhere in New Zealand and there may even be a woman driving a tractor or grape harvesting machine. The vineyard workers could be directed to the rows of vines for harvesting by a woman viticulturist. When the grapes come into the winery, there'll most likely be a woman in the winery crew, perhaps a cellar hand, perhaps an assistant winemaker or even the Chief winemaker. A woman will be in the office, perhaps tallying up the tonnages, making the pickers' harvest lunch or serving customers while life goes on at the cellar door.  There'll be a woman marketing wine, there'll be a woman retailing wine, there'll be a woman writing about wine, there'll be a woman reading about wine and of course there'll be a woman drinking wine.

One woman making wine headlines today is young Hawkes Bay winemaker, Kate Broadhurst, who has just been being awarded the 2008 12-month Air New Zealand Inspiring New Zealanders scholarship in wine. Kate, from new Hawkes Bay winery Elephant Hill, now gets to travel to France to work a vintage and further develop her skills as a winemaker. She will also be a guest associate judge at the 2008 Air New Zealand Wine Awards.

Another woman winemaker who may have a great day is Marlborough winemaker Jules Taylor. Awarded two gold medals in the Royal Easter Show Wine Awards two weekends ago, both gold medal wines are in the running for Trophies at tonight's Royal Easter Show Wine Awards Dinner. JulesTaylorBot.jpg (13884 bytes)One gold was for her Jules Taylor Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007, which won the Champion Sauvignon Blanc Trophy at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards last November.   The other gold was for her Jules Taylor Marlborough Pinot Noir 2007.

I tasted the Jules Taylor Marlborough Pinot Noir 2007 on Wednesday night, and for such a young wine, it's a beauty. Deep purple-red in colour, smoky and savoury with black cherry and spiced-fill aromatics, it's rich, soft and juicy yet earthy and savoury from the outset with cracked red berries, chocolate, cherry, a hint of smoky bacon and just a touch of game. Medium to full-bodied, silky in texture and long in flavour, it has well balanced acidity, a long, smoky aftertaste and excellent length.   14% alc, $32. Screwcap closure.
Click here to check out all of Wednesday's notes.

Even though Jules works for the Nobilo Wine Group and is Group Senior Winemaker in Marlborough, Jules is one of only a few women in New Zealand to have her own wine label.  Others include Michelle Richardson, Kathy Lynskey, Tracey Haslam, Jane Cooper (Alexia) and of course New Zealand's most famous woman wine ambassador, Jane Hunter.  

Once upon a time we could count the number of Kiwi women winemakers on one hand - now there are far too many to list and they are making names for themselves in wineries overseas as well as at home. A toast to all women everywhere, with a wine that a woman has undoubtably had a hand in or on, and a toast especially to women in wine.

For more on today's significance, go to

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 7th 2008

Self-saucing peach and blue cheese-stuffed chicken thighs with bacon

In these days, when it's so easy to go out and buy a ready made meal, butchers are making things easy too by providing alternative cuts of boneless meat. And in the chicken department it's the skinless boneless chicken thighs that provide one of the most succulent and versatile options. They are good for bashing out and coating with a spice or herb-flavoured crumb mix for a quick pan-fried schnitzel-like meal and they are also good for using in casseroles where long slow cooking yields the most tender meat. My meal last night was a combination of the two.

It was a meal made to match a wine and used the Golden Queen peaches off our very own tree.

The main ingredients are six thicken thighs, one large fresh plucked or just fallen peach or two smaller ones, a wedge of blue cheese (not all is used), three or four rashers of streaky bacon and about 1/4 cup of dry white wine.

The washed and dried chicken thighs are laid out on the workspace with the 'former' skin-side down. On to each thigh, a slice of fresh peach and a slice of blue cheese are placed. I used a firm creamy blue that comes in a foil-wrapped wedge. The thigh edges on the short side are pulled together and secured with toothpicks - and that's where bashing out the thighs, as you would for schnitzel, helps. It makes it easier to bring the ends together and secure into parcels. I've noted that for next time.

Melt a little butter in a pan and brown the chicken parcels. Don't worry if the cheese starts oozing out. Remove chicken parcels to a small glass baking dish and slosh the wine into the pan to deglaze it. I used the dregs of the Mystery Creek Uoaked Chardonnay 2006 reviewed as this week's Wine of the Week. Pour the deglazings over the chicken, scraping out as much as you can with a slice.

Cut the streaky bacon into pieces about 5cm long and pop into the pan to sizzle for about 30 seconds each side. Sprinkle these over the chicken. Now add extra slices of peach into the gaps between the chicken parcels and dot more of the blue cheese all over.

Cover with foil and bake slowly, in a 160 degree C oven, for at least an hour. The juices will ooze out of the chicken and the fruit and become infused with the blue cheese and bacon. It makes the yummiest sauce, although it's best to skim the layer of clear golden fat off the top before serving.

To serve, place the chicken parcels on the plate and top with the golden slices of peach and the pieces of bacon. Pour over the sauce. Accompany with your favourite veg - we had potatoes and long green beans.

I can't remember such a tender tasty meal and even better, it was simply outstanding with the Dry River Martinborough Pinot Gris 2007 that had been opened two days before (see below). This was the wine I was making the match for anyway because of the peachy tones it left lingering the mouth. I'm so glad it worked. I'll post a photo if I make it again but if I do it will have be soon, as the peaches are almost finished.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 5th 2008

The cultest New Zealand Pinot Gris

With all my ravings about the fast growing white grape varietal Pinot gris, and all the Pinot gris wines I am enjoying from the excellent 2007 vintage, it's easy to forget the first Pinot gris in New Zealand to become a 'cult'. But it doesn't take long to remember.   Made by Dry River Wines with the first vines planted in 1979, in the first few years of its release in the early 1980's the small amounts produced were just not enough for the ardent followers of this wine. It consistently received high points from the critics but was almost impossible to buy.

The 2007 release is outstanding, but quantities are still tiny. Mail order customers are limited to just two bottles, so get in quick - it's worth it even at the $48 price tag.drpg07.jpg (27032 bytes)

Dry River Pinot Gris 2007 - Martinborough, New Zealand
Tasted from bottle number 1552, cork closure, 13.5% alcohol by volume.
Lightest of citrine gold in the glass with a glassy lustre.
Immediately fragrant and floral with musk, spice and nut bread.
Lightly viscous in texture with alcoholic warmth, ripe fresh pear, baked apple and a squeeze of orange. Moderate sweetness balanced by a zesty spiciness and a nutty savouriness with the floral muskiness on the nose enveloping the finish in the most delicious way. Rich and textural yet light and ethereal with an impression of dryness and simply amazing length where ripe fresh stonefruit comes in to play.

Like all the Dry River wines, the Dry River Pinot Gris 2007 is made to cellar for at least four years but the ripe fruit profile means it is immediately enjoyable. Try it with a slice of fresh Golden Queen topped with a slice of piquant blue.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 3rd 2008

New Releases of Cult Wines - Ready, Set, Buy

Being released this month are wines from cult Martinborough producer, Dry River, and two iconic Hawkes Bay producers - Te Mata and Stonecroft.   Dry River and Stonecroft invite their mail order customers to taste their wines for no charge but Te Mata does their release in extreme style with a Showcase tasting that anyone who wants to buy a $40 ticket to, can attend.  The Showcase made its debut in Hawkes Bay on February 29th and is travelling the the major centres on subsequent days. Today it was Auckland's turn but I took a raincheck.  I'll be tasting the 25th vintage of Coleraine, the company's flagship Bordeaux grape blend, later in the month.

March 1st is also traditionally the unveiling of the new release of the Penfolds 'Bin' reds. There'll be a flurry of pricing specials in the first couple of weeks, but then the wines will settle to their average prices -and watch out because some of the prices in supermarkets are well above average when the prices are not on special.   There are five wines in the New Zealand release and I had a sneak preview last week.   All are, as to be expected, youthful deep-coloured deep dark reds.

Photo by Sue CourtneyPenfolds Bin 138 Barossa Valley Shiraz, Grenache, Mourvedre 2006 - soapy and floral on the nose with savoury aromatics revealed after a little swirling. A fruity wine with medium body weight, juicy berries and cherries, moderately firm tannins, hints of chocolate and a savoury, earthy, dried herb undercurrent with liquorice, anise and lollyish overtones to the purple fruit finish. With just under 40% Shiraz and approximately equal proportions of Grenache and Mourvedre in the blend, this is fresh and approachable already. $19.99 to $29.99.

Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz 2005 - a savoury wine, savoury and earthy with a touch of barnyard joining the smoke, leather, tar and vanillin oak on the nose. Spicy with lifted acidity, sweet oak, leather and spice in the palate, pepper adds vibrancy and liquorice adds complexity while the lush velvety tannins have ample grip. Fruit is in the blackcurrant spectrum and plays more of a secondary role. Rhoneophiles will love this edition. To me it needs gamey food, such as lamb or venison, and my wish was answered when a rib cutlet of rare cooked venison was served with lunch. $19.99 to $29.99.

Penfolds Bin 28 Shiraz 2005 - a multi regional blend from McLaren Vale, Barossa and Langhorne Creek. Typically lush, sweet oaked aromas as we've come to expect with Bin 28, with fruit cake spice, cherry, chocolate, smoke and a hint of mint - but not any pepper at all. Full of plush Shiraz sweetness in the palate, high-toned and spicy with dark smoky oak, cherry and blackberry fruits, succulent velvety tannins, an earthy, savoury undercurrent and violets and peppery notes on the bright lingering finish. Youthful and fresh with a touch of raspberry lolly at this stage of its life. $19.99 to $29.99.

Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 -a lush, forward, drinkable style, perhaps because of dominant McLaren Vale component that is supported by Padthaway fruit this year. A ripe, appealing, sweet oaked, slightly minty cassis-infused aroma with a savoury overtone and hints of dried herbs. A powerful wine in the palate, varietally Cabernet Sauvignon, but with a distinct Australian lushness underpinned by a savoury cedariness. Very drinkable in a medium to full-bodied style. $23.99 - $33.99.

Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2005 - full of all those flavours that characterise this blend, it's subtle, stylish and persistent. I could have cradled this wine all day, getting high on the aromatics that reveal new little intricacies with every inhaled breath. Spicy, succulent and generous in the palate with firm but lush tannins, there's a hint of mint overlaying the black and red fruit with cherry, chocolate, liquorice and vanillin oak and a savoury undercurrent with hints of leather and rosemary. Smooth, seamless, delicious, it's my wine of the tasting - perhaps the best since the magical 1996 - and definitely a keeper. 52% Cab Sauv, 48% Shiraz. $29.99 to $47.99. 

The wines have been released in both cork and screwcap. If you are keen on one closure over the other, check your bottle before you buy.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 2nd 2008

Vinous Street Names

How many streets in Auckland have vinous names? I thought about this as we drove to Blossoms Café in Kumeu for a Sunday brunch, then to Westgate in Henderson for a spot of shopping.

In Kumeu you'll find a cluster of roads just north east of the village, running off Matua Road from which the famous Matua Valley takes its name. On one side of Matua Road is Pinotage Place off which runs Rheingold Place. On the other side is Merlot Heights, which you have to follow to get to Tokay Place.

At Westgate, at the terminus of the north western motorway, we passed Cellar Court before turning into Cabernet Cres. If we had followed Cellar Court, we would have found Asti Lane and Pinot Lane.

In the old winemaking area of Henderson, Moselle Ave is off Lincoln Road, while in Henderson's Western Heights, there is another cluster of vinously named streets around Harvest Drive and Vintage Drive. You'll find Semillon Ave, Chardonnay Rise, Shiraz Place, Cognac Place, Burgundy Park Ave, Palomino Drive, Riesling Place, Chablis Place and Muscat Place. There's also Rhinevale Cres and Chardon Place, named after some popular 1960's wine brands. It all in honour of the Henderson's winemaking heritage, where grapevines once grew prolifically but no more.

The vinous names continue further south too.  Hamilton has a winey cluster running off Coleraine Drive (perhaps named after Te Mata's icon red) with Merlot Place, Malbec Place, Shiraz Place, Grenache Place and Cabernet Close.

Napier has a Pinotage Drive, Merlot Drive and a Syrah Place.

Down in the South Island, Cromwell is getting in on the grape-named streets too with Pinot Noir Drive and Chardonnay Street in the old industrial area where a number of wine processing facilities have now been built.

Of course there are a number of roads that are famous wine brands, but only because the winery took its name for its location - Felton Road in Central Otago was there long before the winery of the same name came along.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
Mar 1st 2008

The rain falls

As the clock strikes March, the rain starts falling. The farmers are hoping the drought will be broken and the politicians really hope the hydro lakes will fill. But what about the grapegrowers? This rain is not really what they want at start of vintage.

Today every wine region in New Zealand has had some rain, not like last weekend when the wet weekend seemed to be mainly north of the Bombay Hills. Still it's early yet and for the later ripening grapes, the vines will be welcoming the drink.

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