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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: May 2008
May 29th: A Grunty Aussie Red Tasting at First Glass
May 28th: An Auld Alliance with Lamb
May 27th: WOTW: Brunton Road Gisborne Pinot Gris 2007
May 26th: Second Chance Chardonnay Reprieval
May 24th: Red and White and Black all over
May 21st: A wine-friendly Venison Pattie and Smoked Mushroom Stack
May 20th: Church Road release new wine in style
May 19th: Coxhead Creek vantage point.
May 18th: Discovering a Gabion.
May 17th: First Taste of 2008.
May 16th: Some "Not So Common" wines at the First Glass tasting.
May 15th: Aromatic Lamb Shanks with Olives, Oranges and Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.
May 14th: Vintage 2008 Savvie out already.
May 10th: Isabel zest ups Fennel.
May 8th: Twin Islands and Opawa Pinot Noirs.
May 7th: Unveiling David Herd.
May 6th: How to cook Cavolo Nero.
May 3rd: Cuisine Magazine's Top Ten Chardonnays.
May 1st: A tasting of Penfolds 'Luxury Wines'.
Older Entries

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 29th 2008

A Grunty Aussie Red Tasting at First Glass

What is a 'Grunty' red wine?  At First Glass Wine and Spirits, these are wines with massive power and massive flavour and more often than not, they hail from Australia. At First Glass they call this style of wine a 'Grunter' and every year they hold a tasting of some of the richest and most powerful they can find, within a selling point price range, of course.   This 2008 edition of this blockbuster of a tasting was on again this week.  It was the 'Return of the Grunters'. 

However, when you taste a line-up of wines like this in the context of a social tasting, albeit a 'blind' social tasting, it really is the alcohol too, that helps to define the most grunty wines. The alcohol adds succulence and upfront likeability.   They are made to seduce.  But the best examples hide the heady alcohol well amongst the opulent ripe fruit and well integrated classy oak.  I say this because my two favourite wines both clocked in at 15% alcohol each. They were ...WBGLCS

Wolf Blass Grey label Langhorne Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 - Vibrant is a good word to describe this wine as I used it three times in my hand written notes - for the colour, for the aroma and for the taste. Classically cooler climate South Australian with eucalypt and cedary oak scents and so full of flavour with concentrated red fruit, chocolate and mint.  Packed full of power yet smooth and succulent in its delivery, I rated it simply yum!  It is totally 5 star and gold medal quality and very hard to resist.  It's being sold for $29.99 a bottle, cheaper on case buys.

Wyndham Estate George Wyndham Shiraz 2004 - predominantly South Australian fruit with the addition of some Hunter Valley grapes as well, this vividly coloured Shiraz shows no indication of its four years of age. Rich and creamy smelling, opulent from the outset with red fruit and liquorice spice that carry through to the full-bodied succulent palate that's full of pepper, black liquorice and distinctive Shiraz spices. There's a tarry undercurrent, perhaps the Hunter contribution, but totally juicy in nature with chocolate, mint and cedar coming into play too.  With no need to pull out more than a $20 note in exchange for a bottle, this was the 'Buy of the Night'.

Also tasted -

Plantagenet Omrah Shiraz 2005 - Western Australia
Haselgrove Reserve McLaren Vale Shiraz 2003
St. John’s Road Blood & Courage Barossa Shiraz 2006
Mitolo Jester McLaren Vale Shiraz 2006
Zema Estate Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
Elderton Friends Barossa Valley Shiraz 2005
Petaluma Adelaide Hills Shiraz 2005
Wyndham Estate Black Cluster Hunter Valley Shiraz 2003
Wolf Blass Grey Label McLaren Vale Shiraz 2005
Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz 2004 - South Australia

For all my tasting notes, click here to be cyber-transported to my Wednesday Roundup page.

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

Neil did the shopping on Monday night and amongst the meat for the week was half a dozen lamb fillets. I wanted to try something different, as I usually combine flavours with lamb that suit an accompanying glass of pinot noir, so the fingers went tapping into Google for inspiration. It didn't take long for a recipe to pop up that took my fancy. It was from the Cooking It Simply website and the recipe was Lamb Fillets with a Redcurrant Sauce. Now redcurrant jelly and lamb and Cabernet Sauvignon do go exceptionally well together, so this would be the catalyst for the recipe. I had to make some adjustments, after all my lamb fillets were tiny and certainly didn't need the 30 minutes of cooking the recipe stated. They wouldn't need much cooking at all. And I didn't have sour cream, either.  I also wanted a touch of herb to contrast the redcurant sweetness.

The lamb loins were washed and dried then rolled in a mixture of 1 crushed clove of smoked garlic, 1 tablespoon of whole seed mustard and some freshly chopped rosemary (perhaps a dozen of the tiny leaves).

A little EVOO was heated in a frying pan and the fillets quickly sizzled to brown on both sides, then the heat turned down for the fillets, with the clove / mustard / rosemary residue to complete the cooking slowly. You will need to turn the fillets once or twice, but they do not need much longer than 10 minutes cooking. It's also a good idea to put a splatter cover over the pan because, as I found out, the mustard seeds from the whole seed mustard popped everywhere. Once the fillets are done almost to your liking, pop them onto a paper towel covered plate and into a low temperature oven to rest and keep warm while you make the sauce.

Add about 30mls of the red wine that you are going to accompany your dinner with, to the pan drippings and stir to pick up all the goodies. Then add a tablespoon of red currant jelly and let it dissolve. Lastly add a splash, perhaps two tablespoons, of 100% natural cream. Let the sauce simmer while you slice the lamb fillets and plate them, and spoon this rich sauce over. Garnish with orange zest and serve with your favourite autumn vegetables.

Auld AllianceWe matched the wine to Gladstone Auld Alliance 2006, a blend of 55% Cabernet Franc, 25% Merlot and 20% Malbec from the Wairarapa. This is a deep coloured, but not quite opaque, plummy red with crimson red edges. Sweet cherry scents with hints of chocolate and cedar emanate from the glass. The taste is full of juicy flavours with succulent red fruit, spicy oak, a creamy texture, a touch of red liquorice, a smidgen of dried herbs and a savoury richness to the finish with hints of musk and violet emerging on the lingering aftertaste. This is definitely the best 'Auld Alliance' I've tasted thus far, a testament to the stunning 2006 vintage in the Wairarapa, perhaps. Matured in 90% French oak and 10% American oak barrels for 12 -14 months, this is drinking now yet shows potential to drink well the next 2 to 3 years. It has 14% alcohol according to the label (although the website states 14.5%); it is closed with a DIAM cork and costs $29. Find out more from the Gladstone website.

Most of all, the combination of the Auld Alliance 2006 and the Lamb Fillets with Redcurrant Sauce was just divine.

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

WOTW: Brunton Road Gisborne Pinot Gris 2007

This week's Wine of the Week is the Brunton Road Pinot Gris 2007 from Gisborne. Brunton Road is a welcome addition to the Gisborne wine scene with not only Pinot Gris grown on their estate, but also a gorgeous and deliciously juicy Merlot from the same vintage and a fairly dry but distinctly varietal and delicately spicy Gewurztraminer. Both are reviewed in the article - click here to read it.

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

Second Chance Chardonnay Reprieval

I used to dislike Chardonnay - but then I totally used to dislike wine until I discovered the fresh fruity clean flavours of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. I grew to love wine but a dislike of Chardonnay came from poorly made or totally boring examples. With the latter, for a while, it seemed that every winemaker was using the same recipe and not even the terroir could make a statement. Most of that style of Chardonnay is a thing of the past and I love a good Chardonnay now. But two Chardonnays I opened about a week ago rekindled those feelings .... or let's just say they were not quite my style.

One was Morton Estate White Label Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2006 ($17) and the other was Lawson's Dry Hills Marlborough Chardonnay 2004 ($27.95) Both seemed heavy handed on the oak, high in alcohol and hot in the palate. I couldn't bring my self to do much more than taste them. So they went back in the tasting box to look at again 'later'.

I remembered them when I was cooking the chicken to match to the Black Estate Waipara Chardonnay 2004 (see the May 24th blog entry) and needed a splash of Chardonnay to add to the Chicken and Bacon drums. So it seemed like a good idea to taste then again - screwcaps preserve the wines very well - and what a difference a few days had made. The wines had come together and were so much more likeable.

So the notes that follow are my initial and follow up impressions.

mortonch.jpg (10996 bytes)Morton Estate White Label Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2006 (14.5% alc)
First tasted on 15th May 2008: Greeny gold coloured. A slight ‘Aussie’ nuance to the aroma- that sunny disposition, a hint of cockatoo poo, or just perhaps American oak, which is true to Morton Estate’s signature. It is a big, fat, mealy style laden with buttered popcorn and underpinned by toasty savoury oak. Boisterous in its youth, it is more of a beverage wine or party drink than a food wine at this stage of its life.

Tasted again on the 22nd May, the Morton Estate has settled with time to become utterly juicy and creamy. The oak has integrated and the fruit can now be tasted. I get citrus and a nice touch of stonefruit in there too. I'm actually enjoying it with the food too.

lawsonsch.jpg (11197 bytes)Lawson’s Dry Hills Marlborough Chardonnay 2004 (14% alc)
First tasted on 19th May 2008: Deep gold. Spicy toasty and full of flavour, there doesn't seem to be any fear of oak from the winemaker’s perspective. Once you get past the oak, however, a rather intriguing salty savouriness emerges from underneath the nectarine-like fruit and provides a lively tang to the finish with citrus zest coming into play. Creamy with some nutty mellow tones and a long savoury finish.

Tasted again on the 22nd May, the Lawson's Dry Hills is flamboyantly toasty and citrussy with spicy oak and a nutty mid palate. While bright citrus is the dominant fruit focus, there's some butterscotch caramel emerging on the rounded finish. Once again, this proved to be a hit with both the citrus chicken and well as the savoury herb chicken drums.

It just goes to show if you don't like something first up, then put it out of your mind for while and try again later. It may be better than you originally thought - or perhaps you were just having an off day. These two wines were pardoned from dying a slow death in the bottle and were consumed in food friendly circumstances, as all good Chardonnays should be.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 24th 2008

Red and White and Black all over

Carrying on from the previous blog entry (May 21st), there were two smoked portobello mushrooms left in the packet after our glorious venison, smoked mushroom and potato stack dinner and what do you know, Neil had picked up some lamb backstraps on the way home from work the next day. So these were coated with sumac spice and pan-fried to medium-rare while the whole smoked portobellos sizzled in another small pan. Now this food combination was absolutely outstanding with the Black Estate Waipara Pinot Noir 2004, a more delicate pinot noir and thus a little over-awed by the strong venison flavours of the night before.

Black Estate Waipara Pinot Noir 2004 is a deep translucent garnet colour with appealingly fragrant, sweet oaked, perfumed cherry and almost floral scents. There's a bright lift to the taste with a cherry sweetness, subtle and well-integrated French oak, smooth silky tannins, a hint of chocolate and a lovely earthy 'forest floor' funkiness emerging on the long sweet / savoury finish. It's drinking absolutely beautifully now and the underlying acidity will see this wine continue to track along this path for a few more years yet. I liked it. 13.5% alcohol. 'Twin top' natural cork. About $39.95.

Black Estate labels photo by Sue CourtneyIt seemed like a good idea to open my bottle of Black Estate Chardonnay to add to this review so on Thursday night I popped into the supermarket on the way home to pick up some chicken. I was pleased to see beautifully plump chicken drums for only $4.99 a kilo. With half a dozen in a packet I thought I could cook them three ways, but that was put in the 'too hard' basket, and in the end there were only two variations. But first of all I tasted the wine to see what might complement the flavours.

Black Estate Waipara Chardonnay 2004 is a light yellow gold colour, quite youthful looking for its age. Quite citrussy on the nose - a mandarin / tangelo scent with the zesty aromatic brightness carrying through to the nutty, mealy, creamy-textured palate. Spicy oak is well integrated and balanced and the wine is picking up some pleasing mellow bottle complexities with age. 14% alcohol. 'Twin top' natural cork. About $29.95.

I decided I would definitely use oranges in one of the chicken variations.

So to the chicken. All of the pieces had the skin removed and were browned in EVOO. Three were removed and rolled in dried 'Italian' herbs then each wrapped with a rasher of streaky bacon which was secured with toothpicks, then placed into a small baking dish.    

The other three drums remained in the pan while I squeezed in the juice of a very fresh, juicy orange and added the zest and the remaining pulp for texture as well. In went a sprinkling of ground coriander, a heaped teaspoon of thick creamed honey and a few shakes of soy sauce. The whole lot went into small baking dish.

Both the dishes were covered to cook in the oven at 180 degrees C for about 30 minutes, then the covers were removed, the drums turned to brown up the other side and then cooked for another 15 minutes with the cover off to reduce the sauce a little. The bacon-covered drums made their own liquid and I added a dash of chardonnay (another chardonnay) to this dish to ensure the liquid wouldn't totally dry up.

Both variations were superb with the chardonnay, but especially the orange chicken - a simple yet delicious complementary match.

When I was first introduced to Black Estate wines, Russell Black was the owner - see my earlier review here. While these 2004 wines were made in the Russell Black era, the Naish Family now own the vineyard and Black Estate wines can now be found in fine wine retail and restaurants.  The Black Estate website goes live on 1 June. Meantime email for more information.

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

A wine-friendly Venison Pattie and Smoked Mushroom Stack

When we picked up some whole smoked portobello mushrooms at the Matakana Market last Saturday, I wasn't really sure how to cook them. The market stallholder said, "Cook them as you normally would. Cut them and make a sauce or add to a stir fry". But I wanted to make sure I would taste the smokiness of the mushrooms, seeing someone had gone to the effort of smoking them. The mushrooms were vacuum packed, so there was no hurry.   Then Neil came home from a much needed supermarket shop on Sunday evening with some venison patties.  Hmmm, round venison patties, round mushrooms, I'm seeing a pattern here. So I thought I would make a venison, smoked mushroom and potato stack with a thyme-infused red wine sauce.

I found two largish potatoes and scrubbed them clean and cooked them whole, in the microwave, for four minutes and left them there while I went about making the base for the sauce which was a reduction of a half a bottle of pinot noir with two tablespoons of sugar and sprigs of thyme - reduced to about 1/4 its original volume.

Once the potatoes were cool enough to handle, I sliced two slices, about a centimetre thick, from each of the potatoes and fried them in extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan. Four of the smoked mushrooms were added to sizzle and brown and heat all the way through.

In another pan the venison patties were cooked. Everything was kept warm in the oven while the sauce was completed. First I used a little water to deglaze one of the frying pans, then tipped that liquid into the second frying pan to deglaze that and then the wine reduction was added and reduced to about 1/4 of a cup. 

venisonstack.jpg (46362 bytes)Assembly was quite simple. Place a venison pattie in the centre of a warm plate, top with a potato slice and then a smoked mushroom, then another venison pattie, another slice of potato and another smoked mushroom. Drizzle some of the red wine sauce over the top and decorate the plate with a little more. Add a sprig of thyme on top of the stack for garnish and a few random leaves of thyme around the stack for colour.

What wine would work best? This was an opportunity to see so we opened a young pinot noir and one that was a little bit older, a syrah and a cabernet sauvignon and merlot blend.  It proved to be a dish that was equally compatible with both pinot noirs as well as a spicy Hawkes Bay Syrah.   The two top wines were ....

Wishart Alluvion Hawkes Bay Syrah 2005
Spicy, floral, peppery and fragrant - true to the variety as we know it from Hawkes Bay.   Deeply saturated colour and a bright, lifted palate - pretty and floral with underlying savouriness and a deep brooding undercurrent with creamy oak paving the way for a long smooth, powerfully long and almost luscious finish. It has guts as well as grace.
About NZ$29.90.  Cork closure. 13% alcohol.

Schubert Marion's Block Pinot Noir 2006
This is rich, succulent pinot noir from the Wairarapa in the lower North Island  - complex, earthy, deep and savoury with structure, length and potential to become rather funky and sexy as soon as the underlying acidity tones down just a little.  Full of flavour with vibrant bittersweet plum, tamarillo and red guava fruit, a touch of liquorice and fruit cake spice with silk edged velvety tannins and the peacock's tail resplendent on the finish.
About NZ$35.90.  Cork closure. 13% alcohol.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 20th 2008churchrdv.jpg (10035 bytes)

Church Road release new wine in style

This week's Wine of the Week is the Church Road Reserve Viognier 2007. It is just one of five stellar wines in the Church Road Reserve range and is a perfect tipple to get the taste buds working before a meal, and a versatile food match too.   It was tasted at a decadent lunch at Antoines Restaurant in Parnell for the launch of the brand new Church Road Reserve Syrah 2006, but on the day is was the Viognier that took my fancy. All the wines are reviewed along with Antoine's delicious food matches in this weeks Wine of the Week - click here.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 19th 2008

Coxhead Creek vantage point

Sitting on a patio sipping wine is always nice, but even nicer when you are sipping the wine off your own vineyard from the grapevines right in front of you. I don't think I will ever have my own vineyard, but it is always nice to see the pride in a vineyard owner's eyes when they share a bottle of their wine with you on their patio. That was the case on Saturday when we visited Coxhead Creek Vineyard with vineyard manager Alistair Noakes and met owner Michael Lorimer.

coxheadcreek.jpg (55613 bytes)Coxhead Creek is north of slow town Matakana on the way to Leigh. It's at the end of a dusty road with the same name. Michael, who wanted a challenge and something to do in the weekends, first planted a block of syrah on his elevated site that has views across the Hauraki Gulf to Great Barrier in the east and a grand vista of the Omaha Inlet to the south, in 2002. From our vantage point we could see Ti Point Vineyard just across the near valley and The Gabion vineyard at Te Kie Point in the very far distance. The rows of vines, all in the same north-south orientation, look like a discontiguous geological outcrop.

Jan Haslam, the owner of the Ti Point Retreat at the Ti Point Vineyard, spotted his planting endeavours and questioned his sanity. Then she introduced him to her winemaker daughter Tracy, the catalyst for the Ti Point Vineyard plantings. It was a fruitful meeting and Tracy has made the Coxhead Creek wines from the outset with the first vintage in 2004. In fact the quality of the Coxhead Creek syrah encouraged Tracy to plant a block of Syrah at Ti Point.

Michael added another block the following year with more syrah and cabernet franc and these two grapes are blended, at this stage, for the Inlet Red.  Like many other tiny vineyards in Matakana, Coxhead Creek uses The Vintry in Matakana for cellar door sales.

Coxhead Creek Inlet Red 2005, an approximate 50/50 blend of Syrah and Cabernet Franc, is a deep crimson coloured red that smells so peppery you would think it was 100% Syrah. Peppery on the initial taste too, and quite savoury with a bitter cherry and plum sweetness and moderately soft yet grippy tannins, it morphs as it travels across the tongue into a wine of Bordeaux character with a touch of tobacco, smoky French oak and dried herbs. An approachable wine with structure and flavour, it has 13.5% alcohol and a screwcap closure. It costs about $25 at The Vintry.

Coxhead Creek Vineyard Reserve Syrah 2005 is a deep crimson colour with reasonably intensity of hue. Fragrant, floral and peppery on the nose and rich and intense in flavour with nice earthy tones to balance the bright cherry and purple fruit that is underpinned by well-balanced acidity. Evolving in the glass it is spicy, salty and zesty with a floral brightness, hints of rose petal and a marmite savouriness, it is soft yet has structure behind it and is subtle in its power and long and succulent in its flavour. It speaks of the place with its slight saltiness, which vineyard manager Alistair attributes to the high salinity of the coastal clay soils. I'd like to try this with a fennel and orange infused creamy pate. With 13.5% alcohol and a screwcap closure, it costs about $36 at The Vintry but it is advertised at Caro's for considerably less.

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

Discovering a Gabion

Yesterday I discovered a Gabion. I had seen a Gabion before, but I didn't know what it was called. Now I know. It is a cage of meshed wire filled with small rocks or stones.

gabion labelThere is also a wine called 'The Gabion'. It comes from Matakana Wine Country where shipping mogul Mark Ching has a property at Te Kie Point at the south end of Omaha, just above Pink Beach. His house has towering free standing Gabion walls on the south side (the north side faces the sea) and in the wall is a door. This is what is depicted on the label of the wine, which is from the two hectare vineyard on north facing slope of the property, and is a blend of the fruit off the approximately 60% Cabernet Franc and 40% Merlot vines. Alistair Noakes is the vineyard manager and Tracy Haslam (of Ti Point Vineyard but based in Hawkes Bay), who was fundamental in the planting and development of the site, is the winemaker. Yesterday, with Alistair, I got to see the Gabions (both the walls and the wine) up close.

Sitting in the sun on a piece of driftwood at Pink Beach, we tried this exclusive wine, which is on very selected wine lists in Auckland and costs $34 a bottle at The Vintry (the cellar door facility) in Matakana.

The Gabion 2006 is a translucent deep garnet red in colour, perhaps more translucent because of being outside in the sunlight than it may have seemed if we were drinking inside at night. The dominant Cabernet Franc aromatics exuded hints of violet, apricot, wild thyme and cigar box and while the palate is seemingly quite light for the blend, it's a very generous and drinkable medium-bodied wine and "slips down easily". French oak is nicely proportioned and not too heavy handed, fruit is tending towards the cherry / red currant spectrum and there is grip and savouriness to the finish with a touch of smoke and a hint of tobacco. The wine has a Diam cork closure and 13.6% alcohol by volume is stated on the label.

Wine Tasting at Pink BeachIt suited the occasion and evolved beautifully as we enjoyed the company and the ambience and the sound of the waves lapping on the shore.

Alistair gave us the remains of the bottle to take home and try with food. We thought it quite a star when accompanied with walnut bread that we had purchased at the Matakana Markets yesterday morning together with ripe Gorgonzola from the Art of Cheese. A great match with the wine cutting through the sharpness of the cheese for a mellow, rounded and very pleasing textural effect.

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

First Taste of 2008

A bottle of Mission Estate Hawkes Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2008 arrived with the courier on Friday.  It arrived for a reason. It arrived to give me my first taste of vintage 2008.  So after work, I had no hesitation in opening it.

Yes, it's a sauvignon blanc as we know it; a brand new racy, grassy, herbaceous and pungently aromatic sauvignon blanc that is vivaciously vibrant to the taste. Oh so young with apple, lime tropical fruit and bubblegum-like esters, it is slightly oily in texture   - like a cape gooseberry oiliness - and there's a nuance of that cape gooseberry flavour too along with capsicum and tomato stalk tugging at the fruit. Add a hint of musk and sweetness to the finish but it never loses touch with its fresh racy acidity.

Tasting without food, it's bright and fresh with loads of flavour - talk about mouth-awakening - but it is toned down a little by a lettuce, tomato and gourmet black capsicum salad dressed with a little orange juice and EVOO dressing that accompanied our meal.

Just 12% alcohol and sealed with a screwcap, it's already available from the Mission Estate cellar door. I didn't find any paper work accompanying the sample, so price is unknown. Last years sold from NZ$15 to $18. Check out for more. 

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 16th 2008

Some "Not So Common" wines at the First Glass tasting

"Not So Common" was the theme at Wednesday night's First Glass tasting and there were some interesting wines to try over a range of price points - this was the line-up ....

  • Brown Brothers Zibibbo Rosa NV - Victoria, Australia ($15.99).
  • Coopers Creek SV "The Little Rascal" Arneis 2007 - Gisborne ($21.99).
  • Moreau & Fils Chablis 2005 - Burgundy, France ($15.99).
  • Escarpment Kupe Chardonnay 2006 - Martinborough ($56.99).
  • Trentham Estate Viognier 2005 – NSW, Australia ($17.99).
  • Pyramid Valley Growers Collection Lebecca Riesling 2005 - Marlborough ($35.99).
  • Pierre Andre 'Clos de Guettottes' Savigny-les-Beaune 2005 - Burgundy, France. ($51.99).
  • Campo Alto Rioja Tinto 2006 - Spain ($26.99).
  • Banfi Chianti Classico 2006 - Tuscany, Italy ($32.99).
  • Trentham Estate Petit Verdot 2006 – NSW, Australia ($17.99).
  • Menhir Primitivo Manduria 2004 - Italy ($26.99).
  • Chateau Gravas Sauternes 2005 - Bordeaux, France ($26.99).

Probably the hardest wine for the down-under tasters to get their tastebuds around was the Savigny-Les-Beaune from what has been touted as a very good vintage in Burgundy.  When we think of the forward generous pinot noirs that we produce from New Zealand, this was so definitely a European wine and typical of many young Burgundies with an almost impenetrable structured reinforced by tight and unforgiving tannins, more so than you will ever see in our wines. It's always hard for the first red in this tasting format, especially on the heels of the seductive Pyramid Valley Lebecca Riesling 2005, so I left the Savigny-les-Beaune in the glass to try and let it 'unfold' and used another glass for the remainder of the tasting. The wine did open up in the glass to reveal the thing about Burgundy that makes it Burgundy to our palates.  It's worth trying for the experience - but do vigourously decant if you broach the cork any time soon.

Another wine that stood out was the Escarpment Kupe Chardonnay 2006 from Martinborough. This was another very tight knit wine that took sometime to open up but with lots of swirling it did.  It was a wine of such winemaking class, it reminded of a Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay from Nelson.  It's getting up to the Neudorf realms in price too.

For downright drinkability, I'd choose the Trentham Estate Petit Verdot 2006   - it will warm the blood in no time at all.

My detailed tasting notes are on my Wednesday Roundup page - click here to be cyber transported there.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 15th 2008

Aromatic Lamb Shanks with Olives, Oranges and Montepulciano d'Abruzzo

"Have you ever cooked with olives," asked Rose Gresson, the olive grower in Hawkes Bay. Her company, Telegraph Hill, is one of the food producers aligned with Farmgate Wines (see this Wine of the Week review).

olives.jpg (14418 bytes)"Only olive oil," I replied. So Rose gave me a 300 gram packet of her traditional olives (retail approx. $7) and persuaded me to give it a try.

"Just add a handful to your favourite casserole or stew," she said. "Lamb shanks are good," she added.

I love lamb shanks in late autumn and winter. With the long, slow cooking the heat from the oven warms up the kitchen.

Rose said there was a recipe on her website but there was not a recipe as such, just a tip to add olives 'for an outstanding twist on tradition'.

Looking up recipes on the Internet, there were plenty of options

Lamb shanks with olives and orange
Lamb shanks with olives and lemon
Lamb shanks with olives and chickpeas
Lamb shanks with olives and apricot

I though the simpler the better and red wine, olives, tomatoes and herbs seemed like a classic match but the olives and orange idea kept nagging away. Why not, I thought. I've still got some oranges on the tree despite the recent opossum raids.  And several reviews of Mario Batali's book, Molto Italiano, came up in an Internet search with Lamb Shanks with Olives and Oranges always seeming to be featured. I've been watching Mario Molto on Food TV (5pm weekdays) and I love the ingredients he uses. So the combination has to work.

This is not Mario's recipe but is what I did.

  • Roughly chop one red onion and two de-stringed stalks of celery. Saute in olive oil until glossy all over. Add two peeled carrots, cut into reasonbly large chunks. Add to the pan and saute a couple of minutes longer. Remove the contents of the pan to the large casserole dish (I used my favourite old enamel Dutch oven).
  • Brown off in the pan then place on top the vegetables in the casserole.
  • Deglaze the cooking pan with 2 cups of red wine, which will start bubbling straight away. Add 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar and two tablespoons of sugar.
  • Zest an orange. Cut orange in half and then in half again and remove pulp from the pith. Add to the liquid together with the left over stem of the fennel bulbs that you used the day before - peel to remove the stringy bits.
  • Pour liquid over the lamb shanks. Sprinkle over freshly toasted fennel seeds, some of which have been ground in a mortar and pestle.
  • Add a gernerous handful of olives. Cover and cook at 160 degrees for 2and a half hours, turning the shanks after about an hour.
  • Check for liquid reduction during cooking and add water if necessary to stop any burning on the bottom of the casserole dish. If you have plenty of juice, you can thicken it, if desired.

Served over mashed potatoes and garnish with fennel fern and watch out for the olive pips when you are enjoying this delicious meal. The olives did add that 'outstanding twist on tradition'.  They fruit had softened so the pip fell out easily and they seemed to have sweetened up considerably. 

This aromatic lamb shanks with olives and fennel was superb when accompanied with Pasqua Le Collezioni Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2006 ($12.90). This ripe juicy wine is rich and meaty with a spicy savouriness and perfumed fruit and builds to a long full finish.

I had three Pasqua wines to try and the Montepulciano was the star. But do avoid the Pasqua Merlot 2006. You get better samples from home than abroad. I actually used the Merlot in the cooking.

Check out this Rural Delivery link for more on Telegraph Hill.

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

Vintage 2008 Savvie out already

Doesn't seem that long ago that the grapes were on the vine but just 6 weeks after the harvest and vintage 2008 sauvignon blanc is out already. But the surprising thing is that the releases I've heard about come from Hawkes Bay. Te Mata Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2008 is already being advertised while Mission Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2008 is hitting the cellar door shelves tomorrow.

Also in recent news, Marcus Pickens has been appointed the new Marketing Manager of Wine Marlborough.   Members of Cellar Masters Wine Club in the mid to latter part of the 1990's will remember Marcus at the Newmarket store.  He is leaving his current job of Fine Wine Sales Manager at Glengarry Hancocks to take up his new position on May 26th.  Moving to Marlborough from Auckland will be quite a change for Marcus and his young family.

nobilosign.jpg (46722 bytes)Closer to my home, the sign that proclaimed the 'Nobilo Wine Group' outside their headquarters in Huapai north of Auckland, has gone. Nobilo Wine Group is owned by Constellation Wines and to reflect the ownership, they've changed the named of the New Zealand operation to Constellation New Zealand. However the 60-year old Nobilo brand within the mega company is one of the leading sellers and is firmly set to stay.

New Zealand wine exports have hit another record, up another NZ$661 million (16%) for the year ended March 2008. It is international companies like Constellation and other big name international companies that have opened up new and extensive networks and increased demand for New Zealand wines.

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

Isabel zests up Fennel

Opened a bottle of Isabel Marlborough Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2007 last night.  Wow - this producer is right back on form after a rather stylistically different 2006 sauvignon blanc, a departure from the typically racy, tropical fruited, punchy Marlborough savvies and not even the best example of an 'alternative' style. isabelsb.jpg (12490 bytes)But after one sip of the 2007, Isabel was redeemed. 

The tangy and very more-ish Isabel Marlborough Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2007 is fragrantly aromatic with an orange zest infusion to the distinctive sauvignon scent and the taste is bright and punchy with a crisp herbaceous undercurrent and a firm acid spine.   A warmth and richness to the finish imparts a pleasing textural complexity, no doubt from the 20% that had been fermented in older oak barrels - although you cannot taste the oak because the fruit simply sings.  There's a slightly funky nunace too, that makes me wonder if there's a touch of natural ferment, although the notes on the website don't mention this.

I loved the herb flavours in the wine that particularly reminded me of fennel, or perhaps I had fennel on my mind as the bulbs are now in season and I had two in the vegetable compartment of my fridge.  Also the citrus reminded me of the oranges on the orange tree in the back yard, now at the height of the season (much to the marauding opossums' delight).  I was keen to try Fennel and Orange together, as they seem to be a classic match. 

Sue Courtney's Fennel, braised in Orange and Sauvignon BlancHowever after searching the web for a suitable recipe, I decided it was time to revive my Fennel Braised in Sauvignon Blanc recipe with the addition of the orange zest, juice and the still fleshy pulp that I scooped out after squeezing.  Terakihi fillets with an aromatic crust, mashed potatoes, salad leaves and the last of the outdoor tomatoes proved to be a fitting accompaniment but the Fennel and Orange was a star match with the wine.

Isabel Marlborough Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2007 has 13/5% alcohol by volume and 7.7 grams of total acidity - hence the raciness that we love. It's sealed with a screwcap about costs about NZ$20.  Although sold out at the cellar door, Isabel is widely distributed throughout the world, so check out discerning retailers and restaurants. Find out more from

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

Twin Islands and Opawa Pinot Noirs

We were away in Taupo in the Central North Island with our car club last weekend. Brrrr. It was cold. Minus 1 degrees Celsius on Sunday morning although it really did seem colder. I'm sure there was frost on the car first thing. Then, when the clouds parted, fresh snow covered the Tongariro National Park mountains. You could feel the snow in the air and the temperature didn't make it into double figures that day. I am sure the wind, with its chill factor taken into account made it seem even colder.

The night before, our group gathered at one of the local establishments for dinner. It was a pre-set menu with the choice of fish and chips, sirloin steak or lamb shanks for the main course. I had checked the website to see if the establishment was BYO, but it was not. Still I was heartened by the fact that the immensely drinkable Tohu Marlborough Pinot Noir 2006 was on the wine list. In fact it was featuring prominently on the website. But when we got there, the Tohu was nowhere to be seen. I asked the bar person if they had any as I saw it on the website and he said, "Oh we changed our wine list today". (On a Saturday? Yeah, right!)

So with very little choice and with Pinot Noir firmly on my mind, it was the Twin Islands Marlborough Pinot Noir 2006 that accompanied our twice cooked lamb shanks. This is a lighter styled pinot, initially quite sweetish with a savoury undertone to the morello cherry and blueberry fruit and a hint of chocolate to the earthy savoury finish. The sweetness of the wine worked well with the gamey flavours of the lamb. In fact the lamb really did need the shot of cherry / berry favour that the wine added. It was also especially nice with bread dipped in oil then in an aromatic dukkah which had the aniseed flavours of fennel seeds.

Twin Islands (RRP $18) is made by Nautilus Estate and as I started typing my notes, I remembered I had been sent a sample of the Nautilus Estate’s new label, the Opawa Marlborough Pinot Noir 2007 (RRP $28.95) from the vineyard adjacent to the Nautilus winery in Renwick in Marlborough. It is the only wine made under this label, which translates in English to 'Smokey River'. 

opawapn.jpg (15113 bytes)A veritable step up from the Twin Islands, the moderately deep purple-garnet coloured Opawa flirts as soon as it is poured. Smoky and savoury with morello cherry scents and hints of creamy oak, it is silky textured and rather succulent to the taste. A chocolatey richness balances the initial herbal savoury attack with both morello and fruit cake cherries and cranberries adding a tart sweetness. There’s a hint of marmite yeastiness and the rounded finish is aromatically spicy and long. This young vibrant pinot noir is delicious and approachable already but all the indications are that it will drink beautifully the next 3-4 years.  The wine has 14% alcohol.  Such classy presentation (see photo right) too.

Again lamb was the choice - this time once-cooked lamb steaks sizzled in olive oil with a sprinkling of chopped fresh rosemary, thyme, and sage with the pan deglazed with a little of the pinot noir to make a sauce.  I'm thinking a sprinkle of that aromatic dukkah would have gone down well too.

Check out for more on the specialised Pinot Noir wine making facility that Nautilus Estate has created for crafting these wines.

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

Unveiling David Herd

The weather is showing as being 'partly cloudy' in Blenheim today with a high of 17 degrees Celsius at the airport.  It's a warm change from the cold snap that hit the country last weekend and a pleasant autumn temperature for a day when people are gathering at the airport for the unveiling of the statue of Marlborough wine pioneer, David Herd.

davidherd.jpg (24114 bytes)David Herd established Marlborough's first vineyard on a property he called 'Auntsfield'.   The current owners, the Cowley family, unravelled the history after buying the property and discovering the old wine cellar set into the side of a small hill. Their research made them realise they had purchased the land that was the site of Marlborough's first vineyard with the wine cellar built about 1873. The Cowleys decided to resurrect the 'Auntsfield' label and have now restored the wine cellar and Herd's tiny one room home, which I was lucky enough to visit in October last year.  They also commissioned the statue, which is a fitting tribute to the region's first commercial winemaker.  Could Herd ever have imagined the extent of Marlborough's vineyards today?  Could any of us?

Marlborough Mayor, Alistair Sowman, who is speaking at the unveiling, says he commends and thank the Cowleys for this initiative. "It is important to acknowledge our past and this is an excellent contribution to our knowledge of our local history.  It also fits well with the work that the Marlborough Museum is doing with the wine industry, to record the history of viticulture in Marlborough. It is a timely reminder that the roots of the industry lie with our colonial pioneers," he says.

heritage.jpg (15488 bytes)After the unveiling, a long table lunch is being held on the site of the former vineyard, outside the restored cellar, with the food to be accompanied by the Auntsfield Heritage Pinot Noir 2005, which is also being launched today. This wine was one of my star finds at the Marlborough Wine Weekend last year. I was also privileged to taste it again outside the wine cellar when I visited the vineyard (click here and scroll down) just before returning to Auckland.

Auntsfield Heritage Pinot Noir 2005 is a gorgeous wine. It is rich, creamy, chocolatey and savoury with subtle spice, dried herbs, smoky bacon, cherry, plum and yummy poached tamarillo. It's dry with firm but fleshy tannins, a smoky complexity and a delicious succulence to the lasting finish.  It's a special wine because is also has a drop of the original Auntsfield Brown Muscat wine from the 1905 vintage. It's a wine that will last too, because a bottle of it is being buried in a time capsule to mark this historic occasion. Lucky it has a pewter label, because that will last too.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 6th 2008

How to cook Cavolo Nero

When I was given a half dozen leaves of a green vegetable that looked very much like a silverbeet but was a more 'army green' colour and had much a thicker, sturdier texture, I had no idea what it was. cavolo.jpg (55918 bytes)But foodie Lauraine Jacobs, who was in our little group visiting the gardens of Clyde Potter (pictured right) in Hawkes Bay and the business he has established called Epicurean Supplies, knew immediately that it was Cavolo Nero. Clyde's herbs, micro greens and exotic vegetables are highly sought after by the country top restaurateurs. Especially exotics like Cavolo Nero, which is an Italian black cabbage that Clyde imported into New Zealand.

But how does one cook it. Googling ' "Cavolo Nero" +recipes ' resulted in a number of different and quite conflicting procedures.

You can cut it into strips and boil it for 2-3 minutes in salted water, says one source with no additional instructions. Another source said to boil for 20 minutes - although that seemed like overkill. It's evidently fabulous in soups, too.  However the Epicurean Supplies website says to simply fry in olive oil with garlic and chillies.

One thing every procedure had in common was to remove the tough stalk and central rib. I did that but when I tasted the rib, it wasn't awful or anything, so I decided to treat it this particular cabbage as I would silverbeet or spinach.

I removed the central rib and chopped the rib into pieces no bigger than a centimetre and added similarly sized chopped fennel, about one third the quantity of the cavolo nero rib.  These were sauteed in a pan in a generous amount of EVOO, together with salt and freshly ground pepper. farmgatesb.jpg (24891 bytes)Meanwhile, I cooked the Cavolo Nero leaf in salted boiling water, for 3 minutes then after draining, sliced across the leaves to cut them into strips.  When the Cavolo Nero rib and fennel were starting to give, the strips of leaf were added and sauteed a little longer. A couple of slices of tomato chopped into pieces added colour; cream added moisture and fennel fern was used for garnish.  So use the stalks - they just need to be cooked for longer and add more of the Cavolo Nero flavour to the dish. 

Farmgate is a new label for Hawkes Bay and the philosophy of the label is to take the food of local suppliers and match them to the wines. Clyde Potter is matched to Farmgate Hawkes Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2007 and this pungent herbaceous wine is a perfect marriage to the vegetables the way I cooked them.  Also the accompanying Jerusalem artichokes, which were boiled with Pink Fir apple potatoes in the Cavolo Nero blanching water.    

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

Cuisine Magazine's Top Ten Chardonnays.

There is no doubt that Cuisine Magazine is the pre-eminent wine review magazine in New Zealand and the wines that receive five star and Top Ten accolades are highly sought after. There is also an excellent tasting program held in wine shops around the country which gives consumers the chance to taste the wines and see if they agree with the judges.  

Cuisine Magazine tastings are run in exactly the same way as wine competitions are. A panel of three senior judges with one or two associate judges taste the wines, that are served in 'blind' (i.e. the tasters do not know whose wine they are tasting), in 'flights' (i.e. there may be twenty glasses lined up in a row) and score the wines using the standard 20-point rating system that is used in New Zealand.  The points are converted to 'star' ratings with a five star rating equivalent to a wine show gold medal.   The top wines are retasted and retasted and once the very top wines have been found, each judge ranks them in order of preference.

Judge Sam Kim, who works at First Glass Wines and Spirits and presented some of the wines at the First Glass Cuisine Top Ten Chardonnay tasting last Wednesday, says that not everyone ends up with the same order, so there is debating and give and take on the part of the judges until there is a consensus to the final order of the Top Ten.

So with a Cuisine Tasting being a wine competition, it was a surprise to see some brands that don't normally enter wine competitions in New Zealand, featuring prominently on the Top Ten list of Chardonnays - where all top ten wines received a five star rating.

Although Martinborough producer Ata Rangi has entered wine competitions in England and has won several elite awards for their Pinot Noir, the inclusion of their Chardonnay in the Cuisine tasting was a complete surprise.  But the entry confirmed the quality of the Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay 2006 when it ended up as Number One of all 175 entries.

The other surprise inclusion was Cloudy Bay Chardonnay 2006, rated as Number 6 in the tasting.  Personally, I would have rated it higher as this 2006 vintage is the most delicious Cloudy Bay Chardonnay I have ever tasted.  I gave it good raps on this blog in February.

My other top personal favourites were Auntsfield Marlborough Chardonnay 2006 and Kim Crawford Tietjen Gisborne Chardonnay 2007.  All in all it was a stunning line-up of wines with even the three cheapies - Twin Islands, Dashwood and Crossroads deserving of their inclusion. 

All of the wines are reviewed on my Wednesday tasting Page entry for 30th April 2008.   Click here to read them.

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

A tasting of Penfolds 'Luxury Wines'

It was a surprise to get an invitation to the Penfolds Luxury Wine release, because it had missed finding its way into my mail box the last few years. Not being able to drive meant I needed a chauffeur and that chauffeur would want to taste the wines too. So Neil put up his hand. Well actually I may have held it up for him.

Penfolds tasting 1 May 2008The invitation only tasting was held at the Fine Wine Delivery Company in Cook Street, Auckland with Penfolds red winemaker, Steve Lienert (pictured right), in attendance. It was a 'measured pour' tasting with wines dispensed from an Enomatic machine that had eight Penfolds wines in a row.

But first we were welcomed with a glass of Lanson Champagne to whet the whistle. This is a deep coloured,  rich, toasty yeasty style with sweet fruit and a dry finish.

Is the Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay 2005 the best ever made? Steve tells me it's on a par with the 2004 but I haven't tasted the 2004, so I'll take Steve's word. However the 2005, made from Adelaide Hills fruit, is utterly remarkable. From the warm, inviting, toasty barrel-ferment scents to the mouthfilling, mealy savoury flavour with nougat, nutty oak, peachy fruit and a hint of butterscotch, there's a surprising delicate touch throughout. Yum, yum, yum. A canape of blue cheese and roasted pear on wholemeal pastry base matched beautifully too.

Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2006 (reviewed in March) put the palate into the red wine mood and this was followed by two Fine Wine Delivery Company exclusives - Penfolds Cellar Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 and the Penfolds Cellar Reserve Cabernet Shiraz 2006. I just loved the straight Cabernet Sauvignon and its medium to full-bodied style with firm chewy tannins, plummy fruit, hints of mint and a cedary finish.

Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 2004 was next. Showing its fruit purity and fine tannin structure from the outset it is more European in style, probably because of the lack of oak. Earthy and savoury with some grip to the finish, there's a light touch of strawberry and cherry combining with fruits of the forest and a gentle sprinkling of peppery spice.

Penfolds RWT Shiraz 2005 is a veritable super star. The opulent, sweet-oaked, red-fruited, creamy aromas are everything I associate with great Penfolds wine, not to mention the succulent, ripe creamy flavours of chocolate, blueberries, Christmas cake cherries and dried herb nuances that add a savoury saltiness. Plush velvety tannins add to the allure and rose pepper spice lingers with a hint of red liquorice on the lasting finish. Simply fantastic.

Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 is predominantly Barossa Valley fruit. It is the essence of Cabernet on the nose with hints of chocolate-coated violet and an earthy nuance to the oak. Lifted and spicy to the taste with voluptuous tannins, red fruits and ultra ultra classy American oak, this is a wine that is yet to unfold and has a long drinking window ahead of it.

Lastly, the iconic and super opulent Penfolds Grange 2003. The sweet oaked, vanilla laden, spice driven, pencil lead and red fruit aroma is deep and complex while the exhilarating taste is spicy and bright with finely structured satin smooth tannins, an earthy richness and suggestions of violets and rose petal musk. Add chocolate, cedar, spices and purple fruits with a pepper infusion to the massively long finish - once this mouth coating wine breaks the virgin seal, it seduces more and more with every mouthful. Even more exciting when matched to minced confit of duck in a sweet plum sauce wrapped in Phyllo pastry.

So the wines are limited and not very afforable (RRP of Grange this year is about $540) but they can be found in the best fine wine shops and in the upmarket supermarkets with the locked glass-fronted wine cabinets. 

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